Tag Archives: Western Conference

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 Cavaliers dreams turn into a nightmare

Well, that was unpleasant.

Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images
Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

In the wake of the 132-98 beat down that the Warriors handed the Cavaliers on MLK Day, I have a few dreams too for my hometown basketball team. If my dreams can have one tenth of the impact that Dr. King’s did, we might just be ok.

Let me set the stage for last night. I was in my favorite chair, with a full belly, watching the national sports media reporting from all of the places I recognize in my city.

It always feels good when my city is featured on this scale. It is a city that has a less than stellar reputation, however, most visitors that I meet are pleasantly surprised with all that it has to offer.

So there I am in my chair, and I see that Mozgov is starting. This is puzzling to me until I am reminded that he has traditionally guarded Andrew Bogut very well.

I am willing to trust my coach and even though Golden State jumps out to a quick 10-2 lead, I am pleased with Mozgov’s play in the first quarter. He looked like a composed, calculating NBA center.

As we proceed though, the rest of our team looks downright awful. They appear to be woefully unprepared for a challenge of this magnitude.

Our team is unable to get stops on the Warriors, nor score on the offensive end. This causes not only the lead to balloon up but also the Cavalier’s frustration level.

At one point, the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference was losing by 43 points to the best from the West. This leads me to one of my dreams.

I dream of a day when the Eastern Conference is treated as if it is one half of a professional league and not the minor leagues of the Western Conference.

I get the impression that players from the West truly think that East teams are a joke and do not really belong on the same grand stage as they do. Sadly, this narrative is perpetuated by the national sports media also.

We certainly did nothing to dispute that notion last night. It angers me that this memory of the Cavaliers will be the one that sticks in everyone’s mind and not the 5-1 record we amassed over the road trip against top teams from the West.

If the Cavs can ascend the mountain again in the East and make it back to the Finals, that would be our next opportunity to play the Warriors (provided they successfully maneuver the West gauntlet). This terrible performance will be the first example given when comparing the teams.

The Warriors are the reigning NBA champs so they deserve to be the measuring stick for all teams and I would not deny them that. I would, however, deny the idea that the Cavaliers do not possess the talent to achieve my ultimate dream of hoisting that banner into the ceiling of The Q someday.

The Cavaliers themselves were poised in defeat last night. Coach Blatt took responsibility for the loss and Kevin Love said that the changes need to come from the leadership of the team, though it is unclear whether he was referring to James or Blatt.

Kyrie Irving was essentially a no show last night in his performance. He finished with eight points and five rebounds on 3/11 shooting while Love was also quiet with only three points on 1/5 shooting.

With that depressing of a showing, I would hope that Love would take more responsibility rather than point the finger up the bench. Perhaps he feels that he is not being used in the proper capacity.

Love was certainly more effective earlier in the season when he was being fed the ball in the low post more often. Since the return of Irving and Iman Shumpert, I have noticed him spending more time setting picks and staying outside the three point line.

This strategy with Love is what contributed to a 19-20 record about this time last season. It seems that January is a tenuous month for this iteration of the team, though we have had many more successes overall than 2015.

I am supremely dejected after this loss, though I will not be one of those fans that declares that our dreams of a title are vanquished. The feeling of defeat is one that this city is not only very familiar with experiencing but also very adept at overcoming.

As fans, we need to realize that a defeat of this nature can be used to motivate our guys in the future. The sick feeling in our stomachs can be converted into fuel reserves that can be accessed when we need it the most in the playoffs.

That is the most constructive way to process last night’s result. Otherwise, that sick feeling will encompass us and create doubt in our minds.

The Wine and Gold Nation must do their part and not allow this to happen.

The Wild Wild Western Conference

There is much debate over which conference reigns supreme in the National Hockey League. The Eastern Conference’s wide-open style of play against the tight-checking Western Conference’s style of hockey is one-way fans and analysts tend to break it down. The speed of the East versus the strength of the West is yet another way fans and analysts try to compare and contrast these two separate conferences. Personally, I see many teams applying the same set of strategies: increased possession numbers, proficient special teams, and a quick transition game. The biggest difference I see comes in terms of playoff standings and competition. Not the level of competition, as I feel that is a linear quality displayed throughout all teams (sitting in a playoff position or not), but the competition in fighting for a playoff berth through the tough competition displayed in the Western Conference.

Beginning with the Central Division, I feel everyone in-tuned with hockey infrastructure and an eye for solid positional play, knew that the Nashville Predators would be a good team. With a healthy, Pekka Rinne, and a defensive crop that includes Norris winner, Shea Weber, highly-touted Seth Jones, a reliable Roman Josi, and now the addition of Cody Franson in addition to a productive Ryan Ellis, the Nashville Predators are separating themselves at the top of the division, conference, and league. A healthy Chicago Blackhawks team with an abundance of offensive star power including Jonathon Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Brandon Saad and the St. Louis Blues were expected to be where they currently sit in the standings leaving the dogfight for the wildcard spot in the Central Division.

The Minnesota Wild are catching up to the Winnipeg Jets (currently holding one of two wildcard playoff spots) and with the addition of Devan Dubnyk (surprising given Dubnyk’s recent history of being bounced around teams and having a hard time finding stability) the Wild are playing very well as of late. The trade between Winnipeg and Buffalo that brought 6’8” right-handed shooting defenseman, Tyler Myers, was a big one. Some believed Buffalo got fleeced in the deal sending over one of their three first-round draft picks in an upcoming “deep” draft, two prospects, and Tyler Myers for only two roster players, former first round picks Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian. This trade will work out will for both teams as Winnipeg found defensive stability and Buffalo having two corner pieces they can build around both their offense and defense.

The other teams in the Central such as the Colorado Avalanche got off to too slow of a start and currently sit last place and six points behind fourth place, Minnesota. The Dallas Stars are in between Minnesota and Colorado, however, with the knee injury to Tyler Seguin, the team will need to play with desperation through the rest of the season and rely on Jason Spezza and Cody Eakin to collectively fill the void Seguin’s absence has/will leave at the center position.

The Pacific division boasts the toughest competition in the league. Once again, competing for a playoff spot not the dispersal of competition throughout and amongst the league. What was thought to be only a three-team race as to where they will finish and get home ice, there are five teams extremely close to each other in the standings. Any three of Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose could be at the top of the division. It is no surprise that the Anaheim Ducks are first with the superb regular season coaching. The San Jose Sharks had lost their identity to begin the season, is still looking for it, and is holding the last playoff spot right now. The Los Angeles Kings seem to be on the same course they had been on the two years they won the Championship. The Kings start okay, have a bad mid-season, and turn on the jets during the stretch. The two surprises with the Pacific Division are the play of the Calgary Flames and the Vancouver Canucks. Bob Hartley has done a great job coaching the team provided to him by General Manager, Brad Treliving. Like Treliving, Jim Benning of Vancouver has done a great job managing assets to improve his team’s play. The Sedin twins are both top thirty in league scoring and free agent signing, Radim Vrbata, has more than twenty goals thus far. Veteran goalie, Ryan Miller, has found his groove with twenty-seven wins on the season and above average stats (save percentage and goals against average).

The other two teams in the Pacific division, the Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers, sit last in the division and last in the conference. There are reports that Arizona is in sell mode and may try to unload some players such as Zbanyk Mikhalek and Antoine Vermette. The Edmonton Oilers are the Edmonton Oilers and are, once again, playing hard for a high draft pick. Edmonton has incredible offensive talent, but weak defense, goaltending, coaching, management, and ownership.

Time will tell what the rest of the season has in store for the competition among Western Conference teams fighting for a playoff spot and furthermore, home ice advantage. There is still time before the March 2nd, 2015 trade deadline and history shows that deadline deals can have a huge impact like the Los Angeles Kings trading for 2013-2014 playoff leading goal scorer Marian Gaborik last year at the deadline and Roberto Luongo solidifying Florida’s goaltending or little to none at all such as Thomas Vanek to the Montreal Canadiens and Ryan Miller not being the goalie that could take St Louis past the first round of the playoffs. It is hard to believe that the season is this far along, but there is still a lot of hockey to be played and spectating to enjoy.

The Predators Have Something Good Happening in Smashville

It’s an absolutely great time to be in Smashville (as what the Predators fans and Nashvillians call it).

After an overtime win against the Dallas Stars last Thursday night, the Nashville Predators are #1 in the NHL, improving their record to 28-9-4 with 60 points in the 2014-2015 season. This is the first time in franchise history that the Predators have been ranked number 1 where the Predators played their first season during the 1998-1999 season.

The Predators have come a long way since that first season. They have had a few good seasons, but mostly have come up short either being in the bottom or close to the bottom of the Western Conference almost every year or going to the playoffs and losing in the quarterfinals. Let’s take a look at their journey from 1998 to today.

Back in 1995, rumors started going around the NHL world that the New Jersey Devils were going to relocate to the new Nashville Arena (now called the Bridgestone Arena). Nashville was offering a $20 million bonus for any team to relocate to the Music City. It seemed as if that the Devils were about to make the move to Nashville but decided to renegotiate their lease and finalized a new contract in New Jersey, leaving Nashville without a team to fill in the new arena in downtown Nashville.

In 1996, the Nashville Arena had opened and once again Nashville had tried bringing a professional sports team to the city. Nashville made attempts to bring in the Sacramento Kings of the NBA but the attempts failed. After those attempts failed, Nashville decided to go after yet another NHL team.

In 1997, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had said that Nashville would be considered as an expansion city. In January of that year, a group that was led by businessman Craig Leipold made a push to get an NHL team in Nashville. When Bettman and other NHL officials made a trip down to Nashville to check out the city and the arena, thousands gathered outside the arena to greet them. In June of 1997, it became official that the NHL would expand in four cities : Columbus, Ohio, Atlanta, Georgia, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Nashville, Tennessee. Finally, Nashville got themselves a hockey team.

On September 25, 1997, Leipold and team president Jack Diller unveiled the team logo, a sabre-toothed cat in reference to the Smilodon skeleton that was found beneath downtown Nashville in 1971 while doing construction for the UBS Tower (back then, it was known as First American National Bank building). When the logo was made public, Nashville gave the people a vote on what the team name would be from three possible names: Ice Tigers, Fury, and Attack. Obviously those three names didn’t make the cut when Leipold threw in his own suggestion, Predators.

Their first season was the 1998-1999 campaign. Like many first year sports teams, the Predators didn’t do so well. The Predators finished second to last in the Western Conference with a 28-47-7 record. Their second season pretty much saw the same results as the previous season (28-40-7-7 record).

During the 2001-2002 season, the Predators recorded their 100th win as a franchise, making them the second-fastest expansion team from the 90’s to reach the 100-win mark. However, the team finished 15th in the West with a 28–41–13–0 record which was good for 69 points.

It wasn’t until the 2003-2004 season where the Predators made franchise history by making the playoffs for the first time ever. However, the Predators would go on to lose to the Detroit Red Wings in the quarterfinals of the Western Conference playoffs in six games. From the 2003-2004 season to the 2007-2008 season, the Predators made the playoffs, but would come up short in all of those seasons by getting knocked out four of those five seasons in the first round of the Western playoffs. In 2008-2009, the Predators failed to make the playoffs, ending their consecutive playoff run. However, they got it together and made the playoffs in the 2009-2010 season and starting yet another consecutive playoff run, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the quarterfinals of the 2010 playoffs. However, in both 2011 and 2012, The Predators would advance to the semifinals in the West, losing both times to the Vancouver Canucks and the Phoenix Coyotes. the 2011-2012 season was the last time the Predators have been to he playoffs. For the past two seasons, the Predators have failed to make the playoffs during the 2012-2013 season and 2013-2014 season. From what it looks like, Nashville will make the playoffs if they don’t slip up and have a complete and utter meltdown.

Could this be the year of the Predators? As of right now, the Predators are just killing it game in and game out. The Predators are giving Nashville something that they haven’t seen out of them in 17 years.  Exciting things are happening right now in Smashville and it certainly is a great time to be a Nashville Predator.

2014-15 Cavs Roundtable Preview

The 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers season is upon us, ladies and gentleman, and we here at More Than A Fan: Cleveland could not be anymore excited. We’re so excited, in fact, that we just had to put a roundtable preview together for all of you to read. We want you to be as ready and excited for what is supposed to be an epic season as we are.

Contributing to this preview with me are fellow MTAF Cavs writers Demetri Inembolidis and Eddy Jansen. If you haven’t done so, make it a point to check out what they write. I know I enjoy reading their work and you will too.

I think I can speak for all of us when I say this was a fun project to work on. There are obviously enormously different aspects of this year’s Cavs team than in the previous four years. This includes everything from LeBron James coming back to the absurdly humungous new scoreboard Owner Dan Gilbert is spoiling us with.

Here, we’ll talk about what to expect from the team as a whole and from the individual players. Also, we’ve added some quick predictions for this upcoming season throughout the NBA including awards and who will be in the Finals.

Without further ado, here’s what we think you should watch for as this Cavs season begins.

Cavs Preview

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dROfopwKxOI

What is the Cavs’ biggest strength?

Demetri Inembolidis: The obvious answer is offense. They will have answers for any defense that is thrown at them. They have elite three point shooters, great passers at multiple positions and high basketball IQ guys. A LeBron James/Kevin Love pick-and-roll with Kyrie Irving and any combination of Dion Waiters, Mike Miller or Matthew Dellavedova lurking beyond the three-point line has so many potent options.

It’s going to be a fun year.

Eddy Jansen: The greatest strength is floor spacing. Whenever LeBron, Irving, or Love goes to the rim, they will always draw a double team. Sharpshooters Mike Miller, James Jones, Dion Waiters, and others will see their 3-pt percentages jump through the roof with so many open looks.

Dan Armelli: Transition offense. The Cavs have a great mix of incredible athletes, smart players, and talented passers. These are all needed in order to be a great team in transition. We all talked about it before preseason, and we saw it on the court: Kevin Love is a tremendous outlet passer on the break. Then you include guys like LeBron, Tristan, Dion, etc. who can finish with a thunderous dunk? It’s going to be something for opposing teams to be cognizant of from possession-to-possession, which could lead to even more defensive rebounds for the Cavs.

What is the Cavs’ biggest weakness?

DI: There is another obvious answer here and that is defense. The Cavs will have to be at least average on defense if they want to contend for an NBA championship. That shouldn’t be too difficult given the talent on the squad. The 2009-2010 Cavs team that started Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, LeBron James, JJ Hickson, and Shaquille O’Neal for most games were able to notch the 7th best defense in the NBA.

If they can work out the potential defensive issues, the only thing that can stop them is health.

EJ: The greatest weakness is lack of cohesion. LBJ has played with Miller, Jones, and Varejao, but that is about it. Plus it will take a while for Love and Irving to learn how to play alongside not one, but two more superstars. The Heat started out 9-8 in LeBron’s first year, the Cavs might have a similar fate.

DA: Team defense. This is another thing we’ve seen in the preseason (see: LeBron “setting a pick” on Delly). Blatt said himself, “Defense is the side of the floor where you adapt less and teach more.” These guys are going to have to learn what Blatt expects, when to switch off on picks, and overall communication on the floor. At some point, hopefully this season, the Cavs will be able to play defense with each other and just know where each guy is going to be on the floor. But, at least to start, it’ll be a big work in progress.

Who will have the easiest transition playing with this new Cavs team?

DI: I know that he wasn’t on the team last year but LeBron James is going to go from a team where he had to do everything to one where he has an elite ball-handler to initiate offense. He is coming from a Heat team that required him to be the best rebounder to one that has Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao. LeBron James will be able to play less games and minutes and will be called on to do less when he plays. Being on this team for the foreseeable future should extend the life of his career.IMG_2337

EJ: LeBron. He has been here before. Some nights he will score 25 on talent alone.

DA: Tristan Thompson. I think with the way this team was put together (h/t to David Griffin), it helps Tristan immensely. In the first three years of his career, as a fourth overall pick, he was expected to do a lot in an ample amount of minutes right off the bat. This is especially true considering the amount of time Varejao spent healing from injuries. Thompson was forced into situations he just wasn’t ready for – even though that might actually help him in the end. Now, he just needs to focus on the things he’s good/great at – getting rebounds, playing gritty defense, and cleaning up around the rim. No longer is it important for him – on on this team – to transform into a stretch four.

Who will have the hardest transition?

DI: Dion Waiters will have a difficult time transitioning. He was the 2nd option on offense last year and thinks of himself as a bigger star than he is. In fact, it is up for debate if he even is one. Having said that, Kevin Love will have the hardest transition. He was The Man in Minnesota. He was able to put up gaudy numbers where the offense ran through him and that simply will not be the case as this team is currently constructed.

EJ: I don’t think anyone will have a hard time scoring with the floor spacing they will have. So the P.R. department maybe?

DA: I hate to say it, but I think it’ll be Dion Waiters. I don’t see many guys on this team having significant struggles; the players fit so well. But Dion is a guy that loves the ball in his hands and taking ill-fated shots. With LeBron, Love, and Kyrie on the floor alongside him, he’ll have to pick and choose his spots. At the same time, I love his alpha-dog mentality, even if he’s the fourth best player on the floor. He’ll need to work on limiting his contested shots, and driving the lane and drawing fouls. Spend some time away from Mid-range Township.

Where will the Cavs rank defensively?

DI: I think that they will be an average defensive team by the time the season is complete. It will be interesting to see how the team performs defensively as every month passes. It’s possible that they are abysmal on defense. The sky is not falling if that happens. They are aware that there are holes in the roster and the front office can and will improve the team using assets that they have accumulated.

EJ: The Cavs have great individual defenders, but several younger players can be liabilities. Assuming LeBron’s tenacious defense rubs off on the less experienced players, the Cavs should be fine on the defensive end of the floor. With Varejao, Love, and Thompson, they should be an excellent rebounding team.

DA: As I said before, there will be some growing pains with this team on the defensive side of the ball. Most of the guys that have thrived on defense are well into their NBA careers; guys like LeBron, Shawn Marion, and Mike Miller. There are also younger vets on this team that have the potential to be good on this side of the floor, but haven’t been consistent: Kyrie, Dion, and Tristan. Optimistically, I think towards the end of the season we’ll see the Cavs start to really click on defense, but throughout the season, they’ll probably be towards the lower middle of the league.

Where will the Cavs rank offensively?

NBA: Preseason-Cleveland Cavaliers at Memphis Grizzlies

DI: They will be the best offensive team by a wide margin. When you have guys like Zach Lowe and Kevin Pelton saying that they have the ability to be a “historically great offensive team,” there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be the best team on that side of the court out of thirty.

EJ: Offensively, you have to double-team three players. That will give five feet of space for any shooter on the floor. They scored nearly 108 points per game in the preseason, look for that to mold into reality in the regular season.

DA: There’s no question this should be one of the top teams in the whole league and tops in the Eastern Conference. On offense, the Cavs aren’t just top-heavy with three All Stars plus Dion and Andy, they’ll have some bench scoring and shooting with Mike Miller, and Shawn Marion. Delly, Joe Harris, and James Jones will also be expected to make a scoring impact at various points in the season. With the amount of championship vets on this team, the Cavs’ basketball IQ and passing is also superior to most teams. The only thing that can stop them from being the best offensive team in the league is how little they’ve all played as a unit.

Which bench player will make the biggest impact?

DI: Whichever center ends up not starting will have the biggest impact. Whether that’s Tristan Thompson or Anderson Varejao remains to be seen. Both of those guys thrive on playing hard and will benefit greatly from having room to operate. Tristan Thompson will never be mistaken for a star player, but he will put up gaudy numbers whether or not he comes off the bench. The same can be said for Varejao. He is going to be asked to do a lot less this year and hopefully that translates into winning basketball and fewer injuries.

(Editor’s note: This was written before Varejao was named the starter. But the point remains; whoever comes off the bench at center for the Cavs should have a significant impact.)

EJ: Depends… if Dion goes back to the bench, it’s him hands down. Other than that, Double-T or whoever doesn’t start at center.

DA: I’m going to go out on a limb with this one and say Joe Harris. I’ve written before that he’ll probably switch back-and-forth between Cleveland and Canton, but that was before I saw him in preseason. I thought the Cavs would take it slow with his development, but it looks like they’re really confident with this rookie. Harris played in six of the seven preseason games, averaging 18.8 minutes per game, 2.5 rebounds 1.7 assists, and 7.8 points on 37.5% (15-40) shooting, including 36% (9-25) from 3. He’s potentially a great fit for this team, possessing the ability to space the floor, distribute, and be a pest defensively.

I think Marion is the safe choice here, but watch out for Harris.

Which new Cavalier are you most looking forward to watching?

DI: LeBron James. We’ve seen this movie before, but this time it will be a lot more fun. He has matured and embraced Northeast Ohio. He’s the best player in the world and has made it known that his presence in the area is bigger than basketball. Watching him dominate on the court is going to be great, but seeing his newfound enthusiasm for representing the Cavs is going to be an emotionally charged experience.

EJ: I guess I only have two choices… I want to watch Love, you know what LBJ can do, and Kyrie has been here for 4 years now.

DA: Hands down Kevin Love. With him on the Cavs, my two favorite players in the league are now on the team (along with Varejao). Love’s been a favorite of mine at least since 2012 when I put out the fanboy tweet below. Love’s skillset is pretty much made up of all the things I would want if I were an NBA player. He can rebound, pass, and shoot with the best of them at his position. I’ve wanted him on the Cavs for so long and for it to actually happen is astonishing. Hopefully he’ll be in Cleveland for a long time.

What would make this Cavs season a failure?

DI: Anything short of the Finals will be a disappointment. The Bulls are a formidable opponent and a worthy adversary, but they simply do not have the star talent that the Cavs have. Losing in the conference finals would not be the same as doing so in 2009. That was considered an upset, but hindsight shows that it was LeBron and a lot of role players. The current Cavs team is stacked with star talent and championship-level veterans to come off the bench.

JE: Selfishness… or the San Antonio Spurs

DA: I think there’s a 5% chance that I actually consider it this way at the end of the season. I think the only way this season is a disappointment is if they get bounced in the first round with all of their Big 3 healthy. Losing to what will most likely be the 7th or 8th seed in the East would be pretty deflating. As long as they advance past the first round, this season won’t be a failure, in part because of all the new players on this team. Like LeBron said, Rome wasn’t built in one day. I’m willing to be patient this year.

Will the Cavs win the 2014-15 NBA Championship?

DI: My heart says no, but I also find it hard to not talk myself into the Cavs beating any contending opponent. I think that it will take time for things to gel and that the lack of playoff experience for Irving, Waiters, Thompson and Love will be an issue in late May or June. However, this team is too talented to pick against. I am going on record to predict that the Cavs will win the championship in June.

EJ: Just like year one in Miami, I think they will be in it, but some lucky Western Conference team beats them.

DA: I hate to be a downer, but I don’t think so. That’s not to say they don’t have a chance, because they certainly do. But the overriding theme for me when it comes to the Cavs’ “downfall” or whatever their Achilles heel will be is the lack of chemistry on this team. It’s just hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of a team assembling so many new pieces and going out and winning a championship right off the bat. More often than not, established teams are the one’s that are able to capture the Larry O’Brien trophy.


NBA Predictions

tim-duncan-manu-ginobili-tony-parker-kawhi-leonard-nba-playoffs-portland-trail-blazers-san-antonio-spurs

MVP

Demetri Inembolidis: LeBron James. Voter fatigue is gone, Durant will be injured for a decent portion of the year and the “coming home” narrative is too much to ignore.

Eddy Jansen: Kevin Durant.

Dan Armelli: I have no reason to go against LeBron other than to just be different. He’s the best player in the league and has the most help he’s ever had.

Rookie of the Year

DI: Jabari Parker. He’s going to get all of the shots in Milwaukee.

EJ: Jabari Parker.

DA: As much as I want to say Nerlens Noel, the 76ers are just horrendous. So I’ll go with Jabari Parker. He’ll be the number one option for the Bucks and he’s as polished as they come for a rookie.

Most Improved Player

DI: Lance Stephenson is going to have a bigger role in Charlotte. He is going to be scoring at a higher clip and will likely lead the NBA in triple doubles for a second season in a row. The Most Improved Player award is his to lose.

EJ: Dwight Howard.

DA: For whatever reason, Steven Adams was benched for the majority of the season in favor of Kendrick Perkins. Adams will break out this year and show the league what he’s all about. He has the potential to be a solid all-around center.

Coach of the Year

DI: Stan Van Gundy. David Blatt (who will be coaching the Eastern Conference All Star team in February) is a good bet, but Van Gundy will take a miscast roster of knuckleheads and “me-first” guys and turn them into a playoff David+Blatt+Milwaukee+Bucks+v+Cleveland+Cavaliers+RrgcxZ91l7jlteam. It’s pretty clear that the Pistons were tanking last year to avoid giving up their draft pick to the Charlotte Hornets. If they play hard all year and find organic improvement, the award is Van Gundy’s to lose.

EJ: Doc Rivers.

DA: David Blatt has been well spoken of by his former players and personnel around the NBA. With a plethora of high caliber players to work with, I think he’ll be able to earn the award in his first year in the NBA.

Eastern Conference Playoff Seeding

DI:
1. Cavs
2. Bulls
3. Raptors
4. Hawks
5. Hornets
6. Wizards
7. Heat
8. Pistons

EJ:
1. Cavaliers – Any opposers?
2. Bulls – A healthy Rose is a must, or they could slide.
3. Nets – Lionel Hollins will make them much tougher, Deron Williams should be galvanized by the return of Brook Lopez.
4. Heat – Old and not very athletic, but will surprise people. Wade is healthier than most will admit. Bosh will get more touches.
5. Hawks – Were the #3 seed up until January of last season; Horford’s return is huge.
6. Wizards – Still missing a piece or two for a serious run, Pierce’s experience should help though.
7. Hornets – Al Jefferson continues to be the most undervalued player in the league.
8. Raptors – Hard to envision Kyle Lowry having a repeat season from last year while not searching for a new contract.

DA:
1. Cavs
2. Bulls
3. Hawks
4. Raptors
5. Wizards
6. Hornets
7. Heat
8. Pistons

I think the Wizards will have the better record, but the Atlantic champion Raptors get the higher seed with the Cavs and Bulls already occupying the top spaces for interdivision teams.

Western Conference Playoff Seeding

DI:
1. Spurs
2. Clippers
3. Mavericks
4. Thunder
5. Warriors
6. Grizzlies
7. Rockets
8. Nuggets

EJ:
1. Spurs – Even after all these years, there is still enough gas left in the tank.
2. Clippers – Best rebounding team in the NBA, Paul and Griffin are both MVP candidates.
3. Warriors – Steve Kerr will get the most out of his scorers Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and David Lee.
4. Thunder – Durant’s injury won’t make them slip that far, but they still need help.
5. Mavericks – Still trying to make Dirk’s last few years meaningful; made some nice off-season pickups.
6. Grizzlies – A leaner Marc Gasol gives a tough team a go-to guy offensively.
7. Blazers – Still looking to improve defensively. Lillard will go off after being cut from USA team.
8. Suns – Dragic, Bledsoe, and newcomer Isaiah Thomas make them the most athletic team.

DA:
1. Clippers
2. Spurs
3. Thunder
4. Mavericks
5. Warriors
6. Trail Blazers
7. Grizzlies
8. Rockets

Finals prediction

DI:Cavs beat the Clippers in 6.

EJ: Clippers over Cavaliers.

DA: Spurs over Cavs (hopefully in more than 4).

NBA and BCS in Biased Observer

The News

This society, or more fairly this American Society, has a way of picking and choosing which tragedies to rally around and try to make a difference. The recent tornadoes in Illinois were terrible. The typhoon in the Philippines was so destructive that entire families have completely vanished from the Earth.  Hurricane Sandy wiped away homes, businesses, people, and tradition.

The list goes on and on, but the public awareness does not. I don’t mean to “call out” the victims of any disaster as getting more or better help than any other. That’s absolutely the last thing on my mind. I bring this up to wonder why I didn’t see a Red Cross donation text line on my twitter feed to help the people in the Philippines that cannot live without help. To wonder, with the memory of round the clock news coverage and donation lines for the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, why aren’t we helping the families in the Philippines. To wonder why we don’t KNOW more.

I know some people expect the United States to give billions of dollars to every cause, while some people expect the government to stop helping everyone else so much and focus on domestic issues. Whatever. I don’t wonder about the government, which is pretty much so screwed around at this point that I wouldn’t trust them with my Christmas card list. I wonder about the people.

We should care more. About everything.

The NBA’s Eastern Conference is a Sad Place

I know, I know. Ten games into the NBA season is too early to start setting a conference on fire, especially when the defending champion Miami Heat live there, but the Eastern Conference is an unbalanced family.

Indiana and Miami are powerhouses, and Chicago is a tough team. There. That’s all of it. The combined record of winning teams in the Eastern Conference (Indiana, Miami, Chicago, and Atlanta[1. The Hawks are historically the most pretendy of pretenders] is 27-11.

The record of the winning teams in the Western Conference (San Antonio, Portland, LA Clippers, Golden State, Oklahoma City, Houston, Minnesota, Dallas, and Phoenix) is 62-28.

You might think the .710 winning percentage for the winning Eastern Conference teams looks better than the .688 tally the West is putting up would look good, but I just can’t get down with a conference with four good teams looking better than a conference with nine winning teams.

The Western Conference is feasting on the East in the few inter-conference games that have been played so far. Of course, the Heat will still win their third NBA Championship in a row, practically cementing…

Sigh. Sometimes it’s tough being a Cavs fan.

There is No Fixing the BCS

Ohio State Buckeyes Head Coach Urban Meyer’s thoughts on the BCS:

“Without spending much time on it, because it’s not fair to our team for me to spend much time on it, I will say this — I think it’s a flawed system,” Meyer said Monday. “But when you logically think about what the BCS people have done, and which obviously we’re all part of, I think it was great for a while. I think you take an imperfect system and you do the best you can without hosting a playoff.

“I imagine there’s going to be controversy with the playoffs too, now. It’s not a 64-team playoff; you can only have four guys. What’s that fifth team going to feel like?” ~ Quote from ESPN.com[2. I can’t believe I still read ESPN, either.]

Meyer is dead on about the BCS, and not just because I’m from Ohio and grew up rooting for the Buckeyes. The system will always be flawed in the DI FBS college football system because there will always be more good teams than any approved system will ever be able to sort out.

There are thousands of words floating around in my head just waiting to be unleashed about the flaws of the BSC System, but they all neatly fit into one sentence; It ain’t happening.

A 64-team tournament works in basketball[3. And larger tournaments work in all kinds of other collegiate sports that we don’t talk about a lot because there are no big TV deals to be had covering them.] because games can be played every two days instead of every week and travel is easier. Even a 16 team tournament in football would take six weeks. Tacking on a month and a half to a three month season means the championship game to the middle of January, assuming the programs took zero weeks off after their seasons. Oh yeah, the teams that make it to the semi-finals of this fictional tournament would end up playing more games than the NFL regular season.

What could work? Check out the Restructuring NCAA Football with Josh Flagner, Jason Barron, and Chris Barron podcast.

That’s all for today, folks. I was going to talk about how Omar Vizquel taking the 1st Base Coach job in Detroit is no big deal, but I’ll leave that for constant arguments on Twitter. You can follow me there @RailbirdJ

The NBA's Stretch Run

If I had a nickel for every time someone talked about these few weeks as the “best sports time of the year” I could use those nickels to take a class on how to start a column without an overused phrase about mythical nickels.

Baseball is about to kick off, and even Astros fans are hopeful.  March Madness is about to kick off, and even Liberty fans are hopeful (not of winning an actual tournament game, of course, but they could win the play-in).  The NFL’s free agency period is in full swing, so that’s a lot of fun.  Somebody also told me that the World Baseball Classic is being played right now, but do Americans (besides MTAF’s own Matt Kline) seriously care about that?

The sport that we do care about, but tend to ignore during this time of year is the NBA. The strange thing is the NBA’s starting to play games that matter.  I don’t know if people just get their fill of basketball with the college tourney or what, but the 16 teams fighting for playoff spots and/or seeds are just beginning round into shape.

The eight playoff teams are set in the East, but the match-ups are up for grabs, and the West is wide open, both at the top and the bottom.  Still, most of you normal folks will tune into the NBA sometime in April, so I’ll be here to keep you semi up to date on the regular season stretch run.

First things first – Miami is going to win the East.  The only team that had a puncher’s chance was Boston, but that was with Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, and Jared Sullinger all healthy and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jeff Green playing at the levels they’re at right now.  Without Rondo in the mix, Miami could probably roll through the Eastern playoffs without losing, if they really put their minds to it.

Celtics homer aside: I’m real sick of hearing people say how much better the Celtics are without Rondo.  I can’t possibly hit on every reason why this is a non-sensical point of view, but here’s a few. 

  1. He’s a veteran of the playoffs.  And veterans of the playoffs realize that running your best stuff and draining the tank in the regular season just to get an extra game at home during the playoffs is an improper course of action.  I seriously doubt that Playoffs Rondo would have played like November Rondo.
  2. They’re playing better now because the talent Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers (two of the best talent evaluators in the game – check their drafts) saw when they signed or traded for these guys is showing through.  Tell me when having the top facilitator in the world has ever decreased talent.  Jason Terry and Jeff Green weren’t bad because Rondo was on the floor, they were just bad. 
  3. Avery Bradley is the best on ball defender in the NBA.  He and Rondo basically crossed paths with their injuries.  Isn’t it possible that a lock down defender being back and playing well is a huge reason for the Celtics’ recent winning ways?

Anyway, I’m pissed.  So far Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have played incredibly well (Garnett’s defense doesn’t seem to age) and, even bigger, avoided injury.  This could have been a very special team if Rondo stayed healthy.

After Miami, it’s kind of interesting for a little while.  You could make an argument for each of the remaining 7 teams ending up as the #2 seed.  The Knicks are there right now, but Carmelo Anthony’s playing hurt and says he won’t be healthy for the rest of the year.  Indiana is percentage points back, but they’re horrible on the road and the majority of their remaining schedule involves traveling (including to Boston, New York, and Chicago).

If I honestly had to pick an Eastern Conference 2 seed right now, it just might Brooklyn.  I don’t necessarily trust that they’d win in the first round, but they’re streaky and they’re playing well now.  It should be interesting to watch teams “vie” for good seeds.  I use the quotation marks because I’m not sure teams like Boston and Chicago are as interested in a high seed as they are in resting their tired stars (The Celtics got hammered in Charlotte last night as Paul Pierce was given the night off).

The West is a more fun conference to watch this year, not only because they have teams fighting for that 8 seed, but they have a battle for #1 as well.  I covered a lot of that 8 seed battle in the Lakers column from last week – the Lakers still look like a real good team, Utah still looks like an also-ran, and the Houston/Golden St combo had better be careful.

The top of that conference is also a pretty good time, especially since the two teams with the best shot at beating Miami are jockeying for the #1 seed.  San Antonio beat Oklahoma City in Texas the other night to take a 1.5 game lead, but it’s really anybody’s game at this point.  And know that both teams are watching where the Lakers end up in the standings.  If LA stays in that 8 seed, is #1 really all that big a prize?  Wouldn’t both SA and OKC  give up a home game in the Western Finals if it meant they got to play Houston instead of Kobe and the gang in round 1?

Best sports time of the year, I agree, but I think that statement should include these NBA playoff races.  There probably won’t be any Bryce Drew moments, and you probably don’t have a bracket for the final 20 NBA regular season games, but there’s some entertainment to be found from watching the best athletes on the planet positioning themselves for a deep playoff run.

Rajon Rondo’s definitely out, right?