Monday, January 31, 2011

I hope Kobe doesn't have your home address Henry Abbott

In a study that he’s been at for quite a while, Henry Abbott of TrueHoop recently dissected the argument of Kobe’s “clutchness”, or scoring ability in the last 24 seconds of a game. The numbers are there – Kobe’s shooting percentage in the clutch is pretty poor. Dismal might actually be a more appropriate word. Luke Walton is shooting better in garbage time this season than Kobe shoots lifetime in the clutch (and even with all the variables playing against Kobe, that’s still so, so….so disgraceful). And more to the point, as Abbott points out, Kobe’s not necessarily making his team better in the last 24 of a game – the Lakers rank 11th out of 30 NBA teams in points per 100 possessions in crunch time during Kobe’s 15 year tenure with LA.

This article was written not to discredit the Mamba’s skill level as a player, to debunk his legend as an all-time great or even to say he’s not a good player in crunch time – but rather to say that he is a very ordinary player in the clutch. In fact, Abott’s statistics are saying that the league-average shooting percentage is 29.7% - compared to Kobe’s 31.3%.

The argument is very well-researched and has several valid points – in fact, I’ve been arguing for quite a while that Kobe isn’t nearly as clutch as his reputation may seem. If my life was on the line and I needed one human to get me a bucket, I probably would pick Carmelo or Wade for the task. Giving Kobe the ball with the game on the line isn’t as much a guaranteed thing as people would hope – every single player in the NBA knows he’s going to touch the ball on the final possession, and every coach draws up plays for such a scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a “Kobe Contingent” playbook for every NBA coach (Kobe’s turning into Jack Bauer – no matter what you do to him, you have to assume he’s going to eff up your plans, so you better make sure you shut his ass down). The defenses will key in on him, he’ll get triple-teamed and any defense in the league will go from unsteady or somewhat competent to the lock-down 1989 Pistons. And this is where my counter-argument comes in.

Kobe has taken 115 shots in crunch time. According to the chart accompanying this article, Kobe has taken 19 more shots than the next most attempts on the list – Vince Carter. He has taken more than 43 more attempts than the next guy after that – Kevin Garnett. In fact, other than Vince, KG and Ray Allen, no one else in the past 15 seasons has more than 70 attempts.

Also, looking towards the top of the list, the highest nine shooting percentages were all guys who have taken 44 shots or less – and includes such basketball luminaries such as Glenn Robinson and Shawn Marion.

Lastly, only one of these nine guys have won an Finals MVP trophy or a regular season MVP trophy. One of them, Glenn Robinson, has won a title (albet as a role player on the Spurs in his last year), and only two have ever been to the Finals (Hedo and Robinson).

My argument is this – the comparison and study are both unfair. Yes, Kobe is close to the league-average in shooting percentage during the clutch. But he has justifiably built up the reputation as being the best and most reliable player in the final few seconds of a game. This rep leads to what I had mentioned – triple teams, crisp 5-man defensive rotations, plays built specifically to contain him. In other words, teams are playing harder against him. Every player wants to be a Kobe-stopper (RIP Ruben Patterson – no, he’s not dead. In real life. Just to me). Kobe’s notoriety in the clutch has only been exacerbated by his success on the biggest stages – despite the fact that he’s only had, by my count, four superb games in his last 4 Finals (Game 2 in 2004, Game 3 in 2008, Game 1 in 2009, Game 5 in 2010) – Kobe’s reputation as a “clutch” player is boosted by his overall success. Chris Paul is second on the list shooting 40% in the last 24 seconds, but I don’t hear anything about how clutch or how lethal of a finisher he is. Quite frankly, he’s just not the same stature of player as Kobe.

But to that, many would say – “well that’s a mark of true greatness – overcoming that type of adversity and winning with the game on the line”. Fair enough. If Kobe was truly great, then surely he should be shooting better than a paltry 31.3%. But basketball, like all other competitions, is a relative science. Batting .330 is great in baseball, but if you were look at the numbers empirically, you would probably say “wait, this guy only gets a hit in thirty percent of his at-bats? That sounds awful”. But relative to the rest of the league, getting a hit one-third of the time is pretty damn good.

More to the point actually, any study, scientific or otherwise, becomes more precise if the sample sizes are similar. Sure, information can be extrapolated from smaller numbers, but as time and quantity move on, variables are thrown into the mix. And that’s my argument here. We can’t have a precise study because no one else is shooting the ball with the game on the line more than Kobe Bean Bryant. In fact, as I covered, no one is within 1/5 of his shot attempts. Looking at that chart, as the number of shots are taken move up, the shooting percentage moves down to the mean. Sure, Carmelo is shooting 47% on his last second shots – but he’s taken ¼ as many as Kobe. If he were to take 80 more potential game-winning shots over a few more seasons, would he be still making around 50% of them? That’s 80 more games spread out over a number of seasons – time enough for coaches to start planning more heavily for Carmelo, for defenses to be sharper against him and for his legend to rise.

With a bevy of stats available to everyone’s fingertips now, I can see why Henry Abbott took such time to write this article. Its one of the most viewed pieces on ESPN and has spurred over 3,000 (!) responses. But it’s pretty short-sighted. What the numbers and stats don’t take into account are the variables of how a player’s performance will wane depending on how adversity evolves over time.

The problem with this article is that Abbott is trying to compare Kobe to other players in the league – but the comparison just can’t be made. No other player in the league has the same notoriety as Kobe in the last 24 seconds of a game and there is absolutely no way any other person can recreate that scenario. I think more attention should have been paid to the sheer number of shots Kobe’s taken in that scenario – and though I haven’t looked through all the statistics of all those games, I don’t think it’s crazy to say that one of the prime reasons his teams were in position to win those 115 games at the buzzer were because of Kobe to begin with. I don’t disagree with Abott that Kobe isn’t nearly as clutch as everyone thinks he is. But to say that he is an average player in the last 24 is simply ridiculous. Let me know how this article reads when Melo and CP3 take 80 more buzzer beaters.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Everyone stop being ridiculous

In about 9 months, Albert Pujols could be a free agent. There has been a lot of speculation as to what type of contract he’ll be getting and thus, who his career comparables are. I’ve read a lot of people throw around numbers in Alex Rodriguez’s contract, which set the record a few years ago with the Yankees; 10 years, $275 million. I’ve heard people say Pujols could sign from anywhere between 8 and 10 years, and $240 to $300 million. Every writer I read is discussing the merits and demerits of giving any one person a contract like that. But I haven’t seen something I thought I would – disbelief and outrage. Disbelief and outrage that no matter what the contract is, the Cardinals must re-sign this guy. There is absolutely no amount of money or length of contract that should stop St. Louis from keeping him.

Let me put this out there - Albert Pujols is the best baseball player on the planet. It’s not a secret. Anyone who has watched the game can tell you that – no player on either end of the field affects the game more. There is no one player you have to account more than Pujols.

Whenever I think of guys like Albert, I try to put myself in a practical situation. If I’m a fan watching at home, which guy do I least want coming up in the 8th inning in the playoffs against my team trying to protect the lead? Who would strike the most fear in my Dodger Blue heart? That answer, without question, is Pujols. Albert Pujols absolutely terrifies me with a bat in his hands. When he stands up there at the plate, squatting low in his batting stance, I can see that his leg muscles are a cross between a hippopotamus and the Macho Man, circa 1988. When he holds up his right elbow right next to his head, I can see his freakish Popeye arms with enough power in them to light up Vegas for a week. Then, when he’s rocking back and forth, I can see his squint as he looks 60 feet, 6 inches at the guy about to throw him a ball. That squint says “I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast”. Pujols scares the crap out of me. More than any player should. He puts the “yep, wow, that was wetter than even I imagined it would be” fear of God into me. And that’s how I know he’s the best hitter in the game.

So the debate should end right there. It should be “this guy is the best player in the game. He should be paid like it. We should mortgage the farm, the kids, the car, the stadium and whatever else I got on this guy, because he is the one person in the league you bet on when your life is on the line”. That should be it. But even when I read other writers acknowledging this, there is still a bit of trepidation and again, the lack of disbelief and outrage that is emanating from this corner of the blogosphere. So let’s go a bit deeper.

My entire problem with this debate of “should be get paid $30 million”, “should he get a 10-year contract”, “will he capsize the Cardinals franchise”, et al is that this is not only the best player in the league, but he is one of the greatest ever. EV-ER (Pay him. I don’t care what it costs. Just pay the man. If the Yankees let Mickey Mantle leave in the 1950’s because it would cost too much, there would still be historians today saying “the Yankees could have won 8 titles if they had just paid up and kept one of the greatest ever to play the game. I can’t say “Pay him” enough times. I feel like Geena Davis in Beatlejuice. I wish I could say this phrase enough times until the fucking problem goes away).

When we’re talking about Pujols, I think it doesn’t do him justice to talk about a contract and look only at the player that has a comparable one. So, I took a look at statistics for who many people consider the 9 greatest players from the modern era (1900 and on). From there, I took their stats from what I considered to be their greatest successive 10-season stretch. Take a look at how Pujols measures up against these giants:

Games Runs Hits HR RBI BA OPS Aggregate Total
Babe Ruth
(1919-1928) 1394 1347 1701 450 1291 .353 1.227 23
Lou Gerhig (1927-1936) 1538 1417 2022 390 1527 .350 1.118 16
Joe DiMaggio (1936-1948) 1405 1146 1853 303 1277 .330 0.987 40
Mickey Mantle (1952-1961)1436 1183 1609 361 998 .311 1.017 41
Willie Mays (1956-1965) 1547 1179 1844 389 1074 .315 0.983 39
Hank Aaron (1962-1971) 1521 1072 1766 386 1097 .308 0.954 48
Barry Bonds (1995-2004) 1435 1180 1143 444 1083 .315 1.169 37
Alex Rodriguez (2001-2010)1513 1130 1706 424 1236 .299 0.971 43
Albert Pujols (2001-2010) 1558 1186 1900 408 1230 .331 1.056 22

After ranking these gentlemen 1 through 9, based on their statistics compared to one another, I added up these number values. The sums are under “Aggregate Total”. The lower the score, the higher placing in the various categories:

Aggregate Total
Lou Gerhig
Albert Pujols 22
Babe Ruth 23
Barry Bonds 37
Willie Mays 39
Joe DiMaggio 40
Mickey Mantle 41
Alex Rodriguez 43
Hank Aaron 48

(Now keep in mind, I’m not Bill James. I’m not Keith Law. I’m not even Bill Simmons (Yet). These are just numbers I picked out and deemed the most important baseball statistics, the ones that I think are most telling to a man’s career. I know some are relative to the teams they played on, managers they played for and the parks they played in. I know that the game was very different in the 1920’s than it was in the 1990’s. I know that the physical warfare that was on Mantle’s mind was very different than the social warfare that was on Hank Aaron’s mind. That all being said, there is no way to adjust the game over the years to make everything a fair comparison. I am a stat monkey. This is all I have. And its my blog. So handle it)

Obviously there are some asterisks here, such as A-Rod’s admitted steroid use, Gerhig’s sickness cutting his career short and Mantle’s prime years being taken away due to World War II. But for the most part, the first 10 years of Pujols’ career has matched up right with the greatest ever to play the game. In fact, according to this rough aggregate, he averages higher in all these categories than everyone except for Lou Gerhig.

And this is why it’s important to match up Pujols with guys like the Babe and Gerhig, who got paid 5 figures per season. Because its important to understand that we’re not just dealing with a great player, or the greatest player of our era – we’re dealing with one of the greatest to play in ANY era. Hell, this guy might be one of the top 5 greatest baseball players ever to pick up a bat. Wrap your mind around that – this one guy from a small town in the Dominican Republic has performed better on the baseball field than literally hundreds of thousands of men before him. He has put up numbers greater than most of the all-time greats. If he were to retire today, January 25th, 2011, he would be a Hall of Famer. Imagine where he is in another 10 years. Yikes.

And one more note to chew on – those stats were just the first 10 years of Pujols career. For the other 8 guys on the list, I was able to cherry pick the best 10 years of their career. It is very well possible that we’re only scratching the surface of his potential. He turned 31 years old last week! We’re dealing with a behemoth. A titan. In my estimation, the greatest player ever to step foot on sod. St. Louis, listen up. General Manager John Mozeliak, I know you read my blog (he doesn’t). Pay this guy. Whatever he wants. He wants the ballpark? Cool. He wants the arch? Sure. Want to rename this blog “The Black Mamberto”? Anything. Keep him please. And everyone stop being ridiculous.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The NBA. Where Amazing Happens.

As of today, January 25th, both the Toronto Raptors and the New Jersey Nets are 5 ½ games out of playoff contention. Both these teams have identical record of 13-32. Yes, two teams that are 19 games under .500 and feature Sonny Weems, Sundiata Gaines and Johan Petro in their rotations. This simultaneously fascinates and repulses me. Much like the way I felt when I heard about Greg Oden penis pictures on the interweb.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Delonte West ruined basketball in Cleveland

I had about 3 or 4 conversations last May that went something like this:

“Did you hear this rumor about Lebron’s mom and Delonte West?”
“Well, there’s this rumor, that’s been substantiated by enough people, that Delonte banged, was banging or was still banging Lebron’s mom, and before game 4 of the Eastern Conference semis, Lebron found out…and also that everyone in the locker room knew about it before him”
“Wait….what? Are you serious?”
“Yeah. That’s why a locker room full of guys who seemed to have better chemistry than anyone else in the league suddenly went cold to each other around that game. It also explains why Lebron appeared distracted and distant from games 4 to 6. I think it’s pretty much the reason why they lost”
“Wow. That would really explain a lot. Is this true? Seriously? Is this on Wait…what?”

Not that I need to cite a bunch of sources, but from everything I’ve read on the internet, this is all true. I mean, I read it on the internet. It HAS to be true.

Apparently, Delonte West, who was reportedly a close friend of Lebron, was having an affair with Lebron’s mom Gloria James. Lebron was the last to find out, and this killed the chemistry of the team favored to win the title, leading to the Cavs wilting before the resurgent Celtics in round 2 of the 2010 playoffs

(as an aside – I don’t really hear anyone talk about that after Lebron left Cleveland, despite the massive fallout from the citizens of Cleveland, and pundits around the league, Lebron never really mentioned how he’d miss the guys he’d played with in Cleveland – even though he won 66 and 61 games in two seasons with them, went to the finals two years before that and on and off the court, seemed to be genuinely close with them. This Delonte-gate affair obviously had a serious effect on Lebron signing with the Heat. So Cleveland – don’t just boo Bron. Take it out on Delonte. He might have banged your mom too, you never know)

I know that this is kind of a lurid story, and based on pure speculation. This is TMZ fodder, the kind of story that gets picked up by people that have nothing to do with basketball or sports. But I do not know how this is not a story! How is this not a story??? Even though it does have to do with affair with someone’s mom (by the way, the ultimate “guy” insult. It doesn’t ever matter how much better Lebron is than Delonte, how much more money he makes, how much more famous he is…Delonte can always look at Lebron and say “Yep. I had sex with your mother”. Total burn), this derailed a team in contention for a NBA championship and may have legitimately affected Lebron’s free agency decision this summer.

I can understand ESPN not reporting it because it is a scandalous, non-Disney (who owns the worldwide leader) story based on speculation and hearsay. But how does someone, just one single reporter, not just go up and ask Lebron “Hey Bron, heard this crazy rumor…”. I mean, Kim Kardashian gets a million microphones jammed in her face asking her if she’s pregnant because she had Baja Fresh for lunch and looks full. I just don’t understand how the mainstream media is not on top of this, especially in the face of how popular Lebron is and how big a story it was that he seemingly disappeared in the most important game of the season.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kobe, minutes and his knees

With all this talk about Kobe's knees, his minutes piling up, his mileage, et al, got me thinking about how much he actually has played. So here are some interesting statistics that I researched today:

Kobe has played 38,626 minutes in his career. That is good for #32 of all time, #5 active (behind Kidd, KG, Shaquille and Jesus Shuttlesworth). He has played in 1,059 games on an average of 36.5 minutes per game.

However, he’s also played in 198 career playoff games, a total of 7,811 minutes. This is good for 5th all time and 2nd active (behind Shaquille’s 8087).

Divided over and 82 game season, Kobe has essentially played 13 season’s worth of regular season basketball (despite this being his 15th year, due to injuries, suspensions, etc).

I then took the 7,811 minutes postseason minutes, which when divided them by his career average for regular season games played, comes out to 214 additional regular season games, or 2.6 seasons (obviously postseason basketball is much more intense than say, a December 31st game against the Sixers – but there isn’t a metric that can measure the “intensity” of a game).

So what it comes down to, is that the Mamba has played 1272 games or 15 ½ full seasons of NBA basketball, averaging 36.5 minutes a game, all while being the first or second option the entire time.

The question shouldn't really be how Kobe's career mileage is affecting his decline, but rather how is he able to play at this level despite his career mileage.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The East Will Rise

I don’t know if anyone told our beloved NBA, but when Michael left Chicago in 1998, the entire conference was not supposed to leave with him.

In the 13 seasons proceeding MJ’s departure and subsequent retirement from basketball (for all intents and purposes, I will not speak of his Wizards tenure, ever). In a decade plus dominated by the Lakers and Spurs (combining for 9 championships), the East has posted 3 title victories, coming as an underdog to a Western Conference team each time (Detroit in 2004, Miami in 2006 and Boston in 2008). I don’t even need to quantify the losses and utter incompetence Eastern conference basketball has shown over the past decade with statistics or standings - Anyone that has watched basketball over that period of time has clearly seen 12 seasons of floundering, which has simultaneously magnified the 12 seasons of consistent and continued excellence from the Spurs, Mavericks, Suns, Lakers, Nuggets, Jazz,

But all was not supposed to be lost – despite a seeming exodus of front office intelligence and on-court talent, each year we hear the same thing: “The East is coming back!”. Season after season, there is a supposed infusion of talent that will lead to the East rising again. Lebron, Bosh and Dwyane were drafted in 2003. Then Dwight Howard in 2004. Derrick Rose came in 2008. Dougie Wall is a rook in 2010.

There are 15 teams in the Eastern Conference. 6 have winning records. By comparison, the West has 6 teams – under .500. Of the bottom 10 teams in the league – Charlotte, Philly, New Jersey, Toronto, Cleveland, Washington, Milwaukee, the Clippers, Minnesota and Sacramento – 7 of those teams are from the East.

Look, I think you get the point. I don’t have to keep on throwing out facts and figures for you. Anyone that even casually watches the NBA can see that the East is extremely top-heavy. Boston, Miami, Chicago and Orlando are the 800 pound gorillas. Atlanta, Nueva York and Indiana are halfway decent and everyone else plays in Awful Arena in Mediocre Town in Suckville County. BUT relax citizens of colder weather and tighter buttholes! I feel that salvation is coming!

The East is coming back. For real. My argument is three-fold:

1. The end of the West’s dominant stars

If you look at the previous 12 seasons Post-Jordan (so are we in 12 P.J.?), the West’s domination has been predicated on these superstars: Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony,Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, et al. During their prime years, these gentlemen didn’t just make all-star teams or win scoring titles – they dominated the game, and for some of them, will go down as some of the greatest of all time. However, these are mostly players that range from the end of their peaks to out of the league completely.

2. The lack of the West’s rising stars

To add to the last point, the West simply has a lack of young talent that are either in their primes or just starting to tap the surface. Aside from Carmelo, Deron and CP3 (and two of those players seem to be headed towards an imminent departure to the Mecca), there are only a few young players that you could choose to build your franchise around. This is not to say that the West does not have stars in place - Kevin Durant, Russ Westbrook, Steph Curry, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin count as some young players that could soon turn into elite game changers (particularly Durant and Griffin, both of which could be the best at their positions, not to mention the league as a whole, in a few short years). Which brings me to my next point…

3. The wealth of young stars in the East

The best young players are all in the Eastern Conference. Let’s just throw out these names: Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudamire, Derrick Rose, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, Danny Granger, Andrew Bogut, Al Horford – and this doesn’t include the players that will be the game’s biggest stars in the immediate future: John Wall, Brandon Jennings, Brook Lopez, Joakim Noah, Derrick Favors, et al…and this doesn’t even count the high draft picks that will surface in the 2011 and 2012 drafts. Of those guys I just named, Lebron, Wade, Bosh, Rondo, Howard, Wall, Noah, Lopez, Bogut and Rose are going to carry the league for the next 10 years. Of the young stars in the west, I can only comfortably name Griffin, Durant, Westbrook and Love in that category.

Mark it down – 2015 and on, the East will be risen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

How to Win the World Series

The best team doesn’t always win. You could win 100 games, have an all-star at every position and a Cy Young winner on the mound and still, in Major League Baseball, that does not guarantee you a ring. Strange, but true. Just to prove my point, let’s look at three of the last 5 World Series winners, and who I considered the best team not to win that particular year.

The Champs
: The San Francisco Cowards…I mean, Giants.
The Best Team: The Philadelphia Phillies

Why the Giants won it: Pitching, pitching, pitching, and some timely hitting. Lincecum was absolutely dominant, and Cain, Sanchez and Bumgarner were just a step below that. Their bullpen shutdown everyone who came to the plate. But their line-up featured Edgar Renteria (played in less than a third of the regular season), Cody Ross (put on waivers by the Marlins), Pat Burrell (put on waivers by the Rays), Andres Torres (cut from 5 teams in 6 years) and some fat guy who used to be Pablo Sandoval. Despite being the worst World Series offense since the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers, they got enough guy on base and the timely hits to back them up.

Why the Phillies should have won: Roy Halladay threw a no-hitter against the best offensive team in the NL in 2010, the Reds. Roy Oswalt had the best second half in the league….next to fellow Phillie Cole Hamels. They had former MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, not to mention former all-stars at almost every position - Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, Placido Polanco, Chase Utley and Jayson Werth. Brad Lidge had a bounce-back year. It still blows my mind that this team did not win the National League, let alone the whole thing.

2008The Champs: The Philadelphia Phillies
The Best Team: The Chicago Cubs

Why the Phillies Won It: Cole Hamels did his best Orel Hersheiser impression, the Dodgers choked away 2 very winnable games, Matt Stairs hit a home run that still hasn’t landed in Chavez Ravine and the Rays featured a front three that were all 24 years old.

Why the Cubs should have won: That is a tough sentence to write because the Cubs are never going to win it, ever. BUT, they should have won because they had an above average OPS for every hitter in the lineup, a great pen and Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden and Carlos Zambrano at all their individual bests. They won 97 games. But they’re the Cubs. So they lost.

2006The Champs: The St. Louis Cardinals
The Best Team: Any other team in the playoffs except for the Padres.

Why did Cardinals won it: The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals were the team that gave me the idea for this article. This team won because despite having their worst record in 7 seasons (at 83-78), a 12-17 September, nearly blowing an 8 ½ game lead to the Astros in the final month, two guys with ERAs over 5.00 starting 6 (!) playoff games, a rookie closer, Jeff Suppan as their NLCS MVP and David Eckstein as their World Series MVP - they got incredibly hot right as the playoffs started, and went 13-5 en route to a title.

Why should have anyone else won: Um, everything just mentioned. We can also thank the following people for blowing it for their respective teams:
  • JD Drew and Jeff Kent for trying a double-steal at home against the Mets, resulting in a double play at home plate.
  • Carlos Beltran for not even swinging at the final pitch in the NLCS.
  • The Detroit Tigers offense for scoring a combined 11 RUNS IN 5 WORLD SERIES GAMES (this after scoring 22 in a 4 game ALCS sweep over Oakland).
  • Dave Duncan having either superior coaching, steroids or methamphetamines to everyone else in the league by single-handedly reviving the corpses of the following pitchers: Jeff Weaver, Jeff Suppan, Anthony Reyes, Braden Looper and Jason Isringhausen. By the way, as of January 10th, 2011, none of those guys have major league jobs.
I always thought that you needed at least two true ace, dominant pitchers, a pretty good offense, and a confident, shut down bullpen. All those rules went out the window when I saw those Cardinals win it in ’06. You might have had a MISERABLE regular season, or in the Cardinals’ case, a historically bad season for a playoff team. But you can still win a championship if these three things happen: you hit the switch at the right second and get hot, one dependable pitcher and one hitter you can build around.. The Cardinals had a terrible rotation with one true dominant pitcher, an awful offense (despite having Albert Pujols) and a beleaguered pen that installed a rookie closer with 3 career saves to his name (which all occurred that season).

I still can’t believe the Cardinals won that series though.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Immortal Brian Cardinal

In Dirk Nowitzki’s absence, Coach Rick Carlisle has enlisted The Immortal Brian Cardinal to play major minutes for YOUR Dallas Mavericks.

Though born without much athleticism or any distinguishable skills, The Immortal Brian Cardinal has pulled every iota of basketball prowess out that doughy 6’8” frame to produce a stunningly long 11-year career. To boot, I hear he is a nice guy too.

But this guy is an NBA player? He looks like someone who plays in my dad’s rec league on Tuesday nights. Seriously, doesn’t this look like a guy your dad chats with at the coffee machine on Monday morning, talking about how the Bills played on Sunday or how his wife thinks they need a new vacuum, but he knows that the old one works just fine? This got me thinking, if I had to have a starting 5 of “My Dad’s Rec League Teammates Who Are Actually Current NBA Players”, who would compile such a heady roster?

PG: Earl Boykins(Sidenote: I’ve seen Earl play live about 5 or 6 times over the years. No matter where I see him, I always hear an audible snicker from the Staples Center crowd when this 5’5” point comes in….Until he drops 20 on the Lakers and then no one is laughing because he is little – but because that little guy just kicked us in the balls)
SG: Chase BudingerSF: The Immortal Brian Cardinal
PF: Brian Scalabrine
C: Sean Marks
Bench: Gordon Hayward, Jeremy Lin, Grant Hill, Eduardo Najera
Coach: Lawrence Frank
I would go with a “My Dad’s Rec League Teammates Who Are Actually NBA Players From Any Era” starting 5, but I realized that would be any Boston Celtics roster from 1945 until 1969 (minus Bill Russell, of course).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Melo to the Lakers? Yes, please.

Before the season, I had a conversation with my buddy Alvy. Went a little something like this:

"Would you trade Melo for Bynum? With Sasha, some draft picks and someone else to make the cap numbers work"
"No way man. No way. We win because we're so much bigger than everyone else. No way I make that trade. You must be high. That's ridiculous. Melo plays no defense and he's got a bad attitude. Never. No way"

This morning I get an e-mail:

Carmelo to the Lakers?
"I would take this deal in a heartbeat"

Now granted, this is a completely unsubstantiated trade rumor. The "trade" for Joe Smith wasn't really a trade, but rather a salary dump (it was a way to save 9 million dollars by shipping out a player that played less in 11 games as a Laker than he did in 2 games as a Net. We didn't get Joe Smith's old ass so he could be a significant contributor. We got him as an insurance policy for a "oh shit we are starting Slava Medvedenko because all of our other big guys came down with tapeworms" situation). Carmelo has made it known that he's interested in going to a major market, but hasn't mentioned LA publicly, only New York. The Lakers already are 26 million over the cap. A trade like this would put them 30 million-plus over the cap. The Lakers already have a ball-dominating, scoring machine on the wing - there might not be enough shots for both of them. So why do we make this trade? Does this make sense?

Yes - it does make sense. But why? We are giving up size for scoring, trading big for small, which is a big no-no in the NBA GM's handbook. But to look at it another way, what is more important? Having another highly efficient, game-changing scorer on the team as Kobe declines with age, or keeping our overwhelming size intact, hoping that Andrew's health holds up as he gets older? Cases for both arguments:

Ditching the Lumbering Injury-prone Big Guy
So to answer this question, let's examine at the most applicable situation; the Lakers' two last title runs. I would argue the two most significant factors were

1) Kobe was an assassin-like, cold-blooded, steely-eyed, protruding lower-jawed, Ray Lewis impersonating killer on the court


2) We were bigger than everyone else.

In the 2009 we absolutely overwhelmed Orlando with team defense and Kobe killed them with 30ppg. In 2010 the Celtics locked down on Kobe and he wasn't the same guy he was 12 months before - but we won with our rebounding and size. Obviously Boston was the bigger challenge and thus, maybe you can say our size was the biggest difference maker both years. But if you put a lesser scorer or player than Kobe in the 2009 Finals, do we have a chance of beating Orlando? And are we even in the Boston series?

Regardless of Kobe's brilliance and my never-ending, slightly disturbing but completely heterosexual love for Kobe Bryant, my long-standing belief that the Lakers continue to win because they have two 7-footers on the team and another guy who is 6'10". Teams just cannot handle that size.

Trading for the Guy Who Married an MTV VJ
As the season passes, it has become more and more obvious to me (and the 90 journalists who wrote 200 articles about how "Kobe's lost a step") that Kobe is on the downside of his prime. Don't get me wrong - while the rumors of the Mamba's demise are far exaggerated, they're not completely without merit. The minutes are obviously catching up with him; there is not stat that I can pull up that is more demonstrative than just watching him play. Trading for another player who some would argue is a better offensive player AND in his prime would make more sense, not only for this year, but also for the years to come when the Lakers will need another franchise player to replace Kobe...if you believe that Andrew Lee Bynum is not that player.

To counter the argument that the Lakers destroyed teams because they were bigger, its not important to look at the Celtics, Spurs or Mavericks that can combat us with their size. Those aren't the teams that will be relativant in 4 years. Miami, Oklahoma, Orlando and Chicago are the teams the Lakers have to worry about. In that sense, maybe LA doesn't have to worry about size, so much as getting guys that can either defend or outscore Lebron, Durant, et al (I'll give you a hint: Carmelo can do one of those things, and it rhymes with "scoring").

The Verdict
My answer (which, if you are reading this right now, is the MOST IMPORTANT ANSWER...obviously) is that though it was a combination of both that helped us win championships, going forward, having an elite scorer like Carmelo Anthony is more important. Our window is closing a little more rapidly than I thought. Andrew might turn into the 24ppg, 14rpg man we all hoped he would be, but with his health history the way it is, I'd rather bet on the smaller scoring machine who's averaged 73 games a season than the center who's averaged 56 games a season. We'd still have our remaining bigs - Pau is 31 and in his prime, Lamar is playing better than ever and Carmelo is one of the league's most underrated post players. So many championships teams have shown us that a winning formula is an elite wing scorer paired with a dominant big is the pathway to glory. LA might be throwing away this year to the Celtics, Orlando or San Antonio by trading for Anthony, but they would be ensuring the relevance of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise for the next 5 to 8 years. With these two bigs and Carmelo appreciating in skills while Kobe declines, I think the Lakers should jump at the chance to move forward with #15.

CARMELO-LA-2011!!!!!!!!!! SPREAD THE GOSPEL!!!!!!!!!!

That is....unless the Clippers make a move....

Adrian Beltre just got handed $80 million dollars

....or 96 million if his 6th year option vests.

96 million for Adrian Beltre. Read my blog Nolan Ryan!!!!! Read it!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My bet for Beltre's stat line next year:

156 games, 17 HR, 91 RBI 75 Runs, .260/.330/.470. Write that down. This is league average. For an average salary of $16 million a year! C'MON NOLAN RYAN!!!!!! I can't wait until I'm a GM.

I fucking hate Adrian Beltre.