Blog

NHL Season Preview

The time of the year where the air gets cool and crisp, means it’s time for the NHL to start up again. Unless you live in the northern part of the US where it’s been 80s and 90s over the past few weeks. However, with the nice weather, it’s hard to believe that the three and a half months have already passed since the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second consecutive year becoming the first team to repeat since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings.

Below you will find a primer to each division along with predictions for all of the major awards and playoffs.

Atlantic Division

This is a division that seems to be undergoing a changing of the guard over the next couple of years. The Toronto Maple Leafs shocked everybody last year by coming out of nowhere, led by the first pick of the 2016 draft, Auston Matthews, to grab the last playoff berth in the Eastern Conference and challenge Washington before losing in 6 games in the Metropolitan Divisional Semifinal. With another year, Toronto looks to build with their promising young core led by Mathews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.

However, reigning divisional champs, Montreal will have something to say about that as they have the best goaltender to never win anything in Carey Price leading them again along with Shea Weber quarterbacking the power play.

Meanwhile, Ottawa will try to build off of their surprising run to the Eastern Conference Final, but can they survive the loss of Marc Methot? And will Craig Anderson be able to avoid a slump after his phenomenal year?

Tampa Bay looks to be finally healthy with Steven Stamkos returning from injury. If he’s healthy watch out, as Tampa will be contending for the divisional crown assuming that they get good goaltending play from Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Boston could struggle if they don’t get more secondary scoring to support Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, they will need a huge year from Tuukka Rask.

An interesting team to watch is Florida, they have proven that if they can stay healthy they have the talent to make the playoffs. If Aaron Ekblad has a strong year they will be in the mix for sure.

A big question for Buffalo is can Jack Eichel stay healthy and elevate his team? If he can stay healthy he should have a monster season but do they have enough around him?

Sadly the Detroit Red Wings will remain in their rebuild after 25 years of excellence; however, the future is bright for them as they have exciting pieces in Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou.

Metropolitan Division

As is always the case with this division, the two biggest intriguing storylines will revolve around the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. The biggest storyline in the NHL is can Pittsburgh three peat for the first time since the 1980s New York Islanders? The answer to that will revolve around the healthy of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Murray.

For the Capitals after losing yet again in a Game 7, this time to Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Divisional Final, will they be able to get over the hump after losing several key defensive pieces in Kevin Shattenkirk and Matt Nikisen? This is not as deep of a team anymore and Alex Ovechkin will need to raise his game to another level to get Washington over the hump.

The New York Rangers bolstered their blue line corps with the addition of hometown boy Shattenkirk, but they lost a lot on offense with the departure of Derek Stepan and do they have enough scoring to get by?

Meanwhile, Columbus continues to add more talent as they got more dangerous offensively with the addition of Artemi Panarin who will have a chance to prove he can be the guy as he plays without Patrick Kane. They’re a nasty, physical young team that hopes with more offense they can take another step forward.

Meanwhile the New York Islanders hope to retain John Tavares and the addition of Jordan Eberle certainly doesn’t hurt but the Islanders didn’t get substantially better in the offseason.

The New Jersey Devils added first overall pick Nico Hirschier but he alone will not fix what is wrong with New Jersey which continues to waste the prime of Corey Schneider’s career.

Philadelphia has Nolan Patrick in the fold now; however, much like New Jersey they haven’t been able to fix their goaltending woes either which prevent them from challenging for a playoff berth.

Finally, Carolina is an intriguing team as they try to become Chicago East with the additions of Marcus Kruger, Trevor Van Riemsdyk and Scott Darling. These additions along with a young core led by Jeff Skinner, Justin Faulk and Sebastian Aho have the potential to surprise some people.

Central Division

In a division where it seems that it’s never good to be the division winner, that history continued last season. The Dallas Stars who won the division in the 2015-2016 season, didn’t make the playoffs as they were ravaged by injuries. Additions of Ken Hitchcock, Ben Bishop and Marc Methot should make this team more defensively focused and tougher to play.

Chicago surprised everybody by getting swept by Nashville in the Central Divisional semifinal after gaining the number one seed in the Western Conference. A mini retooling of the roster brought Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp back to help Jonathan Toews and Kane which should help the Blackhawks with scoring depth.

The Nashville Predators were the trendy pick at the start of the season but struggled to adapt with the addition of PK Subban but from midseason on they were humming along. Nashville had an amazing run that ended in the Stanley Cup Final.

Minnesota surprised everybody last year with a strong regular season. But again the struggles of Bruce Boudreau teams in the playoffs happened as they lost in the Central Divisional Semifinal. If Eric Staal can have another big year, Minnesota should be right there at the end of the season.

Mike Yeo got his revenge as he took over the St. Louis Blues in the middle of the season to lead them to the playoffs and upset his old team Minnesota. Injuries are a huge concern on the blue line already and they will only go as far as Jake Allen takes them.

Offense isn’t the problem in Winnipeg. They are absolutely loaded with offensive talent. Mark Schiefle and Patrick Laine lead the way and had monster years last season. But can the defense and Steve Mason in goal do enough to get Winnipeg back to the playoffs?

And in Colorado they continue to be a dumpster fire that seems to be directionless. They still haven’t traded Matt Duchene and seemed destined to be the worst team in the league again this season as they struggle on defense and putting the puck in the net.

Pacific Division

The other big story in Canada last year was the ascension of Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers who burst onto the scene and made the playoffs while McDavid took home the Hart and Art Ross Trophies. However, Edmonton isn’t just McDavid, they have Leon Draisiatl and Cam Talbot as part of a dangerous young core. Talbot was superb in the playoffs after playing 74 games in the regular season.

But before that they will have to go through the bully of the Pacific in the bruising Anaheim Ducks. Ryan Getzlaf had a great second half of the year and then teamed up with Ryan Kesler to shut down McDavid and company in a classic 7 game Pacific Divisional Final. Anaheim is loaded on the blue line and seem poised to make another huge playoff run.

It’s rare to see in this day and age that a team doesn’t make any moves in the offseason to bring back the same team but that’s what the San Jose Sharks did. But San Jose is still talented with Brett Burns bringing a ton of offense from the blue line and Martin Jones in net; however, this feels like the last run with this aging core of players who only lost Patrick Marleau in the offseason. .

The Calgary Flames added several veterans to help the young kids along the way. The additions of Mike Smith and Jaromir Jagr bring veteran leadership to a team looking to recover from a shellacking in the first round of the playoffs. If Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan continue to grow, Calgary will be good for a long time.

Meanwhile the other team in western Canada, the Vancouver Canucks, seems to never want to pick a direction. The Sedin twins are past their prime but the additions of Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto appear to be win now moves when Vancouver should be looking to the future.

Another team that seems to be in between is the Los Angeles Kings who got rid of Darryl Sutter as their coach. But this a team that seems to be slower and not adapting to a faster NHL. If they are to get back to their glory days, they will need Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty rebound and be excellent along with good health for Jonathan Quick.

One team that is going to be at the bottom but actually does have a direction is the Arizona Coyotes who are in a youth movement. There are the pieces for the future with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair leading the way and the addition of Niklas Hjalmarsson will bring veteran leadership to a young locker room.

Finally, the Vegas Golden Knights enter the league with a mish mash of parts. But they have talent in goal with three time Cup winner, Marc Andre Fleury and the presence of him should keep Vegas in a lot of games. With Fleury, Nate Schmidt, James Neal and others, will that be enough to keep them out of the basement?

Predictions

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs-They are loaded with Matthews and company and the addition of Marleau brings veteran leadership and scoring to make them even more dangerous and win their first division title.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning-One of these years they have to be healthy right? With Hedman and Nikita Kucherov leading the way, this is a team that no longer relies on just Stamkos to thrive.
  3. Montreal Canadiens- Can Jonathan Drouin elevate his game in Montral with top line minutes? If Price goes down, they are in trouble but his play in net will allow Montreal to secure a guaranteed playoff berth
  4. Florida Panthers-The Panthers are a team that was ravaged by injuries last season. Luongo has played well and they will get bounce back performances from Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau to sneak in as a wild card team.
  5. Buffalo Sabres-It will be a positive step forward for Buffalo as Eichel shows he is a star in the making. The goaltending of Robin Lehner will prevent them from making the playoffs
  6. Boston Bruins-A team in transition, they need Rask to be sensational to get into the playoffs. However, without a true superstar among the forwards or defense, Rask won’t be enough for them to get in the playoffs.
  7. Ottawa Senators-The darlings of last season fall to earth as the loss of Methot will hurt the team defensively along with the anticipated regression of Craig Anderson.
  8. Detroit Red Wings-The glory days are over and the long rebuild begins for Detroit but the promise is there with Larkin, Athanansiou and Anthony Mantha, a last place finish is assured.

Metropolitan Division 

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins-The Stanley Cup champs are the class of their division and with Crosby, Malkin and Letang leading the way, they should barely win their division.
  2. Columbus Blue Jackets-John Tortorella has changed the culture of this team and the addition of Panarin bring more offense to a defensive team that has stellar goaltending in Bobrovsky.
  3. Washington Capitals-They won’t win the division while they retool. Holtby will need to be great in net with new pieces on the blue line in front of him but again the playoffs will be key for them.
  4. Carolina Hurricanes-Loaded with young talent such as Jaccob Slavin, Faulk, Hanifin, they have the potential to surprise. Having Justin Williams back as a veteran forward will give Carolina the boost they need to return to the postseason.
  5. New York Rangers-Lundqvist is still there and they have a good blue line that will provide points. However, the lack of elite offensive talent will cost them this year as they barely miss out on the playoffs.
  6. New York Islanders-Eberle will be a great running mate for Tavares; however, they struggle in goal and with secondary scoring and defense. They will be in the running for a spot but fall short.
  7. Philadelphia Flyers-They’re in the middle between being competitive and rebuilding. Nolan Patrick should be fun to watch as swell as their blue line but they don’t have enough pieces.
  8. New Jersey Devils-Schneider keeps them in games and it should be fun to watch Hischier but they are another team that doesn’t have enough on the blue line to win consistently.

Western Conference

Central Division

  1. Nashville Predators-Ryan Johansen is healthy and Pekka Rinne is still in net. They should be more consistent after their incredible run next year and win a tough division with the best blue line in the West.
  2. Dallas Stars-Hitchcock’s system will bring discipline to a great offensive team. That along with no debate about the number one goalie with Bishop in tow will have Dallas back in the playoffs.
  3. Chicago Blackhawks-Did the retooling help? Saad back with Toews should make the line dangerous and Nick Schmaltz should have a break out year with Kane. The key will be the blue line where there are unknowns after Keith and Seabrook.
  4. Minnesota Wild-Minnesota thrived under Boudreau last season and they should make the playoffs again. Parise should stay healthy and help Minnesota which returns every contributor snag a wild card spot.
  5. St. Louis Blues-After Yeo took over, they were spectacular. Getting Brayden Schenn to play on the first line gives them some serious offensive power. Expect Allen to regress but do just enough to get the second wild card spot.
  6. Winnipeg Jets-They will be able to outscore teams with their tremendous offensive talent. But the lack of an upgrade in net will cost them a playoff berth as they’ll be just on the outside looking in.
  7. Colorado Avalanche-They don’t have enough defense and not enough offense. Nathan McKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog have regressed and that’s not good for them as they stare at another last place finish.

Pacific Division

  1. Edmonton Oilers-McDavid leads the way again as they take another step forward while Talbot will show that he is the ironman in goal. They will lead the league in goals and get home ice which will be crucial early.
  2. Anaheim Ducks-The bully of the Pacific, they will jell later in the season and make a late run. Getzlaf and a resurgent Perry will lead the way for Anaheim as they look to make their 3rd conference final in 4 years.
  3. Calgary Flames-They have a lot of great young talent and that will continue to mature as Jagr shows them how to handle increased expectations. Mike Smith is an upgrade in goal and will solidify their weakest position as they make the playoffs.
  4. San Jose Sharks-They will fight for a playoff spot to the bitter end but another year for a core that didn’t add anything will cost them. But don’t be surprised if they wind up in the playoffs as their experience counts for something.
  5. Arizona Coyotes-Arizona will take another step forward and continue to improve and play meaningful games late. Hjalmarsson and Derek Stepan show that they’re serous about winning and will help a young core grow.
  6. Los Angeles Kings-Another team that is long in the tooth, they need Kopitar and Brown to bounce back in order to make the playoffs. Their lack of depth will cost them a playoff spot in a tough division.
  7. Vegas Golden Knights-The expansion team won’t finish last thanks to the performance of Fleury. A young team that will get better as the year goes along and show the potential to make the playoffs in the next few years.
  8. Vancouver Canucks-The real question will be if they’re out of it by the middle of December if the Sedins get traded to chase that elusive Stanley Cup. There’s not enough talent for them to compete with everybody else.

Playoffs

Eastern Conference

Divisional Semifinals

Atlantic

1.) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. W1.) Carolina Hurricanes-Toronto in 6

2.) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3.) Montreal Canadiens-Tampa Bay in 5

Metropolitan

1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. W2.) Florida Panthers-Pittsburgh in 5

2.) Columbus Blue Jackets vs. 3.) Washington Capitals-Columbus in 7

Divisional Final

Atlantic

1.) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. 2.) Tampa Bay Lightning-Tampa Bay in 6

Metropolitan

1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 2.) Columbus Blue Jackets-Pittsburgh in 7

Conference Final

1.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 2.) Tampa Bay Lightning-Tampa Bay in 7

Tampa Bay is a team that has been bit by the injury bug the past two seasons but they’ll be healthy this year entering the postseason and will beat a tough Toronto team and also Columbus will put Pittsburgh through a physical series the round before that they won’t be able to recover from. Vasilevskiy will outduel Murray in an incredible series that will see the impact that new addition Chris Kunitz has on both his new team and old team.

Western Conference

Divisional Semifinals

Central

1.) Nashville Predators vs. W1.) Minnesota Wild-Nashville in 6

2.) Dallas Stars vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 6

Pacific

1.) Edmonton Oilers vs. W2.) St. Louis Blues-Edmonton in 5

2.) Anaheim Ducks vs. 3.) Calgary Flames-Anaheim in 7

Divisional Final

Central

1.) Nashville Predators vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 7

Pacific

1.) Edmonton Oilers vs. 2.) Anaheim Ducks-Edmonton in 7

Conference Final

1.) Edmonton Oilers vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 6

The Chicago team that you see to start the season will not be the same team at the end of the season as they’ll use the cap space available from the departure of Marian Hossa. Edmonton will get their revenge against Anaheim in another memorable series. Chicago with improved depth will get their revenge on Nashville as they’ll have the speed to skate with them this year. Edmonton is still a year away and will learn another important lesson on their journey to the Cup when Toews and company prevail over them.

Stanley Cup Final

2.) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 3.) Chicago Blackhawks-Chicago in 7

Never discount what an angry Toews can do. He’s been embarrassed before when the Blackhawks lost in the first round in 2011 and 2012. However. the sweep last year against Nashville embarrassed him again. To add insult to injury Crosby won his third cup and completed something that Toews wasn’t able to by repeating as Stanley Cup Champion. Toews and company want to prove that they should be mentioned among the elite franchises of all time and the last time they were eliminated in the first round twice? They won the Cup the next year. With the radar not on them and a deeper supporting cast, they will sneak up on everybody and win on the road in a Game 7 to win their fourth cup in nine seasons.

Awards

Hart: Sidney Crosby

Art Ross: Connor McDavid

Rocket Richard: Patrick Laine

Norris: P.K. Subban

Vezina: Matt Murray

Calder: Nico Hischier

Jack Adams: Bill Peters

 

 

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Bears’ #1 Receiver Likely Out for Season

Chicago looked sharp Sunday as they went on to beat Tennessee 19-7 to complete week three of the preseason, but unfortunately the victory did not come without an expense.  Cameron Meredith, who was just coming off a breakout year last season, most likely suffered a torn ACL during the second quarter of yesterday’s game.  Meredith, a 6’3″ 207 lb. wideout, was very successful under an offense run by Jay Cutler, making 66 receptions for 888 yards and 4 touchdowns.  This 24-year-old has a very bright future with this Chicago Bears franchise, but with a severe injury like this, one can’t help but wonder how effective he will be when–or if–he returns.

Cameron Meredith, though his stint in the game was brief, performed very well, catching 2 passes for 44 yards and moving the chains on both receptions.  No doubt this will be a blow to an already revamped Chicago offense, but the question is how much of an impact will this injury really have to a new wide receiver squad.

Don’t forget, the Bears have three completely new quarterbacks:  Mike Glennon, a 6’6″ pocket presence from Tampa Bay who tends to target his big tight ends; Mark Sanchez, an 8 year veteran looking not only to right his wrongs from the past but also fit the void of a leader, which this team needs so badly; and Mitchell Trubisky, the #2 overall pick from this year’s NFL draft, known for his effective rollout tendencies and at the same time tremendous composure in the pocket.  As you can see, this is a complete change from the Cutler-Hoyer-Barkley combo they had last year, and naturally, these quarterbacks now have to adjust to the Bears’ ever-evolving offensive playbook.

My point is this is a new and improved quarterback squad, who have each been in a unique and interesting predicament in the past.  This injury is not particularly new to them; rather, they will simply learn to move on and find a different weapon throughout the season.  So, now that Cameron Meredith is gone, who are the Bears’ main weapons?

1.  Kevin White

Now I understand that Kevin has had a string of injuries in the past that has prevented him from playing in his first two years as a professional, but the stage has pretty much been set for him.  White has the talent to be a big time receiver, has the right players alongside him, and has learned quite a bit about the game’s pace from the sideline.  But now is the moment we see his true colors and what he can truly do on the field.  And if it’s anything like his heyday back at West Virginia, we are in for a treat.

2.  Markus Wheaton

Markus has not played a whole lot during training camp nor the preseason after fracturing his left pinkie and, in addition, recuperating from an appendectomy.  But like Brandon Marshall, Santonio Holmes, and most recently Victor Cruz, Markus has played alongside an elite quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger; he’s had playoff experience, he knows how to win, and most importantly, he knows how to keep himself composed.  Yes this is a new environment, but I don’t see this to be as big of an adjustment as expected.

3.  Victor Cruz

Cruz, a former New York Giant, was acquired from the Bears shortly after the Draft.  Though he himself has battled injuries in the past as well, he provides the leadership role to this young receiving squad.  Yes, he’s not as quick as he was, say, five years ago, but he knows exactly where to be at the right time and is not afraid to perform in the clutch.  Cruz is expected to play from the slot this year, something he is not quite used to, but in the long run will be beneficial to everybody.

4.  Kendall Wright

This is the receiver I am most excited to see play this season.  We saw Sunday him catch key third down passes from Mike Glennon, and it seems like these two have started to click together.  Take note that the Titans team they face the other day just missed the playoffs by a game last season, and they have only gotten better since.  A performance like that of Kendall Wright is very promising to see, and hopefully he can be the guy to look to on third downs, just as Golden Tate is for the Detroit Lions.

5.  Tanner Gentry

Gentry is by far the biggest surprise out of the gate for the 2017 season.  An undrafted 6’2″ receiver from the University of Wyoming, there have been many doubts in regards to whether or not he would make it past the cuts.  Well Tanner has buried all those doubts. He has exceeded all expectations in practice and put nothing but 100% effort into his craft.  It all reached a peak Sunday when he beat his man, streaked 45 yards downfield, and caught a perfectly thrown ball from Mitchell Trubisky over his shoulder.  He may not see a whole lot of playing time this season, but come next season, provided he keeps improving, he will be yet another dangerous weapon.

Giancarlo Stanton’s Pursuit to 62

The home run has always played a pivotal part in the game of baseball; there is no greater feat of strength or power than connecting that ball on the “sweet spot” of the bat and watching it go over 400 feet.  And each and every year, many if not all baseball fans are captivated by the year’s home run chase.  This year, one man has set the standard for all home run hitters so far:  Giancarlo Stanton.

Stanton hit his 50th home run of the year Sunday, becoming the first person to do so since Chris Davis in 2013 and the fastest to 50 since Barry Bonds in 2001.  The dinger came in the bottom of the eighth off Clayton Richard to give the Marlins a 4-2 lead.  Miami would go on to win 6-2.

Giancarlo, for all his career, has pushed the home run ball beyond what we thought possible.  With several 450 foot home runs, even some pushing 500, this 6’6″ right fielder has sprayed baseballs all around Miami Stadium, hitting some onto the concourse, some off the back glass, even breaking panels on the scoreboard.  He has appeared in multiple home run derbies, including this year’s, and had come out on top in 2015.  We have not seen a baseball travel that far that fast off a baseball bat since Mark McGwire, and Stanton continues to do it with style.

They say that your swing is often different when going into the Home Run Derby, and it can be tough adjusting back to regular season games the second half of the season.  This man has proved us wrong.  Ever since the All Star Break, Giancarlo has been tattooing baseballs at an unbelievable pace.  To give you a bit of perspective, New York Yankees star Aaron Judge was leading the race, belting 30 before the break; Stanton hit 27.  Since then, he’s hit 23, including 17 in August and 9 in the last 9 games, while the next 3 contenders have hit 29 home runs combined.

Now sitting at 50 home runs for the season, the question lingers:  what is Giancarlo Stanton going to shoot for this season?  Will he go for the record of 73, set by Bonds in 2001?  His answer has surprised some reporters, but to many baseball fans like myself, it makes sense.  In a statement, courtesy of MLB.com, Stanton has said “When you grow up watching all the old films of Babe Ruth and [Maris] and those guys, 61 has always been that printed number”.

Let me explain.  Going back to 1961, a 27 year old New York Yankee named Roger Maris was on the brink of reaching the 60 home run milestone, a feat that only the great Babe Ruth had achieved in 1927.  Maris, so it was said, was so nervous and overwhelmed with the pressure put on him to break this record that he actually began to lose his hair midway through the season.  With the tension mounting as the season reached the end, Maris crushed one over the right field fence on the very last game of the season to surpass the Babe.  61, the first player ever to do so.

maris_01

Then there was 1998, the year of the long ball.  The infamous home run chase in 1998, featuring Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., captivated the entire country; never before had three men display this much brute strength in a single season.  Griffey finished with 56, but stuck with Sosa and McGwire for most of the year.  Sammy Sosa finished with 66, bringing all of Chicago on their feet.  But Mark outlasted all of them as he not only surpassed Roger Maris’ 61 homers, but was the first to reach 70 home runs, something that beforehand seemed incomprehensible.  The record wouldn’t stand long, however, as Barry Bonds would later top the record by hitting 73 in a ballpark that favors left-handed hitters.  It almost seemed too good to be true for fans everywhere.  Unfortunately, it was. In 2007 going into 2008, the MLB began a 20 month investigation towards players using human growth hormones (HGH) and other performance enhancing drugs across the league.  In total, 62 players were investigated and found guilty upon use of PEDs, including Sosa, McGwire, and Bonds.

sosa_mcgwire471

Technically, the record of 73 home runs in a year still stands, but many fans can’t help but think how much of that miraculous year was impacted from HGH.  Which is why to many, 61 home runs still remains the main milestone to reach.  Stanton, I believe, is well aware of the circumstances that surround this record and the pressure that ensues.  He takes the game with tremendous respect and wants to leave it as such; that’s just the type of man he is.

At this point, it is definitely possible that Giancarlo Stanton can reach that milestone:  provided he stays on this pace, he is actually projected to hit 63 at the year’s end.  And I can’t imagine a player that is more deserving of this number than this man here.

 

 

Looking at NBA Expansion possibilities

Minds were intrigued over the past weekend when Adam Silver said that while expansion is not imminent it is inevitable. So could it be within the next five years that the NBA expands to 32 teams? With that thought in mind, let’s look at some of the possibilities and how an 82 game season would work with 32 teams.

It’s no secret that the balance of the NBA has been out of whack over the past decade with the West being the powerhouse conference while the East is the sisters of the poor. This is more evident when looking over the past seven years during the superteam era.

One way to balance out the leagues could be to put two expansion teams in the Western Conference which would balance things out a little more while two teams are trying to grow and become competitive.

The other reason that the NBA will expand? It’ll bring more money into the league. If the NHL could get $500 million from Bill Foley and the Vegas Golden Knights then why couldn’t the NBA get a similar fee if not more as they have a much better television deal.

Now for some of the cities that could be in the mix for a team.

The first city that has to come to mind is Seattle. It’s been a long decade since Kevin Durant was playing games for Seattle before they moved to Oklahoma City. With Clay Hansen and company looking to bring the NBA back to Seattle they would be the prime candidate.

Another city that is going to be a prime candidate is Las Vegas. The NBA will wait to see how the NHL performs in the market first before expressing any interest but if the Vegas experiment works, you can bet the NBA will be calling.

There’s several other interesting candidates including Mexico City. The NBA has put on several regular season games with great success in Mexico City which can open up other revenue streams and a new and exciting market.

With the Chargers out of town, San Diego could be looking for a new pro league team to fill winter days when the Padres aren’t playing. Or perhaps, St. Louis or Kansas City could be other candidates.

Now what would a league look like? Well the NBA has two options with either an 8 division setup or a 4 division set up. The challenge is trying to make equal scheduling for each team. Seattle has been told by the NBA that they have first rights to any expansion that the NBA does. So let’s assume that the NBA becomes intrigued by the success that Vegas shows as an NBA market. An 4 division set up with 8 teams would look something like this:

Division Atlantic Central South Pacific
Team Name Atlanta Chicago Dallas Golden State
Boston Cleveland Denver Las Vegas
Brooklyn Detroit Houston Los Angeles Clippers
Charlotte Indiana Memphis Los Angeles Lakers
Miami Milwaukee New Orleans Phoenix
Orlando Minnesota Oklahoma City Portland
New York Toronto San Antonio Sacramento
Philadelphia Washington Utah Seattle

Divisional Games: 4 games each (2 home, 2 away)-28 games

Intra divisional games within conference: 3 games each (alternate 2 games home, 2 away)-24 games

Inter conference games: 30 games (2 home, 2 away with 14 teams, 1 home with 1 and 1 away with 1, rotating through a 8 year time period where it will balance out with 15 games against each team in an 8 year period).

The first thing that you will notice is that the Minnesota comes over to the East which makes sense since they’ll be paired with teams in their geographical region and Toronto was a logical fit for the Central as well. The trickier challenge was deciding the eighth team in the Central but Washington makes the most sense as it’s at least not too far to Cleveland and Philadelphia pairs better with New York, Brooklyn and Boston.

In the West, it’s a lot smoother as with Minnesota going to the East, Oklahoma City, Utah and Denver can be in a division with the Texas teams and other Southern teams. It allows Portland to seamlessly go with the Pacific division. The only issue is scheduling and whether or not the NBA would like to go with every team playing a home and home with each team in the other conference. By rotating them, there is only year in an eight year span that there would be one game with one team in each division of the other conference.

But what if the NBA were to go to a radical 8 division, 4 team model? It actually works out better from a scheduling standpoint.

Division Atlantic Central South Coastal
Team Name Boston Chicago Dallas Golden State
Brooklyn Indiana Houston Los Angeles Clippers
New York Milwaukee Oklahoma City Los Angeles Lakers
Philadelphia Minnesota San Antonio Sacramento
Southeast North Mountain Pacific
Atlanta Cleveland Denver Las Vegas
Charlotte Detroit Memphis Phoenix
Miami Toronto New Orleans Portland
Orlando Washington Utah Seattle

Division Games: (4 games each, 2 home and 2 away)-12 games

Inter conference games: (3 games each, 2 home and 1 away for 10 teams, rotating every year; along with 2 designated rivals where you play 4 games each, 2 home and 2 away)-38 games

Cross Conference games: (2 games each, home and home with each team)-32 games

Besides some wacky names and travel issues, this has the potential to be very intriguing. The scheduling works out great with still 4 games against each team in the division and playing each team in the other conference twice. The interesting thing in order to get to 82 games is having designated rivals outside of the division which would allow for preservation of those rivalries.

For example, Chicago would have Cleveland and Detroit as their designated rivals. Or New York could have Indiana and Miami as their designated rivals. There are two ways to do this, you could match up divisions so both rivals come from that division or you could split them up between divisions.

The 8 division setup allows there to be more focus geographically. The only question is does it devalue division championships? There would be 8 automatic berths into the playoffs and then the top 4 teams that don’t win their division would advance into the playoffs.

There may not be a perfect answer to expansion in the NBA but it’s fun to look at these possibilities and see what would fit.

If you have any expansion ideas, let us know in the comments below or email MRosenberg@wrlr.fm

Colin Kaepernick deserves better

There are some things that are just head scratching to think about. And the fact that Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned is disturbing and unfathomable for teams that want to win football games.

In the past week, the Baltimore Ravens have debated whether or not to sign Kaepernick as a backup quarterback. However, they have been hemming and hawing including reaching out to fans and sponsors to see if they would be okay signing him.

Now let’s be clear, we all know this isn’t about his football ability because there are about half a dozen teams that Kaepernick could be starting for and at worst should be a backup for almost any team in the league. Kapernick threw 4 interceptions in 331 pass attempts and had a 4:1 TD/INT ratio last season.

Yet because Kaepernick has the courage to take a stand and speak up about a growing problem in America regarding social inequality, he is unfairly punished. It all started with Kaepernick and him sitting during the national anthem which started a ruckus about how he was disrespecting his country. In fact, after the initial protest, Kaepernick spoke with several retired veterans including Nate Boyer to see how he could show respect to themselves while protesting, resulting in him kneeling during the national anthem.

This is not unpatriotic or disgusting; in fact it’s far from it and the notion that people think that is completely misguided. To say it’s unpatriotic would mean that any time anybody took a stand would be unpatriotic which would mean that everybody would get punished for saying their thoughts on social media. My definition of patriotism is going to be different from your definition of patriotism and everybody else’s definition of patriotism which is a good thing. Yes we are grateful for others who have risked and sacrificed their lives for our freedom which is why it’s more important to exercise our right to freedom to speech to further discussion on issues in the United States because otherwise nothing gets solved

The unfortunate reality of this situation is that instead of growing, we are going backwards as a society in the United States. Instead of promoting discussion, our society has become inclined to go against anybody that doesn’t conform to their beliefs and fit in our neat and tidy square box of a definition of an American citizen. Conformity doesn’t promote discussion, it squashes it and allows situations to become worse.

When you look at this situation, it has become a prime example of the hateful rhetoric that goes on in this country. The country has never been more divided and those who don’t conform to the narrow minded visions of some are penalized. Nobody pays attention to the fact that Kaepernick donated suits to parolees in New York or any of his other charitable efforts.

Kaepernick didn’t commit a crime or hurt anybody. All he did was exercise his first amendment right which has been around since the founding of this country. But what Kaepernick did was wrong and he doesn’t deserve to make a living; however, Michael Vick, Ray Lewis, Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger, Riley Cooper and others who have committed crimes are forgiven and better human beings than Kaepernick? Seriously is that the backwards type of country that we live in nowadays? There is perhaps no one who has better summed up this situation than Sarah Spain yesterday during an appearance on Around the Horn on ESPN.

It’s inconceivable that someone who didn’t commit a crime is treated worse than athletes who have. This isn’t saying that they athletes who committed a crime are bad people, but somehow Kaepernick has been made out to be a villain in a situation that has no villain.

How is this different than the Black lives matter protest that NBA and NFL players did several years ago? It’s not except that it’s easier to pick and single out an individual rather than a group. Perhaps it’s because Kaepernick isn’t a “star” player so nobody cares if they ruin his career and livelihood because they won’t miss him while consuming the product that he plays in.

When it’s all said and done, Kaepernick is an NFL quarterback who is being blackballed by the NFL and society because he took a stand and one that was not unpopular. He doesn’t have a job because everyone wants to live in their ideal world and not rock the boat. And somehow he is the source of the problems in society. Sorry Ray Lewis the answer isn’t to shut up and keep your head down, that just allows the situation to stay the same.

Kaepernick deserves better from the NFL, fans, society and everybody. He took a stand and that should be applauded not vilified. Kapernick has been failed by everybody for speaking up for his beliefs. He deserves our respect and he should be held in esteem for standing up for his belief like everybody else is encouraged to. Kaepernick was extremely brave for what he did and as a whole he deserves better from everybody.

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons to be excited for Bears training camp

Last year was the worst season for the Bears in the span of their franchise history. After going 3-13 and watching three different quarterbacks start at least 5 games, there isn’t much outward evidence for optimism. But with training camp starting there are a few reasons to be excited to pay attention to the Bears.

1.) They have some new quarterbacks

It was a busy offseason for the Bears as they signed Mike Glennon to a 3 year, $45 million contract, which is essentially a one year contract as all of the guaranteed money is in the first year, seemingly signing the bridge quarterback of the future. Now it remains to see whether Mike Glennon is a legitimate NFL quarterback. For his career, Glennon has played in 21 games, throwing for 4,100 yards, 30 TD and 15 INT. Not door busting numbers, but Glennon had the job in Tampa Bay taken away from him twice. By all accounts, Glennon has looked decent during the first few days of practice.

However, the Bears weren’t done as the traded up one spot in the first round and selected Mitchell Trubisky #2 overall. Trubisky struggled in the past two days with getting snaps from center, fumbling four. However, it’s not about right now for Trubisky or the Bears, he will be on the bench to start the season and ideally if Glennon plays well and stays healthy, Trubisky won’t see game action at all this year. But for the first time in a long time, the Bears went all in on a quarterback in the first round and it’ll be intriguing to see what talent Trubisky possesses and if his one excellent season in college, 3,748 yards passing, 30 TD and 6 INT in 13 starts (only starts in college), translates to the NFL.

2.) The new draft picks

Every year it’s exciting to see the new draft picks of the Bears. But this year they drafted two intriguing talents in Adam Shaheen and Tarik Cohen. Shaheen is the big tight end that fans have been clamoring for in the past decade. He’s 6’6, 275 lbs and catches everything. The Bears did reach for Shaheen who came out of Ashland Great Lakes in the second round, but the upside is huge if he can continue to grow in the NFL. Shaheen has a great catch radius and caught 127 passes and 26 touchdowns the past two seasons in college. The Bears are desperate for a go to big target and Shaheen will be a candidate to provide that for them.

At a full foot shorter than Shaheen is Cohen. However, if there is one comparison that comes to mind because of the height and elusiveness when discussing Cohen, it’s Darren Sproles. The key for the Bears will be to get Cohen the ball out wide where he can use his vision and ability to avoid tacklers. He has the nickname “The Human Joystick” and has shown that he has that big play ability as he had four touchdowns of 83 plus yards last season. For once, the Bears have two intriguing offensive weapons that will be exciting to watch in camp.

3.) Leonard Floyd

Floyd had a spectacular rookie season last year before it was cut short by the second concussion that he sustained in a Dec. 24 game against Washington. However, before that Floyd had seven sacks and a touchdown including a three game run against Green Bay, Minnesota and Tampa Bay where he recorded 4.5 sacks. Stretching that out to a five game run, Floyd had 6.5 of his 7 sacks in those games.

Now that Floyd is recovered from the second concussion which limited his ability to work out for the first part of the offseason, Floyd is looking to be more consistent in his second season. Having put on some weight, Floyd should be able to shed blockers and if he progresses he should be a double digit sack guy for the Bears.

4.) Jordan Howard

Without question, the best player for the Bears last season was Jordan Howard. A fifth round draft pick, Howard had a phenomenal rookie season rushing for 1,313 yards with 6 TD along with 29 receptions, 298 yards and 1 TD which earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Now Howard will be looking to put his name as one of the top running backs in the NFL while being the focal point of the offense and facing heavy defensive fronts. If Howard repeats the season he had last season, the Bears will have a real steal on their hands.

5.) Secondary play

We all know that the front seven will be fine with Floyd, Jerrell Freeman, Danny Trevathan, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman leading the way. However, the secondary was awful last year and will need to be significantly improved if the Bears are going to be better this year.

Plenty of resources were spent to overhaul the position with the signings of Prince Akumamara, Marcus Cooper and Quintin Demps. For a defense that had 8 interceptions and just 3 fumbles recovered last year, the secondary needs to show better ability to get to the ball and force turnovers. Demps had 6 interceptions last season. In addition, the Bears selected Eddie Jackson from Alabama in the fourth round who is nearly recovered from a broken leg and will hopefully be able to play in preseason games. The Bears need some of the players mentioned as well as others from a group that includes Deon Bush, Adrian Amos, Kyle Fuller and Johnthan Banks to step up and become NFL starters.

There you have it while it might not be a fun regular season there are things to look forward to as training camp and preseason progresses.

Venus Williams and Roger Federer are proving age doesn’t matter and on the cusp of more history

Sometimes the old folks have still got it and that is what Venus Williams and Roger Federer have proven so far at Wimbledon. For the past 12 days, they have turned back the clock and it feels like we are in 2007 not 2017.

Williams has played spectacularly so far and has only dropped one set which was in the second round. In fact, over the past three rounds, Williams has only dropped 19 games while dominating the competition and has not dropped serve in her last 12 service games.

It’s been a long journey for Williams who has battled Sjogrens Syndrome, which causes fatigue, muscle and joint pain. But slowly over the years, Williams has gotten her game back to the level it was when she was winning grand slams over a decade ago. This has been her most successful year since the diagnosis and now she is one match away from making plenty of history.

At 37, if Williams wins on Saturday, she will become the oldest grand slam winner in history, passing ironically her sister, Serena who beat her in the Australian Open Final this year to grab that honor. Also, with a victory, Williams would set a record for most grand slam tournaments between championships as it has been 39 grand slam tournaments since she last won one which was at Wimbledon 2008.

Williams will face stiff competition in the final from Garbine Muguruza who is a grand slam winner herself winning the 2016 French Open by defeating Serena and lost to her in the 2015 Wimbledon final. Nobody has defeated both Williams sisters in Grand Slam Finals. Muguruza has the opportunity to become the first player to ever do that.

And it can be argued that Muguruza is playing her best tennis and has actually lost less games in the tournament than Williams. Muguruza has lost 37 games throughout the six rounds and dominated in the semifinals.

One way or another history is going to be made in the final. One final interesting stat is that at Wimbledon, the Williams sisters have followed peculiar trends. In 2000-01, Venus went back to back. The next two years? Serena went back to back. In 2005-08, Venus won three out of four and went back to back in the final two. Want to guess what happened the next four years? Yep, that’s right, Serena went back to back, matching Venus and won three out of four.

In 2015-16, Serena won back to back. Ironically, the next year, Venus is in the final and could continue a weird trend with a win. If Williams serves like she has so far in this tournament on her favorite surface, she has a great shot.

On the men’s side, it has been a fantastic tournament for Federer who has made the Wimbledon final for a record 11th time. Federer is also experiencing a resurgent year after taking off six months last year and looks healthier than ever.

Federer is trying to win a record 8th Wimbledon title which would break a tie with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw. There have been two previous attempts for Federer to win his record eighth but both times he was stopped by Novak Djokovic in 2014 and 2015.

But now Federer is trying to accomplish even more history by extending his record total of grand slams to 19. Also, Federer has not dropped a set in the tournament so far and is trying to become the second man in the open era to win Wimbledon without dropping a set which has only been accomplished by Bjorn Borg in 1976.

At 35, Federer is serving brilliantly and can still hit those shots that make your jaw drop and wonder how the heck did he do that? He’s a magician and wizard on grass and continues to amaze at his advanced age. With a win on Sunday, Federer would become the oldest man to win Wimbledon in the open era.

However, he will have a stiff challenge in Marin Cilic, who won the U.S. Open in 2014 when he stunned Roger Federer in straight sets in the semifinals. The two have met at Wimbledon before last year in the quarterfinals when Cilic won the first two sets before dropping the final three including the fourth in a tiebreak.

The big serve of Cilic could give Federer trouble and allow for easy holds. Federer will not faze Cilic who has defeated four players in a row ranked in the top 26 on his way to the final and Federer will be his fifth ranked player in a row.

Much like the final on the women’s side, history is going to be made whomever wins. If Federer wins he extends his record grand slam titles and becomes the winningest player in Wimbledon history, winning the tournament for the first time since 2012. If Cilic wins, he cements his legacy by winning two different grand slams.

It has been a fantastic two weeks for Williams and Federer who are the old grizzled veterans on the tour. What once seemed improbable to think of 12 months ago, when it looked the game passed them by, is on the verge of happening. The question is can they use their experience against much younger opponents and pull one more out?

If they do, they’ll be the oldest champions in Wimbledon history and will truly have turned back time. By the way, the champions on both side in 2007? That’s right, it was Williams and Federer. In two days, we could possibly see the same winners of Wimbledon that we saw 10 years ago. Now wouldn’t that be a trip?

 

NHL Free Agency Winners and Losers

With the NHL in a lull now after the initial free agency period, it seems to be the perfect time to look back and see who the winners and losers are so far.

Winners

1.) Dallas Stars

Perhaps the most improved team on paper is the Dallas Stars. They had a very successful last month as they addressed several needs. First, they hired a very good coach in Ken Hitchcock who should make them more disciplined and finally got away from the two goalie tandem in Kari Lehtonen and Antti Raanta by acquiring Ben Bishop. However, they weren’t done there as they signed Alexander Radulov to provide some scoring and Martin Hanzal to bring some defense to a talented offensive squad. But no move may be bigger than trading for Marc Methot who will be a top pairing defensive defenseman who will help John Klingberg immensely and finally give Dallas a minutes eater who can be an anchor on the blue line.

2.) Tampa Bay Lightning

Sometimes it’s not the big time splashes that lead to winning in the offseason. Instead taking care of business can be just as effective which is exactly what Tampa Bay did. It was small signings but the re-signing of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Peter Budaj are great signings and nobody cost them an exorbitant amount of money. Spending $11.5 million on the three of them is shrewd business by Steve Yzerman. By extending his own players at affordable rates, it allowed Tampa Bay to go out and get some veterans in Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi with winning experience to provide some additional leadership to a talented young core that has gone to a Stanley Cup final and another Eastern Conference Final and could be the final piece of the puzzle.

3.) Restricted Free Agents

Connor McDavid broke the bank when he signed an 8 year extension for $12.5 million per year which means the market has been totally reset in terms of what young players are going to make coming off of their first contracts. Leon Draisaitl, Nino Neiderreiter, Mikael Granlund and Ryan Johansen are among those who are going to get paid in the offseason. All those players stand to make over $6 million a year if not close to $8 million or more. This will lead to some issues for these teams and restricted free agency just got a whole lot more interesting because this could possibly lead to a few offer sheets which are rare in the NHL.

4.) Toronto Maple Leafs

It was a phenomenal season for Toronto this year and they followed it up by adding veteran leadership and a proven scorer in Patrick Marleau. He will slide in seamlessly alongside Auston Mathews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander to show them the way as they navigate the NHL in their second seasons. Another great add was getting Ron Hainsey from Pittsburgh with a 2 year, $6 million contract. Toronto did not have much defense last year and Hainsey can play 20+ minutes, kill penalties and brings Stanley Cup winning pedigree to Toronto which will be much needed for a group whose arrow is pointing sky high.

5.) Old guys

Some of the old guys cashed in during free agency this season. Marleau got three years at 37 along with $6.25 million per year and a no movement clause which ridiculous. Meanwhile his San Jose BFF, Joe Thornton got $8 million to re-sign there for this season. Another old guy cashing in was Trevor Daley who received $3.16 million per year for three years from Detroit. Hainsey, Kunitz and Girardi all got $3 million a year as well from the teams that they signed with. And there’s still the possibility that Jaromir Jagr, Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla join this list as well.

Losers

1.) Washington Capitals

There is no question that Washington has gotten weaker during this period so far. Down the road they may wind up regretting the extension of T.J. Oshie for 8 years and $5.75 million per year which will take him until he’s 39. But perhaps the bigger hit is to the defense which has lost not only Kevin Shattenkirk but Karl Alzner as well. Right now as the roster is currently constructed there are four NHL defensemen and Washington still needs at least two more forwards with only $4 million cap space remaining. Everybody knew that last year was all in and Washington will have to get creative to replace the talent that has been lost.

2.) Colorado Avalanche

It’s not so much what Colorado has done, it’s what they haven’t done. The main objective entering this offseason was trading Matt Duchene and getting young defenseman back to rebuild an atrocious defense around. Yet on July 14, Joe Sakic has not traded him and may keep him to start the season. Why he hasn’t traded him to either Nashville, Columbus, Pittsburgh or Montreal to name a few is the $64,000 question. There are three NHL defensemen on the roster and only 32 contracts in the organization! Colorado has so much work ahead of them and instead of pulling the trigger, Sakic seems inclined to yo-yo everybody around while trying to pry some huge payday that is never going to come. It’s been a very bad offseason for Colorado so far.

3.) Ottawa Senators

It has been a quiet offseason for Ottawa, who had a fantastic spring in making the Eastern Conference final and taking Pittsburgh to double overtime in Game 7. And quiet is good except that Ottawa lost Marc Methot, a top pairing defenseman, to Vegas in the expansion draft (Methot was later traded to Dallas as detailed above). And the issue is that Ottawa hasn’t done anything to replace Methot which is puzzling. No run at Andrei Markov or any other defenseman on the market. In addition, postseason star and restricted free agent, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, remains unsigned. For a team that has cap space and needs on defense, it makes no sense for Ottawa to be silent.

4.) New Jersey Devils

For a team that has loads of cap space and no players to re-sign, New Jersey has been awfully quiet. Currently they have 14 players on the NHL roster and $20 million in cap space. At least surround Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier with other scoring talent when there are plenty of capable offensive options out there. Now New Jersey did miss their big target of the offseason when Shattenkirk signed with the New York Rangers but there are other areas that they can spend their money on when they have the third most cap space in the NHL.

5.) Philadelphia Flyers

In the toughest division in the NHL, Philadelphia did not improve enough with their signings. When they have to compete with Pittsburgh, Columbus, Washington, both New York teams just to get in the playoffs, they need to bring a deep and talented roster. They replaced Steve Mason with Brian Elliott who flamed out with the Calgary Flames, no pun intended, which is not an upgrade. They did get Jori Lehtera but traded Brayden Schenn in order to get him which is a wash and possibly a bit of a downgrade. It’s not like Philadelphia got worse it’s just they didn’t get much better with the players they signed and Nolan Patrick.

NBA Free Agency Winners and Losers

After a week and a half since the free agency market has been open, the dust has settled and it seems appropriate to examine the winners and losers of the free agency period in the NBA.

Winners

1.) Boston Celtics

The clear winner of free agency is the Boston Celtics and Gordon Hayward. Hayward reunites with his college coach, Brad Stevens and will be a perennial all-star in the Eastern Conference where there is a black hole sized void of talent besides the Cleveland trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Boston should have an easy path to a top two seed in the East next season with Hayward in fold and there is no reason that they should not have a rematch with Cleveland as Jayson Tatum looks to be a very promising draft pick for the Celtics.

2.) ESPN

ESPN made out like bandits during free agency. I’m not talking about their addition of Adrian Wojoranowski, which was probably the second worst kept secret in ESPN in the first half of the year behind the breakup of Mike and Mike. However, with the giant shift of superstar talent to the West, ESPN will have plenty of primetime offerings for their slate of games with five monster teams in the West to begin with in addition to good teams such as Memphis, Denver, Portland, Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans. And guess who has the Western Conference playoffs next season? That’s right, ESPN, which will have the Western Conference Final between two of Golden State, San Antonio, Houston and Oklahoma City. ESPN and fans have got to be extremely happy to see that the Western Conference playoffs should be insane and a lot of fun next season with some great matchups if everybody stays healthy.

3.) Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota had a monster offseason even before free agency started. They get a star in Jimmy Butler who will provide veteran leadership and improve the defense in Minnesota as he reunites with Tom Thibodeau. Then Thibodeau continued to improve the roster by signing Jeff Teague who will provide offense and shooting to supplement Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. But Minnesota wasn’t done after that as they signed another Thibodeau favorite, Taj Gibson, who will provide frontcourt depth and energy off of the bench.

4.) Blake Griffin

If there was ever a time to take advantage of your own organization who is desperate to keep you, this was the time for Griffin. After the Clippers traded Chris Paul to Houston, the writing was on the wall that LA had to do everything it could to keep their other star in Griffin. Now you can argue whether Griffin is worth the max deal that he got, news flash, he isn’t as he is extremely injury prone and has missed 83 games in the past three seasons in addition to an alarming decrease in scoring and rebounding over the past three seasons. However, you can’t fault Griffin for taking this deal as he gets an extra year and $50 extra million by re-signing with Los Angeles, it was a no-brainer as every dollar of his $176 million is guaranteed.

5.) Darryl Morey and Sam Presti

Give credit to Morey and Presti who decided they weren’t going to lay down and try to wait out the Golden State dominance. It’s refreshing to see especially since every team in the Eastern Conference except for Boston has essentially decided to lay over and provide a poor product for their fans and hope they win their golden lottery ticket. Which will ultimately wind up in the walk of shame home from the draft lottery next season for almost every team. Seriously, how hilarious would it be if Boston has a great year andwins the draft lottery again with the Brooklyn pick after half the league tried to tank? Rather, both Morey and Presti went out and acquired a superstar to mount a challenge to Golden State with the trades of Paul and Paul George respectively. At least there are a few teams that are willing to make it interesting and challenge Golden State and Cleveland for supremacy and not make it a formality.

Losers

1.) The fans in the Eastern Conference

Not every fan is going to wind up disappointed but outside of Cleveland, Boston, Washington, Toronto and Milwaukee, the rest of the east is going to be dreadful. If Philadelphia gets their act together they can be interesting but that’s a giant question mark. Instead if you’re an Eastern Conference fan of another team, my condolences to you, it’s going to be horrible. Chicago, Indiana, Atlanta, New York, Brooklyn and Orlando are going to be bad, really bad that’s it’s going to be embarrassing. And in the end the Eastern Conference playoffs will be horrible until the Eastern Conference final where Cleveland will most likely roll in 5 games.

2.) New York Knicks

You have to ask yourself, what are the Knicks actually doing? Is there an actual plan? They get rid of Phil Jackson which happened to be their best move of the offseason because he was terrible and everyone could see this a mile away when he got hired. Jackson had never been in management and had no experience running a team from the front office viewpoint. Instead, New York gives Tim Hardaway Jr. $71 million which blocks Frank Nitilikina who was drafted to be the future. And they haven’t traded an unhappy superstar in Carmelo Anthony for which they won’t get equal value. Another head scratching moment for the Knicks which is just like every Monday morning for them at this moment.

3.) Miami Heat

There were some nice moves that were made by Miami but they struck out in landing the big fish as they missed on Hayward and Griffin. Hassan Whiteside is a beast for Miami and their leader but they are wasting his prime by not pairing him up with another superstar. Miami has a lot of positives associated with it including being run by Pat Riley, warm weather and no state income tax. However, none of those have worked in their favor over the past two summers and they tied up cap space by paying James Johnson $15 million a year for four seasons which will hamper their ability to be financially flexible for next year.

4.) Derrick Rose

It’s hard to believe that Derrick Rose is still unsigned after having a very good season in New York. Rose averaged 18 points per game and 4.4 assists per game. While no longer the dynamic basketball player that he was before, Rose still brings a lot of value and can be a serviceable starter in the league still. He proved that last season but there are no more opportunities out there to be a starter after the Clippers signed Milos Teodosic who will be their replacement for Chris Paul. That move combined with Teague signing in Minnesota could mean that at 28, Rose’s days as a starter in the NBA are numbered which seems shocking.

5.) Mid-tier free agents

There are plenty of good options still out there and it’s surprising that some of them aren’t signed. Some of the players that are still available include Nerlens Noel, Jonathan Simmons, Ersan Ilyasova, Mason Plumlee, Ian Clark, Rose, Tony Allen, Deron Williams and Terrence Jones among others. The problem that they are all facing is that they will make less than they are worth as most teams have blown through a majority of their cap space that would use them. The other issue is with half of the teams trying to tank, some of them don’t want to add somebody that could potentially win them a few games. It’s a tough year to be a middle class free agent.

 

Venus Williams continues to shine on the grass of Wimbledon; other Wimbledon thoughts

Wimbledon is through 10 days of the tournament and there has been plenty of exciting action taking place already.

Venus Williams made her tenth Wimbledon semi-final today by defeating Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 7-5. It was another steady performance by Williams who has been sensational during this tournament only dropping one set in the first five matches.
The grass of Wimbledon suits Williams  like no other as she is able to use her powerful serve to her advantage and limit the length of points.

At age 37, Williams continues to defy time by playing some of her best tennis after coming back while battling Sjogrens Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder which causes fatigue in addition to muscle and joint pain, which she was diagnosed with in 2011. Arguably, Willams is playing her best tennis since that diagnosis.

Williams has performed well in the grand slams this year, losing in the Australian Open final to sister, Serena before bowing out in the round of 16 in the French Open. Now Williams has made the semifinals of Wimbledon for the 10th time in her career.

In fact, the last time that Venus won a major was in 2008 when she won in Wimbledon by defeating her sister, Serena. Her last final at Wimbledon came in 2009. Improbably, Williams has battled back since the diagnosis and gotten stronger as she has aged. One other record that fell on Tuesday was Venus recording her 86th career win at Wimbledon in 100 matches which matches Serena for third-most victories at Wimbledon.

This leaves for a titanic matchup on Thursday when Williams takes on hometown favorite, Johanna Konta who defeated Simona Halep in a tense three setter. The crows at Centre Court will have to choose between Konta or Williams who is equally beloved at Wimbledon. Konta is the first British woman since Virginia Wade 39 years ago to make the semifinals of Wimbledon and trying to end a 40 year drought for British women winning Wimbledon. Konta holds the edge at 3-2 but Venus Williams might be at the peak of her game, it promises to be not miss TV on Thursday morning.

Five more thoughts on Wimbledon so far

1.) Rafael Nadal shows class and that he’s a warrior in an epic loss

Watching the first part of the match between Nadal and Gilles Muller, it seemed like it would be a runaway rout as Muller took the first two sets behind his big serve which flummoxed Nadal. But Nadal battled back like the champion he is by taking the next two sets. What followed was tennis at its best when Muller and Nadal engaged in a 2 hour and 15 minute fifth set. Neither man cracked through 27 service games, holding serve until Nadal was broken in the final game as Muller won the final set 15-13.

Throughout the deciding set, Nadal could be seen getting pumped up and showing emotion during big points whether he won them or not. One of the most fantastic things about tennis is that players get to be themselves and show their personality. This extends to the class that Nadal showed during the post match as he waited for Muller so they could walk off the court together. Say what you will about Nadal but he is classy and someone who never gives up, an absolute pleasure to watch.

2.) The wonky scheduling of Wimbledon

Not only was Novak Djokovic affected by the Nadal-Muller epic but so were the fans. It was puzzling and befuddling why the officials at Wimbledon did not move Djokovic-Adrian Mannarino was not moved to Centre Court. The match between Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov was over around 7 PM local time while the fifth set was still over an hour and a half away from being completed.

At that time it seemed logical that the officials would close the roof which would allow Djokovic and Mannarino to have the opportunity to start and complete their match as they can play until 11 PM with the roof closed before curfew. However as Djokovic answered at the post match press conference after his straight sets victory over Mannarino today, there was no good reason given. This was part of the statement given by Wimbledon officials

“The safety and security of all visitors to the Championships is of paramount importance. The preference was to play the Djokovic v Mannarino match as scheduled on No.1 Court.
“When that was no longer an option, it was determined the match could not be moved to Centre Court due to the number of spectators remaining in the grounds.”

This makes absolutely no sense as they could have opened Centre Court to the approximately 30,000 fans available and allowed them to move in between sets to watch the rest of the match. Now Djokovic must play on consecutive days as he has his quarterfinal match tomorrow against Tomas Berdych before potentially having to play the winner of Roger Federer-Milos Raonic on Friday. 3 matches in 4 days to make the final of Wimbledon is daunting and the officials at Wimbledon got this one wrong by not moving the match yesterday to Centre Court.

3.) Federer and Murray continue to roll

The other two big 4 members, Federer and Murray continue to roll through the tournament. Federer has not lost a set in this tournament after handling Dimitrov in straight sets and looks to be in prime position to win his 8th Wimbledon title and 19th grand slam overall. Federer has been serving well and still moves around the grass like nobody else in the game. Talk about a resurgence that has come out of nowhere after looking like the game had passed him by over the past couple of years.

Meanwhile, Murray has shown a few cracks in the foundation as he did struggle in the first set against Benoit Paire but pulled out a tiebreaker which led to him winning a straight set battle 7-6, 6-4, 6-4. Murray has only dropped one set but his path to the final looks a lot clearer with Nadal’s loss on Monday. The defending champion is showing that he has the fitness and defense to escape trouble and only has Sam Querry and the winner of Gilles Muller and Milan Cilic in his way of making the Wimbledon final where he’ll try to win the title for the third time in his career.

4.) Garbine Muguruza has an excellent chance to win her second grand slam title

Remember Muguruza who shocked the tennis world by overcoming Serena Williams in the 2016 French Open final in straight sets? Well she is knocking on the door of playing for the Wimbledon title on Saturday. A fantastic performance on Monday, against Angelique Kerber, prevailing in three sets, winning the last two, was followed by an easy straight set victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-3, 6-4.

The victory sets up a showdown with Magdalena Rybarikova who has come out of nowhere to make the semifinals, more on her below. If Muguruza who will be heavily favored in their semifinal match prevails, she will have an excellent chance to win Wimbledon and add that to an impressive resume that will only continue to grow as she is just 23.

5.) Miracle runs continue on the women’s side

As mentioned above, Rybarikova finds herself in the semifinals as she has knocked off two top 25 players in the first five rounds and only dropped two sets. Rybarikova dominated in her match against Coco Vandeweghe winning 6-3, 6-3. It was clear from the first ball that Rybarikova was not overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment as she rose to the occasion and never allowed Vandeweghe a chance.

Ranked 87 in the world entering the tournament, her improbable run to the semifinal continues where she’s definitely got a good chance of winning. After all, Rybarikova knocked off Karolina Pliskova, who will be ranked number one in the world after the tournament in an odd case of accumulating points, in the second round. Centre Court is not new to Rybarikova which is where she played on Pliskova in the second round, so she’ll have some familiarity when she enters the match on Thursday.

To finish off, how about Johanna Konta, who has also come out of nowhere to make a deep run during this fortnight. It seems strange to say that about the sixth ranked player in the world but Konta’s run was unexpected. Entering the tournament, Konta had only won one career match in Wimbledon which came last year before bowing out in the second round to Eugenie Bouchard.

But during this tournament, Konta has risen to the occasion winning a trio of three set matches with two of those coming in the last two rounds. The pressure is squarely on the shoulders of Konta as the hometown favorite; however, she has shown that she is ready for the moment by winning long rallies and having incredible resiliency.

Her reward for all of her efforts on Thursday is Venus Williams, the 5 time Wimbledon winner, on Centre Court in what should be the second of the two semifinals for a shot at the title. It should be an awesome match on Thursday as Konta holds a slight edge in their career head to head and one miracle run will continue to the final, the question is which one?