Monday, March 31, 2008

Paul Pierce: Heat a Bunch of D-Leaguers

The Boston Celtics beat the Miami Heat and Kevin Garnett answered questions at a postgame news conference. When asked about the Heat, KG offered polite praise of the team. Then, Paul Pierce stepped in.

"Man, I am going to tell you the truth. They got D-Leaguers out there, so I think we just handled our business. We're supposed to do that. We knew this was a game we were supposed to win, and we just focused from the jump and went out and did it."

In short, he is telling the truth. Currently, the Heat have nine healthy players on their roster. Six have D-League experience.

  1. Earl Barron
  2. Stephane Lasme
  3. Kasib Powell
  4. Blake Ahearn
  5. Alexander Johnson
  6. Joel Anthony
Obviously, the Heat are tanking. Do do they have to be so nonchalant about it? For example: Miami made its last two shots to finish with seventeen field goals against Boston. That total is the fewest since April 10, 1999 when the Chicago Bulls made just eighteen field goals. How does the coach respond?

"Oh, did we?" said Ron Rothstein, the Miami assistant who ran the bench while head coach Pat Riley missed his fourth game to resume his college scouting tour. "How about that?"

Pierce is right. The Heat are a bunch of D-Leaguers, but at least the team could care.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Death of the Cap: A Contingency Plan

There has been plenty of speculation in recent months about the potentially early dismissal of the NFL's salary cap. In March of 2006, a new, last minute Collective Bargaining Agreement had been reached between the owners and the NFL players' union. One of the critical issues during the negotiations was the salary cap, which would be terminated if a pact could not be reached. The proposed deal, which vowed to keep the cap alive, required agreement from 24 out of 32 owners. 30 owners, with the exception of Buffalo's Ralph Wilson and Cincinnati's Mike Brown, agreed to the new CBA.

The new deal was supposed to run until 2011, the year when a cap may not have been used, but recently there have been rumblings about owners opting out of the deal, effectively terminating the salary cap.

What is the Salary Cap?

The salary cap has been regarded as one of the most sacred aspects of the NFL. Instituted in 1994, the cap is adjusted annually to reflect the increasing market values of the teams and players in the NFL. The cap has different restrictions in different sports. In the NBA, teams are allowed to exceed the cap, but the movement of players via trades and free agency is crippled dramatically.

The NFL cap is considered a very strict cap that cannot be exceeded at any cost. Early on in its existence, teams such as the Denver Broncos had rosters that slightly exceeded the salary cap. As a punishment, teams were punished with valuable first day draft picks, effectively discouraging violation of the salary cap.

Teams have found ways to manipulate the cap to a degree. Late in the season, teams with high amounts of cap space can manipulate the salary cap in future years by including incentive bonuses that are impossible for players to earn. These fake bonuses will factor into the season in which they were implemented-in this year's case, 2007. As a result of contract incentives, most teams were able to create more 2008 cap space while a few teams, who had given incentives that had actually been met, lost cap space. This "adjusted cap" today runs from about $111 million (Detroit Lions) to over $135 million (Minnesota Vikings, almost $5 million more than any other team).

Why is the salary cap considered so important?

With unrestricted free agency coming into full force in the early 1990s, the opportunity was there for big market teams to completely dominate the free agent market and essentially create an unfair league. BY creating this limitation, competitive balance was assured and the parity that is so prominent today had been created. By eliminating the salary cap today, it is feared that some of the teams with huge pockets, such as the Cowboys, Redskins, and Seahawks, would buy themselves championships while everyone else is shoved aside. With the potential of a dead salary cap looming, the NFL's entire fan base is scared to death of the consequences.

No need to worry, my friend.

The owners realize what's at stake, too. The rich, "greedy" owners, such as Jerry Jones, Dan Snyder, and Paul Allen of the three teams above, actually voted for the 2006 CBA. The free market domination would seem to be extremely important to these owners. But the fact is that the NFL does have a Plan B, and that the league and the teams can live without the cap.

How? We're not entirely certain about all of the measures that were to be taken. I personally have a plan of my own that can work. The players' union shouldn't have a major beef with the system, as their players will still get paid. The owners will be able to retain competitive fairness.

Now, let's get one thing straight. It's unfortunate, but it's true.

Regardless of the backup plan, the parity in the NFL today will be a thing of the past.

It's going to die. Even with revenue sharing, teams are going to see financial trouble and we may see relocation once again. But dominance is not going to fall into the mighty hands of the rich. Dominance will go where it deserves, to the smartest teams. Brains, not wallets will win Super Bowls, just like it was in the pre-cap era.

Do we know what this will be? No. The system that was used before the cap was called the Reserve Clause.

What is the Reserve Clause?

Known as the "Rozelle Rule," the reserve clause was used to maintain competitive fairness in the NFL, essentially making free agency a very minor part of the NFL. The draft wasn't considered the best approach, it was the only approach. This clause basically gave the players no freedom to move around. Whenever a player's contract expired, he was a restricted free agent (explained below) and was controlled by the team he played for. However, court rulings, which had already destroyed the reserve clause in other sports, declared this system as an antitrust violation, paving the way for unrestricted free agency. In 1994, the salary cap was added to counter this issue.

What is Restricted Free Agency?

Originally, restricted free agency was universal, giving the team with ownership rights the ability to retain a player without allowing him to choose his own team to play for. Today, this concept still exists, but it is only allowed for players who have three or fewer years of experience.

When an eligible player's contract expires, the team will place a one year offer, or "tender," on this player. There are different tiers, all with low salaries, that can be given to restricted free agents. These players with tenders can be offered contracts of any amount by another team. However, based on the tender, that team will have to repay the team owning the free agent with draft picks if they sign the player. The original owner can match the same offer that the foreign team made, maintaining the player and not obtaining compensatory draft picks. The two highest tenders are considered to be for 1st round picks, and two draft picks, a 1st and a 3rd. As a result, this deters many teams from offering contracts otherwise valuable

If no tender is given, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent.

There is a small but effective degree of compensation for unrestricted free agents today. If a team has signed fewer unrestricted free agents than they had lost in that offseason, they are rewarded with compensatory draft picks in the next year at the end of a certain round. These picks do not come from other teams; they are only rewarded during the NFL Owners Meetings in late March. These draft selections cannot exceed 3rd round value as of today.

Plan B

If the cap is to disappear, a new alternative must be found to prevent big market domination. The reserve clause is dead and buried, but a new alternative can be found to maintain a level playing field. My proposal is to merge Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agency (Only with expiring contracts. Released players and undrafted free agents remain unrestricted.) into a plan that I call Compensatory Free Agency.

Compensatory Free Agency

This approach does merge some of the ideas already in use and is essentially a compromise between the two systems of free agency today.

When a player's contract expires at any point in his career, he will be offered a tender from their team for a certain amount. Any team can still offer a long term contract to the player but will still be obligated to sacrifice draft picks if they pick up the player. The original owner, however, will not have universal power over the player. Instead of matching these offers from other teams, they will have to make an offer of their own, which can be more or less than the offers of the other teams. The player can then choose between his own team or another team freely. This eliminates the major concern that killed the reserve clause system and still maintains fairness and the importance of the draft.

Here is just a simple diagram of how this works. I'll use Terrell Suggs, a Raven whose contract expired this year but received the franchise tag, allowing him to stay for at least one more year.

Terrell Suggs receives 1st & 3rd tender from Ravens
Cowboys, Chargers, and Patriots offer long term contracts to Suggs
Ravens offer long term contract to Suggs
Suggs chooses freely between four teams and accepts an offer from one of them
If he signs with Ravens, he stays there for next season and beyond
If he signs with another team, that team gives 1st and 3rd round pick to Ravens

Compensatory Free Agency will make the price for heavy spending much, much higher. The big market teams will not only potentially be deterred from signing big name players, they will also be limited. With only one first round pick and one third round pick, they have a very limited capacity to sign these players and can't dominate a free agent class.

There will be a few side effects from this plan that will make free agency much different:

These tenders, low in value currently, will skyrocket exponentially in terms of price. The amount of money that will go to players with the highest tender, the 1st and 3rd, could exceed that of the franchise tag right now.

The franchise tag will likely still exist, but the price tag will be higher and the rules may have to be adjusted to prevent teams from underpaying players.

The compensatory pick system used today will be eliminated.

Due to the financial differences between teams, a rookie pay scale will likely be instituted to prevent holdouts.

What trends would develop as a result of this? Here are a few things we'd likely see:

Big market teams and small market teams will have different advantages. This will come from the ability to maintain their players in the draft.

A small market team may have a hard time giving out massive tenders for a very strong draft class in the same year. The teams with wads of cash, on the other hand, should have a very easy time doing this.

But the inability to keep some players may result in major draft benefits. We could see a pattern very similar to today's when teams can handle giving large tenders to fairly average players. If the team gives a 1st or 3rd round tender to a player who is fairly average, and if there is another rich team with a desperate need, the small market teams could be getting a massive amount of draft picks.

Also, if there is a player that is clearly worthy of a massive contract, the original owner, if they choose not to hand out the franchise tag and if they see a high likelihood of losing a big name player, can play with more money than they are willing to spend. If a team is in a desperate financial situation and can't pay the massive 1st & 3rd tender, they can still offer it to the player, then reap the massive reward for an offer that was not at all a gamble.

The combination of the franchise tag and the compensatory process will greatly deter free agency splashes and will maintain the competitive fairness everyone wishes for.

One more thing I'd like to point out:

This has a realistic chance of happening.

It's not a dream. We may not see the same system that I have proposed, but restricted free agency is undoubtedly going to play more of a role in a capless world.

In 2006, they had a backup plan that was going to restrict players more. If the cap was to die out, restricted free agency would be broadened. Instead of applying to the first three years of a player's career, it would apply to the first five years. There certainly will be other measures that will be taken to maintain fairness, and there may be plenty of elements from this system that are utilized. The rookie pay scale seems pretty certain, as any rookie could hold out from a small market team and basically be free to be acquired by a big team. A compromise between the two systems, like mine, could very well be used. The franchise tag may have an expanded impact by adding more years for the player or more tags for the team to use. Today's compensatory draft system could be expanded to include 1st and 2nd round picks.

There are plenty of approaches that the NFL could take. These ideas do little to infringe on the players' freedom and don't ruin small market teams. The draft will dominate even more than it does now, and it will be your team's front office, not their wallets, that will win championships. You may be thinking about doom and gloom, but it's not going to happen. If the salary cap disappears, there will be an efficient plan, either simple or complex, to prevent unfair competition. The NFL has been a great league before and during the salary cap era, and there is no doubt that they will do everything they can to make sure it continues to hold that distinction if the salary cap ever goes away.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Video Proof Clemens Juiced!

Baseball fans have debated just who is telling the truth about Roger Clemens' steroid use for months. Now, video has surfaced to end the controversy!

Brian McNamee did inject Clemens with steroids!

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Perfecting the Art of the Pick and Roll

For nearly two decades, point guard John Stockton and power forward Karl Malone redefined the art of the pick and roll within Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan's system. Opponents knew the pick and roll was coming, but could do little to stop it. The well-executed play of Stockton and Malone led the Jazz to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998.

The details were what made the pick and roll successful for Utah. Stockton, the NBA's all-time assist leader, set up and utilized Malone's ball-screen perfectly every time. Then, Stockton's unparalleled basketball IQ and passing ability went to work.

If Stockton chose to dish it off to Malone, undoubtedly the first scoring option, he could be confident that his pass would be caught. An underrated aspect of the pick and roll is the hands of the roller; Malone's were excellent.

Additionally, defenses were left wondering how to contain Malone. With his tremendous strength and athleticism, Malone was a great finisher. However, his mid-range game made the pick and pop equally deadly.

This was where the their teammates became important. Defenses would have to send a help defender to cover Stockton and Malone. The three additional Jazz on the court would move without the ball. Byron Russell would back cut. Jeff Hornacek could spot up for a three. This gave Stockton several more options and helped clear the lane for Malone.

All in all, the pick and roll was a large part of what made the Jazz successful as a team, leading teams to implement more ball-screens. Today, the ball-screen dominates NBA basketball, largely based off of the success of the Jazz with Stockton and Malone.

The real question is this: which current duos and teams best utilize the traditional pick and roll, as well as its variations?

New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul is among the NBA's best creators. The Hornets succeed running screens for Paul, who is able to find Tyson Chandler dropping to the rim or David West setting up for a jumper. Still, the Hornets could still improve. Defenses know Chandler, without a good perimeter shot, will attack the rim while West will settle for a mid-range shot. The Hornets are not among the top three.

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol combine for an effective pick and roll pairing for the Lakers. The Lakers screen to open up Bryant, with Gasol as the second option. This is also the case in Detroit with Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace. Neither are in the traditional Utah Jazz mold that we are focusing on.

The first place to look for a well-executed pick and roll is, where else, Utah. Coach Jerry Sloan has found new players to run his old system. Guard Deron Williams does his best imitation of Stockton while forward Carlos Boozer is the new Malone. (They even have Kyle Korver shooting the three like Hornacek!) Williams, known for his basketball intelligence, sets up the screens well, allowing him to find open teammates or to utilize his jump shot. Boozer finishes strong in the paint off of the roll and has a solid mid-range game for the pop. Most importantly, the two have great chemistry, making for a successful duo.

The next home to a well-run pick and roll/pick and pop is Toronto. The Raptors have a two players tailor made for the play: Spanish point guard Jose Calderon and forward Chris Bosh. Calderon is one of the best playmakers in the league. Bosh, though not as strong, is among the NBA's best shooting big men. He is often on the receiving end of a Calderon's pass off of ball-screens.

The best pick and roll tandem in the NBA resides in Phoenix. While known for their fastbreak, the Suns look to point guard Steve Nash and forward Amare Stoudemire to generate half court offense. Nash, a two-time NBA MVP, is probably the most cerebral offensive player in the league. His passing skills are matched by few. (Oh, and he's just like John Stockton: a white point guard.) Nash's tremendous shooting ability can hurt defenses if he is left uncovered off of a screen. Then, add Stoudemire to the mix. He is among the NBA's most athletic forwards, allowing him to attack the basket when he rolls. Like Malone, Stoudemire shoots extremely well, putting the defense in a difficult position. One thing is for sure: if defenses over commit when trying to cover Nash and Stoudemire, Phoenix has plenty of shooters to pay them pay.

Though the pick and roll or the pick and pop have become an essential part of the NBA, there is one key (outside of Stockton and Malone being on a different level) that separates them from the legendary combination of Stockton and Malone. For the most part, teams call screens to open up the court of their guards, leaving the big men an afterthought. For Utah, Malone was always the first option. A few teams are still successful with the traditional Stockton to Malone pick and roll.

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Dwight Howard Sued for Child Support

On November 18, 2007, Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard became a father. Royce Lyndsay Reed (the former NBA cheerleader shown right in a bikini) gave birth to his son, Braylon Joshua Robert Howard.

Friday, Reed filed a paternity suit against Howard in the Orange County Circuit Court. The suit is asking to establish Howard's fatherhood officially (Howard has already acknowledged he is the father) and to determine child support and responsibilities.

Reed is requesting the court award "child support determined by Florida's Child Support Guidelines." Those guidelines normally take into account several factors, including parental income. Howard signed a five-year, $80 million contract last summer.

Though it might appear like Reed is after the money, she wants bloggers and reporters alike to know there was more . According to Reed's website, she had a three-year relationship with Howard while she was a dancer. "I find it funny how most of you think money when the two parties involved felt love!" she wrote.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Scouting Europe or Coaching in the Sweet 16?

After knocking off the Georgetown Hoyas to advance to the Sweet 16, the Davidson Wildcats and star guard Stephen Curry will face the Wisconsin Badgers tonight in Detroit. Few expected the Wildcats to be at this point or Curry to join the company of Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson. Davidson head coach Bob McKillop, apparently, didn't expect this from his team.

McKillop planned on conducting a basketball camp in Germany on Tuesday. Of course, those plans were put on hold.

McKillop has worked to build a program capable of making a deep tournament run. In doing so, he has focused his recruiting on foreign basketball player. The countries of Nigeria, England, Canada, Turkey, France, and the Congo are currently represented on the Wildcats roster. Only two players, Curry and his own son, are natives of North Carolina and in-state recruits.

While he started working European basketball camps in 1981, McKillop began using his connections to recruit new players when he was named the head coach at Davidson.

“We saw a niche in the foreign market when I first came to Davidson in 1989,” said McKillop, who has been conducting clinics in Europe since 1981 and has had numerous foreigners on his squad over the years. “Davidson is attractive to international students. It’s a welcoming community for international students. And I find that the international players, they love dreams. They’re coming to America living a dream.”

Similarly, Davidson will be living their dream tonight, with a chance at the Elite 8 on the line.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Nenê to Return to Court Tonight

After working through his first scrimmage since the beginning of January and his cancer diagnosis, Nenê is expected to suit up for the Denver Nuggets. He could play a few minutes in Thursday's game against the Dallas Mavericks.

For now, the plan is for Nenê to play around five minutes. Nenê considers his return a major milestone in his ongoing recovery from testicular cancer.

"It's going to be (a) special day in my life," he said. "Just five minutes, not much. Just to feel part of the process. It's going to be like 50 minutes. I just hope and hold yourself emotionally. I'm nervous about that."

On January 11, 2008, Nenê announced he was taking an indefinite absence from the team for medical issues. Four days later, he had surgery to removed a malignant testicular tumor. A month ago, Nenê underwent chemotherapy to prevent a recurrence. There was no timetable for his return, but Nenê was allowed to begin working out by physicians following a recovery period.

I think we are all fans of Nenê and hope he makes a smooth return to the court tonight.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

5 McDonald's All-Americans to Watch

Tonight's McDonald's All-American game allows fans of both the NCAA and THE NBA to catch a glimpse of the upcoming stars of their sport. Here are five high school seniors to keep an eye on this time around.

A smooth forward at 6-foot-10, 225-pounds, Greg Monroe has a great all-around skill set that will only improve with time in college. Monroe, a Georgetown commit, possesses excellent court awareness and moves the ball well. He has his perimeter game, but must work on his right hand. When going to his left, he is dominant. Monroe is a strong rebounder and shot blocker while utilizing his quickness to defend perimeter-oriented big men. At just seventeen years old, Monroe has tremendous "upside-potential."

Demar DeRozan, an athletic wing committed to Tim Floyd, looks like an NBA player. With his great athleticism and explosiveness, DeRozan has tremendous potential. DeRozan has answered critics who questioned his mid-range game and ability to shoot off of the dribble. He has a nice feel for the game, passing and rebounding the ball well. That being said, DeRozan must make better use of his athletic tools and size (6-foot-6, 210-pounds) on the defensive side of the ball.

Samardo Samuels, with his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame, is able to dominant around the basket. Samuels, a Louisville commit, is a bruiser when working the boards and post. He has tremendous finishing abilities to go with his good footwork and touch inside. Passing is a strength. Still, Samuels will need to develop his mid-range game and improve as a defender.

Though in the dreaded combo guard mold, Jrue Holiday is probably the most complete guard in the 2008 class. The UCLA commit is an explosive athlete, but can bring more to the table. Holiday can shoot from behind the arc, slash to the basket, and finish in the paint with both hands. Defensively, he should fit into Ben Howland's scheme. Holiday is capable of guarding point guards and shooting guards alike. He just needs to break out of the combo guard label.

At this point, B.J. Mullens is probably more of a prospect than a player; he takes too many possessions off on both ends of that floor. That being said, he is loaded with potential at 7-foot, 255-pounds. Mullens uses his athleticism to run on the fastbreak, usually beating his man down the floor. His shooting range allows him to stretch the floor. He has the ability to offensive rebound, though his rebounding, offensively and defensively, is inconsistent. Right now, Mullens is a finesse player and must become more assertive in the post. Mullens has plenty of room to grow while playing collegiately at Ohio State.

Though these five players might not be the best players on the court tonight, they should be interesting prospects to keep an eye on as they progress through college and into the NBA.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Things to Know for the 2008 MLB Season

Baseball is set to start on Tuesday at 6:05 in the morning on ESPN2 in Japan. Yes, the Boston Red Sox decided to play the Oakland A's. The guys over at Bugs & Cranks have compiled a list of 162 things baseball fans need to know with the season just hours away.

These are just a few:
22. Justin Upton was born after the ball went through Buckner’s legs.
23. Billy Buckner of the Diamondbacks was not.
24. Vin Scully is still alive.
25. Phil Rizzuto is not.
26. The Rockies begin the season riding a four-game losing streak.
27. Doug Mientkiewicz was Pittsburgh’s big offseason free-agent acquisition.
28. The Steelers signed Mewelde Moore as insurance for Fast Willie Parker.
29. The Yankees have no insurance against Joe Girardi’s use of young pitchers.
30. Jacoby Ellsbury has never been caught stealing in the major leagues (9 for 9).
31. Neither has Stephen Drew (11 for 11).
32. Neither has Joba Chamberlain.
Number 162 rings especially true.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nocioni Removed From Bench After "Expletive-filled" Exchange

Could the season get any worse for the Bulls? Heading into the year, Chicago expected to be in contention for the Eastern Conference title. Instead, the Bulls are battling for eighth place and with each other.

Saturday night's game against the Pacers may sum up Chicago's season. For three quarters, the Bulls had a large lead on Chicago. Then, in the fourth quarter, they are outscored 35-17. In the process, another Bull found himself in a heated "expletive-filled" exchange with coach Jim Boylan. This time, it was forward Andres Nocioni. Not too surprisingly, several other Bulls have had problems this year and with Boylan.

Nocioni was pulled by Boylan after a brief three-minute stretch. At that point, with the Bulls playing well, Nocioni cursed at Boylan and kicked a towel. Boylan then expelled Nocioni from the bench and sent him to the locker room. There, the two engaged in a halftime shouting match.

Nocioni said after another the collapse and loss, "I want to extend my apology to my coach.I think I did a really bad thing today, terrible. My apology to the organization, to [general manager] John Paxson, to my teammates and to everybody because my reaction was pretty bad. Right now I'm calm and I was really frustrated. My reaction was really bad. All right? Thank you, guys."

When asked about the incident after the game, Boylan answered repeatedly, "That's a matter that will be handled internally."

Just four days ago, Bulls.com ran a fluff piece about Boylan. Here is an almost ironic excerpt:
“He has [Ben Gordon] and the other guys more relaxed than before. Guys are enjoying themselves.”

See a pattern here? What distinguishes Boylan isn’t his basketball know-how. It isn’t necessarily his passion for the game. It’s the personal connection he makes with his players. It’s the compassion Boylan has for “his guys.”
Does such a coach alienate one of his most hard-working, team-oriented players? Nocioni embodied the team John Paxson created. Players hated playing Nocioni like teams dreaded playing the Bulls. Nocioni played hard, scrappy defense. On the offensive end, he could shoot the ball and drive well.

He provided energy, making up for the occasional mental miscue. Now, with Nocioni averaging under twelve minutes his last five games, the energy is gone. How is that for coaching know-how?

I do see a pattern. The team started losing. Players began questioning and confronting their coaches. Then, the players stopped giving full effort. The losing continued.

What a season!

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ben Wallace Traded Back to Bulls?

The nightmare that was the Ben Wallace era in Chicago ended a month ago. I could sleep peacefully again!

Or so I thought. New evidence uncovered on Bulls.com has me sleepless at odd hours of the night. (Note: Lack of sleep has nothing to do with the team's knack for blowing large leads to bad teams.)
Ben Wallace, currently an injured member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, played Saturday night for the Bulls against Indiana. Undoubtedly, he was the reason Chicago was outscored 35-17 in the fourth quarter. To think, I thought it was because Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden combined to shoot 7-25.

Is it that hard to find an actual picture from the actual game? Maybe the people at Bulls.com are already mailing the season in, just like the Bulls themselves.

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Stephen Jackson to Fight Poverty in Africa

Which NBA player is going to Africa on a poverty-fighting mission?

Golden State's Stephen Jackson probably wouldn't be the first to mind. For most fans, he would be among the last few. Imagine my surprise as I stumbled across this story this morning.
Jackson said he and Grammy Award-winning rhythm and blues singer John Legend will be making a two-week trip to Africa during the Warriors' offseason on behalf of Legend's Show Me Campaign to help fight poverty in small villages on the continent.

"I always wanted to go to Africa, but I didn't just want to go on vacation," Jackson said. "Here's my opportunity to go for a purpose and help somebody, so I'm happy I can do that."

Legend teamed Friday with Jackson and the Warriors to help promote his cause. Legend sang the national anthem before the Warriors-Rockets game at Oracle Arena and also performed at halftime. Jackson donated $7,500 dollars to the Show Me Campaign, $500 for each of the 15 points he scored in the Warriors' 109-106 loss to the Rockets.

"When I talked to (Legend) on the phone, he said to make sure I got 40 (points)," Jackson joked during a pregame press conference.
Apparently, Jackson and the Warriors have worked to repair his public image following arrests, suspensions, and the brawl in Detroit while playing with Indiana.

That being said, it doesn't seem like the trip to Africa is stagged for image-related purposes. "I know that we have nothing to complain about, considering what they're dealing with out there," Jackson said. "(Jeffrey Sachs' book, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time) really opened my eyes to how unfortunate these people are. I want to be involved in it. When John Legend came around and gave me the opportunity, I just jumped on it."

For the first time, I can say maybe a few more NBA players should follow Jackson's lead.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Where is Jai Lewis Now?

When George Mason earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, analysts cried that a mid-major team was chosen over a squad from an important conference. Little did they know, George Mason would go on to change the mindset of the nation. Few expected them to make it past the first round. Instead, the George Mason Patriots made it to the Final Four before a loss to Florida.

Jim Larranaga, the affable coach whose playbook stressed the value of playing loose and having fun, became a national sensation after knocking off Connecticut, a team filled with NBA-level talent and favored to win the championship. That win led Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun to say, "They don't measure heart by inches. They don't measure courage; they don't measure basketball instinct and intelligence."

Maybe nobody signified the heart, courage, instinct, and intelligence more than George Mason's senior leader, Jai Lewis. Lewis was generously listed at 6-feet 7-inchesw, 275-pounds; inches were added and pounds cut. Despite his physical shortcomings, Lewis was able to outplay Connecticut's Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong, two bigs who were drafted in the NBA's first round.

With the NCAA Tournament underway and George Mason's upset fresh in our mind, we ask: where is Jai Lewis now? How did he get there?

Following the NCAA Tournament, Lewis played in the Portsmouth Invitational, a pre-draft camp for NCAA seniors. His play was solid, but questions regarding his game continued. For starters, scouts questioned his size. DraftExpress wrote:
Jai Lewis showed us nothing that we hadn’t already seen in the NCAA tournament. He was productive in this setting, but there are still major doubts about how his production would translate to the next level. He scored most of his points off simple post moves or open opportunities that were created for him by his teammates. He scores most of his baskets using his strength advantage, which will be diminished at the next level.

Lewis played some decent post D when given the opportunity, but he doesn’t have the ability to defend on the perimeter with his massive size and poor lateral quickness. [...] Lewis did do a good job on the boards, though, boxing out and grabbing eight on the night. Should he be able to shed 20-30 pounds over the next few months there might be something to talk about, but as of right now he appears to be a center caught in a shooting guard’s body.
The likelihood of Lewis playing in the NBA was slim. Lewis was faced with a decision between sports. He could continue playing basketball in a smaller league or attempt to utilize his size on the football field like Antonio Gates and Marcus Pollard, two former basketball players to make the successful transition to professional football. Jai Lewis decided to pursue a football career and a sport he hadn't played since high school.

Lewis worked to prove he could play in the NFL as either an offensive tackle or a tight end. He worked out for five teams: the Oakland Raiders, the Philadelphia Eagles, the St. Louis Rams, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the New York Giants. Six other teams explored the possibility of signing Lewis. On May 1, 2006, Jai Lewis signed a one-year, $275,000 contract with the New York Giants to play offensive tackle and long-snapper. He was going to have to earn a roster spot with a strong training camp.

Despite Lewis's physical toughness and athleticism, his NFL career did not last long. Two months after signing with the Giants, Lewis decided to end his pursuit of a football career. He was going to refocused on basketball.

Weeks after leaving the Giants, Lewis signed with KK Bosna for $8,000 a month. Lewis was expected to play a significant role for the defending champions. However, as fate would have it, Lewis was released from his contract in just six weeks. The team felt he was too small to play power forward in the Adriatic League. Lewis's goal, according to his agent, had been to make it a year in Bosna.

Shortly after leaving Bosna, Lewis signed to play in Israel for Ironi Ramat Gan. The contract was for "more than $5,000 a month." More importantly, Lewis was going to receive playing time. The potential for violence and poor officiating took some getting used to:
Despite safety concerns, Lewis said he felt at home in Israel. [...] He likes the Israelis, too – well, except for the basketball referees.

They're horrible," he said. "It's like they never played basketball."

He said he has adjusted to the routine checkpoint stops and metal detector searches at the entry of most grocery stores and malls where security guards stay on the lookout for suicide bombers. He also has grown accustomed to watching the young soldiers carrying their rifles. Upon turning 18, Israelis must serve in the Army, and Lewis said some of his teammates bring their M16s to practice.

"They say if they lose their weapon, they go from five years [of military service] to 10," Lewis said.
Lewis was able to adjust to the environment well and posted a fine start to his career. In twenty-seven games, he averaged 15.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.7 steals.

Following his rookie season in Isreal, Jai Lewis signed with Strasbourg, a French team. Like his stint with Bosna, Lewis would not last long in France. Just four games into the season, with Lewis averaging only 3 points on 27% shooting, Strasbourg released Lewis.

After playing for Strasbourg, Jai Lewis signed with Hapoel Galil Elyon, another Israeli team, to finish the 2008 season. Currently, Lewis is averaging 12.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.7 steals in league play.

With a chance to play in the NBA unlikely, Jai Lewis is still striving to improve in his professional career. Regardless of how he fairs, college basketball fans will always remember Jai Lewis as the star of the George Mason Patriots, a team that shocked the basketball world. Though we tune in to each first round game hoping to see another great upset, we know there will never be another team like George Mason.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Indiana to Contact Skiles

When Kelvin Sampson was relieved of his coaching duties at Indiana University, speculation began regarding his replacement. Whoever was to earn the position was going to be a tough coach, that was the one certainty. Around the same time, Scott Skiles was fired (though he went to the organization saying a coaching change was needed), his tough coaching style having been tuned out by NBA players.

Now, it appears Indiana has Skiles on their list of coaching replacements.
Indiana University is expected to contact former Bulls coach Scott Skiles when it launches its coaching search, a source said Tuesday.

"If they're smart enough to hire him, they'll win a national championship in one or two years," said Bulls coach Jim Boylan, a former Skiles assistant who succeeded Skiles after he was fired by the Bulls on Dec. 24.

"He'll relate well to college players, because he needs everybody on the same page to fall into his system," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "And he could definitely do that on the college level."
Skiles would be a great collegiate coach. He has always tried creating a hard working atmosphere around his team. That nature, which he instilled in his teams, was what allowed the Bulls to go from perennial losers to playoff contenders. Of course, that fell apart this past year. At Indiana, Skiles would have more control over the players. For starters, he will recruit the type of player he wants. Most likely, they will have a similar mindset and accept his philosophy, preventing another quasi-revolt.

An emphasis on defense has always been a signature of Skiles during his coaching career. Under Skiles, the Bulls were among the NBA's best. Being able to choose players willing to buy in defensively will allow him to succeed. The same could be true offensively; Skiles focuses on perimeter play. Similar offenses often succeed collegiately while being thwarted by NBA-level defenses.

Though Skiles would be a great fit at any college, Indiana just seems like a logical choice. Skiles was born in LaPorte, Indiana. He led Plymouth High School to the 1982 state championship. He resides at his home in Bloomington.

Indiana seems like a perfect fit for this native Hoosier.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

N.C. State's J.J. Hickson Enters NBA Draft

For some unfortunate teams, their college basketball season is over. With the season's end comes a rush of underclassmen entering the NBA Draft. The rush appears to have started.

N.C. State freshman J.J. Hickson announced that he will enter the NBA Draft. Hickson will not sign with an agent, leaving the possibility for a return to college. Hickson, a 6-foot-9, 242-pound power forward, was the Wolfpack's leading scorer (averaging 14.8 points) and rebounder (averaging 8.5 rebounds). His play earned him an all-ACC freshman team nomination.

According to coach Sidney Lowe, Hickson will "get all the information he can and decide what's the best thing." Whether Hickson returns to school will "depend on where he's going in the draft."

Hickson, a former McDonald's High School All-American, is currently projected as the last pick in the first round by NBADraft.net. Early in the season, Hickson was expected to be a top-ten selection, but his stock fell as the season progressed. DraftExpress expects Hickson to be drafted in the first round, though teams will need to be patient developing him:
[Entering the draft] would probably be a mistake if that’s indeed the case, as he does not look anywhere near ready to see minutes on an NBA team (defensively, or operating as a true power forward should facing the basket), and would greatly benefit from expanding his game through another season in college. His talent will still likely be too great for most teams to pass up on in the first round--even if he’ll have to spend time in the D-League polishing his all-around game--and therefore he’d likely get drafted somewhere in the bottom half of the first round barring bad workouts or off the court red flags that pop up during the draft process.
If Hickson is to reach is potential, he will need to further develop his offensive game, both in the post and on the perimeter. Despite his above average strength and athleticism, Hickson's defense is average at best.

There is plenty Hickson can work on. Whether it happens at N.C. State or in the NBA, that will remain to be seen.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Donovan Kicks Gators Out of Facility

The Florida Gators loss in the first round of the SEC Tournament dashed their NCAA Tournament hopes, relegating them the NIT. Coach Billy Donovan decided something needed to be done to motivate his team. How about taking their practice facility?

Coach Billy Donovan, feeling like his players had settled into a state of complacency and entitlement, banned them from Florida's $12 million facility. He also told them they couldn't wear any Florida attire.

"Probably in some respects the confetti is still falling down around them," Donovan said Monday. "When you have great success like we've had, I think it's very, very easy to become complacent and to lose sight of how good things are around here and to have an attitude of, 'I'm at Florida. This is just what's going to happen.'"
The players will be without their locker room, practice court, video room, and weight room. Florida's two national championship trophies will be off limits, too. Until they learn to focus and lose their sense of entitlement, this is how it will be in Florida.

Who knows, maybe it will work like it did for Florida football coach Urban Meyer in 2005. I'm willing to bet that it won't. What a great $12 million motivational tool.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Milwaukee: Where Grocery Bag Protests Happen

The Milwaukee Bucks' record sits at 23-43 on the season. The players lack any resemblance of desire to win. Management seems unable to fix the team's problems. Needless to say, some fans are less than thrilled with the product Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl has put on the floor.

Like many die-hards, they realize there was only one thing to do: a grocery bag protest.

Prior to the game, 50-100 people were lined up with bags covering their faces. Some carried a sign which sarcastically read, "Where Amazing Happens." Chants of "another 20 point beat down; your Milwaukee Bucks, where amazing happens" could be heard. Apparently, the TV cameras tried their hardest to keep the group off of the screen, even panning away from them on jumbotron shots.

The protest could be considered a success, if only for the picture it left us with. Here, Herb Kohl watches are bag-wearing protesters are led out of the arena. The senator looks peeved, especially in comparison with the bald guy in the green polo (upper center of picture).
Hopefully, the actions of these fans will change things in Milwaukee. For some crazy reason, I have my doubts.

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Dysfunction Reigns in Chicago Locker Room

Listening to Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylan suggest to reporters last Monday that things were fine with his team was frustrating from a fan's perspective. "I just know that what I do in the locker room and with this team, I'm in control. I run this team," he reminded us. We knew better.

We knew better before this latest tidbit surfaced in ESPN's Weekend Dime. Marc Stein, investigating the Tyrus Thomas debacle, discovered Thomas wasn't the only Bull upset with the way Boylan was handling the team.

The story, as I hear it from one team insider, is that Thomas had recently witnessed heated confrontations between Bulls coach Jim Boylan and two of Chicago's more veteran players -- Ben Gordonand Kirk Hinrich -- that wound up pitting multiple players against the coaching staff. I'm also told that Thomas figured he was heading for a similarly nasty blowup of his own with Boylan, but that he also concluded that the punishment for an argument with Boylan would be a lot steeper than what Gordon and Hinrich faced, given where he stands in the Bulls' pecking order and the growing stress of a tension-drenched season.

So Thomas -- confused by recent nine-minute stints against Washington and Memphis after being told he'd be getting steady minutes off the bench in the wake of the Bulls trading away Ben Wallace and Joe Smith -- decided that the smartest move was taking a one-day leave to clear his head.
For starters, Stein confirms the widespread speculation that Thomas was upset with the way he was being utilized. I, too, find it disheartening that Boylan benched Thomas after a very good stretch of basketball following the trade. I touched on that topic earlier.

More important to the Bulls is the situation with Hinrich and Gordon. Hinrich is a team captain. Gordon is the team's leading scorer. Both possess the good character and work ethic GM John Paxson spoke of when he began rebuilding the franchise. These are the guys openly question their coach?

With all of the trouble the Chicago Bulls played, albeit at a low level, through, it appears obvious that Boylan is lacking control of the team. If you haven't been keeping track at home, here is a fairly complete list of the Bulls problems this season.
  1. During training camp, the Bulls voted to allow Ben Wallace and only Ben Wallace to wear his patented headband. Unfortunately, his signature defense wasn't included.
  2. Prior to the first game of the season, Gordon and forward Luol Deng declined lucrative contract extensions. As karma would have it, both would take a step back this season.
  3. Bulls started the season, but we kept on justifying it. They always start poorly!
  4. Paxson fired coach Scott Skiles on Christmas Eve when it became apparent things weren't getting better and after the team tuned him out.
  5. Subsequently, Boylan was hired.
  6. Joakim Noah was involved in an altercation with assistant coach Ron Adams. Despite the good relationship between Noah and Adams, Wallace and Adrian Griffin called a team meeting to vote on punishment for Noah's actions. Noah sat two games.
  7. Fresh off of his suspension, Noah openly challenged the motivation of the veteran Wallace. Personally, I don't see this as a problem; at least someone acknowledged Wallace was playing entitlement minutes.
  8. Rookie JamesOn Curry was arrested for public urination and resisting arrest while assigned to the Iowa Energy of the NBDL.
  9. Bulls acquire Hughes and Drew Gooden. Hughes made noise by saying having fun was more important than winning championships. Still, my favorite post-trade quote comes from Gooden, who said, "I could pass, I could block shots, I could play great defense, I could play help defense, I could shoot 3s. I believe I could do it all." You could start playing like that anytime.
  10. Hinrich and Gordon confronted Boylan sometime during this period.
  11. Thomas skipped practice and was suspended for two games.
  12. Days later, rookie center Aaron Gray criticized Boylan for removing him from the game, saying, "That's what I get for working hard?" I think it became clear that there were problems when Vanilla Thunder started complaining.
  13. Duhon skipped practice after going to the Duke-North Carolina game. He then downplayed it by saying, "I haven't been playing a lot anyway." A fine and suspension served as punishment.
  14. No new photos surfaced of a drunken Duhon performing lap dances.
  15. Players were seen laughing during a loss against Detroit.
  16. Bulls excused Joakim Noah from practice Wednesday to visit Florida and his former team. Who needs to focus on the season at hand?
  17. The Bulls sport a 26-39 record, leaving them in tenth place in the lowly Eastern Conference.
Each situation comes down to one thing: winning. If the team made a great turn around under Boylan -- or better yet, started well -- the other problems would not have snowballed. Players would be content with their roles or at least keep their unhappiness to themselves. Duhon and Noah would have focused on their current team instead of looking back on their college days. Hinrich, Gordon, and Thomas would be unable to question Boylan's would-be winning decisions. But alas! The Bulls trail the Atlanta Hawks and Boylan is forced to tell us he has the dysfunctional Chicago locker room under control. We know better.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Joakim Noah Gets to Miss Practice, Visit College Team?

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah did not attend practice on Wednesday. Unlike Tyrus Thomas and Chris Duhon, Noah's absence was excused for a "personal matter." The organization knew Noah would miss Wednesday's practice weeks in advance.

What exactly was the personal matter Noah had to tend to?

Apparently, Noah used the time off to visit Billy Donovan and the struggling Florida Gators at the Georgia Dome. Noah was to serve as an reminder of what they can do before the SEC Tournament began.

The Gators lost 80-69 to Alabama and, at one point, trailed 42-14. The meeting failed miserably.

I find this story important for two reasons. Alabama's victory keeps my championship pick alive. I owe it to you, Crimson!

But here is the important question: why should Joakim Noah be excused from practice to visit his old college team? Just days ago Chris Duhon served a two game suspension (like it matters, he doesn't even play) and was fined for going to the Duke-North Carolina game. He was ripped for his actions by John Paxson. Yet he approves of Noah's absence?

Really, there are few differences between the two situations. For starters, Noah is a starter while Duhon rarely plays. Next, Noah missed a full-fledged practice; Duhon missed a shootaround. Then there is one thing that keeps Noah from getting crucified: Paxson allowed Noah is skip practice in the middle of a playoff run to visit his old college buddies.

That might just be the scariest part.

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Where is Gerry McNamara Now?

Each college basketball championship week has a different story. Two years ago, it was Gerry McNamara and Syracuse's improbable run through the Big East Tournament. McNamara was plastered on the sporting publications for days after his multiple game-saving shots. Who couldn't love the guy who looked like us, who made us say, "Damn, if only I practiced on my shot like he did." Of course, with all the attention McNamara received came plenty of complaints about how overrated had McNamara become. While that is true, to an extent, we all want to know the same thing: what has McNamara done professionally, where is he now?

Gerry McNamara went undrafted in the 2006 NBA Draft. Many scouts worried that McNamara's game would not transfer to the NBA. DraftExpress, while noting McNamara was among the most accomplished NCAA players and possessed the greatest leadership abilities of all the prospects, wrote:
McNamara noticeably lacks quickness and explosiveness, and already struggles creating his own shot against top notch defenders. This shows up on the other end of the floor as well, where his lack of lateral quickness could make him a liability in the NBA. McNamara is not a pure point guard either. His shot selection can be very poor as evidenced by his 35% shooting from the field as a senior. For someone with such a great reputation as a perimeter shooter, the 33% he shot from behind the arc this past season does not exactly back that up.
Following the draft, McNamara signed with the Orlando Magic to play on their summer league team, hoping to challenge guard Travis Diener for a roster spot. Unfortunately for McNamara, things did not work out. Diener was among the top performers in the entire summer league while McNamara was hampered with a groin injury, hampering his play.


In September of 2006, McNamara signed with Olympiacos BC to play in their Euroleague games. Through five games, McNamara played just one minute. McNamara, obviously upset with the situation, was able to negotiate a contract buyout. The good news: he earned $90,000 for that one minute.

Following his stint in Europe, McNamara signed with the Bakersfield Jam of the NBDL. Bakersfield gave McNamara the opportunity to play. "I've been playing, which is what I came here to do. I was overseas and I wasn't getting any run, and here I get to play with talented guys and get a chance to prove myself," said McNamara. His first professional season was a success. McNamara was named to the NBDL Western Conference All-Star team and finished the season averaging 10.8 points and 5.2 assists.

McNamara made another attempt to land in the NBA in the summer of 2007, joining Philadelphia 76ers' summer league teams. Again, McNamara was unable to play his way to an NBA contract, scoring just 5 points and recording 21 minutes over 5 games in the Vegas Summer League. McNamara then left the team during the Rocky Mountain Revue, with ankle injuries a likely cause.

On August 21, 2007, McNamara signed a $400,000 contract with Panionios BC of the Greek League. Four games into the season, McNamara was released. "The coach wanted him, but the owner wanted someone else," McNamara's agent, Bill Neff, said. "The owner fired the coach and got his way." That someone else? Michigan State star and McNamara's former Bakersfield teammate Mateen Cleaves.

McNamara signed to play for BK Ventspils, a Latvian team who won seven straight Latvian League titles until last season, in February of 2008. To date, McNamara has played in three games, with one start. He is averaging 4.3 points.

While McNamara's career at Syracuse was one filled with big plays and championships, he has yet to make a name for himself professionally. Hopefully, McNamara is able to take advantage of his opportunities in Ventspils. Surely, it will last longer than his previous stops.

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Jonathan Stewart Ungergoes Surgery on Toe

According to Adam Schefter of the NFL Network, Jonathan Stewart underwent surgery to correct his injured big toe on Wednesday. Stewart will be out four to six months.

There is a a chance that he could be ready before the start of training camp, but Stewart will miss all pre-camp work.

Stewart originally suffered the turf toe injury in November. The injury did not cause him to miss any games. The extent of the injury was not determined until MRIs were taken at the annual NFL Combine.

Stewart was projected as a lock to go in the first round. Some scouts believed Stewart would be a top-10 selection. NFL Draft Countdown currently has Stewart ranked as the second best running back behind Arkansas speedster Darren McFadden.

It is unclear how far Stewart will fall due to the injury. Scheftler suggests Stewart could possibly be available in the second or third round.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Jonathan Stewart Could Miss 4-6 Months

NFL Network's Mike Mayock is reporting that Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart may need surgery on his big toe. If Stewart undergoes surgery, the recovery period would be four to six months. The team who decides to draft Stewart will be left with a decision regarding the injury.

Stewart originally suffered the turf toe injury in November. The injury did not cause him to miss any games. The extent of the injury was not determined until MRIs were taken at the annual NFL Combine.

Stewart was projected as a lock to go in the first round. Some scouts believed Stewart would be a top-10 selection. NFL Draft Countdown currently has Stewart ranked as the second best running back behind Arkansas speedster Darren McFadden.

It is unclear how the injury will affect Stewart's draft stock.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dikembe Mutombo's Album to Go Platinum?

The "Son of the Congo", Dikembe Mutombo, knows both basketball and humanitarian aid. On the basketball court, he is among the NBA's most prolific shot blockers, winning four Defensive Player of the Year Awards. Mutombo has been recognized for his efforts worldwide, but specifically his work to build the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital, the first modern hospital in his native Congo. As a result of his humanitarian work, Mutombo received the President's Service Award, the nation's highest honor for volunteer work, and some awkward praise from President Bush.

There is little more for Mutombo to pursue in his career, outside of proving he is only 41 years old and finding helpless takers to sex him up. Nonetheless, Mutombo has pursued a new career.

Meet Dikembe Mutombo, soon-to-be multi-platinum singer! His vocals are rather throaty, but are charming in a tribal sense.

Titles range from La Bamba, Mrs. Robinson, Da Do Do Do Dah Da Da Da Da (Yes, him blasting those sounds the entire song. Thankfully, the songs are short.), and Nights in White Satin. I think he might have burped his way through Jingle Bells.

My personal favortie: Oh Tannenbaum! Upon listening to this potential hit song, one can understand the need for an exclamation mark to end the previous sentence. Listeners will be greeted with a chorus of screams.

Needless to stay, Mutombo should stick to basketball and humanitarian aid. His music, obviously made for laughs, is not quite as good.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

JaMarcus Russell Weighs 300 Pounds?

Could an NFL quarterback enter training camp weighing as much as his offensive linemen?

According to Don Banks of Sports Illustrated, there are "rumors" that Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell's weight has fluctuated to nearly 300 pounds since the end of last season. Russell was listed at 255 pounds last season.

Some NFL insiders have denied the report, saying Russell is a mere twenty pounds overweight, weighing in at 275 pounds. The facts are uncertain since no players have actually seen Russell.

Worshipers of the NFL Draft and its annual combine will recall Russell's disappointing weigh in 2007. Russell shocked observers with his "flabby" 263 pound weight in. Weight has been an issue for the first overall pick since his college days at LSU.

Unfortunately for Jared Lorenzen, Russell has shown the ability to lose weight quickly Most likely, Lorenzen (listed at 285 after peaking at 322) will enter the 2008 NFL season as the league's heaviest quarterback.

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Clemson and Bowden Pull Ray Ray's Scholarship

Remember Ray Ray McElrathbey?

The Clemson backup running back garnered national prominence after taking custody of his 11-year-old brother Fahmarr in 2006. The parents were both addicts; his mother to drugs and his father to gambling. Ray Ray McElrathbey was the man to step up and look after his brother.

McElrathbey then received a waiver from the NCAA, allowing him to receive assistance from Clemson and the public. This rare accommodation enable McElrathbey to care of his younger brother while maintain his collegiate eligibility.

McElrathbey and the university were applauded nationwide.

That is, until Saturday. Clemson announced that McElrathbey, despite having two years of football eligibility remaining, was no longer a member of the team since Ray was going to graduate in August.

Apparently, there is more to the story. Tiger tailback James Davis says McElrathbey did not have the option to stay on the team. The coaching staff decided not to renew McElrathbey's scholarship for the 2008-09 season. Clemson, coincidentally, is over the limit of eighty-five scholarship players, too.

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, when asked about the situation, said, "We're pretty good at running back right now."

Running back James Davis said McElrathbey was expecting Bowden to pull his scholarship. "He said something about how they weren't going to renew his scholarship," said Davis, grew up with McElrathbey in Atlanta. "It really surprised me. But there's a lot of stuff you can't say. It's something I guess everybody has to learn to live with."

Considering the support McElrathbey would receive if he were to go public with story, why has he yet to speak out? According to Davis, McElrathbey will not speak out publicly with his side of the story because he "doesn't want them to badmouth his name if he wants to play football somewhere else."

It is simply disgusting the way Clemson and Tommy Bowden turned their back on Ray Ray McElrathbey. Since I could have not said it any better, I will simply concur with the guys at Wizard of Odds, who write:

Last December, Bowden used an offer from Arkansas as leverage to get a new contract and a fat raise out of Clemson. And now he has discarded Ray Ray McElrathbey because he thinks he can do better.

Bowden can go to Hell on this one.

Let this be a lesson to any recruit interested in playing for Bowden or any other coach who demands long-term security from their employer, but fails to show the same respect to their players. We can only hope a tsunami of negative publicity results from Bowden's decision because frankly, college football can use more kids like McElrathbey, a kid who has more character than his former coach.

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Ivy League Knows How to Award Tourney Bid

It has become regular place for the winners of a league's season-end conference tournament to earn a place in the NCAA Tournament. The only conference that does not award their automatic big through a tournament is the Ivy League. They, correctly, send their regular season champions to participate in March Madness.


More conferences should adopt a method similar to the Ivy League's system. For small conferences, the postseason tournaments diminish the importance of the regular season schedule to a point where there is, essentially, none. They send the team that is hottest over a three day period instead of the team that has proven their ability over a long stretch.

This is even more important for the lesser conferences; only one team will usually make it into the tournament field.

If a team is unable to win the conference championship in no-name conference, what are the chances they are capable of knocking off a second or third seed? Maybe, just maybe, this could be the reason why, historically, the Ivy League has faired well in the tournament.

The only benefit for a conference to hold the postseason tournament is for the national media attention. ESPN devotes an entire week to tournament games for the small conferences. ("They are just playing for the chance to be at the tournament," they say. "Look at the passion!") What these tournaments come down to, for the people running each conference, is money.

Without the postseason coverage, who would small conferences turn to for additional revenue? It is a possibility that they look at their loyal fans. They could get earn for money for regular season games when the games have a tangible impact. Attendance might increase.

Please, small-conferences-who-nobody-knows-about, consider changing the way things are done. If only for the dramatic increase in the competitive level of the first round tournament games.

As it is now, the most dominant teams in the country are matched up against teams incapable of winning their own Podunk conference.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Orlando Magic Use Disrespect as Motivation

Talk regarding title contenders in the Eastern Conference usually begins and ends with three teams. The Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons sit atop the conference, holding league's best records at 49-12 and 45-17. Cleveland, if only for LeBron James, is always mentioned as the third threat.

Snuggled between Detroit and Cleveland in the conference standings is an one overlooking club. The Orlando Magic are 40-24 on the season, sit four games ahead of the Cavaliers, yet rarely are mentioned among the conference's best.

That fact surely has not gone without the notice of many Magic players:
There is a growing us-against-the-world sentiment in the Orlando locker room that the Magic aren't getting enough credit for dominating the Southeast Division, and keeping the heat on Boston and Detroit in the Eastern Conference.

It is not a forgone conclusion, Magic players insist, that the Pistons and Celtics are locks to be in the Eastern Conference Finals.

"A lot of the talk is about Boston and Detroit and even Cleveland some, but we want to try and make our statement come playoff time," Magic forward Rashard Lewis said. "Go ahead and sleep on us, label us as underdogs, and we'll be the team to surprise you in the playoffs.
There is no logical reason that the Magic are being ignored. Like any true contender, Orlando features a star, capable of crossing over into superstardom, in Dwight Howard. (Of course, history has shown it always helps to have a star center.) Howard, the NBA's elite rebounder, averages a league-best 14.5 rebounds. Add in his potent post game which, while not overly refined, can dominate physically-inferior big men. Howard scores 21.6 points each contest without any real offensive skill outside of the paint. On the other end of the court, Howard is the anchor of the Orlando defense.

In case teams are able to contain Howard inside, the Magic can look to forwards Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. While neither player is an exceptional rebounder or defender, two areas Howard more than makes up for, they are key offensive options. Turkoglu is making a run at the NBA's Most Improved Player, upping his scoring output to 19.5 points to go along with his 4.8 assists. His ability to drive and to hit jump shots should be key in opening up the paint for Howard. Lewis offers many of the same skills as Turkoglu, though he has a better three-point shot. On the season, Lewis is the Magic's third leading scorer at 18.4 points per game.

In a playoff situation, the Magic have three players who possess the ability to go off for thirty points on any given night. That can make a team into an instant contender in the Eastern Conference. At the very least, Orlando deserves more attention then they are presently receiving.

For now, the Magic continue to use the slights as motivation. In the words of Dwight Howard, "Keep overlooking us, and we'll keep on playing like we have all season."

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Duhon Oversleeps, Misses Practice

Chicago Bulls point guard Chris Duhon missed a Sunday morning shootaround. The Bulls are expected to fine Duhon for his actions.

This is the second such incident for Duhon while with Chicago. On January 15, 2007, the Bulls suspended Duhon one game for missing a practice. "I overslept and just got to deal with the consequences," Duhon said in 2007. "The team expects you to be there and you are not there, so you have to man up and take full responsibility of it and make sure it doesn't happen again." Sure enough, he failed in making sure it did not happen again.

Duhon attended the Duke-North Carolina game, played in Durham, North Carolina, with former Blue Devil Jay Williams on Saturday night. He then hopped on a plane and flew back to Detroit for the game. Subsequently, Duhon overslept, missing the team bus for the practice.

This is the second time this week a Bulls player missed a team function. Tyrus Thomas finished serving his two-game suspension on Friday night for missing a practice and is expected to dress for Sunday night's game against the Pistons. According to K.C. Johnson, it is being viewed as unintentional, unlike Thomas' situation.

Duhon, the well known party goer, has seen his playing time decrease dramatically since the acquisition of guard Larry Hughes. Yes, that should be viewed as an accurate indication of Duhon's basketball ability.

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High Stakes Poker for NBA Players

NBA players have plenty of down time while traveling from city to city. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel examined the new heights players have taken their competition to: high stakes poker.
"I've heard guys who have lost $30,000 on an hour plane trip," Charlotte guard Derek Anderson, the former Heat reserve, says. "It's amazing — $30,000 in an hour. You leave Chicago, you have $30,000. You arrive in Detroit, you don't."

While gambling came under intense scrutiny last summer in the wake of the NBA officiating scandal that linked referee Tim Donaghy with bookmakers, the review process eventually eased the restrictions on friendly card games among referees. That essentially sanctioned them throughout the sport.

"It's been part of the culture," says Heat coach Pat Riley, whose time in the league dates to his rookie season with the San Diego Rockets in 1967. "We used to play poker games in the middle of the aisles on commercial airlines, with six guys on aisle seats throwing cards in the middle, with customers walking through the money.
Though the amounts are staggering, they must be put into perspective. An average NBA players earns a salary of $5.4 million. That divides out to $66,000 per game. If they have the money to spare, and the players do, they might as well burn it.

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Rodgers is Not Brett Favre

Three years ago, Aaron Rodgers was in the running for the top pick in the NFL Draft. He lost that battle to Alex Smith and dropped to the 24th pick. Rodgers was drafted by Green Bay to backup one of the NFL's most recognizable players, quarterback Brett Favre.

Three seasons and 59 passes later, the Rodgers era will finally begin following the retirement of Favre. Rodgers was quick to address Packers fans on Saturday. "I'm not Brett Favre. And if they're wanting me to be the next Brett Favre, I'm not going to be him. I'm Aaron Rodgers. That's who I am."

In reality, Rodgers knows the comparisons to Favre are unavoidable. He grew up in the San Francisco area and hopes to enjoy similar success as Steve Young. Young was not the next Joe Montana. Instead, he continued the 49ers' run of success by bringing his own style and skills to the quarterback position.

"I know a lot of friends and family who were Joe Montana fans, where it didn't matter how good Steve Young did," he said. "They weren't going to cheer for him because he wasn't Joe Montana."

There will be much of the same sentiments in Green Bay. Fortunately, Rodgers understands the cirumstances.

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No Comparing Kobe and Wade

Dwyane Wade was once considered in the company of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. When he carried the Heat to the Finals, it would not have been absurd to say Wade was better than Bryant and James. All things considered, it is interesting to see how far Wade has fallen in the span of two short seasons.

In Sunday's Miami Herald, Dan Le Batard blamed the lack of success on Pat Riley's construction of the team. That is undebatable, considering the team is the worst in the league. For the most part, Le Batard was correct. That is, until he tried to make the following point:

There isn't much of a difference between Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce and Wade. They all would have won with Shaquille O'Neal. The past decade, in one way or another, has belonged to O'Neal and Tim Duncan -- the huge dudes. But now you have Reggie Miller using the standings and teammates to say that the Heat would be a playoff team if it did nothing more than trade Wade for Bryant, the present consensus best player in the world.

Never mind that Bryant hasn't been out of the first round since O'Neal left and had a trade-me temper tantrum this offseason. And never mind that Wade might look a lot like Bryant right now if he had Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and that Lakers bench. Wade's turnovers are up and his percentages are slightly down, yes, but that might have more to do with not trusting terrible teammates than anything else.

Kobe Bryant would never allow his team to finish with the worst record in the NBA, let alone miss the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Bryant has been left out of the playoffs just once in his career. The Lakers finished with a 34-48 record in 2004-05, largely due to injuries forcing Bryant to miss 16 games. For comparison sake, Wade and the Heat are 11-50 through 61 games. That is take it to a new level.

Le Batard is correct in writing that Bryant has never made it out of the first round without O'Neal; however, it is not fair. In the 2006 playoffs, the Lakers lost to Phoenix in seven games. Bryant averaged 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists with 49.7% shooting. Bryant's supporting cast consisted of such greats as Lamar Odom, Smush Parker, and Chris Mihm. These were the other leading scorers for the Lakers, not the random scrubs on the end of the bench.

The fact that the Lakers even made it to the playoffs is remarkable!

That was the same year that Dwyane Wade willed the Heat to a Finals victory. What were Wade's playoffs averages in 2006? He averaged 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. Interestingly enough, on 49.7% shooting. When Wade was at his best, he was still equal to Bryant's lesser games!

Last year, the Lakers lost in five games. Bryant averaged 33 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. Again, how is he to blame?

Arguing that Dwyane Wade needs a better supporting cast to make it to the playoffs is entirely correct. The fact is that Wade is not good enough to carry them 82 games. History has shown that is not the case for the NBA's best player, Kobe Bryant.

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James Harrison (Allegedly) Beats Girlfriend

Steelers rush linebacker and Pro Bowler James Harrison ripped through a door, broke a phone, and slapped his girlfriend before being arrested by police. Harrison was arraigned on charges of simple assault and criminal mischief.
According to police, he broke down a bedroom door at the woman's home after she locked herself in the room. While she was calling 911, Harrison broke the phone in half, according to an affidavit she filed with police.

The police also said Harrison struck the woman in the face with an open hand leaving "red marks" according to the affidavit.
Harrison made his first Pro Bowl in 2007. He finished the year with 98 tackles and 8½ sacks. It is still unclear whether he led the NFL in "broken phones in half."

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About the Undrafted Free Agent

Ron Crimson was the only player on the high school roster to not get in a game. He couldn't argue with the decision, because he sucked. Needless to say, yet stated anyway, when he entered the NBA draft following his sophomore season in college, he went undrafted. Now, Ron Crimson is the Undrafted Free Agent.

Contact the Undrafted Free Agent

Interested in informing the Undrafted Free Agent of his mistakes, advertisement opportunities, or a scoop on the latest sports scandal? (You can guess which is more likely.) Well, email him at undraftedfreeagent [at] gmail.com.

Look at This!

There's nothing here; I just needed to fill some space. Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! Space eater! I also needed to balance it out a bit.

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