Articles By Athlon Sports
Let’s not beat around the bush: We love the NBA. That’s why we’re here. And in lieu of any game action tomorrow — football’s time to shine as the turkey’s tryptophan tricks us to sleep — we’ll have to subsist on the memory of some of the season’s most heart-warming trends. What are we thankful for through the beginning of the 2014-15 season?
Boogie Cousins and the surging underdogs, the Sacramento Kings
The 9-5 Kings have been the league’s most fun team this November. Their collection of written-off ballers has been the David raging against the collective media’s Goliath-sized doubt about them, and their endearing chemistry is an essential part of their cache. Check out DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi flaring some of that love on the bench:
Anthony Davis is the future of the NBA. The 21-year-old Chicago native has long been regarded as a future MVP candidate, but after his stint with Team USA this summer, The ‘Brow is jumping into headlines sooner than many expected. It’s still early in the season, but right now it’s an easy call: Davis is the best player in the league, and watching him is a singular joy. Watch him prove it in this recent 40-point performance against the Utah Jazz:
The Lakers and Knicks are both terrible
My apologies if you reside in — or root for — one of the nation’s two biggest basketball markets. But for myself and everyone else in between, the schadenfreude that the burning rubbish of these two franchises grants us is richer than the pumpkin pie that follows the feast. New York and L.A. are a combined 7-22; yikes. Enjoy the failure while it lasts.
I think this Vine of lil’ Nate speaks for itself:
— John Wilmes
Led by 22 points and 12 rebounds from DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, the Sacramento Kings improved to 9-5 on the season by beating Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, 99-89, at the Smoothie King Center in Louisiana last night.
Considering that the Kings beat the Pellies without their No. 2 man Rudy Gay, it might be safe to say this was something of a statement game. Boogie and Davis, both, are the best young big men in the game, and they’re also both trying to lead their teams from mere Western Conference fodder into genuine playoff contention. In the ongoing (and fascinating) tug of war between the two teams — which last saw N.O. take a 106-100 victory in Sacramento, just a week ago — the Kings now stand proudly.
The Kings’ Northern California suite mates, meanwhile, took care of business all the way over in America’s swampiest appendage, downing the Miami Heat 114-97 behind Stephen Curry’s 40-point explosion, which included 8-of-11 shooting from three-point land. Watching Curry do his thing at top volume is one of the greater joys of the modern game, so I’m just going to leave this here:
Fellow point guard mega-star Derrick Rose wasn’t having the same luck as Curry up in the woozy altitude of Denver, as the Chicago Bulls fell 114-109 to the Nuggets. Rose left the game at halftime, citing discomfort with his recently tweaked hamstring. Given that the team was playing on a back-to-back and Rose’s body is prone to breakdowns anyway, resting him was probably the wisest course available. But that won’t stop the endless, Rose-centric idiot wind from storming through the net for today, tomorrow, and forevermore.
— John Wilmes
LeBron James called his Cleveland Cavaliers team “fragile” over the weekend, after they hit a new low by losing a fourth-straight game. The Cavs haven’t proved they’re tough and playoff-ready, by any means. But at least that streak is over now. Cleveland dominated the young Orlando Magic wire-to-wire last night, pulling out a 104-76 victory behind James’ 29 points, 11 assists, four rebounds and three steals. That’s what MVPs do: They snap you out of a funk, straightening out a whole squad seemingly on their own.
Derrick Rose used to do such work the Chicago Bulls, but lately the Windy City’s lucky just to see their star point guard take the floor. After missing four games with a tweaked hamstring, Rose returned to action against the Utah Jazz last night to help the Bulls eke out a win in Salt Lake City after blowing a 19-point lead. Chicago played Rose for just 25 minutes, clearly still uneasy about the health of their game-changing star. Until the stakes are truly high, you can expect the team’s approach to favor preserving Rose’s fragile body, regardless of what his critics might say.
The New York Knicks were put in a position to understand Chicago’s plight last night, as Carmelo Anthony left the court with back spasms toward the end of a 91-86 road loss to the Houston Rockets. ESPN's Ian Begley reported that 'Melo went to a Houston hospital to receive medication for the pain, but Anthony’s status is otherwise unknown at this moment. Stay tuned for updates.
But Rockets counterpart James Harden continued to prove, in this contest, that he deserves mention in the MVP category himself. Racking up a season-high 36 points to go with six rebounds and six steals, Harden closed the Knicks by scoring his team’s last 12 points and widened the gap to let Clutch City breathe easy. If the Rockets are to survive Dwight Howard’s recent knee injury — which has led to some serious rebounding and rim-protection problems — it’ll be because of The Beard simply won’t let them lose.
— John Wilmes
It’s been a weird season for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Preseason speculation had them atop of the league, fighting for a second Western Conference title and their first NBA championship. Reigning MVP Kevin Durant’s foot injury — a Jones fracture — cast doubt on those hopes, but by no means dashed them. When Russell Westbrook left the team’s first game of the season with a hand injury, things got even dimmer.
Next came injuries to Reggie Jackson, Anthony Morrow, Perry Jones III, Andre Roberson and Jeremy Lamb. The “Zombie Thunder” have been a collection of overstretched players; basketball journeymen thrust into roles they couldn’t have possibly imagined a 59-win team would’ve handed them. Kendrick Perkins has been asked to score — yikes — in an offense regularly led by Sebastian Telfair, a point guard who wasn’t even in the league last season.
Now 3-12, the Thunder have the worst record in their conference. Only the comically bad, winless Philadelphia 76ers are at a lower spot in the standings. The Thunder have dug themselves quite a hole to get out of.
Good thing the cavalry’s on the way, then. According to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, the Thunder’s dual superstars are now participating in the majority of team practices. Westbrook could return as soon as Friday, when OKC hosts the New York Knicks. “They looked good,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said when asked about Durant and Westbrook. “But no more than that. They’re going to continue to go through this process, and when they’re ready, 100 percent ready, they will play. But until then, nothing else we know of.”
At the end of the day, the berserk Western Conference is arguably no easier or more difficult for a team whether their postseason berth comes with a No. 1 seed or a No. 8 seed. Every matchup is tough. And the Thunder, lucky them, are talented enough to beat any team in a seven-game series (home court or not) if they’re healthy. The challenge now is for them to play nearly perfect basketball for four months, just to get to those playoffs.
— John Wilmes
Earlier this month, new NBA commissioner Adam Silver penned a New York Times op-ed called “Legalize and Regulate Sports Betting.” The column was exactly what its title would lead you to believe it was. Silver highlighted the ongoing mega-industry of sports betting — a mixture of illegal activity and tricky maneuvering through legislation made possible by the internet — and called for professional sports leagues to take hold of the phenomenon for themselves, and bring it into daylight.
“There is no solid data on the volume of illegal sports betting activity in the United States,” Silver wrote, “but some estimate that nearly $400 billion is illegally wagered on sports each year.” Silver also noted that things are different — and, by implication, more reasonable — abroad: “Outside of the United States, sports betting and other forms of gambling are popular, widely legal and subject to regulation. In England, for example, a sports bet can be placed on a smartphone, at a stadium kiosk or even using a television remote control.”
Silver’s voice is one thing, but now a louder one is joining in. Over the weekend, Mark Cuban echoed his commissioner’s sentiments. “I agree 100 percent," Cuban told reporters before his Dallas Mavericks fell to the Houston Rockets. ”I think we're the world's biggest hypocrites when we say, 'Oh, we don't want you betting on our games,' and then we get all excited about the sports betting line and people go to Vegas on trips won from the NBA or NFL.
“I mean, it's hugely hypocritical. I just think that Adam did the exact right thing. I think by focusing on the federal regulations and making the changes there, that it will change. It's just a question of when. I think over the next three to five years, it will change. And it'll be interesting to see how the NFL reacts as well, because they've still so far said that they're adamant against it because I guess they have data that says the NFL doesn't benefit from gambling.”
Now, who wants to throw down on some over/unders about Cuban’s suggested timeline?
— John Wilmes
The Cleveland Cavaliers have now lost four games in a row. Nobody thought it was going to be easy for the quickly assembled super squad to find their rhythm — but no one thought they’d falter this badly out of the gate, either. Now 5-7 on the season, LeBron’s squad showed all the classic symptoms of losing basketball in their two weekend losses to the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors. Dropping the games by an average deficit of 15, they looked lost on both sides of the ball as rookie head coach David Blatt continued to have little impact on James and the rest of his stars.
The 2010-11 Miami Heat didn’t get off to a great start either, but the pandemonium about their beginnings was centered around a mere 9-8 record. They were criticized for not destroying everyone; not for failing to meet the standards of competence.
James had already clocked significant Team USA minutes with Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, while there’s a lot more work to be done with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, both of whom seem confused and overwhelmed by the demands of winning basketball. How much longer can Cleveland stumble without general manager David Griffin making some moves?
Meanwhile, Anthony Davis continued to prove himself as this season’s best player. In a 106-94 victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday, the New Orleans Pelicans big man poured in a career-high 43 points, also collecting 14 rebounds on the night. Davis is up to a preposterous 35.91 player efficiency rating over 36.6 minutes per game, and if he can hover near those figures for the rest of the season, there’s little doubt he’ll win the MVP award.
The Chicago Bulls’ former MVP Derrick Rose continued to sit and nurse his hamstring as his team limped into losses against the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers. Pau Gasol is now also out (calf) and the team lost Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson to injuries over the weekend, too. Chicago is still sitting pretty, near the top of the Eastern Conference seedings with an 8-5 record. But if the bodies keep on falling, the Bulls might find themselves slipping into the sticky territory of unmet expectations that rival Cleveland is living in.
— John Wilmes
Going into the start of the 2014 college football season, it seemed UCLA was the trendy pick to make a run to the first College Football Playoff and maybe even win the whole thing. Back-to-back losses in the middle of the season against Utah and Oregon may have derailed those ideas, but the Bruins have become one of the hottest teams in college football at perhaps the best possible time. But what is it that has changed with the Bruins that all of a sudden have them living up to the preseason hype?
For starters, protecting the football has improved over the last four weeks. Through the first seven games of the season, UCLA had a turnover margin of -2, with just two games seeing a positive turnover margin. Though the Bruins have lost the football a handful of times over the last month, the defense has come through with forced turnovers to make up for it. UCLA has forced six turnovers in the last four games.
Before that, the Bruins defense had forced eight turnovers all season, with three coming in the opener against Virginia and four coming in a road blowout win against Arizona State. Turnovers forced often felt to be few and far between those games for the Bruins. Now they can be counted on for at least one turnover per game it seems.
The Bruins are also starting to turn up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. UCLA is coming off its best performance of the season with six sacks of USC quarterback Cody Kessler. UCLA recorded three sacks in each of the two previous games before the USC game. UCLA had 10 sacks combined in its first eight games of the year.
UCLA has played its way into controlling the outcome of the Pac-12 South with just one week to play. The offense has been there for the Bruins throughout the season, but the defense is back to upholding its end of the bargain. All that stands in the way of UCLA and a trip back to the Pac-12 Championship Game for a third time in four seasons is Stanford. It is fitting the Bruins have a chance to wrap up the division against the two-time defending Pac-12 champions.
The Bruins also have a chance to wiggle into the College Football Playoff picture after all, with a convincing victory against Stanford and a victory over Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game. UCLA may need a good amount of help elsewhere to see the preseason expectations met by UCLA, but crazy things can happen in the sport of college football. And the college football gods have rewarded teams getting hot at the right time. For UCLA, now could be the perfect time to be putting all of the pieces together.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
The Big Ten is full of great rivalry games and trophies. One of them is Paul Bunyan’s Axe, which goes to the winner of the Wisconsin-Minnesota game each season. This year, the iconic axe will take a back seat to the ultimate prize to the winner of this week’s rivalry game between the Badgers and Gophers. The Big Ten West Division championship will be decided in this year’s game, with the winner advancing to the Big Ten Championship Game to take on Ohio State, the champions of the East Division.
Wisconsin was always expected to be in this position, as the Badgers have played in two Big Ten championship games and feature a Heisman Trophy caliber running back in Melvin Gordon and a solid defense. The Badgers were preseason favorites to battle for the Big Ten’s West Division. After demolishing Nebraska two weeks ago the Badgers looked to be a clear favorite in the division. That remains true, but now there is a formidable opponent in Minnesota.
The Gophers have been one of the pleasant surprises in the Big Ten and around the nation this season. There may still be some work to be done before the Gophers are a real threat in the Big Ten on a regular basis, but the ingredients appear to be there this season to give any team a run for their money in Big Ten play. This Minnesota team dominated Michigan to win the Little Brown Jug and won close calls against Northwestern and Purdue. Minnesota was upset at Illinois, letting one get away from them on the road, but the Gophers stormed back in a big way with a blowout of Iowa the following week. The question was whether or not Minnesota had run into a wall at the end of the season, ready to burst the bubble on a fun ride.
The Gophers were unable to pull the upset on Ohio State on the snow, as J.T. Barrett went off in a big way against the Minnesota defense, but Minnesota rose to the occasion on the road against Nebraska to set-up one of the biggest battles for Paul Bunyan’s Axe the rivalry series has seen in a long time.
Wisconsin has won 10 in a row against Minnesota. The Badgers appear to be the team better prepared for this situation. Wisconsin will be playing at home. Everything about this game looks to suggest Wisconsin will have the edge on Minnesota, and maybe they will. But if there is anything to be learned about Jerry Kill’s Gophers, it is they do not back down to a challenge.
After winning on the road against Nebraska and blowing away Iowa, there should be no doubt this Minnesota team will be ready to challenge Wisconsin for the Big Ten West crown on Saturday. This should be fun.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had the catch of a lifetime with a one-handed, diving backward, through pass interference touchdown catch.
Sit back and watch. Over and over again.
Tremendous photo via USA Today Sports of Odell Beckham Jr.'s catch. pic.twitter.com/qHWb7FExR3— Jimmy Traina (@JimmyTraina) November 24, 2014
Not bad, ODB pic.twitter.com/iQG330m5E9— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) November 24, 2014
That's the best catch I've ever seen— Victor Cruz (@TeamVic) November 24, 2014
OK, I saw it. Best New York Giants catch since Willie Mays at the Polo Grounds.— Steve Greenberg (@SLGreenberg) November 24, 2014
Here's a picture of a professional photographer not getting a picture of a once in a lifetime play. pic.twitter.com/mUOQ2qnO2p— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) November 24, 2014
And it wasn't the first time...
The Big Ten is setting up for a wild finish in the Big Ten West with Wisconsin and Minnesota doing battle for the division championship. The winning school will lay claim to Paul Bunyan’s Axe and represent the division in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis against Big Ten East champion Ohio State. The division will also feature a game with plenty of stakes on the line. Northwestern and Illinois will play for a chance to go to a bowl game.
After losing four straight games in Big Ten play, including blowout losses to Nebraska and Iowa and a nail-biter against Michigan, it seemed Northwestern was staring right down a year without a bowl game. But then a funny thing happened. A road game at Notre Dame stirred up the echoes of a previous upset in South Bend. Northwestern’s overtime win against the Irish kept the dream of a bowl game within reach, and a win against Purdue showed the Wildcats are on a mission to get back to the postseason.
Consider how Northwestern played into this position. The Wildcats have been riddled with injuries and lost Venric Mark before the start of the season. Northwestern was nearly left for dead after an 0-2 start to the season with home losses to California and Northern Illinois. But Northwestern went on the road and scored 29 points against a Penn State defense that has allowed 20 points in regulation just two other times this season. Northwestern took out Wisconsin at home, and the Badgers are on the verge of making a potential Big Ten Championship Game appearance. With their postseason fate back against a wall, Northwestern stunned Notre Dame with a late rally and overtime victory in South Bend. This is the story of a thrilling ride, if Pat Fitzgerald and get Northwestern one more win at home.
Illinois has also played itself into a winner-goes-bowling match-up. The Illini have done it in much less impressive fashion. Illinois is coming off a close win at home against Penn State to get to five wins. After a pair of blowout losses to Ohio State and Iowa, Illinois slipped by Penn State at home this past weekend.
For Illinois head coach Tim Beckman, a win against Northwestern could be crucial. Though things still look like a massive work in progress at Illinois, getting Illinois to a bowl game could be enough to guarantee Tim Beckman’s job is safe for at least one more season. The pressure has been on Beckman to show some improvement with the program this season. The Big Ten results could still use some work, but getting to a postseason bowl game would be a clear step in the right direction or Beckman and Illinois. The Illini have already improved on the season win total each of the past two seasons under Beckman, and getting to a bowl game would be the next step in the process.
Sometimes you have to take them any way you can get them.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Times have been rough for Oklahoma State’s offense over the course of the last month. After scoring no more than 14 points in each of the last four games, the Cowboys were in some serious trouble heading to Waco to take on Baylor. The debut of talented freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph may not have been enough to go blow for blow with Baylor’s offense, but it at least gave some reason to be optimistic about the future of the Oklahoma State offense.
Rudolph was to be redshirted this season, but head coach Mike Gundy made the call to take that off this year and throw the early-enrollee on the field to see what could happen. Aside from some typical freshman mistakes that are to be expected, Rudolph handled himself well. Rudolph completed 13 of 25 pass attempts for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His first career touchdown pass came just before the half with an eight-yard pass to David Glidden to cut the Baylor lead to 14.
Baylor had control of this game form start to finish, but Rudolph helped to keep things interesting. A 68-yard touchdown pass to James Washington managed to keep the Cowboys within reach of the defending Big 12 champions, and four minutes later Rudolph tossed a 37-yard pass to Washington to set-up another touchdown to bring Oklahoma State within two scores of Baylor. On Oklahoma State's next possession, Rudolph completed a couple of passes for first downs but was intercepted just inside the 20-yard line to snap another scoring opportunity. Baylor would turn that interception into a touchdown with Bryce Petty running 21 yards for a score on the ensuing possession.
The entire Oklahoma State offense has struggled to live up to the expectations placed on it over the last few years. The Cowboys rank 60th in passing offense and 100th in rushing. Now the pressure is on just to win one more game in order to become bowl eligible. That test will come against in-state rival Oklahoma in two weeks. If Rudolph is going to be the starting quarterback for one more game to get this done, the bye week over Thanksgiving could not come at a better time. Oklahoma State quarterbacks have thrown 15 touchdowns and been intercepted 15 times. Improving on that ratio should be the primary focus.
Now that Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich have seen what Rudolph can do on the field, they can take some time to address a couple of areas to work on heading into Bedlam. Rudolph may be a candidate capable of giving Daxx Garman and J.W. Walsh a run for the starting job in 2015.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Cody Thomas, Oklahoma vs. Kansas ($5800)
Thomas scored 25 DK fantasy points last week against Texas Tech and could have an even better game versus Kansas. The Jayhawks defense is nothing special and could yield plenty of big plays to Thomas this week.
2) QB Justin Holman, UCF vs SMU ($5700)
Holman threw three touchdowns last week against Tulsa and could match that total this week with SMU on the slate. The Mustangs pass defense is ranked 121st in the country.
1) RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State vs. Boston College ($4500)
Cook had 92 yards and two scores last week against Miami and appears to be taking over the Seminoles backfield. He could find the end zone again this week and looks like a solid punt option.
2) RB JC Coleman, Virginia Tech vs. Wake Forest ($4900)
Coleman had 95 yards rushing last week in relief of the injured Marshawn Williams. He could see all the carries he can handle this week against Wake Forest, as he is basically the only healthy back on the VT roster.
3) RB Akeel Lynch, Penn State vs. Illinois ($4200)
Lynch had 130 yards and a score last week against Temple and could have another big day versus Illinois. He may run all over an Illinois run defense that ranks 121st in the country. His price is very appealing this week.
1) WR Tony Lippett, Michigan State vs. Rutgers ($5500)
Lippett’s price is depressed after having two sub-par games in a row. This looks like the perfect match up for a bounce back performance from Lippett. He is a top flight fantasy wide out at a very low price.
2) WR Tyler Baker, Washington State vs. Arizona State ($4200)
Baker is averaging 21 DK fantasy points over the last three games. He looks to be a great punt option this week as long as River Cracraft remains sidelined due to injury.
3) WR D’Vario Montgomery, Iowa State vs. Texas Tech ($5100)
Montgomery is averaging almost 22 DK fantasy points over the last four games. Look for plenty of production again this week.
4) WR Deontay Greenberry, Houston vs. Tulsa ($4700)
Greenberry had 130 yards and a score last week and appears to finally be waking up. He could post a big stat line against Tulsa.
5) WR Vince Sanders, Ole Miss vs. Arkansas ($4300)
Sanders looks to be seriously underpriced this week. He looks to be the top receiving target with Laquan Treadwell out for the season. Expect him to easily hit value this week.
1) TE Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech vs. Wake Forest ($3200)
Hodges has scored in the last two games and could make it three in a row against Wake Forest.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Brad Kaaya, Miami vs. Virginia ($5800)
Kaaya threw for 316 yards and two scores last week against Florida State. He is getting better week by week and could find success against Virginia on Saturday night.
1) RB Don Jackson, Nevada vs. Fresno State ($5900)
Jackson is rolling right now with four rushing scores in the past two games. Expect another trip or two to the end zone for Jackson against a toilet paper soft Fresno defense.
2) RB Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, UNLV vs. Hawaii ($5800)
Lawrence had 143 yards and a score last week and gets a juicy matchup with Hawaii. Look for this Rebel to rack up a solid game this week.
3) RB Josh Quezada, Fresno State vs. Nevada ($4700)
Quezada could be in for a big game if Marteze Waller misses the game with Nevada. His price is nice and could easily reach value with an increased work load.
4) RB Rodriguez Moore, Cincinnati vs. UCONN ($4200)
Moore has performed well over the past few weeks and comes in at a very cheap price. He looks like a terrific punt option this week against the Huskies.
1) WR Devante Davis, UNLV vs. Hawaii ($5100)
Davis is hard to refuse at this price. He has a high ceiling against a weak Hawaii defense. Look for Davis to show why he is a stud wide out.
2) WR Jordan Payton, UCLA vs. USC ($4800)
Payton has had a very consistent season and his price never seems to rise. Look for him to see plenty of targets against USC and pay off for DFS players smart enough to use him.
3) WR Victor Bolden, Oregon State vs. Washington ($4700)
Bolden is averaging nine receptions and 105 yards receiving over the last three games. His price looks much lower than what his recent production states.
1) TE Steven Scheu, Vanderbilt vs. Miss State ($3200)
Scheu has shown decent consistency and has scored in the last two games. He could find some open seams against the Bulldogs.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
Learn how to SUBSCRIBE to CollegeFootballGeek.com for FREE! Our members earn REAL CASH MONEY playing Daily Fantasy on DraftKings. Features include:
- Weekly Player Rankings: DraftKings
- Expert Picks: DraftKings
- Sneaky Plays: DraftKings
- Player News, Notes and Injury Updates
- 24/7 Expert Advice, strategy and rankings all season long!
- The ONLY service with personal one-on-one Fantasy Advice!
The NBA Player’s Association hasn’t exactly been a politically fearsome group in recent years. The players demonstrably lost out financially in the 2011 lockout, behind their befuddled, lazy director at the time, Billy Hunter. LeBron James and others haven’t been tight-lipped about realizing that much. James, this October, said the league’s owners claiming to be losing money on their teams is a strategy that “will not fly this time.”
The new $24 billion TV deal ensures that the union is entitled to fight for more money. And new union director Michele Roberts looks determined to wage that battle. The replacement for former do-nothing Hunter, Roberts has been on the job since just July, but she’s already made a strong impression.
“She’s serious, she is impressive,” one player agent who met with Roberts told Sporting News’ Sean Deveney. “She is coming at this from an outsider’s perspective. With Billy, he accepted that the system we have is what it is, and all we can do is try to protect as much ground as possible. Michele is a clean slate, she flat-out sees some of the things we accept as wrong. She’s itching for a fight on this stuff, because she thinks we’re right.”
Now, Roberts and the union are disputing the league’s decision to suspend Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor for 24 games without pay, citing the penalty as “excessive, without precedent and a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The CBA contemplates a minimum 10 game suspension in any case involving a conviction for a violent felony, including domestic violence. In contrast, Jeff Taylor was charged with a misdemeanor that is likely to be dismissed at the end of a probationary period. … While we appreciate the sensitivity of this societal issue, the Commissioner is not entitled to rewrite the rules or otherwise ignore precedent in disciplinary matters.”
This is merely the first example of likely more intense friction between Roberts and Silver. We’re all waiting for the atomic showdown that seems inevitable when the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2017. If Roberts continues her hard line until then, there’s a good chance we’ll see another work stoppage in the league.
— John Wilmes
Vince Carter looked like the rightful heir to Michael Jordan for a good minute. When the 17-year veteran debuted with the Toronto Raptors in 1998-99 (the season after Jordan’s second and seemingly final retirement), he took the basketball world into his hands almost immediately. Carter’s hyper-stylistic dunking skills were the can’t-miss trend of the game. Canada, suddenly, was becoming a capital of the game on the shoulders of its surprising star.
But since Carter fled Toronto by forcing a trade to the New Jersey Nets in 2004, there hasn’t been a lot of love between him and his former city. Upon return visits, the player formerly known as “Half-Man, Half-Insanity,” “Vinsanity,” and “Air Canada” has been booed by crowds at the Air Canada Centre. It even happened as recently as last January, when Carter rolled into town as a Dallas Maverick — one of the six teams he’s played for in his career.
But now, as a 37-year-old journeyman with the Memphis Grizzlies, Carter and his his first NBA city seem to have come to terms. During the Grizzlies’ recent trip to Toronto — a 96-92 Raptors victory — a tribute video was shown. It brought Carter to tears, and the fans to a standing ovation. It was finally time, all parties seemed to agree, to bury the hatchet.
Especially now that the Raptors have finally moved from their superstar’s exodus. Boasting one of the deepest rosters in basketball, the exciting new Toronto squad is 9-2, good for first place in the Eastern Conference. The memory of Carter can now rest in the shadow of current award contenders like Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross. Vinsanity is no longer a symbol of the city’s basketball failure, but a ghost of warm nostalgia.
— John Wilmes
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver hasn’t been on the job for a year yet, but he’s already made a strong impression.
Most of that is due to his swift, judicial action in regards to the Donald Sterling scandal. His lifetime ban of Sterling branded Silver as a man of conviction, and now he’s extending that reputation with his harsh penalizing of Jeff Taylor, the Charlotte Hornets forward who was found guilty, last month, of misdemeanor domestic violence assault and malicious destruction of hotel property. Taylor confessed to the crimes in court by pleading guilty.
Silver hit Taylor with a 24-game, no-pay suspension for his behavior. In a press release, Silver described his decision thusly: "This suspension is necessary to protect the interests of the NBA and the public's confidence in it. Mr. Taylor's conduct violates applicable law and, in my opinion, does not conform to standards of morality and is prejudicial and detrimental to the NBA.”
The NBA, as you likely know, is not the sport most plagued by the issue of domestic violence, Ray Rice and others have made stretches of the 2014 NFL season almost unpalatable with the unsavory details of abuse. Mr. Taylor, unlike Rice, is not terribly important to his team, or to his league’s image. He’s a relative unknown, and it’s worth wondering whether the Commish would bring such a steep punishment upon someone who the common fan has actually heard of before. Such an occurrence would actually do damage to the sport’s image; hitting Taylor hard, to the contrary, is a way of making highly attentive fans aware that Silver means business. But those outside the hard core of NBA followers probably won’t ever hear about this event.
Silver hasn’t done anything to suggest he’s anything less than a progressive moral warrior, yet. His early record with touchy issues has actually been quite laudable. But his real P.R. test will come when he has to make a choice about one of the more beloved faces of his game — not an already reviled character like Sterling, or an anonymous one like Taylor.
Information from AP reports was used here.
— John Wilmes
For some teams, it’s always about next year and it’s never too early to think about the next draft. It’s not a position they particularly want to be in. It’s just the reality of where they are.
And for a handful of NFL teams, that’s the reality as the league steamrolls toward Week 12. The playoff chase is over. The race for the first overall draft pick is now all that matters to them.
So with that in mind, here’s a look at the bottom five teams in the NFL standings – the teams with the best chance at the golden ticket in the 2015 draft. It’s going to be hard to beat out the winless Oakland Raiders. But hey, you never know …
1. Oakland Raiders (0-10)
Owners of the worst offense in the NFL and scoring at a paltry clip of 15.2 points per game, they’re not a threat to beat anybody. Worse for them, five of their last six games are against playoff contenders, and the sixth is against the rapidly improving St. Louis Rams. It’s always hard to project an 0-16 record, but 1-15 certainly seems to be well within their sights.
Needs: Well, they don’t need a quarterback since they just drafted Derek Carr in the first round, which puts them in great position to trade the pick to whomever wants Oregon QB Marcus Mariota. They could use a pass rusher (USC DE Leonard Williams would be a possible pick). It might be a reach in the Top 5 to get the receiver help they need, though.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9)
The last few years they’ve seemed to live within range of the No. 1 pick. They are starting to assemble some talent, though. QB Blake Bortles looks like their future and they have talent at receiver (Allen Robinson) and (Denard Robinson). The schedule isn’t terrible down the stretch and if they come together quickly they have a shot to win a game or two, but will not likely fall out of the Top 5.
Needs: If they end up at the top they’re another team that could trade down and benefit from other teams’ desire for Mariota or Florida State QB Jameis Winston. What they need more than anything is help along the offensive line. Maybe Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi or Iowa’s Brandon Scherff. If they drop down far enough a CB could be in play.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8)
If the return of QB Josh McCown to a starting role gives them the lift they’re expecting, they might find themselves with a couple of unwanted wins, too. But if they can somehow sit right around 3, they could be in prime position either for the top pick or for a reasonably priced trade-up. Their best chances for wins are on the road, at Chicago and at Carolina, and neither one will be easy for this battered team.
Needs: They may be desperate to be in the Mariota/Winston range because McCown is nothing more than a stop-gap and it’s clear that new coach Lovie Smith doesn’t view Mike Glennon as his quarterback of the future. Yes, they could use help on both lines too, but without a quarterback they’ve got nothing. So they need to get to the 1 or 2 pick or be prepared to move up.
4. Tennessee Titans (2-8)
The Titans hang in a lot of games, which always makes them a threat to win. Worse for them – if getting a top pick is the goal – they have games remaining against the Giants, Jets and Jaguars. Those three alone might be enough to get them out of the race, and maybe out of the Top 5. And if QB Zach Mettenberger becomes more than they expected, they could fall even farther than that.
Needs: Well, if Mettenberger isn’t their long-term answer – and there’s no indication that the end of this season is anything more than a big audition for him – then quarterback becomes their biggest need and Mariota certainly could be in play. Maybe Winston, too. If they slip, though, they certainly need some help on defense, which puts the pass rushers in play – either an end or an LB like Clemson’s Vic Beasley. Florida State CB P.J. Williams would figure to be in play if they fall closer to pick No. 10.
5. New York Jets (2-8)
They got a surprising boost last week when they beat the Steelers and they have a few winnable games down the stretch (two vs. Miami, at Buffalo, at Minnesota, at Tennessee). Plus, there’s always the possibility this team will fight for coach Rex Ryan, who is probably on his way out regardless. The point is, for all the Jets fans counting on a Top 5 draft pick, don’t rule out an unwanted late-season run.
Needs: They benched Geno Smith, so it’s safe to assume they’re not sold on him as their future, which means that if they land in the Top 5 then Mariota has to be in play. Winston is a complicated case, though, because of all his off-field baggage. That won’t play well in New York for a team that really needs to find a way to be distraction free. If they don’t go quarterback they’d be crazy if they don’t draft an offensive lineman or a cornerback, which besides quarterback might be the two biggest of their many glaring needs.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
Making an impression as an NBA rookie is a tall task. The game gets considerably more complicated when you make the jump from college to the pros, and most first-year players — even if they’re talented — flounder for a while as they try to grasp the intricacies of NBA playbooks and psyches.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to wow the roundball world in a debut season. Magic Johnson, for instance, was the Finals MVP as he led his Los Angeles Lakers to a title alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a rookie. And the San Antonio Spurs’ still-active legend Tim Duncan arrived to the NBA as his team’s best player in 1997-98. It was only one season later that he led his team to their first of many championships as they defeated the New York Knicks in the 1999 NBA Finals.
We’re not going to hold the new crop of NBA first-timers up to the lofty standards set by Duncan, Magic, and the rest of the game’s greatest players. That would just be unfair. But there is plenty to be excited about in 2014-15’s new collection of stars.
5. Nikola Mirotic
Chicago Bulls fans have been twiddling their thumbs over this guy for years. Acquired in a 2011 trade after he was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Mirotic has seen his myth only grow in the years he spent playing through contracts in the Spanish League, where he was the 2013 MVP.
Mirotic finally signed with the Bulls this summer, a full three years after they got their man, and through limited time on the floor, Mirotic has made good on a lot of the hype. The 6’10” forward is shockingly mobile for his size, a deadly shooter, and incredibly clever and quick with his hands. Although his game is rough, raw, and sloppy in the expected fashion of a rookie, there appear to be very few NBA skills he doesn’t have.
“Niko,” as he prefers to be called, is not going to garner any rookie awards. The Bulls have perhaps the deepest backcourt in the league, and it will be hard for Mirotic to find minutes behind Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, and Taj Gibson. But if he were on a team without such an embarrassment of big man riches, he’d be in the running for Rookie of the Year honors.
4. Andrew Wiggins
It’s going to take Andrew Wiggins a while to outgrow the story that started his NBA career. Initially drafted No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Wiggins was subsequently traded to Minnesota in a deal that assembled the sport’s next juggernaut by moving Kevin Love over to Ohio, alongside LeBron James.
But “Maple Jordan,” as the Canada native is fondly called, has the hops and coordination to eventually turn into one of the most devastating perimeter athletes around. Moments like this terrific block of superstar James Harden remind us of what Wiggins might become:
Wiggins doesn’t yet have the confidence, fluidity, or knowledge needed to more regularly stand up to players of Harden’s stature. In time, he could. But for now, one thing we can be sure of is that the ‘Wolves' young stud is liable to explode for can’t-miss highlight clips any night you watch him.
3. Jabari Parker
Widely touted as the most NBA-ready prospect of his class, Jabari Parker is helping to restore life to the basketball community in Milwaukee. The Duke University alum and Chicago native (he played at Simeon Academy, the same school that brought up Derrick Rose) was a first-team All American in the NCAA last year, and the consensus high school player of the year as a senior.
The peak of Parker’s upside has him looking like the next Carmelo Anthony; A beefy, creative, sweet-shooting wingman who’s an offense unto himself. Parker can get buckets with the best of them. So while he’s only averaging 10.6 points per game through ten Bucks contests, you can comfortably expect that number to rise as coach Jason Kidd figures out how to best use his 19-year-old star.
2. Marcus Smart
When it comes to defense, Marcus Smart already looks like he’s got years and years of experience under his belt. A ravenous, lockdown guard, Smart is all over the floor for his Boston Celtics, chasing ball-handlers like a bad dream that doesn’t end.
His awareness and energy have even occasionally translated to the other side of the ball in the early going, like when he made this shrewd, dazzling behind-the-back pass in an eye-catching performance against the Dallas Mavericks:
Smart’s already got the moxie and aggression of a veteran. It’s only a matter of time until he has the rest of the picture complete, and he’s one of the most fearsome guards in the game.
1. Elfrid Payton
Elfrid Payton is the undisputed champion of hairstyles in his class. What’s even more enticing than Payton’s ‘do, though, is how it’s an emblem of his unchained playing style. Payton is a hard-charging, physical point guard with speed to spare and incredible vision for the floor.
Like Smart, Payton is also a relentless pest as a defender, often approaching wrestling tactics in his coverage. His infectious energy is unlearned for now, but Payton’s already looked like a fierce leader for his young Orlando Magic team, and like a player who can spark his team into great performances down the road. Watch these highlights of Elfrid’s November 7 outing against Minnesota for a preview of one of the NBA’s most watchable point guards:
— John Wilmes
Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe doesn’t think much of the tanking, winless Philadelphia 76ers. They’re 0-11, and they’re very bad. In a recent appearance on Sirius XM NBA Radio, Bledsoe was asked whether his NCAA team, the University of Kentucky Wildcats, could beat the Sixers, and he said: "I'll definitely take Kentucky. I think Philly would probably get maybe one game. I know they're going to be mad [in Philadelphia], but I love my Wildcats.”
One game? Hey, well … it’s hard to disagree with Mr. Bledsoe. Kentucky has a handful of studs destined to be NBA rotation players, while the Sixers are a rag-tag crew of broken contracts and bodies assembled by general manager Sam Hinkie specifically to lose. As Deadspin’s Tom Ley puts it, “They aren't so much a basketball team as a monument to the cold, dead-eyed cynicism that so often makes pro sports a huge bummer. They are the bastard children of an Excel spreadsheet, born for the purposes of minimizing risk and maximizing odds.”
It’s hard to remember an NBA tanker that’s inspired so many inspired criticisms and impassioned arguments about the nature of the sport, winning, losing, and loads of other emotional and economic concerns. Beyond being historically terrible, the Sixers’ front office is breaking ground in how blatant they are about doing it on purpose, to climb up the NBA draft boards. Hinkie is unabashed in his quest for colossal short-term failure, and it rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
The argument about whether great college teams can beat anemic pro teams is not so new, of course. It seems every year we go through this debate, and every year we’re less certain about the truth. Like the time-machine debates about current superstars versus past legends (M.J. and LeBron being the most tread-over of the lot), this conversation exists in a vacuum of impossible circumstances. What can’t be proven will always cause disagreements.
But one thing I’m sure that you, me, Eric Bledsoe, and Sam Hinkie can all agree upon is that we don’t want to watch the Sixers play basketball.
— John Wilmes
We’ve all heard about the friend of the friend who deep fries a turkey each Thanksgiving, and everyone raves about it. Well, this is your year to be that guy. Here’s our quick guide, along with some great tips from chef Darrell Breaux of Bro’s Cajun Cuisine in Nashville, Tenn., who’s been frying turkeys for 25 years. “Once you’ve had a fried turkey,” he says, “you won’t want it any other way.”
• Wash turkey thoroughly both inside and out and drain. “Your best frying size is between 12 and 14 pounds. That will feed four to six people.”
• Season turkey to taste. “I like to sprinkle seasoning, rub it in, and let it set for a couple of days.”
• Make sure it’s room temperature before putting it into your fryer. “Every year it seems like somebody tries to fry a frozen turkey. Don’t! It’ll explode.”
• Heat the oil in a large outdoor pot to 350 degrees. “I prefer peanut oil.”
• Carefully lower turkey until it’s fully submerged. (Tip: To predetermine the correct oil level, put the turkey in the empty fryer, add water, remove turkey and mark the proper level.)
• Fry for around 3 minutes per pound. “Take into account the weather. The wind can be blowing, or it could be snowing. Use a thermometer to make sure it’s cooked properly. (Remove the turkey and) stick the thermometer into the thigh. It needs to be around 185 degrees.”
• Remove from oil, drain on paper towel and carve. “If you’re planning on using the same pan you had the raw turkey in, make sure you wash the pan. You don’t want any cross contamination.”
• Breaux’s final safety tip? “Stay sober, and use common sense.”
Paul Pierce is a surefire Hall of Famer. The eighteen-year forward, who played sixteen of those years with the Boston Celtics and won a title in Beantown, has been one of the game’s most devastating scorers for well over a decade. Even in his advanced age of 37, The Truth boasts a deceptive, hypnotic form of isolation basketball that’s a death knell to the opposition in crunch time. That's why the Washington Wizards signed him for two years and about $10 million this past summer.
But in Pierce’s estimation of the league in 2014, none of what he does would particularly matter to NBA executives if he were a rookie. In fact, he thinks he’d have a hard time getting drafted. "I probably wouldn't have got drafted [this year]“ Pierce recently said on Dan Patrick’s radio show.
"A lot of stuff is based on potential, or I probably would've went later in the first round or something. I think a lot of these young talented kids are just rated on their pure length and athleticism, but really no basketball IQ, really no footwork, really can't shoot the ball. When they look at [a] guy and they say he has potential, he's fast, he has long arms, he can jump. And then he gets out there and can't throw a rock in the ocean, or he can't run a play. Or his basketball IQ is low. I think those things sometimes get overrated. A lot of kids get drafted just on that.”
Even though Pierce sounds like a grumpy old man here, he may be right to an extent. Measuring his worth has always been difficult, though — teams have always passed over those whose skills are more metaphysical than quantifiable, and it’s always created many a draft day rabbit hole. Pierce has adaptability, edge, and ethos … none of which are easily projectable qualities. Bodily dimensions and statistics often feel like a safer bet in the draft.
The ten-time All-Star even sunk to No. 10 overall in his own 1998 draft, behind inferior players (but more imposing bodies) Robert Traylor, Raef LaFrentz, Larry Hughes, and forgotten center Michael Olowokandi, who went first overall ahead of not only Pierce, but also Dirk Nowitzki, who was available to the Dallas Mavericks one slot ahead of Paul at No. 9. Yikes. NBA gems are elusive, and drafting is hard.
— John Wilmes
Lake Forest, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - The Chicago Bears signed return man Marc Mariani to a two-year contract on Tuesday.
Mariani averaged 24.8 yards on 92 kickoff returns for Tennessee in 2010 and 2011. He also returned 73 punts for an average of 11.2 yards with two touchdowns during his two years with the Titans.
He earned a Pro Bowl nod after the 2010 season.
To make room for Mariani on the roster, the team waived safety Ahmad Dixon. He had four special teams tackles and a fumble recovery in five games for the Bears this season.
Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Pittsburgh Steelers have released running back LeGarrette Blount, who reportedly left the field before the conclusion of Monday's game against Tennessee.
Multiple media outlets reported that Blount walked off the field before the end of the Steelers' 27-24 win over the Titans, apparently upset over his lack of playing time. He did not receive carry in the contest, as Le'Veon Bell racked up a career-high 204 yards on 33 rushes.
"We believe the decision to release LeGarrette is in the best interest of the organization and wish him the best of luck," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin in a brief statement.
Blount joined the Steelers in March on a two-year contract after a spending the 2013 season with New England. He got into immediate trouble with his new team after being cited for marijuana possession, along with Bell, in August.
In 11 games this season, Blount rushed for 266 yards with two touchdowns. He had 10 carries in Week 9 against Baltimore and just five last Sunday in the loss to the Jets prior to Monday.
The 28-year-old Oregon product spent his first three NFL seasons with Tampa Bay, rushing for 1,007 yards as a rookie in 2010.
Canton, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - Quarterback Kurt Warner and his "Greatest Show on Turf" teammates Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt were among eight first-year eligible candidates named as semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2015.
Late linebacker and San Diego Chargers great Junior Seau was also named as a semifinalist Tuesday night after the selection committee trimmed the list of 113 nominees down 26.
Joining the St. Louis Rams trio of Warner, Bruce and Holt among first-year hopefuls were running back Edgerrin James, offensive linemen Kevin Mawae and Orlando Pace and cornerback back Ty Law.
Tackle Mike Kenn and safety Darren Woodson were named semifinalists for the first time.
Finalists on the ballot again include running back Jerome Bettis, wide receiver Tim Brown, offensive lineman Will Shields, linebacker Kevin Greene, head coach Tony Dungy and wide receiver Marvin Harrison.
Others making the list were: kicker Morten Andersen, safety Steve Atwater, head coach Don Coryell, running backs Roger Craig and Terrell Davis, defensive end Charles Haley, tackle Joe Jacoby, safety John Lynch and linebacker Karl Mecklenburg and head coach Jimmy Johnson.
The announcement of the 15 finalists will come Jan. 8.
The contributor finalists are former longtime general managers and team executives Bill Polian and Ron Wolf. Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff is the 2015 seniors finalist.
"Personally, I just hope they suck forever.”
That was what Mark Cuban said in an L.A. radio interview recently, when asked about the sorry state of basketball’s most famous team.
"As far as the Lakers," Cuban said, "I think there are going to be a lot of teams that are going to be focusing and saying, 'Look, I've got a ton of cap room, free agents A, B and C, why don't you guys come together and come play for me?' And L.A. has always been considered a destination, so maybe they feel there's a valid strategy. … Personally, I just hope they suck forever.”
Cuban must be feeling jolly these days. His 8-3 Mavericks have been soaring behind the league’s best offense, averaging 109.3 points per game with the additions of Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler. Dallas hasn’t won a playoff series since their championship in 2011 — the Western Conference has been that good — but that could easily change this spring.
The team’s roster is now clearly in the best shape its been since that title run. Chandler’s rim protection and pick-and-roll finishing have been an upgrade of nearly unspeakable proportions. Chandler is third in the league in field goal percentage at .703, and his new wingmate Chandler Parsons is helping to spread opposing defenses with his perimeter creativity. The Mavericks are a frightening foe.
That’s a far cry from the patsy Lakers, who do, indeed, suck. Nick “Swaggy P” Young returned to action last night to help L.A. win 114-109 against the struggling Atlanta Hawks, but it was only the Lakers’ second victory of the season. At 2-9, they’re currently in last place in their conference and off to their worst start in franchise history. It may not last forever, but Cuban and other Lakers haters worldwide should enjoy the waft of failure coming from Hollywood for now.
— John Wilmes