Numbers Sometimes Lie

Well that was uneventful, wasn’t it?

For all of the buildup and hype of the first openly gay athlete to play in a major team sport, it was pretty much the same thing we all grew accustomed to seeing from 2001-2007:  hard fouls, box outs, screens, and even a cameo from “Set Shot Willy”.  Despite all of the intrigue, Jason Collins was still Jason Collins.

Ho-hum...just a hard screen.

Ho-hum, just another hard screen.

Although he hasn’t received much playing time in the past two games, many in the Twittersphere enjoyed mocking Deron Williams’s comment regarding the impact that Collins made in his 2014 debut. As I’ve mentioned once before, if you are solely looking at the box score to evaluate Collins, then you are looking in the wrong place.  Ask yourself this question: did you notice a difference when Collins was on the court against the Lakers?  Nothing too Earth shattering, but a few smart fouls, solid rotations, good post positioning, and that back tap to Paul Pierce on a missed free throw which resulted in a pivotal three point field goal.

Yes it’s easy to snicker at a stat line of zero points and 2 rebounds, but sometimes in sports there aren’t statistics to measure effectiveness.  How do we quantify the production of an offensive guard in football?  Unfortunately in basketball, every player is able to accumulate the same statistics; therefore on paper he appears to be one of the worst in the league.

To me, Collins is that baseball player who is willing and able to do the little things to help his team succeed, even at the expense of his own personal stats.  His batting average would probably be around .230 with no run production, but his manager would be able to count on him for solid defense, a sacrifice bunt, or a productive out to move the runners over.  Any savvy sports fan would know that these players do fill a role and are useful.  Unfortunately too many people just glance at a box score and quickly pass judgment.

Boxing out his defender usually helped Kidd get the rebound and get the break started.

Solid box outs like these allowed Kidd & others to get the rebound and ignite the fastbreak.

The fear that this would be one big distraction, is also proving to be false.  Obviously there was going to be intrigue with his debut, but that has passed and things seem to be simmering down.  Yes, the Collins #98 jersey has been in high demand, but to the LGBT community and their families this is a big deal.  How else do you expect people to show their support?

Aside from this business story, the national media’s coverage has dissipated drastically.  This isn’t the lead story on SportsCenter or any other show, as ESPN is still preoccupied with anything pertaining to the NFL, Johnny Manziel, LeBron James, or Tim Tebow.  As Brooklyn Nets writer Lenn Robbins tweeted following their win over the Nuggets, “Collins has mentioned that the media attention is slowly starting to fade and he can see a day when questions will only be about hoops”.

As the days continue to pass, I expect this novelty to wear off and Collins will go back to being a relatively insignificant role player in the grand scheme of the NBA.  Assuming the Nets sign him for the rest of the season, I am sure he will go about his business and do whatever the team asks from him.  Just remember that those things won’t show up in the box score.

The reserve baseball player who hits the ground ball to the opposite side of the infield to advance the runners over doesn’t usually get the press coverage, and rightfully so.   From all of the years being a Nets fan and following Collins, I don’t think he will mind that treatment either.  After all, this is a professional basketball player we are talking about.

It’s Worth the Test Drive

If you’ve been following the Brooklyn Nets closely it’s pretty apparent that when Kevin Garnett exits the court, any semblance of a defense vanishes as well.  The Nets are in desperate need of front court depth that can help stabilize their defense and protect the rim.

Many Net fans were intrigued and excited by the name Glen Davis but in reality Davis isn’t this elite defender that would have cured all of our woes.  As Mike Mazzeo of ESPN tweeted out last night, “Davis gives up 53.6 percent at the rim”.

So the Nets have decided to turn to the familiar face of Jason Collins.  I don’t buy into the nonsense that this is a publicity stunt to win the back pages of the local newspapers, which Mitch Lawrence recently suggested in the Daily News.  Signing Collins will attract some media attention initially, but let’s not get carried away here.  I wouldn’t expect a nationwide media bonanza scrutinizing every Net practice and game.  He just isn’t a big deal.  This isn’t Tim Tebow with the JetsMichael Sam, on the other hand, will be a different story.

It seems that many Net fans are adamantly against adding the 12 year veteran, and it is easy to see why.  It appears that there is no upside in bringing in a 35 year old whose points and rebounds per game the past few years conjure up memories of Yinka Dare.  Glen Davis and his 12 point, 6 rebound averages are much more appealing to look at in the box score.

After thinking it over, I believe that Collins can have a positive impact on this team and perhaps a 10-day trial is worth it.  If you recall, Collins never put up gaudy statistics on those great New Jersey teams, as anything over 3 points per night was considered gravy.  The canned line from players and coaches back then about Collins was that “he does the little things that don’t show up in the box score” such as:  setting screens and boxing out his guy so that Jason Kidd could snatch the rebound and get the fast break started.

What do the Nets of now have to gain in bringing in Jason Collins, the player?  For one, he is an intelligent veteran that knows how to defend the post.  Although the game is much faster than it was years ago, Collins and his six fouls could come in handy against the likes of Roy Hibbert, Al Jefferson, Nene, Greg Monroe, and Jonas Valanciunas.  Those are the types of big guys that will feast on the Nets’ defense with the way it is configured now.

jason collins defense

Is Collins this “shutdown, rim-protecting” defender?  Of course he isn’t, but against those aforementioned centers, he could disrupt their rhythm and be a nuisance.  I clearly remember last season in which he did this exact thing as a member of the Celtics against Brook Lopez on Christmas Day.  If he can take Hibbert or Nene out their flow for a stretch of the game, then consider those minutes to be a success.

This is a respected member of the league who has always received great praise from his teammates.  This isn’t someone who will complain when he doesn’t play.  This is someone who will know his role and will understand when he doesn’t set foot on the court against smaller, quicker lineups such as Miami.  This is also an intelligent player who could be an asset in helping Andray Blatche and Mason Plumlee develop defensively.

I am not naive in believing that Jason Collins is going to cure all of the Nets’ problems, because he won’t.  However, he would have been helpful last night defending Jermaine O’Neal. Did anyone else have nightmares thinking that they were watching the Pacers of 2002?

For a two week test run, it just may be worth it.  What else is there to lose?

Hey LeBron, Do it for the Kids!

We were close this time!

Magic Johnson’s million dollar offer almost convinced LeBron James to participate in this year’s Slam Dunk Contest. Does anyone else find it somewhat disturbing that it came to this?  One of the richest athletes in the world needs a financial incentive to participate in what’s supposed to be a fun, entertaining event?  Really?

There was once a time when the marquee players of the NBA participated willingly:  Michael, Dominique, Kobe, T-Mac,  and Vince just to name a few. This was when the Dunk Contest was at its best, aside from the novelty acts of Spud Webb and Nate Robinson.

Will we ever see the league's biggest star compete again?

Will we ever see the league’s biggest star compete again?

Here’s a little secret, no one really cares about Harrison Barnes or Ben McLemore.  I don’t mean to downplay their athletic abilities one bit here. The unfortunate truth is that they could perform the exact same dunk as LeBron, but it would never have the same sizzle and excitement.

There are tens of millions of LeBron fans around the globe, and guess what, most of them are kids who idolize King James.  They switched their allegiances from the Cavaliers to the Heat when he took his talents to South Beach. They alone should be the reason for him to participate.

A member of the national sports media recently defended LeBron’s decision not to participate by saying that “he has nothing to gain and everything to lose”.   Am I missing something here?  What exactly is there to lose?  Once again, this is a nothing more than an entertainment show FOR THE FANS!  Is LeBron’s ego that fragile that he can’t risk losing a meaningless competition?

A nice reminder that it's all a show for the fans.

A nice reminder that it’s all a show for the fans.

Oh well, I’m thankful there are some superstars who were willing to put their egos in harms way.  Kudos to Dwight, Blake, and Paul George in recent years for being good sports about it and bringing some star power to an event that has certainly lacked some buzz.

Hopefully the league’s biggest star will have a change of heart one of these years.  Until that happens, let the “what ifs” and wishful thinking continue.

Now you’ll have to excuse me.   I have to go research who exactly Jeremy Evans and James White are.

No Sympathy from the Devil

How do we sports fans rationalize the miracles we witness on the court?  You know what I am talking about:  the half court buzzer beaters, Cinderella upsets during March Madness, etc.  The only logical explanation is that there is a higher power known as the Basketball Gods who look over and bless our beloved teams.

Well then, who’s to blame when our team is not a beneficiary of good fortunes?

Perhaps there’s another supernatural entity that exists in the sports universe.  If the Basketball Gods are responsible for all that’s good, then maybe there’s the Hoops Devil to balance the equation.  Who else would cause all of the heartbreak, bad luck, horrible calls, freak injuries, unlucky bounces, curses, jinxes, hexes, and championship droughts?

Every organization at some point has been a victim of the Hoops Devil’s cruelty, but doesn’t it seem that he (or she) has more fun tormenting certain fan bases than others?  If you are searching for a case study, look no further than the lovable Nets, both from their days in the Jersey swamp and now in Brooklyn.

The Hoops Devil has been very clever in torturing the souls of the die-hard fans, especially since 1990.  It may seem as if the Nets have been perpetually bad; however there have been many instances in which greatness appeared to be on the horizon until something catastrophic occurred.  This has happened too many times during my lifetime, and this is precisely why I am in need of an old priest and a young priest.

exorcist

Now before you have me committed, consider the following:

Exhibit A (1991-93 seasons):

After several years of futility, an impressive core of young talent was assembled featuring the likes of Kenny Anderson, Derrick Coleman, and Drazen PetrovicBill Fitch and then Chuck Daly led them to consecutive playoff berths as the sixth seed, but they were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers both times in the first round.

The rematch against the Cavs ended with a decisive fifth game on the road, which should be considered a success considering we were without Anderson to a broken wrist (thanks John Starks!) and Petrovic was hampered and limited by a sprained knee ligament.

(Note: The Nets were 39-27 when Petrovic first got hurt and  finished 4-12.  This dropped them to the sixth seed.)

Although we didn’t advance past the first round, progress was felt and with the legendary Daly at the coaching helm, the Nets appeared to be headed in the right direction for years to come.  Disaster then struck shortly after the 1993 playoffs when Petrovic tragically died in a car accident.  The Nets would never be the same.

Drazen Petrovic shows emotion

They also lost their heart and soul.

Petrovic’s void was filled by Kevin Edwards and the Nets returned to the playoffs the following season to face their cross-river rivals in the first round as a seven seed.  The Knicks eliminated them in four games and Daly ultimately retired.

The Butch Beard era was officially underway, and the Nets would average 29 wins for the next 3 seasons.  Hellooooo Armen Gilliam!

Exhibit B (1997-99 seasons):

The second season under John Calipari saw the Nets finish with 43 wins and a playoff match-up with the defending champion Chicago Bulls.  The Nets were swept out of the first round, but there was tremendous optimism regarding the future with the talented youth of Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles complementing the solid veteran core of Kendall Gill, Sam Cassell, and Jayson Williams.

Nets slam magazine

This wasn’t the only time a Nets starting lineup was over hyped on a magazine cover.

To say the following season was a train wreck is putting it mildly.  The team fired Calipari after winning three of their first 20 games, Cassell was dealt for Stephon Marbury, and Williams’ career essentially came to an end as his leg was broken after a nasty collision with Marbury.

Exhibit C (2006-07 season):

Ask any Nets fan what the missing piece was during the Jason Kidd era, and expect to hear “a big guy who could score down low”.  Enter Nenad Krstic who immediately meshed well with Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Vince Carter.  Their “Big Three” was quickly becoming a “Big Four” as Krstic had just completed his first full season in which he averaged 13.5 points as a 22 year old.

nenad krstic

If this didn’t happen, Mikki Moore wouldn’t have become a multimillionaire.

Twenty six games into the 2006 season, in which he was averaging over 16 points per game, Krstic tore his ACL.  His breakout season came to a screeching halt, and although he returned the following season, he was never the same player.

Exhibit D (2010 NBA Lottery/Offseason):

Fresh off of their 12 win season, the Nets had the best odds of winning the draft lottery which would have guaranteed them a franchising changing player in John Wall.  Even the second overall pick would have given them what appeared to be a nice consolation prize in Evan Turner.  Luck or lack thereof, the Nets ended up with the third overall pick.

To make matters worse, this was the same off season in which LeBron James toyed with and rejected management’s pursuit. Rod Thorn then had a senior moment when he signed Travis Outlaw (5 years, 35 million dollars) and Johan Petro (3 years, 10 million dollars) to laughably, lucrative deals.

travis outlaw

Not exactly Thorn’s finest accomplishment.

Exhibit E (2013-14 season):

This exhibit is still under construction; however you should be able to recall all that has gone wrong since we aren’t too far down Memory Lane.  Think about how much hype surrounded this team following the prized acquisitions during the offseason in which the Nets appeared to have rectified every flaw with a significant upgrade.  A 60-win season and a deep playoff run was certainly in the realm of possibilities, especially since the team had won 49 games the year before.

Oh well, where shall I begin?  The fact that “Deron’s Ankles” may replace Achilles’ Heel in the English Vernacular or that Andrei Kirilenko has changed how we look at “day-to-day” injuries?  How about Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry aging in dog years?

Aside from all of the other issues, Brook Lopez breaking his foot for the second time in three years was the most devastating blow to their title hopes and the future outlook of the team.  Even on an extremely talented roster, Lopez was their best offensive player whose size gave them a competitive advantage over most opponents.

brook lopez foot

You knew the Hoops Devil wasn’t going to let this season go smoothly, right?

With a roster comprised of aging players in the twilight of their careers, Lopez always seemed to factor into the long term plans.  At 25 years old and still developing, he has earned the recognition of arguably being the best offensive center in the league.

Even with his most recent surgery, Lopez’s future has a cloud of doubt hovering over it as his name is now associated with Bill Walton and Yao Ming.  Nets fans will cling to the hope that his career will resume down the same path as Zydrunas Ilgauskas instead.

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Seems like this is all too much of a coincidence, right?  If you’ve been around the block as long as I have, you learn quickly to expect the worst at any given moment.  What other way is there?  At least now there is a logical explanation for all of these unfortunate events.

Maybe I am wrong here and we should be thankful for the special treatment the Nets have received from the Hoops Devil.  After all, this has always kept things interesting and without it our franchise would just be ordinary- nothing noteworthy.  On second thought, perhaps I have developed a severe case of the Stockholm Syndrome.

Why the Hoops Devil has it out for us, we will never know.  Hopefully the day will come soon when another franchise captures his/her attention.   Until then, keep in mind that we are at the midway point of this season and the second half could get even more interesting…

…or depressing.

The Little Engine That Should

The black paint job is fresh with white trim.  The logo has been redesigned to create an image that would appeal to a broader, hipper demographic.  Fancy new accessories have been added on, yet an element of doubt surfaces that the engine won’t start.

No I’m not talking about a car whose image has been totally overhauled.  This description is the current state of the Brooklyn Nets.

For years the “New Jersey” brand of this team was the butt of most NBA jokes.  They were a “Mickey Mouse” organization who felt more like a minor league franchise-  half empty arenas, fake crowd noise, Sly, McFamily Night, etc.

The move to Brooklyn was the opportunity for the Nets to start over and establish themselves as a first class organization within the grandiose Barclays Center.  Just as Kia and Hyundai have reinvented themselves in recent years, the Nets were on their way to transforming their identity and earning industry respect.

Enter Deron Williams, who was brought here to be the engine that would power this machine into the upper echelon of the NBA.  The all-star point guard paid his “Nets dues” while the team suffered through their final days in The Garden State.  Everyone knew that the big picture was in 2012 when the move to Brooklyn was finally complete and a contender would be built.

Unfortunately for Nets fans, the check engine light has lit up way more frequently than it should. Routine maintenance and small repairs are to be expected, but if there are fundamental issues with the engine, the rest of the vehicle is doomed.  It seems that our expensive motor hasn’t performed up to its highly perceived value and spends too much time at the mechanic’s shop.

An all too familiar sight.

An all too familiar sight.

Yes Deron has been unlucky in the injury department, but if it isn’t one thing, then it is something else- unhappiness with teammates, wrist ailments, arena sight lines, ankle pain, negative body language, offensive schemes, low confidence, yada, yada, yada.  You can see why the fan base has begun to sour on the once prized acquisition, right?

Despite their angst and frustration, Net fans desperately want to this to work with Deron Williams.  They essentially liquidated all of their assets to trade for, re-sign, and surround him with upper echelon talent up and down the roster.  Everyone knows that the Nets will only go as far as he will take them, and many fans hold out hope that he will return to the form that once put in him in the same sentence as Chris Paul.

However, there comes a point in which these troubling issues are no longer fluke occurrences but more of a consistent trend.  Perhaps this has become the norm of the Deron Williams Era with the Nets organization.  An all-star caliber performance on one night is followed up with a series of average/underwhelming performances.  There rarely seems to be a high level of play that is sustained over a long period of time.

Fans are sick of watching as well.

Fans are sick of watching as well.

Is it possible that we’ve bought a lemon?   I hope that I am very wrong here and Deron Williams will somehow find a way to snap out of this two year funk.  What other choice do we have?  We will continue to change his oil with nothing but the best PRP technology has to offer, and hope that it will restore the quality that got us so excited when we first saw him in that Utah showroom.

Hopefully the check engine light will stay off for a while, but until then, the feelings of doubt will always linger with what has now become our car with the unreliable engine.

check engine

One “Brave” Man-ning

There is a big game today with a lot on the line.  Seattle will be looking for their first championship in franchise history as Denver will look to capture their first since number 7 was at the helm.

Now what if…

and believe me, this is a hypothetical...

(and believe me, this is a hypothetical)

…the Broncos lose?

What do we then make of Peyton Manning’s career?  Is he still the best of this generation or does this officially peg him one notch below Tom Brady?  Heck, does this mean that his little brother was a better big game quarterback?

His career stats are arguably the best of this era of NFL quarterbacks. Aside from Brady, who else has been more consistent in producing gaudy numbers and leading his team to first place finishes year in, year out?  He is the most cerebral quarterback that I have ever seen, definitely the smartest guy in the room (or huddle).

For all of his accolades, what does he have to show for it?  Despite his personal and team achievements, Manning still has 9 fingers that don’t show off a Super Bowl ring.  Critics are quick to point out that his lone title came against a Chicago Bears team which started Rex Grossman at quarterback.  In that game (with rainy conditions) Manning didn’t play particularly well as his QBR was 60.7.  If the Bears had a more capable quarterback, it is possible that the Colts could have been 0-2 in the Super Bowl during the Manning Era.

Even his days at Tennessee ended up with disappointment in the biggest games.

Even his days at Tennessee ended up with disappointment in the biggest games.

Is it possible that Manning is the NFL’s equivalency of the Atlanta Braves?  Quick, which pitcher(s) on all of those Atlanta teams surgically worked the strike zone with extreme precision?  You could have gone with either Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine, but do you notice the similarity of both being guys who relied on their intelligence and precision to outsmart their opponents?  Isn’t that what Manning does when he carves up defenses with perfect play calling, reads, and throws? Those two, as well as John Smoltz, anchored a staff that churned out divisional titles on a yearly basis.  How many World Series titles do they have?  That’s right, only one.

Consider the following including this year’s Broncos:

Manning’s Colts/Broncos

Atlanta Braves

Time Frame

14 seasons

(1999-2010 & 2012-2013)

*excluding rookie season

14 seasons

(1991-2005)

*excluding 1994 MLB strike

First Place Finishes

10

13

Average Number of Regular Season Wins per Season

11.7

95.2

Super Bowl/World Series Appearances

3

5

Championships

1

1

The parallels are pretty amazing, right?  Any football fan would agree that if you are winning about 12 games each year then you are amongst the league’s best.  Similarly, 95 wins or more is a benchmark of MLB’s elite.

Unfortunately their shortcomings on the big stage prevents us from truly appreciating what they accomplished annually during the regular season. Manning has accomplished more than anyone, but a loss Sunday may confirm that he always seemed to come up short when the game mattered most.

Deja Vu All Over Again?

Cleveland is about to get dumped by the face of their franchise…for the second time!

Image

Oh no, not again!

If you missed the recent news, apparently Kyrie Irving is venting his frustrations about the state of the Cavaliers and is hinting at the possibility of bolting from the team the first chance he gets. Irving will try to downplay his comments, but if he is saying this now, then it’s very likely that he will be seeking greener pastures.   Just remember, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

If I am Dan Gilbert, I am looking to deal him now and try optimize the return of assets.  He can learn a lot with how the Jazz handled Deron Williams years ago.  Yes it’s another shot to the psyche of Gilbert and the city of Cleveland, but they cannot afford to let history repeat itself. Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, well…you know the rest.

I sense that the Cavs will do everything in their power to sell the bright future that Cleveland has to offer, but this has The Decision Part II written all over it.  Luckily for us there won’t be a shameless, self-promoting spectacle on ESPN.  Acquiring Luol Deng is not the solution to this problem.  He is the equivalent of trading for Antawn Jamison in an attempt to give Lebron a formidable running mate.  Deng is a very good player, but most envision him as a great third option on a contending team.  If I were Irving, this transaction wouldn’t convince me that Cleveland is any closer to a championship, or even the playoffs.

In Irving’s defense, the Cavaliers have blown this golden opportunity in the Post-Lebron Era.  Top 5 lottery picks were gift wrapped to them, yet they failed to capitalize on most of them.  The draft is always a crap shoot, but when you essentially swing and miss on Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Anthony Bennett, then you failed at your talent evaluation.

Consider the following:

Drafted

Still on the Board

Thompson

Jonas Valanciunas, Nikola Vucevic, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker

Waiters

Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Damian Lillard, Terrence Ross

Bennett

Victor Oladipo

Obviously hindsight is 20/20 and some will argue that you shouldn’t draft a position that is already filled.  If you consider Irving’s durability issues, drafting an Oladipo or Lillard would have allowed the Cavs to either get creative with their backcourt or position themselves better to make a deal.  Their decision making during these drafts has proven that they simply drafted for need or reached for players, which tends to backfire when you bypass superior talent.

Image

Fellas, remember to use it wisely next time.

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.   The Cavs can avoid a disaster this time around and be proactive with the Kyrie Sweepstakes. A budding superstar point guard should net them a king’s ransom of draft picks and other pieces to help expedite the rebuilding process.  What history has shown us is that Nick and Dan Gilbert will bring the city of Cleveland the necessary luck on lottery night.  It will be up to Chris Grant, or his successor, to capitalize on such opportunity this time around.

Cleveland, you’re on the clock….