Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The State of the Los Angeles Lakers

As many people's resident Lakers-head, I have been asked a dozens of times over the past few days "Dude, what is up with the Lake show??? How could they lay an egg to the Heat like that on Jesus' birthday?".

My general explanation here is that the Lakers are the champs - the two-time defending champs. Until someone beats them, that is not going to change. Going into the Heat game, that was their mentality, and that led to the final box score. Let's look at the stakes going into that game:

If the Lakers win, they did so because they are the champs, and were supposed to win. If they lost...they'd still be the champs, and this would be in the grand scheme, a meaningless loss in December (remember last Christmas when they got blown out by the Cavs at home? Did that have any effect on them winning game 7 in the Finals?).

If the Heat win, they prove to themselves, and the entire league, that they are one of the elite teams and not some stitched together band of superstars having a "chemistry" year; they are in this to win a title. If they lose, they not only prove to themselves, but also to the league and all the haters (including me) that they are just that - a bunch of chumps who just aren't there this year.

Put all that together, and bam! 20 point loss on Christmas day.

As for the general state of the Lakers, it is painfully obvious to me; they just. don't. care. And in many ways, why should they? They are coming off of a 65 and 57 win seasons. They just won two titles, one at the expense of the hated green devils from New England. Kobe has cemented his legacy. Pau is creating his. Lamar just won a gold as a start in the World's games and married a Kardashian. Phil is one of, if not the greatest coach in professional sports history. Yes, they are playing for a title that would tie the franchise with Boston for the most ever, but I think that's something that Dr. Buss, Magic, Kareem, the Logo and the fans are more concerned with than say, Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes and Pau Gasol are.

But these men are all competitors - they do this for a living. They play to win, but more importantly to win it all. There are enough vets on the team that have yet to satiate those hunger pangs of taking that big gold trophy and lifting it above their heads to the adulation of thousands of screaming Lakers fans. So all these things taken into consideration - what is their deal?

I think this team has a unique understanding (unique to two teams only, seemingly) that they have played over 300 games, including the preseason and playoffs, in the past 3 years. That's four seasons packed into 3 years. I think they have the understanding that in their 9 man rotation, 7 guys are above 30, including all 5 current starters. I think they have the understanding that because of their limitations of age and mileage the past 3 years, they cannot go full throttle every night, despite cries from their fanbase and national panel. I think they understand that all those concerns will be quelled when Pau is hustling for every loose ball in April, Derek has the legs under him to make big shots in May and Kobe is blowing past defenders in June, because they played that much less hard in December. The Celtics did this last year and came within 6 minutes of winning it all - on the road, no less. They understood that you can't go hard for 48 minutes every single night because those aren't the games that matter.

The bottom line is that the Lakers don't really care right now - and you know how I know this? Because that's how I feel. I know that if they lose the Spurs on the road by 16 or the Heat at home by 25, that we are the champs, and that this is December, not March or April or May or June. As a diehard Lakers fan, I don't feel like this is a big deal, so I know they are not pushing the panic button over there at Staples Center.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Broadcaster English to English Translation

Broadcast to English Translation

“I’m just gonna sit down and make the best decision for me and my family”

Translation: I am a free agent and I hope that LA or New York offers me the most money/biggest/longest contract, but really no matter who offers it, I am taking that shit and running.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Attention all MLB General Managers reading this blog: Adrian Beltre is really not that good!

Jayson Werth, 7 years, $126 million. Cliff Lee, 5 years, $120 million. Carl Crawford, 7 years, $142 million. With nearly half a billion (yes – billion) spent on free agent so far, the consensus top remaining free agent is third baseman Adrian Beltre. Reportedly, the Angels just threw 5 years for $70 million at the guy. That’s roughly $14 million a season. According to Beltre’s agent, Scott Boras, that figure is a little below what they are looking for; they are shooting for somewhere in the 5 year, $85-90 million range. Too bad Adrian Beltre is garbage.

I watched Adrian Beltre man the hot corner for 6 ½ seasons for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I watched as he hit into 6 ½ seasons of double plays with the bases loaded and hit homers when no one was on base or the game was out of reach. I saw him give fans 6 ½ years of seemingly endless frustration as they watched a player with his future full of potential and only morsels of payout. I hated him in LA and his struggles (as will be noted in a minute) in Seattle only made me smile. However…

Despite the fact that he is usually an offensive black hole of suck, the guy is an outstanding defensive third baseman, maybe the best I have ever seen in person. There is rarely a ball he can’t get to or a throw he can’t make. The fact that the man has only won two gold gloves is a travesty.

Don’t get me wrong – the guy was fantastic this past year. He was the best player (period) on that Red Sox team, and without him, that team could have lost between 5 or 10 games, single handedly. But behind his 2004 season (where he finished 2nd in MVP voting next to Barry Bonds and took the Dodgers to the playoffs in a contract year), this was only his second above-average offensive season. After he got a 6 year, $64 million dollar contract from the Seattle Mariners, Beltre was effectively league-average for the duration of that contract. Let's take a look at the numbers:

Beltre’s OPS vs. AL average that year
2005 .716 (.754)
2006 .792 (.776)
2007 .802 (.760)
2008 .784 (.755)
2009 .683 (.763)
2010 .919 (.734)

(OPS means on-base plus slugging percentage. It is a basic metric of how often a player gets on-base, through walks or hits, plus the quality of those hits. The higher the OPS, the better offensive season a player has. For example, Albert Pujols has a career 1.050 OPS – obviously way above the league average. It’s kind of like measuring a NBA player by his shooting percentage or assist to turnover ratio – it’s just a more efficient stat. I will now put my calculator back in my pocket protector and continue to watch Dragon Ball Z).

Seattle paid Beltre like one of the top infielders in the league, and yet, he hit like an average, slightly above-average or even slightly below-average infielder for the duration of his contract. His numbers before his big 2004 season in LA are similarly mediocre.

What spurred me to write this post was that though Adrian has had two incredible, highly-above average years, he’s also had 11 below-average seasons, and no one is talking about those. Instead, it’s bizarro world - the two great seasons are viewed as his norm, and the other eleven are seen as the aberrations, or at worst, not even mentioned.

He definitely deserves a contract, and to be paid decently. But don’t go all Scrooge McDuck on this guy and give him a pool full of gold coins. Going into his age 32 season, he is not getting better (unless he finds something awesome and undetectable) and in fact, is only going to get worse. Don’t fall for the hype Major League Baseball – this guy is a chump.

The NBA Playoffs are Communist

There are 30 MLB teams. 8 teams make the playoffs. Win the division, or have the 2nd most wins in the league. Those are the only two ways. 26.6% of the league make the postseason. The bottom 74.4% go golfing, get fat and wallow in their mediocrity and awfulness until the spring.

There are 30 NBA teams. Of those 30, 16 teams make the playoffs. Or 53.3% Yes – over HALF the teams make the playoffs. HALF!

I hate mediocrity. More specifically, I hate mediocrity of skill combined with mediocrity of effort which, when put together by the alchemy of a front office and coaching, creates a team of subpar halfwits that proclaim to be professionals, but in fact are just mediocre even at the very definition of mediocrity (Hope that was specific enough for you). The purpose of competition is winning. Don’t listen to Gordon Bombay – listen to legendary Hawks coach Jack Reilly – “It's not worth winnin’ if you can’t win big”. I know this is a terrible message for the kids out there, but it’s true. If you are not the best, you suck.

The NBA playoffs are a mockery in the face of the American dream. The bottom 8 teams won 60% of their games or less. Four teams made the playoffs with a winning percentage less than 57%. My God. Why don’t you just dress your children up in red and raise them Communist.

It is time for a change, followers of The Great Mambino. It is time for a new era – an era in which mediocrity of play and effort is not rewarded with rally towels, April TNT games and fans saying “well at least we made the playoffs”. This sense of complacency is RUINING our beloved NBA.

My proposal is simple – cut the field of playoff teams in half. 8 teams, 4 from each conference, same as baseball. 3 division winners, one “wild card”. Revenue streams aside (which is a big aside), there is no reason competition-wise to have an additional 8 teams make the playoffs. The NBA is not the NCAA. There are no Cinderellas. The best team, in almost every last 26 years of NBA basketball in which there have been 16 playoff teams, wins the Finals (the rare exceptions in my humble and correct opinion? The 1988 Detroit Pistons over the Los Angeles Lakers and the 2006 Dallas Mavericks over the Miami Heat). There has been 1 team lower than a 4 seed in a non-strike-shortened season to make or win the Finals in that timespan. That team? The 1995 Houston Rockets. The caveat? They were the defending champs.

These changes will never happen. I am realistic. David Stern is a smart man - The NBA makes too much money to cut out 8 teams and at minimum, 32 games from their postseason schedule to ever shorten the playoffs. What I am suggesting are merely in the spirit of competition, rather than in the spirit of capitalism. The fact that teams like the Celtics, Lakers, Mavs and Spurs have to play teams like the Nuggets, Bobcats, Bucks and Warriors is a travesty. This watered-down “competition” is not only a waste of time, but also takes away from the real competition later in the playoffs. Instead of Kevin Garnett being at his best in June, we have a guy who’s still pretty good, but tired from playing another two weeks of games.

I'm not winning this argument. I know that. I just hate that the NBA league offices should be located in Moscow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Broadcaster English to English Translation

I have noticed that sports broadcasters, like all other humans, sometimes can't say what they mean, so they find another way to say it. Is it because they know the players on a personal level? Is it because they are, in a way, spokespeople for the team? Is it because Jerry Jones has the broadcast booth lined with explosives? Who knows. Either way, I find that it would be most heplful to lend my expertise in Broadcast English to help translate some of the more commonly used phrases to regular, American english.

“This town is really getting behind this team”

Translation: No one gave a shit before we made the playoffs, but now that we’re up a game in the Conference Finals/Championship Series, we're selling out the stadium/arena and the general public has started to pay attention. Also, the team has such awesome chemistry that they created a neat hand sign/catch phrase and it’s getting mentioned in the 6’o clock news with Chuck Henry. Plus, people think waving colored towels is really neat.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mission Statement

"The Great Mambino" - a name so chosen in honor of two of the greatest athletic titans of our time. At first glance, the Mamba and the Bambino really have little in common; one grew up a poor white kid on the streets of early 20th century Baltimore, learning the game of baseball from a Catholic school teacher while being raised in reform school. The other was a son of a professional basketball player, with a privileged upbringing that was split between Italy and the Philadelphia suburbs. Oh, and he was black.

But they were both teenage phenoms, being recognized on the playgrounds for skills that far dwarfed the other juveniles around them. For these men, this was a situation would not become uncommon throughout their lives.

Soon, each blossomed into legends - destroyers of records and caretakers of championships. Both had insatiable appetites - for competition, for victory and for glory. Both were as flawed as they were talented, with their personal lives sometimes eclipsing their mammoth accomplishments. At this point, the only thing that separates them is that the Bambino is a storied legend; a man whose existence fits into mythical archetypes, whose career is used by scholars, writers and mortal men the world over to describe things much bigger than any home run hit or pitch thrown. The Mamba is all those things - just not yet.

Much like that short examination of those two sporting greats, the purpose of this blog is to put into focus the events of the sporting world, through the eyes of a fan. I strive to write with a wide-view lens - to understand and observe rather than react, as is the flaw of many modern sportswriters.

Will this blog - musings of a sports fan whose experience in competition is as limited to a sparing few innings of high school baseball - reach the zeniths of perfection so achieved by the Bambino and the Mamba? In an ideal world, yes. Realistically - this is another example of the world wide interweb being used as a vanity project gone horribly wrong. That all being said, I spend more time focusing on sports than you do, combing box scores and game recaps and strangely, finding meaning and purpose within them. I care more than you do, about the exploits of men who I have never met, in occupations and businesses I have no connection to. I am like Bill Simmons, except funnier, browner and unfortunately, poorer. Ultimately no one's opinions on sports really matter - they ain't saving lives on the 50 yard line. But sometimes I think mine are so good that they could resuscitate a dead body if they really needed to. I don't think that made any sense, but get used to that - it's my blog, handle it.

Welcome to The Great Mambino. Enjoy.