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Cleveland State Wants a Re-Do on the Rebuild

With so many freshmen and sophomores on this Cleveland State team and a swath of departures in the off-season, it was pretty clear to fans that this was going to be a rebuild for the Vikings this year. And with any rebuild, the focus is more on the development and overall learning process, rather than wins and losses.

As Cleveland State nears the end of this campaign with four games left before the Horizon League Tournament, head coach Gary Waters has seen enough of his team to have learned at least one thing.

He’s not happy at all, particularly with the offense.

Nobody can really be surprised at this. Every contest, it seems, plays out in much the same way.

  1. Play well enough to lead or at least stay close with your opponent.
  2. The opponent makes an adjustment that neutralizes whatever offense you had.
  3. Your defense suffers because of mistakes caused by the subsequent offensive miscues (poor shots, turnovers, etc.).
  4. Attempts at a comeback fall short or worse, don’t exist at all.

Replay any of the Viking losses this season, and you will see a variation of this very process every time. The wins that have been tallied almost appear as outliers at this point, and fading away further and further into the past.

Both losses this past week reflect this as well, but none likely stings worse that Cleveland State’s overtime defeat at the hands of UIC. In a battle of young teams, the Flames, this time, won out. And to make matters worse, the Vikings because the first Division I opponent that UIC has beaten, which is a most dubious distinction.

And despite what appeared to be a breakout game for sophomore Kenny Carpenter, who finished the game with 24 points, his final shot to end regulation, coupled with key miscues by Rob Edwards and a pair of missed free throws by Jibri Blount, proved to be CSU’s undoing.

In Thursday’s 61-53 home loss to Detroit, Cleveland State was poised to ride the wave of Demonte Flannigan, who had notched 19 points in the first half and kept the Vikings close to the Titans. But after Detroit switch over to the 2-3 zone, a defense that has given CSU constant headaches, the Titans took control, led by a hot-shooting Chris Jenkins, who sank six three-pointers, and Paris Bass, who grabbed an astounding 17 boards.

Not helping matters was yet another Cleveland State brick-fest from beyond the arc. At a 15 percent clip (3-for-20), the Vikings, who had gotten locked up in the paint in the second half, didn’t stand a chance.

It has finally gotten to the point where Waters is open about evaluating what he’s got in place as far a personnel is concerned. And he’s not being very shy about it what needs to change anymore.

“We’re cleaning this house,” Waters said about the offensive problems his team has had, as posted by writer Tom Mieskoski. “A year from now, there will be five other guys who can hit threes.”

It doesn’t take much to read into this statement. At the moment, Waters doesn’t see the offense improving anytime soon. And clearly, he’s not finding a lot of hope that this is going to turn around for next year, either.

So, the logical conclusion that that CSU is going back to the drawing board for 2016-17. This, of course, isn’t exactly news.

Edwards does remain the best offensive power for the Vikings regardless. The problem has been that without a second option and with defenses shutting out the interior, Edwards is forced to put up shots that have very little chance of falling, as was evidenced by his 2-for-10 night against the Titans.

Andre Yates, who came back from his ankle and foot injuries against Detroit, has historically been a tough defender and a slasher in the paint and three-point shooting has never been his strong suit. And with defenses targeting the interior, his chances to score have become increasingly difficuly.

Carpenter’s inconsistency has likely played into Waters’ thought process, especially when he followed up his 24-point performance against the Flames with a 3-for-9 showing against the Titans. And Waters’ only other real shooter, Daniel Levitt, remains on the sidelines, though with an MRI not showing any damage to his knee that requires surgery, there is a faint glimmer of hope he’ll be back for tourney time.

A point guard was already on Waters’ list of needs, and ideally, he will find one that can also provide some firepower from the perimeter, as he’s had previously with Cedric Jackson, Charlie Lee and Norris Cole, who will be at the Oakland game on Saturday watching his No. 30 getting hoisted to the rafters along with women’s basketball great Kailey Klein.

There’s also a shooter already waiting in the wings for the Vikings. Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word will be active next season, and there’s already buzz about his offensive abilities. He’s certainly poised to be an option for Waters.

But even with those answers, many more questions remain as to the make-up of the Cleveland State roster next year. Who stays? Who goes? There are so many possible scenarios of redshirts juniors who can graduate in the spring and other players who may seek prospects elsewhere that the team fans see now could very well be entirely different come November.

So let the speculation begin. And knowing CSU fans (well, Cleveland fans in general), it’s already been going on.

Trying to Forge an Identity in Indiana

In recent years, the Indiana Pacers have had a strong, recognizable identity. With players like David West and Roy Hibbert in the starting lineup, the Pacers ran a deliberate offense built around set plays. Defensively, they played aggressive, effective team defense and had the benefit of stellar rim protection from Hibbert.

Once David West opted out of his contract and decided to sign with San Antonio, Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird decided the team should go to a more uptempo style. He proceeded to trade Hibbert and make numerous other tweaks to the roster to suit the style he wanted the team to play.

The plan hit a snag early on, when Paul George balked at playing “small ball” because it could mean he’d be spending significant time at the power forward position. Despite this, Bird and head coach Frank Vogel went ahead with the plan.

Initially, the Pacers really took to the new style, getting off to a fast start as the season began. Over time, however, the Pacers have slowly shifted back toward a bigger, more traditional lineup. One of the reasons for this has been the emergence of rookie center Myles Turner. Turner can run the floor and shoot well from the outside, allowing the Pacers to space the floor and play more uptempo, but still have plenty of size in the lineup.

As long as Turner is starting and playing well, Indiana has the best of both worlds when it comes to meshing their old and new styles. The problem here is that the Pacers are caught in the middle – Bird maintains his interest in playing faster and smaller, while Vogel is more comfortable with a bigger lineup, although he does use a smaller lineup from time to time.

Flexibility is a good thing, but only up to a point. The Pacers don’t have an identity right now…no one from the outside really knows what they are, and those within the organization are just as unsure about what kind of team this is or what direction they are taking.

Another consequence that has come from the attempted style change is that the Pacers’ defense has become very inconsistent. At times, their defense has been among the best in the NBA, but other times, their defense has been very porous.

The team is now in a position of having no direction or identity on either end of the floor. On top of that, the individual roles of the players are in flux as well.

In the early part of the year, Paul George was the team’s go-to guy in late-game situations. He wasn’t coming through, and the Pacers were losing nearly all the close games they were involved in. Of late, Monta Ellis has been moved into the “closer” role, but the results haven’t been much better.

So, the team is grasping at straws trying to find a guy who can hit big shots in crunch time…and that situation also creates uncertainty in terms of leadership among the players. NBA teams tend to function best when they have a go-to guy and/or established leader, and Indiana has neither at this point in the season.

Despite all this uncertainty, Indiana is still having a better year than they did in 2014-15. The team shows a lot of promise, but their performances have been up-and-down and they’re hovering just above the .500 mark as a result.

In order to get the most out of this roster, Bird and Vogel need to settle on a rotation and offensive style of play. The inconsistency in the style of play and inconsistent results go hand-in-hand…and establishing an offensive identity will help the defense perform more reliably as well.

Leadership is a more organic parameter, but generally, your best player needs to be your strongest leader. Paul George is still evolving in that role, and has struggled at times to carry the burden of leadership. This element is a shared responsibility among Indiana’s players right now, and the Pacers won’t reach their potential until that area is solidified.

Going into this season, everyone knew this team would be a work in progress. Now that we are about 50 games in, however, the issues they need to work on and resolve have been identified. If the Pacers can make further progress in these areas by April, they’ll be a tough out when playoff time rolls around.

Charlie Strong Wins National Signing Day

Wow! Did that just happen?

That’s what Texas Longhorns fans were saying for about 24 hours starting on the Tuesday before National Signing Day. Texas was sitting at 15 total commitments and ranked no higher than #30 in any of the recruiting rankings when the day started on Tuesday.

Then the first domino fell.

Running back Kyle Porter made the call to Coach Strong Tuesday afternoon, in what was a bit of a surprise. Then D’Andre Christmas-Giles decided to announce his verbal commitment to Texas on a New Orleans TV station (where he is from) that night. It was those two moments that we could feel a little momentum building.

It was one-after-another-after-another when it comes to verbal commitments, and eventual Letters of Intent being signed on National Signing Day itself. Strong pulled in an astonishing eight 4-star prospects in a 24-hour span. It was enough to make him start trending on Twitter by mid-morning.

Texas jumped 22 spots in ESPN’s class rankings to finish #10 with 24 total signees. No other recruiting service had them ranked any lower than #10. And this is a team that went 5-7 last year and 6-7 the year before.

Charlie Strong’s recruiting strategy was extremely gutsy. He went all-in with confidence that he was going to get the players that he wanted. There were a few that he didn’t get on signing day, but signing eight of his twelve targets in a 24-hour period wasn’t a bad showing.

Most coaches want players to commit to their school early. Not Strong. He told recruits to commit to him, but don’t announce it. Why? Because that makes them an easy target for negative recruiting by other schools. If other schools don’t know that they are committed to Texas, then they can’t talk as bad about them to persuade them to back out of their commitment.

That was the secret to Strong and the Longhorns winning signing day.

It wasn’t a surprise to him, even though it may have shocked the country. He knew what was going to happen. But even he admitted he had a couple of surprises that fell in his favor.

One of those pleasant surprises was landing one of the best safeties in the country in Brandon Jones. Jones picked Texas over Texas A&M and Baylor. If you’ve watched any college football over the past few years, you know that both of those programs have had better results on the field than Texas.

Chris Daniels is a defensive lineman that was once committed to Oklahoma.

Christmas-Giles was considering TCU and LSU.

Jeffery McCullouch was considering A&M, Notre Dame and Stanford.

The one thing in common that all those other programs have is that they’ve been better than Texas on the field recently. So how can a Texas team get these players when they’re coming off of a 5-7 season and a 6-7 season the year before?

The answer is trust.

It’s evident that these players trust that Strong will turn around Texas. They want to be a part of something special. Many of the players that Strong signed yesterday could have gone to a dozen or more schools, but they chose Texas.

So what does that all mean for Charlie Strong and the Longhorns?

Nothing if they don’t develop those players and start winning games.

Mack Brown was known as Mr. February during the later part of his career at Texas, since he was able to consistently bring in top-5 recruiting classes. But once the results started becoming non-existent on the field, he found his way out of the program.

This year’s big recruiting class or last year’s won’t matter either if they can’t find a competent quarterback to lead the team. Shane Buechele could be that guy, or someone else could step up.

On paper, this class could be more important than last year’s because it gives the Longhorns depth at just about every position. It will be shocking if more than 4-5 upperclassmen are starting for Texas next year. Because of the 50 or so players that Strong has brought in over the last two seasons, the excuses for losing are becoming few and far between. These are his players now and this is his team.

If Strong doesn’t start winning soon, then he could just be stockpiling the cupboard with talent for another coach to come in and win with his players. We’ve seen it happen with other programs. One thing for certain is that the players will play hard for Strong and will go to war with him any day of the week.

Texas may not be back at the top in 2016, but when Strong’s first two classes at Texas become sophomores and juniors, look out.

In Hockey, the Ice is The Thing

The late Montreal Gazette sports reporter Tim Burke loved to recount a conversation he had many years ago with iconic Montreal Canadiens GM Sam Pollock. Apparently Burke mentioned to him that he noticed most of his great draft choices (like Bob Gainey, Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt, and of course, Guy Lafleur) were very good skaters. Pollock, who had a reputation for being economical with words, replied, “Well, you know Tim, the game is played on ice.”

Indeed, the game is played on ice, and from that comes one of the great debate topics of modern hockey; good ice, bad ice, big ice, small ice. Fast games, slow games. High score, low scores. It is all about the ice.

First of all, in the NHL, not all rinks are created equal. The variation in the quality of the ice itself can be enormous. With muscled giants carving up the frozen surface each period, it is understandable that there should be enormous ridges left behind. However, the need for solid, cold, hard ice is the first requirement of a good hockey game. On some rinks, the puck moves flat, and can be passed from player to player with ease. In others, it jumps around and can rarely be corralled, leaving many skilled players waving at the air or looking inept.

Second of all, while size is not said to matter, with ice surfaces, it does. The NHL official rink size of 200 by 85 feet is the legacy of the first organized game of hockey in Montreal’s Victoria Rink in 1875. That long-ago rink measured 204 feet by 80 feet, and virtually every Canadian and American rink followed suit, with the exception of the infamous Boston Garden, which was smaller and narrower.

Meanwhile, in Europe, hockey was evolving from bandy, a shinny game played on a frozen soccer or rugby field. As a result, the width of the rinks was more along the lines of the 330 x 195 fields. The standard size of European arenas became 200 feet x 100 feet, in other words 20,000 square feet, or 3,000 more square feet than the NHL rinks.

As someone who has played on both surfaces, I can state without any fear of contradiction –
the game is transformed by the difference in size.

First of all, the corners are rounded, which means the puck travels on a different trajectory; second, the extra space in the corners and the boards gives the player closest to the puck a major advantage over the opponent: what is three strides to catch the puck carrier in the corner is now five. This offers more time to think, set up, deke, feint, and more ice to pass to. The angles from the face-off circles are greater, so the face-offs and shots from the point are at a wider angle for the goaltender. Defending against a speedy winger is not as easy, as the boards are not so close. It is hard to play the “trap” in Europe.

The size of the rink – or Europe’s football (soccer) culture may be what led the European game to be so circular, with passing and possession very high priorities over the checking and shooting of the North American game. As well, all European teams emphasize skills from an early age (my son was being encouraged to stickhandle without looking at his stick at four years old when we lived in Geneva) and contact does not begin until 14 years of age.

In Finland, a happy medium has been struck between Europe and North America: most arenas have a “hybrid” ice surface: 200 x 94. This allows for extra freewheeling, but it also permits checking and defensive play. There is a move afoot, led by some of the stalwarts of the NHL such as Mathieu Schneider of the NHLPA, to recommend new rinks be built with the larger hybrid surface; others could easily be converted. One of the reasons for the move may be that the NHL is finally giving serious consideration to expanding into Europe.

It makes sense: the KHL is on its last legs, as the petro-billionaires in Russia suffer massive losses in revenues and cannot afford to pay second-tier players enormous sums. As well, there are at least six European cities (Zurich, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Stockholm, Helsinki) with opportunities in London and Paris with the arenas and TV audiences to sustain a team.

Of course, the argument against bigger ice is the bottom line: take away 1,200 square feet of ice surface, and you will probably lose about 500 prime seats at $100-$200 a pair, or $100,000 a game. But growing the game is not about bums in seats, but rather marketing, merchandising and television revenues, as arenas become huge television studios.

The 200 million hockey fans in northern Europe are a massive market, while the southern USA – not so much. As my wise hockey-savvy father always used to say, “people don’t follow a sport if they haven’t played it.” And that is why the Gary Bettman-led “Southern Strategy” borrowed from the NBA has failed. Time to move failing teams to Quebec and Seattle, but also to Europe.

Changing the ice surface would have huge benefits for the game and the NHL. No longer could the grinders dominate by slowing down the game on the smaller surface; smaller skilled players would become more valued, and goals would be the norm again. The product would become more “sellable.”

Meanwhile, a conference in Europe, with twice-annual trips by each team, would generate billions of dollars of new revenue and make the NHL a recognized world league like the Premiership, whose teams are money-spinners. Right now, the NHL is the Nowhere Hockey League in Europe, although when games are shown on cable or satellite they attract a small following. Open up the ice size, and put teams where people love the game, and the NHL will thrive.

Or, as someone once said, “Build it, and they will come.”

Another January Rebirth for the Cavaliers

Four games, four wins, and an average margin of victory of almost 13 points.

This was the week of basketball provided by our Cleveland Cavaliers under the direction of their new head coach Tyronn Lue. Sure, Lue’s first game last Saturday, a 96-83 loss to Chicago, was likely to give GM David Griffin a small jolt of buyer’s remorse, but these last four games have most certainly solidified his confidence in the decision to replace David Blatt.

I think that it is safe to say that the way this team plays now is notably different from the previous regime. Its the same cast of characters but as a whole, it is a very different narrative.

One of my favorite decisions that Lue made right away is moving Tristan Thompson back into a starting role. If you look at the level of talent that he brings to the court, coupled with the amount of money we invested in him just before the start of the season, having him in the starting lineup just makes good basketball sense.

I know that I have been hard on Timofey Mozgov this season and most of it can be backed up with hard evidence. Having said that, I have not seen him play more consistently than I have in his role coming off of the bench this week.

Thompson and Mozgov are where they now belong in the rotation and I don’t anticipate that changing unless the very healthy and reliable Thompson goes down with an injury. As a Cleveland sports fan it is impossible to not have thoughts of an injury in the back of your mind considering the storied history of maladies that our sports figures have endured that end of derailing our championship hopes and dreams.

Here is an example of just that type of mindset. During our 117-103 victory of the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night, Kyrie Irving had a moment where he seemed to fall awkwardly on his knees and just played there for a moment.

Of course, ABC decided it was a perfect time to take a commercial break without addressing or showing whether Irving stood back up and appeared to be fine. The entire commercial break I was fidgeting in my seat while praying that I would not see an image of trainers working on Irving as soon as the broadcast returned.

Thankfully, I did not see that and there was never any mention of Irving getting up slowly or asking to be subbed out. Did I invent this entire scenario in my own mind or did I simply interpret things incorrectly?

Regardless, all is well in Cavalier country as our team has seemed to reinvent itself again in January. Some of my readers may wonder why I do not go more in depth about Lebron James’ role and accomplishments with this team.

James is the heart of this team and of course we would not be able to compete at the same level without him. Everyone knows that we can rely on him for scoring, defense and leadership.

From last year’s Finals we know that Lebron is not enough singularly to win us an NBA title. The contributions of Love, Irving, Dellavedova, Thompson, Smith and Shumpert are what will determine our eventual success level.

I would like to go player by player and give my opinion of each of those player’s role as it stands today.

Kevin Love – Love must continue to be a threat both inside the paint and outside the arc. He is getting more lift under his three point shots and we have seen a higher percentage of them being made. Under Coach Lue, he has been asked to produce more under the hoop and has not disappointed.

Kyrie Irving – I’ve said it before and I will say it as many times as it is deemed necessary. Irving is the best finisher in the NBA. His penetration under the basket causes defenders to leave their assignments which provides Smith, Love, Shumpert, James or Dellevedova enough space outside the arc to get off a clean, calculated shot when he kicks it out. Irving has been both hot and cold from long distance but any of those others have the potential to knock those down when called upon. Kyrie is a master facilitator in that respect.

Matthew Dellavedova – Delly has been able to not only find the player that we all cheered for against Atlanta in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, but to improve upon that player as well! He is no longer afraid to drive to the hoop and has shown an amazing increase in his three point percentage. He is a part of this team that could not be easily replaced if we lost him.

Tristan Thompson – His presence in the starting lineup is essential to our success. When matched up against the current King of NBA rebounding Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Thompson out rebounded him 14 to 8! This is an example that Cavs fans will do well to remember as we go up against more of the elite teams in this league.

J.R. Smith – Swish, as they call him, has become a much more important part of this team as the year has progressed. He is not only scoring fairly consistently for us but he is starting to contribute in other areas such as steals that are worth just as much as a basket because it takes potential points off of the board for our opponents.

Iman Shumpert – While Shumpert isn’t getting the minutes of J.R. most games, he is still putting forth his best effort with the minutes that he does get. I always look forward to opponents getting “Shumped” when he is on the floor. He is a true student of his adversaries and likely knows things about their tendencies that they may not even be aware of. This leads to a bevy of great defensive work from him.

We are about to embark on our February journey in the NBA. February brings the All Star Break and an opportunity to not only obtain a status report of the respective teams at the half way point of the season, but to remember why they all started playing the game in the first place; their love for it.

In Cleveland, January has been a month of transition for the second year in a row. I have high hopes of what this iteration of the Cleveland Cavaliers has in store for us in the months ahead.

Can Purdue Compete With the Big Ten Elite?

The Purdue Boilermakers are in the midst of a successful basketball season. They currently stand at 19-4 on the year, 7-3 in the Big Ten, and have held a national ranking through all 23 games thus far. Purdue has done a nice job taking care of business against lesser foes, with only one real upset loss, that being to Illinois on January 10.

As good as all that sounds, there is one flaw in the Boilers’ resume: they are 0-2 against Top 25 competition this season.

The only two games they’ve played against nationally ranked opponents were against Butler on December 19 and Iowa on January 24. The game with Butler was tight throughout, but the Bulldogs prevailed 74-68. Purdue held a halftime lead at Iowa, but were outclassed in the second half and fell to the Hawkeyes 83-71.

The Boilermakers have only been able to test themselves against two ranked teams, but the fact that they lost both contests is a red flag. Purdue has been ranked as high as 9th in the nation this season, but they have yet to beat anyone of similar caliber.

Opportunity knocks in these next two conference games for Purdue. They will pay a visit to #8 Maryland on February 6, then host Michigan State (currently 12th in the polls) on February 9. These games are very important in establishing what kind of team the 2015-16 Boilermakers truly are.

Purdue is clearly a good team, but how good? Are they a Big Ten contender and a team expected to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament, or are they a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team who will make an early exit from The Big Dance (assuming they get there at all).

In their past Top 25 match-ups with Butler and Iowa, the Boilers have played well in stretches and had leads, but were unable to close those ballgames strongly enough to post a victory.

The recent signs have been promising for Purdue, as the team as been playing well and winning. Center A.J. Hammons has been a key factor for the Boilers of late, stuffing the stat sheet to the tune of a career-high 32 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots in Purdue’s win at home against Nebraska on January 30.

In short, the potential is there. When Purdue is on their game, they have an inside-outside combination that few teams around the country can match. Purdue’s front line is among the biggest and most talented in college basketball, and they have several wing players who can knock down shots when the defense collapses on the Boilermakers’ big men.

What Purdue needs to prove is that they can put it all together against top-flight competition, and they’ve yet to do that. These next two games will be a great litmus test for Purdue, but if that’s not enough, they also have games coming up later in February against #19 Indiana, and a return match with Maryland at Mackey Arena.

So, by the time the Big Ten season is nearing an end in late February, we’ll know what kind of team the Purdue Boilermakers are. The chance to prove they belong will be there, now, let’s see what they can do with it.

Who to target at the trade deadline?

The NBA Trade Deadline is less than three weeks away on February 18. The Cleveland Cavaliers may be looking to add a piece.

Before we get into who the Cavs will target, you have to ask yourself, “What needs do the Cavs have?”

Offensive-minded Backup for Kevin Love

The Cavs offense struggles mightily with its second unit. Recently, the Cavs have played Love with the second group in order to maintain some level of offensive competency. It’s no secret that when they play Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao at power forward, they lose offense naturally.

Thompson, with his rebounding prowess, is more suited to play the center position. He can get rebounds by the handful. Timofey Mozgov can stretch the floor with his mid-range shot but he is a center and only a center. Varejao’s mid-range shot is unreliable at best. He has added it to his game over the years but has not been able to hit it consistently.

When you decide to rest Love, who do you put out there at power forward? You can go small and put LeBron there and play Iman Shumpert or Richard Jefferson at the small forward position. It is a mismatch against almost every power forward in the NBA to play LeBron at that position. However, LeBron does need his rest during games.

A solution? Find an offensive-minded power forward, a stretch four, to play when Love needs to go to the bench.

A Potential Replacement for Timofey Mozgov

Timofey Mozgov is in the last year of his contract, and with the NBA Salary Cap rising next season, he is going to get a large contract. There has been speculation that the Cavs will try and trade Mozgov before the deadline. If the Cavs do stand pat and keep Mozgov, it is likely that he will not be with the Cavs next season.

According to Nylon Calculus, a basketball statistical breakdown website, Mozgov ranks in the Top 10 in Percent of Shots Contested at the Rim of those who play at least 18 minutes per game. He is a very good rim protector. So if you are going to replace Mozgov, you have to find someone that is near his level, or has the potential to reach Mozgov’s level of rim protection.

Timofey has also developed a mid-range shot. This season, he has hit 67% (12-18) of his shots from the 16-foot to 3-point range, almost all of them from the left side of the basket.

So what happens if you trade Mozgov? You have to find a reliable backup because Thompson will take over the starting role for good. The Cavs lineup is best with Thompson in the lineup. If you can find a young center, or one with a manageable cap number for three or four years due to the luxury tax, that would be ideal.

Who to Target at the Trade Deadline?

Here are seven names (six realistically), that the Cavs could look at to add to their championship roster.

Al Horford – C – Atlanta Hawks
One Year, $12,000,000

Let’s get this one out of the way first because it is least likely. There are very few reasons why the Hawks would trade their All-Star center. Horford is in the last year of his contract at $12-million.

Horford is going to get one more large contract before he retires, more than the three-year, $60 million contract that fellow Hawk Paul Millsap received last summer. He will more than likely get a max contract, which is going to be massive due to the rising cap.

Whether the Hawks are going to pony up and give him that contract remains to be seen. They have two other centers locked up beyond this season, Tiago Splitter and Walter Tavares. Tavares is an interesting prospect and may be seen as the replacement in the future for Horford.

I could give you a hundred reasons why the Cavs would do this trade.

In order to make the trade work, the Cavs would have to give up Varejao along with other assets to even make the Hawks consider it. The Cavs do not have a pick in the 2016 NBA Draft that they own. The Clippers owe them a second round pick but it is Top 55 Protected. They would have to part with more than one first round picks.

Kosta Koufos – C – Sacramento Kings
Four Years, $7,700,000

Koufos would be a great a replacement for Mozgov. The Sacramento Kings have a loaded front-court with DeMarcus Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein. Koufos has been the third man in this rotation.

Koufos does not have much of an outside game, but he is an above-average defender at the rim. He would fit well defensively in the second unit if the Cavs decide to move on from Mozgov.

In order to get Koufos, the Cavs would be able to use the Brendan Haywood trade exception. They could also throw in a player like Sasha Kaun or Jared Cunningham, but what Sacramento could use is draft picks. There is a relationship in the past with the Cavs and Kings from the JJ Hickson and Omri Casspi trade.

Brandon Bass – PF – Los Angeles Lakers
Two Years, $3,000,000

The Lakers will look to be shedding more salary that is on the books for next year with this summer’s free agency class (Kevin Durant). Bass has averaged 18-minutes per game with only six points and four rebounds per game.

He would not provide the offensive spark that the Cavs need in the second unit, but defensively he would be a good addition. The Lakers would not any salary in return that would be on the books for next year. The Cavs would only be able to use the Haywood extension, which would be a complete waste. The Lakers would have to send a draft pick along with Bass for the Cavs to take the contract.

Terrence Jones – PF – Houston Rockets
One Year, $2,100,000 (Restricted Free Agent after season)

This one is interesting. Terrence Jones is a player who has completely fallen out of the rotation in Houston. Unlike Bass, Jones can definitely provide a spark offensively and is a good rebounder. He is a freakish athlete. The Rockets have recently reacquired Josh Smith so his minutes are more likely to continue falling.

For this trade, the Cavs can use the Mike Miller trade exception, which make this a possibility. The Cavs would be able to sweeten the pot with future unprotected first round picks.

Ersan Ilyasova – PF – Detroit Pistons
Two Years, $7,900,000

I have liked Ersan Ilyasova back to his days with Milwaukee. He is a good athlete, can shoot the three. Detroit does not seem to be going anywhere and they are going to need all the cap room necessary to resign Andre Drummond.

For this trade, the Cavs would be able to use the Haywood trade exception and would likely have to include draft picks. He would be the perfect fit into the second unit.

Markieff Morris – PF – Phoenix Suns
Four Years, $8,000,000

Markieff Morris has fallen out of favor with the Phoenix Suns ever since they traded away his twin brother to the Pistons. He is only 26-years old and has a team friendly contract, especially one with a high luxury tax bill, for the next three seasons.

The Suns may just want to get out of this situation with Morris. The Cavs would have to use the Haywood exception but if the Suns would like a player in return, Varejao would be the likely candidate.

Channing Frye – PF – Orlando Magic
Three Years, $8,100,000

Let’s finish with my odds-on-favorite players for the Cavs to land at the trade deadline. Channing Frye is an older Kevin Love who is not as good at rebounding, but he can definitely shoot. Frye can still give you valuable minutes off the bench behind Love.

Orlando has been trying to rebuild their team since Dwight Howard wanted out of there. At 32-years old, the Cavs would have Frye for the next two seasons and would be the absolute perfect fit in their rotation.

So what would the Magic want? Draft picks. The Cavs can use the Haywood trade exception here again along with draft picks to pry Frye away from the Magic.

Dream Scenario

The Cavs use the Haywood trade exception on Frye and trade Varejao along with say Cunningham and Kaun for Al Horford. Let’s just way that won’t happen.

Personal Favorite Scenario

Channing Frye and Markieff Morris would be two great additions to the Cavs bench and would keep this championship roster together for a few more seasons.

Ousting Gary Waters – A Fool’s Errand

Halfway through the Horizon League schedule, it has become more and more apparent that everybody’s predictions for Cleveland State, no matter how low, were completely off. Head coach Gary Waters did warn everybody about it after the Malone game, stating that statistics-wise, the Vikings were ranked near the bottom of the conference in just about every category.

Nobody really believed him at the time, as many previous Gary Waters-coached teams have tended to over-achieve in the face of their initial predictions.

Clearly, everybody was wrong.

The bottom seemed to come in the form of a 70-55 embarrassment at the hands of Youngstown State at Quicken Loans Arena. Like the previous losses at the Q, CSU got up early on the Penguins, only to completely flounder at the end.

Adding salt into the wound was Youngstown State head coach Jerry Slocum, who equated the game at the Q as nothing more than a neutral-court contest. As infuriating as that may sound, the Ohio and Kent State contingencies from the prior two games tend to reinforce that.

The final coup-de-grace came in the form of Cleveland St. Ignatius product Francisco Santiago, who recorded 12 points, five assists and five steals. In the post-game press conference, the point guard said that he longed to be recruited by the Vikings, only to be rebuffed.

Waters’ St. Ignatius target that same year? Derek Sloan, who didn’t play against the Penguins.

Keep in mind that Santiago started his collegiate career at Division II Wheeling Jesuit before transferring to YSU, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a good burn.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when Cleveland State arrived at the ARC to play the top team in the Horizon League, Valparaiso, most expected it to be a bloodbath.

And the Crusaders made good on that expectation, playing every bit as well as a top 50 team in the country should do. Valpo killed the Vikings from beyond the arc and completely dominated the boards to win handily, 77-52.

To make matters worse, junior guard Andre Yates, regarded by many as the leader of this young CSU team, sat out the Valparaiso game with a foot injury. Any extended time missed for him will make even the most winnable games seem out of reach.

By all appearances, the season is completely lost. Even if you chalk it this year to be a learning experience for the young players on the team, what exactly are they learning at this point? To watch leads evaporate and end up losing in the most frustrating manner possible?

However, don’t let this year’s obvious debacle, which has really muddied the prospects that next year is going to be any better, make you believe that Waters is in any danger of losing his post as head coach. To do so, really, is not even a passing thought within the walls of the Athletic department.

The most obvious hurdle is Waters’ contract. It expires in 2019, and it is a base salary of $340,000 per year. A buyout at this point would likely be in the neighborhood of a million dollars, and the only way athletic director John Parry is ponying up that kind of dough is if he tries to defund wrestling again. And he’s not making that mistake twice.

And forget trying to pool together wealthy donors for a buyout. The ones Cleveland State currently have all donate nearly exclusively on the academic side. Plus, a lot of them graduated in the 70s, when CSU basketball was, for the most part, god-awful. A season like this one’s would be considered by most of them as a step in the right directions.

Before some plucky fan decides to start up a GoFundMe page, also consider the fact that Cleveland State couldn’t even get enough donations for a scoreboard at the Wolstein Center. Why else do you think Parry stopped talking about it two years ago? What makes you think your anger will be any more financially fruitful?

Even if by some miracle anyone is successful in putting together that exorbitant amount of more, there is absolutely no way that Parry would even consider it. And there’s a few obvious reasons for that.

As much as the “woe is us; everybody transferred” narrative became played out long ago, that will remain a mitigating circumstance in Waters’ defense this season. And there’s no way to get around that at all.

More importantly, men’s basketball remains a program that gets high marks for its graduation rates. Remember that both Anton Grady and Trey Lewis both received their degrees before transferring. Actually, that’s really the reason why they were even allowed to transfer without sitting out a year.

Even most of the guys who don’t finish their athletics careers at Cleveland State graduate. In fact, the team has been recognized for four years in a row by the NCAA for having such a high Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores. And after the Mike Garland years, which almost got the Vikings in the same hot seat conference rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee just got off of, that’s a real accomplishment.

And for a department that really, really prides itself on academic achievement, you’d be hard-pressed to get rid of the guy who is getting players to understand the value of an education.

You could always cross your fingers and hope that Waters retires at the end of the year. But seriously, if your team had itself a stinker of a season as this one is shaping up to be, there’s no chance you’re going to step down and not take another crack at it the following year.

But say you overcome all of these obstacles, you’re forgetting one last thing. Who would replace him? This is the same school that brought you more than 15 years of coaching misery before Waters walked in the door.

Take it from the guy who wanted Rollie Massimino gone, it’s a crap-shoot. If I’d have known there would be three years of continued misery under Garland, I probably would have saved my energy on trying to depose Massimino.

So, suck it up, fans. Like it or not, Gary Waters will remain your head coach in the near term. This won’t deter a couple of you who are adamant about his ouster. To you, I wish you the best of luck. And a whole lot of resolve. You’re going to need it.

But for most of you, go ahead and do what you do with every other team in Cleveland: Hope that next year will be better.

Even if you think you’re lying to yourself.

Manfred Mann Has Not Failed To Disappoint

Whenever I think of Manfred Mann, I think of a kid in a candy store, except rather than being happy, the kid can only think of complaints.  Out would go the Mars bars, Swedish Fish, and Jolly Ranchers.  In would come cauliflower, arugula, and lima beans.  Candy corn would somehow survive the rampage.

Non-sensical introductions to the side, every time Mann opens his mouth, I feel nauseated.  As a muse, Mann is all a person could ask for.  Unfortunately, his vision is often short-sighted, and does not keep the history of the Game at the fore.  It’s an abdication of his sworn duty, even if no one else will acknowledge it.

Continue reading Manfred Mann Has Not Failed To Disappoint

The Colts’ Top Offseason Priority: Improve the Offensive Line

In professional football, the group of players who typically get the least amount of attention are the offensive linemen. Those players protect the quarterback and create openings for the running backs, so despite their lack of fanfare, those guys are extremely important to a team’s success.

A great example of how an offensive line can make or break a team would be the 2015 Indianapolis Colts. Going into the season, their offense was thought to be virtually unstoppable. They had Andrew Luck at quarterback, Frank Gore at running back, a bevy of talented receivers in T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

There was just one problem…everyone forgot that in order for all these dynamic playmakers to do their job, they would need quality pass and run blocking. The offensive line couldn’t provide the help that the “skill position” players needed, and as a result, the Colts offense was, well, offensive in 2015.

The point has now been hammered home that having all that offensive talent means nothing if Andrew Luck is on his back, or Frank Gore has nowhere to run with the football. The Colts understand this, but what can be done to improve the team’s offensive line play?

The Colts fired a number of their assistant coaches this offseason, including offensive line coach Hal Hunter. The Colts hired former Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin to replace him, with the hope that he can get more out of the group of linemen the Colts currently have on the roster. Philbin has a very good record as an offensive line coach, so this move has the potential to make a difference.

Indianapolis also needs to upgrade the talent on the offensive line. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is the Colts’ best lineman, but he had an off year in 2015 and will have to rebound. Left guard Jack Mewhort is young, but has shown he can do the job. Other than those two guys, the team’s group of offensive linemen is a bit shaky.

The Colts began the season with Khaled Holmes, Todd Herremans and Lance Louis filling the other three line positions. During this time, the team was also experimenting by moving Mewhort to right tackle. The line play in the first two games of the season was awful, so changes began to be made.

All sorts of combinations were tried, but the bottom line is that none of them worked nearly well enough. The Colts have a particular problem with the center and guard spots, and this has to be addressed if the team is to return to contender status.

One bright spot for the future of the Colts offensive line came late in the season with the insertion of rookie Denzell Goode into the lineup at right tackle. Goode still needs experience, but his solid play gave indications that he may eventually be the answer at right tackle.

So, if Indianapolis is in “win now” mode as they seem to be, they need to bring in at least one quality center and one quality guard to upgrade the talent in front of Andrew Luck. Continuity on the offensive line is always a big plus, but when you don’t have good enough players in place, you have to make changes. One would hope that with Joe Philbin as their coach, the offensive line will gel, even with some new faces in 2016.

An excellent offensive line can make even mediocre players around them look good, and conversely, a poor offensive line can make Pro Bowl players around them look bad. The Indianapolis Colts know all too well about the latter, and they intend to change that before the fall of 2016.