Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Spygate, Deflategate and predictions: The 2015 NFL Preview

Outside the Lines produced a report Tuesday morning concerning the New England Patriots and Roger Goodell and the possible connection between Spygate and Deflategate. Goodell spoke on Mike & Mike in the Morning, adamantly stating that there was "no connection" in his mind that the two incidents were related.

Other reports arose around the same time claiming that Deflategate was Goodell's makeup call for what occurred during the Spygate proceedings in which many say the Patriots were 'let off the hook'.

Personally, I'm not sure what to make of these new allegations and it's no telling what other information will follow.

Now on to more important information. . .

The NFL season kicks off Thursday as those New England Patriots plus Tom Brady fresh off of an overturned suspension are scheduled for a showdown against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here's a very general preview of the upcoming season done by Mike Stephenson (@ThatsJustMike_) who will be taking care of the NFC South and West, James Patrick (@MettaWorld_Mack) who will handle the NFC North and East, Kevin Edwards (@KedDwade) manning the AFC South and North and I will give my take on the AFC East and West.

You wanted awards too? Gotcha.


Mike on the South:


1. Atlanta Falcons (9-7) -- I don’t believe the Falcons have done enough to get back in the conversation with elite teams, however, I do believe they have done enough to come out on top of this mediocre division. When new head man Dan Quinn, the architect of the league's top scoring defense over the past three seasons in Seattle he wasted no time attempting to improve the league's worst defense. Drafting Vic Beasley to help a horrible pass rush could provide huge dividends. Matt Ryan, a healthy Julio Jones and Ryan's new weapon out of the backfield in Tevin Coleman who is no stranger to workhorse duties should be enough on offense to take over the south.

2. Carolina Panthers (9-7) -- The injury of Cam Newton's number one receiver Kelvin Benjamin won't be as devastating as I first thought it would. I believe a stingy Panthers defense, a solid run game and more consistency from Newton will have Carolina in contention for its third consecutive playoff berth

3. New Orleans Saints (8-8) -- Quarterback Drew Brees isn't getting younger so the time to he has left to return to the Super Bowl is waning. It doesn't help that the Saints let one of his favorite targets in Jimmy Graham and his 46 TDs since 2011 go via trade. Brees however does have a young electric WR in Brandin Cooks to toss it to. The defense made minor upgrades, signing the physical Brandon Browner while importing one of the best corners from the CFL in Delvin Breaux.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-10) -- Honestly, before writing this I considered them as division winners, which shouldn't be that, hard in a division like this one. Instead, I have the Buccaneers winning as many games as they have combined over the past two seasons with six. Rookie QB James Winston has won at every level except his current one which he has to prove he can do. He has the luxury of two 6'5" wide receivers (Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson) and a dangerous weapon in the backfield if he stays healthy and returns to 2012 form in Doug Martin. The sky is the limit for Winston if he can limit his mistakes after throwing a ton of interceptions his last season as a Seminole.

What about the West?:

1. Seattle Seahawks (11-5) -- Something just seems off with these Seahawks going into the season. I don't know if it's the Super Bowl hangover, Kam Chancellor's holdout proving to mean a lot for the welfare of the defense, or the defense period but I'm sure by year's end they will be on top, edging out. . .

2. Arizona Cardinals (10-6) -- Had Carson Palmer stayed healthy, I think the Cardinals would be in search of a back-to-back division crown. The departures of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Antonio Cromartie, both taking their talents to the New York Jets could be huge. Who knows when we'll see Daryl Washington again. But Bruce Arians has worked wonders since arriving in Arizona. This 2nd place finish will be contingent on a week 17 showdown in Arizona versus the Seahawks.

3. St. Louis Rams (7-9) -- The Rams will look to improve on a very decent season after their impressive offseason in which they acquired Nick Foles from Philadelphia and drafting Todd Gurley, whom when healthy will probably be a nice addition to coach Jeff Fisher's offense. They boasts one of the league's scariest front sevens but their secondary is a concern since E.J. Gaines will be missing the entire season. Although I have them finishing under .500, the arrow is pointing up in Missouri.

4. San Francisco 49ers (7-9) -- Horrible offseason to say the least. They lost coach Jim Harbaugh to Michigan, offensive coordinator Greg Roman to Buffalo and a handful of starters on both sides of the ball including All-Pro Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Aldon Smith Anthony Davis, Ray McDonald, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree to name a few. It will be interesting to see what quarterback Colin Kaepernick does without Gore and Crabtree especially, but their departures open the door for second-year back Carlos Hyde and a couple of other unproven commodities. Navarro Bowman's return is one of the only things to be optimistic about.


James on the North:

1. Green Bay Packers (12-4) -- Even after losing their leading receiver in Jordy Nelson to a torn ACL, it's hard to imagine the Packers not coming out on top of the North. Randall Cobb is very good and will be relied upon much more; his health is crucial to the Packers' success. Second-year receiver Davante Adams steps into a new role after the Nelson injury and showed some of his potential as the slot guy last season. The Packers defense, though without Tramon Williams remains in tact. This team is good enough to finish in the top two of the NFC.

2. Detroit Lions (10-6) -- The Lions are without standout defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh but the Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson connection is still very much alive. They added running back Ameer Abdullah via the draft, look for him to get tons of work this season.

3. Minnesota Vikings (9-7) -- The Vikings are a very dangerous, young team that returns a defense full of raw talent, youth, potential, and speed and the workhorse of all workhorses in Adrian Peterson. He and second-year, very talented quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should enjoy a few successes together.

4. Chicago Bears (6-10) -- The Bears add Coach John Fox from Denver after the Mark Trestman experience didn't quite pan out as expected. Jay Cutler is in a steep decline and he's without his favorite target Brandon Marshall. Look for rookie receiver Kevin White to step into a similar role. His height, size and raw speed for the former is rare; he's got tons of potential. Yet, as this division gets tougher the Bears lag behind in key departments -- defensively for example. Although they could surprise, this is not your dad's Chicago Bears defense, nor your older sibling's.

The good ol' East:

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) -- Head Coach Chip Kelly made this offseason an interesting one. He traded away running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills and their top receiver Jeremy Maclin walked in free agency. The Eagles bounced back by acquiring LB Kiko Alonso in the McCoy trade and acquired the rushing title holder DeMarco Murray; a thorn in their division rival's side. Kelly managed to also draft Nelson Agholor from USC to pair with Jordan Matthews, the very impressive second year pass catcher. If new quarterback Sam Bradford can stay healthy, which is a big if, look out for these Eagles, this team could be very dangerous.

2. Dallas Cowboys (10-6) -- Jerry Jones should be getting restless. Their state-of-the-art arena only has old legacies to show inside. Jones and the Cowboys are hungry to improve on a very surprising 2014 season. The departure of the aforementioned Murray will only be devastating if backs Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden fail to supplant the Cowboys with consistency on the ground, which will prevent quarterback Tony Romo from repeating the most efficient year of his career (34 TDs 9 INTs). The defense has a few new faces including combine warrior Byron Jones who will have to step in immediately after corner Orlando Scandrick tore his ACL in practice and the troubled but talented edge-rusher Randy Gregory.

3. New York Giants (8-8) -- Another season of Manning to Beckham Jr. is upon us. But don't forget about Victor Cruz who has proven he can put up top tier numbers. The Giants defense also boasts a couple of new faces, including rookie Landon Collins. It'll be interesting to see how their best defensive player Jason Pierre-Paul performs after losing a couple fingers in a July fireworks incident.

4. Washington Redskins (2-14) -- The Redskins may be the most dysfunctional franchise in the league. If you've been keeping up with the Robert Griffin III saga, you'll know what I mean.


Kevin on the North:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) -- Surprise, I have the Pittsburgh Steelers winning the AFC North for the second season in a row. Coming into the 2015 season, Pittsburgh is bringing it’s #2 ranked offense which should see some improvement as the Killer B’s (Ben, Bell, Brown, and Bryant) and Wheaton gain more chemistry with each other. The defense is in the middle of a major youth movement letting older players go and replacing them with young players like Ryan Shazier and Shamarko Thomas. This defense should be around average and because of that, I expect it to hurt them at times during the season.

2. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) -- In second, I have the perennial tough team, the Baltimore Ravens. Last year, the Ravens finished in third, but finished further than any other AFC North team. The Ravens are bolstered by their tough defense which could be stronger depending on how their young players, like CJ Mosley and Jimmy Smith progress. The latter's return from injury could prove to be big. Their offense, while not spectacular, is solid. They are led on offense by Joe Flacco and after a breakout season, Justin Forsett. The receiving core could become an issue without Torrey Smith. Flacco is now dependent on the old vet Steve Smith, rookie speedster Breshad Perriman and a core of tight ends with 10 career receptions.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) -- In third, I have the Cincinnati Bengals, coming off a fourth straight playoff appearance. QB Andy Dalton, young up-and-coming RB Jeremy Hill, and star WR A.J. Green lead the Bengals. They hope to be adding even more offense with a returning Tyler Eifert, and hope to upgrade their defense as they dropped from third overall in 2013 to 22nd overall in 2014.

4. Cleveland Browns (4-12) -- Then, there is the Cleveland Browns and their four-year streak of coming in last place. The Cleveland Browns have many questions on their offense, like will QB Johnny Manziel live up to his hype? How long can Josh McCown last as the starting QB in the tough AFC North? How will their running game shape up with Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, after the trade of Terrance West? Or will their Receivers be able to make plays when they are needed? These questions lead me to believe the Browns will be making this year their fifth straight in the basement.

Is it Andrew Luck or JJ Watt's South?:

1. Indianapolis Colts (12-4) -- In first place in the AFC South, I have reigning division champ, the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are coming off of an AFC Championship visit that ended in a huge loss, but spent the summer doing much needed retooling. The Colts let go of RB Trent Richardson, who was a bust, and signed a reliable veteran RB Frank Gore. They added another veteran WR Andre Johnson and rookie Phillip Dorsett, with hopes to take their passing offense led by Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton to another level. The defense still leaves much to be desired but with the return of Robert Mathis and free agent signing Trent Cole, it should improve.

2. Houston Texans (9-7) --  In second, I have the Houston Texans. The Texans are coming into the season with a few glaring concerns at QB along with star RB Arian Foster sidelined for a couple of weeks. However, the Texans have a young star at receiver in Deandre Hopkins and a great defense led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year and runner-up MVP JJ Watt. With the addition of longtime Patriots NT Vince Wilfork and a healthy Jadeveon Clowney, their defense could carry them to a second place finish in the AFC South.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) -- In third place I have the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars are led by a young core of players on offense including Blake Bortles, rookie TJ Yeldon, receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, and big free agent signing Julius Thomas. They hope to improve on a defense that finished 26th overall last year, led by LB Paul Posluszny.

4. Tennessee Titans (4-12) -- In last place for the 2nd year in a row, I have the Tennessee Titans. The Titans will be led by the number two overall pick, QB Marcus Mariota, whom the Titans hope will develop into the franchise guy at the position they haven't had since the late Steve McNair. At RB they have two players that underwhelmed in their rookie seasons, Bishop Sankey and newly added Terrance West. Their offense will likely come from reliable targets for Marcus Mariota in Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker. Their defense finished last in the division and is looking for some improvement with the additions of former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau and Brian Orakpo, who’s been a Pro-Bowler most seasons when he was healthy.


The other East:

1. New England Patriots (11-5) -- I don't expect these New England Patriots to relinquish the division crown until Tom Brady hangs up the cleats. The Patriots offense will always be a nightmare for opposing defenses, but an emphasis on the secondary is what proved to win the Super Bowl for this team. Now without All-Pro corner Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, the secondary looks like the unit that gave up an astounding amount of yards over the previous couple of seasons (ranking 31st and 29th in 2011 and 2012). Now, Coach Bill Belichick has turned his attention to the front seven despite the loss of Vince Wilfork, bolstering it with first-round draft pick Malcolm Brown and rotations guys like Jabaal Sheard and other mid-to-late round draft picks. The overturning of Tom Brady's suspension should help the Patriots get off to a better start than last year that seen them surrender two of their first four including an embarrassing loss on Monday Night Football to the Kansas City Chiefs.

2. Miami Dolphins (9-7) -- If there was one threat to the perennial division champion Patriots it would be the Dolphins. Quarterbacked by one of the league's most steadily improving guys in Ryan Tannehill, the addition of Davante Parker gives him the legit big wideout needed to stretch the field with Jarvis Landry working the slot. Their impressive defense gets a boost with arguably the league's best defensive tackle in Ndamukong Suh. Watch out for this squad.

3. Buffalo Bills (8-8) -- Rex Ryan is going to pound the rock until he gets tired so he needs someone who can carry that load. Enter former rushing title holder LeSean McCoy. The offensive line factor in going from one of the league's best offensive lines to the worst-rated run blocking line might matter as much as McCoy allows it. His raw talent alone can neutralize some of the line's fallacies. The Bills defense is still scary and will be even better under defensive mastermind Rex Ryan.

4. New York Jets (5-11) -- The re-additions of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie is surely going to bolster a secondary that was atrocious last season. Their front seven plus those two corners should keep the Jets alive when their offense can't. Although the addition of receiver Brandon Marshall is key, there may be more than a couple of instances where the defense will be needed to supplant offensive inefficiencies.

Wild, Wild West:

1. Denver Broncos (11-5) -- The Denver Broncos are once again loaded on both sides of the ball. An 11-5 record may be understating the firepower this team has harnessed since Peyton Manning has been under center on both sides of the ball.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) -- FINALLY! The Chiefs went out and got Alex Smith a receiver he can throw touchdowns to in Jeremy Maclin. HIs addition plus the ever-dangerous Jamaal Charles out of the backfield and emerging tight end Travis Kelce, the Chiefs should once again be in contention for one of the wildcard spots in the AFC. The Chiefs made a huge commitment to sack-artist Justin Houston, signing him to the richest deal for a defensive player in NFL history, hilariously giving him one million more than J.J. Watt. Eric Berry is back now, which should steady the Chiefs' secondary once again.

3. San Diego Chargers (9-7) -- Fresh off of a contract extension of his own, Phillip Rivers and company are good enough to finish second in this division. In need of a new workhorse back the Chargers drafted one of the most electrifying guys to carry that load in Melvin Gordon. I'm curious to see what the suspension of Rivers' favorite guy Antonio Gates will do to this Chargers offense.

4. Oakland Raiders (6-10) -- The Raiders WILL be competitive this season. Get ready to hear a lot of Derek Carr to new, already polished target Amari Cooper throughout the season. The Raiders have did a great job in free agency and via the draft over the past couple of seasons. This team is a season or a key injury to a division rival away from being good enough to finish second in the West.

About these awards:

MVP --

Me: Tom Brady
Mike: Aaron Rodgers
Kevin: Andrew Luck
James: Tom Brady

Offensive Player of the Year --

Me: Antonio Brown
Mike: Julio Jones
Kevin: Aaron Rodgers
James: Antonio Brown

Defensive Player of the Year --

Me: J.J. Watt
Mike: Bobby Wagner
Kevin: J.J. Watt
James: J.J. Watt

Offensive Rookie of the Year --

Me: Amari Cooper
Mike: Marcus Mariota
Kevin: Amari Cooper
James: Amari Cooper

Defensive Rookie of the Year --

Me: Vic Beasley
Mike: Eric Kendricks
Kevin: Bud Dupree
James: Leonard Williams

Coach of the Year --

Me: Gary Kubiak, Denver Broncos
Mike: Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles
Kevin: Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
James: Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles

Comeback Player of the Year --

Me: Adrian Peterson
Mike: Eric Berry
Kevin: Adrian Peterson
James: Adrian Peterson

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Dear Apple, Your Chargers are Crap

I love your products; a patron of your services. I own a MacBook Pro, an iPhone, a former iPod owner and it's only right that I own an Apple Watch at some point in the future. Even my dad purchases iTunes cards at an alarming rate.

I'm biased towards every product you guys have released since I purchased my first: an iPod Nano when I was in middle school. Well, my parents did, but that isn't the point.

The point is that, while Apple is a wonderful company that keeps me on my heels and has made me a fiend for iOS updates and the newest hardware, one thing hasn't changed about the company for as long as I've bought your products: the chargers.

Read full article on the Huffington Post.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The New Formula

With the “specialist” craze taking the Association by storm, could it be okay to miss out on some of 
the game’s biggest names in Free Agency to satisfy the ways of the NBA.

If you’re a fan of the NBA’s Summer League you’ll understand what I’m talking about. In recent years, the Association’s Summer League has grown into a popular spectacle, bringing sold out crowds to watch a handful of guys, many of which may not make a team or will have little to no impact once the regular season arrives. That’s what makes these games so competitive and sloppy-looking at the same time. However, this New World Order in the NBA is what makes these contests so important. Some of these guys may REALLY make an impact.

Last month, we all witnessed the Golden State Warriors wreck the NBA Finals while proving that you can live without dying by the 3-point shot. But the Warriors are much more than a gang of shooters, they carry a myriad of versatility and can beat you with game-changing lineups that even the brightest of coaches fail to find a counteract to.

The Warriors have a roster full of guys outside of Steph Curry that play a different, vital role. You may say, “everyone plays a role on a team!” Well of course. It just so happens that the Warriors role players are the epitome of the trend in the NBA; small ballers, floor stretchers, two-way players and pick-and-roll maestros — offensively and defensively. Between the NBA Draft and the NBA Summer League, teams should aim to mirror the Warriors same championship approach.

With the league in this phase, it makes the NBA Summer League much more important. These young guys are trying their hardest to show their respective teams that their talent is as valuable as anyone else the team could sign instead of them, and rightfully so; it seems like the way to earn a job with a team in a league that seems to be much more particular about the players they bring on. The same holds true for the period of free agency when the pool becomes shallow. Don’t get me wrong, acquiring players because of the style that a team may play with is nothing new, it’s the most logical thing to do. It’s just emphasized a great deal more now.
It also makes the dog days of NBA free agency much more important. Once the superstars are gone, scheme fit guys take center stage.

Miss out on a big name? Employ the “team fit” approach via Summer League and the latter part of free agency to make sure you’re up on the ways of the league; to make sure you’re acquiring the type of players that fit the way of life in the NBA. It seems to be the new wave of teambuilding.

At plenty introductory press conferences one quote holds true for new additions that goes something like: “I’m here to help my team do whatever they need me to do and provide in many ways.” Guys make sure to overemphasize how they envision themselves fitting in or contributing in multiple ways.

Take the New York Knicks for example. The Knicks were awful last season, offensively and especially defensively. The first year of the Triangle Offense was atrocious and the injury bug was prevalent. Enter Robin Lopez, the curly haired, defensive minded center the Knicks have not had in forever. He is no Marc Gasol, but he’s what the Knicks needed. Then came Arron Affalo, a member of the prized two-way player club. Then fell Derrick Williams. The Knicks’ new pick-and-roll experimenter will possibly get to run a few of those sets with rookie guard Jerian Grant, whom at Notre Dame got his share of PnR opportunities. Grant is a strong guard who can dish it as well as score off the dribble. The names aren’t big, but their abilities are big for the direction the Knicks want to go in.

It seems to be no need to be bummed out because you didn’t catch a big fish. Besides, there aren’t enough superstars for every team, and some are teaming up together. Teams are acquiring specialists to attempt to offset star power on another squad. Who knows, that “3 & D” specialist you have kept tabs on during the entire Summer League could be the next star in the NBA.

So continue to enjoy the NBA’s Summer League. Be enamored at how rookie big men like Bobby Portis knockdown consistent threes as well as showcase his skills on the defensive end or how others advertise “point-forward” abilities. Watch how guards and wings try and prove that they can be the next highly compensated two-way players. These guys aren’t just going out to fill the stat sheet, they are out to prove that they are not one-trick ponies; liabilities on one end of the floor.

Also, try not to be upset that your team acquired Roy Hibbert instead of LaMarcus Aldridge; the former is the type of guy the team (the Lakers) needed anyway.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Examining LeBron James' Possible Ulterior Motive

Photo: (Getty Images)

LeBron James is back in Cleveland. You can put your photoshopped pictures of him in your favorite team's jersey in your trash folder. It was pretty much a done deal that he would return to Cleveland even after he opted out.

He signed a two-year deal with a second year player option, giving him a chance to yet again opt out. The deal is a reported to be worth close to $47 million.

From a financial perspective, it would not be wise for LeBron to take a four or five year deal as he would be leaving millions on the table in the future. As the best player in the world, James is afforded the opportunity to sign one or two year deals that give him a chance to maximize the amount of money he can earn. 

Rather than signing a long term four or five year deal, James can become a free agent when the NBA Salary Cap is expected to reach a projected and insane 108 million. 

But, what if the salary cap wasn't expected to rise? Would LeBron's method of short-term deal madness be the same? And while "what ifs" can't give us any concrete answer, let's just examine another possible piece of LeBron's thought process in his two consecutive mini-deals: uncertainty.

James' new deal undoubtably gives him more leverage than any player in the league due to who he is; he's a franchise changer. But I just think LeBron has an insatiable desire to be in control of more than his financial future in the NBA. You can never have enough money, but James definitely isn't hurting for any. He wants his superstar money, of course, but rings are much more important; something he doesn't think he has enough of. After all, he had dreams of winning an insane amount of championships in Miami. 

These deals are geared towards getting him whatever he wants. 

After putting on arguably the greatest Finals performance in NBA history, it still wasn't enough to overcome the Golden State Warriors; James admitted somberly that he needed help -- he gave all he could give. He was without his two All-Star teammates and others could not pick up enough slack.

While the chances of LeBron suiting up for another team seems blasphemous, his short term deals speak of the aforementioned financial potential as well as him being a forward thinking guy; it speaks possible rockiness in the future. A lot can change over the course of a season or even a single playoff series.

Before he inked his new deal, James reportedly said he would not re-up until the Cavs made other moves and took care of in-house issues. 

Rightfully so, the Cavaliers have been here for most of James' team desires. They listened and began to surround him with guys he probably advised they should acquire and retain. As a result, one of James' favorite guys, Tristan Thompson will be paid handsomely and Kevin Love became a new member of the 100 million dollar club. More recently, the Cavs signed his point guard from his previous stint in Cleveland, Mo Williams. Those are the perks of being LeBron James. 

He wants a win-now roster. But, who doesn't?

His desire to be a focal point and seemingly go-to guy when it comes to roster decisions will never disappear, but I personally feel as though the Cavaliers willingness to pay a record number in luxury taxes wouldn't be as strong if he agreed to a long-term, nine-figure deal -- although owner Dan Gilbert could careless about paying them especially if it means it will get him closer to a championship. 

If the Cavaliers fail to provide James with a good enough roster or if injuries became the reason they fail to reach the mountain top for another season, James has granted himself a chance to leave if he so chose to. 

Although that would probably call for another chapter of "The Decision" and more burned number 23 jerseys, LeBron James has proved that he will do whatever he feels is best for his career regardless of public opinion; he'll play where he thinks gives him the best shot to hoist a third Larry O'Brien NBA Finals trophy. This is his career and his only. 

A long-term deal for anyone provides a great deal of uncertainty. 

A short-term deal provides guys like LeBron James, a superstar with the ability to make his respective team feel compelled to continue to help him, help them gives the franchise a level of uncertainty. The Cavaliers would hate to see James leave again, I'm convinced they'll go to the ends of the earth to keep him in Cleveland. The amount of leverage on both ends of the spectrum is ridiculous. 

The Cavaliers will more than likely be willing to possibly make LeBron James the first 200 million dollar guy in the NBA in the summer of 2017. They also have to keep in mind that his championship chances in terms of a win-now acquiring and maintaining a seemingly "win-now" roster on a year-to-year basis is just as important. The only way to do that is to keep Gilbert and co. on their toes.

 James is masterfully doing both thanks to his lucrative, smart and powerful short-term deals. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Takeaways from the 2015 NBA Draft

Everyone can't win.

The 2015 NBA Draft wrapped up Thursday night with a few surprises, steals and a couple of possible "oops" being said in the future.

Here are a few teams that capitalized on the newest kids on the block and others who probably didn't.

The Atlanta Hawks failed to take advantage of good fortune afforded to them thanks to the Brooklyn Nets.

At the start of the 2015-16 NBA season, the roster for the runner-ups in the East could look much different.

Pending are the futures of All-Star forward Paul Millsap and versatile wing DeMarre Carroll. Both could be in a new city within the next week, or not. But, the Atlanta Hawks did much of anything to cover themselves for the unfortunate event of both Millsap and Carroll skipping town for greener pastures ($$$).

The Hawks were fortunate enough to be able to swap pick 29 to get pick 15 via the Brooklyn Nets due to the Joe Johnson trade. What they did with it wasn't exactly the smartest thing they could've did as an organization.

So what was there for them at 15?

They could've shot their shot with Sam Dekker, the versatile forward with a very strong inside-outside game that translates well to the next level. Dekker is improving as a shooter and he makes his money slashing to the cup and creating offense for himself in the mid-range game. He would've been a nice addition to Coach Bud's free-flowing offense. He's also physical and a willing defender. Instead he goes 18 to Houston, giving them a nice toy to plug in with James Harden and McHale's fast-paced offense, allowing him to show off his ability to run the floor for easy transition buckets.

Or maybe they could have nabbed Bobby Portis, a stretch four with tremendous rebounding ability, size. He's also a pretty good defender. His skill set would have given him a chance to flourish in the event of a Millsap departure. He goes 22 to a very strong Chicago Bulls team; a team very capable of being the best team in the East.

Instead the Hawks select Kelly Oubre for the Washington Wizards in a pick swap, sending them to 19 where they then draft Jerian Grant for the New York Knicks due to another trade which lands them guard Tim Hardaway Jr. The trade would subsequently send them completely out of round one.

Maybe a change of scenery will aid Hardaway Jr., but how many times have we heard that after a trade? While wasn't the worst shooting guard in the league, he failed to take advantage of a heavily depleted Knicks team that gave him every chance in the world to make an impressive sophomore jump. He didn't shoot the rock well and his defense, well it sucked, which is something Mike Budenholzer loves out of his wing guys. Has anyone seen the fit yet? I haven't.

Let's just say Coach Bud caught himself watching an epic duel between Hardaway Jr. and Dion Waiters in the 2013 Rising Stars game and said "I have to get this guy". Maybe what the Thunder said too before acquiring Waiters.

The Hawks are hoping for an impressive third year campaign from Hardaway Jr. but it's hard to imagine an at least "good enough" year with a team full of guards who I'd personally take over him. Like I said, maybe the scene and coaching staff change will force him to play defense and do other small things that signal his improvement to see relevant minutes. His potential to be a pretty good shooter (he shot a decent 34 percent) might also help from being regulated to waving towels around after a teammate makes a great play.

Until then, answers to why the Hawks traded completely out of the first round are some that I'm still searching for. Especially since they have very important decisions to make in-house.

Pat Riley strikes again.

A couple of months ago, Pat Riley more than likely took an indirect shot at LeBron James, shading him for having a "hidden agenda" after he left for a ride back home to Northeast Ohio. Those same sentiments held true for the draft strategy he took Thursday and if anyone deserved a bit of luck, it was the Miami Heat.

It came in the form of Duke versatile wing Justise Winslow. The lefty is a freight train in transition with a rare combination of speed and power. He's drawn many comparisons to James Harden.

A lot of mock drafts did not have the Heat having any sort of chance to get Winslow, but mock drafts are mock drafts for a reason. Winslow was in my opinion the steal of the draft.

If the Heat can retain Mr. Miami himself, Dwyane Wade and mid-season acquisition Goran Dragic, a lineup with a healthy Chris Bosh and impressive center Hassan Whiteside could shake things up in the East. Bye-bye lottery, hello again top-four seed in the already weak East.

While he isn't a knockdown shooter (I don't know if he ever will be), he will get his share looks in that lineup. He's very versatile, he can defend at a very high level, he's a winner, he's aggressive and as far as we know, there are no hidden agendas in Winslow's plans. He very well could develop into a prized two-way player. They are the ones getting fat paychecks nowadays.

He fell to the perfect organization.

Pat Riley has probably swapped feelings with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and more than likely would like nothing more than to bring another championship to Miami before LeBron brings one to Cleveland.

"Take LeBron and we'll raise you Justise Winslow" - Pat Riley somewhere.

Danny Ainge has a guard fetish.

Without any trace of a good big man on the roster, Danny Ainge chose to almost completely neglect the position. He went with two guards, Terry Rozier from Louisville and RJ Hunter from Georgia State. His only big man was Jordan Mickey, the forward from LSU

Not to discredit the selections of Rozier and Hunter, the former is an impressive defender and a tough scorer and the latter has range out to half court. I would have just liked to see the Celtics pick a guy for both forward positions and a center.

They. Have. Too. Many. Guards. Now.

The Celtics had a myriad of value options at 16 including Bobby Portis, Jarrell Martin, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Sam Dekker and Kevon Looney. They probably could have still ended up with Mickey at 33.

Granted, the Celtics asset bank (an infinite number of picks for future drafts) and impending free agency moves could allow us to forget that Ainge is trying to court a 6'7" and under team. Ainge could draft tons of big men within the next draft and we'll ask him why didn't he draft another guard.

Nevertheless, Danny Ainge is a relentless teambuilder. Keep an eye on his rebuilding efforts.

Karl-Anthony Towns could have a Kevin Garnett-like impact for the Timberwolves. Yes? No? Okay.

Kevin Garnett's days as a player are probably all but over. I really hope he stays around so that Flip Saunders can hire him. Mentor Karl-Anthony Towns? That would be a match made in heaven.

The T-Wolves had to make the decision to choose Towns or Duke center Jahlil Okafor and while Towns may not be as good as Okafor from day one, his (Towns) ceiling is higher in my opinion. I think the Timberwolves made the right decision.

The Timberwolves made the playoffs in Garnett's first full season as a starter and Saunders' first full season as head coach. Although the Western Conference is a much different conference than it was in 1997; it is highly unlikely a 40-42 record will grant you a playoff berth in today's West. However, Towns is looking to be that missing link that helps Saunders and the Wolves replicate the glory days in Minnesota.

Towns brings so much to the table including his rare ball-handling skills, shooting touch and he's a very good rim protector. His defense compliments a team with very good individual defenders that need to turn that into team defense; they ranked dead last in defensive efficiency. His defensive potential will also allow him to help ignite fast breaks due to good team defense. And with guard Ricky Rubio handling it in the open court with two electric wings: Zach LaVine and reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, it'll be a sight to see. Towns' effort and willingness to run the floor will allow him to be re-paid off of some of those defensive stops.

Other Notables
Don't worry Knicks fans, Phil said he's got it. And even though Carmelo's impatience at the "not ready yet" rookie says otherwise, Phil still would tell you he's got it. I think Kristaps Porzingis is going to make someone feel dumb however this ends.
The Sixers badly needed a point guard. Although not passing on Okafor was the right thing to do, GM Sam Hinkie completely forgot to get a floor general. 
Portland's rebuilding effort is in effect. They are in full "yeah, LaMarcus Aldridge is gone" mode. Welcome Mason Plumlee and Noah Vonleh.

Eighteenth pick Sam Dekker is really going to make noise in Houston, as is 32nd pick Montrezl Harrell, says Daryl Morey's most basic use of analytics.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Road Less Traveled

When I was younger before every vacation or random family road trip we took, my dad would spend the night before packing, locking up the house and lastly,  reminding us about printing out his handy-dandy MapQuest directions.

"Make sure to remind me to print out that MapQuest for the trip", he would say.

MapQuest became our rock for about 97.6% of our family road trips and vacations. Not to mention it was free.

The other 2.4% came from the times MapQuest complicated the trip. The cons of the service was that before smart phones with tons of applications were around or people began buying electronic GPS systems or even before those same GPS systems were included in newer cars, it was on paper. The primitive paper version of MapQuest is final, the only thing you can do to it is rip it up after it pisses you off.

I'm not sure about your family but MapQuest had us lost more times than not.

Nowadays, since everyone has some sort of smartphone, or built in GPS system in their vehicle, there is no more stopping at a convenience store to ask the cashier "are you from around here? If so I'm trying to get to 7th Street, can you point me in that direction?" Usually we'd find out that the direction we were supposed to be going was totally opposite of the direction we were heading.

GPS applications are usually already included on the phone before you use it for the first time. It re-routes itself if I get off on the wrong exit or miss my exit for that matter. If I need to make a change, or find a new address, I can just type it in. If you don't have one by default, you can download one. It's free and waiting to be used.

But as an adventurous person, I kind of enjoyed the spontaneity of a MapQuest error, though today I occasionally take advantage of my map app. Of course, who doesn't like the money-saving convenience that an interactive application via Internet access can bring you.

But hey, next time, if you enjoy traveling and have the means for burning gas and time, try just using the road signs ahead to get to wherever you're going.  Even if you get lost, appreciate the struggle.

Getting lost with friends or family can truly be a good thing. To me, it can help strengthen a bond or help create memories among other things. Getting lost may at first seem frightening, but learning to embrace the feeling of "going with the flow" is imperative when lost and exciting altogether. Use getting lost as a way to teach yourself. If you're bad with sense of direction, getting lost is for you, seriously.

I remember taking my first road trip with some friends and ending up lost. It was funny more than anything. I understand some may feel vulnerable in a strange place.

Getting lost might help you find something unexpected, something you may think is cool, somewhere you may not have found hadn't you got lost.

If you must use a map, use a real map. You know, the big book like maps probably archived somewhere in your parents nostalgic belongings.

Travel/map applications in my opinion are just an example of how new technology can steal some of the unanticipated joys of life.

Traveling is supposed to be a thrill ride.

"To hell with MapQuest and their errors. Forget getting lost, we don't have the time for that, I need very accurate directions, now" is what I suppose my dad said to himself before he purchased a vehicle with built-in GPS.

That's what we all say subconsciously when we download any application.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Amerikkka's Most Wanted

Before his 21st birthday, Ice Cube released his debut solo album after his split from the group, NWA entitled Amerikkka's Most Wanted in 1990.

To put things in a very honest perspective, the album describes many aspects of American society, not only then, but now. Do not come at me saying that there are plenty of similar albums. I know this, the message and title of this such album just stands out.

The album was filled with tons of politically charged references, misogynic and violent lyrics but it needed to be heard, society should put this album on repeat. The impact of Cube's hardcore flow can still be felt in the homes, streets, and prisons of America.

Track two, "The N***a You Love To Hate", Ice Cube blasts the police and the government. He warns police that one day blacks that feel oppressed might find it in them to retaliate, which has subsequently happened. He rips the gun control laws, one that banned the legal use of the oft-owned and very cheap but high-powered AK47 rifle. Politicians would use the banning of the guns that were at the center of street violence as a platform for election.

Then came one of the more recognizable and relatable lines from the entire album: "Why more n****s in the pen than in college?", the school to prison pipeline is very much alive as there are more black men sitting in America's prisons than in America's universities.

The zero tolerance-esque policy neglects young black children who may be in need of more assistance and guidance to keep them out of trouble, therefore prioritizing incarceration over education. The American Civil Liberties Union further characterizes the issue that begins at the heart of the size of the classroom, they are overcrowded without resources to fundamentally nurture a child's educational needs such as the lack of quality teachers and funding for extra opportunities such as counselors and programs to aid these at-risk children. These faults have caused things such as the frequency of school shootings and other publicized happenings which lead schools to embrace the aforementioned zero-tolerance policies that can cause expulsion for students regardless of the offense. Expulsions lead to unsupervised children which lead to inevitable trouble, which lead children into court, deep into the juvenile system. These factors and others lead children-turned-adults behind steel bars instead of behind wooden desks. To a place where a pencil doesn't write your essays, instead, it can help write your tombstone.

What about the track, "Turn off the Radio"? Cube had a message for those blacks who wish to assimilate themselves with who he deemed as the enemy, saying that they simply don't care much for you. He labeled those people as "Oreo cookies". The first 30 seconds or so is filled with stereotypes associated with African-Americans, mocking and labelling us as people who love fried chicken that can't do anything but play a sport, a place where we are generally wanted, before telling us that we should "go back to Africa", because we aren't truly wanted as people in this country as Cube is trying to explain. Outside of that, he used this track to come for "sellouts", calling them people whose only goal is to make songs to please the mass audience, upset that his truly radio-unfriendly music doesn't get radio play. Actually, the album was without a true single and significant radio attention.

The next track "Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside)" is the epitome of the many societal struggles we are currently living through everyday it seems, police killing blacks, innocent blacks. The female news reporter starts out by letting us know that the new animal seeming to be falling from the face of the earth are black people, young black teenagers as she described have become the newest members on the list. The accuracy. "No efforts have been made to preserve the blacks", she continues, saying that the aforementioned people make for good "game hunting". Police brutality is not a new thing, it has been around since the inception of police. It was put on national display two years later after the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles which became the culprit of the riots that occurred in the city later that year. Years afterwards black Americans remain on the list with obviously no laws to protect us from the badged game hunters. Just another tale from the Darkside.

I can go on and on about how the life of 20 year old O'Shea Jackson, AKA Ice Cube's was similar to every other 20 year old black man in Amerikkka, I mean, America. The lessons he learned and the messages he portrayed exhibited on this album can still be heard today. Twenty-five years later not much has seemed to change about this avenue of society, discrepancies over color are very much alive.

Ice Cube was ahead of his time.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Every NBA Team Needs a Draymond Green

Too slow, too fat with a limited offensive game among other things is what Draymond Green heard coming out of Michigan State. 

His college resumé warranted a for sure first round selection, what scouts and others around the NBA saw was a project guy without a true position, a "tweener" as they called it. 

Green is 6'8" on a good day and coming out of MSU, he was a hefty 245-250 pounds. The next Boris Diaw seemed to be his fate. Green was already a pretty decent decision maker with the rock, he could rebound with the best of them at the college level and he was a terrific defender. Everything else was average to below average. 

GM Bob Myers drafted Green because he simply knew how to win. Myers said of Green after drafting him: "He went to one of the top colleges in the country and all he did was produce and win. Sitting next to me here are three guys that win. That's what we need to do. Winning in my opinion and in our group's opinion is a skill. These players all have that skill."

Right on Bob Myers. 

The Warriors didn't get the Boris Diaw clone he was destined to be, or Luke Harangody. What they got was a young, sane Ron Artest with an insane desire to win and do whatever it takes to get that done on both ends on the floor with the versatility of Shawn Marion. He's even slimmed down, allowing him to be much more agile than he was.

All it took was an unfortunate injury to David Lee and new head coach Steve Kerr, who once was the GM when Shawn Marion was in Phoenix to realize that Green was much too valuable to be their first or second guy off the bench. The struggles of his rookie and sophomore campaign made him better.

But why Draymond Green out of all people?

Offensively, Green has admirably filled the role that the Cavaliers sought out for Kevin Love, a stretch-four who is the epitome of the title, the guy who stretches the defense, pulling out bigs on defense to open up driving lanes for guards and slashing wings. 

It's really a match made in heaven for the Warriors offense with Green on the floor. Their starting lineup perfectly feeds off the success of the stretch-four luring opposing big men to the perimeter. 

While Steph Curry can pull up from anywhere on the court he can also get to anywhere his heart desires on the court, including to the rim, as with starting wing Harrison Barnes. Barnes does not necessarily look to shoot, he's more interested in slashing to the basket to put down an emphatic jam. Curry's backcourt mate, Klay Thompson is afforded more space to set defenders up for his lethal mid-range jumper when he too isn't splashing 3's. I don't want to make this sound like Draymond Green is the only reason why the Warriors offense flows so effortlessly, but he does a damn good job of keeping the train moving. 

He's also became a pick and pop guru, his spot up jumper is probably one of his top 3 strengths now:

Statistically and realistically speaking, defense is Draymond Green's calling card. A great defender can always seem to find his way on an NBA team. Green is tasked to guard opposing teams' best threat in the post on a nightly basis and he is pretty much lights out as a post defender. Green has had no trouble guarding bigs who are either much taller, bigger or even more agile, except well, maybe Anthony Davis at times, but that's a worthy exception to make. His ability as a rim protector is statistically up there with the likes of premier rim protectors such as DeAndre Jordan and his teammate Andrew Bogut, who statistically sits as the NBA's best rim protector. 

Without the height and rangy arms, Green still holds opposing bigs to mere 45% around the rim; the money area. 

His versatility allows the Warriors to effectively play small ball with him sometimes guarding the center,  depending on opponent. This allows the Warriors to be quicker in transition off of missed buckets, or just flat out lockdown team defense. His tremendous passing ability, though not a master outlet passer like the aforementioned Love still gets the job done. 

Especially here after he gets everything but the two points: 

Since entering the league in 2012, the Michigan State product has became one of those premier defenders that is mentally and physically still polishing his offensive skill set and becoming much more confident on that end of the floor. Fans know, I know and anyone who watches basketball knows that. His minutes, points, 3P%, rebounds, assists, and many advanced metrics are here to back him up. He does all of the above at a nice clip considering the plethora of talent he's surrounded by. His ESPN real Plus/Minus rating lists him in the top 10, making him one of the most valuable players in the entire league. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a metric that tracks value calculated for a player is claimed to be the number of additional wins their team has achieved above the number of expected team wins if that player was substituted by a replacement level player: a player that may be added to the team for minimal cost and effort is also places him in the top 10. 

Analytics anyone?

These advanced metrics and ways to look at and evaluate a player's statistical worth has helped under the radar players like Green receive recognition for their undeniably important value to their respective teams. Analytics has allowed us to get rid of the label that Green would otherwise have if not for analytics improving his case. Maybe something like a "good" but limited role player, that doesn't make a true difference. His basic statistics (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals) are not that of a star player. Analytics is more than what meets the eye. Analytics give players like Draymond Green their props where they are rightfully due. 

They allow us to be critical evaluators of players. You've got to respect that.

But Anyway. . .

The "stretch-four" has sort of became another position on the court along with my other favorites such as "point forward". The position is highly valued, especially by Coach Kerr. It is likely that every team in some way, shape or form has a stretch-four on their roster.

Truly to a degree, Green is not undersized by today's NBA standards. Not even by his trash-talking standards, a family tradition according to Green. He's what every team needs if they had championship aspirations. That versatile, in your face glue guy who doesn't have the flashy stats, or makes the flashy plays, but the guy who can take the top off the defense like a blazing fast wide receiver, make the smart plays, coupled with preeminent defensive skills is what every team wish they had. He doesn't dominate the ball, nor create shots for himself. He just has an undying desire to win. 

Guys like Green are hard to find. It's going to be even harder to try to coach up the next Draymond Green. Some of what he does on the court isn't taught, it's innate. 

He's really earned a name for himself in this breakout season. He might even be in for a really nice payday.

Too bad 29 other teams passed up this opportunity. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My Letter to Baltimore. . .

For two weeks, following the death of one very well known African-American, a dark cloud was hung over Baltimore, Maryland, a populous and racially divided city in the Mid-Atlantic. Looting and burning of various buildings in the communities of the minorities that occupied them was rampant. Soon enough, National Guardsmen in riot gear were called to quell crowds and hush the uproar, forcefully. The year? 1968. The death? Martin Luther King Jr.

The year is now 2015 and the city of Baltimore faces another uphill battle. Sadly, it's nothing new.


Dear Baltimore,

It's been a couple of weeks of unrest. Authorities choosing not to rest to apparently protect the well-being of the city. Those coping with yet another killing of an innocent civilian choosing not to rest due to lack of closure because those same authorities are hypocritical about protecting the well-being of the city.

Maybe all it took was a rational decision by the police to avoid this all. There's the hypocrisy. The well-being of the city wouldn't be in question had the police humanely arrested Freddie Gray due to being a person of interest to officers.

People are sick and tired of being sick and tired, can't you agree? Sadly that famous quote is still synonymous to today's America.

I want to speak out to the citizens and the authorities of this city.

To hear the news of Gray's slaying was heartbreaking. I know it is hard to fathom why history keeps repeating itself in such a negative and mostly fatal fashion. The police have gone into full open season mode on whomever they see fit to bite the next bullet of brutality. Often times, their records stay clean as those affected are left to clean up the mess they left behind. That too ends up in tragedy. We often end up with a skewed view of the real problem that has not only had a profound affect on your city, but on many cities across the country. In response, rioting and looting became the cry for help and for answers.

Didn't it seem like the only way to garner attention? There has been countless occurrences of police brutality to fatality that has fallen by the wayside, which is even more tragic.

I do not condone rioting nor looting but while tearing down the city is often labeled as "not the answer", what is the answer? What will stop families from hurting? What will stop mothers and fathers from burying their sons and daughters and vice versa because of police brutality? What are our solutions; our options to helping to solve the problems the police are causing? Furthermore, how has most of the police force turned into modern-day Nicky "Mr. Untouchable" Barnes'?

Baltimore it's time for serous accountability and transparency. It's time for change.

I fear for my brothers, sisters and even myself. Police are slaying folks regardless of name but likely on skin color.

Whenever I learn the tragic stories of people such as Freddie, I ask myself "what do I do if I were to get stopped or tailed randomly by a policeman who sees me as a person of interest?"

Every death requires me to revise my mental checklist. I'm running out of options.

So how many deaths will it take until those in charge to get to the center of the issue at hand? 

Seriously. This may never know.

To the family of Freddie Gray and the city of Baltimore, I pray with you. You are loved, cared for and your actions have sent shockwaves through this country.

Freddie Gray
I wish for a better America with you.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Knowing How To Adapt: The Continued Success of Mike Krzyzewski

With a 68-63 win over Wisconsin, Mike Krzyzewski and his Duke Blue Devils took home their fifth National a Championship in school history.

Love him or hate him, but you must respect everything he's did for the game of basketball.

Just like every coach, Mike Krzyzewski's legendary career wouldn't be legendary if he didn't know how to counter defeat with storied success. It is a reason why he is one of only two coaches (the other? Jim Calhoun) to win championships in three different decades.

Sustained success has been Krzyzewski's calling card. Through more than 1,018 wins as a head coach, Krzyzewski has adapted. The legendary coach didn’t stay stubborn to his approach; he moved with the ever-changing climate of college basketball.

He's still a student of the game, and being a part of the global stage with Team USA with great coaches with different philosophies on how to win, the ultimate winner learned from his colleagues.

A prime example comes on the defensive end of the floor. Zone defense isn’t a foreign concept to Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils have rarely used it over the years, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t familiar with how it works. As coach of the U.S. Olympic Team, Krzyzewski regularly faces opponents who try to use a zone defense to stop Team USA. He also has a close friendship with Jim Boeheim, an assistant on the Olympic Team coaching staff and the architect of the 2-3 zone defense at Syracuse. Therefore Krzyzewski now incorporates it into his defensive gameplan as he sees fit. 

The USA basketball experience has only made Krzyzewski better.

Coach K employed the 2-3 and 3-2 zone in the championship against Wisconsin once Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow found themselves in deep foul trouble. The zone essentially kept those two players on the court while also seeming to confuse a very methodical Wisconsin Badgers offense. 

Coach K's keen sense of knowing when exactly to adapt in the flow of the game, before the game, before the season, and before he decides what players he'll recruit to plug into his system his second to none.

So let's see, over 1,000 career victories, the most in Men's Division-I history, 13 ACC Tournament Titles, 12 regular season ACC Titles, 14 Elight Eights, and 12 trips to the Final Four.

A legendary resumé like that sounds like a man that should at least 7 National Championships.

So what did a fifth National Championship do for Coach K's legacy? For one, it placed him further ahead of lesser coaches like Billy Donovan and others with two National Championships. That's no disrespect to Donovan or anyone else, but Coach K's resumé speaks for itself and a fifth title raised the standard for being placed in his class of coaches even higher.

What else does a fifth title do? In recent years you may also say that the Blue Devils performances in the tournament are not Coach K-esque performances. Those doubts are now gone. The past 4 seasons for Duke are just history, the present Blue Devils are again champions.

Krzyzewski has won championships with totally different teams, made up of different types of leaders and stars.

The championship teams in the 90's were led by arguably the greatest player in the history of college basketball, Christian Laettner surrounded by a cast of guys like Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill.

The 2001 championship on paper was probably Krzyzewski's best team, headlined by five future NBA players including the 2001 (Shane Battier) and 2002 (Jay Williams) Wooden Award winners.

The 2010 team was offensively lethal, with three very experienced Blue Devils all averaging over 17 points per. And though they were one Gordon Hayward miracle away from being an after-thought, the Blue Devils were underrated and was sort of a surprise to be around once the Final Four arrived.

The 2015 team was freshman heavy, led by ACC Player of the Year, Jahlil Okafor and company. This Blue Devils team was only eight scholarship players deep for a significant part of the season. Fellow freshman Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen and the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four Tyus Jones helped lead the charge en route to a championship.

Coach K has never had a presence like Okafor inside, a man who commands so much attention inside that his ability frees up open looks for his teammates.

His former teams were predicated on creating their primary offense from the perimeter, heavily living and dying by the three pointer but still winning.

Take it as you may, but I hope you take it as testaments to Krzyzewski's coaching prowess.

A ring for the thumb elevates Krzyzewski into second all-time amongst Men's D-I coaches.

One may make a case for John Wooden over Coach K cause of the hardware differences. Krzyzewski may never reach the double-digit ring plateau. But the two coached in two different eras. The game is much faster and tougher to sustain success in in this era. The talent was not nearly as prevalent in Wooden's era as it has been in the latter stages of Krzyzewski's.

Bottom line is that winning multiple championships in a row like Wooden did seems nearly impossible in the age of the one-and-done, forcing coaches to essentially start over. Seven different schools have won the last 10 championships, only one team has repeated in that span (Florida).

The fact of the matter is that Coach K has proven that he can still get the job done. This year's make up may have just been the hardest Coach K has had to deal with. The suspension of Rasheed Sulaimon forced three freshmen into the starting lineup. Great coaches like Krzyzewski make the most of all they have.

The ability to adapt. The insertion and performance of Duke's least talked about freshman was essential to locking up its fifth championship. Grayson Allen was fearless, smart, brought intensity and he was fearless. His play along with Tyus Jones' daggers fired Mike Krzyzewski up on the sidelines, getting them over the hump, again. Nothing new.

Mike Krzyzewski's accolades are a product of his coaching. He has won with one and done's and experienced squads. He's transcendent, and one of the legends in all of sports that even at the age of 68, has shown no signs of hanging it up.

And, he's already two steps ahead of you.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Welcome to Indianapolis!: Previewing the Final Four

No more than two number one seeds has gotten this far since all four one seeds were still dancing in the Final Four of 2008.

This year has three one seeds, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke and a well coached underdog, the Michigan State Spartans are a seven seed.

Tom Izzo might have something else to say about that underdog tag.

Here's your guide to this year's Final Four.

No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats
John Calipari
The favorite, as it has been since coming into the tournament are the Kentucky Wildcats. Coming into Saturday, the Wildcats were 37-0, and they nearly escaped a monumental upset from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish after guard Jerian Grant hoisted up a prayer that was just too long. It took everything the Wildcats had to hold off the Fighting Irish.

Aaron Harrison
Kentucky's Final Four Route: Defeated No. 16 Hampton 79-56, No. 8 Cincinnati 64-51, No. 5 West Virginia 78-39 and a few post-game remarks aimed at the Mountaineers, No. 3 Notre Dame 68-66 and about a foot away from not being here.

This marks John Calipari's 4th trip to the Final Four as coach of the Wildcats. It's been the same story with Calipari, a very talented, NBA-laden roster that are always a team to watch. The way Calipari coaches this team and substitutes players, there is no "star player".

What he does have is Freshman center Karl-Anthony Towns, the guy you'd probably name the star if you had to. Towns is projected to be selected very early in this year's upcoming NBA draft and for good reason. The guy is physically imposing, has a very solid offensive game shown especially when the Wildcats run their offensive sets through him. When the Wildcats aren't getting stops and getting out in transition they look to feed the well. A dominant game on the offensive end from Towns makes Kentucky virtually impossible to stop. Coupled with his wall-like presence on the defensive end with front court mate Willie Cauley-Stein, it is a reason why the Wildcats lead the nation in average scoring margin and still alive to become the first team to reach 40-0.

Karl-Anthony Towns
Defense has been the Wildcats' calling card and Towns' contributions has helped them become one of the best on that side of the ball, ranking third in scoring defense.

But wait, there's more.

They force opponents to take and make tough shots, holding their opponents to a nation's best 35.2 field goal percentage. They looked very vulnerable against a very elite Notre Dame offense. It will be interesting to see what changes Calipari will make to defeat a Wisconsin team that can really shoot it from three and defend just as well as most teams in the nation.

No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers
Bo Ryan
Bo Ryan's Badgers will have something to say about Kentucky's history making plans. This is the second year in a row they Badgers are in the Final Four and yet again they'll have to get through the Wildcats to get to the championship game. Last year, it was Aaron Harrison's heroics that helped Kentucky to a 74-73 win in the National Semifinals.

Wisconsin's Final Four Route: Defeated No. 16 Coastal Carolina 86-72, No. 8 Oregon 72-65, No. 4 North Carolina 79-72, No. 2 Arizona 85-78

Will this be Bo Ryan's year to get over the hump?

The Badgers possess the probable National Player of the Year, Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky has been the well the Badgers feed on the offensive end and he hasn't disappointed. The senior forward topped the nation as the most efficient player and the only player in a major conference to lead his team in points, rebounds, blocks, assists and steals.

Frank Kaminsky
Most good teams have that X-Factor; the guy who picks it up when the star isn't having one of his best nights or the guy that provides just what the team needs on any given night. That guy for the Badgers is Sam Dekker. Dekker has averaged nearly 22 points on almost 61 percent shooting from the field. Dekker has provided that late game scoring punch and closing ability that the Badgers have needed to move past teams and continue dancing. Dekker scored eight of Wisconsin's last nine points, finishing with a career high 27 points en route to a 78-85 win over the Arizona Wildcats.

Sam Dekker
The duo of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker became the third pair of teammates in the past 20 years, first since 2008 to both average 20 points or more in the tournament.

The Badgers were incredibly hot from three against Arizona and it will probably have to stay that way for them to knock off Kentucky. Wisconsin made 12 of their 18 attempted three pointers, including an astounding 10 for 12 in the second half. Most of this team has shown to be deadly from three, including forward Nigel Hayes, who has became a perimeter threat, contradictory to his freshman season. Kentucky, as with Arizona does a great job of making nearly every shot tough for opponents and closing out on shooters. That didn't seem to matter versus Arizona. Sam Dekker's impressive three as the shot clock was running out late in the game to essentially put it away was the perfect example of that, though maybe that shot had a little luck sprinkled on top.

Revenge may be in the air.

No. 1 Duke Blue Devils
Mike Krzyzewski
The last time a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference reached the Final Four, that team went on to win the National Championship. That team? The Duke Blue Devils. Yes, Coach Mike Krzyzewski is back for his record 12th trip to the final weekend of tournament.

Duke's Final Four Route: Defeated No. 16 Robert Morris 85-56, No. 8 San Diego State 68-49, No. 5 Utah 63-57, No. 2 Gonzaga 66-52

Led by ACC Player of the year Jahlil Okafor, the Blue Devils broke a streak of early exits when lead in points by a freshman. Though that may not mean much, nor an extra testament of how good Okafor is, it may just be that this year's Blue Devils team is really good. And good they are.

Jahlil Okafor
An eight-player deep rotation for much of the season hasn't stopped the Blue Devils from becoming the fourth-highest scoring team in the nation.

Okafor is another one projected to go high in the NBA Draft, maybe as early as number one. The attention Okafor commands every single game no matter the opponent has been vital to the success of his teammates, especially the emergence of fellow freshmen Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. Constant double teams lead to open threes for Jones and fellow backcourt mate, senior guard Quinn Cook. Okafor's dominance has allowed Cook to shoot at a career best clip from three, making 40 percent of them.

The least talked about freshman on the team, Justise Winslow has been the catalyst for the run Duke has made in the tournament. A dangerous player in transition and another matchup nightmare for Coach K, Winslow has picked up the slack whenever Duke has needed him to in this tournament.

Justise Winslow
When Okafor was held to a season low six points in the Sweet Sixteen against Utah, Winslow lead the charge with 21 points and 10 boards. When Okafor was held below double digits for only the third time this season again in the Elite Eight, Winslow paced the Blue Devils with 16 points and 5 rebounds.

Justise Winslow
Mike Krzyzewski's fifth National Championship rests on the shoulders of his top four scorers and a defense that has became very good as of late. The Blue Devils can score with anyone.

No. 7 Michigan State Spartans
Tom Izzo
Call this team a surprise if you may, but Coach Tom Izzo's resumé says different. This team is no cinderella. Izzo expects his team to be contenders every year. It seems like Izzo does his best with less and this year is evident of that.

Michigan State's Final Four Route: Defeated No. 10 Georgia 70-63, No. 2 Virginia 60-54, No. 3 Oklahoma 62-58, No. 4 Louisville 76-70

A win over the nation's best scoring defense in Virginia raised eyebrows. A win over one of the more defensively efficient teams in the country in the Sweet Sixteen in Oklahoma had many saying "here goes Tom Izzo again". After needing overtime to take down Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals, Magic Johnson can continue to sit in the stands and watch his alma mater chase its third championship in school history.

The Spartans are a very unselfish team, ranking 4th best in the nation in assists per game. Led by senior guard Travis Trice, backcourt mate Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson, the Spartans seem immune to the fact that their eleven losses are more than the other three Final Four teams combined.

Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine
Guess it helps when one of those teams are undefeated.

The Spartans' hot streak has only been cooled once in its past nine games. Their last loss came to another Final Four team, the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship game. In fact, Michigan State hasn't beat a team in the Final Four this season, losing to Wisconsin twice, and Duke early in the season.

None of that matters in the tournament, these wins matter the most. Michigan State has had a knack for doing what it has to do to survive and advance late in games throughout this entire tournament run.