The Boston Red Sox have closed the gap on the New York Yankees in the AL East thanks to a horrid road trip for the Bronx Bombers, but all that hope and expectation coming out of the Red Sox camp must be met with shifty eyes and sweaty palms as they have won, but not really been good in doing so. The Sox have received timely hitting, which has helped with a couple single digit victories over the last stretch, but they’ve needed it as oft-dependable pitchers like Rick Porcello and David Price have had rough season so far (Price’s season has been truncated by a stint on the DL to start it). Just as the hitting has started to come around (despite a black hole at third base…that could have been filled by Brewers All Star Travis Shaw…remember him, he wore red socks last year) one would hope that the pitching follows suit. Chris Sale has been everything one could hope for in a big name trade acquisition, not allowing the bright lights and high level competition of the AL East dampen his dominance, but Rodriguez is hurt and Pomeranz has been okay…much better than he was last year, but just okay so far.
The Yankees are hitting that rough patch that you would expect from a young team that’s playing a lot of meaningful ball together for the first time. They have been frontrunners all season with a lot of hype, both in New York City and beyond, undoubtedly making its way to their eyes and ears. Could some of that be coloring the way the boys in pinstripes see themselves? Especially the youngsters? There’s no doubt that Girardi will get this straightened out, and with Chapman coming off the DL, he’ll have his closer back as well. I fully expect the Yankees and Red Sox to duke it out for AL East supremacy for the rest of the year, like the good old days.
Tampa, an afterthought when the season began, has charged to third place in the East. They are one good run away from first place for a team that many thought would bring up the rear this year. Kevin Cash deserves a lot of credit for turning things around after Joe Maddon left and weathering the storm that brought. While I don’t think Tampa will challenge all year, eventually they’ll fall back a bit, they will make it interesting.
Baltimore was on fire to start the season, making my compatriot Justin look like Nostradamus with his prediction that they would win the AL East. After their scintillating start, however, they have fallen off a cliff. The Orioles are still within spitting distance of first place, and are sitting with a .500 record, showing just how tenuous the grip on first is in the East this year.
That brings us to Toronto, who should have been dead in the water after an abysmal start to the season. Instead of hanging their head and packing it in for next year, they went on a run and are currently hovering right around .500 as well, within a good two week stretch of first place.
A few years ago, the AL East was a beautiful mess, much like it is now. It provides for great baseball (and many ulcers for the fans of the respective teams) and a competitive atmosphere well into the late summer months. This is what good baseball is all about and should be a lot of fun to keep any eye on throughout the rest of the year.
With news that the Boston Celtics have traded the number one pick in the NBA draft to the Philadelphia 76ers for the third pick and a future first-rounder, a litany of questions have been raised. Are the Celtics really trying to contend in the east? Were they scared by Cleveland’s dominance and are just stockpiling assets for LeBron’s eventual decline, retirement, or move to the Western Conference in search of more championships? Did they see something in Markell Fultz, the presumptive number one pick and possible best player in the draft that scared them away? Does this mean that a max-extension for Isaiah Thomas is right around the corner as the point guard of the future in Fultz will be residing in Philly? Does this mean that the Celtics have heard rumblings that the Lakers won’t be taking Lonzo Ball at the second pick and are hoping he falls to them at three, or are they looking for a non point guard in this year’s draft? What does this mean for Boston’s free agency moves this summer? Do they have their eyes on a small forward, taking Gordon Hayward off their radar?
Personally, I’m fine with banking assets to a degree, but thinking that Philly is going to stay terrible for long with a roster loaded with young players (as long as they stay healthy) is really going out on a limb. Philly could get really good in a hurry, and then what is Boston left with? I think Danny Ainge is making a risky move here in hoping that the third pick is just as good as the first and that he’s able to turn the future Philly pick into a top-tier asset. Personally, with all the hype Fultz is getting, it’s hard to think he’ll flame out, especially under the tutelage of Brad Stevens, so I would roll the dice with the point guard of the future and avoid sinking a ton of money into Thomas. Ainge is a gambler though, and while he has his own version of Sam Hinkie’s “process” in Philadelphia, he’s given a little more wiggle room because the Celtics are actually successful while building. If this goes south, and especially if the 76ers leapfrog them, the residents of beantown could be calling for his head.
Now that Golden State has reclaimed their spot on the NBA’s iron throne, sending Cleveland to their whiny grave in five games (just as Justin predicted it, don’t think I didn’t hear about that one) we can turn our attention to the NBA off-season and the start of the Warriors’ title defense. There are a bunch of different storylines swirling already, with the big question on everyone’s mind being: Can anyone dethrone a team that for all intents and purposes is unstoppable?
The short answer, for me at least, is no. As long as that core four in Golden State, along with key bench players like Livingston and Iguodala return, the Warriors are and should be heavy favorites to repeat next year, cementing their dynasty status. If their players start to lobby for more money elsewhere or stop buying into the “team” dynamic that has garnered them their championships so far, that is when they will falter. In terms of outside factors though, I don’t think anyone can beat the Warriors unless they beat themselves.
So if everyone is chasing the champs, that would make player acquisition a key to the offseason, as we have seen that currently constituted rosters have no shot. Sure, you’re not going to find a fit, both in talent and temperament, that the Warriors found in Durant last summer, which means that everyone will still be a step behind, but there are deals out there to be made. Yes, there will be bottom-feeding teams that will look to add a free agent by paying them way too much money, and there will be a free agent that takes that bait, only to languish away as the bright light on a dark team in Sacramento or New York, or somewhere like that. Guys like Gordon Hayward, Chris Paul and even Blake Griffin will be up for finding new homes this offseason if the price is right with the usual suspects of Paul George, Kevin Love and Jimmy Butler bandied about as possible trade candidates. Will the inclusion of any of these players on a current non-Warriors team be enough to challenge Golden State’s supremacy? It remains to be seen. Maybe if one of them goes to Cleveland with LeBron and Kyrie…but at that point, would there be enough shots to go around?
The other option for player acquisition is the draft. Luckily for many teams at the top, this year seems to be loaded with “can’t miss” type prospects in the early part of the first round. That could turn a team like Boston, who has the first pick, into a team that could legitimately challenge Cleveland next year, or a team like the Lakers (number two pick) into a playoff team with a bright future. Don’t sleep on the later picks in the draft as well (Draymond Green was a late second round pick for the Warriors after all), and if the reigning champs have taught us anything, it’s that home-grown talent can blossom under the right leadership.
As the offseason marches on we’ll be covering a bevy of different topics here at Just Average Sports Guys such as where each team stacks up going into next season, who has positioned themselves as the key challengers to Golden State, and whether the LeBron James Retirement Home for Players That Were Once Pretty Good (aka the Cavs) have run their course. Stay tuned!
- I like basketball, I really do. I’ve been a fan all my life. But am I the only one that is finding the NBA hard to stomach right now? The playoffs have been a complete bust. The Finals, save for an exciting game three, have been a series of blowouts. The officiating has been subpar at best, but honestly much worse than that. Between fouls either not called or over-called, the complete dismissal of any rule prohibiting traveling except in the most extreme of circumstances, and that technical foul fiasco in game five highlighting the fact that these refs are too quick on the whistle and were pulling for Cleveland in that game (either on their own or as a league directive from the top). And of course, let’s not forget Jackson and Van Gundy highjacking the broadcast for five minutes to come to the defense of a Kardashian. Honestly, the list can go on forever. Long story short, the NBA has worn out its welcome this season, and hopefully it goes away tonight with a game five win for the Warriors to put away LeBron and his band of merry whiners. I will be ecstatic to not be subjected to these overpaid babies for another six months.
- Is there any difference between soccer and basketball at this point in terms of whining and complaining? Soccer is often brutalized by critics of the sport because the athletes are constantly whining to the refs as soon as they are touched on the field of play. Basketball has become the same way. Touch fouls are treated like drive by shootings and heaven forbid someone actually does get rough with their opponent (especially if their opponent is the almighty LeBron). The NBA is not fun to watch anymore, and unless Commissioner Silver gets a handle on the babies under his charge, it’ll have a negative effect on the long term health of the league (or people like me will all die-off and the league will thrive because the look-at-me culture we are being subjected to now jives perfectly with the new-look NBA).
Yes, the Golden State Warriors are deadly, maybe one of the best teams in the history of the NBA, and they are on a collision course with their second title in three years. While Kevin Durant arriving last summer solidified their lineup as that of a super-team, they were obviously nothing to shake a stick at the previous two years either (remember, this is a team that set the regular season win record at 73 games only one year ago).
We have constantly heard over the last year, and especially as the playoffs have literally rolled along for Golden State, that Kevin Durant is such an upgrade over last year’s starting small forward, one Harrison Barnes. Now saying Kevin Durant is better than Harrison Barnes is like saying Tom Brady is better than Ryan Fitzpatrick. No one is disputing that. In fact, it can be argued (at least in this year’s NBA Finals) that Durant is the best player on the floor. A floor, mind you, that includes Steph Curry and LeBron James among others. This unnecessary Harrison Barnes hate is unfortunate, as Barnes has done nothing to warrant it aside from not being better than the best player in the game.
Case in point, if you looked at the stats for Harrison Barnes, just over the last two years (last year with Golden State and this current year with Dallas) Barnes has seen his minutes and his points increase, even though he is in a system in Dallas that is far different from Golden State’s in terms of scheme and personnel. It was easy for Barnes to disappear on the Golden State roster. He played with a two-time MVP, and a cast of characters, many of which could easily be a number one option on any other team (Klay and Draymond chief among them) as well as a bench full of starter-quality veterans. So the fact that Barnes didn’t light the basketball world on fire as a member of the Warriors is not totally unexpected. In fact, unhampered by playing with a rotation of great players (on a far worse team, to be fair) Barnes averaged nearly twenty points per game this year (up from nearly twelve last year). While many could say that complementary pieces on incredibly talented teams are vastly overpaid in free agency, it’s safe to say that Barnes is doing everything he can to earn that big contract he signed with the Mavericks last summer.
It’s hard to make a case that revolves around Barnes not being that bad when his replacement is a man among boys on the court much of the time, but it’s important to note that Barnes did nothing to warrant the scorn he’s currently receiving just because he’s no Kevin Durant. Barnes and in-season pickup Nerlens Noel very well could be cornerstones for the next generation of the Dallas Mavericks. He’ll never be Kevin Durant, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be Harrison Barnes…and that’s not bad.
- As interesting as the NBA Finals have been, they have only really been interesting for a half of each game at this point. There was a time in last night’s game (game 2) that I thought the Cavs might be able to steal one from the Warriors at Oracle Arena. Then the Warriors shifted into another gear, a gear the Cavs just don’t possess. Let the blow out commence. At this point, I feel like my prediction of “Warriors in 6” is off-base due to my confidence in the Cavs being rattled. Can LeBron and company take one at home? We’ve seen the Warriors get complacent before for a half (but still be able to win) and that may bite them in one game this series. I feel like Justin had it right when he predicted a five game series with Golden State coming out on top.
- The Just Average Sports Wife and I were watching the game last night and she mentioned (after a LeBron driven possession, naturally) “Did they change what traveling is, or do they just not call it anymore?” She doesn’t watch a lot of basketball, football is more her jam, but she is intelligent and aware enough to know that LeBron (among many, many players) is just running down the court at times without dribbling. I feel like it needs to be addressed, but obviously Commissioner Silver would rather not ask the players to stop any practice that could lead to the Sportscenter top 10.
- LeBron has done everything in his power to will his team to win, but can we talk about how ridiculous Kevin Durant has been? I’m not saying that he will supplant LeBron as best player in the league, but he is certainly the best player on the court whenever he laces up his sneakers.
- I will admit, I didn’t watch a lot of the playoffs to this point. Whether it was because they were not on non-cable television, or because I just wasn’t interested in the games because they were all blowouts, I just had not actually physically sat down to watch a game. That being said, watching the Warriors play has been a delight. It’s not the old school basketball that you will hear Justin and I talk about on Faces for Radio, but it is an exciting brand of basketball that focuses on fundamentals like passing and defense. Steve Kerr learned from the best in Jackson and Popovich and he’s implemented a system that other teams will try to duplicate, they’ll just never have the personnel to do so.
With the news that Chris Paul, the all-everything point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers will be opting out of his current contract with the team to test free agency after years of playoff futility, the question bears asking: Is this the end of the Clippers? Now, the fact that Paul is opting out doesn’t necessarily mean that he is leaving Los Angeles. Star players opt out of their deals early all the time when their contract allows them in order to test the free agent waters and eventually re-sign with their current team for a boat-load of money. Luckily for Paul (or maybe more-so, luckily for the Clippers), the way the current NBA collective bargaining agreement is structured he can make tens of millions of dollars more just by staying put. So opting out could just be a smokescreen that would lead to an eventual monetary windfall for one of the best point guards in the game.
Unfortunately, here to throw a monkey wrench in that deal is the San Antonio Spurs, yes, those Spurs. The same Spurs that were never a high-profile free agent destination, the same Spurs that have always been built through the draft and through whatever mystical ceremony Popovich is able to conjure up over his glass of wine. Now, the Spurs are the front-runners to obtain Paul’s services next year. This, of course, is in direct response to the Golden State Warriors and their “super team”. Paul knows that the Clippers, as they are currently constructed will be unable to compete, and have been unable to compete with the top teams in the West. Instead, he is doing what he can to earn that elusive championship before the sun sets on a hall of fame career. Paul is the anti-Carmelo, sacrificing money and fame to team up and get his ring. While Carmelo is happy being the highest paid player on his team by a large margin, regardless of the fact that it handcuffs management to finding bit-players to help him out, it looks like Paul wants more than that.
Paul is going the other way, presumably. If he signs with the Spurs, he is recognizing that the only way to beat the Warriors is to create a team like the Warriors, with one glaring difference. The Spurs will always have the best coach on the floor. Now I realize that this flies in the face of yesterday’s post which said the NBA coaches do not matter. While I still believe that, I think there is one coach that transcends that argument…and he’s about to land the best point guard of his generation.
This would be great news for Paul, and it would be great news for the Spurs, obviously. What makes it even better is the cache that Paul brings. A team of Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge is a team that will collect free agents. Popovich and the Spurs have been able to do wonders with players near or at the ends of their careers throughout his tenure. Now, they may be able to squeeze a few more years out of these players that may find the idea of joining up with the Spurs in their prime to fight the “Evil Empire” that is the Warriors a bit more palatable.
Chris Paul to the Spurs would not just be good for him, and for the Spurs, it would be good for basketball. It would, however, be horrible for the Clippers who would have to start over. Chris Paul, even at this stage of his career, is the only player on that roster that you can build around. If he spurns big money for big opportunity, it will take years of rebuilding for the Clippers to even be competitive again. We’ll see what happens when NBA free agency hits, but this could be a shakeup the league has not seen in years.
- The Cavs and Warriors collision course is set (and has honestly been that way for the entire season). The Cavs made it through the Eastern conference playoffs managing to lose only one game, while the Warriors cruised through the West unscathed. Sure, I could sit here and break down the entire series, who matches up on who the best, and whether this is the greatest NBA Finals rivalry in history (It’s close, I’d say, but you can’t top 1980s Celtics/Lakers) but I won’t. I’ll leave that for the talking heads (and by that, I mean Justin and myself during our podcast, Faces for Radio). What I do know is that the Eastern Conference Finals ended on the 25th of May, and we have to wait until the first day of June for the first game. It feels like any momentum that has been built up in the beginning of the playoffs should be capitalized on. Instead, we have to wait a week for the Finals matchup we have waited all season for.
Can we, for a moment please discuss how little the coach means in the star-driven NBA? This NBA Finals is a perfect illumination of that statement as we have one coach (the Warriors’ Steve Kerr) who is not even with the team as he deals with health issues. This is not to say that his replacement, Mike Brown, is a bad guy, or a bad coach. But an extended absence of a head coach, like we have seen with Kerr, in the past would have led to a multitude of issues during the game. Aside from a bad game one against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals (a game they won anyway) I have yet to see any real effect on the Warriors on the court. Then we get to Ty Lue. Oh, poor Ty Lue. Listen, he sounds like a great guy, and he definitely has the basketball knowledge to be a head coach, and he seems like an okay motivator (hell, he got LeBron to take over the series last year in the Finals by calling him out in front of his teammates unlike anything LeBron has ever faced before) but if you think Lue is anything but a puppet coach for LeBron, you’re crazy. Now, I’ll be honest, I think any coach LeBron hand-picked after getting David Blatt run out of town last season would have been a puppet, and it just happens to be Lue. But that goes right to my point. On one side you have an absentee coach (replaced by career flameout Mike Brown) and on the other you have a puppet. What more evidence do you need that this league is not just driven by the players, but run by the players?
With news that 2016 defensive standout David Irving will be hit with a four game penalty for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy, he joins a long list of Cowboys (both current and former) that have been on the receiving end of league-mandated vacations. The Cowboys have built a defense on “no-name” players that come together under the stewardship of Rod Marinelli to create a sometimes pretty terrible, sometimes pretty great, oftentimes middle of the road group. Irving blew up last year after being plucked off Kansas City’s practice squad and was in line to cash in next offseason if his production continued to improve after last year’s break out campaign.
Irving could have left millions of dollars on the table, however as he is yet another Dallas defender that was pinched for PEDs. Will the Cowboys re-sign someone that is one failed test away from a lengthier suspension? Was last year’s breakout just performance enhanced smoke and mirrors? Will Irving still command as hefty a raise if he’s only playing twelve games next year? With players like Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence still on the team and Rolando McClain in the recent past, will Dallas try to distance itself from the ne’er do wells on defense like they have on offense? Those are all questions to ponder when the Cowboys commence their NFC East title defense this fall.
I think the big question is, on a defense with plenty of players that have been in trouble for “juicing” why aren’t they any better? Can’t these guys coordinate their juicing schedule so you can get one stellar year out of that group of bums that leads to a title? Instead, their staggering it so only one guy on the defense is any good (enhanced or otherwise) at any one time (except Sean Lee who is just an oft-injured robot).
What say you, Cowboys fans? Would you trade a title for the knowledge that your team did it while under the influence of PEDs? Do you think PEDs work well enough that they would tip the scales in Dallas’ favor (and not just if you count tranquilizers in Garrett’s Kool-Aid as PEDs)? Let your voices be heard!
- The Cavs and Warriors are still on a collision course.
- Nope, that’s it. Despite the Cavs giving last night’s game to the Celtics, they are going to meet the Warriors in the Finals. No one is surprised at this and the entire NBA fanbase just let out a collective yawn.
So, instead of giving you the shortest article ever, here are a couple more thoughts I had:
- LaVar Ball is human garbage. If you have not heard his interaction with Kristine Leahy on Colin Cowherd’s radio show last week, go check it out. You can find Cowherd’s podcast on your favorite podcast platform. The interaction is as terrible as you may think it would be given Ball’s narcissistic attitude, yet it takes a decidedly aggressive turn towards Leahy that makes all the other fake machismo bravado that he exhibits seem like a cover for an evil and sinister side that has no place in modern society.
- Depression is a terrible disease. It took one of the greatest musicians in rock history last week, our generation’s Freddie Mercury. Chris Cornell battled with depression for his entire life, as many people do; and it claimed him last week as a final warning to those that loved his music and followed him since the Grunge scene exploded in the early nineties. His sacrifice will hopefully serve to remind others afflicted with this disorder to seek help, to realize that they are not alone, that ending your own life is not and never will be the answer. Cornell leaves behind a legacy of music that will never be rivaled and a legion of fans that are heartbroken at his passing. “Gone too soon” does not do him justice.
- Okay, that was pretty heavy. Sorry about that. We’ll close by reiterating that the NBA is boring and LaVar Ball sucks.