En Memoriam: The Death of a Dream in OKC

Kevin Durant going to Golden State kills me. The rich in the Bay get richer while Oklahomans pick up the pieces and move on. It hurts that the league gets worse from this move (cue the “Jordan’s Bulls grew the NBA globally” argument), that Durant changed and got tired of being The Guy, and that Oklahoma City – a franchise that did everything right in terms of drafting, making trades, and consistently keeping a competitive core around its stars (and had to, simply to get as far as it ever did) – ends up suffering through little fault of its own.

Agony!

And hey, this isn’t a sob story about the poor Thunder. They had a chance to take down the almighty Warriors, even withstanding Klay Thompson’s otherworldly shooting performance in Game 6, but just couldn’t manage to do so. Durant’s shooting woes aside, if Andre Roberson had not been in foul trouble, maybe Thompson doesn’t get off one or two of his miracle treys down the stretch to send the series to Game 7. If someone else was able to step up, maybe Durant wouldn’t have needed to assume the hero role once again (and thus hears the echoes of his shortcomings one less time). But that wasn’t how things went down, so here we are.

The Thunder franchise had nine years of enjoying and appreciating a transcendental player who matched his uniqueness on the court with his off-court identity as an adopted Oklahoman. That’s pretty cool. Durant seemed to genuinely relish the small market ethos and repeatedly expressed defiance to the contrary, most famously signing his extension when LeBron James first went south to Miami.

And then, as Royce Young eloquently and intuitively narrated in his ESPN piece, Durant changed. Why? Maybe it had to do with that same defiant streak. He seethed when MVP discussions drifted from him so soon after he won the damn thing in 2014 and when the Thunder drifted from the perceived Western Conference hierarchy with the emergence of Steve Kerr’s Warriors.

Being forgotten seemed to resonate more with Durant as time went on, even when he claimed it was only about basketball.  After his tough journey to get back to where he was after multiple foot surgeries during the 2014-15 season and after another failed attempt to return to the Finals after losing to LeBron’s Heat four years ago in his only trip, maybe he just got tired of fighting the same fights: fading relevance in the public eye with Stephen Curry and LeBron dominating, enduring cycles of young talent in exchange of stars like James Harden and Serge Ibaka (even if both moves were good for the franchise, which Durant has acknowledged), always having one other team in the way of Finals prominence, and being The Guy who dutifully leads the perennial second/third horse in the race.

Duty played a part. For those who thought Durant had a responsibility to go back to Oklahoma City and lead with Westbrook once again, he probably scorned the premise. As for his image of the superstar who would never turn his back on his surrogate home, perhaps watching other stars who were never before on his level – such as Kawhi Leonard and Andre Iguodala – steal the spotlight over the past several Junes gave him a new sense of determination to change the script.

But speculating about the rationale of a man whom I do not know, as engaging as it might be, does not impact the outcome: Kevin Durant has joined the Golden State Warriors. This team will probably be the best team in league history, and the only hope that opposing teams will have on a nightly basis is poor shooting from multiple Warrior stars and a dual effort of great perimeter defending and stellar rebounding.

What the Warriors and Durant joined together to do was totally fair, well-executed (using the crazy jump in the salary cap and the foolish cap on max contract amounts in their favor), and terrifying for the rest of the league. It’s a whole different ballgame than LeBron going to Miami, where he had a young coach, unfamiliar new teammates, and imperfect fits in Wade and Bosh (who eventually evolved around LeBron). Durant, one of the best players in the NBA, is joining what was already one of the best teams in history. His crazy wingspan and shooting stroke will probably fit right into the Warriors’ style of play with little effort, sealing up the few cracks that they had.

A question for Durant down the line will be whether it was all worth alienating the only professional fan base he has ever had (as well as many other neutral fans) in the pursuit of title glory. The Warriors will likely become the ultimate team for the casual fan, who primarily watches to be entertained and rarely feels strong emotional investment. Their style of basketball will be beautiful and – simply put – it will be the biggest surprise in league history if they don’t come away with at least two titles in the next few seasons.

If individual legacy was Durant’s main objective, he will never realize it with Golden State in the way he would have with Oklahoma City. Being part of the greatest team ever has its own esteemed place in the history books, but letting go of the reins will diminish his personal place within the fraternity, whether he admits it or not. But again, I do not know the guy. Team success seems to be his main objective, so signing with the team already favored to win next year’s title certainly makes sense by that measure.

But for now, Durant’s choice to stop leading (he certainly did NOT choose the hardest road) interests me less than a point to which I want to return: the Thunder franchise, fan base, and city were fortunate to host the simultaneously flawed and wonderful Durant, Westbrook, and Co. iteration for as long as they did. The sheer amount of success that they experienced during their brief spell in the Panhandle State is far more than other franchises have enjoyed in their entire respective histories.

*camera pans out to me in my tear-stained Michael Beasley Timberwolves jersey*

We can mourn them for never getting as far as we may think they should have gotten (I’m of the opinion that the requisite bit of luck needed in a title chase never resided with them), but we should do so with an acknowledgement to what they accomplished and provided to the NBA: an organically fostered, well-run, young, athletic team that made its own of whatever luck it had in a small market and sparked the fan’s imagination of what could be (not including Kendrick Perkins) as often as any other team since its relocation from Seattle.

The fans knew what they had and cherished the franchise. The area around the arena is called Loud City and the home crowd has been reliably among the league’s best. There was even a movie starring Durant called…any guesses? They will be among the many who rue the failures that led to the team’s several postseason exits that betrayed its talent and tantalizing potential. With one or two fewer injuries along the way (or even one or two fewer unlucky bounces for Durant this past spring), it’s likely that his decision may have been different.

But to extensively retrace and ruminate over the steps that paved his exit would stymie the fun and celebration of the NBA that was this Thunder team. Again, it kills me to watch the dream in Oklahoma City die just like that, but they still have wiz GM Sam Presti, a young group of complementary pieces, and Westbrook, should he choose to stay (unlikely, based on reports).

There are certainly other teams that started, developed, and blossomed like this Thunder team. The Warriors, for one, simply did it better. What made the Durant\Westbrook Thunder so compelling was in part the context: how the team grew up in a new NBA city that embraced it so passionately and how players like Durant seemed to appreciate and reciprocate that love. Their draw was also in part what also held them back: the lack of perfect fit that has made the Warriors such a deadly force. You just hoped that they would figure things out while the opportunity existed.

And they almost did. It felt like this was finally Oklahoma City’s time when they had seemingly delivered a knockout blow to Golden State in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. As we know, however, it was not. Little to our knowledge at the time, it was set to be the final scene for Durant in a Thunder jersey.

It was while growing up through my teen years and beyond with the Thunder that I grew to love the NBA. Just like the Durant move sets forth a new chapter in the NBA’s history – one which will certainly impact the next collective bargaining agreement – it has me looking ahead as a fan to the next team that manages to excite like this Thunder team did (Please God let it be the Wolves! I don’t ask for much!).

May the next incarnation of this now gone Thunder team find some of that elusive luck and enjoy the dream ending that Durant searches for as he heads West. But for now, pour one out for this Thunder team and appreciate what we were all fortunate to witness for the time it was there.

The Ultimate Undead 2016 NBA Mock Draft – Part 1: The Lottery

As noted by our witty tagline (potentially copyright infringed, but nobody reads us! We’re like Dickinson or Nietzsche, just without credibility or originality!), we’re certainly not heroes at Sports Spangled Banter. Not close. One kid donated bone marrow once, which was pretty cool, but he has offset that goodwill since with multiple unjustified transgressions. God, he should probably be in prison. Homeless Fight Club in residential areas is definitely not just a zoning issue.

HOWEVER, in this Internet age with computers and such, that line from The Sandlot – “heroes get remembered, but legends never die” – receives a revamped and most certainly unwelcome interpretation by yours truly. Unlike legends, we have no legacy, achievements of note, or even parody Twitter accounts, but LIKE legends, we have somehow continued to exist, whether through memory or still functional domain names (I remembered my admin info!!). By strict definition of that corny line from that awful film (FIGHT ME!), we have achieved the coveted status of “Undead.” This site will always threaten to continue to exist among the thousands of other neglected blogs, cat videos, and the ethereal (Crying Jordan). Consider it among the cockroaches of the nuclear wasteland of pre-Trump internet.

From our early (and frankly, only) days as a site, the quality of analytical writing in sports and matters of our particular interests has improved and blossomed, regularly surpassing that which we could hope to realistically provide (even post-Grantland). It is an awesome development, but it greatly lessened the vacuum for what had existed not long before we started out (the Internet moves quickly). As someone who has lost almost all interest in the NFL and is in awe of the statistical revolution in MLB and NBA writing, there doesn’t often appear to be much to write about that is not or has not already been covered in an in-depth and profound manner. Sad!

…But I do occasionally notice a dearth of writing that delves into the nonsensical, irrelevant, or unrealistic, whether it concern trades, player comparisons, uncomfortable anecdotes, etc. Fortunately for the world, that’s my f*cking wheelhouse (like an inside Dan Haren fastball to David Ortiz).

And lo, drafts are the apex of this fantasy. Analysts can suggest nonsense like “with a little coaching up and extra shooting work with Detlef Schrempf, Skal Labissiere can become the Yo-Yo-Ma of stretch-4’s” and get PAID to say it while Ernie Johnson internally screams.

I say this endearingly.

I hate the NFL, yet I still can’t help but tune in during the end of April and think “Wes Schweitzer! He’s depth! That will push the Falcons’ offensive line to new heights!” It’s all garbage – I’ve never heard of Wes in my life! As a matter of fact, I don’t know any of these people! – but the draft represents one of the few times in sports when we can have imagination and not have it all be crippling self-delusion.

We’re never going to think “Yeah, Charlie Villanueva was a money-grabbing bust for his whole career, but THIS IS HIS YEAR!” No, that’s stupid. Please don’t think like that. But Henry Ellenson? He can become like Kevin Love, except also block shots, run in transition, play center without being mercilessly targeted by opposing teams, run the offense, drive the team to away games, AND finish his sociology degree while still playing in preparation for that non-existent job market after his playing days are over.

With a short time to go until the happiest of occasions – the NBA draft – I am imparting upon you, lucky reader, the ultimate NBA mock draft by us, the ultimate undead sports blog. If you have had no idea what I have been talking about up until this point, you are in good company as we descend down this happy spiral of assumptive tomfoolery. Enjoy the ride and be confident that I know what I’m talking about, even if I’m not!

This mock portrait, to clarify, is not what I think will happen so much as what I think SHOULD happen, based on how I assess your beloved team. There will be alternative scenarios considered all along the way and I will make every effort to provide a contemplative reflection upon each team.*

*In the spirit of full disclosure, I will likely fail as soon as I have to talk about the Magic, the undead sports blog of NBA teams. Or the Nets, when I may just start uncontrollably typ-DOOM! DOOM! DOOM! DOOM!

Apologies.

But it will be the best damn undead NBA mock draft that you will read this year, and will be subject to updates, mainly when Danny Ainge says “to hell with it all!” and tries to parlay his bounty of draft picks for Boogie Cousins, Trill Cauley-Stein, and the naming rights to the Kings’ future arena.

Why will it be the best? Two reasons. The first is that mock drafts that I have seen to this point have an overly empirical approach. Can’t have that – emotions need to prevail; no room for logic here! The other is that the authors of said mock drafts clearly lack a feeling of desperation that I constantly feel and thus gives me the insight of a perspiring Rob Hennigan as he eye-gropes the timer when it’s the Magic’s turn to pick and realizes he has no idea what he’s doing. Competitive advantage!

So here we go. Are you ready? Neither am I. Let’s do this.


 

With the 1st pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Philadelphia 76ers will select…

          Brandon Ingram

The Hinkie era prematurely ended earlier this year, which means his strategy of asset maximization – probably the most uninterrupted and measured management approach in league history – has also gone quiet into the night. Bryan Colangelo, the ruling party following the CIA-like coup (orchestrated by his own father, Jerry!) to oust Hinkie from power, has all eyes on him as the Sixers fan base looks for instant justification for his sketchy ascension to power. *looks under rock* Nope, no nepotism here!

If it were Hinkie still in control, the pick would be Simmons. No question. Times a thousand. And it still might be. But God, this roster is screwed up, and Colangelo certainly knows it. Like the rich kid who has the keys to his dad’s Ferrari (you know, when the dad relinquishes all control of said Ferrari after ruthlessly taking it from the previous owner), Colangelo also views it dispassionately, and less as future value for leverage. The Hinkie-era Sixers had drafted three straight top picks (Noel was technially acquired from draft-day trade, but same thing, basically) who can only play center at a high level.

At least one of these guys is gone this summer, with Joel Embiid (another center who’s been injured for his entire first two years in the league) and Darko Saric (a combo forward coming from Europe) joining the roster and clogging up the frontcourt even more.

Ok, we’ll name names. Jalil Okafor is almost definitely gone and Noel is probably at 1:4 or 1:5 odds of being gone by this time next season. If Embiid stays healthy, it would not be surprising if he’s the only one of the Okafor-Noel-Embiid trio still in Philadelphia by this time next year. He could be the next Hakeem Olajuwon and it would be a tragedy if health deprives the world of this potential outcome.

But wait, this is all relevant. The fates of the current big men on the Sixers’ roster is one of two central decisions that will likely orient the franchise’s future. The other is this draft pick (No pressure, Bryan!). The Sixers suffered from awful defense and severe scoring issues last year, which is detrimental to giving up fewer points and scoring more points on a consistent basis that your opponent. While the former is the result of having an incredibly young roster and Noel and Embiid struggling severely to play together, the Sixers also sorely lack good shooting to stretch the floor. When you play two centers together, as they have been, there will already be poor spacing, but surrounding them with Jerami Grant, Hollis Thompson, and Christian Wood is a mocking attempt at a solution.

So why Ingram? Without making it so a case of why not Ben Simmons, here’s the case for Ingram: he’s the closest thing to Kevin Durant since Durant was drafted in 2007. He will immediately be an outside shooting threat, particularly when he has yet to develop a post game, and can potentially become one of the league’s best two-way players in a few years time.

Even with Okafor likely gone, the team will still be skewed toward bigs. Simmons would exacerbate an already existing problem (spacing) and make for a significant overlap in strengths (rebounding, inside scoring) while failing to contribute in the ways that will better enable players to co-exist and account for current roster shortcomings. The 76ers will need to have a major overhaul in order to best accommodate Simmons as the centerpiece of the franchise (he won’t be at his best when surrounded by forwards and centers); based on roster composition and the woeful recent history, it’s hard to imagine that significant turbulence after taking Simmons will be what finally sets Philadelphia on course for long-term stability and success.

Consistently putting Philadelphia’s young players in positions to succeed (especially once Embiid and Saric enter the mix) will be crucial to their development, especially when taking into account the shortcomings the 76ers have had in doing so up to this point. Ingram is not the point forward extraordinaire that Simmons is, but he doesn’t need to be for the 76ers to make the best move for their franchise, especially with the likes of Saric (a Euro point/stretch forward) coming over. Ingram is the prototypical wing player who already can shoot and defend at a relatively high level. With upgrades at the guard positions (likely achieved by trade), Ingram would slingshot this team forward in its development. Colangelo is probably already thinking about offering Mike Conley $20 million a year.

Drafting the best player available is almost always the way to go over the best fit, but when skill set meshes better with the current roster by such a considerable margin and when the “best player available” argument is as close as it is, you need to go with Ingram.

Best case: Kevin Durant

Worst case: Tim Thomas

Alternative Pick: Ben Simmons


 

With the 2nd pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Los Angeles Lakers will select…

          Ben Simmons

The most talented player in this draft. Gaze upon this stat line from his one season at LSU! Gaze! I’ve seen LeBron James comparisons galore. Maybe in terms of skill set versatility, but nah. If he develops at least league-average 3-point range, all bets are off, but he took three 3-point shots for his entire season at LSU. For now, he’s simply going to be a 6-10 point forward behemoth who can ignite the offense, play positions 1-5, rebound like a monster, and create his own shot like few others currently in the league. Not bad! But if anything, he’s more like Lamar Odom. “Whoa whoa whoa,” you might be thinking. “Lamar Odom?” Yes, but not like that. Odom was really, really good in his first couple years in the league and probably hurt his development with drug suspensions and injury troubles in his third and fourth seasons, respectively.

And Simmons will be better than Odom. Both have/had great vision, size, and playmaking ability, but Simmons lacks the off-court concerns that plagued Odom, is a better athlete, and takes Odom’s versatility (i.e. ability to guard opposing big men on one end and run the offense on the other) to a whole notha level.

The Lakers will be a pretty good fit for Simmons; it will be a process to see what kind of players will best complement someone as unique as Simmons, but the likes of Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson (assuming the Lakers match any offer he gets as a RFA, which is very likely), and DeAngelo Russell can provide spacing on Simmons’ drives and get out in transition with him. Without Byron Scott accidentally sabotaging the Lakers every step of the way, they will be fun to watch next year.

Best case: Less explosive LeBron James (not saying much)

Worst case: Lamar Odom (Clippers/Lakers version)

Alternative Pick: Brandon Ingram (if 76ers pick Simmons)


 

With the 3rd pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Boston Celtics will select…

          Dragen Bender

First thing’s first, Bender is not Kristaps Porzingis. Both players have competed in top European leagues from a young age and have great scoring versatility, but their skill sets diverge from there: while Porzingis is rangier and will probably play as a floor-stretching center for the majority of his career, Bender grew up playing as a guard and – by that measure – may actually be more versatile than Porzingis on both ends. Porzingis passed the grueling defensive litmus test for a rookie big man, contesting shots and getting boards with a veracity that few anticipated from the Latvian.

Bender is almost as tall as Porzingis, but is also more agile and experienced in dealing with perimeter opponents; with the NBA’s current obsession with line-up versatility, being able to routinely switch on defenders without getting embarrassed (Hi Enes Kanter!) is crucial. I’m not sure that Bender will actually end up being as good of a player as Porzingis, simply because KP is already so good at what he projects to be: a rim-protecting center who can dominate inside and out on offense. Bender, however, can become a lot of what the Celtics need: secondary playmaking, outside shooting, and rim protection.

Boston should bet big here and see what wunderkind coach Brad Stevens can do with Bender.

Best case: Toni Kukoc/Pau Gasol hybrid.

Worst case: Nikola Mirotic

Alternative Pick: Pick gets traded in package for star or Jaylen Brown


 

With the 4th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Phoenix Suns will select…

          Jaylen Brown

Bender would be cool for Phoenix if he falls here, but I really like Brown with this team. Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe are locked down for the next several seasons, Devin Booker could be a top shooting guard in three years, and they have a couple of other good young players who are worth keeping around after their rookie deals in Alex Len and T.J. Warren. A lockdown wing defender is a characteristic on every team with championship aspirations; Brown was not that at Cali, but he’s an elite NBA athlete who will more than likely become a very good defender at the next level by virtue of his physical traits (long wingspan, great agility, quick feet).

At this point, I’d like to comment that this is a weird draft because here’s a guy who will be a liability on offense most nights apart of getting out on the fast break, yet here is he getting his name called by imaginary NBA commissioner Adam Silver 4th overall. What gives?

Well, for one, there is a lack of elite prospects this year. It’s the Simmons/Ingram party, then maybe Bender depending on how you rate him, then all the other warm bodies. F’real, there are a couple of other guys expected by most people to be drafted in the top 10 for sure; from that point, the jury’s out.

For two, this year, there’s 1) a mix of guys who underachieved in college ball, but have enough athletic upside that they’re worth taking a flyer on due to lack of great alternative options (Brown, Skal Labissiere, Deyonta Davis, Cheick Diallo), 2) guys who did better than expected and therefore got a major boost in this weak draft (Buddy Hield, Marquese Chriss, Henry Ellenson), and then 3) a significant crop of international players, many of whom are big men and thus are on the wrong side of a trend that is shifting away from large line-ups. These categories will be referenced for convenience going forward, so take note.

It all makes for an underwhelming group of players, but frankly that’s part of the fun. This year, more than any than I can immediately recall, you can say “I think [Player] should go [4-45]” and the draft experts will not bat an eye. Players that might get torn to shreds under the microscope in years past are currently being assessed in a lens akin to “well, he played 14 minutes all year, but since he’s JUST 18 when the next NBA season starts, has a 7’6″ wingspan, has only played organized sports for three years, and reportedly hit a 3-pointer once in practice, he might sneak into the 1st round!” Relativity is everything and has made this current draft season so enthralling.

And if all this provides me with greater liberty to spew nonsense from here on out, that works too.

Best case: Eddie Jones, but plays positions 2-4 and has Jason Richardson’s athleticism.

Worst case: Iman Shumpert

Alternative: Bender if he’s there. If he’s not, hard to see that this isn’t the move. A very recent development is that apparently Chriss might be considered here now? That’s dumb, especially since the value for versatile defensive perimeter guys is at an all-time high. Chriss is a better scorer and they are two of the best athletes in this draft, but if you’re betting overwhelmingly on their upside either way, it would stand to reason to take the guy with greater positional value. On second thought, however, since it’s Phoenix, they could actually do this.


 

With the 5th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves will select…

          Jamal Murray

This guy could be really good. He probably will be. He’ll definitely be able to score at a considerable rate; what will likely determine how good he becomes is his ability to set up teammates and work within Coach Thibodeau’s defensive system. He won’t be a beastly two-way player ever, but he scored 20 points per game as a freshman for Kentucky and is just big enough to get by at shooting guard. This alone would work for a Wolves team that would greatly benefit from another good shooter and wing depth to push Zach LaVine for the starting spot.

Hield may be the choice either, since he similarly fit the criteria of good shooter and rotational wing player, but Murray is three years younger and probably has a bit more scoring versatility in terms of finishing at the rim than Hield. A power forward would ideally be an option here as well, but it’s difficult to see any of the most likely choices at that position fit the mold as Thibodeau’s kind of guy. Ivan Rabb likely would have been the only one who fits that description, and he’s heading back to Cali for his second year.

Best case: C.J. McCollum

Worst case: Ben/Eric Gordon

Alternatives: Buddy Hield. Wolves may also trade down. The top of the draft is weak, especially compared to last year, but there will actually be enough good players in the 2nd round that it may be worth trying to acquire a 2nd round pick, which they don’t have this year. They also may not have their 1st round pick next year, so there’s a sneaky amount of urgency with what Minnesota chooses to do here. My sleeper here is Henry Ellenson. The guy is a very, very skilled offensive player, but was brutal on defense. Thibodeau is one of the best at coaxing defensive potential, so taking Ellenson would really show that he’s betting on himself.

Other note: if Minnesota drafts Kris Dunn here, I will put my foot through my television. Kris Dunn will hardly top out as a defensive upgrade to Ricky Rubio, who is certainly a top-5 defensive point guard, arguably top-3. Dunn will also never be the passing wizard that Rubio is. The Spaniard is one of the most underrated players in the NBA, largely due to the Timberwolves’ status as perennial small-market losers. If Dunn was a knockdown 3-point shooter, I still would not be convinced, but there would at least be an argument for drafting him here. In no uncertain terms, it would be the franchise’s dumbest move since the David Kahn era, yet I’ve seen it in multiple projections. It blows my mind that this is a possibility.

 


 

With the 6th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the New Orleans Pelicans will select…

          Buddy Hield

Hield was the poster boy of the NCAA tournament this year. Then his Oklahoma Sooners got slaughtered by Villanova in the Final Four. His numerous excellent shooting exhibitions prior to the annihilation, however, gave him a boost and solidified his status as a top 10 draft pick. As the case with fellow historical college marksmen, Stephen Curry and Doug McDermott, shooting will be Hield’s calling card at the NBA level. Unless he tremendously improves in his ability to provide open looks for teammates (he had a poor assist rate in college) or to drive and finish at the rim, he will not be an All-Star caliber player.

That’s fine. The Pelicans need help of any kind for superstar Anthony Davis, and Hield’s sharpshooting will fill a huge need for New Orleans, especially since Ryan Anderson will likely leave for greener pastures in free agency. As long as Hield can be a 39%+ 3-point shooter, he should be an improvement over Eric Gordon in a couple of years. The Pelicans are certainly hoping that he can be at least that.

Best case: A better defending and rebounding J.J. Reddick

Worst case: Jodie Meeks

Alternatives: If Alvin Gentry wants to play Davis more as a center going forward, maybe Marquese Chriss will be considered? Going in the opposite direction tactically, New Orleans has been suggested as a possible landing spot for Jalil Okafor if/when he’s traded, which would almost definitely require this draft pick to happen. While well aware of Okafor’s flaws, I would be intrigued. If anyone can help cover for the former Blue Devil’s defensive shortcomings, it’s Davis. Doesn’t Okafor deserve this after spending his first year in the league as a top selection constantly losing and knowing that he’s likely surplus to requirements from day one? And wouldn’t anything be better for the Pelicans than letting Omer Asik ever touch the court again? Now I want this trade to happen. *folds hands, waits*


 

With the 7th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Denver Nuggets will select…

          Marquese Chriss

The Nuggets are in pretty good shape despite being a pretty bad team. This year, they have a couple of first round picks to boost an already enviable squadron of young players, particularly Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and last year’s 1st round pick, Emmanuel Mundiay. They have some depth already at center and have a few particularly fun players in Will Barton, Danilo Gallinari, and Kenneth Faried. Based on who is currently available and how the roster is currently looking, it makes sense to go big – in both senses – on this pick. Marquese Chriss is a category 2 guy who turned more than a few heads with his play for Washington as a freshman this past season despite being a relatively unheralded prospect.

Like a few of the category 1 prospects I mentioned earlier, Chriss would be effectively thrown to the wolves if he plays significant minutes early on as a rookie. It would be violent. With a guy like Faried locked down for a few more seasons at the power forward position, there is little pressure for Chriss to come good early. He fits the mold of being an effective stretch-4 (a power forward who effectively can play around the perimeter on offense) in the NBA; he’s a very good athlete to boot. He can’t rebound to save himself and lacks any sort of traditional big man post game, but he showed real scoring chops and has the complementary physical tools to suggest a lot of potential in store if he improves as a rebounder, matures, and hits the weight room.

Best case: Chris Bosh, but he’s at least a year away from where Bosh was as a rookie

Worst case: Andrea Bargnani

Alternative: Denzel Valentine: perhaps a bit early for him, but since I think a lot of teams are quietly keen on him, it would not surprise me to see him go here. One of the international wing players (Luwawu/ Korkmanz) is a dark horse pick, but I think they stay on the board just a bit longer.


 

With the 8th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Sacramento Kings will select…

          Kris Dunn

The loser of the annual contest within a contest, which is basically whoever gets drafted by the Kings. If I had the chance to grow six inches, have incredible dunking ability, and hit 3-pointers like a Stephen Curry/Becky Hammon love child…but I had to play my entire career in Sacramento, I would turn it down. Specifically, I would curse the genie for giving me such an unfortunately specific ultimatum, spurn the condition, then grow inconsolably bitter for rejecting (by necessity!) my chance to play in the NBA. I would probably retire to the mountains, learn to embrace folk music, and read a ton of Karl Marx (“We need to destroy capitalism! This guy who spent much of his adult life cynically viewing cities where he lived in poverty totally got it!”).

It’s ok to be cautiously optimistic if you’re a Kings fan. Dave Joerger is a very good, well-respected coach and this would mark two straight smart draft picks! If Ben McLemore can become more than a young Wes Johnson and Rajon Rondo does not get re-signed, then things would really be looking up. Kris Dunn is pretty much John Wall lite; in other words, he’s a few years older than Wall when the Wizards’ point guard came into the league, he has similar weaknesses (turnover prone and broken jump shot), and he is not quite the athlete that John Wall is (few are). All things considered, without cracking 37% on 3-point attempts, he probably won’t become better than a middle-of-the-pack starting point guard, considering how many great point guards there already are in the league. It would still be an important step forward for the Kings, especially if Dunn is able to become close to the playmaker that Wall is. He’ll almost certainly be a very good defender, which will certainly be a big upgrade from the likes of Rondo and Darren Collison. Drafting Dunn should make DeMarcus Cousins happy for five minutes.

Best case: John Wall

Worst case: Devin Harris

Alternative: Malik Beasley or Taurean Prince, maybe? Either of them would also fit a need. I can’t put it past this franchise to do something stupid, so it would totally be like the Kings to draft someone who they still could have drafted had they traded down. Since they drafted big last year, however, I don’t think they will again. Dunn here makes too much sense.


 

With the 9th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Toronto Raptors will select…

          Skal Labissiere

The 7’1″ Haitian arrived in Lexington as one of the top high school recruits in the country. Despite his status as one of demon wizard John Calipari’s prize signings, he averaged fewer than 7 points and 3 rebounds a game for Kentucky, and consistently underachieved against fellow college players. But it turns out it doesn’t even really matter, because he’ll probably be a lottery pick anyway!

That’s the kind of draft this is. “He struggled against inferior college athletes, but maybe he’ll really turn it on against the best players in the world once he gets owned by them enough!” Supposedly he impressed front office guys a few weeks ago when taking uncontested jump shots at a private workout. Ah yes, the true test of an NBA player: hitting shots when no one’s defending.

With all that said, I could see Toronto GM Masai Ujiri making this call. He has bet on upside with his last couple of draft selections (not done without a fair share of criticism) and seeing as he is benefiting from past Knicks stupidity (the Bargnani trade: never forget) in the form of this high pick, he may feel at leisure to gamble again.

The Raptors’ position of need has been power forward. Patrick Patterson is a valuable rotation player, but he’s hardly a starter. Luis Scola – the 36-year old Argentinian who can’t jump higher than you or I can – started for this team against the Cavs, which expresses the severity of the situation.

Toronto may not re-sign DeRozan (he will command serious money this summer in free agency), but that wouldn’t necessarily spell doom if he leaves. The bigger issue is that Toronto has aspirations on staying competitive in the East while Kyle Lowry and DeMarre Carroll are in their prime, and they desperately need another top talent to contend with the Cavs. Jonas Valenciunas has not turned into a primary scoring option, although that is at least partially the fault of how the team has used him, considering his skill level and good efficiency. Terrence Ross has plateaued in his development and struggled in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cavs.

So maybe Labissiere is the right move here. Bruno Caboclo (skip ahead to 2 minutes in to behold the befuddlement by everyone, including the commissioner), Ujiri’s super-ambitious pick from two years ago, has reportedly made some big strides and may be on schedule to crack the rotation next season. I think Chriss or Labissiere will be the selection here. Since Chriss is en route to Denver in this fantasy world, Skal gets to be the next Raptor referenced in a Drake song.

Best case: Uh, let’s go with the Suns-present iteration of Channing Frye.

Worst case: Byron Mullens (don’t squint too hard, or you will see ALL OF THE PARALLELS)

Alternatives: I think Jakob Poeltl could be in play if Ujiri thinks that re-signing Bismack Biyombo is not realistic (he made himself a LOT of money with a couple of huge performances in the Eastern Conference Finals, particularly because the salary cap is jumping by approximately $22 million next season. This summer will feature a lot of excessive foolish spending and some of that will go to Biyombo), but swinging for the fences at a potential starter in Labissiere, rather than a back-up for Valenciunas (which is what Poeltl would be), is much more of Ujiri’s style. Malik Beasley is my dark horse here.


 

With the 10th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Milwaukee Bucks will select…

          Jakob Poeltl

This is one of the trickier picks. On one hand, the team drafted Rashad Vaughan, a shooting guard, last year. He was one of the youngest players in a strong draft, so he should have some leeway when considering how poor he was as a rookie. He was really bad, but he has a lot of room for growth.

On the other, Greg Monroe, the team’s most expensive free agent signing in history, was an abject failure. Sure, he was productive on offense, but his struggles on defense thwarted what had been a hugely successful defensive scheme the season prior.

The team had surprisingly made the playoffs in the prior season (2014-15), in large part due to their excellent swarming team defense that utilized the roster’s length and athleticism in switching and trapping quickly. Greg Monroe was expected to be a step forward as a scoring focal point; his slow feet and stout frame would be hidden by the rest of the roster’s strong play.

It didn’t work. His offensive impact didn’t offset the step back on defense that the team took with him on the court. The team’s lack of spacing, due to inefficient outside shooting, also worked against him.

This roster is highly versatile – their point guard for the upcoming season will be 6’11” Giannis Antetekounmpo! – and it’s questionable at best whether it should ever employ two traditional bags at one time, given the brutal spacing issues that plagued the team throughout the season.

While there are a couple of other issues that the team needs to address, chalking the Monroe experiment up as a learning experience in building a roster and trying to move on is probably the best thing to do for both parties. Perhaps the team is able to trade him or he just hangs around as a rotation player before opting out of his contract next summer; either way, the team needs to look ahead.

Keeping all this in mind, it makes sense to draft Poeltl here. Maybe you take a guard here with O.J. Mayo and Grievis Vasquez possibly gone as free agents, but Vaughn’s assumed development and Giannis’s employment at point guard will reduce the need for more guard depth. Poeltl has superior foot speed and length to Monroe. At Utah, he was capable at switching onto smaller opponents and also moves very well in the open court.

Coming out of Utah, Andrew Bogut had a similarly energetic game, even though he was more adept as a low-post scorer and shot-blocker (Interestingly, at this point in his career, Bogut has become almost exclusively focused on the defensive side of the ball and shows reluctance to shoot). Like Bogut, Poeltl also gets drafted by Milwaukee. He will be a defensive upgrade and his playing style will mesh on this young Bucks team.

Best case: Andrew Bogut/Tyson Chandler

Worst case: Tyler Zeller

Alternatives: Timothe Luwawu. Another great athlete for Milwaukee? Why not! Furkan Korkmaz is my dark horse here. Plays kind of like Evan Fournier, but is being described like Mario Hezonja in his aggressiveness. A player like that could definitely have a role with Milwaukee, particularly late in games. Which reminds me…


 

With the 11th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Orlando Magic will select…

          Deyonta Davis

Here we go. Orlando Magic’s pick. God, how can a team with so many athletic top draft picks be so boring? I understand that Scott Skiles is to blame for that this past season (the NBA is better off when the likes of him or Bryon Scott are unemployed. They’re miserable people who should monopolize all grumpy father-in-law roles that Hollywood has to fill for the next decade), but it’s inexcusable when there’s barely a thrill factor with a team that has Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja, and Aaron Gordon. Heck, the Kings are trash, but at least Cousins, his volatile relationships with the revolving door of coaches, and the unadulterated idiocy of the franchise’s owners/upper management have steadily combined to make for reality-TV entertainment.

The Tobias Harris trade seemed pretty dumb on Orlando’s part (Skiles, in desperation to get a couple of his kind of players, probably bartered one of Hennigan’s children to get the deal done), but it makes sense in freeing up cap space and giving Gordon more playing time. I can’t stand Scott Skiles, in case I haven’t made this clear.

Now Orlando’s focus in free agency is reportedly for veterans. Terrific. The front office must understand that to get to “Unwatchable” mode, the roster needs to get older. Well at least the coaching change is a monster step in the right direction. Frank Vogel won’t make this team a must-watch spectacle, but at least he’ll move the needle from the Skiles era. Sure. It’ll probably be a nice change for the players, going from verbal hailstorms on a regular basis to development-focused optimism with Vogel. From a selfish point of view, Mike D’Antoni would have been a cool hire for this team, but Vogel was definitely the smarter long-term option. Way to accidentally fall into a big coaching upgrade, Orlando!

The team needs better shooting and improvements on defense. With Evan Fournier all but certainly back (Orlando can’t afford to lose out on their only proven 3-point shooting threat), Mario Hezonja likely due for a larger role next season, and Oladipo aiming to add an increasingly effective outside shot to his repertoire, they should make at least marginal strides in the first department.

On the defensive side of the ball, for all of Frank Vogel’s optimism, it will be tough for Nikola Vucevic to become anything more than an average defensive center. If he’s their defensive anchor, as Vogel says, then their ship may struggle to stay afloat (Nautical metaphors!).

So what to do, what to do. Hmmm.

Hmmm.

I know! Draft a defensive big! Guys like Jason Smith and Dewayne Dedmon have a spot on the roster, but Deyonta Davis could form a ferocious platoon with Vucevic and Gordon. He has the athletic ability to play more up-tempo AND can defend power forwards and centers. As someone who averaged just under 4 blocks per 36 minutes in his one season at Michigan State, it will surprise me if he doesn’t become a very good shot blocker in the NBA.

For the first couple of years, he will not need a major role, which would suit perfectly as, by that time, Orlando will also know what it has in Gordon and the rest of its young core. This would be a smart investment by Hennigan.

Best case: Erick Dampier

Worst case: Ed Davis

Alternatives: I think the other option here would be Luwawu or Prince. Basically a guy who can defend at a high level on the perimeter, rather than down low.


 

With the 12th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Utah Jazz will select…

          Denzel Valentine

The Jazz are in a good spot. Not geographically of course – they are in Utah, after all – but as a franchise. It has a young core and lacks glaring weaknesses in its starting 5, particularly due to Rodney Hood’s emergence. If point guard Dante Exum comes back from the ACL injury that claimed his entire 2nd season and makes strides in his decision-making and outside shooting, the Jazz will be in a great position.

Exum’s absence, Alec Burks’ banged-up status for much of the year, and Rudy Gobert’s knee injury in the 1st half of the season really damaged their playoff aspirations. With a smart pick here, Trey Lyles’ improvement, and better health fortune, the Jazz should expect to make the playoffs next season.

So what would be a smart pick? Denzel Valentine. The team lacks depth on the wings and could benefit from a playmaker off the bench seeing as Trey Burke was a bust. Burks and Valentine have complementary skill sets. Burks is adept at creating his own shot and getting to the rim; while Valentine was the primary ball handler for Michigan State, his strengths at the NBA level will be passing and outside shooting.

As someone who shot 44% from 3, averaged over 7 assists and 7 rebounds a game, and was the main guy for one of the best college teams in the country,  Valentine is one of my favorites in this draft. He will probably never be a very good defender, but he’s getting sold short in terms of how good he’ll be on that end.

For a lanky, well-defending team like the Jazz, he’ll be fine on defense; he’ll certainly contribute as a pick’n’roll facilitator and spot-up shooter. If he’s here, the Jazz should take him. The time is now for the Jazz to take a step forward in the Western Conference; no room for project players anymore.

Best case: Jim Jackson/(a less athletic) Evan Turner with a good jump shot

Worst case: Jared Dudley

Alternative: I think Shelvin Mack/Raul Neto did enough to justify remaining as the Jazz’s back-up point guards for next season. I think it will one of the top international wings – Luwawu or Korkmaz – here if it’s not Valentine.

 

With the 13th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Phoenix Suns will select…

          Henry Ellenson

We’re back to Phoenix! What to get for a team with two point guards, a top young shooter in Booker, Brown, and a young center in Len (who would probably benefit from an unhappy Tyson Chandler getting out of town)? It’s like trying to buy a birthday present for a rich kid! I know! How about a power forward?

Henry Ellenson is a guy who probably will work a lot on developing his outside shot in hopes of becoming an effective stretch-4, which would definitely fill a need for Phoenix. He’s also going to be a big power forward – he measured 6’10” without shoes and has a 7’2″ wingspan. For comparison’s sake, Kevin Love is just under 6’10” with shoes. He’ll be harder to target on defense (not saying much) long-term, even if he really would benefit from the tutelage of the likes of Tom Thibodeau, Dave Joerger, or Frank Vogel. His defense was pretty atrocious in college and likely prevents him from rising further up in this draft.

…Sure, I can keep going. He seems comfortable playing at a fast pace, despite his supposed lack of excellent quickness or athleticism, and will pretty good at cleaning the boards at the next level as well, thanks to his large frame and long arms. He comfortably brought the ball up the court and even led fastbreaks throughout the season. *swoons* He and Len theoretically form a pretty good combination and he could even play as a small-ball center, with Booker/Brown as the forwards and Knight/Bledsoe as the guards. Man, that would be fun to watch. Let’s make this happen, Phoenix! Don’t screw this up! (You totally will, won’t you?)

Best case: Kevin Love mixed with Keith Van Horn

Worst case: Sean May? Sean May.


 

With the 14th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, the Chicago Bulls will select…

          Wade Baldwin

Maybe? This roster’s a damn mess. There are approximately 14 guys who can play at the forward positions, no centers, and no guards under contract for next season besides someone named Justin Holiday. No wonder this team didn’t make the playoffs. Burn everything to the ground.

Ok, maybe that’s a bit rash, but there are serious changes in store for this team over the next few seasons. I think any combination of Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic, and Tony Snell may be traded for guard help or a center in the near future. They’re all useful players who can help teams win, but they’re simply accentuating the deformity of this roster through their co-existence. BURN IT ALL!

The Derrick Rose/Jimmy Butler duo is not doing this team any favors. As crushing as it is to all the poor, poor Bulls fans (this is a joke: you had Jordan. Your complaints will duly be ignored by the sports world for the next decade, at least. If the Cubs win the World Series, maybe forever), Rose is probably gone after next season. Or at least back on a reduced deal, even with a much-inflated salary cap.

Neither Rose nor Butler are particularly good outside shooters. Butler is better than a 31% percent 3-point shooter, so expect that to improve next year, but Rose will likely never be even average from deep. This immediately leads to defenses sagging off the perimeter and crowding the paint, which makes driving harder and pisses Pau Gasol off (definitely leaving town this summer).

Wade Baldwin is an intriguing player who could go from around here to the 2nd round in this draft, but I’m betting he goes closer to this range, due to the ever-importance of good shooting (he shot 40% from 3 for Vanderbilt this past season) and the fact that he has a 6’11” wingspan even though he’s only 6’4″. By this revelation, he may actually be a condor simply masquerading as a human being, but further investigating is needed.

Best case: a bigger David Wesley

Worst case: Willie Warren

Alternatives: Damian Jones, the other top Vanderbilt prospect, will likely be the pick if the Bulls decide to go for a center to replace the departing Joakim Noah (probably) and Gasol (again, definitely). This would make sense in the context of the Fred Hoiberg era, which is supposedly trying to pivot toward a more up-tempo system. Jones is a very good athlete who runs the floor well. I think adding a good shooter like Baldwin who seemed to know his role and contribute in multiple ways is slightly more of a priority for Chicago here.

 

References: NBAdraft.net, ESPN.com, and DraftExpress.com, as well as YouTube compilation videos and the television.

 

An Ode to the Philadelphia Sports Fan: “We Are Not All Bad”

By: Joe Gallagher

Joe: Don't associate the horrible actions of a few with all of Philadelphia

I realize that I am writing my third post in four days. You might be sitting there thinking, “Come on, Joe, you’re not Vin Deisel or something[1]. People don’t want to read your every thought.”

But, as a proud Philadelphian, I must speak up today. (And I apologize for advance for the lack of humor in this one. It’s not my style, but the gravity of the situation demands a more serious tone.)

This morning Fox News showed video of three Flyers fans beating up two Rangers fans outside of our beloved Geno’s, a cheesesteak hotspot, after Monday’s Winter Classic hockey game.

This post is not trying to defend the actions of those three morons. The actions of those three are inexcusable, stupid, horrific, despicable, and inhumane. No, this post, is simply me defending my city.

We are Philadelphia sports fans.

We are not that idiot that threw up on a little girl at a baseball game. (I’ve been telling people that that idiot was from New Jersey for a solid year anyway!)

We are the fans that come 46,000 strong and wave white towels to support our white knights: our Philadelphia Phillies.

We are not the town that threw batteries at JD Drew. (That was a couple drunks in the 700 level of the Vet.)

We are the town that was named by Travel and Leisure Magazine “The Most Cultured in America” (#1 Sports Crazed, by the way.)

We are not the town that cheered Michael Irvin’s career ending injury[2].

We are the town that cheered the efforts of our service men and women during a nationally televised game against the New York Mets last year.

We are not the place that boos its athletes because we want to kick them while they’re down.

We are the town that boos its athletes because we want them to be the best that they can be[3].

And when they do play better they have our unending support. Ask Mike Schmidt. He was booed mercilessly early in his career. He worked hard, gave it his all, and became the best third baseman of all time. Now? The guy can’t go around the city without someone telling him how great he is.

We pay our hard earned money to go to games, so doesn’t it make sense that we just ask our players to give 100%?

Cliff Lee gives us what we want. He works hard. How do we reward him? With standing ovations after he hits fly balls to the warning track.[4]

For years after Eric Lindros’s messy divorce from the Flyers, we were not too

We love Cliff...

keen on having the guy around town. But, after he retired, we stepped back, remembered him for the good, and said, “Eric Lindros gave us his best. For two or three years he was undisputedly the best hockey player in the world. We respect him for that, and we want to let him know that.” What did Lindros receive at the Flyers alumni hockey game this past Saturday? The loudest and longest ovation of any player there. That list included such beloved legends as Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke.

That didn’t matter. It was Lindros that earned it.

People from other cities don’t quite understand us. They might think that we’re the awful people who throw snowballs at Santa Claus and would boo Mother Theresa if we got the chance. That’s the Philadelphia that the media says we are.

That’s not us.

We just care. A lot.

The average person around town uses sports to take what has been a crappy day and make it better. Sports are our entertainment. It’s our way to escape. And like a movie, we want our good guys to succeed in the end.

Unfortunately, often, they do not.

Understand: from 1983-2008 we saw no major sports championships. Fans of the MLB’s Chicago Cubs have been tortured with 103 consecutive years without a World Series title.

For 25 years (and when you consider the four major sports teams that we have, that equals 100 straight seasons) we went without seeing our good guys have a happy ending.

Chicago fans had Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

We had Michael McMahon[5] and the ’05 Iggles.

More tortured? I’ll take Philly over Chicago.

Okay sure, we had some good moments in those 25 years. We had the ‘01 Sixers, who took the city by storm and made us fall in love. We had Iverson and Mutombo, McNabb and Dawkins, Lindros and LeClair, Thome and Abreu, etc.

But we did not have that happy ending.

Then, in 2008, we had that happy ending. Chase, Ryan, Jimmy, Shane, Pat, and Cole delivered.

But all that torture made us hungrier. We tasted success and wanted more.

...and we love Rocky

We brought Cliff to town. We fell just short.

We hired the service of the first Roy, supposedly a half man/half cyborg as my buddy Mark likes to say. Then a second Roy – this one a fire-balling southerner.

Still yet, we finished short.

Our Iggles went on a spending spree transforming them from a playoff bound to “dream” team.

They finished 8-8; we lost our patience to wait.

Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Just how great of a sports town can Philadelphia be if they only appreciate their guys when they win?”

But that’s not how it is. In Philly we are proud of little things our athletes do. Take for instance in 2007, when the groundscrew in Colorado could not get the tarp down in an awful storm. Well, our guys ran out onto the field and helped the groundscrew lay that tarp down. Imagine, million dollar athletes going out in the cold and rain and helping the average guy. That’s who we like to look up to.

Maybe you remember former Sixers coach and point guard Mo Cheeks helping to guide the little girl who couldn’t remember the words to the National Anthem. That’s who we look up.

We love Reggie White for both his football talents and his gentle, good nature.

We loved Rocky even before he beat Apollo! Why? Because he tried, dammit.

These are the guys we look up to.

One day, at an Eagles game in the future, we will show just how much we love and respect Donovan McNabb. We will shower him with the special roar reserved for our finest. He will hear what Lindros heard on Saturday.

Now that doesn’t sound like such a bad place, does it?

Please, if you get anything out of this post, I implore that it is this:

We are not all bad.

We are not that moron who boos cancer treatment ads, or beats up another city’s fan, or pukes on a little girl, or throws batteries at JD Drew.

We are not the drunk, stocky, middle-aged guy throwing curse words around like Ron Jaworski’s spirals.

We are a collection of people who find something that they can agree about in a world that can agree about so little.

We are Philadelphia sports fans.


[1] When Vin Deisel talks, you listen!!!!

[2] I know of plenty of people who were there who’ve told me that they were cheering that he was moving. Were there a few jerks cheering the injury? I don’t know, maybe. But the majority of people at the stadium that day were not. So there.

[3] Kind of like a parent that is strict because they want their kids to be better. Yeah, that’s how it is.

[4] That actually happened. I was at a Phillies game in August against the Mets. The Phils are laying into them and Lee hits one deep, but the Mets leftfielder (can’t think who it was that day) catches it at the wall. After the initial “awwww” from the crowd, the whole place stands and cheers Lee as he jogs back to the dugout. It was awesome. Top 10 Phillies moment I’ve seen just for the sheer adoration that was palpable in the air.

[5] The 2005 regular season fell apart…fast. First the TO thing. Then McNabb went out for the year. Suddenly Mike McMahon was the starting quarterback. He stunk. Seriously, every week my brother, my dad, and I would tune in not to watch the Eagles, but to see what McMahon would do next! I have to say, it was a show.

The Anti-Pujols

Taking a Discount

By: Joe Gallagher

When Albert Pujols signed with the Angels it was just another instance of an athlete trading his status as a classic, hometown legend for some extra cash. Yawn. Let’s watch reruns of Arrested Development instead. Seriously, how did that show get taken off the air? It is much better than half the crap that the networks churn out these days and it’s offered on Hulu for FREE! (No, I do not get paid to advertise for Hulu, but I should.)

Honestly though Albert, what does 210 million look like compared to 250? I wouldn’t know, but I’m sure he could have lived without the extra 40 million that the Cardinals refused to offer.

Okay, maybe I’m being hard on the guy. Who wouldn’t take the higher offer? Obviously the Angels respected him more, and valued him higher than the Cardinals, right? The Cards wanted to rope Pujols into staying home with puppy dog eyes and a milk bone biscuit. Well, the Angels offered snausages. And as my Jack Russell terrier Cosmo knows: when given the choice, always pick snausages. They’re more expensive and, as a result, make you feel more important.

Snausages: The More Distinguished Choice

Or maybe it’s just that the Cardinals underestimated the stupidity of the Angels, or any other team for that matter. Who in their right mind is going to want to be spending 25 million or so on a 38-year-old slugger not in the steroid era? That’s like devoting a huge portion of your payroll to the last five years of Shaq’s career. Sure, maybe he will put some people in the seats, generate some buzz, and do a few things that make you say, “Man, he was the most dominating player in the league in his prime.” But let’s be clear: that’s NOT what you want from the biggest portion of your payroll. You want a guy who makes you say, “Wow, he IS so good, and I hope people appreciate this guy, because he IS in his prime.” Well that’s not what the Angels signed up for. It’d understandable if the Cardinals overpaid him. They kind of needed to. The fans wouldn’t stand it. Unfortunately for them, the Angels decided they needed him more; so they ridiculously overpaid for one to three Albert Pujols type seasons before he ages, breaks down, and inevitably goes under.

Before this turns into a rant about old news, let me get to the point. With the new hot stove developments this week, Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins just became the Anti-Pujols. Quick side note: does anyone know why they call it the hot stove? I have no idea, but the image of a maniacal Scott Boras roasting general managers over a large flame with the evil empire song playing in the background keeps playing in my head.

Anyway, J-Roll at 5’8, 175 was probably already the opposite of the hulking Pujols. They have very few things in common. For one, they both have won MVP. Each win was under very different circumstances though. Jimmy Rollins’s MVP is questionable and really only a result of him backing up his famed “team to beat” claim with his play on the field. Pujols, on the other hand, deserves the honor almost every year and is probably this generation’s best player. J-Roll and Pujols both handle a pretty excellent glove; only Rollins operates at the premium position of shortstop as opposed to Pujols’s first base. I mean come on, Jason Alexander could play first base.

Think George could have played First Base in the Majors? Apparently Joe Does.

Differences aside, as recently as last year, people in their respected cities would have been willing to take a bullet for these guys.

But that’s no longer the case for Albert. People in St. Louis are pretty upset that he’s not coming back. They don’t know who to be mad at – Albert himself, his agent, or the Cardinals — but you can be sure of this: they’re mad.

It’s a really odd situation they have out in St. Louis. How often is a championship team’s biggest off-season story NOT that they won the championship? Usually a championship winning team is able to lay low, avoid big moves, and market the heck out of the fact that their season ended with a parade. Not in St. Louis. People are in revolt.

Well, Jimmy Rollins apparently could have taken the Pujols route and signed with the Milwaukee Brewers for more money and more years. He didn’t. As a result, he cemented that he will forever be bullet-taking worthy here in Philadelphia.

In all likelihood, Pujols will eventually be forgiven in St. Louis. He’ll probably get his statue outside of Busch Stadium. The same goes for Jimmy Rollins had he signed elsewhere. These guys meant too much to their teams for the fans not recognize that. At the same time, Jimmy Rollins’s status as a Philadelphia legend means so much more now that he signed up for an additional 3 or 4 years. Rollins now will most likely break franchise records for hits and at bats held by Mike Schmidt.

Schmidt, to many fans, is the Phillie. General consensus holds Schmidt as the greatest third baseman, not only in Phillies history, but also in baseball history.  For Rollins to break his records means a lot to Phillies fans. This era of Phillies baseball has replaced the Schmidt era as the Golden Age and Rollins has been at the forefront of this movement.

For Rollins to take less money, he was basically saying, “Screw it. I can live with a little less money. What I can’t live with is the knowledge that I could have made myself a hometown legend. Not a legend in today’s terms. Today, people sign and switch cities so much that no one knows who to associate them with other than themselves. No, I want to be associated with the Phillies and I want people to associate the Phillies with me. By signing this deal I could make myself a true legend like Ted Williams, Mike Schmidt, or Derek Jeter. These guys never switched teams, and they were/are forever showered with love because of it. I want to be a guy who Philadelphians look back on and say ‘I saw him play his first game, his last game, and every game in between, and it was all for my team.’” THAT’s what Jimmy Rollins got.

And, as Albert Pujols will find out when he first digs in as a visitor in St. Louis and hears a spattering of boos, you can’t put a price on that.

Oh hey, didn’t see you there…

Welcome to Sports Spangled Banter! Here at SSB we have the writers that the Sports World needs, but doesn’t deserve! We are very interested in bringing you a site dedicated to sports with honest opinion and informative discussion. Combining wit and a unique and off beat style of analysis, we hope to bring you a fresh perspective on all things sports (with a little twinge of pop culture in there as well).

Be sure to keep us humble though and speak up when you disagree and feel that your voice needs to be heard. We aim to remain as free to opinion as possible, while still maintaining respect for all.

We are a group of college students who share the common bond of a strong love of sports and the desire to debate about it. We have decided that it was more constructive to create a blog to express our differing opinions rather than rolling up our sleeves and drawing blood. You will quickly find out that we come from different areas and we have strong allegiances that often conflict.

And so our journey begins…quack. quack. quack. QUACK. QUACK. QUACK.

The crew that will be breaking down all things sports