Saturday, December 31, 2011

BQ #3: How does Derrick Rose follow up his post-MVP season? What will it take to lead Chicago to a title?

After Derrick Rose won his MVP for leading the Bulls to a league leading 62 wins and a number one overall seed in the playoffs, I realized that that award is only recognized for greatness reserved to Hall of Famers (or Hall of Famers in waiting). Any man that won the MVP had a Hall of Fame career in back or in front of him. For the 22 year-old Rose, this is obviously the latter.

His individual play isn't going to be the story here. Rose will be great, and with youth and a clean medical chart on his side, I will expect the same play from him as last year (and he better - the dude is the CRUX of my fantasy team, LukesRetirementParty). He was undoubtedly the guy who most made THE LEAP last season, and thus, I don't know how much better he can truly get. The real story is going to be if his supporting cast is good enough to beat the Heat and Celtics to get to the NBA Finals.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

BQ #4: Can Memphis continue their playoff success during the regular season? Can Zach Randolph be an MVP?

We would have loved to finish all the burning questions before the season started. Really, truly. But we both work full-time jobs, with bars to go to and rent to pay. We would love to apologize, but we do this for free. Handle it.

Why is this even a question?

The Grizzlies were once the laughing stock of the league; not just because of their poor on-court performance, but even more so because of their poor front office management that only prolonged their in-game deficiencies. In a few short years, GM Chris Wallace traded 26 year old 7 foot star Pau Gasol to the Lakers for 27 year old draft bust Kwame Brown, Pau's fat brother Marc Gasol and a draft pick. He drafted All-Star Kevin Love, only to trade him to Minnesota for the disappointing OJ Mayo. Only two years ago, with the number two pick in the 2009 Draft, Wallace took Hasheem Thabeet, whose only discernable NBA skill seems to be being 7'3". Thabeet was selected over other more talented, albeit shorter, players like Tyreke Evans, James Harden and Eric Gordon. Extensions were handed out to Rudy Gay ($82 million) and Mike Conley ($45 million), when most critics argued that both players were worth only 2/3 of that.

Then something miraculous happened; all of the moves started making sense. Pau's fat brother turned out to be one of the league's most effective centers. Marc was recently rewarded with a $55 million dollar contract extension. With the Lakers' pick, Memphis selected young, fearless guard Greivis Vazquez. Draftee Mike Conley went from potential bust to NBA-quality point guard and Rudy Gay proved to be worth the money so many thought he did not earn. The most unforeseen benefit of all these moves was that the cap room created by Kwame's expiring contract allowed the Grizz to trade for undervalued head case Zach Randolph.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

BQ#5 - Can the Nets Go to Brooklyn Yet?

It would have been simple, convenient, and expected for me to have become a New Jersey Nets fan. First and foremost, I grew up in the great state of New Jersey. In fact, the first NBA game I ever attended was at the swampy Brendan Byrne Arena, and only recently can I say that I've seen more games at Madison Square Garden than wherever the Nets called home. Second, I could have spared myself some early childhood ribbing from "real" Knicks fans who thought that being born and raised in NYC was a pre-req. And last, but certainly not least, former Net Kendall Gill gave an inspiring, fan-attracting performance in Nickelodeon's "My Brother and Me" -- so in other words, it's a miracle that I'm NOT a Nets fan.

That miracle took the form of the Sportschannel New York, later known to us as Fox Sports Net New York and now known to us as MSG+. The problem was that Nets games were broadcast on a paid cable channel, one that my parents chose not to buy. Lo and behold, that led me to watch another enterprise on the Madison Square Garden network, the New York Knickerbockers. The Knicks were good in the 1990s, making two Finals appearances under the tutelage of Pat Riley and the play of Patrick Ewing. As I latched onto the orange and blue, however, I was still a Nets sympathizer...until 102-76.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Ilya Kovalchuk

I believe it was one of the brightest, most gifted poets of our time who gave us the immutable, profound maxim of "Mo' money, Mo' Problems".

Few in the NHL can come to grips with that concept more significantly than New Jersey Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk, a man so gifted as an offensive weapon that no one equaled his scoring prowess over his first seven seasons in the league, and a man whose contract was so controversial that it literally warranted a re-writing of the book on contacts in the League. For all of his goal-scoring gifts -- and with 380 goals so far in his 10-season career, those gifts remain potent -- there is an undeniable weight that sits on his shoulders considering that he has one of the biggest contracts in the history of the game.

At times that can make his rough public moments all the more brutal, as it did in New Jersey's last game, a 4-2 loss to Carolina Monday night. The Devils had already fallen behind 3-0 before coming alive in the third period and closing to within 3-2. With the team pressing for the tying score in the final minute after pulling its goalie, Kovalchuk wheeled with the puck near the left corner of the offensive zone and attempted a pass up to the blue line where center Adam Henrique was jumping on the ice following a line change. The pass missed Henrique and cleared the zone, a happenstance that isn't particularly rare in the game of hockey, but in this case Kovy's feed was so unfortunately aimed that it drifted all the way to the other end and into New Jersey's open net, sealing the game for the Hurricanes.

Those are the types of moments that cause New Jersey fans to quickly bring their palms to their foreheads, and it isn't the first time they've had to do it with Kovalchuk. The Russian sniper initially came to New Jersey as the big fish of the 2010 trade deadline, an impending free agent set up for one of the biggest paydays in NHL history, who had been lost in the obscurity the hockey hotbed that was Atlanta, Georgia. With the Atlanta Thrashers unable to come to a long-term deal with Kovy, he was shipped to New Jersey in a surprising gamble for the typically stingy Devils, who thought he might be the missing piece of the fungible roster's fourth Stanley Cup in 15 seasons. Once he arrived, Kovalchuk continued to have a solid season (he finished with a total of 41 goals and 44 assists in 76 games), but once in the postseason, the team went cold in a five-game first-round loss to the rival Flyers. That series featured Kovy, who was never used to playing with anyone else who could score, hot dogging so much on the rink that it's a shock Takeru Kobayashi didn't try to eat him.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Burning Question #6: Are the Clippers a title contender?

Merry Christmas! For your gift (besides this wonderful blog we do for thankless sack), you will be magically transported to an alternate universe where the Los Angeles Clippers are the talk of the town. In this make-believe land of pretend, the Clips will be predicated as a playoff team by all, and a title contender by most. Chris Paul, the best point guard in the game, will be roving the perimeter, throwing dishes to energetic bigs Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, with All-Stars Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups and Mo Williams bombing from distance. As we drop further into insanity and delusion, this fantasy Clippers team will be talking trash to their 16-time locker room neighbor Lakers, even though they've competed in two exhibition games, had 7 days of training camp and won approximately nothing. But now Christmas is over, and your gift is over. Time to return to reality, where all of this really happened.


That sums up my feelings on how I feel about the Clippers. I can't believe this happened, and I buy some of the hype, but not all of it. In fact, I can't believe that I even had to use "Are the Clippers a title contender?" as a title for a post. Let's get after it, shall we, friends? And for real, Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Burning Question #7: Is this the end for this Lakers era?

What I loved most BockerKnockers' excellent 2011-2012 Knicks preview was the prevailing notion of "feeling". Knicks fans feel the excitement again. They have a reason to care about their team and to be optimistic about the year. They are not counting down to the 2012 draft, nor are they waiting until a forthcoming free agent class. The feeling is finally about the here and now. It's about the basketball in the moment, how their team will play today and what will be coming in 5 months rather than 2 years. There is an expectation of winning, rather than just hoping not to be embarrassed. In every word from my blog brother's latest post, I felt every bit of excitement emanating from the Garden and beyond. This is the beginning, not the end. It's a good time to be a Knicks fan. And then there's us, the Lakers faithful, coming into tomorrow with the exact OPPOSITE emotions.

Friday, December 23, 2011

BQ8 - How Far Can the Knicks Go?

If you didn't think I would write an epic blog post on the upcoming season for YOUR New York Knickerbockers, then you just don't know anything about me.

I have been waiting for this very weekend. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't totally because of the NBA season openers, but let's just admit that Christmas has an extra buzz to it this year.

No snazzy/lame intro where I come up with an analogy that you may or may not hate. Just pure, unadulterated basketball wisdom from Mambino's resident Knicks-head.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Burning Question #9: Can John Wall be the next Derrick Rose?

Why is this even a question?

I'm not much of a college hoops guy; not because I don't enjoy any game of basketball anyway I can get it (well...maybe not every way), but because I just don't have enough time in my life to fit in another league of athletics. Especially when that league predicates most of it's drama from the poor play that disguises itself as "passion". But that's a post for another day. This is all to set up that I didn't really know who John Wall was when he came into the NBA. I definitely knew him for this. But otherwise, I caught a few Kentucky games his freshman season, and certainly saw his play in the NCAA Tournament. Mostly, I just knew how good he was supposed to be. I had digested all of the hype and with the rash of young teenage players that had come into the league READY in recent years, I expected a debut to the same effect.

Wall had great numbers his rookie season, throwing up 16 points a game, along with 8 assists and 4 rebounds. Even against the background of nearly 4 turnovers a game, as well as 41% shooting from the field, Wall had a great statistical freshman campaign by all accounts. He made the All-Rookie 1st team and finished 2nd in ROY voting, next to Blake Griffin. However, something wasn't quite right. For all of the success he had on paper, Wall missed 13 games due to injury and looked as if an even more explosive performance was impatiently waiting behind a veil of injuries. The Pope supposedly struggled all season with foot and knee problems, limiting the explosiveness he had reportedly had in college. Many people, including those here at MAMBINO, expected Wall to come out as a rookie and more than likely, lead his team to low-playoff seed contention just as Derrick Rose had done his rookie year.

Yu Darvish by the numbers - How good is this guy?

By now, some of you have heard the name Yu Darvish. The only thing that most people know is that the Texas Rangers just spent $51.7 million dollars just to TALK TO THE GUY. If they can agree on a contract, Darvish would be released by his Japanese team (the mighty Nippon Ham Fighters), the $51.7 million would be paid to them (much like a buyout for any contract) and then Darvish would be free to sign a new, pre-negotiated contract with the Texas Rangers. If all went well, you'd see Darvish on a mound in Arlington in April.

So...who the hell is this guy?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Burning Question #10: Are the OKC Thunder ready to make THE JUMP? How do they handle expectations?

ThunderStolt has been known as many things over the course of his life, including an arrogant Oklahoma Sooner fan and alumnus, a heartbroken Rangers fan, a frustrated Cowboys fan and most importantly, a loyal fan and friend of MAMBINO. Once we lined up our 20 Burning Questions for the upcoming NBA season, we knew we had to have him grace our little blog.

“Our team got all the pieces nothing less than a championship or it a bust season I love my team and coaches.” – Kendrick Perkins tweet following the Thunder’s preseason win over the Mavs Sunday night

When I read that tweet from Skinny Perk it made expectations very real.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Burning Question #11: Who becomes irrelevant first? The Spurs or the Celtics?

Between the personnel on the Spurs and Celtics, I count 1 Defensive Player of the Year, 3 MVPs, 5 Finals MVPs, 11 All-NBA Third Teams, 9 All-NBA Second Teams, 13 All-NBA First Teams, a staggering 58 All-Star appearances and 14 NBA championships combined. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Coach Gregg Popovich are all already Hall of Famers in waiting, while Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo have several seasons in front of them to sew theirs up. All these accomplishments are extremely impressive, and speaks so much to the incredible careers these men have created for themselves.

But the price paid for these honors is of course time it takes to have made them. The clock has been rapidly ticking away on these veterans, and the same fate that set on Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley 10 years ago seems to be only a couple seasons away for KG, Ray, Pierce, Timmy and Manu. Though not all members of both teams are in the twilight or perhaps past their primes, the key members that led both the C's and Spurs to all those titles are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginning. So the questions begs; who's closer to the end, the Spurs or the Celtics?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

BQ#12 - Who is Ricky Rubio?

Trust is earned. If you plop into a cab at 3am, smelling like a person who needs a cab at 3am, then you can't trust the cabbie to take the most direct route to your destination. If you take a leisurely stroll in a suspect neighborhood, you can't trust the cretins to display a friendly smile. And if you weren't born in this fantastic country, then you can't trust hoopheads like myself to give you an objective rooting interest.

There have been too many cab drivers who show you the scenic route, there is too much crime in scary places, and there have been too many instances of Euros getting posterized.

It took a Finals tour-de-force performance from Dirk Nowitzki to earn our trust. It took a couple of deep playoff runs for Pau Gasol to earn our trust (although, he may have just 360ed us after this past year). So who is Ricky Rubio and what has he done?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

WWE for an NBA Fan - Central Divison (Part 3)

The Central Division is the worst in the NBA. Even if all the marquee free agents were evenly distributed amongst Cleveland, Indiana, Milwaukee and Detroit, at best this would be the second worst in the league, ahead of the hapless Atlantic Division. We're potentially looking at 5 teams in which only 1 might make the playoffs. For all of our hoophead brothers in the Midwest, I can see how a once-nuclear winter has now only morphed into a just a really, really long one.

So why would you follow exclusively the predictable and inevitably disappointing journey to a 8th seed playoff team and a 4 game sweep by the vengeful Heat, when you could instead follow the scripted greatness of the WWE?

In the next of my 6-part series, here are the best possible comparisons I could come up with for these 5 NBA fan bases. I matched up the characteristics that defined, say, Deeeee-troit basketball with the professional wrestler that best personified the culture and history of these storied teams.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Instant Trade Analysis: Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers

I've always heard that the emotional, initial snap judgment that any person ever has is usually the most rational and sound reaction possible. That all being said, let's get on with the tradition of MAMBINO's instant analysis. Chris Paul has just been traded to the Los Angeles Clippers of Anaheim. Wow.

Clippers get: G Chris Paul
New Orleans gets: G Eric Gordon, F Al-Farouq Aminu, C Chris Kaman, Minnesota's unprotected 2012 1st round draft pick

As a condition to the trade, Chris Paul has to opt-in to his 2012-2013 player option that will pay him roughly $18 million dollars. With the re-upping of DeAndre Jordan and the contract of Caron Butler, the Clippers are up chafing against the salary cap and no doubt making owner Donald Sterling sweat blood.

I see a couple ramifications of this trade, many of which make my heart sad. Let's get on with them:

Burning Question #13: Will the Mavericks’ title defense resemble the 2006 Miami Heat’s title defense?

Lost in the depression surrounding the lockout, the abject joy from knowing it was over and the chaos of free agency conspiracy theories, is that YOUR...Dallas Mavericks are the reigning world champions. June's happy dethroning of the already crowned kings from Miami seems like it was seasons ago, rather than just six short months. In a way, I feel bad that the deserving titlists haven't gotten their well-deserved accolades and recognition to the fullest extent, but in many other ways, screw. them. With memories of a Lakers playoff elimination that was all too reminiscent of game 6 in the 2008 Finals, I'm happy that the Mavericks had a truncated celebratory summer, no matter how much I respect Kidd, Dirk and company.

Mambino Does Hockey?

The closest I came to writing about hockey was a post about the kid who netted a shot from center ice, only to have his prize money taken away from him. The NHL requires some actual knowledge about hockey, and maybe about Canada too, two things I don't particularly care for. Therefore, enjoy this guest post from my buddy Pucklius (He has a nickname that we all know and love him by, but if I were to repeat it here, I wouldn't be breathing tomorrow morning). It's a preview of tonight's 24/7 - Road to the Winter Classic on HBO. HBO does some fine work with this stuff -- Hard Knocks and the 24/7 Boxing series are as good as it gets. Personally, I wouldn't have cared to check this out tonight, but now I feel morally obliged. A small victory for the NHL in its never-ending pursuit to attract more fans.

Oh, and the guy went a little overboard with the youtube links, but some of them are actually pretty epic.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Burning Question #14: Where Do the Blazers Go From Here?

When we initially compiled the list of 20 Burning Questions, I came up with two separate ideas for the Portland Trail Blazers. The first was the sure-to-be-repeated "how will Brandon Roy be used this year?" The second was a hopeful "is this the year we see the Greg Oden monster?" Well, fast forward a couple of weeks and those questions have been answered with "not at all," and "no, are you out of your mind," respectively.

Faced with the exciting possibility of not being able to ever walk again, Roy and his cartilage-starved knees retired from the NBA. Just 27 years old, he will be remembered as the face of the post-Jail Blazers era. Roy helped to restore the faith of Oregonians that their favorite basketball players would succeed off the court, without sacrificing success on the court. For 5 years, he gave his heart and soul, culminating in a gritty 25-point fourth quarter against the eventual champion Mavericks in last year's playoffs.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Andrew Bynum vs. Brook Lopez: Who provides the best value for a potential Dwight Howard trade

It’s less than two weeks away from the beginning of the NBA season. Usually at this point in the year, there would be some sort of consensus, or at least disputed consensus, on how the season could play out, and where teams would generally finish at the end of the year. This season, no matter who you ask, from the most excitedly overzealous super fan to a jaded old beat reporter, I don’t think that one person could give a correct appraisal for how the 2011-2012 NBA season will look like in June. The swirling rumor mill regarding Chris Paul and Dwight Howard have completely destabilized the entire NBA, from the Lakers to the Clippers, the Rockets to the Knicks and everyone in between. Add in a new set of rules coming from the freshly negotiated CBA, the balance of power in the league will tip, but in what way, I don’t think that anyone really knows.

One of the most hotly debated questions is Dwight Howard’s future (David Stern and the league’s involvement with the Hornets and thus Chris Paul turns that situation into a Tim Wakefield special – unwieldy, unpredictable and fat. Maybe not that last part. But damn, Tim Wakefield has a belly), specifically where he’ll end up. Two of the dispersed rumors would be a deal that either ends with Dwight on the New Jersey-turned-Brooklyn Nets or the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nets package would be headlined by 7’ center Brook Lopez, accompanied with two draft picks (including Golden State’s 2012 first rounder, as well as the Nets own 2012 pick) and the cap space to take up Hedo Turkoglu’s remaining $30+ million dollar deal. The Lakers’ offer would presumably be fellow 7’ center Andrew Bynum, two draft picks (Dallas’ 2012 first rounder and the Lakers 2012 first rounder) as well as a $8.9 million dollar trade exception to pick up the remainder of Hedo Turkoglu’s contract.

So what would you do, given that there seems to be no better options out there?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Our Best and Brightest - Thoughts on Ryan Braun's positive PED test

"I would never do it because if I took steroids, I would hit 60 or 70 home runs." - Ryan Braun

Ryan Braun hit .332, with a .994 OPS. He had 187 hits, 77 of which were for extra bases. His 33 homers, 111 RBI and 109 runs scored were amongst the majors' best. As if that weren't enough, he stole 33 bases and was the best player on one of the best teams this year. His charisma, leadership and enthusiasm for the game made him one of baseball's most popular young players. Personally, he is one of my favorite major leaguers, with his cartoonishly gigantic windmill swing and the teeth-grinding effort he gives on every single play. He didn't hit 60 home runs this year, but if you watched this guy for a single week's worth of games, you'd think he was capable of it. He was that good.

Today, it was revealed by ESPN that Ryan Braun had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. The investigation was triggered by a spike in testoterone, which automatically led into further examinations of Ryan's pee pee. After the lab had run a gamut of tests, they found that Braun had a large deal of synthetic testoterone in his body, which obviously would not appear there by any organic means. With any positive PED test, Major League Baseball administers a mandatory 50 game suspension for first time offenders. The only reason why the sports news headlines do not read "Braun suspended for 50 games" yet is that the punishment and jurisdiction of the commissioner's office isn't official yet; Braun and his representatives have appealed the PED test result. No player has yet successfully won such an appeal.

Burning Question #15 - Did the Cavs take the right guy with the number one pick?

Between all the transactions featuring Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Ross Ohlendorf in the past week, I thought that maybe this blog could take a breath and continue on with our Burning Questions series. With the mentioned developments with Dwight and CP3, not to mention potentially the Lakers, Hornets and Rockets, we've had to reevaluate the positioning of our remaining 15 posts.

Ironically, our next burning question has to do with the master of digital communication, champion of small market rights and the only man who could make even LeBron James a sympathetic figure, Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dan Gilbert Can't Stop Crying

Just a couple days ago, my buddy Fatass took his first law school exam. When I asked him how it went, he was calm, cool, and collected (very un-Fatass, for anyone who has had the opportunity of hearing him speak). Unfortunately, he couldn't say the same for his peers. According to him, these people questioned every minute detail of the test they had just finished. I of course was amused, seeing as how I bore witness to this first-hand during my own legal education.

There is nothing to gain from worrying about something for which you no longer have control. Words to live by.

When LeBron James infamously declared that his talents would call South Beach home, most fans, including me, forgave the city of Cleveland for rioting all over their own streets. We forgave them for setting fire to LeBron's Cavaliers jersey. And when Dan Gilbert inexplicably wrote a letter to his constituents Cleveland fans, admonishing the cowardly decision of LeBron James, we forgave him too, even though it was more childish than the rioting or the burning. As fans of our own teams, we empathized with those actions because we would never want to be in a similar position.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Arte Moreno's Game Changer - Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson to the Angels

By far, this has been the craziest day in my sports watching lifetime. My work productivity was cut by at least 1/3, and my standing at the company has undoubtedly fallen, as my peers in the comic book industry wonder why I care so much about a guy named "Poo-holes" and another guy named "Pow Gassul".

While this Laker-Hornets trade, or perhaps lack thereof (let's give this a day before we call this deal absolutely dead, shall we?) is dominating the headlines, it feels like it's been weeks since I learned that the two most prominent free agents in the MLB offseason, Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson, both signed massive deals with YOUR...Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

I've read a lot of reaction to the signings, positive and negative, but either way, there's no denying that it's the landmark move in the 8 year ownership of Arturo Moreno, and perhaps even in all of baseball in that same time frame. I'm going to go through a list of reaction I've heard today, and give my impressions on what this is and what this isn't:

Instant Trade Analysis: Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers

I’m writing this at 7:00 pm on Thursday night. I am still at work. I have had 40 minutes to process this trade. I figure in a moment where I can’t feel anything besides the keys beneath my fingers and the burn of the computer screen on my corneas, it’d be the best time to write this post. Please everyone keep in mind that I’m still in mild shock. I actually can't even see the screen right now. I think I've developed cataracts.

Preliminary versions of this trade work as follows:

Los Angeles gets: G Chris Paul
Houston gets: F Pau Gasol
New Orleans gets: F Lamar Odom, F Luis Scola, G Goran Dragic and G Kevin Martin

I’ve read from multiple sources that this trade will involve a draft pick or two, which I imagine will either be going to the Lakers or perhaps from the Rockets to the Hornets.

As it is, I don’t like this deal. What the Lakers are essentially doing is throwing a grenade into a building that housed two NBA titles and three Western Conference championships, with a chance for another title this and next year. This was a winning squad, who in my opinion, simply ran out of gas in the playoffs last year. They needed a new voice in the locker room, and a some small tweaks to change what has been proven to be a championship core. The more I looked back on last season, I realized that the disgraceful way in which the Mavericks ousted the Lakers from the playoffs could be the spark that would bring back the hunger and motivation the team had after losing to the Celtics in game 6 and then a year later the vengeful drive they had to defeat that very same team in the Finals.

In trading two of their key pieces, more specifically two of the big men that made the Lakers such an unorthodox and difficult team to defeat, Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and the rest of LA’s front office are simply turning the team into a very ordinary NBA squad. The old adage is that you never trade “big for small”. We didn’t just break that rule, we burned that son of a bitch to the ground.

For as passive and terrible as he was in the playoffs last year, Pau Gasol quite aptly lived up to his moniker of most skilled big man in the league. After years of disappointment, Lamar Odom turned a corner last year made “the most versatile player in the league” more than just a catchy label. We traded these two for a 6’ guard with bad knees, albeit a 6’ guard with bad knees who happens to be the best point guard in the league.

If we were to leave the team as is and not go any further, the Lakers front office is essentially saying that they want to build around a 24 year old guard in Chris Paul and a 24 year old center in Andrew Bynum. Considering our core for next year would be Gasol, Odom, Kobe, Derek Fisher and Metta World Peace - all of which are above to well-above 30 - this is, in theory, a sound move. The Lakers are trying to open up their window for another 6 to 8 seasons. A commendable, ballsy, but commendable move. The Lakers, specifically the Buss family, have never been shy about making franchise changing and unpopular moves in order to remain forward thinking - the Shaquille deal comes to mind - and this trade is no different.

On it’s own, this is an awful trade for the Lakers. LA is left without any depth at center, with the only dependable big being a center who has missed nearly 1/3 of games in his career. While Paul fills a void at point that the squad sorely needs, Lamar’s exit calls Devin Ebanks into duty off the bench and Pau’s absence makes Derrick Caracter a rotation player. If that sentence looked terrible, it’s because I just took off my shoe and threw it at the computer. I am going to shank a hobo in the street, I swear to God. I am beginning to thaw from my shock, freaking out and feeling feelings.

The only way that I think that the Lakers make this trade and let it stand alone is one of two reasons. One possible explanation is that the Buss family knew something we didn't - that the Pau and Kobe friction from the 2011 playoffs was worse than it seemed, or that there was some locker room element that meant that this team could not come together and win a title. That's one. Another would be that when you look at the Lakers, as I mentioned, all rotation players except for Bynum above the age of 30, you have to think that this team could win 1, maybe two more Western Conference titles (and especially when taking into consideration that this season might be a lost one for LA with a shortened training camp and all-new coaching staff, offensive and defensive systems). Perhaps the front office felt that this team's window was about closed and that the time for rebuilding was now. Again, the Lakers have always been a progressive team and certainly never one to sit idly by and watch the league move past them.

But the third and most apparent reasoning behind this trade could be this is only the first of two personnel moves. This of course would be trading young center Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard. Reporters are quoting Orlando GM Otis Smith as saying that he hasn’t even considered trades for Dwight yet. While I’m sure he hasn’t “considered them”, I would bet my family on the fact that he’s gone to sleep crying knowing that he’s going to be the next Orlando GM that has had to see a franchise center walk out of central Florida. Without a doubt, Dwight is leaving next year, perhaps to the Knicks, Celtics or Mavericks. That all being said, the conventional wisdom is that with Dwight leaving for nothing, Smith would be best served to acquire who I believe is the second best center in the league, Andrew Bynum. This would be a relatively simple trade, being Bynum, Matt Barnes’ expiring deal and a couple of draft picks for Dwight Howard and the Lakers absorbing Hedo Turkoglu’s contract. The Magic certainly wouldn’t be better off, but definitely in better condition then when Shaquille left them in 1996. I won’t get into competing deals from the Nets, Dallas or Boston right now (that’s a completely different post), but succinctly, I think what the Lakers have is the best deal for Orlando.

However, here’s another option brought to us from the mind of MAMBINO ally and co-founder of our predecessor in NYisMecca, El Miz. By trading Gasol and Odom, the Lakers are now around $76 million in salary requirements. At the end of the season, if Chris Paul opts out and the Lakers do not punch Andrew Bynum’s team option for $16 million, as well as a $6 million amnesty on Luke Walton, the Lakers will be around $17 million under the cap (Steve Blake and Derek Fish making $7.4 million, World Peace at $7 million, Kobe at $27 million). Essentially, they could then offer Dwight the max and then resign Chris Paul through his Bird rights, which allows teams to resign their own players.

This of course is an extremely risky gamble to let two of your “core players” become free agents, but it is a working theory that I can’t entirely disregard. Otis Smith has given some indication that he’s willing to let the season play out and see what happens with Dwight until either the trade deadline or perhaps even the 2012 offseason.

My prediction is that the Lakers will go into training camp with this squad and either try to swing a trade or sign a free agent power forward. However, I can’t imagine that Mitch Kupchak made this move without making another correlating move to shore up the front line. Right now, the Lakers’ starting 4 is Derrick Caracter. Seriously. Mitch is going to push for the Howard trade for the rest of the offseason (so, two weeks) and then up until the trade deadline in March. I don’t see Bynum moving for anything except for Dwight until then.

Overall, I have to give this deal an "incomplete" for a grade. I just don't think it's done. The beginning of the season, and perhaps all of 2011-2012 could be sacrificed for the sake of achieving a Chris Paul-Dwight Howard core for the 2016 season. Mitch Kupchak has done enough throughout his career as Lakers GM to earn my trust. I am going to be patient and wait for the second act of this insanely unbelievable play.

Hopefully, that's the case. If not, the Lakers are a rebuilding team. A very good rebuilding team, but the label would still stand. That being true, I'll be shutting down this blog immediately and start paying attention to women's soccer.

Obviously that was a joke. I'll be cutting myself instead.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

MAMBINO's MLB Winter Meetings Thoughts

As excited as we are here at MAMBINO HQ about the forthcoming NBA season, we still have to give a little love to baseball, who was the sweet bedfellow that kept us warm and loved when we thought that games on Christmas were only things of BockerKnocker's wet dreams. While the our NBA preview in the form of our 20 Burning Questions will go on, we have to pay a little respect to a pretty quiet offseason that has shown signs of life with the annual General Manager's Winter Meetings in Texas. Let's go over some news and notes from the past few days:

The Miami Marlins sign Jose Reyes to a 6-year, $106 million dollar deal

With a sparkling new stadium in downtown Miami, a entirely made-over brand identity and uniforms that Ricky Martin would call gay, the MIAMI Marlins needed to bring attention to the fact that they are a major market team that would be a player on the national sports scene. Jose Reyes, healthy or not, is the perfect player to launch this glorified marketing campaign with; he's a good-looking, charismatic 28 year old, whose physical tools lead to the type of exciting play that are needed with a relatively fair-weather fan market. He is one of the best latin players in the league, coming to a city that feels like it's not even a part of the continental United States. Hanley Ramirez, the Marlins' incumbent shortstop, remains as one of the best spanish-speaking players in the National League. But with Reyes, you have a guy that not only can match his production, but also capture a much broader appeal with his charm and force of personality.

By the Marlins signing one of the marquee free agents this offseason, they are trying to send a message to players, agents and fans that they are no longer a team that's going to exclusively purchase guys off the scrap heap and trade arbitration eligible rookies because of marginal raises. They are, for lack of a better term, legit. Even with Reyes' questionable recent health history (an average of only 98 games in the past 3 seasons) - most notably injuries to his legs which would rob him of his most valuable asset, his speed - the gamble was well-worth it for a team that needed his likeness and stature in so many ways.

But don't disregard the baseball part of the equation; when healthy last season (he still played in 126 games, by the way. No small feat), he was arguably the best player in the National League. He leads the league in triples since his arrival in the majors and is 3rd in stolen bases. Even while missing nearly a month of action, he still scored over 100 runs, hit a league-leading 16 triples with an .877 OPS, all while buoying a sometimes stagnant Mets offense featuring heavyweights like Lucas Duda, Ronny Paulino and Josh Thole.

The Marlins had to make a move like this. I think they made the best choice possible and for reasons beyond the ones on the field.

Albert Pujols offered a 10-year deal from the MIAMI Marlins

The Marlins are in the ultimate win-win situation here. By simply offering a contract to Pujols, they create the perception that this is a team that the baseball watching public needs to pay attention to, as money problems for the Dodgers and Mets have created a "big market vacuum" the Miami is all too obliged to fill. The Marlins offers stand there in the headlines alongside that of the Cubs and Cardinals, giving them a type of recognition that truly only money can buy. Even if Pujols doesn't sign, the Marlins are simply reinforcing the fact that in addition to their Jose Reyes deal and signing of closer Heath Bell, they are going to be a permanent fixture in December trade rumors for the foreseeable future.

But as if simply putting the offer on the table for the whole world (and media) to see wasn't enough, the real "win" would be for Pujols to actually sign with the Marlins. Along with table setters Reyes and Hanley Ramirez, and Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton batting in back of him, Pujols would be a part of the one of the best lineups in the National League. Miami wouldn't be a favorite to win the World Series, or even the favorite to win their own divison, but they'd certainly be one of the most exciting teams in the league. This contract offer isn't just a hollow publicity stunt - this is an offer to the best player in the National League. Win-win. Everyone stop being ridiculous.

San Francisco Giants acquire outfielder Angel Pagan from the New York Mets for outfielder Andres Torres and relief pitcher Ramon Ramirez

Along with the Giants rather underwhelming acquisition of a overachieving Melky Cabrera from the Royals for lefty starter Jonathan Sanchez, the Giants made yet another trade to try and shore up an unbelievably terrible 2010 offense. Overall, I don't think this trade has a large impact on either team; Torres came back down to Earth from his phenomenal 2010 season, reverting into the 30-something journeyman he's been for his whole career, Ramon Ramirez provided another season of great late inning relief and Pagan, who was supposed to be one of the Mets most productive hitters after a great 2009 and 2010 seasons, played so poorly that his performance barely affected his team's success (worth only 0.2 wins over a replacement player). The trade was largely innocuous on both sides, seeing both outfielders had terrible 2011 seasons and only Ramreiz provided value to either team.

What offends me about this trade is that the Giants, who won the World Series one year ago, were not able to reach the postseason again this year because despite one of the best rotations in the majors, they had a historically terrible offense. The Giants won their world championship because guys like Cody Ross, Juan Uribe and a washed-up Edgar Renteria had 10 great games at the right time. Their play for those two weeks in October were not at all indicative of the players they have been for the last 10 years. The way the Giants won the World Series is a completely unsustainable model for success. They have arguably the best four-man rotation in the majors with a devastating bullpen, and yet, when the iron is hot, they squander their otherwordly talent with risk-free trades for players whose one or two good seasons are well behind them. Sack up, San Francisco. I hate everything that Giants are as a Dodger fan, but as a baseball fan, I think it's tragic that they are so poorly managed.

The Dodgers sign a bunch of dudes

When I say "a bunch of dudes", I meant it to be vague, humorous and slighty disrespectful. In the past few days and weeks preceding, the Dodgers have spent over $37 million dollars on these players: backup catcher Matt Treanor (two years, $1.5 million), outfielder Juan Rivera (one year, $4 million), backup infielder Jerry Hairston, Jr. (two years, $6 million), backup infielder Adam Kennedy (one year, $1 million), starting pitcher Chris Capuano (two years, $10 million), starting pitcher Aaron Harang (two years, $12 million) and backup infielder Mark Ellis (two years, $8 million).

I have no problems with any of these players. Matt Treanor, Jerry Hairston, Mark Ellis, Adam Kennedy and Juan Rivera are all fine backups, and I wouldn't even mind if they were spot starters for a couple games a week. Chris Capuano had better numbers than his 4.55 ERA suggests (struck ou 8.1 batters per nine innings with only 2.6 walks per nine innings)and Aaron Harang is a solid 4th or 5th starter. However, Rivera will probably be an every day starter between left field and platooning at first with James Loney, Treanor will split time with either AJ Ellis or rookie Tim Federowicz, and one of the Hairston, Ellis or Kennedy group will be the starter at second base.

None of these players should be anything more than, as I said, a backup and a spot starter. I don't have compunctions with these players and their limited skill level, but much rather that money was spent on guys that we could have gotten on minor league signings or for $10 million less. As a team with a strict budget and so much uncertainty, it bothers me that so much money was thrown around at guys that will not only not be difference makers, but more importantly that money could have alocated elsewhere.

Blue Jays acquire closer Sergio Santos from the White Sox

In a market where Jonathan Papelbon is getting $50 million dollars and Heath Bell is getting $29 million, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous managed to pry away rookie closer Sergio Santos from the Chi Sox. Santos emerged from the pile of rubble masquerading as the Sox pen at the beginning of the season, overcame a shaky start and a lack of confidence from manager Ozzie Guillen to becoming one of the most steady closers in the American League. Santos was a buzzsaw against hitters, striking out a jarring 13 batters per nine innings, while giving up less than 6 hits per nine innings and destroyed right handed hitting, limiting batters to a .130 average. Though the Jays gave up one of their best prospects in Nestor Molina (a "22" year old from Venezuela with a lot of upside as a starting pitcher), they still got a steady back of the bullpen guy for a lot less money than the Phillies and Marlins just spent.

Burning Question #16: Dwight, Deron, CP3: Who gets traded?

Everybody loves a good rumor. In every scenario, the thought of something possibly happening always gets us amped up. The NBA is no different. Rumors have percolated about everyone and everything for as long as we can remember, but the uber-rumor era started rather recently:

Where is LeBron James going?
-Is he going to re-sign with Cleveland?
-What about New York? He loves the big city and Nike will pay him more money!
-I heard he wants to play with D-Rose!
-How come he hasn't re-signed with Cleveland yet!?
-Who the eff is "Worldwide Wes" and why are we talking about him?
-"I will be talking to LeBron James." -Amar'e Stoudemire, after signing with the Knicks
-Huh? He's meeting with the Clippers?
-"Wade resigns with Miami, brings Bosh with him." Okay, so the Heat are out of the sweepstakes.
-Wait, they're not? :(

Of course we all know that this led to "The Decision," but the rumor mill hasn't stopped. All of last year, the media preyed on Carmelo Anthony's impending trade to YOUR New York Knicks. This year, we have three sets of rumors. Three contracts with the dreaded opt-out provision. Three players who want to defeat the trio in Miami. So who gets traded?

Why is this even a question?

I would have skipped this section were it not for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. My whole intro basically told you why this is a Burning Question, but to get you more in tune with my noise, the new CBA will affect all trades, as follows:

Trade Percentage Rule:
Before this season, the number to remember was 125. If a trade involved putting at least one of the involved teams over the salary cap, that team could only acquire players whose current year salaries were no more than 125% + $100,000 of the current year salaries of the players that team was shipping out. (Hypothetical example: BockerKnocker plays for the Knicks and earns a salary of $15 million. KOBEsh plays for the Lakers and earns a salary $490K, the league minimum. If the Lakers want to acquire BK, and doing so would put them over the cap, they would have to add more players to the deal so the salaries would abide by the 125 percent rule.) This season, the 125 percent rule remains in effect for teams that are so far over the salary cap that they pay a luxury tax. However, if a team is over the cap, but not in the luxury tax window, a new 140 percent rule will go into effect.

How does this affect Dwight, Deron, and CP3? Glad you asked.

Orlando has approximately $75 million committed in player salaries for the upcoming season. This is above both the cap ($58 million) and the luxury tax threshold ($70 million). However, unless ownership re-ups their dosage of crazy pills, The Albatross Formerly Known As Gilbert Arenas will be taken off Orlando's books as a result of the Amnesty Clause (wherein a team can shed one contract off of their books). If Arenas' $19M figure is amnestied, then Orlando would be under the cap. As a result, any team that wants to land Dwight won't be forced into giving the Magic as many "filler" players just to abide by the 125 percent rule. Ultimately, this could shift leverage away from the Magic, as teams will want to pry Dwight for about 50 cents on the dollar.

New Jersey has a ridiculous amount of cap space, with only $39 million committed to players for 2011-12. The number will drop even lower if they decide to use the Amnesty Clause on the Mambino-hated Travis Outlaw, who sports a nifty $7 million price tag for doing absolutely nothing. However, the Nets are said to be gunning for such marquee free agents as Nene, Marc Gasol, and David West, all of whom would add a significant chunk to the payroll. Either way, the Nets, like the Magic, will be under the jurisdiction of the 140 percent rule.

New Orleans has committed $42 million to player salaries this year. But the catch is that the 42 milly is divided between only 6 players. This means that the team isn't likely to use the Amnesty Clause this year, even though Emeka Okafor, owed more than $40 million over the next three years himself, would be a decent Amnesty candidate. New Orleans will be looking to re-sign David West, but even if they are successful in doing so, they would have to sign at least 5 more players. This makes it more likely that they would be over the cap. However, because the Hornets are currently owned by the NBA (a rant for another time), the team won't be big spenders overall. The 140 percent rule will also apply. Although, it would be amusing for them to surpass the luxury tax threshold; the NBA would then be in the position of taxing itself.

How will this affect the NBA?

Remember when the Carmelo Anthony trade saga made you want to blow your brains out for two months straight? I don't, because it was awesome. I was addicted. I even benched my sarcastic wit when some moron dubbed it the "Melodrama."

But aside from my own personal fandom, the NBA rumor mill will be spewing out more "news" than ever before. You may think it's just Carmelo Anthony times three, but it's more than that. With so many teams in the hunt for these three superstars, there will be more fan bases that will be tuned in for each developing story. Last year, it was just Knicks fans, Nuggets fans, and diehards. This year, the rabid page-clickers and channel-changers will be comprised of fans of every single team that is under the salary cap OR thinks it can contend for a championship in the near future. That's almost every single franchise!

Players to Watch (aside from the obvious 3)

Denver Nuggets head coach George Karl has already revealed that his starting center will be Timofey Mozgov, more affectionately referred to by my brother as "The Wizard" (The Wizard of Moz). Mozgov was a filler in the Melo trade. I imagine the Nuggets asking former Bocker GM Donnie Walsh for Mozgov, and Walsh responding, "Eff you, but fine."

If any of the superstars get traded, there will be a throw-in coming in return (maybe less of them, as I have articulated above). Furthermore, a GM looking to snag one the superstars won't let a Mozgov-type player ruin the deal. He won't be thrilled about having to add the player, but he will do so for the greater good. The fact that the Nuggets will get at least 20 minutes per game from a filler is a steal, so look for Orlando, New Jersey, and New Orleans to make similar moves, if these trades really go down.


Dwight Howard gets traded, probably to the Lakers. There will be no bigger trade chip the Magic will receive than a young stud center in Andrew Bynum.

Deron Williams stays with the Nets. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov wants to win. Even though Deron has already said he will test the market, that won't stop Prokhorov from building a winner to show Deron that the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets are for real. In order to do that, he will need to keep Deron in Jersey, even if that means losing him for nothing next summer.

Chris Paul stays with the Hornets. The NBA needs to find a real owner for this franchise, and if Chris Paul is traded, the Hornets' market value takes a punch to the testicles. However, if an owner is found in the near future, look for Paul to be traded immediately thereafter.

Like this series? Check out our other Burning Questions leading up to the 2011-12 NBA season.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Burning Question #17: When will Joe Dumars be fired?

Why is this even a question?

I'm still not sure how the 2004 Pistons beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. It's been over 7 1/2 years and even after two titles, I'm still a bit bitter and perplexed as to how it happened. The denial runs deep. But what I do know for certain is that Joe Dumars, former star guard and two-time champion with the Pistons, was the General Manager and primary architect of that 2004 title team. What's amazing is that he built his team quite unlike any other champion in the last 30 years. The sport is built for to duos leading the way towards titles (Magic and Kareem, Shaq and Kobe, Robinson and Duncan, Michael and Scottie, Bird and McHale and so forth). Though not as common, even a single player can be turned into a June parade, as we've seen with Hakeem and Dirk, while surrounded by quality role players performing at the peak of their abilities.

What Dumars did was one of the biggest aberrations in a sport where there are few exceptions to the rule. He assembled a team representative of what is the most lauded quality of basketball - the fact that it is the truest example of team sports. Dumars took a bunch of spare pieces and managed to make no singular player more important than the sum of the parts. When you look back on every champion team since the early 80's, you can point a player on a title team and say "that was HIS team". The 2004 Detroit Pistons are the ONLY exception.

How did Dumars do this? He signed future NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups as a free agents and made a very shrewd trade for Rip Hamilton for a near-the-end of his prime Jerry Stackhouse. He manufactured a sign-and-trade agreement for a departing Grant Hill and managed to turn him into an undrafted young center named Ben Wallace. He took Tayshaun Prince with a late pick in the 2002 draft. He turned Bob Sura and some draft picks into Rasheed Wallace. All these moves were met with little fanfare and the best possible result. After 2004, Dumars kept the momentum going, sending the Pistons to another 4 Eastern Conference Finals by drafting guys like Jason Maxiell and Rodney Stuckey and signing Antonio McDyess.

I bring this history lesson to the forefront to illustrate why Joe Dumars still has his job. He has arguably been one of the worst GMs in the league the previous 4 NBA seasons.

After the aforementioned 2004 core aged and slowly disbanded, Dumars has made a series of confusing moves and universally criticized signings. Chief amongst them was using valuable cap room to pay over $20 million annually for Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, hiring two terrible coaches in two seasons (Michael Curry and John Kuester) and trading a still game Chauncey Billups for a washed-up Allen Iverson. Please note that I didn't even name the infamous drafting of Darko Milicic over All-NBA performers Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, as well as All-Stars Chris Kaman, David West, Josh Howard and Mo Williams.

While the Pistons should have been reloading or even rebuilding years ago, the effort has only begun in earnest the previous two seasons. Dumars has largely held onto his job because of the unbelievable amount of success he achieved his first half-decade on the job, but nearly everything he's done the past three seasons has failed miserably. It's stunning to see a perennial playoff team like the Pistons in the cellars of the NBA standings. Another 30 win season and a similar amount of locker room turmoil as 2010-2011 could spell the end for Joe D.

How will this play out?

Months ago new owner Tom Gores bought the team from the long held stewardship of the Davidson family. Gores promised to bring the Pistons back to prominence in a city that desperately needs its teams to not only be successful competitively, but financially. Obviously he knew that the Pistons weren't going to contending for championships any time soon and that the rebuilding effort had begun in earnest. The Pistons have very few pieces to trade off for picks or prospects and any future success will rely on great drafts and well-thought out signings. If Dumars were to be fired as so many people thought he perhaps should be, he would have been shipped out long ago.

Dumars' future largely relies on three different factors; how young players Greg Monroe, Austin Daye, Brandon Knight and Jonas Jerebko develop, if new coach Lawrence Frank and his promises of a better defense lead to more wins and how Rip Hamilton's exit from Detroit is handled. I hardly think that Gores expects anything more than between 25-30 wins and an low-playoff seed.

I believe in Lawrence Frank. He served last season as the assistant coach in charge of the Boston Celtic's defensive schemes and before that commandeered 4 New Jersey Nets squads that made the playoffs, each perhaps more undeserving than the previous year. Despite his appearance as a 5'6" toddler, teams consistently played hard for Frank and by and large exceeded expectations for how they were to finish. His commitment to defense and hard work is the key ingredient that seemed to be missing from a Pistons heritage showing nothing but those two qualities.

How will this affect the Pistons' season?

The questions regarding Joe's job security won't affect the Pistons season. Lawrence Frank was brought in to develop young players and get them to show the grit and determination associated with Detroit basketball. The players are going to play as they are paid, and without the same type of loyalty a player would show a coach, I doubt that they'll have enough attachment to their GM to play harder for his sake.

Joe's job security won't be evaluated in wins and losses, but rather if his draft picks show promise and how well the young players respond to the newly appointed coach. I personally feel as if Dumars should have been fired after the awful hiring of Michael Curry (who lost his locker room before the end of his first season!) and the catastrophic signings of Villanueva and Gordon. However, I think Lawrence Frank will exert the type of control and patience needed for a young team and the surprising Pistons making the playoffs as an 8th seed.

Player to Watch: Greg Monroe

Greg Monroe quietly had one of the best second halves not just for a rookie, but for a big man in the NBA. He averaged just under 14 points a game, 10 rebounds, while shooting 58% and turning the ball over just once a game. At 6'11" and 250 pounds, he is a legitimate power forward with great upside. Along with Brandon Knight, Monroe is one of the keys to the entire rebuilding movement in Detroit.


Best they can do: 14-52, 5th in the Central, 15th in the East

Lowest they can go: 35-31, 2nd in the Central, 6th in the East

Probable outcome: 28-38, 3rd in the Central, 8th in the West


Like this series? Check out the other Burning Questions leading up to the 2011-12 NBA season:

NBA Season Preview: Burning Questions for teams you don't care about
Burning Question #20: Can Sacramento keep their Kings?
Burning Question #19: Will the Rockets finally make a blockbuster trade?
Burning Question #18 - Will we be able to see Mark Jackson make “Hand Down, Man Down” pantomimes in the Warriors’ huddle this year?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

WWE for a NBA Fan - Southeast Division (Part 2)

In my despondency regarding the NBA Lockout, I devised a series of posts detailing how a typical NBA fan could survive a basketball-less winter with the help of well-placed WWE Superstar replacement suggestions. While it seemed far-fetched on the surface, I actually came up with some similarities between the two "sports", and more importantly, it gave me an excuse to write about professional wrestling.

Then Friday happened. To my amazement and surprise, the NBA season seemed as if it would proceed with a 66-game schedule. My abject joy aside, I realized that my massive 6-parter titled "WWE for an NBA Fan - How to Survive the NBA Lockout with the WWE" was now pretty bunk. Easily the worst part of the lockout ending.

However, seeing as half of it is already done and I enjoyed writing it so much, I will soldier on with the WWE for an NBA Fan series. While the NBA might be back, remember that the WWE never turned its back on you. These suggestions still bear weight, and perhaps, just perhaps, it will bring more eyes to the WWE. So I won't be alone. Sad and alone.

(Check back here for Part 1)

Atlanta Hawks: Kofi Kingston

As far as I can tell, the Hawks, who in their time in Atlanta have only gone so far as the conference finals twice (not since the 1969-70 season) and their fan base are not really concerned with winning and excellence so much as they are with playing hard and entertaining the crowd. Kofi Kingston is a fantastically entertaining wrestler, whose aerial moves and wrestling maneuvers are all highlighted by his extraordinary flexibility and agility. He's gone so far as to win the Intercontinental title, but truthfully, is no real threat to a world title any time soon. He's an entertainer, he works hard and he went to the best undergraduate college in the land.

Orlando Magic: Kane

I feel awful for Orlando. I really really do. In their brief 20 year history, they've made two finals (two more than Atlanta, Charlotte and Washington combined), had Shaquille O'Neal, Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill and Dwight Howard and reaped no titles. Their consistency towards winning regular season games is to be recognized and respected, and yet, they never have quite enough to get them over the top. In fact, this team is has been cursed nearly as much as the Los Angeles Lakers have been blessed. Tracy McGrady was dropping 30 points a game while his team lost 60+ every year. Grant Hill, on a surefire Hall of Famer course after his brilliant college career at Duke and unbelievable play in Detroit, came to Orlando on a massive 7-year deal and only played in a staggering 34% of their games. Shaquille O'Neal, the best center of his generation, left the Magic and went on to win 4 titles with the Lakers and Heat. Dwight Howard, the best center of his generation, could very well do the same in 10 months time.

My point here is, the Magic's tortured fan base (one of the most underrated in all of sports) needs a superstar with consistency. They need to know year-in and year-out what they're getting. They need a wrestler to match the toughness and physicality of player they're used to seeing, with none of the disappointment.

Kane has been in the WWE in his current incarnation as the hideously burned brother of the Undertaker since 1997. His work in the ring is more than adequate, but less than excellent. He is a compelling character, a physical specimen and yet, not entirely fascinating enough for the company to completely invest itself in. His best description? A steady hand. Kane is good enough to be considered for the main event, but that consideration should always stop before thinking about putting the championship around his waist. And everyone knows that; the fans know it, the company knows it and Kane knows it. I know what I'm going to get from Kane in 2012. Magic fans could use more of the same knowledge.

Washington Wizards: Alex Riley

Another easy call. In 2012, all I really want for Wiz fans is to not have to deal with guys shooting themselves in the leg, threatening to shoot each other in the locker room or pretend shooting each other in pregame warmups. I want the focus in Washington to be on the actual court. The District is a fantastic basketball hot bed, with dedicated fans that aren't just crazy about hoops, but know what they're talking about. They have a young team that won't contend for a couple of seasons, but surely will be fun watching them make it there.

Alex Riley is the perfect WWE Superstar for fans of the Wiz to follow during this lockout. He looks like the type of douchebag you'd see in the local college bar, or perhaps you'd just call him a tremendous blowhard, but certainly not one that's going to bring a gun into the locker room. After all, he's a nice looking dude who went to a fantastic undergraduate university (yes, that's really him). He's not going to create any type of locker drama and get himself fired any time soon. But similarly, I wouldn't expect him in the main event in that same time frame. Be patient Washington. And in the meantime, enjoy a guy that's not going to be packing.

Miami Heat: John Morrison

Obligatory Miami Heat cheap shot

(BTW - John Morrison had his WWE contract expire THIS WEEK. Yes, yet another untimely development for the rantings on MAMBINO. However, I will keep this comparison as is just because it's so perfect)

The Heat lost the NBA Finals. Even without a traditional offseason and June being a distant memory being lost amongst the falling leaves and snow storms of the seasons, writing that sentence still brings me an immense amount of satisfaction.

However, regardless of the cowardice of LeBron or the stupidity of Dwyane Wade, there is much to be made of the style in which the Heat played their first season. They took the court every game like it was their last, playing with such reckless abandon simply as a survival tool; after all, every single team played against them like it was a playoff game. The other 29 squads had a bullseye on the self-proclaimed future 7 time champions. To their credit, the Heat took every single criticism to heart, and let their game dictate their anger and frustration. They rode this all the way until the Finals, where the Mavericks showed that the Heat were so much less than they thought they were. For all their posturing and supposed greatness, Dallas proved the Heat to be no more than the facade of a champion rather than the genuine article. They had the look and swagger of titlist, and yet when it came down to crunch time, all the production and fanfare behind their play wasn't enough to hide the massive holes on their squad. They only appeared to be the best. They could only ride what got them to the Finals to two wins short of the trophy. They were not who they seemed at first glance.

This is John Morrison. He is an unbelievable athlete whose body is conditioned to the utmost perfection. His career started rather dubiously, as Morrison won a WWE reality series titled "Tough Enough" to garner a WWE contract. He and co-winner Matt Capotelli (whose career was cut short due to a brain tumor) were given immediate, though brief, exposure on WWE television. Throughout Tough Enough and his ensuing appearances on WWE's weekly episodic shows, the wrestling audience got to see all the potential that made him into legitimate prospect emerging almost inexplicably from a television show that seemed to produce no real talent. Though his improvisational skills on the microphone were to be desired and his personality was somewhat less than enthralling, Morrison none the less impressed everyone, including those here at MAMBINO, with his extraordinary athleticism and natural feel for professional wrestling. His coordination surpassed his lack of in-ring experience and he seemed truly driven to be great.

Years later, I still see those same qualities on screen. If I were to see Morrison for the first time today, I would think that Morrison was headed straight for the main event. He moves around the ring with what looks like foolish abandon, but in reality is a carefully laid plan for attack. Named "John Morrison" for his striking resemblance to dead rocker Jim Morrison, John has all the looks of a bonifide WWE superstar; chiseled, tall and good looking.

The truly unfortunate feature here is, that for all of Morrison's tools and potential, his evolution as a professional wrestler has been stunted by a lack of imagination. Every quality of John's arsenal I just mentioned is simply an extension of every ability he already had. As the years have passed and his peers have added newer weapons and skills to the entirety of their professional wrestling arsenal, Morrison has only stepped on the gas pedal rather than change gears. On the surface, he looks fantastic. He is entertaining and his move set is astonishing to the untrained eye. I've been watching John Morrison for 8 years now. He hasn't evolved enough to where I'd call him a champion.

The Miami Heat crowd are front-runners. Don't try to argue otherwise. They want to be entertained, taken on a good ride and hopefully some winning will be attached to the end result. The accessory emotion that lies with their sports fanaticism is hope, rather than fate. Whatever happens, win or lose, life will go on. The beach will still be there, the weather will be wonderful and there's no reason to dwell on sports as if they control your fate. That's why for all the bitter disappointment towards the end of the Heat season, South Beach didn't melt down in the same way that Boston, New York or hell, even Vancouver did. The accomplishment was the journey in Miami. The goal was important, but only in speech rather than in feeling. This is perfect crowd for John Morrison.

There you have it MAMBINO followers. Check back next week when we take a look at the Central division.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Burning Question #18: Will we be able to see Mark Jackson make “Hand Down, Man Down” pantomimes in the Warriors’ huddle this year?

Why is this even a question?

From the new Golden State Warriors' coach himself:

"If you're going to win at this level, you've got to do it on the defensive end so we will be a team that takes tremendous pride in defending on one side of the basketball floor. We will rebound the basketball. We'll make it an exciting game. It's going to be a great brand of basketball."

"Hand Down, Man Down" isn't just a hilariously hackneyed television saying for NBA point guard turned television analyst turned Warriors head coach Mark and one of the main cogs in a great drinking game. This apparently is a mantra that Jackson is going to preach in his first ever coaching job (yes, his first ever in basketball. At any level. Ever). This saying just isn't jargon coming from the mouth of a man whose every word seems as if he wrote it down and memorized it for weeks on end from June to October. This seems to have practical applications. For example, if indeed your hand is down, on both the defensive or offensive end, you are adding a deficit to your team, as if they were playing a man down. On the defensive end, if your hand is not up, then you are clearly not defending with enough effort to stop your opponent. Thus, you are nothing more than a "man down". Maybe you're not just a clown with a microphone after all, Mark.

However, all of Jackson's talk isn't without merit. The Warriors need to improve their defense and rebounding, perhaps more than any other team in the league. The last time the Warriors ranked outside of the bottom 10 of field goal percentage allowed was 2006-2007, when they ranked 18th. The last time that they were not last or second to last in rebounding differential, was 2005-2006, when they were 24th. In these last six years, the Warriors have made the playoffs one time, with an average win total of 36 games.

If the Warrior's are going to compete, they're going to have to actually adhere to Jackson's inane catchphrases.

How will this play out?

As over-the-top as Jackson appears, I find it hard to believe that he can keep up that type of persona 24 hours a day for 6 months straight. He's proven as a player that he commands respect and attention of his peers, and through his television work we can all see what type of charisma and passion he has. He should be able to get through to a group of players that truthfully have never been really asked to defend or rebound before, especially in that a lot of them came from the school of executing offense with at least 14 seconds left on the shot clock.

Can anyone tell me if David Lee is a good defender? He's a great rebounder and plays with an extraordinary amount of effort. But between D'Antoni and Keith Smart, has this man ever been asked to do anything besides put up 18 points a game and 11 boards? I would argue that as a professional, no one has asked him to be a defensive stalwart in the post and use his size and length to his advantage.

Throughout Don Nelson's days as the Warriors' coach, Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry were asked to do 2 things: pass and shoot. And sometimes not even the former. Even going back to his days at Davidson, do you think that any coach has put an expectation on Stephen Curry to do anything besides drain jaw-dropping shots and carry a team offense?

Let's take a look at the team as currently constructed. David Lee is a solid 6'9" at 250 pounds with great length and strength. Andris Biedrins has gone through two injury-racked seasons, but before then was averaging 11 boards and 1.5 blocks per contest. Monta Ellis, while a bit undersized, certainly has the footspeed to keep up with any opposing guard. Rookie SG Klay Thompson measures 6'6", 205 lbs and is regarded as a slightly above average defender. Backups Lou Amundson and Charlie Bell are both known for their grittiness and willingness to defend.

This squad has the capability of locking down on their opponents, and with Biedrins, Lee and second-year man Ekpe Udoh up front, rebounding shouldn't be a problem either. While trade rumors swirl regarding Monta, Lee and even to a certain extent Stephen Curry, I wouldn't expect a rebuilding team to sell off its young pieces, especially in light of the fact that they are implementing a completely paradoxical basketball philosophy than that of the one that was just deposed.

How will this affect the Warrior's season?

I truly believe that the Warriors will take to Jackson's new philosophy. Scoring 110 a night is fun, but I can imagine that that act wears thin quickly when your opponent routinely scores 122 in those very same games. If that's the case, look for the Warriors to improve upon last season's record of 36-46.

But I think this coaching move could potentially affect more than just one season alone. This is a move that could change the Golden State Warriors as a we know and sometimes forget about them.

As much as an improved defense and rebounding will help them win games, a reinvigorated fan base will be one of the team's strongest assets going forward. The Bay Area, as has been noted over and over again, is a basketball hot bed. For the most part, the nation is relatively unaware that Warriors fans are amongst the best and smartest in the NBA. This remains an unknown fact simply because they (righlyfully) haven't had much to cheer about the last 20 years, aside from a small, but extremely noticeable blip on the radar by Baron, S-Jax and company during the 2006-2007 season. For those 4 home playoff games, everyone remembered how electrifying basketball could be in the Bay.

A forgotten truth amongst the league is that while Chicago, Miami, LA and New York seem to plunder superstars from small markets and sign lucrative television deals at will, the Warriors are the slumbering major market beast that's been long forgotten. The Warriors are a draw amongst Oakland and San Fran, two major markets in desperate need for some professional ball. Couple this with the possible moves of the Kings to SoCal or elsewhere, the Warriors could potentially serve as not just the team for the Bay Area towns, but expanding up to Sacto and further. New owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber know this. They understand the potential that exists in a relatively untapped market and how so much potential has been squandered by mismanagment for decades. That's why they paid one of the highest prices ever for a NBA team. Mark Jackson's hiring was just the first step in change of culture for the Warriors. As much as this seems like a sub-.500 team just hiring a flashy rookie coach, this particular move is more than that. This could be signifying the awakening of a giant. You heard it here first kids.

Player to Watch: Ekpe Udoh

Pretty close call here between Udoh and Steph Curry. Curry's expectations as a third-year player will be raised, especially in light of the fact that he's going to be a point guard playing under a coach who ranks 2nd all-time in assists. However, Udoh is going to be asked to anchor the Warriors defense with his 6'10" frame and rebounding and blocking ability. A part of his rookie season was wiped out by a hand injury and with that, his second half statistics are a jumble of both good and bad. In 22 minutes a game he rolled out some decent numbers, pulling down 4 boards to go along with 5 points and 2 blocks, but marred by 3 fouls per contest, as well as a poor 41% shooting clip. A high draft pick out of Baylor just a year ago, the Warriors must have some type of consistent big man play coming out of the platoon of Biedrins and Udoh.


Best they can do: 38-28, 2nd in the Pacific, 6th in the West

Lowest they can go: 26-40, 4th in the Pacific, 12th in the West

Probable outcome: 32-34, 3rd in the Pacific, 10th in the West

Like this series? Check out the other Burning Questions leading up to the 2011-12 NBA season:

NBA Season Preview: Burning Questions for teams you don't care about
Burning Question #20: Can Sacramento keep their Kings?
Burning Question #19: Will the Rockets finally make a blockbuster trade?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Burning Question #19: Do the Rockets Finally Make a Blockbuster Trade?

I haven't seen Moneyball, nor have I read the book, but people tell me that both were pretty good. And sure, the concept of finding hidden gems using statistical analysis is intellectually stimulating. But intellectual stimulation is fleeting. Nobody cares anymore because the OBP-based Oakland Athletics never won a World Series. The numbers made some sort of sense, but the team wasn't memorable enough. Seriously, did you enjoy watching Bobby Crosby? What about Jermaine Dye? The Oakland Beanes had a legitimate player here and there, but they all had some kind of flaw that made them unmarketable. Miguel Tejada could barely speak English. Johnny Damon hadn't grown his hair out yet nor had he begun to realize he could talk. Jason Giambi was on his way to the Yankees as soon as he chose his jersey number (16 --> 1 + 6 = 7, Mickey Mantle's number). And don't get me started on those all-white unis. The Oakland As were the essence of boring. The idea behind Moneyball was cute, but where was the flash?

Conversely, we don't remember teams and players with all-style-no-substance, either. Isaiah Rider won the dunk contest with an array of incredible moves, but he never produced a real career. Damon Jones displayed a closet full of ludicrous, eye-popping suits, but there will rarely be room in the NBA for a streaky 3-point shooter who is undersized, can't defend, and can't get to the rim. Sadly, Mike D'Antoni teams will never win a championship because he never requires his players to toughen up on the defensive end. When it's all said and done, we forget about these types. There is too much sugar and not enough caffeine in their coffee, and sooner or later, we crash.

Why is this even a question?

The Houston Rockets have a lot of players that every championship team needs. Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, Jonny Flynn, Patrick Patterson, Courtney Lee, and Chase Budinger are all players that could make worthy contributions on a contending squad. But take a look at that list again: I just named 7 dudes! That's far too many role players. The best of the bunch, Kevin Martin, is a decent player, but he makes second banana-level money with only one elite skill: his jumpshot. At what point does Daryl Morey decide that the Oakland Athletics formula is even less relevant in a sport driven by superstars? At what point does he decide that being mediocre isn't good enough?

How will this play out?

Rumors have already started circulating regarding the eventual landing spots for Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, and Chris Paul, but if I were Morey, I would sit tight...for now. The Rockets need to give any of those aforementioned 7 players the opportunity to boost their trade value in the first half of the season. Would a Scola-Lowry-Budinger-1st Round Pick package look nice? Maybe, but wouldn't it look better if at least one of them played like an All-Star (fine, an All-Star snub) for a 25-game stretch? Morey is too smart to keep trotting these guys out year after year, but if he doesn't get a big name this season, then maybe it's time to rescind his yearly Sloan Sports Conference invite.

Player to Watch: Chase Budinger
The knock on Budinger's game is that he can't defend the athletic shooting guards and small forwards at the NBA level. But he has one thing that can't be taught: athleticism, which is impressive, considering he is of the Caucasian ilk. New head coach Kevin McHale might be able to teach Budinger a thing or two that offensive-minded Rick Adelman couldn't do last year. The right coach can make an athletic NBA player do almost anything.

Offensively, Budinger isn't exactly a sieve. He has flashed potential of being an slashing swingman who can pop from distance. In last year's regular season finale, he poured in 35 on 12-21 shooting, including 4-8 beyond the arc. If he can produce in a larger role this year, the Rockets may have something be able to trade him.

Prediction: 8th in the West

Gathering low-cost players and hoping they play well together is a fine strategy if you want to be a profitable sports franchise. Salaries are kept at a minimum, and the profitability associated with hosting a couple of home playoff games virtually guarantees that you won't be in the red. But the Larry O'Brien trophy isn't awarded to teams who only play a couple of home playoff games. Dork Elvis must strike this season, or his ghost will be in Graceland soon.

And a big P.S.: Yao ain't walking through that door! Can you guys change your logo and jerseys please? You don't have to look like a Chinese basketball team anymore!

Like this series? Check out the other Burning Questions leading up to the 2011-12 NBA season:

NBA Season Preview: Burning Questions for teams you don't care about
Burning Question #20: Can Sacramento keep their Kings?