Posts tagged Sports
Posts tagged Sports
I wasn’t supposed to be writing this column this year…
Around this time, early spring, when our society celebrates the annual tradition of Cinqo de Mayo, or Star Wars Day (May the Fourth, Be With You), For What It’s Worth has established one of its own. For the last few years, I have
penned typed up a column about the state of the Toronto Blue Jays. And invariably, it comes down to a punch line of sorts: Just a month into a new Major League Baseball campaign, the Jays have been eliminated from the American League pennant race.
Here in 2013, it was supposed to be different for the Jays. The club made a bunch of off-season moves that had fans and critics alike praising the organization. Two blockbuster deals brought in a Cy Young Winner, a batting champion and multiple-time all-stars.
Last November, Toronto pillaged the Miami Marlins in a 12-player swap that brought in shortstop Jose Reyes along with starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle among others. Headed the other way were 3 of the team’s top 10 prospects (according to Baseball America): Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino and Adeiny Hechavarria.
Then in December, the Jays picked up the best pitcher in the National League in 2012—R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets. Again, the price was steep prospect-wise as the club’s top rated youngster, Travis D’Arnaud (once the centrepiece in the Roy Halladay deal with Philadelphia) and Noah Sydergaard (another top ten prospect) were in the package heading to Gotham.
In about 7 week’s time, Jays General Manager Alex Anthopolous acquired three-fifths of a starting rotation and a game-changing shortstop. Other additions included free-agent Melky Cabrera, who was having a monster season for San Francisco before he was suspended, caught using performance enhancing drugs in 2012.
These veterans, along with holdover thumpers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, promising youngsters Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus and J.P. Arencibia, were to combine to give the Jays the roster needed not to just compete in the AL East, but perhaps take the club back to the World Series for the first time in two decades.
There was a buzz in The Great White North surrounding the team not felt for a very long time as Spring Training rolled around. Add to the fact the New York Yankees were suffering a slew of injuries preseason and the Boston Red Sox were coming off a last place finish last year, the Blue Jays were the more than fashionable choice to take the division.
The season began and the Jays were packing Rogers Centre. Attendance figures looked great the first week, including 3 straight games of over 40,000 with the BoSox in town. Some flashy (literally) promos on TV made the club—and the station announcers and reporters who cover the team (hilariously in my mind)—to look like rock stars. The party was definitely on at the old SkyDome.
However, here we are, just over a month into the season and the Blue Jays are no closer to winning an AL East Pennant, never mind the World Series. In fact, the Blue Jays are one of the worst teams in the Major Leagues.
Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong in the Big Smoke. It was bad news, as Reyes sprained an ankle a few weeks ago and may be out until the All-Star Break. The speedster was the only guy on the team swinging a hot bat at the time. As it stands, the Jays are in the bottom third in runs scored. Still showing decent power at times, but not getting enough men on base to do any real damage. Batting average is a devalued statistic now, with on-base percentage and OPS (on-base + slugging percentage) much more respected by baseball minds. Take any of the three and the Jays are in the last third of the league.
The pitching has been even worse. Toronto is among the bottom three teams in earned run average (as of this writing). While Dickey has yet to regain his Cy Young form, his ERA over four is almost the best in the rotation. Johnson, Buehrle and incumbent starter Brandon Morrow have been terrible and Johnson has hit the disabled list to start May. Control issues are a big problem, as the club sits along with the dregs of the league in walks allowed. If it wasn’t for the bullpen, hurling well at the moment, the staff would have an ERA over 5. That’s fantastic for Softball Valley. The MLB? Not so much.
Also, don’t Jays fans have to question bringing back John Gibbons as manager? Of all the candidates the club could have hired, why recycle a guy who couldn’t get the team into the postseason in his first five-year stint with the job? Of course, this organization thought Buck Martinez could be a manager too. With all of the “improvements” made to the roster, nailing the managerial choice, with John Farrell leaving for the Red Sox was key. At least when the Yankees were bringing back Billy Martin (again and again), he had a World Series pedigree.
It’s all added up to a lackluster start. Is it too early to write off the Jays? It’s been easy to do so for a long time now. The AL East is not a place where a team can sneak into a pennant, like say the NL West. The Red Sox have regained form, thanks to a revamped pitching staff. The Yankees are only going to get healthier, while castoffs like Vernon Wells (!) and Travis Hafner hold things down in the meantime. The Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs last year and have enough pitching to get their again—especially if Adam Jones and Chris Davis hit like they have so far. Even the Tampa Bay Rays, off to a sluggish start, have the potential to make a run with so many quality arms. If the Rays start to hit, they will make a push for a postseason spot as well.
Nothing is better for baseball in Canada than when the Blue Jays are competitive. Whether you like the team or not, a good Toronto team raises the profile of the sport in our country and everyone was ready for a big breakout. Sadly, just weeks into the season, it looks like it’s already “wait until next year mode.”
Enough pessimism, let’s end the column with a joke.
Bob: Are you ready for Cinqo de Mayo?
George: What’s that?
Bob: You know, on May 5th every year, folks around North American celebrate Mexican heritage—it’s cuisine, culture and music.
George: Oh yeah. A great day for sure!
Bob: It’s also the day every year we can officially eliminate the Toronto Blue Jays from the AL East pennant chase…
“There’s one other guy, I believe, in hockey today, that’s still working in the game that’s won more Stanley Cups than me. So, I think I know a little bit about winning.”
Kevin Lowe, Edmonton Oilers press conference – April 15th.
It seems to me Kevin Lowe was the most underrated player on those Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup teams of the 25-30 years ago. Wayne Gretzky, well, he was a pretty big deal. Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr were the other headliners. Phenomenal talents like Paul Coffey and Jari Kurri won team and personal accolades. Glenn Anderson was a 50-goal scorer who made the Hockey Hall of Fame and had his number retired.
And Lowe was there all along, for all 5 championships. Yes, he chipped in his share of points and he had a hard edge, never hiding when things got rough on the ice. However, most importantly, I think he was the one member of Edmonton’s blue-line that actually excelled playing defence, the only shutdown rearguard on the club over that span.
After another Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994, Lowe eventually retired in 1998 and moved right behind Edmonton’s bench, first as an assistant coach, then as the head man. In 2000, he was named General Manager of the team and has been with the front office ever since.
In this lockout-shortened NHL season, the Oilers were expecting to breakthrough and rejoin the post-season party. Instead, a swoon in March and April killed any chance of that happening, so Edmonton is once again making some dramatic changes.
Recently, the Oilers fired Steve Tambellini as General Manager and replaced him with Craig MacTavish. Scott Howson rejoins the organization as Vice President of Hockey Operations. He has worked under Lowe before he spent time in Columbus as GM. While the oil industry, in some respects, may be slow to embrace recycling; it’s alive and well in Oil Country.
I am not here to say Tambellini was doing a magnificent job. Clearly, the Oilers underachieved this season. However, as Lowe stated in that same press conference referenced above, the team is in the midst of a rebuild.
Tambellini was brought in, trying to clean up a mess that Lowe himself had made. The last decade, with Lowe making most of the key decisions, the Oilers have been terrible. Only in the miracle 2006 Cup Finals run, has Edmonton won a playoff series dating back to 1998. The last seven seasons, the club hasn’t even qualified for the post-season, finished no better than 4th in the Northwest Division. This is a run of incompetence that we like to think only happens on Long Island, central Ohio or southern Florida.
If we throw out the ’06 run, the Oilers have won 4 playoff games under Lowe as GM and Team President. After the Oilers made the finals, he handed out some dreadful contracts to players like Shawn Horcoff and Fernando Pisani (yes, Pisani got hurt, but he was never even a 20-goal scorer before he inked that $10 million dollar deal). Even Ales Hemsky’s contract, while justifiable due to his scoring skills, looks bad in retrospect as the Czech has spent too much time on the injury report.
Lowe’s track record running the draft is just as dubious. Before the Oilers were picking first overall every June, all under Tambellini, high draft picks were regularly wasted on the likes of Alexei Mikhnov, Jesse Niinimaki, Marc-Antoine Pouliot and Riley Nash. The balance of those drafts didn’t produce much else either. Some of the players who made an impact were Jarrett Stoll, Matt Greene and Kyle Brodziak. None of whom are still with the club (Stoll and Greene both recently won the Stanley Cup with Los Angeles).
Lowe’s trade record isn’t as bad as Mike Milbury’s—but that isn’t saying much. Bill Guerin was flipped to Boston for Anson Carter and a first rounder that became Hemsky. That was good. Doug Weight brought in Jochen Hecht, Jan Horacek and Marty Reasoner from St. Louis. Not so much. Mike Comrie was sent to Philadelphia for Jeff Woywtika a 1st (Rob Schremp) and a 3rd (Danny Syvret). Looked good at the time but didn’t pan out in retrospect.
Then there’s Chris Pronger. Lowe bagged him for Eric Brewer, Woywitka and Doug Lynch. For Lowe, this was larceny. Unfortunately, the former Norris Trophy winner’s time in the Capital was short-lived and he demanded a trade out of Edmonton after just one season, for reasons sordid or otherwise.
When Lowe dealt Pronger to Anaheim, the bounty was pretty decent, Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, two 1sts (one conditional) and a 2nd. Thankfully, one of those picks turned out to be Jordan Eberle, which is looking very good indeed. Still, at the time, I was surprised that Lowe couldn’t pry either Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry from the Ducks in the deal. Neither player had yet busted out becoming the player they are today, but the signs were there. Had Lowe pressed for one of them, instead of Lupul, as the centrepiece to the deal, does Anaheim say, “No thanks?” I highly doubt it.
Throw it all into the consideration—the team record, the draft history, the cap management, the trades—and where does Lowe rank? It’s not like he’s in the same class as Lou Lamorello or Ken Holland. He would have been fired 3 times over by now in Toronto or Montreal.
But in Edmonton, in the ‘City of Champions,’ Lowe survives no longer winning championships. No matter if the team’s glory days date back 20-to-30 years back. No matter than other than one fluke year, the Oilers have done nothing of note, other than pick first overall three times in a row in a decade.
Oil fans have to worry that with the re-hiring of MacTavish, the club gives too much deference to its past as it tries to compete in the ever-changing NHL. Lowe’s vehement defence of his track record at that press conference excuses his current performance in trade for past glory. The victory parade can only go on for so long.
Earlier that day, Lowe said, “Half of the NHL teams would trade their roster for his”, he’s probably not wrong. The immense amount of young talent in the organization may in fact be just a step or two away from helping vindicate Lowe and company.
But if things continue as they have for the last 20 years in Edmonton, I will think of Lowe as an underrated NHL player and that’s about it.
The most hyped event of 2013 has recently passed and
The Papal Conclave the National Hockey League Trade Deadline delivered its usual amount of activity. And the Calgary Flames, for the first time in over a decade it was different—the club was selling assets. It shipped out the most beloved player in franchise history, its best defenceman, who was supposed to be the next Gary Suter/Al MacInnis when he was acquired just a few years ago…and Blake Comeau.
I suppose with Jarome Iginla, Jay Bouwmeester…and Blake Comeau…now donning other team’s jerseys (and how weird was it to see Iggy wearing Pittsburgh Penguins silks for the first time?) the Flames are finally getting serious about a rebuild 3-years too late. Even if the organization seems loathe calling it a rebuild, Holmes on Homes has surveyed the wreckage and says the top floor, kitchen/dining room and basement all require a major overhaul.
We can debate all day about if the Flames got the right return in the three deals; however, the more important point is these moves had to be made, starting with The Captain.
All Flames fans can agree, the impact Iginla made on the organization is the most profound of any man to wear the Flaming ‘C.’ All the way back to the time he was acquired in a trade with Dallas for then captain Joe Nieuwendyk, to scoring his first goal in his first game (a playoff contest versus Chicago), to becoming an all-star, to becoming an Art Ross, Maurice Richard and Lester B. Pearson award winner, to leading the team to the 2004 Stanley Cup finals, to twice winning gold with Canada at the Olympics, to setting all of the major records in club history, to scoring 500 goals and 1000 points, to being the consummate professional on and off the ice—Iginla is, was and always shall be the ideal Calgary Flame.
Trading Iggy had to happen for two reasons: To give him a legitimate shot at winning a title before he retires and for the organization to finally admit to itself a new direction was necessary. With Iginla in the locker room, a proper team deconstruction was impossible and not fair to him.
With Iginla dealt, it seemed like pretty much means any other player in the organization, not on an entry-level contract, was up for grabs. Bouwmeester never became the Norris Trophy winner many fans thought he should be but the ex-Medicine Hat Tiger delivered exactly what he has his entire hockey career: A major minute-muncher, with above average skill, below average grit and subterranean charisma.
And while…Comeau…was the only other player moved at this time, the off-season could be even busier.
Flames General Manager Jay Feaster has been skewered by many for not getting back any ‘A-List’ prospects back in the Iginla/Bouwmeester trades, but he did acquire two first-round picks (the choice from St. Louis is for 2013 if the Blues make the playoffs; 2014 if they don’t). Considering the players had no-trade clauses, Feaster didn’t have much leverage to shop either player to get the best deal possible.
Shortly after the moves were made, Feaster spoke to the press and one thing stuck out more than anything. Despite moving Iginla, Bouwmeester…and Comeau…the club was not ‘rebuilding.’ And in fact, Flames ownership is expecting the team to make the playoffs next season.
Ever since 2004, the Flames have been chasing the Cup. After the Finals run, it made sense, after all, Calgary was one proper goal review from actually having won the championship*.
*I’m just saying it was the eliminator—Martin Gelinas!
After the ’04-’05 lockout, Calgary finished over 100 points, 1st in the Northwest Division before flaming out in the first round of the post-season. The next 3 years brought about 3 more first round exits. Then the next 3 years the Flames narrowly missed the playoffs. Instead of taking a step back, first with Darryl Sutter in charge, then Feaster, the organization kept making moves with only the present in mind.
Now what some people—including this guy right here—have thought for years is out in the open: Flames ownership, Murray Edwards and friends, have mandated making the playoffs and pursuing the Cup as the only option. Even this season, with the franchise battling for the NHL basement, ownership is eyeing 2014 as the year the club can return to the post-season.
Now, for any professional team to have ownership in place that really wants to win is rarer than one might think. Before the NHL had a salary cap, Chicago’s Bill Wirtz and Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs were more than happy to rake in dough while Detroit and Colorado spend tons of money pursuing Lord Stanley’s mug.
I’m worried the Flames are like the New York Yankees of yesteryear. Not the World Champion, spend $200-million Pinstripers—but the 1980s teams. While George Steinbrenner won more than his share, there was a time he thought just throwing money around was enough to build a winner. The ‘80s Yankees were San Diego Padre-like. It wasn’t until Steinbrenner changed his ways, stepped back from the day-to-day operations of the team and hired some bright baseball minds, most notably Brian Cashman.
New York started to develop young players, and a nucleus led by Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte brought the club back to glory. Yes, money was spent on free agents, superstars were acquired in trade, but without the young core peaking together, those recent World Series titles would have been near impossible to come by.
Looking at the more successful teams of the post-salary cap NHL era: Pittsburgh, Detroit, New Jersey, Boston, recently Chicago and Los Angeles, these teams were built through the draft, using a young, homegrown core of players to achieve success.
For too long, Calgary has eschewed player development for free agents and trades. Acquiring players on the free market rarely works like it should. The players available have generally already peaked. There is a reason they are free agents: Their former teams did not believe they were worth the investment.
The trade game can work, as even Sutter showed early in his Flames tenure, stealing players like Miikka Kiprusoff and Craig Conroy among others. Beware the team looking to offload a veteran with a big contract—Hey Mike Cammalleri!
What should worry Flames fans is if ownership is really thinking it’s a one step back this year, for two big steps forward next. Who is to say Calgary can even build through the draft, the club has a lousy track record the last 25 years or more. The New York Islanders have been a lottery team for centuries.
There’s a lot not to like right now for the Flames. And most troublesome is ownership if it believes its club is a playoff contender next year.
I’m not saying it can’t happen. But a long time has passed since 1989. And I don’t see a roster stocked with one-time draft picks like MacInnis, Suter, Vernon, Roberts, Fleury, and Nieuwendyk on it.
“And again, in this shortened [National Hockey League] season…”
Sportsnet Analyst Charlie Simmer about 45 times each Calgary Flames broadcast this winter.
My ears are suffering from A.B.F. — Announcer BS Fatigue.
Since leaving Global last summer, I have had more time to watch sports than I ever did working for the station. That may seem odd to say, but I have viewed more games on television in the last 7 months than I probably did in my decade at Global. I used to work evenings, with most of them spent shooting highlights of local games or interviewing coaches and athletes. Tuning into a game on TV mid-week was the exception and not the rule.
These days, if I chose, I could watch sports 7 days a week. I have both the NBA League Pass and NHL Centre Ice. Between the two leagues; I can have from 10 to 30 games to watch on any given day. Monday to Friday contests start at 5pm and run straight through until about 11. On the weekends, I can start a marathon at 10am and not leave the couch until almost midnight.
With access to so many different contests, I have listened to all 60 announce teams that do the local broadcasts for the NBA or the NHL , not to mention the national networks that cover either league as well. I have endured Grant Napear and Jerry Reynolds call Sacramento Kings games (Reynolds is the team’s Director of Player Personnel…uh conflict of interest much?). I have enjoyed the Florida Panther’s duo of Steve Goldstein and Bill Lindsay (to the point play-by-play with timely analysis from our favourite Montanan ex-NHLer).
There is good work being done out there, but more and more what’s coming out of the broadcast booth is amateurish or boorish. I have different levels to how I actually watch a game now.
1. Sound up, actively watching and enjoying the broadcast.
This happens when the play-by-play man calls what is happening on time, sets up his analyst who delivers sound analysis, providing insight that is not blatantly obvious to the viewer. Clichés are kept to a minimum. Bonus points if there’s a dash of humour thrown in but not to the point where it seems the announcers are auditioning for Lorne Michaels. In hockey, my dream team would be Chris Cuthbert with John Davidson. In basketball, make it Marv Albert with any number of analysts, but Jeff Van Gundy is getting it done best these days.
2. Sound up, actively watching and tolerating the broadcast.
This means for the most part the announce team is doing a serviceable job. Perhaps there’s some clichés being tossed around or the broadcasters are busy debating “today’s hot topic” and ignoring what is actually happening in the game. There will be some moments where I think to myself, “What did he just say?” It’s not a bad broadcast, but it can use some room for improvement (and can’t we all?), a good solid effort more often than not.
3. Sound turned down lower, actively watching.
This happens one of two ways: A) The broadcast team is truly deficient in some manner: play-by-play guy is continuously behind or using an passive voice (or his voice is so annoying that listening to it at full volume is tremendously grating), the colour man is the master of the cliché, the tone of the broadcast makes it seem like the booth would rather be somewhere else, etc. or B) The broadcast team is a huge pair (or trio) of homers: “We” is used constantly throughout the game, officials are lambasted for calls (or non-calls) against the home side, or the announce team has an win-gasm after the home side takes a close game. This happens more than I want.
4. Sound muted, actively watching.
At this point I have found the broadcast team to be so derelict in even the most basic duties of calling a game, that I’d rather watch it with no sound, in silence. Or more likely, put another game on my computer that I can listen/watch at the same time. What amazes me is this happens at all. I may be asking for too much, but if a broadcaster makes it on a regional professional broadcast team, he or she should be ready for “the show.” Sadly, this is not always the case.
And believe me, the threshold to what irks me from a broadcast standpoint, is probably a lot lower than most people. I cannot just tune out who’s behind the mic. As someone who used to work in the industry full-time, it is impossible for me to not actively watch the broadcast. I pick up not only on the “problems” from the broadcasters, but from the technical side as well: The use of camera shots by the director, the graphic packages, the replays (or lack thereof). If my eyes see it, or if my ears hear it, I’m judging it. I am not the end-all, be-all arbiter of taste for sports broadcasting. If Jim Hughson floats your boat, that’s fine, just don’t expect me to watch one of his games without thinking: “He should be better.”
Then there is what’s happening “back in the studio.” Please. Make. It. Stop.
For the major networks, it’s an arms race of sorts to see how many commentators they can fit on a desk. Grantland’s Bill Simmons lampooned it best when he forecasted that one day a network will put 9 of them in a Hollywood Squares set and let them go to town. Ironically, Simmons now does studio work himself for ESPN basketball.
These days if there are only two commentators on the desk, something has gone severely wrong. Instead of going for quality, networks are trying to cram too many opinions into a finite amount of time. With more mouths bloviating and less time is given to them, it results in over-the-top sound bites, uniformed judgements and enough hot air to keep Orville Redenbacher popping. The fact Mike Milbury still has a TV studio gig is beyond comprehension.
I feel bad for the analysts who did a credible job at one time. Quite often they are now joined by 3 or 4 others, cutting into their time and forcing them to answer questions like, “If man is nearly wiped off the face of the earth, and only one hockey player survived, which one would you prefer to repopulate the human race?”
The studio show is dead. Producers who give the clowns, who say things just to be controversial, or even worse, completely out to lunch, killed it.
It brings up a fifth option:
5. Turn the channel.
It’s not going to go down as a banner season for the Boston Celtics. Still, I have found this a fascinating campaign for the National Basketball Association’s most celebrated franchise. And while an 18th championship is going to elude the C’s in 2013, the last couple of months I have very much enjoyed watching the club.
Boston wasn’t really considered to be an top contender going into this season. That status was reserved for the likes of the defending champions, the Miami Heat, last year’s runners-up, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the team that won the off-season, the Los Angeles Lakers.
Well, as the stretch drive heats up, Miami and Oklahoma City are definitely among the NBA’s class. San Antonio is a threat, even with an injured Tony Parker out for awhile yet. One tier below are the likes of Indiana and the Los Angeles Clippers, while clubs like Memphis and Denver are merely very good. The Lakers? Well, let’s see if they can even make it to the post-season.
As for the Celtics, the squad is going to make the playoffs, but a division title is mostly likely out of the question. The New York Knicks’ hot start pretty much assures a different team, other than Boston, will win the Atlantic Division for the first time since Toronto* (!) in 2007.
*Remember those Raptors? Finished 12 games over .500 led by Chris Bosh. There was real optimism in the air as a hot-shot rookie, picked 1st overall, Andrea Bargnani joined the team and young point guards TJ Ford and Jose Calderon were both under 25. Of course, a first-round playoff exit followed the regular season and as we know, things only slid downhill from there. Where are you Jorge Garbajosa?
Even with my tempered expectations, the first couple of months of the Celtics season were pretty disappointing. Scuffling along at around .500, quality wins were few and far between—the best on November 23rd over the Thunder. It seemed as long as C’s point guard Rajon Rondo played well, the club had a great chance of winning, if not, a loss was pretty likely.
For this season, there was no question Rondo was the team’s best player and was supposed to assume the top leadership role. Even with veteran all-star mainstays like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett still in town, it was going to be Rondo’s team.
And Rondo is an amazing player. He led the NBA in assists last year, a four-time All-Star and multiple-time all-defensive team member. Rajon’s post-season resume is tremendous as well, with a string of triple-double performances with the stakes at their highest. At his best, he is a top-ten NBA player.
On January 25th, Rondo tore the ACL in his right knee in a game against Atlanta. At that point the Celtics were 3 games under .500 and with their best player out for the year; it was supposed to be a lost season.
However, Boston rallied immediately after the injury, reeling off the team’s longest win streak of the season. It started with a victory against the LeBron and the Heat and went for 7 in total. Pierce really stepped up his game, showing an improved scoring touch and became the team’s top facilitator. While Garnett’s minutes have been diminished, he continues to be one of the best defensive anchors in the game. Jason Terry, acquired as a free agent this summer, began to show signs of the championship player he became with the Dallas Mavericks. Jeff Green, who missed all of last season after heart surgery, has looked the best since joining the Celtics from Oklahoma City, reminding fans why he was selected 5th overall in the 2007 Draft. Courtney Lee, starting in place of Rondo, and Brandon Bass, the starting power forward, both became more consistent too.
Then there is Avery Bradley. The 22-year-old suffered his own season ending injury, to his shoulder in last year’s playoffs. It’s not hard to believe had he been healthy; the Celtics would have emerged as the Eastern Conference Champions last spring, as the side lost to the Heat in a 7th game after leading the conference finals 3-2 at one point.
To start the ’12-’13 campaign, Bradley was still on the sidelines recovering from his surgery. The Texas alum returned in January and predictably, he was rusty. But as Rondo went down, Bradley’s importance to the team increased and the guard has responded. Recently, Bradley has become a more confident shooter—not even close to Ray Allen’s level—but good enough that the opposition has to worry about him on the perimeter. To start March, he was averaging over 14 points-per-game and shooting over 50% from the field. You better believe Hubie Brown is excited about this development.
What Bradley is exceptional at is on-the-ball defence. He hounds point guards as they bring the rock up the court. Even the best ball-handlers have to worry about him stripping the ball away for a steal. And this isn’t just a few times a game. Almost every minute he’s on the court, Bradley is bringing his tenacious brand of D. It’s really fun to watch.
Still, the Celtics struggled a bit after the win streak, dropping four of six, mostly on the road, coinciding with the approach of the trade deadline. There were a hundred rumours concerning the Celtics, prominently involving Garnett and Pierce. Again, it looked like Boston was in trouble.
It was a legitimate debate, whether an aging Celtics roster, without a healthy Rondo, should be blown up. However, KG, with a full no-trade clause, intimated he wasn’t ready to leave the team. Pierce would have been a great add for a contending team, but it never panned out. In the end Boston stayed pat.
While we don’t know how this will play out, the immediate result was Boston started a win streak once again. Early on, it included some impressive road wins in Utah and Indiana. All of a sudden, this depleted Celtics team is looking like a tough post-season out.
The club is playing for one another, showing the classic Celtic Pride previous teams from this generation, and those before it have displayed.
This year’s C’s are not even close to those great Russell, Cowens or Bird teams. However, I have really enjoyed rooting for this squad. Getting the NBA League Pass looked like a bad idea a few months ago. Now, if the Celtics are playing I’m tuning in.
Left for dead in January, the club is showing that every game can mean something even if a season doesn’t result in a championship.
Only a few months have passed since I joined the “retired local celebrities” club. Despite the fact I’m no longer active at Global Lethbridge, I still have had the chance to pitch in and help out our community by emceeing local events.
Recently I returned to host the annual Lethbridge Hurricanes Celebrity Dinner and Auction. Over the years it has proved to be a very enjoyable evening as our local Western Hockey League club puts the event together to raise money for a host of local charities, including The ‘Canes Scholarship Fund, The United Way, The Kidney Foundation and The Michael Maniago Fund.
Every year the dinner has a special guest speaker and those who have visited in the last few years have included the likes of NHL Hall-of-Famer Lanny MacDonald and comedian Gerry Dee.
This February the organizing committee hit another home run as Curtis Joseph came to visit the ‘Bridge. Like his predecessors “Cujo” was a gracious guest, taking lots of time for those who attended, posing for pictures, signing autographs and telling some stories.
After a great dinner put on by LA Chefs at the Coast Convention Centre, it was time for Cujo and myself to sit down for an in-depth one-on-one interview. I’ll admit, even though I watched Joseph for his entire NHL career, all 19 seasons of it, I really didn’t know much about his back story.
Adopted by Jeanne and Harold Joseph, Curtis grew up in a family of mixed race in south-central Ontario. While he was a fine athlete as a child, Joseph never started playing hockey until he was in his pre-teens. At first he tried playing as a forward, but his admittedly “poor skating,” eventually found him play goaltender. This turned out to be a great turn of fortune.
After playing minor hockey and some junior in Ontario, Joseph then moved to the prairies, suiting up for famed Notre Dame of Wilcox, Saskatchewan. Here he helped the Hounds win the Centennial Cup in 1987. Cujo told a great story about how when Notre Dame travelled to Calgary for a Game 7 of the Abbott Cup finals. As memorable as the victory, was the fact that Notre Dame students travelled west for the game by promising to attend school on a Saturday as a make-up date.
This experience put Joseph on the radar of National Hockey League scouts and he then went to the University of Wisconsin. An undrafted player, he again excelled with the Badgers, earning a berth on the WCHA All Conference Team. This led to a bidding war by NHL teams to sign him as a free agent. In the end, St. Louis stepped up and inked him to a $1 million contract. No doubt this was helped by Joseph’s recruiting trip to the Gateway City, where none other than Brian Sutter picked him up in a limousine and had him over for dinner.
From little known to NHL starting goalie in the matter of a few years, Joseph got a baptism by fire as a professional. The Blues were a great offensive team in his time there led by the likes of Brett Hull, Adam Oates and Brendan Shanahan. However, they often left Cujo to fend for himself. He twice led the NHL in shots faced in a campaign and 3 times made the most saves.
But Joseph’s time came to an end when Mike Keenan came to St. Louis. Notably hard on goalies, “Iron Mike” moved Joseph on to Edmonton where he joined an inexperienced Oilers squad. Despite their youth, the Copper and Blue overachieved, knocking out favoured teams Dallas and Colorado in consecutive playoffs. But his time in the Capital was rather short, as he moved on signing a free agent contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While the Buds never did end their long Stanley Cup drought, Joseph and friends certainly had some very good teams. Curtis cemented his status as one of the best ‘tenders of his generation, twice finishing runner-up for the Vezina Trophy.
Even with all of his success in Toronto, Joseph was once again on the move, signing with Detroit in 2002. But his time with the Red Wings proved to be his most trying in the NHL. With huge expectations, the Wings twice flamed out in the playoffs after having superb regular seasons. His last year in Motown, Cujo was even sent to the minors for a game as the club had a three goalie conundrum with Dominic Hasek and Manny Legace on the squad as well. Joseph had to keep positive and credits Don Cherry for having his back on Coaches Corner, showing his support. He related with the crowd how staying positive got him through this very trying time.
After two seasons with the Wings, Joseph then headed to Phoenix to play under Wayne Gretzky. Another great story was one night Cujo was the back-up goalie. As we all know, the Coyotes have had attendance issues forever, so it’s pretty easy to see what’s going on in the crowd.
In this game, Curtis noticed his teenage daughter walking down the steps holding hands with a boy. It turned out to be Gretzky’s son. As Joseph related, “He was my boss, so what was I supposed to do?” At the time Cujo never brought it up to The Great One, but years later at a mutual event, Gretzky in fact saw what happened and gave his former goalie a tough time about it. Joseph countered about Gretzky’s own daughter Paulina, who is pretty famous herself these days.
From there it was stops in Calgary and then Toronto again. Along the way, Joseph helped Canada win gold in 3 international competitions and one silver. He goes down 4th all-time in NHL wins and will be in the conversation for the Hall-of-Fame soon.
What I got from our near hour long chat was Joseph never doubted his abilities. Even when he had his troubles in Detroit, he worked hard to regain his all-star form. He took the road less travelled to make it to the NHL, showing everyone that belief in oneself is very powerful indeed.
Some great stories from Cujo, thousands of dollars raised for local charities, and the chance to catch up with some old friends, made this year’s ‘Canes Celebrity Dinner and Auction another big success.
I can’t wait for next year.
Well, that was quick.
It seems it took about all of three minutes for Canadians to get over the recently resolved National Hockey League lockout. When negotiations seemed to be going nowhere, there was a large public backlash against the owners and players, with many people talking about boycotting the NHL even after the dispute was resolved. It proved to be just tough talk. As soon as the season finally started earlier in January, buildings were sold out in the 7 Canadian markets once again. Even television ratings in the United States are encouraging. Perhaps absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
Now the games are back and with it 30 fan bases have hope this is the year their team hoists the Stanley Cup. Well, expect in Columbus. Even the most ardent Blue Jackets fan is looking at that team and thinks, “Maybe next year…we won’t finish last.”
And no team’s fan base is as optimistic as that of the Edmonton Oilers. Oil Nation is jacked about its team with its influx of youth and talent. The skill level acquired through the draft the last few years by Edmonton is no joke and the club will be must watch TV for a long time going forward.
Still, in this even more restricted salary cap world, I wonder what the Oilers window of opportunity is to win a championship. As things stand, the organization has the next two or three years before it will have to make a lot of shrewd and perhaps difficult choices.
For just the second time in NHL history, a team has picked first overall in three consecutive Entry Drafts. The Oilers selected Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov from 2010-2012 respectively. Add Jordan Eberle, the 22nd overall pick in 2008 and free agent acquisition Justin Schultz (Anaheim’s 2nd round pick in ’08) and the bounty of talent is the envy of pretty much any other NHL club (Calgary Flames fans know what I’m talking about).
The first NHL team to have 3 first overall picks was the Quebec Nordiques from 1989-1991. Just before the franchise moved to Colorado, it selected Owen Nolan, Mats Sundin and Eric Lindros. While none of those players helped the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup, the subsequent Sundin, Lindros and Nolan trades, along with picking Joe Sakic 15th overall in ’87, paved the way.
The early picks, along with potential stars atop the draft, mean the Oilers have had the chance to pick up some dynamic playmakers. The ceiling for Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov is sky high and early on, there doesn’t appear to be an Alexandre Daigle or Doug Wickenheiser in the bunch.
If this quartet lives up to its potential, the outlay in cash is going to get very expensive for Edmonton. Already, Hall and Eberle have signed contract extensions, each with a cap hit of $6 million apiece for the next 7 and 6 years respectively. There’s no reason to believe that Nugent-Hopkins won’t get a hefty extension once his rookie deal runs out after next season. If RNH puts up comparable numbers, $6 million per season will be the minimum he’s going to make per annum. As for Yakupov, he’s another offensively gifted player. If the Russian can push a point-per-game pace in the next couple of years, as I’m sure Oilers fans are hoping he does, by the end of his entry level contract, add another $6 million, or more, cap hit on the books starting in 2015.
Potentially, the Oilers will have 4 players making $24-$26 million bucks against the salary cap in time for the 2015-2016 campaign. At least Shawn Horcoff’s bloated contract will be off the books by then. Now, having four players possibly counting that much against the spending limit can be done and I liken this upcoming situation to the Chicago Blackhawks of recent vintage.
Chicago was a bumbling franchise from the mid ‘90’s through the mid ‘00’s. Then the team got better through the draft and led by youngsters Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, won a championship in 2010, ending a near 40-year drought.
Afterwards, the Blackhawks kept their core intact, and in fact, have 6 players with cap hits of over $5 million apiece (Kane, Towes, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Seabrook and Keith).
However, the ‘Hawks eventually had to move other young players who were very instrumental in helping win the Cup, including Lethbridge’s Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, Antii Niemi and Dustin Byfuglien to manage the salary cap. Today Chicago is still a very good team but has slipped from NHL Stanley Cup favourite consideration. Also, when the cap falls next season by $6 million, the ‘Hawks may have to move one of their high priced players.
A nod to capgeek.com for all salary cap information. As it stands, next season the Blackhawks will have 18 players making over $60 million bucks with a salary cap set at $64.3 million.
In 3 seasons time, it’s almost a given the Oilers will have a similar salary cap situation if they keep a similar roster. The top guns of Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov will all be at least $5-$6 million dollar cap hits. If Schultz can put up even 40 points a year as a defenceman, he will join that quartet at as $5 million dollar player with his next contract.
The average NHL salary is nearly $2.5 million dollars. Perhaps that value comes down with a stricter salary cap. But with the way contemporary NHL owners spend, it won’t be too much.
A decent netminder is at least $4 million a season, unless if you get one on his rookie deal, or a Niemi who has a career playoff run at just the right time. An all-star goalie is $6 million. Maybe Devan Dubnyk develops into one, as it is; he’s already a cap hit of $3.5 million. If the Oilers become a playoff team, his salary will go up when his contract is up after next season.
At the very least, it looks like 6 players will be making close to half of the Oilers cap by 2015-16. Yes, the Oilers seem to have the top-end talent to become a Stanley Cup contender in the near future. But the best chance the club may have to win the title is in the next two or three years before all of these big contracts kick in.
In fact, the 2013-14 campaign may be the most promising. The club will have all of its young stars in place and enough cap room to go after the right veterans to round out the roster. After that, economics will play as big a role for the club going forward as goals and saves.
It will make Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini’s job very interesting going forward to say the least. He’ll have to channel Ken Holland to make it work and not Kevin Lowe.
And in the end, a prolonged Oilers run may be shunted because there’s only so much money to go around.
Editors Note: Through a serendipitous stroke of fortune, For What It’s Worth has received what appears to be a discarded journal penned by National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman. What follows are some unedited excerpts from it. Do not ask how FWIW obtained this book. It most definitely had nothing to do with a well placed mole working in New York at NHL Headquarters rifling through the Commish’s recycling bin.
August 18th, 2012
My, what a beautiful summer’s day here in NYC. Too bad I can’t enjoy it. The NHL Players Association counter-offer was such a joke! They think they can tell these owners how to divvy up billions of dollars? Most of them can’t even balance their massive cheque books. The nerve! Without my leadership those players would still be making on average less than a million dollars per season in a 20-team league. Could you imagine a $200 million contract in the days of John Ziegler? Now there’s a guy who couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Oh well, we all know a lockout is inevitable, so let’s just get to September and get it started already.
August 30th, 2012
I hate Bob Goodenow. But I miss him. At least I knew the players would eventually tune him out and help us get the upper hand in negotiations. Now Donald Fehr? I would rather spend 30 days on a deserted island with Goodenow than spend 60 seconds in an elevator with Fehr. Donny’s just spoiling for a fight. He doesn’t give a crap about ice hockey. He just wants to win this negotiation at all costs. People have told me he does well here and he says he’ll get back to a real league like Major League Baseball or the Lingerie Football League. We’ll see about that Donny.
September 15th, 2012
Now this is what I’m talking about! The lockout is on. Don’t get me wrong, I wish we could have avoided all of this and have a nice fair collective bargaining agreement in place, but really, it was wishful thinking. I can’t get 30 owners on the same page, I can’t imagine how 700 players can all agree on something as complex as a CBA. You know, I should really get this lockout thing sponsored. “The Master Lock-Out.” Or the “Yale Lock-Out.” Or the “Ric Flair Figure-Four Lock-Out.” Cha-ching!!
October 1st, 2012
All these meetings and talks and we can’t even discuss numbers yet. I’m all for player safety and crap, but I want us to compare our skewed numbers versus their skewed numbers. I’ll admit, it’s getting tough to keep crying poor, when it’s all all over the place that the NHL is making more money than ever. Yes, some teams are in tough shape, who ever thought of putting a team in Phoenix anyways? That guy should be shot.
October 11th, 2012
Well, I should be dropping the puck somewhere for opening night. Boy, cancelling games is always kind of surreal. We all know the season is about 30 games too long anyways. If we ever get back to playing this season I can’t wait to see all of those smartass columnists write about how much more enjoyable a shortened season will be. “Every game is like a playoff game,” they’ll write! I don’t get it, it’s not like my career is being aborted by losing all these games. Eat that Teemu Selanne! And I get paid either way.
October 19th, 2012
More games cancelled today. That reminds me, I should cancel my gym membership. What have I gone, like four times this year? My delts are paying for it too. Nothing like that Roger Goodell. His shoulders are boulders.
November 2nd, 2012
And there goes the Winter Classic. I’m not much for being all cold outside, especially in Detroit, but I do love that 24/7 show on HBO. Oh man that Ilya Bryzgalov is a weird guy. Kind of reminds me of Colin Campbell in a way. They both sure love outer space!
November 24th, 2012
More games cancelled, the easiest one was the All-Star Game in Columbus. Like it was going to save hockey in that town. What a downright terrible team. Just an awful franchise. Whoever thought putting hockey in Columbus was a good idea should be shot.
December 4th, 2012
Well, as much as I hated to not be in the room today, it looks like some good progress was made. Getting Fehr out of the room was key too. He eats all of the Boston cream donuts and that just gets everyone in a foul mood. If we could keep Fehr out of the process we just might get a deal done and have some Boston creams left over for Sidney Crosby.
December 6th, 2012
SO ANGRY!!! FEEEEEEEHHHHHRRRR!!! MUST SMASH DONALD!!!!!!!!!
December 12th, 2012
Oh mediation is so tedious. All I’m thinking about is that new Mini iPad. I hope I get one from Santa for Christmas. I mean it’s smaller than my other iPad, but bigger than my iPhone! I wish I worked for Apple. Then I could probably get a free Mini iPad.
December 26th, 2012
Now that I have my Mini iPad, I think we should get the lockout over with. Maybe I’ll float the idea of a drop dead date for the season for January and that’ll get some butts moving. All I know is the owners have more time on their hands now that they’re done with NFL Fantasy Football for the year. I can finally get them to focus on other less important matters like salvaging the NHL season.
January 1st, 2012
Sooooooo hungover. We have to counter their counter but the room is spinning. Too much Cristal with Jacobs and Dolan last night. I don’t care what we offer now, so long as we get some ibuprofen coming back our way.
Relief. That’s all I feel as it looks like we have a deal for a new CBA. Not joy. Not elation. Just sweet, sweet relief. I can’t stress enough it doesn’t matter how many lockouts I am commissioner for, it never gets any easier. I swear Fehr wanted this thing to go on for another year. In the end, we got where we needed to go thanks to everyone realizing we’re doing what’s best for the game. Even though we could have, should have done this in the summer, at least I’m not cancelling another entire season! How many commissioners have done that? Not many I bet. With at least 8 years until the next negotiation, I’ll have more than enough time to get a lockout sponsor.
In what’s become an annual tradition here at For What It’s Worth, here are my hopes and wishes for sport for the upcoming year, 2013. We had many great moments in 2012, along with the usual disappointments and outright shocking events. This is why sport is so great: Truly anything can happen—and often does.
THE END OF THE NHL LOCKOUT
As we hit January, it still looks like this may never happen. Great Toe Blake’s Ghost I hope not. The fact there is another National Hockey League work stoppage is outright indefensible. I grew tired of this story in 2004. To have it happen again (and again, and again) is a shame.
If a season begins, it will be interesting to see how fans respond. It’s hard to give up the NHL, as it showcases the game we love with the planet’s top players. Still, wouldn’t be nice to see a consolidated effort to boycott the league for a time, to show both the owners and players that we fans are tired of their shenanigans.
THE LETHBRIDGE HURRICANES WINNING HOME ICE FOR THE FIRST ROUND OF THE WHL PLAYOFFS
As the Western Hockey League embarks on the second half of the 2012/2013 campaign, the Lethbridge Hurricanes are firmly positioned to make the playoffs after a 3-year hiatus. If you haven’t been down to the Enmax Centre lately, you’ve missed out as this team has played some pretty exciting (if still a bit inconsistent) hockey. But this is a developing side with its best days ahead. After all, the ‘Canes remain the Dub’s youngest squad.
The group of forwards have great offensive potential, and a few like Jaimen Yakubowski, Russell Maxwell and Brady Ramsay have taken a big step forward this season. On the back end, Daniel Johnston may be the WHL’s most underrated d-man, with a crop of first or second year skaters filling out the blue-line including the impressive rookie Ryan Pilon. Ty Rimmer has been a rock between the pipes, often spectacularly giving the club a chance to win every game.
For the Hurricanes to crack the Eastern Conference’s top four, it’s going to be a challenge. Defending WHL Champion Edmonton is a good bet to repeat. One of the top two seeds will go to the East Division champs, which Prince Albert is the first half leader. However, I still wouldn’t put Saskatoon out of that race. The Blades have shrugged off a poor start and are playing more like a team befitting to host the Memorial Cup (and you know Saskatoon will make any moves necessary at the trade deadline to bolster its lineup in its pursuit of glory).
Calgary is back in a big way, as the Hitmen may challenge the Oil Kings for the Central Division Crown. That leaves the ‘Canes battling the Red Deer Rebels, either the Raider or Blades as the East race plays out, and probably a couple of other teams in the second half for a top four seed. It will be fun to watch, that’s for sure.
A BIG SECOND HALF FOR THE UOFL BASKETBALL TEAMS
As we know, Southern Alberta loves its basketball. It’s even better when the University of Lethbridge teams are in contention. Some of my favourite memories were watching the Pronghorns teams led by Danny Balderson and Spencer Holt rock the ‘Old Cave’ more than a couple of years ago.
Now, neither of these year’s ‘Horns teams are a national powerhouse, but both the men’s and women’s sides have a chance to make the playoffs, providing they win more than they lose in the second half of the Canada West schedule.
The men’s squad is trying to overcome the loss of two key cogs from last season—Dominyc Coward and Daryl Cooper—and have done a pretty good job of doing so. The ‘Horns are averaging nearly the same amount of points for and against per game.
Derek Waldner is playing his best basketball. The 5th year senior is the only man on his team in the top 20 in Canada West scoring and is among the conference’s rebounding leaders. From there, it’s a team effort with different players rising to the occasion on different nights like Logan Reiter, Julian Spear Chief-Morris, Morgan Duce and Chaz Johnson.
In order for the UofL Men’s team to make the playoffs, a win on the road is most likely needed, as the squad was 0-4 in the first half. Still, the ‘Horns should be threatening until the end, with a post-season invitation hanging in the balance.
As for the UofL Women’s basketball team, I believe most people are surprised by their 5-5 start to the CanWest season. First year head coach Erin McAleenan has nearly matched last season’s win total of 6, this after 5-year senior, and leading scorer Lauren Taal graduated.
Stepping into the breach is Ali Cameron. The 3rd year guard is has led the team in scoring, adding nearly 7 points-per-night to her average. The Raymond native is in the top ten in Canada West scoring—a nice surprise to be sure.
If the ‘Horns are going to make the playoffs, more offence is going to be key. Two other starters—Kim Veldman and Erin Skippon—are both averaging double-digits, however, the squad is in the bottom half in scoring offence overall.
To have both ‘Horns hoops squads in the playoffs in March should get the 1st Choice Savings Centre rocking in 2013.
…The Toronto Blue Jays to win the American League East. The Jays have been the darlings of the Major Baseball League offseason, making huge deals, first with Florida to acquire Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and others; then another swap with the New York Mets for Cy Young winner RA Dickey. With the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox both looking vulnerable, this may just be the year the Jays regain at least a playoff berth. I’m not a Jays fan, but if they are good, it’s great for baseball here in the Great White North, which I am all for.
…The Los Angeles Clippers to win the NBA Championship. Hollywood’s other team; the Clippers have long been one of The Association’s laughingstocks. However, this winter, the side is coming together as a legit championship contender. Led by Chris Paul, the Clips have run out to the NBA’s best record (as of December 28th). There’s a great mix of youth (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) and veteran experience (Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford and a now in-shape Lamar Odom). If my Celtics can’t win another title—why not the Clippers? As long as it’s not the Lakers…or Heat.
And of course, most of all, I hope for a safe a prosperous New Year to all of the Lethbridge Journal’s readers and their families.
With the National Hockey League pressing hard to kill another season, perhaps hockey fans are looking for something else to get into. Oil painting, skydiving faster than the speed of sound, teaching an old dog new tricks are all fine ways to distract oneself from thinking about how supposed rational human beings are putting yet another entire NHL campaign at risk.
However, if you enjoy competition, sporting excellence and/or gambling, I offer this suggestion: Get into the National Basketball Association. The way things are shaping up, the 2012-2013 season is going to be a doozy—chock full of intrigue and what should be excellent competition (even though the favourite is going to win it all again—more on that in a bit).
So, dear reader, I offer some reasons why watching the NBA will be much more entertaining than wondering what the h-e-double hockey sticks Bettman, Fehr and company are up to.
The NBA has an embarrassment of stars at the moment; players in the peak or approaching the prime of their careers. The king of kings—LeBron James—is putting substance in with his style, winning his first NBA title with the Miami Heat last summer, to go along with his multiple most valuable player awards. James is still only 27-years-old and when it’s all said and done, he’s very likely to challenge Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s NBA best 6 MVP trophies.
James’ teammate Dwyane Wade is no slouch either. Oklahoma City has two awesome players under 25: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Los Angeles has stars-a-plenty between the Lakers and Clippers: Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Good teams that have great players: Boston’s Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett; San Antonio’s big 3—Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Emerging teams have their guys too: New Jersey with Deron Williams, Carmelo Anthony in New York, Derek Rose (when healthy) in Chicago, Kevin Love (when healthy) in Minnesota, and James Harden in Houston.
And like the NHL, there are first and second year players to get excited about too: Kyrie Irving in Cleveland and Anthony Davis in New Orleans most notably.
I’m not sure if America has talent but I know the NBA does—and then some.
Last year’s Finals between Miami and Oklahoma City may just be the first of many meetings for the championship between the two sides over the next few years. There’s a chance this rivalry harkens back to the Lakers-Celtics clashes of the ’80’s.
What will possibly ruin it is the latest reinvention of the LA Lakers. Led by Bryant, the Lake Show made some bold moves in the off-season, netting Howard (the best pivot on earth) and the aging, but still effective Nash. With Pau Gasol still around, the Lakers have a ton of talent and size. Will age be a factor? The Thunder sure hope so. A potential Western Finals between Lakers and Thunder that should be very entertaining.
While the West will have its intrigue, the feud between the Celtics and Heat in the East is more intense. The C’s gave the champs their toughest test in last season’s playoffs, having Miami on the ropes facing elimination, before James raised his level to legendary status and willed his team to a 7-game victory in the conference finals.
In the summer, future hall-of-fame guard Ray Allen, beloved by Boston fans, signed with Miami for less money because he felt disrespected by the C’s management. This led to a war of words between Rondo and Allen in the press. It seems inevitable these two teams will meet for the fourth straight year in the postseason. When it happens, expect fireworks.
OTHER THINGS TO WATCH FOR
—The Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets have solid teams but lack a true superstar. Can either of these squads emerge to join the NBA’s elite squads?
—Jeremy Lin heads to Houston. Linsanity lit up New York like very few have for a brief stretch last season. Now a Rocket after signing in Texas as a free agent, can Lin, along with the newly acquired Harden make Houston relevant once again?
—Can the Clippers keep up in Tinseltown? The Lakers made moves to once again vie for a title. The Clippers were the big movers two summers ago, picking up Chris Paul in a trade. The league’s top point guard helped the squad become a playoff team, no small feat for the Clippers. Now, can Paul, Griffin and company take the next step? Or will they fizzle out and Paul, a free agent in 2013, move on somewhere else?
—Will Golden State be a playoff team, or merely an entertaining squad, who will score and get scored on in droves?
—Will the Nets, now in Brooklyn from New Jersey, become a team of substance?
—Can Chicago become a force once again after Rose recovers from his knee injury and returns around New Year’s?
—Has Dallas jumped the shark? Can an ailing Dirk Nowitzki, plus a much different team than the one who won the NBA Championship just two years ago contend?
AND THEN THERE’S TORONTO
The woes for the Toronto Raptors have extended for a half-decade. The team continues to shuffle through players as it tries to get back to the post season for the first time since 2008. In are Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields and Jonas Valanciunas.
There’s some talent on the roster and in a weaker Eastern Conference, the Raps could perhaps sneak into the playoffs. A lot has to go right, including Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan playing more consistently, befitting of their high first-round draft choice status.
I think Dwayne Casey’s a good coach and can teach defence. However, I’m not sold on the roster. It does have youth on its side. Maybe the Raptors mature into a cohesive unit.
I predict they’ll be out of the playoffs once again next spring.
I also predict this will be one of the best NBA seasons in recent memory. I’ll be tuning in. Will you?