Friday, July 16, 2010

Follow up...

Joey Votto takes things a step further, reports the AP. Apparently he hates Cubs' fans, and why not? They're rich, white people who think their shit team is the best thing in the world. Keep it coming, Votto!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I can get behind this

The always excellent Big League Stew over at Yahoo! Sports is reporting that Joey Votto of the Reds snubbed All-Star teammate and hero, Marlon Byrd, because Byrd plays for the Cubs.

While I agree that the All-Star game should bring enemies together as respected friends, I enjoy this particular tiff simply because I don't think there's enough bile in the NL Central. There's historic rivalry between the Cubs and Cards, but not much bad blood between those teams and Cinci, Pittsburgh. You'd think that after 128 years of playing one another, these teams could hate each other a bit more.

Good for Joey Votto for trying to stir things up. Whoops! I mean... fuck him, for being a Red.

THAT's what I want to see next time the Cardinals come to town.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fix Baseball Now! (part 1)

Sitting in my mom's basement. Watching ESPN2's coverage of the Future's Game happening right now in Anaheim. The way it's formatted, you have a bunch of young, minor league pups from all over baseball, split into two teams based on their national heritage. If they're USofA born, they get to play on the home team; if they're 'spics, 'nips, or - worst of all - imposters, then they get to play on the away team. So basically it's Vandy vs. the 2015 MLB All-Stars.

It's currently 2-1 USA, top of the third. I haven't run the numbers, but I'm guessing that both teams have about an equal amount of future talent on them. Here's the problem: franchises don't have equal access to all of these players. I'm referring to the MLB Amateur Entry Draft, which only covers USA-born prospects. This hurts bad, small-market teams whose only hope is to rebuild through strong drafts.

Remember that time when the Penguins sucked? They did a good thing by sucking as hard as they did, because it netted them some very high draft picks, five years in a row. With those picks they drafted a decent blue liner, a franchise goalie and three of the best centres in the history of ice. Now imagine if the NHL's entry process was designed like baseball's (I can't believe I'm suggesting that the NHL is a better run institution than something else): the best players the Penguins could have drafted in those years would have been Jim Slater, Ryan Suter, Drew Stafford, Jack Johnson, and Phil Kessel. Not terrible, but not quite Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Fleury, etc. If the NHL treated foreign born prospects the same way MLB does, those guys would have entered the league as free agents, and the highest bidders would have won their services, regardless of team need. This wouldn't have completely deprived the then, talent-starved Pens of quality prospects, but it would have seriously watered-down the rebuilding effort.

This is how it goes in Bud Selig's America.

In order for a team to reverse its fortunes, it has to be drafting in the top slots for many years in a row (see: Tampa Bay). After the top-3, there's a dramatic drop-off in talent. This means that consistent losers like the Royals, Orioles, Nationals and Pirates are actually vying with each other for the worst record, so as to avoid the unfortunate position of sucking a lot, but not enough to be compensated.

Of course, not all small-market teams are in the same boat. The Florida Marlins and San Diego Padres have a distinct advantage, being able to snooze through the draft and recruit top foreign talent based on their geographic location. West Coast teams have a similar edge when it comes to signing Japanese players.

Then there are your big-market clubs. They're able to beat the draft in two distinct ways. The most obvious method is by snaking high end foreign talent with fat signing bonuses. But, beyond that, they sneak their way into the draft by jettisoning major leaguers. Let's look at the case of Jason Bay.

First thing to consider is that while there's a huge drop-off in talent between the top-3 draft picks and the rest of the first round, there's still some quality to be found in the bottom of the 1st, top of the 2nd. Not A+ talent, but quality. Now about Jason Bay...

He was very good for the Pirates for a number of years, but he was clearly approaching his peak, with his next contract due to be signed on the eve of his decline. Huntington had three choices: 1) trade him for prospects; 2) let him play out the remaining 1.5 years of his contract and try to sign an aging outfielder with bad knees for way more than he was worth; 3) let him play out the remainder of his contract, then let him leave and get a compensatory draft pick at the bottom of the first round. Obviously, the best move was to trade him for prospects, which is what Neal did. The Red Sox got him, and as a team in contention, got 1.5 fantastic seasons out of Bay, then let him walk. And because they didn't sign him, MLB awarded them an additional first-round draft pick. So the Pirates got "a,b,c" in prospects, while the Red Sox got a year and a half of "A+" major league talent, and a compensatory "a" prospect. Does the small market team get cheated in this system? No. But. The "buyer" team's losses are subsidized handsomely by the league.

Let me give you an even crazier example of a team buying their way back into the draft. Those same Red Sox that let Bay walk in exchange for a draft pick, also let Billy Wagner go free this past offseason. Billy Wagner was obtained from the Mets for a pile of junk and money. Billy Wagner was completely injured in 2009. He pitched a total of 13.2 innings for the Sox. They paid him a portion of a $10 million contract, just so that they could let him go. And because they took his salary off the Mets' books, and then "weren't able" to retain his services, MLB awarded Boston yet another first round pick.

So, because of this crazy system, the hard luck Bucs weren't able to draft twice, before Boston had 3 picks; the Angels had 5 picks; the Cardinals had 3 picks; the Tigers had 3 picks; the Blue Jays had 4 picks; the Astros had 3 picks; the Rangers had 3 picks; the Rays had 3 picks; and the Rockies had 2 picks.

Imagine if this happened in the NFL. Imagine if the Lions, Browns, and Rams got their elite picks, and then had to sit back and watch all the playoff teams scoop up multiple players before they were allowed to draft again. Yes, there are compensatory picks in the NFL, but not to that ridiculous of a degree; certainly not in the first round. Bill Belichick has become a master of trading great players on the decline for high picks; I hate him for this, but generally love watching the draft unfold around a guy like him. It's cool when a lone, mad genius comes along with a stockpile of options. It's not interesting when this scenario is played out by a third of the league. It's not cool when teams are gifted picks, as opposed to having to trade for them.

Okay, so let's sum up the problems with the MLB amateur entry draft.
1. It's not international. This deprives bad, small-market teams of access to half of the talent pool; devalues the importance of international scouting; overvalues the price of mediocre, white kids who throw 88 mph fastballs with their left arms; and robs the draft of being potentially interesting for fans.
2. The draft is rife with a ridiculous number of compensatory picks.

Here's how we fix things:
1. Make the draft international. Why not? What's a single good reason for why it can't be?
2. Stop giving out free, high round, compensatory picks. That is, if a team signs a free agent who is 28-years-old or younger, they should have to give a pick to the player's former team. If the guy is an All-Star, that should be a first round or second round pick. If the guy is a bum, it should be a 50th round pick. If the guy is 35-years or older, then the pick should suck. That simple.

Fix baseball now!

**Oh god, Gorkys Hernandez playing in CF. Smashes into the wall making a catch. Sustains a hairline fracture in his shoulder, which we won't hear about for another two weeks.**

Friday, July 9, 2010

Time to exit the cave

I've just been handed a telegram from the home office informing me that yesterday, the Pirates made 2010 Roy Oswalt look like 2006 Roy Oswalt. This comes as a bit an earthshaker, as it all but directly implies that there are things going on in the world around us that have nothing to do with LeBron James.

I'm gonna go check out where these crazy shadows on the wall are coming from. Care to join me?

The Yankees are close the acquiring Cliff Lee from the Mariners. Isn't baseball grand?

The powers that be are finally getting ready to blow up the Cubs, and only about a month too late.

BP has begun using Kevin Costner's oil spill cleanup machine in the Gulf. I think this is about as close to a feel-good story as we're going to get today.

The New York Times has some great travel advice for anyone who might be spending 36 hours in Copenhagen, Denmark. You know, they say Copenhagen is the new Antwerp.

Jim Gray really dropped the ball last night in failing to ask LeBron, "Is your mother a prostitute?"

Steve Carrel is leaving "The Office."
FTC poll question:
Who should be the next boss? (leave your vote in the comments section)
A) They should cancel the show
B) They should cancel the show
C) They should cancel the show
D) They should cancel the show

Two weeks ago, I went to Washington, D.C. for a conference and got to meet Salman Rushdie!

Here's a song I like:

Just One More "One More Word".

Not to be contrarian, but I think LeBron James acted like a dick last night.

The biggest crime involved in his "press conference" was that it was boring. He took three seconds of relevant information, stretched it out over one hour, and then managed to make it feel like three hours. If you want to piss me off, be boring. Mission accomplished.

(As an aside, I remember when Jim Gray developed a reputation on asking very difficult questions of maniacs like Mike Tyson, in the heat of the moment. Nice to see him take the role of Sycophantic LeBron Jock Sniffer. It was actually Michael Wilbon who brought up the touchier "Ya know, they're already burning your jersey" line of questioning. Which is why I actually like the guy.)

I won't get into the NBA X's and O's of this, because what do I know about the NBA? D-Wade, to me, is still the guy from Marquette who torched poor Julius Page in the NCAA tournament. Needless to say, they are clearly an excellent team, even if the rest of the roster is filled out with minimum contract scrubs.

But, I really do believe that if you want to be considered among the greatest of your sport, it matters how you win. And anything short of establishing a true legacy would qualify as a career failure for LeBron.

Mario Lemieux and Michael Jordan both jump right into mind. They were both drafted by awful franchises, surrounded by inferior talent, and went well into their twenties before tasting championship success. Mario didn't bail on the Pens and demand a trade when he was flanked by Rob Brown and Warren Young. MJ didn't beg out of Chicago after years of disappointment suffered at the hands of the Celtics and later the Pistons "Waaah, I want to play with Hakeem Olajuwon". They stayed, and they virtually created a championship legacy out of thin air.

I'm sorry, but not all championships are created equally. (NOTE: LeBron still has the pesky task of winning a championship). Does anyone honestly think that A-Rod's World Series championship with Yankees does as much for his legacy as lifting the Mariners to a title would have? (Another aside, but anyone who claims that LeBron as an individual deserves no criticism because he just wants to win, they better not criticize the Yankees as a franchise, because it's clear they put winning first, as well, consequences be damned.)

So, LeBron is an expensive mercenary. Sorry if I'm already bored by the idea.

Okay, Just One More Word on LeBron

As the resident FTC LeBron apologist, I'll throw my crap out there to round out. It'll be far more partisan and less kind than Matt and Franco, but, well, they're much smarter than I am.

Here are some things I'm hearing this morning, and why they're beyond stupid:

LeBron is a traitor
Cleveland's pitch was essentially, "if you leave, we'll be dead." Which, incidentally, was exactly the reason he wanted to leave. That's like trying to woo a girl by saying you'll be sad and lost without her. It's cute and works in movies, but ultimately most healthy people want to be a part of something functional, not the pressure of being a savior on a ship that sinks if they stop bailing water. LeBron made it clear what he wanted, and he gave it his best shot with a phenomenally mediocre supporting cast.

Art Modell, to whom every sports reporter is saying LeBron is now number two, took a storied franchise with an ardent fan base, fired Paul Brown, and then left the city for no good reason at all. That is traitorous. That guy you should hate. LeBron played basketball better than just about everyone else in the world, came reasonably close to winning a title with no other scoring options, and then left a team that Chris Bosh wouldn't even consider going to. How is that treason?

Matt referenced Dan Gilbert's little boy screed, and then Gilbert, deciding that he hadn't quite made his franchise seem pathetic enough, started spouting off that LeBron "quit" in games 2, 4, and 5 of the Celtics series. Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Brian Windhorst (whose reporting throughout this has been tireless and excellent) this morning said that the reason the Cavs don't have a banner is that LeBron didn't play well enough. Like Matt, I can feel a Cavs' fan's pain, but pain is never an excuse for forgetting everything you've learned about sports. LeBron makes an easy scapegoat right now, but if I were a Cavs fan, I think my anger would be more appropriately directed at Gilbert.

The press conference/prime time special/charity freak show was classless
First, cheers to Matt for taking joy in this circus. Professional sports are over the top, the players and owners are nuts, everyone involved thinks they're the most specialest people in the world, and it's nice when some megastar embraces that enough to hijack things while still keeping the insanity confined to a week or two (ahem, Favre). Also, I thought LeBron came off well last night. I'm not saying I would have loved that if I were a Cleveland fan, but how is it bad to turn suspense into a revenue source for charity?

And yes, I know there are some who think using charity for self-promotion is bad. I have worked in the nonprofit sector for years; I volunteer insane hours to a nonprofit now. Trust me, almost all donations to nonprofits are self-promoting in some sense (or for tax purposes). It doesn't mean the person donating doesn't believe in the cause, and it doesn't mean the good work done with that money is less valuable. Cheers to LeBron for raising a ton of cash for the Boys & Girls Club.

He should have told the Cavs first
Yes, because that obviously would have stayed quiet. I mean, just look at the discretion Dan Gilbert has shown in the wake of the decision.

We should all as sports fans band together to hate LeBron and the Heat
Because he... left a bad team with an owner that clearly is an immature jerk? Because he took a pay cut to go to a team with his friends where he felt he could win? Or should we hate the Heat because they successfully did what every other team wanted to do and many were trying to do?

I do not understand this. I am the fan of several teams that disappoint me routinely. It's part of being a fan of a team not named the Yankees. Some players also disappoint me, but my anger is reserved for those who exhibit crappy on-field attitude or idiot behavior, neither of which LeBron has done. He didn't rape anyone, he didn't walk out on his team, and he's been a massive force for Cleveland's economy for seven years. As far as I can tell, he's guilty of playing badly while (maybe) hurt for a few games in the playoffs, and for having a press conference that everyone in the country cared about.

It's the free agent age, and this is business; no team has loyalty, and no players have loyalty. Hating a player simply for going somewhere other than your team, or hating that team for getting him, might be natural for a few minutes, but after that it's just childish.

If the Heat win a championship, it will be diminished because there are three great players
This is the most stupid thing that Jeff Van Gundy and others have said. For the last time, EVERY CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM HAS MULTIPLE GREAT PLAYERS. Does anyone think the Lakers titles with Magic are worth less because he had James Worthy and Kareem? Do Celtic fans take away from Larry Bird that he had DJ and McHale and Parish? And no one apparently ever stops fellating Michael Jordan, who had Pippen, Ho Grant, and Rodman. Kobe has won two things without a great big man, Jack and Shit (and Jack left town). Yes, we remember them as role players now, but they were great players.

If the Heat win, it will be awesome. I will watch every game I can, and I don't care at all about Miami. Three of the best players in the game did what we always say we want players to do: they took less money for a better chance to win.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Goodbye, Cleveland*

Just one more word on this before we close out the topic.

Look, I enjoyed LeBron's self-generated circus as much as anyone. Watching him hijack one of the most tightly run leagues in pro sports was kinda fun. But it was fun under the assumption that he was just screwing around. Like a lot of people, I'm on record as thinking that this was all for show, and that he'd wind up staying in Cleveland. And we've beaten this horse to a long and painful death, but I think it's worth reiterating that 1) the guy is from Akron, and has played his entire career to this point with his "hometown" team. 2) the entire state has so little going for it that aside from the player himself, the best thing it's produced in the last decade has been a pair of YouTube videos highlighting how much Cleveland sucks.

We could talk about all the cultural implications of James deciding to team up with Wade in Miami. There's the idea that this could effectively end the era of the alpha dog -- that we're not going to see guys like Kobe and MJ lead teams that are greater than the sums of their parts. There are all the ideas about how this will transform the individual styles and legacies of Wade and James. I don't really give a shit about any of that.

I've long said that I'm a Pirates fan before I'm anything else in this life. But I'm also a native Pittsburgher. On one hand, Pittsburghers are -- or at least, used to be -- brought up to hate Cleveland teams, Cleveland fans, Cleveland residents, and the city of Cleveland. When I was growing up, Steelers-Browns was the hottest ticket in town, regardless of how either team was performing that season.

On November 6, 1995, Browns owner Art Modell announced that he'd reached an agreement to move the Browns to Baltimore. On November 13th, the original Browns franchise played its last game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. I remember it well, because it was three weeks before my bar mitzvah and my dad took me as a birthday gift. I'd been to Steelers-Browns games at Three Rivers Stadium before, and it was always an affair. Just like always, the Browns fans showed up. But the light was totally gone from their eyes. I remember reaching the 200 level on an escalator and seeing a group of three Browns fans, all decked out in brown and orange dog-related paraphernalia. As my dad and I switched escalators, one man with a dog bone on his head yelled "Go to hell, Modell, you piece of shit!"

When you're a self-centered, not-yet-13-year-old and you can tangibly feel the life sucked out of an entire group of people you have nothing to do with, it's got to be powerful, and you can't help but feel bad. The Browns were as important to the die-hard Cleveland fans as the Steelers were to the die-hard Pittsburgh fans. We'd been beating up on these people for years, then kicking them while they were down. And then, just like that, we didn't have them to kick around anymore. And just like that, I felt bad we'd been kicking them in the first place.

But shortly after, when it was declared that they would get a team back -- not their team, but a reasonable facsimile -- they jumped back on board, and they've stayed there. Since the Browns returned, Cleveland fans have been rewarded with one of the worst-run teams in the NFL, despite their unflinching loyalty.

The Indians, who were great in the '90s after a 30-year stretch of shittiness, lost a heartbreaker of a World Series in 1997 to a Florida Marlins team that was remarkably easy to hate. The Indians never got over the hump before having to dismantle that team, and they haven't recovered since, despite being pretty well-run as an organization. Keep in mind, this team was so bad that there were at least two movies made about fictional version of them that were, themselves, more successful than the team itself was until the mid '90s.

The Cavs. Growing up in Pittsburgh, we didn't have pro basketball. Once a year, my family would go to Cleveland over a weekend, and we'd see a Cavs game. This was during the post-Brad Daugherty/Mark Price era, when the best they could muster was a backcourt of Bob Sura and the late Bobby Phills. Again, this is a team whose brief brush with competitiveness was followed by more than a decade's worth of struggle. Cleveland stockpiles these teams.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert posted an open letter to fans on the team's website this evening. And when I say "posted," I mean "you are redirected to this letter upon attempting to access the team's official website."

Apart from appearing as though it's scribbled in internet crayon, it's clearly a writ of passion (it's a short and compelling read, and I highly recommend checking it out):

You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.

You have given so much and deserve so much more.

In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight:


You can take it to the bank.

I don't doubt that Dan Gilbert is upset, and I don't doubt that he's serious about trying to fulfill this promise. But the fact of the matter is the LeBron is now more likely to win a title before the Cavs are even able to unload Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison's contracts, let alone procure another superstar player of LeBron's caliber. As of this moment, the Cavs look like a team that, if they're lucky, might win 15 games next season.

For these peoples' sake, I really hope I'm wrong.

Nobody who desires only pity is deserving of it. But I don't think Cleveland fans want our pity. I think they're too defeated to even harbor ill will toward teams they used to spend energy on hating.

Again, as a Pirates fan, I know what it's like to root for futility year after year. But I can't even begin to imagine the despair Cleveland sports fans are experiencing right now.

I don't know if LeBron's motivation for going to Miami was just a desire to win quickly, or if it had something to do with a secret China Pact he had with Wade and Bosh. Honestly, I don't care.
There's really no point to hating on LeBron for leaving. He made the decision he thought was best for himself and for his career. We're way past the point at which we should be deluding ourselves into thinking that professional athletes do things for us. They don't. Nor should they. It isn't they who need to change in that regard -- it's us.

That said, I'm sure we're in for a steady diet of LeBron-Wade-Bosh overkill through our sports media feeding tube over the next few years, and I'm sure a lot of us will watch, regardless of any rooting interest. We'll complain about ESPN's Miami Heat overkill the way we complain about the overhyping of Red Sox-Yankees regular season games. But Cleveland fans have to live with this.

Can we throw these people a life preserver or something? Just the way most of America embraced the Saints in the Super Bowl, let's reach out to our fellow fans in Cleveland. If you meet a Cleveland fan at a sporting event or in a bar, buy them a beer. Give them a hug. Tell them everything's going to be okay. And when their time comes, if you don't have a real horse in the race, pull for them. They are beyond deserving of our support.

And for Pittsburgh fans, let's call this here and now: the Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry is dead, at least until they get their act together.

For as fiercely as we identify with and defend our teams, we share much more in common with each other than we do the guys in the uniforms. Let's start acting like it.

Except for Philly fans. You people are still cordially invited to have sex with yourselves.

*Hat tip to Ed Simon

The last word

LeBron made the right decision and handled all of this correctly. I'm not saying he wouldn't have a better chance for a championship in Chicago, or that he didn't kill the people of Cleveland. I am saying that I applaud his willingness to take a pay cut (as Wade and Bosh will have to do as well) to create something special. Chicago is stacked with talent, but the roster isn't as malleable as Miami. James' willingness to design something from the ground up is very neat.

We were all dumping on the dude for having too much ego. Well, he doesn't have too much ego to play with his friends. As far as this ESPN special... yeah, there was some ego behind that (see: Vitamin Water commercial). But ultimately, this was a process to explain himself to the people of Cleveland and the country. The Q&A with Jim Gray was scripted to remove James from any sort of villainous context, and his camp wasn't spreading rumors today just for hype: they were trying to ease people into the news.

So much for ego, so much for money. Here's to three guys who want to play together, and are willing to budget themselves so that they can now assemble role players.

ESPN is going to tell you that they're making a mistake, that three really good players alone won't make a team great. Just tell ESPN to go blow itself. These three guys are going to be really, really good. Will they win immediately? I don't know. But they'll win.

Here's to them, and here's hoping they get their fourth good friend, Chris Paul. I'm all for competitive balance, but I'm also for something artful. These guys are on the verge of art.

Vox poplui, vox dei

The voice of the people is the voice of God?

Now we all know that isn't true, and that the Lord God will come to us this evening at 9 p.m. on ESPN in an hour-long special they're actually calling "The Decision."

But in the meantime, let's indulge the axiom. Where's LeBron going and why? We went to YOU for answers:

Emily Best, graduate student, Washington, D.C.: New York or Miami for money, fame and championships. I also read a convincing argument yesterday that the one hour special will be all about how close he feels to Cleveland, and how he's committed to staying involved, but that its time to move on. And that he wouldn't do a one hour special if he was staying put.

Sarah Bingler, multimedia specialist, Camden, DE: Either he's going to NY because he likes the street pretzels, or he's going to Chicago. You know, because of Obama.

Sean O'Donnell, musician, Pittsburgh, PA: Nets or Knicks for money and titles.

Andy Medici, graduate student, Washington, D.C.: I think Miami. But Governor Joe Manchine from West Virginia should appoint Lebron to fill Byrd's open senate seat.

Jesse Wood, doctoral student, Pittsburgh, PA: He's joining Wade in Miami.

Sarrah Kaye, animal doctor, section 322, row A, seat 13: Miami, because the world hates me. Miami being a real team while the Knicks spiral into irrelevance has been the most painful part of the past 10 years. If Miami becomes dominant, I won't be able to watch games at all anymore. And the NBA is increasingly becoming a fake show like wrestling.

D. Clark Denison, newspaperman, Camden, DE: He's going to restart the ABA and sign with the Baltimore Bullets. He loves crabcakes. Loves 'em. He's going to be paid the equivalent of $40 million a year in crabcakes, with a signing bonus of oysters on the half shell.

John Alston, librarian, Clarion, PA: The Clippers, just to send sportscasters into a tizzy.

Aaron Bumbarger, some kind of technology consultant, Pittsburgh, PA: I think he stays
because he's a swell guy, and he wants to build his legacy in Cleveland.

Dan Richey, law student on honeymoon, Lyon, France: FUCK YOU I AM IN FRANCE.

Cassidy Gruber, underachiever, Pittsburgh, PA: Clearly, he's staying in Cleveland because he loves Shaq, like any person who breathes. Also, he loves money.

Jayme Penner, recovering ski bum, Pittsburgh, PA: I don't know where he's going but he's definitely leaving Cleveland. All of the teams around Cleveland are getting better and the Cavs are not. And who wants to live in Cleveland anyway?

Danielle Backstrom, primate caregiver, Boxby, Finland: What? Who is that?

Nichole Merritt, photographer, Pittsburgh, PA:
Cleveland will fade further into obscurity as the base of their economy moves on to Miami, or some other city that has anything better to offer than not being Detroit. And i still won't care. If the question was, "Why is LeBron leaving Cleveland?", the answer would be, "Why is he still there? Why is anyone still there?"

Dan Malloy, reporter, Washington, D.C.:
Heat, because its the new big three, and can win a title most easily. And I am incredibly uninformed, but Newsday said Heat. ESPN and LeBron is a match made in overblown self-promotion heaven.

Scott Steckel, accountant, New York, NY:
I hope he leaves Cleveland because it is every real Pittsburgher's responsibility to hope Clevelanders suffer as much as possible.

Max Walko, law student, Durham, NC: Chicago. Hot dogs.

Thom Gulish, hockey mom, Pittsburgh, PA: He has visited New York and Chicago, and will end up with the Bulls because he prefers a thick crust.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cleveland Still Sucks

That said, my guess is on them to get LeBron. Matt and Brennan already covered most of these bases, but here's how it shakes out from my perspective:

1) After last year's playoff exit, the Cavaliers were accused of not being as good as they thought they were. This is devastating news, if true; Cleveland maxed out the cap in bringing the roster together, and thus has litle flexibility for making any move, except of course, the big move. The big move, re-signing LeBron, would allow them to exceed the cap of $58 million. But even then, the roster is pretty much the same one that lost in the second-round, minus Shaq and Zydrunus Ilgauskus. They would have fewer players, and yet, even less financial flexibility.

So why then do I think Cleveland has the edge?

First of all, the idea that this roster isn't good enough is somewhat false. Yes, there's a huge difference between regular season success and playoff success, but that doesn't discount the fact that this team was wildly dominant for the past two regular seasons. I don't think it was entirely the coach's fault, but Mike Brown did have a funny way of throwing out all of his regular season rotations and match-ups in the postseason. I'd take it one step further and say the offensive gameplanning was entirely absent last year, after the Cavs lost coordinator John Kuester to Detroit. That's the kind of thing that gets exposed in the playoffs, and perhaps gets rectified by a new coaching staff. There was also LeBron's elbow. Say he's healthy against the Celtics, I bet you see a different series. Finally, I'd say that there may be some addition through subtraction at work this offseason. Anyone who watched the Cavs last year appreciated Shaq's effort, but saw how much crisper and mobile the team was when he wasn't on the floor. Same with fan favorite Ilgauskus. I have my doubts about the team playing without a true center (especially when they go up against the Magic), but then again, what did it get them last year having those two guys? Anderson Varejao will regress, Antawn Jameson will fit into the offense better, Delonte West and Daniel Gibson will be traded, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon will be decent enough role players, and JJ Hickson will get a lot of points off LeBron and Mo Williams. They'll compete, and by the end of next season, have a bit more flexibility to actually bring in a big man.

Second reason LeBron stays is the money. I would say he takes a three-year deal and keeps the Cavs on a short leash so that he can threaten to go to Brooklyn when the Nets move in; however, with the possibility of the CBA expiring and a lockout looming, it seems in his interests to take as much money as he can, now.

2) Miami is out of the picture. It's not simply that LeBron doesn't want to leave money behind in Cleveland to play alongside his would-be higher-paid peer, Dwyane Wade; it's that Miami doesn't have the money to give him even the max deal they're giving Chris Bosh. Right now they only have $5 million committed to their payroll, in the form of three guys. That means they have the flexibility to bring in LeBron and Bosh while keeping Wade. That would give them a roster of six. Yes, technically that's fine. But let's see how it works out in the fourth quarter.

A lot has been written about LeBron's ego, and how he'd be resistant to the idea that he was going to be a side kick to Wade. The fact is, this is all about ego. If this was about winning, all of these guys would take their paycuts. They're not going to. So don't expect any super group to be formed.

3) Chicago is out, and they know it. The Bulls are locking down Carlos Boozer to a huge contract which will reduce the flexibility they need for offering LeBron money.

4) The Nets are out, simply on the basis that they failed to make a splash signing. They're still terrible and gutted. The "good" news for them, is that it won't cost much more money to stay this way, so they could try waiting out LeBron for a chance at him in 3 years, when they move to his favorite borough of NYC.

5) The Knicks are shockingly still in the discussion. LeBron's big press conference will be held in Greenwich, Connecticut tomorrow night. This is where the Knicks' president resides, and where their practice facilities are located. Furthermore, the Knicks were the only team to get a second meeting with LeBron's representatives last week. On top of that, they locked up a big name in Amar'e Stoudemire, leaving them with enough room to sign LeBron and round out the roster. But beyond all of that, the most appealing feature of their financial outlook is that other than Stoudemire, no one on the roster is committed past this coming season. That would give them the kind of flexibility that no one else has. The kind that would allow them to bring in LeBron's best friend, Chris Paul, next offseason to join him and Stoudemire. The Knicks won't immediately provide as supportive a supporting cast as Cleveland will, and they can't offer as large a contract; but in some ways, they give LeBron a fresh start (he has to be getting tired of the Cavs playing up the "THIS is the year" storyline), a team to call his own (as opposed to in Miami or Chicago), and reasonable hope for contending in the future. Furthermore, the ego stroking that comes from raising the MSG stock 6.4% today has to feel good. Yeah, it's nice to be a hometown hero, but if this is about ego and power think of the rush, knowing that you shifted two franchises' collective worth by about a eight-hundred million dollars.

Anyway. My guess is still on the Cavs, with everyone but the Knicks being eliminated by default. And if it is Cleveland, that would mean the Greenwich locale was purely to generate hype, which in a lot of ways says something about how petty this really talented, rich ballplayer is.

In conclusion: whatever.

Let's stop talking about basketball.

How many of you equal one JaMarcus Russell?

For the second day in a row, we have something awesome from ESPN.

They call this little gizmo the $alary Crunch, and it calculates how long it takes (or in JaMarcus Russell's case, took) to earn your annual salary. And if you need an extra little slap across the face, it will tell you exactly how long you would have to work at your current salary rate to earn Athlete X's salary.

Enthusiastic participants include Paul Piece, Amar'e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, Joe Johnson, Sergei Gonchar, Dan Hamhuis, Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, Tim Lincecum (measured in metric kilos) and of course, JaMarcus Russell.

How did we miss this?

The producers of Pardon the Interruption threw together a "Free Agent Summit" program that aired on ESPN last week. The network didn't promote it at all, so it's entirely possible nobody watched it. But it's available online, and you should watch it.

This is exactly what I want from ESPN at this point in time. No glitz, no highlights, no b-roll. I want four opinionated, reasonable funny guys sitting around a table yelling at each other, with salient points being made every 10-15 seconds.

For as much as I dislike Simmons, he's not bad in this (though he does sneak in more than one totally unnecessary Red Sox reference). Wilbon's NBA analysis is pretty solid, even though he can be a little fanboyish. Dan Le Batard is pretty solid, and Kornheiser, who chaired the meeting, was flat-out hilarious.

In a fun, PTI-ish change of pace, they play some kind of a board game around the 13-minute mark which is supposed to place chips with the names of free agents on spots of the table according to where they might sign, it devolves into a hysterical game of what looks like free-agent air hockey, with each guy swatting the chips back and forth with long wooden sticks.

I'm serious. This is some good shit.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Desperate for a scoring forward, Pens sign LeBron

Honestly, we here at FTC don't really follow the NBA too much. You might have noticed our slight Pittsburgh slant, and with Pittsburgh nowhere near the NBA's radar, we really don't care. But we do pay attention here and there. We enjoy the playoffs, we enjoy the finals, we enjoy the draft, and we enjoy all the off-court drama -- especially when that drama involves Eddy Curry, Eddy Curry taking out a $570,000 loan at 85%, or Eddy Curry trying to get his limo driver to touch his junk.

But the last few months have brought a different kind of drama. LeBron James has ostensibly taken over the NBA. He upstaged the conference finals, then made himself a bigger story than the league finals. James even went to far as to hold a free-agent summit so that he could divy up the league like he's Pope Alexander VI. As soon as the Cavs were eliminated from the playoffs -- back in, like, mid-December -- a bulk of the basketball media, the columnists in particular, spent more time talking about LeBron than they did about the finals. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. The finals weren't great this year, and this year's NBA free agent crop might be the deepest we've seen in any sport for 25 years.

But since then, it's been all LeBron. Where's he going to sign? Can Cleveland keep him? Does he want to play with D-Wade? Chris Bosh? Does he want to follow in the footsteps of league greats like Speedy Claxton or all 15 guys named Ellis who played for the Nuggets at one point or another?

We here at FTC like to think of ourselves as solidly reasonable people, so we're going to break it down team-by-team. Because there are about 437 teams, we're only going to hit the contenders:

Cleveland: The core group of players in Cleveland has shown that they can not get it done. LeBron needs help, and Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison are nice players, but their contracts are huge and will prevent the team from adding the shooter and baseline presence it needs, even if they are able to keep James in town.

New Jersey: They've got a palatable new coach who LeBron could break in half over his knee if he sees fit, and they've got some talented young big guys in Brook Lopez and Derrick Favors. The Nets would need to add a few pieces, but finances likely won't be an issue now that they're owned by an insane Russian billionaire and Jay-Z. Additionally, this is the only team LeBron could go to outside of Cleveland where there wouldn't be immense pressure to win right away.

New York: The Knicks can't offer LeBron the most money, and they can't offer him a chance to win in the next three to five years. What they can do is stand around him and pleasure themselves to the antiquated idea that everyone who's anyone must play in New York. Then, they'll sweeten the pot by telling LeBron that maybe, if he's good, they can get someone to name a sandwich after him. LeBron is not going to New York.

Miami: D-Wade's an interesting chip in this whole mess. Does he stay in Miami, or does he go home to Chicago? He's already got a title, and he's already the most popular athlete in one of the most glamorous cities in America. But would he want to play for his hometown Bulls, given the talent level already in place there? I say no. I say Wade stays in Miami. But assuming he does, would LeBron and Wade ever play together. It would be fun to watch for all of the half-dozen times I pretend to give a shit about professional basketball, but I doubt it. LeBron still doesn't have a title, and if he went to Miami to try to win one with Wade, the black mark on his record would be that he needed Wade's help to win a title, and that he was never THE guy. That's why it was so important for Kobe to win without Shaq around, and it's not an unreasonable thing to consider. Additionally, if Miami were to sign both LeBron and Wade to max contracts, they might not have enough money left to fill out their roster, and that would never work; just ask Juwon Howard and Chris Webber. If Wade goes to Chicago, which he won't, there's a chance LeBron could be wooed by Miami. This would require Pat Riley to fire the current coach and take over the team himself.

Chicago: The scariest contender. They've got a ton of young talent in place, including Derek Rose running the point and Joakim Noah in the middle. They just traded Kirk Hinrich to free up some cap space, and they're in great shape to make more than one free agent acquisition this off-season, given that they had seven guys' contracts expire when free agency began last week. If they land LeBron, they could conceivably lure in Chris Bosh with a competitive offer short of the max, and there's a great chance Bosh would take it. If James went to Chicago, however, he would be under immense pressure to win immediately.

The real question here is, what does LeBron want? What are his priorities?

If he wants the most money, he stays in Cleveland.
If he wants to win right away, he goes to Chicago.

The money between the two is close to negligible. But there's this, too: If LeBron leaves Cleveland, that's it for Cleveland. His skipping town could have a near catastrophic effect on the local economy, not to mention the team itself, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Robert Schoenberger:

"The franchise is worth $476 million now, but if James left, it could revert to close to what it was before he signed with the Cavs in 2003...The Cavs were valued at $258 million before James. The value jumped to $298 million in 2004. In early 2005, [owner Dan] Gilbert bought the team for $375 million."

Schoenberger goes on to note that Forbes estimates James' value to the team to be somewhere in the ballpark of $100 million, but that other $118 million in total franchise value didn't come from bringing in Anderson Varejao.

I've always been inclined to like LeBron. He's smart, he's charismatic, he's fun to watch. He's also an incredibly savvy businessman. I just can't see this guy walking out on his hometown at age 25, leaving the team and the city to rot like the lost city of Zinj.

Matt's prediction: Cleveland

BOLD PREDICTION: LeBron stays in Cleveland, but he only signs a three-year deal, or a two-year deal with a player option. He's going to give ownership and new GM Chris Grant some time to right the ship, but they'll be on a short leash.

LeBron Prediction(s)

Serious Prediction: LeBron remains in Cleveland.

My bullshit, sitting-on-the-couch, psychological analysis of LeBron James is that he is an egomaniac, but an intelligent egomaniac. I imagine few things are more enjoyable for an egomaniac than being the center of a year long media circus, and this media circus has reached the Gunther Geble-Williams segment of the show. Everybody is watching now.

If LeBron was entirely motivated by ego, however, I would be predicting he will sign with Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago. What better way to satisfy an ego of otherworldly size than to take on Kobe in L.A., Jordan's legacy in Chicago, or the entire media world in New York?

But, my guess is that LeBron is too smart to try any of those feats.

First, the talent level on the mentioned teams is only marginally better than Cleveland, if not drastically worse. Chicago has a great young player in Derrick Rose, but we're not talking about LeBron teaming with Shaq or Duncan (or even Dwight Howard) in their respective primes. LeBron going to New Jersey to play with Devin Harris and Brook Lopez or the Knicks with Stoudamire (a knee/eye injury waiting to happen) and the promise of Carmelo maybe/hopefully next year? Sorry, he is too smart for any of that.

Second, no matter what anyone says about money not being a real factor, because LeBron or any of the other marquee free agents can make up the less-than-max contract which can be offered by the suitor (non-home) teams, with other lucrative perks... the money is still a huge factor. As I understand it, Cleveland can offer 6 years, $126 million, everyone else can offer 5 years, $96 million. To leave the home team, you basically have to be willing to give up a guaranteed $30 million.

Chris Bosh has already said he won't, and will probably be part of a sign-and-trade. A'mare Stoudamire took less, but only because the Suns wouldn't give his busted retina/knee microfractured ass more than 3 years. D-Wade can talk about taking less, but all signs point to him staying in Miami (and convieniently, recruting others to take less). Joe Johnson already took the money. These guys can talk all day about taking less to play together, but as of right now, they have taken exactly $0.0 million less than the max they could receive. LeBron is not going to be the goof making less guaranteed money than Joe Johnson or Chris Bosh.

Finally, LeBron is smart enough to know that he rules the roost in Cleveland. Could LeBron and his high school pallies (aka as his "management team") have the same free reign in any of the big media markets? Probably. But, if he is smart, he'll know the scrutiny will be alot greater, and the consequences alot more painful in NYC or Chicago or L.A. Basically, LeBron and his buddies have the run of the franchise and the city in Cleveland, because it's literally (OK, not literally) possible that Cleveland cannot survive without him. In Chicago, he is immediately -6 in comparison to Jordan, in L.A. he is -5 to Kobe, while NYC will give him exactly one honeymoon season of love before they simply expect one championship... every season.

LeBron is too smart to fall into any of these traps. His ego loves the circus and the attention, but in the end he'll stay home.

Additional predictions...
LeBron is less smart than I think: Knicks
David Stern conspiracy prediction (i.e. something something New York something media control something Patrick Ewing lottery something): Knicks
11 year-old Matt Brennan's dream fantasy prediction: Harlem Globetrotters ("LeBron will play in Pittsburgh every year right after Christmas!!! Hey, look out! LeBron is going to throw water in a bucket on the front row!!! Wait... it's just confetti!!!!)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Opening the flood gates on this one

All-Star games are silly. We all know this.

There was that one year (2008), when the championship Stillers re-defined what defense should look like, and yet, only sent three dudes to the Pro Bowl. The San Diego Padres are leading the league in ERA and sending exactly 0 pitchers to the 2010 All Star Game.

Stupid, you know?

But here's the thing...

That's how All-Star games work. Plus this weird mercy rule, where every team, no matter how much it sucks, has to have one representative.

While we all really dig Evan Meek, and the outstanding job he's done in 46.0 innings, we kind of feel like the token All-Star on the Pirates is our franchise player, Andrew McCutchen.

I know Meek has been exceptionally great, but give him a bad week or two, and Joel Hanrawho a decent week or two, and they're exactly the same player. That's the thing about relief pitchers: they're super while they're on, but completely suspect to the small-sample-size in which they live. I am not discounting Meek's stuff for a minute: it's filthy, and I commend his effort in not walking people. But, he's no 23 year-old with speed, mild power, and unlimited upside.

Here's to 2011. The year when the Mets, Dodgers, and Cubs have to pick token All-Stars to represent them because the Bucs have 6 of their own.