Tag Archives: Chicago Bulls

Jim Sterk’s Missouri Tiger Legacy will Ride on Kim Anderson’s Replacement

Kim Anderson is by all accounts a great guy. Unfortunately for both him and Missouri basketball, being a great guy doesn’t guarantee professional success. And a record of complete and total ineptitude is what Anderson and his coaching staff brought to Missouri.

I’m not going to pile additional negative criticism upon this all-around great guy. If you want to read my message of fire and brimstone in regards to Anderson, you can find those articles archived on Campus Pressbox.

[Merenbloom – Missouri Tiger Basketball: Kim Anderson Proves You Can’t Always Go Home]
[Merenbloom – An Athletic Director is a Gambler and Missouri AD Mack Rhoades is Rolling the Dice with Kim Anderson]

Jim Sterk hasn’t fired Anderson, yet. But most Missouri fans consider it only a matter of time. Sterk may consider it a matter of time as well considering the statement he made about the security of Anderson’s job status. Sterk isn’t upset with the state of the Missouri basketball. He’s disappointed.

The Missouri fan base and Sterk may see the glass of disappointment as half-empty, but not Anderson. No, Anderson sees it more as a glass of opportunity that is half-full. Anderson believes that his team “competed” in the non-conference.

“I know people probably don’t want to hear this, but, as you look back at the nonconference, certainly we didn’t accomplish what we would have liked to,” Anderson said. “But I think you could realistically say it wasn’t like we got blown out by 35 points every single game. I think we competed.”

Anderson is correct when saying his team never got blown out by 35 points. But Missouri also lost to North Carolina Central, Eastern Illinois and Lipsomb. All three of those so-called buy-games were home games for Missouri. Those are games that an SEC team wins. Those aren’t games that an SEC team merely competes in. Missouri has become the buy-game for other teams and that’s disappointing.

Writers at other websites won’t venture to guess who athletic director Jim Sterk will attempt to eventually replace Anderson with due to not knowing the budget for the job opening. I, on the other hand, won’t be scared away from suggesting four coaches who I believe would be worth considering.

In all honesty, I hesitate to throw this first name out there, but it has to be done. That’s right. I’m talking about Gregg Marshall. Yes, Missouri did (or didn’t) attempt to wine and dine the Wizard of Wichita State once before, but you know what they say – timing is everything. He’s still a coach worth calling. At least it’s worth calling his agent to gauge his interest. Wichita State pays him just over $3 million.

While that is a dump truck load of money, it shouldn’t scare Sterk away. Sure, when Frank Haith left Missouri, Mike Alden may have been reluctant to pay a basketball coach more than football coach Gary Pinkel. Pinkel achieved enough success at Missouri that some want a statue built for him. But now Barry Odom roams the Missouri sideline and it should be easy to pay a basketball coach more than a first-year head coach who just went 4-8.

This next coach could be a more realistic option and would offer a potential juicy side story. How about University of Washington coach Lorenzo Romar? I wouldn’t hate seeing Romar in black and gold. Romar established himself as an ace recruiter in Seattle. The coach has a track record of recruiting coast-to-coast and that includes securing a commitment from Columbia, Missouri native Michael Porter Jr.

Recruiting has never been Romar’s issue. Winning in the NCAA tournament is what’s been the thorn in Romar’s side. And that is what has him on the hot-seat. I believe Romar could make sense at Missouri because he would bring talent to Columbia. Talent is something that Missouri basketball has desperately lacked under Anderson. Once he enticed talented players to wear the Tiger uniform, there is no doubt in my mind that he would win in the SEC. Oh yeah. As for that potential juicy side story? If Romar is the coach to replace Anderson, the telling sign could be whether or not Porter Jr. signs his letter of intent at Washington.

My preference for Missouri basketball would be to lure a current, successful Division-I head coach to Columbia. But sometimes our lives don’t turn out the way we hoped for and we don’t get what we want (see the Kim Anderson hire). There has to be a backup plan that would still leave Missouri fans feeling comfortable. My preferred backup plan includes a less heralded head coach and an assistant coach.

How would Missouri fans feel about Chris Collins leading the charge at Mizzou Arena? For starters, get over the fact that he played at Duke. Not every former Duke assistant is going to sleep with a player’s girlfriend (allegedly) or snort cocaine in the Capital Grille bathroom (allegedly). Collins has been the head coach at Northwestern since 2013 and he’s turned that program into a winner. His Wildcat team won 20 games during the 2015-16 season. That was good enough for 9th place in the Big Ten. But come on. It’s the Big Ten, and unlike the SEC, there is quality basketball being played there.

Do you know who Ron Sanchez is? Probably not. Truth be told, I didn’t know who Ron Sanchez was prior to working on this article. But I’m now a fan of Ron Sanchez. Sanchez is currently an assistant coach at the University of Virginia. Prior to his job with the Cavaliers, he was one of Tony Bennett’s assistants while at Washington State. Here’s what I like about Sanchez. He has been a successful contributor to programs that don’t rely on blue-chip recruits. Sanchez is schooled in implementing a system and recruiting players who will fit into that system. For a school like Missouri that doesn’t have a track record of attracting high-profile recruits, a coach like Sanchez could do well in Columbia.

This isn’t a complete list of coaches who I would be happy seeing at Missouri, but these are four coaches who would give me the hope that Anderson has stripped out of the program. Other coaches who I would like to see considered are Mark Montgomery, Steve Masiello, and Jeff Boals.

There is one coach who would be a big, bold hire for Missouri. As I stated with Marshall, timing is everything and this candidate being a viable candidate would require perfect timing. The coach I am talking about is Fred Hoiberg. He was a terrific coach during his tenure at his alma mater, Iowa State. Hoiberg is in his second season with the Chicago Bulls and his seat grows hotter by the day in the Windy City. When talking with my friends who are Missouri basketball fans, I’ve professed my love for Hoiberg. He would be my top choice if available. Hoiberg’s availability would hinge on when the Bulls decide to cut The Mayor loose. If he is fired mid-season, Sterk needs to put the full-court press on hiring him.

Sterk has a monumental task in front of him. Missouri fans love having a winning football team but I believe what most Tiger fans desire is a winning basketball team. While the legacies of most Power 5 athletic directors ride on their head football coaching hires, Sterk’s legacy may ride on this basketball hire. No pressure, Jim. Just don’t screw it up.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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David Griffin ushers in a Lue era in Cleveland

The Cleveland Cavaliers have set another record this week, though it remains to be seen whether it is one to be proud of or sorry for.

David Blatt celebrates with LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on November 8, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers 101-97. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
David Blatt celebrates with LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on November 8, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers 101-97. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Around 3:55pm on Friday, the Cleveland sports world let out a collective gasp when it was broken by Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the sports world’s premier NBA insider, that the Cavaliers organization had terminated Head Coach David Blatt. Not only was this news shocking and puzzling but it was simultaneously reported that Assistant Coach Tyronn Lue was being promoted to the position of Head Coach.

Lue would not assume the title of Interim Coach as is the traditional procedure when a coach is unexpectedly fired. He was immediately given the moniker of Head Coach with even some rumors of a two to three year deal already having been negotiated.

The aforementioned record that was set, is that Blatt is the first coach, since the league separated into two conferences, to ever be terminated when his team had the best win/loss record in their conference. That is not exactly what I would have hoped for in terms of a ground breaking statement, but the effectiveness of this strategy is yet to be determined.

Cavs General Manager David Griffin held a press conference Friday and alluded to the team not showing an inability to “galvanize” under Blatt’s leadership. He felt that the team was at a crossroads in terms of fixing this problem and a change needed to be made in order to continue moving towards their common goal of bringing an NBA championship to the City of Cleveland.

The primary and obvious speculation is that the decision, as many have been in the past two seasons, was influenced directly by Lebron James. Both Griffin and James have denied publicly that James had any say or that he was consulted on the final decision.

Do I think James went to Griffin and “suggested” that Lue be promoted and Blatt let go? No, I do not.

Do I think that James has had ups and downs with Blatt in terms of their coach/player relationship and that he may have known in the back of his head that this would be the end result someday? Absolutely, 100%.

It is important to note that the decision of who to name as the head coach of the Cavaliers was made BEFORE James announced his intent to return to Cleveland in July of 2014, and that while Griffin favored Lue to receive the position, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert preferred Blatt. This must have spawned an interesting conversation over at Quicken Loans Arena when the Sports Illustrated cover was revealed.

OK, Blatt is out and Lue is now the head coach of our team. The next question is, how will the team’s strategy and performance change with a coach that is rumored to be more “in touch” with the players?

Our first test of Lue’s coaching prowess would be against our Eastern Conference rival, the Chicago Bulls, on our home court. The team can only improve if Blatt was such a hinderance to their success, correct?

The final score from our matchup against the Bulls at home? A 96-83 loss where the Cavaliers looked listless and unable to execute.

Now this could be explained by the suddenness of the coaching change or from some apparent shifts in substitution patterns that Lue put into place. Whatever the reason, this team should never lose on their home court when they hold their opponent under 100 points.

All they could muster on the offensive end over 4 quarters was 83 points?!? In this particular game the lack of offense was the fault of several factors.

As a collective group, our bench players shot 3/14 for 8 points. Obviously, that is not a typical set of stats for Dellavedova, Shumpert and Tristan Thompson but this certainly contributed to the lack of scoring overall.

The second factor was that we shot just under 41% (9 for 22) from the free throw line. Essentially, the Cavaliers contracted out all of their free throw shooting for the night to Clippers forward Deandre Jordan; quite an embarrassment in my eyes.

The last factor, in my estimation, relates to offensive strategy. The Cavs took 24 three point shots against Chicago and were only able to make four.

This abysmal 16.7% from downtown means that even though we were showing that the long range shots were not going down, we still continued to take them. Is this just an example of the new coaching staff urging the players to “shoot through” their cold streak?

Listen, I was as shocked as anyone to hear of Blatt’s firing. Too often, there is a Twitter explosion (which I engaged in on a small scale right as it happened) and a rush to be the first to write an opinion piece on whether Griffin is a hero or a zero for this.

I knew that I needed time to process everything, hear all sides of the story, and even see our newly appointed coach in action for the first time before I could give my honest opinion on the matter. Now that most of that has occurred I am ready to levy a judgment!

My feeling is that the Cleveland Cavaliers, while possessing the title of best team in the East, showed that under David Blatt’s coaching, that they could not compete consistently against the best teams in the West. Seeing as the goal of management is acquiring a championship, a change needed to be made.

I applaud our GM as he has put himself into the position of being called either a genius or a goat when it is all said and done. He has certainly volunteered to put this team on the back of his decisions, as great leaders should.

Griffin’s legacy in this city is at stake now more than ever. To me, that is the very definition of ALL IN.

The Indiana Pacers and Crunch Time Failure

The Indiana Pacers have made progress this season, one could say significant progress from this time a year ago. One area where they are struggling this season, however, is coming out on top in close games. Indiana hasn’t won a game decided by three points or less since early November…that’s over two months and 29 games ago. In that same span, they have lost four such games – three of those coming in the last two weeks. One benchmark of good NBA teams is typically a good record in close games.

The theory here is that there are a lot of closely contested battles in professional basketball, and those teams with the most experience, heart and will to win tend to make plays in “crunch time” and find a way to win these nail-biters. The Pacers are not doing this so far in 2015-16, and it has been a particular thorn in their side recently. Indiana lost a game at home to Sacramento on December 23 (108-106) after leading very late.

A week later, Chicago continued the trend, holding the Pacers off 102-100 at the United Center…and earlier this week, the Pacers blew yet another late advantage, eventually falling to the Miami Heat 103-100. The specific reasons for these failures have varied. One game it was failing to make an offensive play as time expired. In another, it was failing to get a defensive stop as time expired…and poor fourth quarter free throw shooting was the culprit in yet another of these close defeats.

The thing that ties all this together is mental toughness, which is why true upper-tier teams come up with that key rebound, make that key steal or hit that game-winning shot more often than not. The Pacers still have a chance to get there, but their recent failure in these situations just further proves that despite heading in the right direction, Indiana is not displaying the qualities of a contending team at this juncture. It should be mentioned that coaching plays a role in this as well.

The Pacers have relied heavily on forward Paul George in these end-of-game situations, and that approach has been too predictable. A bit more creativity from head coach Frank Vogel would give his club a better chance to make plays late in games…”give Paul the ball and everybody else get out of the way” is not the work of a master strategist. Another interesting area of strength/weakness for the Blue and Gold has been the amount of rest between games.

On two or three days rest, the team has a .778 winning percentage so far this year. However, when they have to play back-to-back games, they’ve only won at a .286 clip after not having time off between contests. With the Pacers going to a more uptempo offense this season, those results are predictable…it takes a lot of energy to play fast on offense and also defend well on the other end of the court, so Indiana is finding it tough to keep up the pace if they haven’t had time to recover between games.

To a degree, players can try to push through that fatigue, but the Pacers have a deep roster, so a coaching adjustment should help. When Indiana has a back-to-back coming up, coach Vogel would be wise to use his bench more liberally in the first of those ballgames – the winning percentage in the second of those contests would likely increase. NBA basketball is a game of constant adjustments, both within games and during the course of a long 82-game season.

For the Indiana Pacers to move up a notch (or two) in the Eastern Conference, improvement in the areas discussed here – late-game strategy, execution and desire, as well as more adept management of players’ minutes – would go a long way toward that goal.

Scottie Pippen: The Most Underrated Player of All Time

When one beauty occupies the same proximity as something deemed more beautiful, it tends to go unnoticed and unappreciated. 1Or if it does receive notice, it is primarily because it is in the same proximity as the thing deemed more beautiful. It gets recognized only because it gets included. Your run-of-the-mill attractive woman, who in most instances stands out in any crowd, will go largely unnoticed if she’s standing beside Charlize Theron.

Enter Scottie Pippen, who won six championships with the Chicago Bulls playing alongside the greatest basketball player ever according to most basketball fans and aficionados. You might have heard of Michael Jordan.

Scottie Pippen was not just a really good complementary player on great teams; he, like Jordan, was a great player whose merits can stand on there own regardless of who was in the foxhole with him. But because he happened to play with the greatest of all time, he too often gets lumped in to Jordan’s story as opposed to being valued and appreciated for his own.

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During the window of the Bulls’ title runs from 91′-98′, Pippen was arguably the best small forward in the game. More than that, he may have very well been the second most valuable player on the planet and a top 5 player in the league.

Without researching a player’s past accomplishments, it’s easy to forget the accolades they received and the accomplishments they achieved, so let me bring you up to speed.

Pippen was voted to the All-NBA first team three times.

He made the All-NBA second and third team two times each.

He was an 8-time All-Defensive first teamer and 2-time second teamer. In 1995, he led the league in steals. And still hold the record for career steals by a forward. He averaged two steals a game.

Scottie Pippen was so much more than an integral part of a highly successful team. Yes, Jordan made him a better player, but the converse is also true: Pippen made Jordan a better player. That’s why the Bulls were so great. They had two great players, of whom I wholeheartedly concede that Jordan was greater, who brought out the very best in one another.

Pippen was very good offensively( he averaged 20 PPG in four seasons), both as a scorer and a playmaker 2Until LeBron James passed him this past February, Pippen had topped the list of career assists by a forward., but what set him apart was his defense. He could guard all five positions. He perpetually harassed point guards and disrupted offenses. Check out this video highlighting Pippen’s defensive prowess.

In the 91′ NBA Finals, after their game one loss to the Lakers, Pippen was tasked to guard Magic Johnson. For the remainder of the series Magic shot only 39.6 percent from the field and averaged an uncharacteristic 4.3 turnovers in those next four games-all Bulls’ wins. And in the series-clinching game 5, this was Pippen’s line: 32pts, 13rebs, 7 assists, and five steals.

Aside from his other defensive exploits, he was also a very good shot-blocking small forward, averaging .8 per game over his career. He was a good rebounder as well, averaging 6.4 per game.

So what did Pippen do while Jordan tried his hand at baseball for a year and a half? Without the greatest player of all time, Pippen led the Bulls to 55 regular season wins, only two less than the previous championship year with Michael Jordan. The Bulls lost a hard-fought conference semifinal series to the Knicks in seven games in 1994. The Knicks went on to the NBA Finals where they lost to the Hakeem Olajuwon-led Rockets in seven games. Pippen finished third in MVP voting in 94′.

For the record, Pippen was 7-4 in the playoffs without Jordan; Jordan was 1-9 without Pippen. Again, they needed each other.

In 1992, as a member of the the original Dream Team, head coach Chuck Daly said he was the second best player on the team and called him “the ultimate fill-in-the-blanks guy”.

Financially-speaking, how was he rewarded by the Bulls, specifically in the 1997-98 title run? While that was the year the Bulls paid Jordan $33 million, a yearly salary that has yet to be surpassed, even in today’s NBA, Pippen was paid the bargain-basement salary, at least in comparison to Jordan’s, of $2.75 million.

Make no mistake, Michael Jordan is not only the greatest to ever play the game, he is still the face of the NBA. He’s meant more to his sport than anyone has ever meant to any sport. He was and is deserving of everything he has and will receive.

But when talking about all-time great players, his partner in crime during those championship years, the years that made Jordan the iconic legend that he is today, was Scottie Pippen, a true legend in his own right. His retired # 33 hangs beside the retired # 23 in the rafters at the United Center-forever linked, yet hanging alone, inseparable, yet separable, each with its own shadow. There will never be another Michael Jordan, nor will there be another Scottie Pippen.

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1. Or if it does receive notice, it is primarily because it is in the same proximity as the thing deemed more beautiful. It gets recognized only because it gets included.
2. Until LeBron James passed him this past February, Pippen had topped the list of career assists by a forward.

Stephen Curry: Easy Like Sunday Mornin’

I apologize for this article being the umpteenth article of late on Warrior superstar Stephen Curry, but I can’t just sit back and watch him play the game I love at a nearly unfathomable level, while making it look, forgive the cliche’, easy.

This is what the great ones do, no matter the sport they play. They make the difficult look easy. They make it look effortless. Their mechanics are efficiently flawless, void of any unnecessary motion.

He’s unquestionably the most highly skilled player in the NBA. He is its greatest shooter, ball handler, and one of its top creators.

He is not the most athletically gifted as we’ve come to define athletically gifted. He’s not nearly as powerful and explosive as Russell Westbrook. His foot speed is average(although he’s exceptionally quick). His leaping ability is below average. His build is slight. But, behold the skill.

When I heard Curry made 77 consecutive NBA three pointers in a summer shoot around, my initial thought was that the report can’t be true. I was stunned. Most basketball players, no matter the level, would have a difficult time standing under the basket and concentrating long enough to make 77 in a row.

Curry reminds me of the guy or gal we’ve all known, who after completing the same workout we did, didn’t break a sweat while we produced enough of it to fill a gallon milk jug.

As of this writing, Curry’s Warriors have won 18 in a row to begin the season(an ongoing all-time league record) and barring injury, as ridiculous as it sounds 18 games into a season, he’s already locked up his second consecutive MVP award. The Warriors aren’t just eking by teams, they are toying with them and eventually running them out of the gym. 13 of their 18 wins have been by double digits.

And Stephen Curry is the lead assassin, doing whatever he pleases whenever he pleases from wherever(on the court) he pleases. The license to shoot interim head coach Luke Walton has given him has no restrictions(not that it’ll be different when Kerr returns). He’s green-lighted the moment he steps foot into whatever arena in which he’s playing.

But unlike one of his closest(in ability) contemporaries, the previously-mentioned Russell Westbrook, no matter the degree of difficulty in his shot-taking, rare is the time that I can say he took a bad shot. He’s the guy who shows up on the playground courts that no one wants to guard. Curry makes defenders look foolish trying to keep him in front of them, but when they do, he consistently makes shots from places on the floor most players don’t typically have to defend. He’s on course for what will likely be the first of multiple 50-40-90 seasons and has a league-leading player efficiency rating(PER) of 34.73.

But make no mistake, although he is the most deadly shooter in the league, he’s so much more than a brilliant marksman. Remember, his team is on the cusp of achieving a tier in the NBA we haven’t seen since Jordan’s Bulls won 72 in the 1995-96 season.

But this feels different. It seems 70 wins are a forgone conclusion for the Warriors. They may have 30 by the end of the year-30 wins by the end of December! And Curry is the head of the snake, which includes venomous, life-killing fangs. He’s averaging nearly twice as many points as Klay Thompson, who’s second on the teaming in scoring. He runs this Globetrotteresque offense which is averaging a mind-blowing 115.8 points per game while allowing only 99.8 per game. He is Geese Ausbie. And Warrior opponents, nearly all of them to date, have resembled the Washington Generals.

Championships don’t come easy though. No team will allow Curry and the Warriors to waltz to a repeat. The Spurs will have something to say. The Thunder will have something to say. LeBron will have something to say.

But it isn’t playoff time. Heck, we’re all still digesting our Thanksgiving gluttony. Christmas is nearly four weeks away. The regular season is barely a quarter of the way through.

So enjoy the Warriors. Enjoy watching Curry making it look easy while simultaneously ripping the will out of not only his defender, but also his opponent. Enjoy watching the difficult look easy.

More Than A Friday: The Hot Dog-Sandwich Conundrum and Other Things That Aren’t

It was only a matter of time.  I like discussing the trending topics, and I like food.

I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I’ve been drawn into the conversation, just about every time that it’s come up.  Is a hot dog a sandwich?

The short answer from my point of view is that it’s not.  I feel you can take that tubesteak meat, slice it long-ways and place the pieces diagonally across a slice of white bread, put your mustard, relish, cucumber, and sauerkraut or whatever, put another slice of white on top and call it a sandwich.  However, the traditional hot dog, regardless of toppings, the one that comes in a bun, that’s just a hot dog.

The non-sandwich designation isn’t exclusive to the frank.  Frankly, it’s more about the bread and whether it’s one unit that holds it together or two.  Really, it doesn’t matter what you put in that bun; it’s not going to be sandwich, whether it’s a brat, a Polish, or an Oscar Meyer weiner.  The more compelling question starts with the hamburger, because if you replace the hamburger patty with fish or fowl, it’s quite blatantly a sandwich.  And, if you take that burger patty, and put it between two slices of rye or sourdough with melted cheese, you have yourself a patty melt, which is absolutely a sandwich.

We’re scratching the surface here; what about wraps, pitas, tacos, and certain deserts?  Let’s get your weekend started with the legitimacy of things around the world of sports.

Connor McDavid, the Ham & Cheese

For selfish reasons, I was devastated by the news of the #1 overall pick in last summer’s draft sustaining a significant injury.  McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers visit my hometown Arizona Coyotes next Thursday, and yours truly acquired tickets for the affair.  Now, I’m just watching an early-season tilt between two sub-par teams in the Western Conference.  There’s no question about the sandwich status of chopped ham and American Cheese, it’s just been a while since I’ve had it and it will be a while before we see The Next Big Thing on the ice in the NHL.  “What have you done for me lately?” doesn’t apply to McDavid’s situation…yet.

Chicago Bulls, the Gyro

Just because the Greek man in the apron behind the bar, the one that makes a tzatziki sauce that is to die for, calls it a sandwich, it is not a sandwich, not by my standards.  Look, I understand lazy Americans don’t often think of all the applications of that gyro meat and assume that shaved cone of lamb meat is going to come in a pita, and usually with fries on the side, but there’s more to the menu at your typical Mediterranean grill.  In the same way, when we say “whoever comes out of the East”, we mean the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Yes, we saw what happened on Opening Night at the United Center, but think about how far down the list you’d have to go to get to gyro when someone asks what kind of sandwich the should get.  Now replace “gyro” with “2015-16 Bulls” and “sandwich” with “Eastern Conference favorites”.

 

Carolina Panthers, the Pulled Pork

In the same way that the Vinegar-based barbecue of the Carolina region gets overlooked in favor of its Kansas City or Texas counterpart, there’s not a lot of respect going around for “Riverboat Ron” Rivera, Cam Newton, and the Carolina Panthers, but they’re as legitimate as anything going in the NFL right now.  Sean McDermott has Luke Kuechly on the defensive side of the ball, but that unit is as impressive as anything I’ve seen east of the Rockies.  Yes, that offense misses Kelvin Benjamin like dry ribs miss sauce, but there’s no questioning how Newton is the smoke that makes the meat taste so good.  Whether it’s shoulder or butt, this is undeniably a sandwich, and the #1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft is undeniably a solid MVP candidate this season.

Big 12 Football, the Footlong Hot Dog

A hot dog is not a sandwich, and a winning team that doesn’t play passable defense in Division I College Football is not a juggernaut.  Did you just win a game 70-53?  Well, I’m a lot less impressed by the 70 than I am disgusted by the 53.  If Texas Tech is giving you hard time, while you wait for your offense to get back on the field, it’s fair to say that LSU and Stanford are going unequivocally ruin your day.  Bigger is not always better, and no non-sandwich becomes a sandwich when you make it bigger.  C’mon people!

tcuTxTech

Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony, the Club and the Big Mac

I haven’t seen a lot of the Knicks, but I’ve seen enough of Melo over the years to understand his popularity, though I question the hype behind his game.  The guy is a great scorer, and I enjoy watching his bad team play in more Games of the Week than they deserve, but I wouldn’t want to do it 82 times a year, in the same way I don’t need to eat a Big Mac a couple times a week.  He doesn’t pass or think about his team, like most of us don’t think about the extra bun Mickey D’s puts on their signature menu item, but the extra bun still somehow matters.  The club, with turkey and bacon, is a little more complete, a little better for you, and actually a sandwich.  You wouldn’t order either on a date, but you could make a lot more arguments for the extra bread on the club, like it was a 7’3″ stretch-five with legitimate perimeter ability.  You wouldn’t fries with that, but a side of pasta salad seems fitting if Phil Jackson can find it for him the Big Apple.

New England Patriots, the Steak Sandwich

It’s messy and you can’t get it everywhere, but I honestly can’t think of a better sandwich.  I’ve had this opinion for a long time, and while there’s been a crappy skirt steak that doesn’t get the job done, every now and again, it’s certainly a go-to.  It takes the right amount of fire1Bill Belichick and the right amount of seasoning2Tom Brady, even if you don’t put it between the greatest pieces of bread, but that just makes for a good steak.  The weapons the Patriots currently have in Dion Lewis, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola seem to be the perfect starch to accompany an always reliable protein.  You can argue how ultimately unhealthy New England is for the league in the long-term, but it’s enjoyable to watch them play football in the moment.

Kansas City Royals, the Ice Cream Sandwich

What if there was a guy that legitimately drove a windowless white van and took random kids wherever they wanted to go, perhaps satiating their sweet tooth for the ride?  This could only happen in a world where the parents would trust this guy, sight unseen, to have their child’s well being in mind the whole time and not allow them to overindulge on the sweets.  Of course, the assumption is that world doesn’t exist, so nothing like that could happen, even if the guy driving the van is named Ned Yost.  In today’s world of Major League Baseball, you need the long ball and the dominant starting pitching; stealing bases and small-ball, in general, is just a way to get a late-inning run when you need it.  That’s not supposed to be how you win World Championships.

And the sandwiches, don’t forget the flippin’ sandwiches; it’s supposed to be bread, not fried chicken3We didn’t include the KFC Double Down here, but we’d go with the Chicago Blackhawks.  Sure, get fat and happy now, but remember you’re going to spend some time paying for it or cookies4If we were including Oreos, I’d go with the Houston Astros, a JV version of what the Royals have done. that sandwiches the meat together for clean eating with your hands.  Don’t tell that to Ned Yost, who could be the most notorious man driving the ice cream truck since Big Perm, I mean Big Worm.

The Royals broke all the rules.  You’re supposed to have meat and/or vegetables, or something from a jar?  Cheese is the only acceptable dairy?  Well, here’s some ice cream, so the lactose intolerant5New York Mets need not apply!  In a very “Life is short, eat dessert first” kind of way, the Royals decided that starting pitching an early-inning offense would supplement their bullpen and late-inning heroics.

You don’t think you want that, but you need that in your life.  That’s why these sandwiches are kept in freezers by the cash register, because you don’t plan to buy them, but your impulses entice you to do so.  And you don’t care that it’s just crappy cookies and ice cream, it’s the sandwich you wanted the entire time.

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1. Bill Belichick
2. Tom Brady
3. We didn’t include the KFC Double Down here, but we’d go with the Chicago Blackhawks.  Sure, get fat and happy now, but remember you’re going to spend some time paying for it
4. If we were including Oreos, I’d go with the Houston Astros, a JV version of what the Royals have done.
5. New York Mets

The Magnificent Matthew Dellavedova

The Cavs are on the verge of reaching their first Finals appearance in eight years.

Many people thought they would be in this very position before the season started. It’s hard not to think a team with Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love could be within four games of a conference championship, even in their first year playing together.

The Cavs brought in vets with championship pedigree throughout the season. Players like Mike Miller, James Jones, and Shawn Marion were expected to help guide this overall young and inexperienced team through tough moments and be leaned upon in do-or-die situations.

However, many of these players were nowhere near as impactful in this year’s playoffs as most expected for different reasons.

Miller and Marion proved to be way past their prime, too much so to even contribute in the playoffs to this point. Love’s season ended in game four of the first round due to a dislocated shoulder. And Kyrie has dealt with knee and foot issues during the Bulls series.

The Cavs needed guys to step up in a big way.

That’s why the bench play of a guy like Matthew Dellavedova was and is so important, especially after facing a rough-you-up Chicago Bulls team.

Obviously, as more players get injured, the more important a team’s depth is. The “next man up” approach and trust in those replacements is arguably equally as important. With the conclusion of the Eastern Conference semis, it seems as if Delly has earned the trust of this teammates, and for good reason.


Some can’t explain why or how Matthew Dellavedova is still around in the NBA, even in his second year and performing well on the biggest stage of his basketball career. Yes, even bigger than this.

I personally have been up and down on Delly throughout his short career, with far more ups. I tend to gravitate towards players like him, who don’t seem to have the necessary talent to be effective but make up for it with an incredible amount of hustle.

At some point in the season, it came to a point where I uttered the phrase “I’m not willing to die on the Delly hill anymore.” I can safely say that I’ve climbed back up on that hill and have re-planted my flag. Delly is awesome again.

He had some cool moments in his rookie year, including a 21-point game (5-7 from 3) late in the season in Detroit when the Cavs were technically still in the playoff hunt (shout out to Dion Waiters). He also successfully guarded the likes of Bradley Beal and Kevin Durant for stretches.

But none of those enlightening moments came in a game with as much importance as any of the Bulls games in round two.

Delly’s defense isn’t all-world by any means, but there are these incredible spurts where his man just can’t seem to shake him. Just ask Derrick Rose.

https://vine.co/v/eADTghB27v1

Rose was held to just 1-4 in the fourth quarter of game six last Thursday. And while many factors go into that, it was Delly who was asked guard him for the majority of the half after Irving was sidelined. It’s also worth noting that Delly played every second of that second half. That in and of itself is quite honorable given the magnitude of the game.

Delly is willing to do the dirty work, too. You may remember him guarding Dirk Nowitzki earlier this year in preseason. Well, he’s still ungrudgingly able to guard 7-footers.

https://vine.co/v/eADnKDLqB2j

As you can see, Delly switches onto Pau Gasol while Thompson switches onto Rose. This is something the Cavs love doing with Thompson on defense. Having a guard like Delly that will do anything no questions asked on defense and can actually be decent at it is good for the Cavs.

Delly and Tristan have also created an ungodly amount of chemistry on offense, specifically on pick-and-rolls. I’m not going to show a Vine of it here because you have already seen one with those two; Delly lobbing it and Tristan throwing it down. Seriously, it has to happen at least once a game. Those are the rules.

And while Delly has looked like a PnR artist, he hasn’t always been that smooth with it this year. Many times when the roller was heavily covered, Delly just did not know what to do with the ball. He was indecisive and it usually led to a bad shot or a turnover.

https://vine.co/v/eAtjj5tEezE

This is from January 28 against Portland. Thompson gets stuck on the screen and once Delly sees he’s not where he wants him to be, he panics, jumps without a plan, and throws it away. (And really, that’s also a product of trying to have Marion stretch that side of the court).

Now we’re seeing less of that and more decisiveness from Delly, almost as if he knows what he’s doing. And the great thing is, he’s doing it when it really matters, as in potential-series-clinching-games-with-the-All-Star-point-guard-nursing-an-injury matters.

https://vine.co/v/eAtUzmE9Vzx

I didn’t even mention that Delly shot 42.9% from 3-point land in the Bulls series. It was much needed and magnificent to watch.


Deep into the night on Tuesday (technically Wednesday morning), ESPN’s Dave McMenamin penned an excellent article on the relationship between Delly and Irving. As McMenamin noted, unknown to many, they had a rocky relationship at the start of Delly’s rookie campaign, almost leading to fights in practices. Eventually, however, the two started to respect one another, as Tristan Thompson explained.

“Probably the first three months of the season he was irritated by Delly,” Thompson said, “but he realized Delly is not going to stop and it was going to make him a better player.”

In a matter of a couple seasons, Delly went from a guy I thought could’ve gone down in Cavaliers infamy with the likes of Omri Casspi, Semih Erden, Christian Eyenga, and Manny Harris – the random players on dreadful Cavaliers teams – to an important part of a championship caliber team who commands the respect of James Jones, David Blatt, and, most impressively, LeBron James.

He makes plays that force people to rip their hair out. He’s one of, if not the most unorthodox looking players in the league. Nothing about him stands out until you hear him talk. But he has a world of intangibles.

From McMenamin:

“Heart, man,” [James] Jones said. “On this team, Delly embodies all heart, all hustle and all the work.”

I don’t care if that’s cliché. I don’t care if someone doesn’t think that Dellavedova’s heart and effort don’t matter. Delly is talked about how Anderson Varejao was talked about eight years ago. And despite multiple severe injuries, the Cavs have opted to keep him around for 11 years now.Sometimes we just have to accept that some players just outwork others. And while those players aren’t as blessed with the same natural talent of a LeBron James (who also puts in the work), it’s the rare level of intangibles that keep them in the game.

Heading into the ECF, I think the Aussie will break out some more Peanut Butter Delly time. He’s rarely a good on-paper matchup for the Cavs, but I think he’s proven enough times that “on paper” doesn’t always translate to on-court performance.

The Chicago Cubs Saved My Week

Last week was far from my happiest. The Bulls-Cavs series made sure of that. Plus I was disappointed in the new Avengers movie. Although it pains me greatly to say this, I may be outgrowing that type of simple comic book superhero movie, or maybe this particular movie was just superficial and cheesy. Either way, more bad news there. But certainly the Bulls losses were the primary source of my dismay.

I have made it abundantly clear in the past how much I care about sports. Probably way too much for my own good, given that I am from Illinois and root for the area’s teams, all of which have a pretty bleak track record of success. Illinois sports have failed to achieve anything of note over the past several years, save for the Blackhawks’ brilliant run (which sadly brings me no joy, probably because I didn’t play hockey as a kid and cannot connect with the sport).
The Illinois struggle is real.

With hardship of this magnitude, there is only so much a passionate sports fan can endure. Twenty years from now, I am either going to be gleefully gazing upon my collection of my teams’ championship memorabilia, or I’ll be lying on a couch in my therapist’s office attempting to cope with all the heartbreak. There’s no in between.

But that’s for my future self to deal with. Presently, the 2000s era Bulls’ run had just culminated in an unceremonious game 6 home loss to none other than LeBron’s team. Again.

This was a win-now Bulls squad. All the pieces fell into place this postseason. Rose was healthy. The rest of the guys were (relatively) healthy. The other Eastern Conference teams were either diminished (Cavs and Hawks) or absent (Pacers and Heat). The opportunity was there for them, and they missed it. This was nearly too much to handle.
Mercifully, the sports gods sent a little relief to us Chicago sports fan during this trying time to free us from our dungeon of despair. This relief took an unlikely form—the Chicago Cubs.

So often the source of frustration and mockery, the Cubs served as a beacon of hope. In this dire moment, they became my Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I was their Princess Leia, pleading “help me, Chicago Cubs. You’re my only hope.” (I realize of course that I just likened myself to a princess. Don’t judge. First, Leia is awesome. Second, I was in a very vulnerable place and someone helped me out. The comparison works. Just go with it.)

Anyway just like Obi-Wan, the Cubs came through. They rattled off a six-game winning streak (the longest since 2011), providing light at a dark hour. The first four victories of the streak came against the 1st place New York Mets and their acclaimed pitching rotation. On consecutive days, the Cubs won games against reigning Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, Rookie of the Year candidate Noah Syndergaard, and Cy Young front runner Matt Harvey.

After the sweep of the Metropolitans, the Pirates came to town, and the Cubs extended the streak with back-to-back wins. Sure, the Cubs fell short on Sunday in the series finale, but that was forgivable. They had already lifted the spirits of Chicago fans and given a reason to be excited about the summer.

With one winning streak, the Cubs provided what would have recently sufficed as an entire season’s worth of triumphant moments on the north side. The six-day nirvana included comebacks, clutch pitching, and a pair of walk off wins. Their 155 million dollar investment, Jon Lester, who still cannot execute a pickoff throw over to first base, even flashed signs of success, as he earned two wins during the streak.

The near perfect week for the Cubs occurred at the absolutely perfect time for Chicago fans. While the modest regular season winning streak did not make up for the lost playoff series, it certainly provided a fun distraction. And we cannot ask for much more than that.

What do you think? Follow Jared on Twitter (@JaredAndrews3) and leave a comment! Make sure to like More Than a Fan on Facebook!

Cavs Heroes in Games 4 and 5

The Cleveland Cavaliers are one win away from reaching their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2008-09. It’s been six years, but it feels like a whole hell of a lot longer.

After the loss of Kevin Love for the rest of the playoffs in round one; injuries by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Iman Shumpert; and the two-game suspension of J.R. Smith; the Cavs were able to #grit out wins in games two, four and five.

The series will head back to Chicago where the Bulls face elimination.

The Cavs seemed to be okay with ping-ponging series position with the Bulls since no team could get a string of two wins together. The Bulls had the only leads in the series after games one and three.

But the Cavs decided in games four and five that they would plant their flag in this series and force Chicago to win two straight of there own or go home and watch the Cavs face off between the winner of the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards.

With Kyrie noticeably hobbled, the Cavs had to find some way to win games four and five. LeBron needed to be more aggressive and needed some help on the offensive end. Thankfully, we’ve seen both at varying points.

While LeBron wasn’t terribly aggressive in game four, he almost came away with a triple double with 25 points (on 30[!!!] shots [only four free throw attempts]), 14 rebounds, and eight assists. He was sloppy with the ball in the first half, but was able to seal the game on a buzzer beating shot in the corner to even up the series once again.

For my money, game five was the best game LeBron’s had in the playoffs, and perhaps since he’s come back to Cleveland.

LeBron talked about how, with all the obstacles mentioned above, he needed to be more assertive even though his M.O. is to be efficient. In game five, he was both. And he was fantastic.

It’s no secret that LeBron fell in love with his jump shot a too much in this series. On Tuesday night, while he still put some up, he did so in a decisive fashion. There were less jab steps to create space/ball-hold and more quickness towards the rim.

In the first four games of this series, only 18.9% of LeBron’s shots came after holding the ball for less than two seconds. Most of his shots, 46.2% to be exact, came after holding the ball for more than six seconds. Not ideal.

In game five, there were more plays like this:

https://vine.co/v/eKZQpDhv562

LeBron took 25% of his shots when he held the ball for less than two seconds. The amount of shots he took when he held the ball for more than six seconds dropped to 37.5%. I think part of this definitely had to due with the fact that Jimmy Butler was in early foul trouble, but I also think LeBron just flat out wanted to make that adjustment (or at least I hope so).

Even from the naked eye, it seems LeBron is able to make more buckets when he’s in rhythm. Him receiving a pass and taking four jabs steps, holding the ball for seven seconds, and heaving a long 2-pointer just isn’t a good shot. This is especially true for him since he isn’t the purest shooter in the world.

LeBron’s efficiency/aggression combo showed up in the box score as well, to the tune of 38 points on 24 shots and 12 free throws, 12 rebounds, and six assists. And…

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Thankfully, LeBron had some help the last two games of this series.

Timofey Mozgov

Mozgov was pretty bad offensively in game five. He was 0-7 in just 23 minutes of play, committing three fouls and three turnovers. Three of his seven shots were from 10 feet or further away from the hoop. He did contribute a six rebounds and a block.

Mozgov made his positive impact in game four.

Part of this is due to an adjustment probably made by David Blatt/his staff.

In game one, Mozgov looked like a defensive liability. Part of his duty was to guard Pau Gasol, which just doesn’t suit his style. Gasol finished that night with 21 points on 10-16 shooting and a bazillion mid-range jumpers.

In games three and four, Mozgov was never on Gasol (who was out with a hamstring injury in games four and five). Mozgov was usually either on Noah or Taj Gibson, where they primarily make their offensive plays in the paint – or in Gibson’s case, more so than Gasol and Nikola Mirotic.

Mozgov played much better in this role and it really stood out in game four on Sunday. Even when Noah was setting high screens for the guards, Mozgov hung out in the paint, knowing Noah isn’t much of an offensive threat, even close to the basket.

This remains true when Noah receives the ball. Mozgov just stays back and baits Noah into these types of decisions

https://vine.co/v/eKmew2FP9lM

Shots like these and defense like Mozgov’s led Noah to shoot 4-12 in game four. Noah’s just not a good pick-and-roll player unless he keeps the ball moving.

Noah’s liability on offense let Mozgov stay in or near the paint at all costs. This helped the Cavs defense hold the Bulls to 37.9% (11-29) in the restricted area. Which, uh, isn’t good.

https://vine.co/v/eKm6b21nEO0

This block on Derrick Rose pretty much sums up how Mozgov was able to be effective. Noah had the ball between the elbow and the wing. Since there’s no reason to respect his shot, Mozgov sagged off. Once Rose got the ball and drove, Mozgov was in position to funnel him to the backside of the rim and had the athletic ability to block him from behind.

J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert

Even though the Cavs came up short, Smith was a clutch contributor in game three, hitting three of five shots in the fourth quarter – all 3-pointers. This came in his first game back from his two-game suspension.

In game four, he added three more 3’s, all of them coming in the fourth quarter. When the Cavs needed him the most, J.R. Smith showed up. J.R. Smith.

Smith was performing so well, he forced me to defend Blatt for possibly having LeBron inbound the ball on the last possession of game four. Had the Cavs been down and needed a bucket, Smith should’ve been the one to shoot it. He was doing that well; head and shoulders above his teammates.

It can’t be understated how important J.R. is to this team right now, especially if Kyrie’s foot bothers him like it did on Sunday. He looked much better on Tuesday night, but if it starts to act up, Smith will be the one the Cavs have to look for to get some points.

Shumpert has been just as important on the defensive end. And while he had his way with the mid-range jumpers in game five (4-4), it’s been his defensive ability that the Cavs have been able to lean on given Kyrie’s injury.

Even with Shumpert’s groin problem, the Cavs have asked a lot from him recently on the defensive end. He’s done everything from guarding Jimmy Butler at the start of games to defending Derrick Rose to switching on pick-and-rolls and playing tough in the post.

Since J.R.’s return to the lineup this series, in the last three games Shumpert has played some of his best defensive basketball for the Cavs, given the circumstances, and the numbers reflect that.

(Click to expand the image if it’s blurry)

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 3.28.01 AM

Above are Shumpert’s diff% numbers. It’s a small sample, just three games, but the numbers are pretty striking. He’s held his opponents to a worse percentage than normal in every area of the court.

This is huge because it gives the Cavs more options on to do with the defense. When Kyrie was hurting, they put him on Mike Dunleavy and Shumpert on Rose. When the Cavs wanted to switch on PnR’s, Shumpert’s shown he’s able to hold up on a guy like Mirotic in the post (which admittedly isn’t Niko’s forte).

The Cavs have been battered and bruised since game four of the first round. They’ve been able to gut out a few wins against the Bulls and are another away from meeting the Hawks or Wizards for a chance to go to the NBA Finals.

Did you just get chills? Well you should’ve.

All stats are courtesy of stats.nba.com (because it is really awesome) unless stated otherwise.

Chicago Bulls are Testing My Faith

I watched the entire fourth quarter of the most recent Bulls-Cavs game feeling as if I had just finished my 12th cup of coffee. My foot tapped rapidly. Sweat pooled above my brow and upper lip. My palms involuntarily grated my cheeks like blocks of cheese. I morphed into a little kid watching his first scary movie—my fingers covered my eyes but ever so slightly separated, like partially open blinds, to avoid completely obstructing my view. Ceaselessly on edge, utterly unable to contain for even a moment my nervous fidgets, I stared unblinking at the screen.

All this happened as I witnessed the Bulls march back to tie the game.

Then LeBron hit the game winner. Suddenly my twitching stopped.  I was paralyzed.

Sports fans all suffer agonizing defeats, some more than others depending onto which team you have hitched your wagon. As a loyal Chicago sports fan that was born in the 90s (I was too young to appreciate Michael Jordan in his zenith), I’ve endured more heartbreak than most. This type of loss was a familiar sight, yet something about this one in particular left me more devastated than any other that I can recall.

After I gathered my bearings and collected my thoughts enough to regain coherency, I felt no relief. Actually I felt worse. Upon mentally recapping the game, I remembered that the outcome could have been different if David Blatt’s assistant coach/babysitter didn’t stop him from calling a timeout that the team didn’t have. A prime example of the paper-thin line between winning and losing. One tiny little moment could have given Chicago a win, but it didn’t happen. I was totally distraught.

Unable to redirect my focus onto anything else, my mind explored the present feeling.

How can the loss hurt this much? Why do I care this much about a basketball game? I do not currently nor have I ever worked for the Bulls. I have no friends or family with ties to the organization. I have no affiliations whatsoever with the team. The Bulls players, coaches, and management have no idea that I even exist. The outcome of this game had no direct impact on my daily life.

Knowing all this, somehow I was still inconsolably grieved following the Bulls loss.  Psychosomatic pain was kicking in. I felt like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed just took turns pummeling the crap out of my stomach.

It’s irrational. I’m crazy to care this much about sports. After tough losses like this, I sometimes wish that I cared less. I would like to be able to just go for a walk then yell at my dog for a while and be able to quickly feel better. But the walks just increase my blood pressure, making me more irritable and I don’t even have a dog, so that doesn’t work. Alas, I am forced to grit my teeth and endure, free of any pain-relieving savior.

So after all the heartache, what keeps me coming back? Perhaps my daily routines have become so saturated with sports watching that I have essentially become addicted. Maybe subconsciously I’m some of sort of twisted masochist. Most likely, I continue to follow sports because I am drawn to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, my team will wind up on the winning side of one of those gut-wrenchingly close finishes.

Actually, the Bulls secured such a victory in game three, just two days prior to the devastating loss. Upon seeing Derrick Rose bank home that game-winning buzzer beater, I experienced all those extreme emotions, but from the opposite end of the spectrum. That time it was pure bliss.

Once again the feelings were totally illogical. Just as with the pain, it was crazy to derive such great joy from a team, completely oblivious to my existence, winning a game as I watched on my 32 inch (I’m not braggin’) TV.

That’s just the nature of the beast.  From one game’s irrational heartbreak to another game’s irrational bliss, we care too much about sports.  Despite this awareness, I have no intentions of changing my ways.  I’ll love my teams until the day I die.

It’s not crazy, it’s sports. But it’s also pretty freakin’ crazy.