Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Posts Tagged ‘National Basketball Association’

We will miss you Chauncey

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 23, 2011

Everyone on ESPN and all the national outlets are gaga about the Carmelo Anthony trade.  As a Nuggets fan, I am just glad this saga is over.  There are enough other places where you can read about his impact on the Knicks, and since I don’t care one bit about that team we’re just going to focus on Denver.  I think the Nuggets actually did very well getting four players, three draft picks and cash from the Knicks, when everyone knew that Anthony was just going to sign with the Knicks as a free agent this summer. If tonight is any indication (a blowout win over Memphis) I think the Nuggets might even find that they will be a better team without an unhappy Anthony.  It seems from tonight that the players remaining are just relieved to have this saga behind them.  I think the Nuggets did well, but there is someone caught in the middle, someone who through no fault of his own got nothing he wanted: Chauncey Billups.

For people nationally, Billups’ inclusion in the trade to the Knicks is not considered a big deal.  Sure he won multiple championships with the Pistons, but he is not on the radar nationally as a star.  This is a shame really because he is one of the true good guys in the league, and perhaps the biggest reason he isn’t considered a star is because he isn’t selfish and doesn’t market himself that way.  Unlike Anthony, Billups doesn’t crave Sportscenter highlights and marketing visibility.  For those of us here in Denver, Billups is a local icon, and for many (including me) was perhaps the only reason the Nuggets were remotely worth watching this year.

For those of you who don’t know, Billups is perhaps the best high school player ever in Colorado, winner of multiple state titles.  He led the CU Buffs to a rare NCAA tournament appearance in the 1990s.  He was the third overall pick in the draft by the Celtics.  Simply put, he is the local boy done good.  Before Billups got traded to the Nuggets, annual first round playoff exits were the norm and the team had no leader (no, Anthony doesn’t qualify.  You must be a team player to be a leader).  It says a lot that the Nuggets went from first round flameout to conference finalist the instant Billups arrived (in a trade for Allen Iverson, another me first scorer).  Billups is one of those players who lets his play speak for itself, brings championship experience that most teams don’t have, and makes his teammates better.  He is a player who I would call a glue, and I think the Nuggets are going to miss him a lot more than they will Anthony.

While I like Ty Lawson and the newly acquired Raymond Felton at the point guard position, Billups will missed for both his on court play (he’s one of the few guys on the Nuggets who played defense with any consistency), and more so for his leadership.  Let’s hope that some of Billups’ experience rubbed off on Lawson during the last year and half, because the Nuggets are going to need him to be one of the new leaders of the team.  I do think the new mix of players will actually give the Nuggets some nice pieces, especially Danilo Gallinari, who can score his share of points.  I am hopeful that without the cloud of the Carmelo saga hanging over the team, the locker room will become more relaxed and the Nuggets will start to play better as a team.  I am happy to tell Anthony not to let the door hit his backside on the way out, but Chauncey will be sorely missed.

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Is Carmelo the next to leave Denver?

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 20, 2010

It’s pretty obvious that Denver is a football town, especially this time of year, but Carmelo Anthony is doing his best to steal headlines and garner attention, and not in a good way.  In a summer where the country was swept by LeBron mania (or had it shoved down its throat, depending on your level of NBA interest), Anthony has had in front of him a 3-year $65 million extension that he has been sitting on.  He is due to make $17.1 million this coming season and has a player option to make $18.5 million in the 2011-12 season.  Needless to say, the Nuggets are doing everything they can to try and stroke Anthony’s ego and make him feel like the franchise player.  Anthony has so far not signed the extension, which at first didn’t seem like a big deal but has now snowballed to the point where numerous reports say he wants out and will only sign the extension if he is traded to a team of his choice.  Anthony hasn’t said much himself to clarify the situation, save for the following statement from his Twitter account (unedited by me, note the incorrect use of “their”): “Funny how people come up with there (sic) own analysis of a situation,” he tweeted. “I tell you boy … Unbelievable.”

Most NBA experts think it is not a matter of if Anthony will leave Denver, but when.  Much of this is of course based on speculation, and as such there is no consistent theme to the stories.  SI.com is reporting that Anthony would be willing to sign the extension if he is traded to the Knicks, Nets or Rockets.  An ESPN.com story by Ric Bucher talked about toasts at Anthony’s wedding by Chris Paul and Amare Stoudemire, talking openly about joining forces in New York with the Knicks.  The thinking goes that Anthony is an east coast boy, born in Baltimore and a proud Syracuse alumnus.    There are lots of quotes from anonymous sources, usually ones who are “close to the situation”.  There is also the practical evidence that Anthony’s south Denver house is on the market, to the tune of a cool $9.5 million.  There is also a potential lockout looming in 2011, meaning the free agent market next summer may not be as desirable for Anthony is it was this summer for LeBron and his buddies.

This makes the situation tough to predict and dissect because ultimately we don’t know what Anthony is thinking. As it stands now here are the possible ending scenarios for this saga, in no order whatsoever.

– He signs the extension and stays with the Nuggets: For all we know, Anthony could be taking his time to make sure staying in Denver is the right decision for him.  House on the market aside, Anthony could be concerned about the potential lockout and may ultimately decide that the guaranteed money that is on the table for him now is the way to go, even it means he stays in Denver.  It is possible that whatever contract Anthony garners as a free agent could be significantly less than his current offer from the Nuggets.  There is also the possibility that Anthony is waiting to see who the Nuggets hire as their new general manager (Mark Warkentein and Rex Chapman were fired from the front office last month).  If that’s the case, the possibility exists that Anthony could be talked into staying.

– He says he will not sign the extension and the Nuggets trade him: The Nuggets could decide to cut their losses and deal Anthony to avoid losing him as a free agent.  They would explore the best deal among the teams that Anthony wants to be dealt to.  It is possible the Nuggets do this to cut their losses and would also be a signal that they would be starting the rebuilding process.  It is more than likely that the Nuggets would get little more than cap relief in return for their superstar for there is a proven track record of teams not getting equal value for their stars in trade in all sports.

– The Nuggets could decline his trade request and make him play out the final year of his contract: This would obviously be a very risky move, not only because they might then get nothing for Anthony if he leaves after the season, but they could also be dealing with an unhappy superstar.  In a funny way, the looming threat of a lockout could play into Denver’s favor in this scenario because it might ultimately scare Anthony into signing the extension if he feels the market next summer won’t be player friendly.  Then again, it is also possible that this would allow Anthony to bide his time and simply sign with whatever team he wants to play for next July.

I am still hopeful that Anthony will sign the extension and stay in Denver, but the realistic side of me says that is probably unlikely.  After all, even more money didn’t convince LeBron to stay in Cleveland.  I think Anthony feels that he is not viewed in the same class as LeBron, Wade, Kobe, etc.  My response to that is that Anthony has not won the way the others have.  He has only gotten the Nuggets out of the first round of the playoffs once in seven seasons.  If he wants to leave because he feels the Nuggets haven’t been loyal to him, that’s his problem because the Nuggets have done more than enough to show him that he is their franchise player.  If he wants to leave because he feels like another place is his best chance to win a championship, well, it’s not like the Nuggets haven’t tried.  Their payroll is well above the luxury tax because they’ve tried to get Anthony help.  Ultimately, whether it’s in Denver or somewhere else, Anthony will need to prove he is a winner.  Where will it be?  I hope it’s Denver but I don’t have any more of an idea than anyone who isn’t Anthony himself.  Regardless, it has long been clear that players run the show in the NBA, not coaches and executives.

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An Apology? Not In My Book

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 13, 2009

By it should be pretty obvious that Mark Cuban is well, a maverick owner, no pun intended.  I’ve certainly lost count of the times that Cuban has been fined for various antics and comments over the years, and we’ve certainly been accustomed to seeing Cuban in a Mavericks t-shirt cheering on his team courtside like a maniac fan.  I do respect many things about him, such as the fact the man responds to every e-mail (I know because I’ve gotten prompt answers from him to two queries in the past year.  Granted, he declined my request to appear on our talk show, but at least he responded).  However, I have to draw the line when the man is yelling at fans in the stands, specifically family members of the opposing team.  In this case, he shouted at Kenyon Martin’s mom following Denver’s one point win over the Mavericks in game three of their Western Conference semifinal series.

We know the cameras caught Cuban shouting at Martin’s mother, and varying reports say that Cuban called Martin either a “punk” or a “thug” in the exchange.  There is simply no place for this, period, especially from a team owner.  It is perhaps due to this exchange that certain Mavericks fans felt entitled to act like hooligans in game four.  Martin’s mom had a full cup of beer thrown on her in game four and the culprit was not ejected from the American Airlines Center as he should have been.  Other family members of Nuggets players, including La La Vasquez, wife of Carmelo Anthony, had to endure countless jeers and obscenities from the Dallas fans.  It is obvious that security did not do their job because Vasquez felt compelled left the arena before the game was over. 

Perhaps too late, Cuban did issue an apology on his blog.  While the apology is a nice gesture, the fact that it is in a blog and not face to face, or at the very least over the phone, makes it woefully insufficient.  I suppose it is public this way, but it seems to me to be, well, a chicken apology.  Honestly, how hard is it for Cuban to pick up the phone and call her?  Or, how hard would it have been for Cuban to nip things in the bud before game four and apologize then, especially when he could have done it face to face?  Better yet, why didn’t Cuban get on the jumbotron and urge his fans to behave with class?  Or made sure his security personnel were on the lookout?  Regardless, this strikes me as the Mavericks owner being scared of even talking to Martin or his mother face to face, so he’s taking the easy way out.  Think about it, if you’ve done something wrong and feel bad about it, are you going to apologize through a third party?  Of course not.  If you’re a sensible person, you’re going to clear the air face to face.  

It is my hope that the Nuggets close out the Mavericks at the Pepsi Center tomorrow night.  Not just because I’m a Nuggets fan, but because I really don’t want this series to go back to Dallas.  No fan base is perfect, but I can say with confidence that our fans in Denver aren’t stupid enough to pour beers on opposing fans, especially when that fan is a family member of a player.  (You know it’s bad when Nuggets coach George Karl says he would use a stronger word than hostile to describe the Dallas faithful in game four).  I know for a fact that Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke wouldn’t come close to engaging in an argument with anyone on an opposing team, let alone a fan just trying to enjoy the game.  I guess the point here is the owner is responsible for ALL aspects of the team, and that includes the in game environment at the arena.  Cuban could have prevented the game four foolish in the stands, and instead perhaps instigated it by mouthing off.  Further, his apology comes well short because he’s not man enough to do it face to face.  

I look forward to the positive example Kroenke and the Nuggets fans will provide tomorrow night.

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The Nuggets? Maybe, Just Maybe

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 24, 2009

I have to admit that I am starting to become a believer in the Nuggets for the first time in a really long time, probably dating back to before I was in high school.  Even as they tied a franchise record for wins this season, I remained very skeptical throughout.  Heck, the one Nuggets game I attended at Pepsi Center this season, I watched them get run out of the gym by LeBron James and company to the tune of a 30-point defeat.  For years I had soured big time on the Nuggets, and really the NBA as a whole, for a variety of reasons that I have discussed in past posts.  Frankly, it’s taken until this point, two games into the playoffs, for me to turn the corner on this team.  In a nutshell, I generally find the NBA to be a much more boring version of the college game.  The reason why I might be getting interested again?  Two words: Chauncey Billups.  He has really breathed some fresh air into the Nuggets after coming in a trade for Allen Iverson.  It seems that Billups has really made everyone on the team better, and his performances the last two games against the Hornets in particular (67 points in two games) have been outstanding.  If Billups keeps playing like he has, the Nuggets might actually have a shot to not only win playoff series for the first time since, well before I was in high school, but they might have a shot at going deep in the playoffs.

Billups epitomizes what the Nuggets should be about, and what they haven’t been about for more than a decade prior to this year.  For starters he plays defense.  I mean, real genuine defense, something that has not been present in Denver for a very long time.  Not only does he play defense, he demands that his teammates do the same.  It says a lot about Billups’ character and leadership ability that the other players actually listen to him and follow his example.  In addition to defense, Billups has a reputation from his days with the Pistons that earned him the nickname Mr. Big Shot.  Billups stepped up big time for the Pistons and made seemingly every big shot when they won the NBA title in 2004.  his ability to perform in the clutch gives the Nuggets an ingredient that has been missing in the past five years when they’ve been unceremoniously bounced from the first round each year.  His numbers in the first two playoff games against New Orleans have been terrific, but it’s been the stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score that has really made the difference for the Nuggets.

From what I’ve seen of Carmelo Anthony this season, he really seems to be much more of a team player.  In retrospect, I think his experience in Beijing at the summer Olympics really helped him mature and become more of a team player.  This season he has seemed much less of a selfish player and much more apt to play within a team concept.  Witness his 13 point effort in game one.  Despite the lack of a big scoring game from Anthony, the Nuggets still benefited from a big night on the boards from him, good rhythm within the passing game, and thanks in large part to Billups a stellar effort on defense.  It appears that Anthony may be finally starting to show the maturity of his fellow draft classmates LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.

When the Nuggets gave away Marcus Camby in the offseason, I thought it was a dumb move of epic proportions.  I didn’t see how they were going to be able to replace his shot blocking ability.  Turns out I was really wrong.  Little did I know that the addition of Chris Anderson, who had been out of the league for two years due to major drug issues, would more than solve the shot blocking problem.  Anderson has been in many ways the best hustle player the Nuggets have.  In addition to blocking shots he rebounds, and most of all he plays with such a burst of energy every time he’s on the court it really has a contagious effect on the rest of the team.  I really think he should have won the league’s sixth man of the year award this year.

The other role players on the team have certainly done their parts too.  Kenyon Martin has been much more impressive this year on both ends of the court.  Nene is a much different player now that he’s fully recovered from knee issues.  Guys like Dahntay Jones and Anthony Carter have stepped up big as well.  Considering the Nuggets have won exactly one playoff series in the past 20 years (the 1994 upset of Seattle), it is a very good feeling that they have managed to take a 2-0 lead on a very talented New Orleans team.  I know I’ve said this before, but the Nuggets are trying to win me over again.  If they manage to win this series against the Hornets, and especially if they can keep going beyond that, I might just be a believer again.  Heck, I might even watch their games on a more regular basis.  To be honest, I still don’t think they have the horses to compete with the Lakers or the Cavaliers, but hey, you never know.

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What Are They Thinking?

Posted by mizzou1028 on July 16, 2008

Wow, what a bang up offseason so far for the Nuggets!  Not only have they done nothing to make the team better, they’ve actually gotten worse.  Last night at dinner I wasn’t sure I was seeing things correctly and was briefly wondering if I shouldn’t visit the eye doctor when I glanced at the TV on the other side of the restaurant.  Was that a headshot of Marcus Camby with the Clippers logo behind it?  Couldn’t have been, he’s not a free agent.  Before the idea of Camby as a Clipper sunk in, I saw the next graphic showing details of a trade: Clippers get Marcus Camby.  Nuggets get a second round pick in 2010.  What???  Not only that, but later i find the Nuggets simply got the rights to swap second round picks with the Clippers in 2010, they didn’t even get an extra pick!  This after the team already lost Eduardo Najera to New Jersey in free agency. 

So let me get this straight: a team that has been awful on defense gave away its one consistent good defender in Camby for essentially nothing.  They have also lost one of the few players on the team in Najera that consistently hustled and provided energy on the court.  It is obvious the team made this deal purely for financial reasons to try and avoid paying the luxury tax.  I get why they wouldn’t want to pay that for the results they’ve been garnering, but it is appalling that there don’t appear to be plans (at least at this point) to try and make the team any better.  It appears as though they are throwing away the 2008-09 season in hopes of trying to clear cap room and reshape the team for the following year.  While perhaps a sound strategy in the long run, it still doesn’t make any sense to get NOTHING in exchange for Camby.  This is a team that already has not achieved, losing in the first round for five straight years.  Instead of trying to make the team better, the Nuggets are worse today than they were they day they lost their final playoff game to the Lakers in early May.  I suppose you could say (and unfortunately it’s not a joke) that the team defense can be just as bad without Camby in the middle as it was with him, but I shudder to think of just how bad it will be without Camby’s shot blocking ability covering up for the lazy effort of Anthony and Iverson on the defensive end. 

The Nuggets are fooling themselves if they think they are among the elite in the Western Conference.  With the improvements made by the Warriors and Clippers this offseason, plus the potential emergence of other young teams, the Nuggets are squarely so far behind the elite of the conference they can’t even see their taillights.  Perhaps they’re trying to ride out the last year of Iverson’s contract to try and clear cap room to make a run next offseason.  Maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt and see if there is something coming this offseason I’m unaware of.  Based on the track record though, it certainly doesn’t seem likely that any improvement for the team is coming this offseason.  Between management’s lack of effort in the offseason and leftover fallout from the referee scandal, I am continuing to sour more and more on the NBA.  Point is, I’m not planning to waste money on tickets anytime soon.  If the team isn’t going to try to improve, why should I finance the product on the court?

Speaking of which the call I got this morning was very comical: It was from a representative of the Nuggets front office asking if I was interested in purchasing advance tickets for the coming season.  Seriously, you give away a key player for nothing while simultaneously making a call asking me to buy tickets????  You have got to be kidding me.  There is about as much chance of me buying tickets to see the Nuggets this winter as there is the team winning a playoff series.  That is to say a zero percent chance.  That is, unless something dramatic happens to where the team actually has a semblance of a chance of putting together a solid product on the court.

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Is the NBA’s Image in Jeopardy?

Posted by mizzou1028 on June 13, 2008

For a variety of reasons my interest in the NBA has gradually waned over the last few years.  There have been several recent NBA Finals where I watched little to none of the action, including last year’s Spurs-Cavaliers series.  This year I have to admit I have watched at least 90 percent of the series so far between the Lakers and Celtics.  I even have to admit that last night’s game four was an absolute thriller, with the Celtics erasing a 24 point deficit to win at the Staples Center.  During this series, and even during the regular season this year, I have started to see something that the league had been missing: real, genuine defense.  Make no mistake about it, it was the Celtics intensity on defense that allowed them to make that comeback.  As excited as I am to see at least some semblance of defense return to the NBA, my increased interest may be short lived if it turns out that ex-referee Tim Donaghy is even remotely accurate in his allegations against the league. 

For those of you who don’t know about Tim Donaghy, here is the background.  In a nutshell, he has basically admitted that he wagered on games that he officiated.  As if that’s not bad enough that a referee would actually wager on a game he’s working (no conflict of interest there!), check this out.  If his suggestion that the league was going to any lengths to make sure a series got extended to seven games, or (gasp!) make sure No. 2 TV market Los Angeles would be in the finals instead of Sacramento, well there would be zero difference between the NBA and the WWE.  If, and I emphasis IF, for there is no proof yet, the NBA has truly made any attempt to fix even one game, ever, than there is absolutely nothing legit about the league.  While Donaghy’s official letter doesn’t specifically mention any games, it’s not difficult at all to deduce that he’s referring to the Lakers-Kings series in 2002, and specifically game six of the series, won by the Lakers 106-102.  Sacramento fans are still fired up over mention of that game, which had the Kings won would have earned them their first ever trip to the NBA Finals.  This video courtesy of KOVR TV in Sacramento shows why: Check out Mike Bibby getting elbowed in the face by Kobe Bryant without a call.  Just the fact that the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone is enough to make you go hmmm…..was something out of whack here?  For years there has been a belief that stars get preferential treatment from the league, but even with that consideration it seems ridiculous that Shaquille O’Neal would get called for just four fouls (especially after seeing some highlights of his action in the paint that night) while those guarding him (Vlade Divac, Scot Pollard, Chris Webber and Lawrence Funderburke) got called for a combined 20. 

There is another game that I recall vividly that looking back may have been the beginning of my gradually waning NBA interest: game six of the 1998 Finals between the Bulls and Jazz, won by Chicago 98-97 for their sixth title in eight seasons.  This game is famous for Michael Jordan’s winning shot which turned out to be his last as a Bull.  Thing is, Jordan clearly pushed off on the play.  The video is a little grainy, but you can see for yourself his push off on Bryon Russell here.  Now, I am generally for refs swallowing their whistles at the end of a game and allowing players to decide things, but this was a very blatant push off and gave Jordan a tremendous advantage.  That aside, there were two other plays in that game that at the very least can be described as referee incompetence, and at worst a blatant attempt to slant the game in favor of Chicago.  The first was a 3 pointer by Utah’s Howard Eisley in the second quarter that clearly beat the shot clock but was waved off by referee Dick Bavetta.  (Is it a coincidence that Bavetta is named by Donaghy in his written statement in regards to the Lakers-Kings game? Maybe, maybe not).  Had the three counted, Utah would have taken a seven point lead.  Instead the Jazz were up four.  Fast forward to the fourth quarter, Jazz up 79-77, and this time it’s Chicago’s Ron Harper that beats the shot clock with a jumper.  Or did he?  The replay clearly shows the ball still Harper’s hand with the shot clock at :00, and yet this time the refs count the basket.  So, the game at this point is tied at 79 with roughly four minutes to go, where the Jazz should have been up by five (assuming they count Eisley’s three and disallow Harper’s jumper).  Had these calls been correct the game would never have come down to Jordan’s shot at the end.  Full disclosure: I was rooting for the Jazz, mainly because I wanted to see Karl Malone and John Stockton win a title together, but I also generally root for the underdog if my favorite team is out.  That being said, I clearly felt the referees stole that game from the Jazz, and maybe the series.  Utah would have had home court advantage for game seven.  In this case, we’re not talking about subjective foul calls, we’re talking about whether or not a shot beat the shot clock and should have counted or not.  There shouldn’t be anything subjective whatsoever about that. 

Now, all this being said it does go with the territory that referee error is a part of sports and especially in the NBA, where definition of what is and isn’t a foul is subjective at best.  Then again, that’s probably what bothers me most about the NBA: it is obvious that games are not officiated the same in the fourth quarter as they are in the first quarter, and it is blatantly obvious that superstars do receive special treatment.  If, and again I emphasis IF, in fact it is true that there has even been the slightest attempt by the league or its officials to manipulate games, than the NBA will have been exposed as a complete joke in every way.  If, again keyword IF, the allegations by Tim Donaghy are somehow proven true, which will be certainly be difficult, you can mark it down that I will never watch an NBA game again, ever.  If it is true, and again the key word is IF, I would expect ESPN to dump the NBA like a hot potato, for if the NBA has indeed manipulated, or dare I say fixed games at any point, than there is no point in watching a game that is not legit.  Frankly, I have been skeptical about the league’s refereeing over the years but have yet to go as far as to say there was blatant game fixing.  It is still difficult to say definitely what indeed happened in these or any other games, but it is enough to be skeptical at the very least.  If Donaghy turns out to be right, well maybe there is still hope people will pay attention to another winter league that frankly is more exciting in just about every way: the NHL. 

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The Glass is Half Full

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 2, 2008

I guess it’s not really a surprise that things came to such an abrupt end for the Nuggets and Avalanche this week.  The Nuggets at least gave something resembling effort in their final game on Monday night, and even though they didn’t win at least they seemed to have a desire to not go down quietly.  I still stand by what I said that changes need to be made in the offseason, although I am somewhat encouraged by George Karl saying he’s going to change his approach next season and be more demanding.  It will be interesting to see what direction the Nuggets take as they try to take that next step.  As much I want them to start by unloading Kenyon Martin, it is also realistic to say that no other team will want to absorb his ridiculous contract.  While the team’s quick exit is disappointing, it is better than the 11-71 days.  Hopefully with Karl’s new approach they can figure out what it takes to win a playoff series. 

On the surface it may seem like the Avalanche gave up last night as they got swept by Detroit.  To think I had (only very very briefly) contemplated shelling out $100 a seat last week to see the renewal of the Avs-Wings rivalry.  The Avs do get a pass in many respects for their quick exit against Detroit because they were after all missing half their team in game four.  Heck, just the Avs scratches on Thursday night would be a pretty darn good team.  I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to say that the series could have easily turned out differently if the Avs had a healthy Forsberg, Stastny, Smyth, Wolski and Svatos.  None of them were anywhere near the ice last night because of injuries.  It is also fair to say that Jose Theodore trying to play game one while battling the flu did nothing for his confidence the rest of the series.  That being said, the Avs were clearly not in the same league as Detroit.  The Red Wings were clearly the best team in the Western Conference all season and that has not changed in the playoffs.  It will be interesting to see what roster moves the Avs make this offseason, starting with Theodore, who does have a big contract.  It is hard to say whether or not he is the answer in goal because he did such a fabulous job in the first round against Minnesota and then did a complete 180 against Detroit.  I also hope that Joe Sakic elects not to retire and comes back for another season because he still is a terrific player and has a lot of hockey left in him.  The Avs took a step forward this season after missing the playoffs last year, and hopefully next year with a healthier roster they can take another step. 

I had promised some thoughts on the NFL Draft.  The pessimistic side of me is slightly annoyed that the rival Chiefs and Raiders seemed to clean up.  The Raiders scored a terrific running back in Darren McFadden, but it will be interesting to see if he actually helps them win more games.  The Raiders have certainly made a big splash with a number of their offseason moves, but it remains to be seen whether they have the leadership to make things work.  I still say the game has passed Al Davis by and that somehow all of their flashy new pieces will not fit together to make a puzzle.  As for the Chiefs, I am still trying to figure out how Glenn Dorsey fell into their lap at number five.  Dorsey seemed to be the unanimous choice for best player available, a defensive tackle who dominated the line of scrimmage at LSU and is expected to make an immediate impact in the NFL.  That steal highlighted what many seem to think is a great draft for the Chiefs.  As for the Broncos, most of the so called experts don’t seem to think they did as well.  While it may not have been a flashy draft, I think they did a good job drafting for need and filling holes.  Mike Shanahan seemed genuinely excited about this draft class, and while of course every coach is going to say they got the guys they wanted all along, Shanahan’s statements somehow seemed more believable this time.  For him to declare Ryan Clady the starter at left tackle from day one is unusual.  Shanahan is typically of the “let them come in and compete” mode.  That right there tells you how much Shanahan is sky high on Clady.  The pick made tremendous sense in the first round because the Broncos need to replace the retired Matt Lepsis at left tackle.  Not to mention Lepsis had a down year last year, so the Broncos want to be sure their franchise QB is protected.  Their second pick also made a lot of sense in Virginia Tech wideout Eddie Royal.  While the Broncos signed Keary Colbert and Darrell Jackson in the offseason and seem crowded at the position, Royal is a great pick because has the speed to make an impact as a kick returner.  The Broncos’ dead last ranking in starting field position had as much as anything to do with their 7-9 record last year.  Now, I’m not saying Royal is going to be Devin Hester, but if he can help the Broncos improve in that area, it will go a long way toward making them a better team.  I also love the selection of Arizona State running back Ryan Torian in the fifth round.  Torian slipped because of health issues, but if he can get healthy, he is the perfect fit the Broncos’ running scheme.  He’s a no nonsense runner and isn’t afraid to get tough yards late in a game.  With Mike Shanahan’s track record at finding running backs, there is no reason to suspect that Torian couldn’t be a huge steal in this draft.  

Truth be told though, the bottom line when trying to evaluate a draft is you can’t.  It will be minimum three years before we can go back and really evaluate how good or bad the Broncos or any other team did in this draft.  I remember hearing great things about Marcus Nash when the Broncos took him in 98, or hearing how George Foster was supposed to be the anchor at left tackle, or how Willie Middlebrooks was supposed to be the cornerback the Broncos were missing.   The draft is a small part in the overall picture of building a championship team, although it is becoming and more important to be able to find guys that will fit into your plans for many years so you don’t have to fill all those holes through free agency.  Call me crazy, but I am starting to get optimistic about the Broncos’ prospects in 2008, even if they still do need to find a kicker. 

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UGH!

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 28, 2008

This has been as bad a sports weekend for the teams that I follow as I can remember.  This does not take into account the Broncos draft, which I am actually fairly pleased with (more on that later – but it might have to be in a future post).  The events in the Denver sports landscape this weekend might not really stand out on an individual basis (think the Broncos’ loss to Jacksonville in the playoffs in January ’97 – none of these single events, or even as a group, come close to comparing to THAT debacle).  That being said, it cannot be argued that anything went even remotely right this weekend for the Rockies, the Nuggets or the Avalanche. 

The Rockies have not had a great April.  Of course, they had an awful April last season and made the World Series, so it’s way too early to hit the panic button.  However, this team has now lost 7 of 8 after getting swept by the Dodgers in LA this weekend.  On Friday night starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez couldn’t even make it out of the third inning in a game where the Rockies’ offense had given him four runs of support in that time frame.  The Rockies eventually lost the game in 13 innings after many failed opportunities offensively (including Matt Holliday hitting into an inning ending double play with two runners in scoring position in the 9th).  On Saturday Mark Redman got lit up for TEN runs in the first inning!  Imagine walking into a bowling alley, thinking to yourself that it’s a  nice bonus that TVs everywhere you look are showing the game while you’re going to bowl, then seeing a Dodger grand slam sail into the night sky the first time you look at the screen.  That’s a glimpse of my Saturday night.  The second time I looked at the screen I saw it was still the bottom of the 1st and the Dodgers had already put up a 10 spot.  Needless to say I wanted to throw up.  Then there was today’s game.   Jeff Francis pitched extremely well, surrendering just two runs in seven innings while striking out six, and the Rockies had chances to win.  Thing is, the offense never capitalized.  In a 2-2 game, Troy Tulowitzki continued his struggles (batting a whopping .157 – OUCH) by grounding into a double play with the bases loaded in the 8th, and then the Rockies left runners at 2nd at 3rd in the 10th.  Enter Manny Corpas, who was given a contract extension in the offseason after doing a great job in the closer role last year.  He has lost it this season after blowing four saves already.  Corpas actually pitched a scoreless ninth today after giving up two singles, so it wasn’t entirely unreasonable for Clint Hurdle to leave him in there for the 10th.  This proved to be a bad idea: a four pitch walk to Rafael Furcal, a walk to Mark Sweeney (who has exactly 0 RBIs and is batting a horrid .063 this season), then runners at 2nd and 3rd after a sac bunt.  After Hurdle elected to intentionally walk the red hot hitting Russell Martin to load the bases, Corpas could have redeemed himself with a double play groundout.  Nope, he gave up a sharp single to James Loney, and the Rockies got swept.  Now, a 10-15 record is certainly no reason to hit the panic button especially after last year, but right now they can’t even see the taillights of the division leading Diamondbacks.  It’s no coincidence Arizona made a big offseason splash in adding elite starter Dan Haren, while the Rockies made no big moves to the roster.  Granted, the Rockies did spend some money to keep their own players, including Tulowitzki (who will rebound).  Still, it seems like maybe they stood and watched while other teams around them got better.  To be fair, they’ve been on the road much more often than they’ve been at Coors Field, and that 22 inning marathon in San Diego can’t have helped.  Maybe a friendlier May schedule will be the catalyst for a turnaround.

As for the Nuggets, I feel bad saying this but I really don’t care to watch Monday night.  There were times this season where this team had really re-awakened by NBA interest.  They have the ability to compete with anyone in the league, and a 50 win season is an impressive accomplishment.  As tough and competitive as the Western Conference is, I really thought it didn’t matter where anyone was seeded because all eight teams were good.  It is clear though that this team will never win when it counts unless major changes are made.  The Nuggets have given three lackluster performances against the Lakers in this playoff series.  Check that, lackluster may be a kind way to describe game three at the Pepsi Center.  There is no reason for Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson to go 10 for 38 from the floor in a playoff game, many of the shots from point blank range.  The players’ body language says this series has been long over, right from the technical fouls  Iverson took in game one due to frustration.  From what I have seen, there are only three players who have consistently played hard in this series: Linas Kleiza, Eduardo Najera and J.R. Smith.  It is not a coincidence that Nuggets have held up best when these guys have been on the floor, even if that’s not saying much.  Anthony has given absolutely no effort whatsoever on the defensive end, and while Iverson has shown up offensively for the most part, his defense hasn’t been much better than Anthony’s.  There is a reason why Anthony’s draft class mates LeBron James and Dwayne Wade have both reached the NBA Finals while Anthony has never made it out of the first round.  They are leaders, and he is not, pure and simple.  Anthony has never understood that being a complete player means giving full effort in all areas, including the defensive end.  I’m wondering if it’s time to chuck out Anthony, let Iverson finish his career with a true contender, and try to put the team’s resources into building a true winner.  For the Nuggets to have the kind of payroll invested that they do, they need more results than an annual first round exit.  The Nuggets are missing a true veteran leader who can bring the talent together, a guy who does not constantly need the ball in his hands to succeed, someone who can lead by example.  It is clear that the Anthony-Iverson experiment isn’t working.  Both guys continually need the ball, and while they both get their points, their presence together has not led to the same results as other top duos in the league.  Or better yet, think of the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili trio in San Antonio.  The Spurs have stockpiled championships because these stars can all play together and each understands his role.  Maybe it’s time for the Nuggets to blow up the roster with the exception of Kleiza, Najera and Smith and start over.  They have way too much money tied up in Anthony, Iverson, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby to settle for these kind of results.  Maybe George Karl isn’t blameless either, but I’m never one to think a new coach will solve anything, especially in the NBA, where the players run the show anyway.  I remember when the Nuggets were 11-71 and a complete embarrassment, so I do appreciate a 50 win season and a playoff appearance.  I also expect some semblance of progress, and this will be the fifth consecutive first round playoff exit, with the Nuggets never winning more than one game in any series.  I know there’s another game left, but it’s clear the chance of the Nuggets winning this series is zero percent.  Let’s just say if I was a season ticket holder, there would be zero percent chance of me renewing my seats for next season unless major changes are made this offseason.

Now, surely Avalanche-Red Wings should be fun right?  For years this was the premiere rivalry in sports.  Not just the NHL, but in sports.  Every playoff series these teams squared off in during the late 90s and early 2000s was extremely intense.  The rivalry had everything: bloody fights, close games, great players on both sides, nasty trash talk and a true hatred among the fans.  In recent years as the Avalanche have faded into relative mediocrity and the NHL has faded into complete obscurity, the rivalry has died.  Despite the fact the Avalanche don’t stack up well with the Wings as a six seed this year, I still couldn’t contain my excitement for this rivalry to be renewed with another playoff meeting.  Surely an intense Avs-Wings series could at least be some small help in getting the NHL back on the mainstream sports landscape right?  How could you not get excited about Sakic, Forsberg and several of the old names squaring off against their nemesis?  Well, that too is short lived.  Forsberg has missed the first two games of the series with an apparent groin injury, and the Avs have been outscored 9-4 in losing the first two games of the series.  Jose Theodore has proved he is no Patrick Roy, having been angrily yanked from the first two games after giving up four goals in each one (all in a total of less than four periods of playing time in the two games).  The Avs look hopelessly outmanned, and while I was not at all familiar with the Wings’ Johan Franzen, I now despise him as much as I despised Darren McCarty in the old days after Franzen has lit the Avs up for five goals in the first two games.  Maybe a return to the Pepsi Center Tuesday will help the Avs, after all this is still a seven game series and the Avs have a chance to even things with a couple of wins at home.  It’s not quite like the Nuggets where the chance is zero percent.  Still, goaltending is what wins playoff series, and Theodore is shaky at best right now.  As great as he was in the first round against Minnesota (and he basically won the series for them) he has been awful in round two.  Will Peter Budaj be in net for game three?  The fact that this is even a question does not bode well for the Avalanche.  One thing in hockey though is that a playoff series can turn on a dime.  It actually happened for the Avs against Detroit in the 1999 second round.  Detroit blasted the Avs in the first two games at old McNichols Sports Arena, only to see Colorado win four straight, including three at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.  The Avalanche can only hope that history will repeat itself this week, and that they don’t end up following the Nuggets by getting unceremoniously broomed out of the playoffs. 

At least the Broncos had what appears to be a good draft.  That discussion will be saved for another time, because it doesn’t seem quite fair to lump that with a depressing weekend of bad sports all the way around.  That is, unless the rest of the weekend is an omen and these guys all prove to be busts in three years.  Hopefully that won’t prove to be the case. 

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Why I might once again watch the NBA

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 20, 2008

Last night I spent my evening at the Pepsi Center, watching the Denver Nuggets host the Boston Celtics.  It’s not necessarily rare for me to attend an NBA game, but over the years, my interest in the NBA has generally declined compared to what it was in the mid-90s.  One reason for this is my interest in the college game has increased during that time, plus I rapidly became more of a fan of the NHL than the NBA.  I think a large part of my decline in NBA interest is the way ESPN continually shoves it down my throat whether I want to hear about it at that moment or not, and I have simulataneously come to resent the network’s lack of coverage of the NHL.  There isn’t one reason in particular for my NBA interest waning, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate the college game more.  There seems to be more team play, less emphasis on superstars (especially stars getting calls from officials), and certainly a more fun atmosphere in which to attend a game.  Half the time I would attend a Nuggets game at the Pepsi Center, and it seemed like a great environment for a nap.  Conversely, every college game I went to at Mizzou was a great atmosphere, even if they were playing some no name Division II school.

Now I don’t mean to imply that I stopped following the Nuggets altogether.  I’ve rooted for them and followed them as much as any of the other teams in this city.  In fact I’m probably one of the few that can say they attended at least 10 games during the memorable 1997-98 season when they threatened the worst record in league history, finishing 11-71.  I’m simply saying my interest over last 5 years or so doesn’t compare to what it was in the mid-90s.  That being said, what I saw last night gave me a feeling I hadn’t experienced at an NBA game in quite some time.  There was actual excitement in the crowd, much like a playoff atmosphere or dare I say it a college atmosphere.  There was quality play on both sides, and I’m not talking about three guys standing around observing the action while one guy posts up.  I’m talking actual team play, guys actually moving without the ball!  There were even signs of actual, genuine defense!  This is the NBA basketball I had remembered growing up, when the games were fast paced, exciting, and often times featured thrilling finishes.  It seemed like the game had evolved into a slow fest, where everything was one on one and traveling was seemingly allowed if you were considered a star. 

Last night the Nuggets didn’t win because of the effort of one or two guys, although it certainly helped that their star players Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson combined for 57 points.  Those two also combined for 14 rebounds and 13 assists, meaning they were interested in things other than scoring points for themselves.  They got nine (NINE!) blocked shots from Marcus Camby, who came oh so close to a triple double, and everyone on the bench contributed.  After last night’s win against the best team from the east, the Nuggets are 33-20, which is a very good record.    Thing is, it’s only good enough for 8th place right now in the Western Conference, and that’s what really piqued my interest in how the rest of the season could unfold.  There are so many good teams in the west, that it’s shaping up to be an amazing race.  The Nuggets record would be good enough for a three seed if they were in the Eastern Conference, but there are enough good teams in the west that it will be a dogfight simply for them to make the playoffs. 

At the top of the conference there are six teams within two games of one another: New Orleans (which has to be the surprise this year), Phoenix (having just acquired Shaq), the Lakers (who just swung a deal for big man Pau Gasol, a trade that may have more impact than Shaq going to Phoenix), Utah (which is quietly and consistently good), San Antonio (the defending champs) and Dallas (having just made a big splash by acquiring Jason Kidd).  Just two games behind that group you have Houston (owning one of the game’s best duos in Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming), Golden State (playoff darling from last year and only getting better) and the Nuggets.  If you do that math, that’s nine teams with enough talent to win the conference, all of whom are better than a majority of the eastern playoff teams, and only 8 playoff spots to divvy up.  That will shape up for a very exciting last few months of the season,  and that’s first time I can remember using the word exciting to describe the NBA in many years.  It should lead up to a playoff year that will be very interesting, a year in which there will not be much difference, if there is one, between any of the 8 teams in the western bracket.  Any of the first round matchups in the west will be a toss up, and seeds will have to be ignored with this much talent among all the teams.  It’s not enough yet that I would readily watch an NBA game over a college game, or possibly even an NHL game assuming I can find one on my TV, but I won’t be as likely to completely ignore an NBA game if I happen to scroll past one.  The bottom line is if what I saw last night at the Pepsi Center is any indication, I just may find myself watching more NBA games than I had planned on in the coming months. 

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