Articles By Athlon Sports

Path: /nba/raptors%E2%80%99-derozan-scores-42-bests-childhood-friend-james-harden
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Los Angeles is the basketball capital of the world. The home of the Lakers, the sport’s most storied franchise, is also the breeding ground for many of the NBA’s best ballers, and will likely continue to be for a long, long time.

 

Two of the most notable current alumni of the city of angels squared off in Toronto last night, and got to reawaken some friendly childhood rivalry while they did so. DeMar DeRozan and James Harden go way back, and DeRozan’s 42 points in a 99-96 Raptors victory over the Houston Rockets sent DeRozan into some delightful nostalgia about their bond.

 

"He didn't have no beard back then," DeRozan kidded about Harden, after the win. "It's definitely cool because we've been playing against each other since we were kids. That’s one of my close friends in the league to this day. I'm close to his family, he's close to my family, so it's always cool. Now we can cherish this 20 years from now, 30 years from now, just joking, you know, have fun together."

 

DeMar, of course, might end up cherishing it more than James. Harden’s 31 points, five rebounds and five assists weren’t enough to push Houston to a road victory, one they needed in their race toward optimal playoff seeding. As the Western Conference standings lie today, they’re in the conference’s No. 3 spot, and would face the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Taking the second position from the Memphis Grizzlies would net them the much more beatable Dallas Mavericks.

Toronto, meanwhile, is trying to bump up from No. 4 in the East, and displace the three-seeded Chicago Bulls. As it stands, they’d face John Wall and the Washington Wizards to start the playoffs. If they can get ahead of Chicago, though, they’ll go up against the unseasoned Milwaukee Bucks. Stay tuned as these races develop.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 10:06
All taxonomy terms: Martin Kaymer, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-7-martin-kaymer
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 7: Martin Kaymer

 

Born: Dec. 28, 1984, Dusseldorf, West Germany | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3 (11 on the European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,532,537 (10th) World Ranking: 13

2014 Key Stats:

      Approaches from 125-150 Yards: 19’6” (3rd)

      All Around Ranking: 480 (28th)

      Strokes Gained, Putting: -.114 (120th)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Kaymer has one of the most fluid swings in the game today; his move is a perfect combination of elegance and fury. When he is winning, as he did wire-to-wire last year at both The Players and the U.S. Open (the latter by eight shots), one wonders how it is that he doesn't win every week. If he improves his short game, which is the main reason he struggles at Augusta National and fails to contend when he is not spot on tee to green, then he could become as consistent as he is brilliant. This year’s majors line up well for him, as the PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits, site of his first major win in 2010, and The Open goes to St. Andrews, where he finished seventh during that same year.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 28
Wins: 2

2014 Performance:
Masters - T31
U.S. Open - 1
British Open - 70
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T31 (2014)
U.S. Open - 1 (2014)
British Open - T7 (2010)
PGA Championship - 1 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 5
Top-25 Finishes: 7
Missed Cuts: 10

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 09:58
All taxonomy terms: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA
Path: /nba/bucks-guard-khris-middleton-breakout-star
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Among the NBA’s most devoted followers, one previously obscure name keeps coming up, over and over again, throughout the 2014-15 season: Khris Middleton.

 

The Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard has swiftly become one of the game’s most admired young players, modestly developing into one of the best “three-and-D” guards in the league. He has the best defensive real plus-minus among anyone at his position, and shoots 41 percent from deep. He’s also quite adept at creating his own shots.

 

An alumni of Texas A&M and the D-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants — where the Detroit Pistons had him assigned in 2012, before trading him to Milwaukee — Middleton is headed for restricted free agency this summer. The Bucks can match any offer sheet a competing team may send his way, and they’re likely thanking their lucky stars for that.

 

Middleton has improved consistently under new head coach Jason Kidd, with his star peaking when he hit one of the season’s most memorable shots against the Miami Heat last week. Here’s his buzzer-beating game-winner, which sent the Bradley Center into a tizzy:

 

The shot was not only exciting in isolation — it also carried big playoff implications. The Bucks have struggled to hold onto their seed since a roster mixup at the trade deadline, in which they sent Brandon Knight to the Phoenix Suns in a multi-team trade that netted them Michael Carter-Williams from the Philadelphia 76ers.

 

 

Losing Knight hurt in the short term, but it was done in anticipation of free agency. The Bucks calculated that they didn’t want to pay both Knight and Middleton big money, so they opted to carve out a space in their purse for Middleton, instead. Alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, the guard is part of one of the most promising young trios in all of the NBA.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 14:14
Path: /nba/ranking-nba-playoffs%E2%80%99-biggest-x-factor-players
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6. DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks

If the Cleveland Cavaliers can be stopped from reaching the NBA Finals, Carroll might have more to do with it than anyone. He’s been the closest thing to a LeBron James antidote this season, holding James relatively in check through three Hawks victories over the Cavs since November. Carroll’s peripheral role in the Hawks’ offense — in which he usually takes the fewest shots among fellow starters — means he’s one of the less noticeable players to the casual eye. But his defense on the wing could very well prove to be the fulcrum that decides whether LeBron can make it five straight trips to the championship round.

 

5. Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls

It’s not often that you see a rookie like Nikola Mirotic. The 24-year-old has already been the MVP in one of the better non-NBA pro leagues, in Spain, and now he’s a serious difference maker for an American contender. In March, Mirotic has been the Bulls’ saving grace through injury issues, averaging 20.8 points per game off the bench, often acting as the team’s deadly closer as he lights it up in the fourth quarter. Tom Thibodeau and Co. have found especially compelling use of the Montengro native by occasionally slotting his 6’10” frame into the small forward spot — a role made possible by Mirotic’s unusual mobility for his size.

 

4. Timofey Mozgov, Cleveland Cavaliers

If there was an annual award for “best role player,” Mozgov would be in contention for this season’s trophy. The Russian center has filled huge dividends since coming over from the Denver Nuggets in a winter trade. Cleveland needed someone who’d be happy to do dirty work down low on defense, and act as a screen-setting pylon on offense — and to be okay without the ball in his hands very often. Mozgov has more than risen to that task, as the Cavs have thrived with him in the lineup as their thunderous, selfless tree.

 

3. Andrew Bogut, Golden State Warriors

The Warriors have been basketball’s best team this year, and the competition hasn’t been especially close behind them. Golden State’s +10.9 point differential is the stuff of legends, and nothing like it has been seen since the Boston Celtics’ magical first year with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen — an outfit that finished the season with a +10.2 difference. Bogut is the least recognized piece of the Warriors’ equation, but he’ll likely be their second-most important player behind MVP candidate Steph Curry in their race to an NBA title. His robust rim protection and uncanny wingman skills as a seven-footer are what can take the Warriors to the extra level they’ll need to squeak by the defending champion Spurs.

 

2. Jeff Green, Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies’ midseason trade for Jeff Green makes total sense, in a vacuum. The former Celtics’ wing is an able scorer, and Memphis was able to get him for relatively little. But the strength of the Grizzlies lies in their cohesive, steely core, and Green hasn’t been an entirely natural fit in their typically bone-crunching defense. Green has remained a minus defender as he’s switched from green jersey to blue. And while’s certainly helped their spacing on offense, the playoffs will truly tell us whether the Grizzlies’ identity barter was a worthwhile endeavor.

 

1. Boris Diaw, San Antonio Spurs

Don’t look now, but the Spurs are beautiful again. The defending champions appeared to be struck by an unusually large dose of malaise for much of the season, but in March they’ve gone 11-3 as they’ve manhandled more than one fellow playoff team. The Spurs are undeniably back in the title mix with their suddenly revitalized chemistry, and everyone knows that Diaw will be the extra-difficult piece of the puzzle to account for. At an agile, hyper-intelligent 250 pounds, Boris creates headaches for wingmen all over the league, and no team is better suited to capitalize on his very rare skill set like San Antonio is.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 10:41
All taxonomy terms: Rickie Fowler, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-8-rickie-fowler
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 8: Rickie Fowler

 

Born: Dec. 13, 1988, Murrieta, Calif. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,532,537 (10th) World Ranking: 12

2014 Key Stats:

      Bounce Back: 24.07% (9th)

      Putting from 5-15’: 50.36% (7th)

      Scrambling from the Rough: 61.27% (15th)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Fowler works under the tutelage of Butch Harmon, who is as much a sport psychologist as he is teacher. With Harmon, Fowler has retooled his very idiosyncratic golf swing to become more consistent, and in a very short period of time, he laid the groundwork for one of the most memorable years in the majors that the game has ever seen. Only Jack Nicklaus in 1971 and 1975 and Tiger Woods in 2000 and 2005 were able to do what Rickie Fowler did in 2014 — finish in the top five in all four of the game’s biggest events. Of course, both Nicklaus and Woods won majors in those years, and the best finish Rickie could muster was a runner-up in both the U.S. Open and Open Championship, but the conclusion to draw from those finishes is a big 2015 for the 26-year-old. Increased clubhead speed, improved putting and an uptempo freedom to his play give Fowler the aura of a superstar that belies his lone PGA Tour victory, but that win total will increase this year and be more commensurate with his stature in the game.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 20
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T5
U.S. Open - T2
British Open - T2
PGA Championship - T3

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T5 (2014)
U.S. Open - T2 (2014)
British Open - T2 (2014)
PGA Championship - T3 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 6
Top-25 Finishes: 8
Missed Cuts: 4

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 30, 2015 - 10:31
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-hottest-coaching-seats
Body:

6. Melvin Hunt, Denver Nuggets / James Borrego, Orlando Magic

While Hunt has done well as the Nuggets’ interim man, and holds onto a chance to keep his job come 2015-16, it’s believed that both of these coaches are merely temporary patches. The Magic and Nuggets both seek a big-name leader. For Orlando, that means finding the man to lead a promising young nucleus including Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo — Scott Skiles, a dubious choice for that task, has been linked to the job. The Nuggets, meanwhile, have a strange roster that’s likely to stay that way regardless of who they hire, but the prospect of Mike D’Antoni aiding Ty Lawson’s pick-and-roll calls in the thin Rockies altitude is certainly an alluring one.

 

5. David Blatt, Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers have been destroying the opposition, so it’s hard to believe they’d want to change much this summer. But rumors persist that Blatt is not long for his current job. He was hired before the organization realized LeBron James was due for a return, and James hasn’t exactly seemed in love with the man he didn’t choose. Assistant Tyron Lue often appears to be the head coach in scrums, with James and the other players seeming to react more favorably to him. Recent reports that the University of Kentucky’s John Calipari is eyeing a return to the NBA have naturally led to him being connected to a possible opening in Cavsland.

 

4. Randy Wittman, Washington Wizards

Wittman should be higher on this list, but his front office favors him. The Wizards’ man has shot his team in the foot all season, espousing a sort of ground-and-pound approach with a dearth of 3-pointers despite having one of the best young backcourts we’ve seen in ages. John Wall and Bradley Beal should be made to go nuts in the open court, but instead they’ve been appropriated into agents of Wittman’s nostalgic half-court vision, and Washington’s been sagging for months. Wall’s college coach, Calipari, is an intriguing possibility here too, as is D’Antoni. But don’t keep your fingers crossed, Wizards fans.

 

3. Byron Scott, Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers support Scott publicly, but behind closed doors they must see his glaring shortcomings. Scott is grumpy to a fault, clearly grating on his young roster, and preaches an anti-3-pointer ethic that is downright comical. The possible availability of Tom Thibodeau (who seems to be on his way out of his Chicago Bulls job) would make L.A. pull the trigger on Scott’s tenure almost immediately. So would the availability of anyone who they thought would do better to help them lure free agents like Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook down the line. Scott is an interim coach in all but title.

 

2. Monty Williams, New Orleans Pelicans

Like Scott, Williams may be a sitting duck in the event that Thibodeau hits the market. Anthony Davis is the best talent of his generation, and many analysts feel that the Pelicans are in danger of squandering him if they don’t make some substantial changes to their program soon. More importantly, though, his franchise has displayed a certain impatience, and desire to get their car fast-tracked toward title contention soon. Williams isn’t perfect, but he definitely hasn’t shown he’s the man for that task.

 

1. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls

This one doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Thibodeau is one of the best coaches in the NBA, his players like him, and the Bulls have been in a renaissance era ever since he took residence on their sidelines. They’ve regularly led the NBA in defensive performance, and trumped expectations despite disappointing injuries to Derrick Rose in multiple seasons. But virtually every NBA media member reports a terrible tension between Thibodeau and his front office, and anything short of a championship seems like it will be reason enough to send him packing this offseason.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 27, 2015 - 10:09
All taxonomy terms: Matt Kuchar, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-9-matt-kuchar
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 9: Matt Kuchar

 

Born: June 21, 1978, Winter Park, Fla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 7 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,695,515 (9th) World Ranking: 14

2013-14 Key Stats

      Strokes Gained, Total: 1.573 (5th)

      Par 4 Performance: -29 (2nd)

      Top 10 Finishes: 11 (2nd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Kuchar is an impressive player when one looks at how many wins he has over the last five years (five), but when one considers what he could’ve done and what he is imminently capable of doing this year, you’ve got a truly elite player whose overall game and guile make him a major threat. Since 2010 no other player in the world — not even Rory or Tiger or Adam — has come close to being in the hunt on the PGA Tour as often as Kuchar. His 48 top tens are 12 more than Rory, 27 more than Tiger and 16 more than Scott over the same time period. Of course, he is criticized for not winning more, but given his lack of length off of the tee, he is succeeding in the most power-prejudiced era in the history of golf. His improved accuracy in driving will make him more of a threat in the majors in 2015 and in particular at The Masters, where he has finished third, eighth and fifth the last three years. If you're looking for the best player to have never won a major with the best chance to rid himself of that moniker, look no further than Kooch.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 36
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T5
U.S. Open - T12
British Open - T54
PGA Championship - DNP

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T3 (2012)
U.S. Open - T6 (2010)
British Open - T9 (2012)
PGA Championship - T10 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 6
Top-25 Finishes: 14
Missed Cuts: 15

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 27, 2015 - 10:01
All taxonomy terms: MLB, NBA, NFL, Overtime, NFL, NBA, MLB, Overtime
Path: /overtime/pro-sports-20-worst-teammates-all-time
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There are many different ways for a locker room to implode, splinter and almost assuredly fail to accomplish much of anything. Many times, these locker rooms are infested with teammates who clearly aren't committed to winning championships.

 

Here are our worst teammates of all-time:

 

Ryan Leaf, NFL

The torrid and tawdry tale of the San Diego Chargers' first-round pick in the 1998 NFL Draft is well documented. His off-the-field drug issues as a coach alone make him one of the most tragic members of any locker room in all of sports. As a player, he was in yelling matches that nearly developed into physical altercations with teammates, general managers, fans during practice and one famous reporter who really, really needs to "knock it off." There is a reason he won only four of his 21 career starts.

 

Tonya Harding, Figure Skater

It doesn’t gets any worse than physically assaulting your teammate with the direct intent of ending their career. On Jan. 6, 1994, Harding conspired with ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, to break teammate and competitor Nancy Kerrigan's right leg. They hired a man named Shane Stant to assault Kerrigan at Cobo Arena in Detroit, causing Kerrigan to withdraw from the 1994 US Championships. The attack didn't keep Kerrigan from competing in the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer where she won the silver medal. Harding would end up pleading guilty to conspiracy.

 

Barry Bonds, MLB

Possibly the most talented and most high profile player on this list, it seems awfully appropriate that Bonds never won a World Series title. The stories from teammates, fans and reporters stretch out longer than one of his bombs into the Bay. Not showing up for team photos, blaming teammates for failed drug tests, berating journalists, distracting the team and constantly distancing himself from his team. There also is Rob Dibble's assertion that Bonds' own Pirates teammates would offer steak dinners and cash to opposing pitchers if they would hit the slugger during his days with Pittsburgh.

 

Latrell Sprewell, NBA

Few players have wasted more talent on nonsense than Sprewell. Not many players can say they have literally choked their head coach. His excuse? "It's not like he was losing air or anything." Spree's laundry list of locker room dust-ups is too long to comb through. But choking your coach and publicly wondering how he was going to feed his family on a $21 million contract is enough to make this list.

 

John Terry, EPL

One of the most decorated English soccer plays of all-time, Terry won "Dad of the Year" in 2009. The voters must not have known about his bar fights, airport altercations, handicap parking tendencies and general sleaziness. He has been investigated for racial abuse and was busted for having an extramarital affair with a teammate’s significant other. Well done, sire.

 

Jeff Kent, MLB

Few players have ever been as abrasive as Mr. Kent. Stories of Bonds — yes, Barry Bonds — having to play the role of peacekeeper in the Giants clubhouse should tell you all you need to know about Kent. Teammates, media, coaches and fans couldn't stand to be around him. Neither could the people on "Survivor" apparently.

 

Gilbert Arenas, NBA

He was known for his propensity to berate and verbally abuse teammates. He also was connected with some of the more vicious rookie hazings. However, being suspended for nearly an entire season because you brought a handgun into the locker room takes the cake.

 

Delonte West, NBA

This one isn't too hard. Over a three-year period of time West was traded three times and eventually waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves. His career began unceremoniously when officers found a concealed handgun in his pocket and, you can't make this up, a shotgun in a guitar case on his back during a speeding stop — while on a motorcycle. In 2010, he got into a locker room fight with Von Wafer, one that witnesses say West instigated. In 2012, he wasn't allowed to attend the Mavericks' trip to the White House.

 

Bill Romanowski, NFL

The burly and physical tackler was a menace on the field as one of the nastiest hitters in the game. Off the field, he was one of the worst teammates. During his playing days, he was long-linked to potential steroid use that likely led somewhat to his insane practice habits. No less than six major violent incidents with teammates dot Romanowski's resume. He shattered Marcus Williams' eye socket, ending his career, broke Kerry Collins' jaw and attacked Tony Gonzalez. He kicked another teammate in the head, spit in another's face and was known to aim for an extra-sensitive area of the body with the football from time to time. He’s since toned down his antics dramatically and has been slowly working to rebuild his image off of the field.

 

Manny Ramirez, MLB

No one makes you shake your head quite like Man-Ram. He had physical altercations with teammates and even apparently knocked over an elderly secretary. He was one of the most bizarre outfielders in the history of the game. Cutting off throws, disappearing into the Green Monster and landing on the baseball only scratch the surface. He also was suspended for using steroids late in his career. But Manny also is guilty of the worst crime in all of sports: intentionally not playing hard. Manny Being Manny was great for a laugh — if you didn't play with him. To his credit, Ramirez is trying to rehabilitate image by working with young players as a hitting consultant for the Cubs.

 

Terrell Owens, NFL

Constantly throwing teammates under the bus, Owens' selfish attitude on and off the field cost his locker room any cohesion and, at times, cost his team yards on the field. Effort was never his issue like some other prima donna wideouts in the NFL, but to blame quarterbacks and coaches for his own failures is absurd. And to infer certain things about Jeff Garcia in a negative way is unacceptable, distasteful and classless. Especially, coming from a guy as vain as T.O.

 

Steve Smith, NFL

Multiple fights with multiple teammates made Smith a constant headline in Panthers' training camp during his 13-year tenure with the team. He has been sued, fined, suspended and sent to anger management training stemming from a lengthy list of indiscretions. He also has long been one of the yappiest players in all of the NFL.

 

Carlos Zambrano, MLB

He was suspended for arguing with teammate Derrek Lee. He got in a fight between innings with catcher Michael Barrett. His temper and childish behaviors were caught on film numerous times on the North Side of Chicago. Why did you think the Cubs' new regime was willing to pay millions for him NOT to be in their clubhouse when he was traded away in January 2012?

 

"Worst" of the Rest:

 

Albert Haynesworth, NFL

A paycheck player who refused to play certain positions and never stayed in shape following his monstrous payday.

 

Keyshawn Johnson, NFL

Was always wondering why the Jets were throwing the ball "to that little white guy." Hmmm... TMZ also is pretty sure that he cheated on his wife.

 

Stephon Marbury, NBA

Constantly battling with teammates and even his GM, he single-handedly derailed the Knicks from 2004-09 before taking his act overseas to China.

 

Allen Iverson, NBA

Game effort was never the issue. His diva persona and attitude towards practice was.

 

Joe Horn, NFL

On the field antics and sleeping with a teammate's wife qualifies Horn for this list.

 

JaMarcus Russell, NFL

Lazy, out of shape and unfocused on anything that had to do with winning games.

 

Milton Bradley, MLB

Eight teams in 12 years for the short-tempered maniac. Bradley also has dealt with multiple domestic abuse-related incidents.

Teaser:
Pro Sports 20 Worst Teammates of All-Time
Post date: Friday, March 27, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/sweet-16-game-preview-and-predictions-michigan-state-vs-oklahoma
Body:

It wouldn’t be fair to Tom Izzo to call Michigan State’s run to the Sweet 16 unlikely. Really, it is business as usual for the Spartans’ head coach. 

 

But for this Michigan State team — a team that started January with five losses and entered the Big Ten tournament with 10 — unlikely seems like a fair word. This Spartans team wasn’t supposed to be a Sweet 16 team, yet here they are, two wins away from Izzo’s seventh career Final Four. 

 

The Spartans made it this far thanks to a balanced offensive attack that features a new star every night and the typical pressure Spartan defense we’ve grown accustomed to under Izzo. 

 

Sooners coach, Lon Kruger, is no stranger to Izzo as the two coached against one another in the Big Ten when Kruger was leading Illinois from 1996-2000.  Kruger went just 3-6 against Izzo then. 

 

Each team that Kruger has lead has had one glaring trait, defense. The Sooners play lock down defense and rank sixth nationally in defensive efficiency. Oklahoma may lack quality depth, but that doesn’t stop the Sooners from getting out and running, grabbing defensive rebounds, and scoring in bunches in transition.

 

Other Sweet 16 Previews

NC State vs. Louisville

Utah vs. Duke

UCLA vs. Gonzaga

 

No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Oklahoma

Region: East (Syracuse, N.Y.)

Time: Friday, approx. 10:07 p.m. ET

TV: TBS

Announcers: Verne Lundquist and Jim Spanarkel

Line: Michigan State by 2

 

Matchup to Watch: Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine vs. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield

Junior Spartan swingman Denzel Valentine is one of the Big Ten’s most versatile players. Valentine is second on his team in points, assists and rebounds and is the best perimeter defender Tom Izzo has. Valentine will not only have to score, dish and rebound if Sparty wants to keep dancing but also shut down the Big 12’s leading scorer in sharpshooter Buddy Hield. The Sooners go as Hield goes, and Hield goes fast — unafraid to pull the trigger from anywhere inside of half court. 

 

Tournament Surprise: Oklahoma’s Frank Booker

Teams can never have enough 3-point shooters in the NCAA Tournament, and Oklahoma found one in Frank Booker. He had two 3s in his last four games of the regular season, but he has gone 6-of-12 from 3 in two Tournament games. He scored 8 points against Albany and 12 against Dayton.

 

Michigan State will win if...

Valentine has to find his offensive flow against a stout Sooners’ defense. In the past four games, Denzel Valentine has scored four or less points twice as the Spartans have failed to top 70 points in all four games. In order for Sparty to win, Valentine won’t have to go for 25, but he will need to score close to his season average of 14 points per game against the Sooners’ sixth-ranked defense. Valentine is fantastic in transition and should be able to drive to the bucket and shoot well from the perimeter within the flow of the fast-paced game. 

 

Oklahoma will win if...

Michigan State and its balanced scoring attack will be able to run with Oklahoma in the Sooners’ fast-paced attack. The Sooners are poor at limiting opposing offenses to just one shot, so curbing extra Spartan possessions will be crucial for Oklahoma’s success. In order to shut down Michigan State, Lon Kruger will have to throw multiple defensive looks to slow Spartan point guard Travis Trice. Trice, who lit up Virginia’s second-ranked defense for 23 points in the Round of 32 last weekend, is the engine that propels this steady and dangerous Spartan offense.

 

Athlon Staff Predictions

David Fox: Michigan State 65-60

Braden Gall: Oklahoma 70-65

Mitch Light: Oklahoma 66-64

Jake Rose: Michigan State 68-61

 

-By Jake Rose

Teaser:
Sweet 16 Game Preview and Predictions: Michigan State vs. Oklahoma
Post date: Thursday, March 26, 2015 - 17:10
Path: /nba/cavaliers-have-been-spanking-western-conference
Body:

All the talk about the Cleveland Cavaliers, these days, has been about the drama between their personalities.

 

Perhaps you heard that Kevin Love, on a recent promotional jaunt, said that he and LeBron James are “not best friends” and went on to proclaim that Russell Westbrook — not the King — is the NBA’s lead MVP candidate. Words like these, in combination with some very adolescent passive aggression on social media amongst the team, has led skeptics to believe that there’s a fire in the Cavaliers’ locker room, beneath all this smoke.

 

And maybe there is. But, whatever is or isn’t happening between these men in their changing quarters, on team planes and elsewhere, it doesn’t seem to carry over onto the court. Since mid-January, they’re 14-1 against the vaunted Western Conference. A rejuvenated James, who took time off after the holidays, has been the spearhead for an augmented roster that picked up J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert as reinforcements via trade.

 

Love may be displeased with his life in the Midwest, as he’s taken a backseat when he could be the centerpiece on any number of other teams. He’ll have the opportunity to pursue that end this summer, when he can enter free agency. But for now, he’s bought into what the Cavs are doing — at least in his actions, he is. He’s a luxury for his team, who stretches defenses more than he gets to attack them, but he’s an important luxury. 

 

The Cavs’ critical mass of contingency plans on any given possession makes them almost impossible to guard when they’re clicking; there are just too many ballers out there. Love, LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Smith are all capable of scoring in bushels on their own. That they’ve started to look like something greater than the sum of their talents is what should scare the rest of the league.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 26, 2015 - 11:58
All taxonomy terms: Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-10-tiger-woods
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 10: Tiger Woods

 

Born: Dec. 30, 1975, Cypress, Calif. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 79 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $108,275 (201st) World Ranking: 96

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Woods could be placed anywhere on this list with the exception of first, depending on whether one looks at his abilities or, given his age, his unprecedented physical ailments. He has averaged only twelve events per season over the last seven years with injuries of almost every nature plaguing his numerous comebacks and swing changes. Never over that time, though, has he looked worse than he did last year, when it was hard to know whether his swing was causing injury to his body or if his body was keeping him from swinging the way he did in 2013, when he won five times. Which is to say nothing of his issues around the greens that surfaced at the Hero World Challenge late in 2014. At 39, Tiger needs four more majors to equal Jack Nicklaus’ total of 18 and three more PGA Tour wins to equal Sam Snead’s record of 82. While the likelihood of catching Jack is slim, Tiger has won three or more times during a season in 13 of his 19 years on Tour, so it seems inevitable that Snead’s record will fall — if not this year, then at some point in what’s left of his career, if he stays healthy. That is a big “if,” because  with each swing he seems to do further damage to his body, and with each chip, he seem to do further damage to his mind. For the first time in Tiger’s career, though — whether it’s his age, injuries, swing changes or short game issues that flared up at the end of 2014 — the questions overshadow his obvious abilities.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 72
Wins: 14

2014 Performance:
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - DNP
British Open - 69
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (1997, 2001, '02, '05)
U.S. Open - 1 (2000, '02, '08)
British Open - 1 (2000, '05, '06)
PGA Championship - 1 (1999, '00, '06, '07)
Top-10 Finishes: 38
Top-25 Finishes: 54
Missed Cuts: 6

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 26, 2015 - 10:18
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-award-season-predictions
Body:

Most Improved Player

The Most Improved Player award has always been the NBA’s strangest, since its birth in 1986. It commends the growth of a baller, but also delivers something like a slight to his previous résumé. And, often, it goes to someone based on inexplicably increased attention to their game — not an actual rise in talent. But fans of the game (like fans of everything) love narratives of change, and none has tickled them more than the rise of Chicago Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler this season. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert comes in as a close second, but his explosion  began a little too late in the year.

Prediction: Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

 

Sixth Man of the Year

No clear-cut candidate has emerged from the Sixth Man pack this season. Consummate microwave scoring man Jamal Crawford (who won these honors last season) has been injured for the Los Angeles Clippers, and 2014’s runner-up, Taj Gibson, has also missed significant time. Andre Iguodala is the league’s most talented player not starting, so you’d think the award is his to lose — but big man Marreese Speights has, actually, been an arguably more important reserve for the Golden State Warriors. Rodney Stuckey has come on as a late-season force for the Indiana Pacers, but his body of work coming off the bench is markedly less consistent in 2014-15 than our likely winner.

Prediction: Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors

 

Defensive Player of the Year

There are a lot of guys who deserve this award for their work on defense. But few people in the game, or outside it, know how to accurately appraise the less highlight-laden side of the ball, and the winner of this trophy is often decided as a matter of publicity. Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green have both been spectacular for the Warriors, but they’ll steal votes from each other. The same goes for Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, with the San Antonio Spurs. Gobert has been a monster — but, again, his run started too late. So while the probable victor of this category may not be the most deserving, he does have a pretty momentous campaign already in motion.

Prediction: DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

 

Rookie of the Year

Jabari Parker was in the lead for this award, until the Milwaukee Bucks’ forward of the future tore his ACL. Since then, Andrew Wiggins has been in the driver’s seat, and has had only a little resistance from a couple of guys in the backseat, reaching for the wheel: Elfrid Payton of the Orlando Magic, and the Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic. Both have come on strong at the end of the season, but neither has shown the sort of flashes of superstar brilliance on the level of Wiggins. His often sensational play has made some Cleveland Cavaliers fans regret their trade for Kevin Love, which just about says it all.

Prediction: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

 

Coach of the Year

You couldn’t fault voters for going in any of two directions with this decision — only for taking any third option. Steve Kerr and his staff have transformed the Warriors from Western Conference playoff fodder into obvious favorites for the championship. Golden State has been historically impressive, outscoring the opposition by more then ten points per game on average. But Kerr’s competition, Mike Budenholzer, has pulled off an even more startling metamorphosis with the Atlanta Hawks. The world saw them as a fringe playoff team, but in 2014-15, they’ve been the only squad consistently on the Warriors’ elite, dominant level.

Prediction: Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks

 

Most Valuable Player

There’s a silver lining for Warriors fans if Steph Curry doesn’t win this award, and the rest of his team loses their races, too: extra motivation for a title run. Curry has been the NBA’s best player this season, but voters will favor the Houston Rockets’ bearded dynamo for appearing to do more with less. Dwight Howard has been out for much of the season, and the Rockets’ place high up in a toothy conference without him has been a surprise to many. James Harden has been incredible, but he’s also secretly benefitted from a ton of extra help on the wings, defensively — Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Trevor Ariza have all made life much easier for him. That’s not the popular story, however.

Prediction: James Harden, Houston Rockets

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - 16:03
All taxonomy terms: Jason Day, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-11-jason-day
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 11: Jason Day

 

Born: Nov. 12, 1987, Beaudesert, Queensland, Australia | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,789,574 (16th) World Ranking: 4

2014 Key Stats

      Scrambling: 64.95% (5th)

      Approaches from 75-100 yards: 12’11” (2nd)

      Putting from Inside 5 Feet: 98.93% (1st)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Day would be higher on this list if he hadn’t spent much of 2014 on the sidelines due to injuries to his left thumb and his back, with his left wrist also causing him some concern at The Open Championship. If he can stay healthy, he has every chance of having a spectacular year. In the 17 majors he has played, he has finished in the top five a handful of times. He has power off the tee and great touch around the greens, and he holes more than his share of putts. At 27 years of age and given his obvious talents, he should've won more than three times on the PGA Tour by now, but his inability to hit his scoring irons close to the hole has plagued him at critical times in tournaments, something he appears to have worked on last year by softening the transition move from backswing to downswing and is hitting more partial shots, both of which led to him leading the PGA Championship in greens in regulation. If his scoring irons become a strength, he could become the best player in the world.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 17
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T20
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T58
PGA Championship - T15

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T2 (2011)
U.S. Open - 2/T2 (2011, '13)
British Open - T30 (2011)
PGA Championship - T8 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 7
Top-25 Finishes: 9
Missed Cuts: 3

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 - 10:05
All taxonomy terms: Boston Celtics, NBA
Path: /nba/boston-celtics-are-surprise-playoff-team-0
Body:

Brad Stevens needs more props in the Coach of the Year race.

 

He doesn’t deserve to win it. No one leading a sub-.500 team should be able to claim that award, and likely never will. At 31-39 at time of publication, Stevens' Boston Celtics are likely to end up on the wrong side of that line.

 

But Boston would also be set to enter the Eastern Conference playoffs, and face the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks, if the postseason started today. That’s pretty surprising.

 

General manager Danny Ainge might not be exactly thrilled about how many wins Stevens has been able to manufacture out of this roster. Ainge, since ending the Big Three era, signed Stevens to a five-year deal that made it clear that a long rebuilding stretch was expected. Ainge has shuffled the Celtics’ deck over and over again since, collecting draft picks and middling talent in the name of tomorrow. At a glance, Ainge could be seen as trying to tank.

 

The Celtics, as constituted, don’t have any players even particularly close to All-Star status. Their leading scorer in recent games has been Evan Turner — a forward who was considered an empty stats guy with the Philadelphia 76ers, and a cancer with the Indiana Pacers.

 

In Boston, though, he’s been productive and efficient. He tallied a triple-double in a recent win over the Brooklyn Nets. His skills are maximized amidst a nucleus of role players whose talents have been organized into something greater than their sum. Jae Crowder, Luigi Datome and Jonas Jerebko were all afterthoughts in midseason trades, but in Celtics green they’re all quite useful.

 

Add in the emergence of young center Tyler Zeller, the exciting arrival of rookie guard Marcus Smart and the recently acquired scoring machine Isaiah Thomas (who may have finally found an NBA home) and this motley Celtics team looks like one of the year’s most endearing, surprising stories.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 16:18
All taxonomy terms: Boston Celtics, NBA
Path: /nba/boston-celtics-are-surprise-playoff-team
Body:

Brad Stevens needs more props in the Coach of the Year race.

 

He doesn’t deserve to win it. No one leading a sub-.500 team should be able to claim that award, and likely never will. At 31-39 at time of publication, Stevens' Boston Celtics are likely to end up on the wrong side of that line.

 

But Boston would also be set to enter the Eastern Conference playoffs, and face the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks, if the postseason started today. That’s pretty surprising.

 

General manager Danny Ainge might not be exactly thrilled about how many wins Stevens has been able to manufacture out of this roster. Ainge, since ending the Big Three era, signed Stevens to a five-year deal that made it clear that a long rebuilding stretch was expected. Ainge has shuffled the Celtics’ deck over and over again since, collecting draft picks and middling talent in the name of tomorrow. At a glance, Ainge could be seen as trying to tank.

 

The Celtics, as constituted, don’t have any players even particularly close to All-Star status. Their leading scorer in recent games has been Evan Turner — a forward who was considered an empty stats guy with the Philadelphia 76ers, and a cancer with the Indiana Pacers.

 

In Boston, though, he’s been productive and efficient. He tallied a triple-double in a recent win over the Brooklyn Nets. His skills are maximized amidst a nucleus of role players whose talents have been organized into something greater than their sum. Jae Crowder, Luigi Datome and Jonas Jerebko were all afterthoughts in midseason trades, but in Celtics green they’re all quite useful.

 

Add in the emergence of young center Tyler Zeller, the exciting arrival of rookie guard Marcus Smart and the recently acquired scoring machine Isaiah Thomas (who may have finally found an NBA home) and this motley Celtics team looks like one of the year’s most endearing, surprising stories.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 16:18
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-best-nicknames
Body:

6. Chris Andersen, Miami Heat: “Birdman”

Superhero, rapper, Oscar winner… and Miami Heat role player. The frequently used “Birdman” moniker works so well for Chris Andersen because his outrageously tattooed body and surprisingly vertical style do not seem exactly human. Even the most casual NBA fans have taken notice of Andersen in recent years, as he jumps off the screen like a raptor in a chicken coop. His rim protection and ability to rebound and finish near the hoop often made him a closer for the Miami squads who saw the Finals for four straight years. Now 36 and near the end of his road, Birdman won’t soon be forgotten in annals of postseason goonery.

 

5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: “The Greek Freak”

Like the titanic men populating the mythology of his homeland centuries and centuries before him, Giannis Antetokounmpo is larger and more powerful than life. The 20-year-old has a body that’s freakish in most ways, standing at 6’11” and seemingly still growing. And, like Anthony Davis, Antetokounmpo has an uncanny knack for actually being able to use his ridiculous frame. He’s mobile, skilled, and has the instincts of a hunter. Once he matures and plays through more of his raw mistakes, this oversized utility man may earn a nickname that refers to more than just his unusual physical features.

 

4. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies: “Z-Bo”

You know a nickname’s good when you start using it so casually that it seems like an actual name. The way Randolph tells it, this tag doesn’t mean too much of anything — it’s just something he was called in middle school, and it’s stuck ever since. But in these two syllables there is, somehow, an evocation of the force that Zach brings to the court. Say “Z-Bo” out loud, and you’ll start to feel fear of getting clobbered in the paint, trying to hold your ground as the Memphis Grizzlies’ workhorse lowers his shoulder and breaks you down, over and over again.

 

3. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz: “The Stifle Tower”

The Utah Jazz are much further along in their rebuilding process than they previously anticipated, and it has a lot to do with the emergence of this 22-year-old. The French-born Gobert has been the fourth-most effective defensive center in the NBA through his sophomore season, earning a starting role and a quickly rising reputation in Salt Lake City. One might even say he stands as tall as one famous Parisian tower by the rim, stifling each and every penetration with a calm moxie that’s rare for such a youngster.

 

2. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: “Boogie”

Cousins, like the genre of his nickname, doesn’t proceed at a typical beat. The outspoken, emotionally volatile center is extremely talented, and extremely entertaining. And while the always tumultuous state of his franchise hasn’t always made for the best display case for his immense skills, it has been an appropriate backdrop for his iconoclastic mentality. Boogie is a joy, albeit a difficult one, and it’s almost hard to imagine how he’d fit in with an organization that provided him with less shaky ground. DeMarcus is the undisputed king of unlevel NBA territory, for now.

 

1. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors: “The Splash Brothers”

It’s fun to say, and it’s damn accurate. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are well on their way to proving themselves as the best shooting backcourt in league history, if they haven’t already. What else can you say about a pairing that’s got someone who scored 37 points in one quarter (Thompson) but who isn’t even the MVP candidate of the two? That’s Curry, whose playmaking and world-class handles and vision open the way for the endless long-range assault that the two produce together. The Splash Brothers hold the NBA’s most appropriate, and most fun, informal title.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 10:32
All taxonomy terms: Jimmy Walker, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-12-jimmy-walker
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 12: Jimmy Walker

 

Born: Jan. 16, 1979, Oklahoma City, Okla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 3 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $5,787,016 (4th) World Ranking: 13

2014 Key Stats

      Total Driving: 78 (2nd)

      Greens in Regulation Percentage: 69.03% (8th)

      Final Round Scoring Average: 68.92 (3rd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Walker has improved his position on the money list every year since 2005, climbing from 207th to fourth in 2014. He is among the longest players off the tee and is now one of the best wedge players, and yet his greatest strength is in his flawless putting technique and ability to handle big moments. These are the attributes that made Tiger, Phil, Ernie and Vijay so dominant, and although Jimmy is a little late coming to the party, he still has four or five years to make up for the time he spent toiling among the middle class on Tour. In addition to winning three times last year, he finished eighth at The Masters, sixth at the Players Championship, ninth at the U.S. Open and seventh at the PGA Championship. To continue his climb up the world rankings, he likely has to win one of these events this year — and it would surprise no one if he did.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 35
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T8
U.S. Open - T9
British Open - T26
PGA Championship - T7

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T8 (2014)
U.S. Open - T9 (2014)
British Open - T26 (2014)
PGA Championship - T7 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 4
Missed Cuts: 4

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 10:19
All taxonomy terms: Los Angeles Lakers, Steve Nash, NBA
Path: /nba/steve-nash-retires-ends-19-year-nba-career
Body:

For a moment over the weekend, Steve Nash stole the basketball world’s attention away from NCAA’s March Madness.

He did it by retiring.

 

The 41-year-old made the announcement via a column written for The Players’ Tribune. He gave props to former coaches, teammates and friends including Don Nelson, Mike D’Antoni, Dirk Nowitzki, Grant Hill, Amar’e Stoudemire, Michael Finley and Alvin Gentry in his piece.

 

Nash’s three-team career spanned nineteen years with three teams — the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns (twice) and Los Angeles Lakers. He won the MVP award two times, with the Suns in 2005 and 2006, while his D’Antoni-coached teams ran amok on the NBA with a devastating, revolutionary offense.

 

The Suns’ “seven seconds or less” attack could only have worked with Nash at its helm. His split-second decision making and almost unparalleled court vision were the modem for a team that turned otherwise boring regular season games into must-watch television.

 

Regrets? Nash has a few.

 

“It will always hurt that Phoenix Suns fans didn’t get the championship they deserved during our run,” he wrote. “Yes, we had some bad luck but I always look back at it and think, I could’ve made one more shot, or not forced a turnover, or made a better pass. But I don’t regret anything. The arena was always sold out and rocking. It was the time of my life. Thanks, Phoenix.”

 

Nash’s career petered out in L.A. on a string of injuries, including some scary nerve issues, that were perhaps collected in the effort to get that championship. 

 

“I will likely never play basketball again,” he wrote. “It’s bittersweet. I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else. This letter is for anyone who’s taken note of my career. At the heart of this letter, I’m speaking to kids everywhere who have no idea what the future holds or how to take charge of their place in it. When I think of my career, I can’t help but think of the kid with his ball, falling in love. That’s still what I identify with and did so throughout my entire story.”

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 23, 2015 - 10:31
All taxonomy terms: Henrik Stenson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-13-henrik-stenson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 13: Henrik Stenson

 

Born: April 5, 1976, Gothenburg, Sweden | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 (9 on the European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,894,235 (49th) World Ranking: 2

2014 Key Stats

      Total Driving: 78 (2nd)

      Greens in Regulation Percentage: 69.03% (8th)

      Final Round Scoring Average: 68.92 (3rd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Stenson works with Pete Cowan who along with Butch Harmon is one of the giant-makers in today’s game. They more than any other teachers have an ability to make the best players even better. On the strength of a torrid tee-to-green game, Henrik has four top-five finishes in the majors since 2013, a year in which he also won the FedExCup and Race to Dubai, making him the first person to achieve this unique double. Given that this year’s major venues — three of which will be on the water’s edge — will require more brawn than touch, this could be the year that he breaks out of that group of players who are far too good to have never won a major. He turns 39 in April, meaning that his time may be running out, but all he needs is a slightly above-average year with his wedges and putter to put a bow on a great career.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 35
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T14
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T39
PGA Championship - T3

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T14 (2014)
U.S. Open - T4 (2014)
British Open - 2 (2013)
PGA Championship - 3/T3 (2013, '14)
Top-10 Finishes: 9
Top-25 Finishes: 17
Missed Cuts: 9

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 23, 2015 - 10:03
All taxonomy terms: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA
Path: /nba/kevin-durant-likely-out-season
Body:

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s season just keeps getting worse.

 

In the same week that power forward and defensive linchpin Serge Ibaka was reported to be out for up to a month and a half, the team also learned that they’re losing reigning MVP Kevin Durant indefinitely.

 

A jones fracture in his foot caused Durant to miss a little more than the first month of the season, and he was then called out of action again in February, after appearing to have aggravated the injury again. The assumption was that Durant would return in time for the playoffs, but now that seems unlikely.

 

Thunder general manager Sam Presti called a press conference today to announce that Durant is being “removed from basketball activities… the goal is to get him back on the court healthy, whenever that is,” Presti said.

 

Presti appeared haggard during the announcement — as if we needed any further indication that he was delivering bad news.

 

The Thunder are quickly establishing an identity as one of the NBA’s great “could’ve been” teams. In Durant, the red-hot Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, they once had three MVP-caliber players on the same team, at a very ripe age. And with the similarly young Ibaka, one of the game’s best rim-protectors, they made up a quartet that promised spectacular things.

 

Harden was of course traded to the Houston Rockets, and injuries to the remaining three mean OKC hasn’t seen a title run with a full, healthy version of their amazing core since they lost to the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals.

 

Next season might be the Thunder’s final chance to make the most of the lightning they’ve caught in a bottle, as it’s the last on Durant’s current contract before he can test free agency.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 20, 2015 - 12:56
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-best-available-coaching-candidates
Body:

9. Vinny Del Negro

The former leader of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers, Del Negro doesn’t have the best reputation among hardcore NBA followers. He infamously got into a physical altercation with executive John Paxson before leaving the Bulls, and is widely cited as strategically challenged. He does get his name into reports for nearly every new opening, though.

 

8. Avery Johnson

Johnson, now an analyst with ESPN, has fallen off the radar for new coaching spots. It’s unclear whether this is because he’s no longer too interested in jobs, after a rocky stint with the Brooklyn Nets, or because front offices just don’t want to hire him. His bad relationship with Nets point guard Deron Williams has led some to believe he doesn’t relate well to contemporary players — but Williams, in Johnson’s defense, hasn’t gotten along well with many coaches. Avery was a Coach of the Year with the Dallas Mavericks in 2006, and any team looking for a defense-first approach may want to call him up.

 

7. Fred Hoiberg

Often mentioned as the most NBA-inclined of the NCAA coaches, Hoiberg runs an offense at Iowa State University that would certainly fit onto a professional court. The Minnesota Timberwolves have been previously linked to Hoiberg, and now the Bulls are believed to be in the running for his services, in the event that they part ways with Tom Thibodeau. One way or another, an NBA job will eventually be Hoiberg’s, if he wants it.

 

6. Scott Skiles

The rap on Skiles is that he can get your team to play hard and well for a few seasons, but will inevitably wear out his welcome by pushing too hard on the gas pedal, for too long. He burns his players out. It happened with the Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks, and skeptics fear it may also happen if he joins the team he once played for, the Orlando Magic. Skiles may be a good fit for that team while they’re still young and impressionable — but for how long could that pairing really last?

 

5. Nate McMillan

McMillan coached the Portland Trail Blazers for seven seasons and the Seattle SuperSonics for five, racking up a solid .514 winning percentage. Now an assistant with the Indiana Pacers, he is mysteriously absent from talks about most head coaching vacancies. Don’t be surprised to see mentions of him return this summer, though.

 

4. Mike D’Antoni

There wasn’t much love for Mike D’Antoni with the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks, but he’s still remembered as the leading figure in the NBA’s offensive revolution for his work with Steve Nash and the “seven seconds or less” Phoenix Suns. D’Antoni’s approach seems like a natural fit with the Denver Nuggets, if they decide not to hire beloved interim coach Melvin Hunt full-time. The heightened Colorado altitude, along with the pick-and-roll dynamism of point guard Ty Lawson, makes for a fertile soil for a D’Antoni renaissance.

 

3. Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson has become a subject of much mockery, for his often exhausting media presence and his self-righteous exit from the Golden State Warriors. He’s a hard guy to deal with, who burns bridges both in his locker room and in front offices. But there’s no denying the part he played in resurrecting the Warriors, and that he’s a world-class motivator who could improve almost any defense in the league. Jackson has been linked to the Cleveland Cavaliers — should things go south with David Blatt — due to sharing an agency with LeBron James.

 

2. Mike Malone

The Sacramento Kings never should have fired Mike Malone. George Karl is a Hall of Fame replacement, sure, but can he (or anyone else, for that matter) get DeMarcus Cousins on his side as thoroughly as Malone did? Cousins is one of the league’s most precious commodities: a once-in-a-generation big man talent whose powers are extremely difficult to unlock. That Malone had him happy, and playing the best ball of his life on both sides of the court, should be more than enough evidence to get him another head coaching job soon.

 

1. Alvin Gentry

D’Antoni paved the way in Phoenix, but few seem to remember that Gentry took them closest to the promised land. Fusing the pace-and-space offense with a strong-side defense that was equally progressive, Gentry’s 2009-10 Suns were a lot closer to a title than any previous Suns teams. Now an assistant with the league-leading Warriors, Gentry is known by wise NBA heads as one of the better strategists in the game, and an eminently likable one, to boot.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 20, 2015 - 10:07
All taxonomy terms: Billy Horschel, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-14-billy-horschel
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 14: Billy Horschel

 

Born: Dec. 7, 1986, Grant, Fla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 3 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,814,787 (7th) World Ranking: 17

2014 Key Stats

      Ball Striking: 15 (3rd)

      Greens in Regulation Percentage: 70.43% (4th)

      Putting from 5-10’: 64.29% (2nd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Horschel has improved his position on the money list over the last three years — from 147th to 13th to seventh — and of course his late-season heroics with victories at the BMW and Tour Championship resulted in him winning the coveted FedExCup, bettering his 16th-place finish in the season-long competition for 2013. After a slow start to his professional career, owing to a wrist injury, Billy is fulfilling the big hype that preceded him on Tour. Much of his success can be attributed to his almost flawless golf swing, but his improved putting inside of 10 feet rounds out a technical game that is hard to match. His technical skills, however, may not be his biggest strength; as anyone who watched him rebound from a last-hole mistake at Deutsche Bank to win the next two weeks can attest, his belief in himself is unwavering and refreshing in an era replete with perfection-addicted and insecure golfers. He seems ideally suited to the psychological rigors of major championship golf, and in his first major, the U.S. Open in 2013, he was Hoganesque in hitting all 18 greens during the second round at Merion Golf Club, eventually finishing fourth. At 28 years of age, Billy is just now coming into his prime, with an attitude and golf swing that will continue to make him one of the best players in the world for many years ahead.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 8
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - T37
U.S. Open - T23
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T58

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T37 (2014)
U.S. Open - T4 (2013)
British Open - Cut (2013, '14)
PGA Championship - T58 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 1
Top-25 Finishes: 2
Missed Cuts: 4

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 20, 2015 - 09:53
All taxonomy terms: Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets, NBA
Path: /nba/dwight-howard-close-returning
Body:

One of the more missable stories of the NBA season has been Dwight Howard’s absence from the Houston Rockets’ lineup. The former three-time Defensive Player of the Year has suited up for just 32 contests this year, owing his most recent stint of missed games to a knee injury.

 

He claims getting back into shape hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk. "We did some extremely tough workouts on the treadmill. Anytime anyone says treadmill, I lose it," Howard said. "I don't think anybody understands what they had me doing on the treadmill. I was just begging them: 'Can I just play so I don't have to do this?' Rehab is harder than the actual practice and all of that stuff."

 

The Rockets, somehow, have managed to be quite an effective defensive team without their best linchpin. Ranking third in defensive efficiency, they’ve improved on the perimeter and seen surprisingly good work from Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones down low. Houston’s gone 15-8 since Dwight was last called out, and it has a lot to do with James Harden’s MVP-worthy play.

 

Howard’s acclimation period back into the lineup will likely come with some growing pains, but having him on the last line of their defense most assuredly makes them an even scarier team. He also missed significant time down the stretch of last season, only to return and play some of the best basketball of his life in a first round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.

 

The progressive Rockets seem to be handling Howard with safety gloves as he ages, preserving his increasingly problematic body through the regular season and making sure he’s fresh for when the games really matter. It’s a smart strategy, and it could be the key to a dark horse title run this spring.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 12:17
All taxonomy terms: Jim Furyk, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-15-jim-furyk
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 15: Jim Furyk

 

Born: May 12, 1970, West Chester, Pa. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 16 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $5,987,395 (3rd) World Ranking: 7

2014 Key Stats

      Driving Accuracy Percentage: 73.18% (4th)

      Strokes Gained, Tee to Green: 1.684 (3rd)

      Scrambling: 69.33% (1st)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Furyk will be 45 this year, and it is very hard to put someone that age so high up on a list that is prejudiced by youth and power, but I’m convinced that Jim is far from through with what at this point is a borderline Hall of Fame career. With his 16 wins, critics are quick to say that he hasn’t won enough, but his 29 second-place finishes are equal to Tiger Woods’ career total over only a slightly longer time period. No, Jim has not won on the PGA Tour since 2010, but his third-place finish on the money list last year without winning set a record that may never be beaten. Besides Sergio, no one on Tour keeps the face of the club squarer for a longer period through impact, thanks to an unorthodox golf swing that requires him to aggressively use his lower body on the downswing, which allows him to stabilize the club through the hit. In addition to his consistency from tee to green, he is the Tour’s best scrambler, which is why, even as a short hitter, he plays so well week in and week out on courses that are continually beefed up. In his last five majors, he has a second, a fourth and a fifth. I’ve been saying this for years: There’s no way Jim ends his career with just one major, but time for both of us is running out. And yet, once again, I’m betting on him.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 77
Wins: 1

2014 Performance:
Masters - T14
U.S. Open - T12
British Open - 4
PGA Championship - T5

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 4 (1998, 2003)
U.S. Open - 1 (2003)
British Open - 4/T4 (1997, '98, 2006, '14)
PGA Championship - 2 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 22
Top-25 Finishes: 39
Missed Cuts: 15

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 19, 2015 - 10:13
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/nl-centrals-top-storylines-watch-2015
Body:

The tide could finally be turning in the National League Central division. The St. Louis Cardinals have long been the class of the division, as they have appeared in the last four NL Championship Series. The Pirates and the Cubs have other ideas, and the Brewers have redemption in mind following last season’s meltdown.

 

The NL Central could be the best division in baseball in 2015, full of fantastic narratives that will develop over the course of the summer. Here are the top storylines to watch for the NL Central in 2015.

 

The Return of Joey Votto

Joey Votto told members of the baseball media this week that he is feeling “normal.” Normal for Votto isn’t the same normal for you and I. When Votto is healthy, he is normally an All-Star and MVP candidate. Last season Votto was anything but his “normal, missing 100 games due to knee and quad issues.

 

Even when Votto was in the Reds’ lineup in 2014, he wasn’t the same, hitting just .255 in 62 games, 55 points under his career average. There is no way around it, the 2015 Reds are going to live and die with Votto. Him feeling “normal” is great news for fans in the Queen City.

 

Votto is entering his age-31 season and approaching the heart of a contract that will pay him approximately $206 million over the course of the next nine seasons. That amount of money makes Votto the cornerstone of this Reds franchise, which has to make the front office in Cincinnati a little uneasy as last season was the second time Votto’s left leg caused him to miss significant time.

 

Votto has proven that he can return to form after injury. In 2012 Votto had arthroscopic knee surgery and missed 51 games but still hit .337 and led the NL in on-base percentage (.474) for the third consecutive year. In 2013, Votto played in all 162 games, hitting .305 with 24 homers and once again led the NL in OBP (.435) and walks (135). The Reds are hoping that their franchise player can return to his 2010 MVP form, when he slashed .324/.424/.600, posting a  1.024 OPS, along with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs, in 2015.

 

After trading away starting pitchers Alfredo Simon and Matt Latos, it’s clear that the Reds are planning for the future, but having a healthy Votto, along with Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey and Brandon Phillips, for all of 2015 will make the allure of contention in ‘16 seem more realistic.

 

Cubs’ Youth Movement

A lot has been made about the Cubs’ offseason, and reasonably so. Some publications have even gone as far as to pick the Cubs to win the World Series. Let’s pump the brakes on the Cubs popping champagne in ski goggles in October.

 

No doubt about it, the Cubbies made great moves this offseason signing manager-savant Joe Maddon and ace Jon Lester, trading for leadoff man Dexter Fowler and catcher Miguel Montero. Those are all great moves that puts this team in contention for the NL Central, but don't forget about all the youth the Cubs have waiting on deck.

 

The Cubs’ lineup is currently built around shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, the team’s All-Star tandem and current cornerstones of the franchise entering their age-25 seasons. Maddon’s lineup card also could have several “new” faces in it, as Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, eventually Kris Bryant, and possibly even Addison Russell, are expected to be the first wave to come from the Cubs’ stocked farm system. Besides being highly regarded, this group of prospects have two things in common — none of them are older than 23 and none of them have played a full season in The Show.

 

Soler, Baez, and Alcantara all spent time with the big club last season. Alcantara hit just .205 in 70 games, but showed his versatility in the field and pop at the plate. Baez, whose swing has been often compared to Gary Sheffield’s, hit nine home runs but also struck out 95 times in 52 games. Soler was the brightest highlight, hitting .292 with five homers and 25 RBIs in just 24 games, not a big sample size.

 

But none of the Cubs’ prospects are generating more buzz than Bryant. The 2013 Arizona Fall League MVP and 2014 Minor League Player of the Year according to USA Today and Baseball America, Bryant is pacing the field with six home runs in spring training. He’s also making plenty of news off the field, as the debate of service time and his Opening Day status has heated up, thanks to an assist from super agent Scott Boras. Last season Bryant hit .325 with 43 home runs (most of any player in baseball in 2014) and 110 RBIs for Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. Barring something unforeseen happening, Bryant will the Cubs’ starting third baseman, although his debut may be delayed until later in April.

 

While all of these prospects and new additions are legitimately raising expectations in Wrigleyville, it is too early for that amount of pressure for young players that haven’t even played a full big-league season. If there is one certainty in baseball, it’s that prospect projections are always a crapshoot.  Let’s see how these young guns develop over the course of 2015 before we give the Cubs the Commissioner’s Trophy.


Related: Joe Maddon's Arrival Signals Next Step in Chicago Cubs' Resurgence

 

Cardinal Power Shortage?

We all know about The Cardinals’ Way. Great pitching, reliable defense, solid managing, roster depth, advanced scouting and timely hitting have been the ingredients to the Cardinals’ great success over the past decade. All of those special elements can be expected in 2015, but one thing is missing. Where is the power?

 

The NL Central will be decided by power, whether that be the Cubs’ young bombers or the Pirates’ slugging depth. The Cardinals are clearly lacking in this field. Coming into 2015, the Cards have just two players that hit at least 20 home runs last season, that being the aging Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta who hit 20 and 21, respectively.

 

The rest of the St. Louis lineup doesn't appear to provide much more pop, as Matt Adams is third on the team in returning homers with 15, followed by second baseman Kolten Wong (12) and third baseman Matt Carpenter (8). Wong, in his second season, could turn out to be a complementary piece to Peralta both in the field and at the plate. Newly acquired infielder Mark Reynolds hit 22 last season for the Brewers, but his batting average was just .196 and he drove in in only 45. He’s expected to add some pop, but only in a limited role off the bench.

 

The NL has been long known for small ball and as the Royals proved in last season’s World Series run, power isn’t everything. However, this season could be a pivotal one for the Cardinals. The Pirates are no longer bottom dwellers in the NL Central, the Cubs’ young talent is starting to bloom, and the Brewers could easily play spoiler. I’m not sure the Cards have what it takes at the plate to power their way back to October. 

 

- By Jake Rose

Teaser:
NL Central's Top Storylines to Watch in 2015
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 15:00

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