Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mets' Reyes Set to Parlay Career Year Into Mega-Contract

    New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes picked the perfect year to have what is shaping up to be one of the best offensive seasons of all-time. While the Mets franchise is bleeding money, Reyes is increasing the price tag he will command in the off-season with every run scored and every base stolen. The Mets, who lost $50 million during the 2010 season according to the New York Times, are unlikely to have the financial wherewithal to sign Reyes to the nine-figure contract that he will eventually agree to, leaving the 28-year-old star to shop his services to the highest bidder. In guessing where Reyes will wind up, and for how much, it's important to first assess where his 2011 season stacks up historically.

    Excluding players who were linked to PED use (A-Rod's 57-HR 2003, Miguel Tejada's 150-RBI 2004), one could argue that Reyes' 2011 season (if his current pace holds up) may be the most statistically impressive ever by a shortstop. His 31 triples would tie for 2nd most in a single season (to Chief Wilson's 36 for the 1912 Pirates), and easily be the most in baseball's modern era (the top 20 triples-totals occurred before 1926, when massive ballparks made three-baggers far easier to achieve). His 135 runs scored would rank 18th all-time, and 3rd most by a shortstop (trailing only A-Rod's 140 in 1996 and Jimmy Rollins' 139 in 2007). Reyes' .926 OPS is 12th highest in the big leagues, his 60 steals would give him his 3rd 60-steal season in the last 5 years (including 78 in 2007), and his NL-leading .352 batting average has him in line for his first career batting title.

    Reyes' outburst comes at a time when most teams are struggling to find offensive production from the shortstop position, with half of MLB's starting shortstops hitting .260 or lower. The dearth of effective shortstops, coupled with Reyes' outstanding 2011 and relative youth, has him positioned to cash in following this season. To see just how much Reyes will get in free agency, look at the contracts recently signed by his peers. Whether Derek Jeter's 3-year, $51 million gift, ahem, contract was $20 million more than any other team would've offered him will be irrelevant when super-agent Scott Boras is negotiating a deal for his superstar client. That $17 million annual figure will only be a starting point for discussions, with the final figure likely to approach $20-$23 million per year. The 7-year, $134 million extension signed by Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki will probably be close to the deal Reyes ends up signing. However, Reyes (unlike Tulowitzki, who was still under contract with Colorado for 3 more seasons before signing his extension) will have the advantage of shopping himself to multiple teams and creating a bidding war which will only drive up the price further. The Giants have a glaring hole at shortstop, with the Mike Fontenot-Brandon Crawford platoon barely hitting over .200. The Red Sox, despite Jed Lowrie's hot start, would likely want to gauge Reyes' interest in leading off for one of baseball's most potent lineups. Even the Atlanta Braves, who have curtailed their spending since being taken over by Liberty Media in 2007 but have a lot of payroll coming off the books after the 2011 season, might be interested in replacing journeyman Alex Gonzalez with the perennial all-star.

    Regardless of who Reyes eventually signs with, we can be sure that he will not come cheap. It's scary to think what Boras, who coaxed the Nationals into giving Jayson Werth $126 million over 7 years, will be able to bring home for Reyes. If the Mets star keeps up his torrid pace, all Boras and Reyes will have to do is point at the statsheet and watch the money pile up.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

NBA Draft Earns Highest Rating In Past 15 Years

    As if the NBA needed another reason to avoid a lockout (besides being in the midst of all-time highs in both popularity and star power), ESPN announced via press release that this past Thursday's draft was the highest-rated draft since 1996. Averaging over 3 million viewers (a 2.4 rating), the foreigner-heavy, talent-deprived selection show was not quite boring enough to keep basketball fans away. Throw in the fact that ESPN did a poor job of producing the show (dull/uninformed hosts, failure to keep the audience apprised of trades in a timely manner, technical difficulties, etc.), and the high ratings serve as yet another piece of evidence suggesting that a work stoppage (or, at the very least, missing regular season games) must be avoided at any and all costs.

    While it is important that both sides are content with the new CBA that they eventually
agree to, it is imperative that such an agreement is reached soon. A mutually-beneficial economic plan will be rendered useless if the league has already alienated its fanbase with another work stoppage.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

NBA Labor Dispute: Why A "Hard" Cap is a Bad Idea for Both Sides

        With a little more than a week remaining before the current CBA expires and the owners (likely) lockout the players, the time is now for the players and owners to hammer out a compromise that will allow the league to continue the momentum it has built over the past year. The NBA has never been more exciting than it is now, with rising stars (Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant) emerging in the playoffs, established stars (Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh) teaming up and becoming one of the most villified (yet profitable) teams in league history, and superstars on the downside of their careers (Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki) reminding everyone that they're not done just yet.

        Unfortunately, the owners and players remain far apart as the negotiations enter the final week. One of the main issues being debated is whether the new CBA should include the implementation of a "hard" salary cap- a set dollar amount which each team's payroll would not be allowed to exceed under any circumstances. Under the current CBA, agreed to after the 2004-05 season, teams are allowed to utilize a number of loopholes (namely the "Larry Bird" exception and the Midlevel exception) which allow their payrolls to exceed the salary cap ($58.3 million this past season). The Lakers are one team who took full advantage of the "soft" cap, with their payroll reaching $90 million this past year.

        A hard cap would keep the big-market teams' payrolls a lot lower, and ideally give small-market teams (think Indiana and Milwaukee) a better chance to compete with deep-pocketed teams like the Lakers and Heat. The big-market owners don't seem totally opposed to the idea of a hard cap either, as such a change would put a huge dent in the salaries of players and result in a bigger percentage of profits going to the owners.

        As you can easily surmise, the players are 100% against any type of hard cap. The inevitable result of such a cap is a substantial decrease in the amount of money going into players' wallets. Many NBA veterans have made their millions in the league due to the player-friendly Mid-level exception, which is equal to the average NBA salary ($5.765 million last season). Its disappearance would mean far less money for the meat-and-potatoes players who comprise a majority of NBA rosters. Or would it?

        A less-talked-about scenario which could play out if a hard cap is implemented is a mass exodus of NBA players to European leagues (don't laugh). In past years, players like Josh Childress, Carlos Delfino, and Juan Carlos Navarro opted to play overseas over guaranteed spots on NBA rosters. And this was when the MLE was still available. High-level European teams are known to pay handsomely, and throw in perks not available in most NBA contracts (no taxes, paid-for living expenses, transportation, etc.) If the MLE is abolished (and NBA salaries, as a result, are slashed), many established NBA players will opt for a cushy job playing in Spain or Greece for three or four times as much as they will be offered by NBA teams. In a recent ESPN magazine, an unnamed NBA star stated that a lockout would be all the incentive needed to convince a slew of NBA players to head for "greener" pastures and never come back

        Make no mistake: this would be extremely bad news for the owners. The focus throughout the labor dispute has been on revenue sharing, and how the big-market owners need to share the wealth with money-bleeding small-market teams in order to keep the league, as a whole, viable. Overlooked, however, has been the fact that if player salaries are cut to the point that much of the workforce (i.e. players) seeks employment with another league, the quality of play in The Association will suffer. A watered-down product is no way to increase revenues, and if "Player X" is serious about heading overseas and never coming back, the damage could be irreparable. Everything from attendance (and, consequently, revenues from parking and concessions) to national tv revenues would decrease, and the owners would be stuck dealing with many of the same financial problems down the road that they are currently trying to remedy.

        In the upcoming week, NBA fans are going to hear a lot about how revenue sharing (among teams) and a hard cap will keep small-market teams competitive. For the sake of the league, let's hope that in their quest for parity, the powers-that-be don't accidentally diminish the quality that has the NBA at the peak of its popularity.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

5 Position Players Who Will Be Earning A Lot More Money in 2012

1) Matt Kemp-Dodgers CF
    2010 Totals: .249 AVG, 28 HR, 89 RBI, 19 SB, .760 OPS
    2011 Salary: $6.95 million
    2011 Pace: .335 AVG, 47 HR, 131 RBI, 38 SB, 1.058 OPS
        - The Dodgers bought out Kemp's initial arbitration years by signing the outfielder to a 2-year, $11.5 million contract before the 2010 season. A disappointing 2010 saw Kemp's average drop from .297 to .249, and his stolen base total was nearly cut in half, falling from 34 to 19. Rumors that Kemp was not a part of the Dodgers' long-term plans arose, and his named popped up during off-season trade talks. Kemp has rebounded in 2011 with a torrid start, bashing 20 HRs while posting an OPS of 1.053. Kemp is arbitration-eligible for the 2012 season, and will be eligible for free agency in 2013 if he is not signed to an extension. With the Dodgers' current financial troubles, it is unclear whether the team will be able to afford the type of nine-figure contract that Kemp would command on the open market. If the team is unable to ink Kemp to a multi-year extension, the 26-year-old would undoubtedly be a highly-sought commodity on the trade market. A supremely-talented, young superstar like Kemp would likely draw the attention of deep-pocketed teams like the Cubs and Yankees.

2) Asdrubal Cabrera- Indians 2B
    2010 Totals: .276 AVG, 3 HR, 29 RBI, 6 SB, .673 OPS
    2011 Salary: $2 million
    2011 Pace: .297 AVG, 29 HR, 106 RBI, 22 SB, .858 OPS
        - Cabrera has established himself as one of the premier middle infielders in the game this year, and is a big reason why the Indians currently find themselves leading the AL Central. The Indians signed the 25-year-old to a 1-year, $2 million deal in January, but he will be arbitration-eligible for the next two seasons, and is set to become a free agent after the 2013 season. If his numbers this year are indicative of what is to come, the Indians would be wise to lock up Cabrera long-term before the price tag on him continues to increase. Cabrera was slowed by injuries in 2010, but his strong 2009 season suggests that this year's production is no fluke.

3) Mike Morse- Nationals OF/1B       
    2010 Totals: .289 AVG, 15 HR, 41 RBI, 0 SB, .870 OPS
    2011 Salary: $1 million
    2011 Pace: .312 AVG , 29 HR, 95 RBI, 5 SB, .915 OPS
        - Morse has transformed from a toolsy fourth outfielder into a legitimate middle-of-the-order power bat over the course of the past two seasons. The Nats' slugger is arbitration-eligible for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, after which he will become a free agent. The onerous $126 million contract given to Jayson Werth may preclude the Nats from re-signing Morse, but his arbitration number in 2012 will surely be much higher than the $1 million he's earning this season. If the Nats decide that they won't be able to commit to Morse long-term, his combination of power, versatility, the lack of impact bats on the market, and the acquiring team's ability to control his rights through 2013 would likely attract a number of strong trade offers from interested teams. A team like the Braves, who boast a farm system replete with impressive pitching prospects an organization like Washington is short on, would be an ideal fit.
4) Alex Gordon- Royals LF   
    2010 Totals: .215 AVG, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 1 SB, .671 OPS
    2011 Salary: $1.4 million
    2011 Pace: .282 AVG, 17 HR, 88 RBI, 12 SB, .803 OPS
        - Gordon was dangerously close to earning the "bust" label after the former #2 overall pick in 2005 struggled so badly in 2010 that the team sent him to AAA in May of last year. In fact, had he not rebounded so well this year, there is a chance that Gordon would've been non-tendered after the 2011 season. It's a moot point now, though, as Gordon has finally begun to fulfill the promise the Royals saw when they drafted him. As a super-2 player in 2010, he still remains under team-control through the 2014 season. However, his resurgence this year may give Royals GM Dayton Moore reason to think about offering an extension to buy out those remaining arbitration years. At the very least, Gordon has assured himself of a multi-million dollar deal in arbitration before the 2012 season, if he is unable to work out a deal with the Royals before then.

5) Howie Kendrick- Angels 2B/1B/LF     
   2010 Totals: .279 AVG, 10 HR, 75 RBI, 14 SB, .721 OPS
   2011 Salary: $3.3 million
   2011 Pace: .307 AVG. 16 HR, 53 RBI, 12 SB, .857 OPS
        - Kendrick's decrease in RBI can be attributed to the fact that the rest of his teammates struggle to get on base, as the Angels rank 23rd in MLB in runs scored. Otherwise, it appears that Kendrick has finally arrived as one of the game's premier second basemen. His ability to play first base as well as left field makes him even more valuable to potential suitors. Kendrick will be a free agent after this season, and his services will not come cheap. He will benefit from the fact that Dan Uggla, who is four years older than Kendrick and inferior to him in every category besides homeruns, was given a 5-year, $62 million extension by the Braves in January. It's not unreasonable to think that Kendrick is worthy of a similar, if not more lucrative, deal.   

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Marlins Deserve New City, Not Ballpark

    The Florida Marlins take advantage of every opportunity to remind their fans that
the team will be moving to a beautiful new stadium for the 2012 season. The jumbotron displays of each player feature a computer-generated replica of what the stadium will look like once completed. The left-field wall implores fans to secure their season tickets for next season (I guess all hope for selling tickets this year is lost). The team's website features an entire page dedicated to the new park, complete with a countdown timer and a webcam that updates pictures of the under-construction ballpark every fifteen minutes.

    This isn't the first time the Marlins have taken advantage of ballpark-related opportunities before. The deal to build the new ballpark between the team and the city of Miami is considered the most team-friendly agreement in the storied (and economically disastrous) history of publicly-financed sports venues. The city (i.e. taxpayers) is on the hook for about $500 million of the $634 million stadium, and most residents are not thrilled about that fact (so disgruntled are Miami residents that 88% voted to oust former Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who engineered the stadium deal). Making matters worse, the city does not have all of the funds that it pledged towards the project. Thus, it was forced to take out over $400 million in loans which (according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports), by the time they've been paid off, will have cost the city billions of dollars. It's as if Dr. Evil was elected Mayor, and immediately decided, "Why waste millions when you can waste *pinky to mouth*...billions?"

    In Alvarez's defense, it's not like Marlins owner Jeffery Loria comes out of this whole ordeal looking like a saint, either. Loria and his head crony, son-in-law and team president (nepotistic, much?) David Samson cried poverty when approached by city officials about contributing a larger share of the stadium's cost. However, Deadspin's leak of the team's financial records indicated an operating income of nearly $38 million in 2008. Loria kept the team's payroll at a bare minimum for much of the past five years, and apparently pocketed revenue-sharing income (funds generated by other MLB teams and intended to allow small-market teams to stay competitive via increased payrolls), rather than re-investing it in the on-field product. Passan also reported that in 2008 and 2009, Loria, whom Samson claimed "did not put a dollar in his pocket", even paid a corporation, the Double Play Company, a management fee to help oversee the team's operations. Double Play's CEO? Jeffery Loria. Double Play's president? David Samson. The duo collected millions of dollars in salary over the two years. In the words of Lloyd Christmas, of Dumb and Dumber fame, what was all that "no dollar in his pocket" talk? Makes it somewhat hard to believe that the team was really as poor as its' owner claimed, doesn't it? However, by then, the stadium deal had already been completed, and there was nothing anyone could do. The city had asked to see the Marlins' financials during negotiations, but were rebuffed each time. Easy to see why, huh?

   Of the many things that Miami needs to spend tax revenue on, a new home for the Marlins is pretty far down the list. Trust me, I've lived there for the past year. But aside from the fact that the community's money could be better spent elsewhere, this little nugget remains: Nobody (outside of the team's owner, president, and the couple hundred diehards who "fill" Sun Life Stadium for Marlins games) believes the new ballpark will do much good. The history of publicly-financed stadiums is littered with promises of increased attendance and, consequently, increased revenue for the team (presumably to spend on its payroll...we'll get to that in a minute). Reality, however, suggests that a new stadium simply delays, rather than fixes, attendance problems. Traditionally, a new stadium will increase attendance and revenues for the first few years after the facility opens. However, writes Tim Elfrink in this in-depth piece, once the novelty of the new digs wears off, attendance usually falls back to somewhere near the number being reached in the old stadium. Examples can be found in Washington, Cincinatti, and Pittsburgh. In five years, the Marlins new ballpark is far more likely to be a multi-billion dollar albatross rather than the beacon of hope that Loria Samson claim it will be.

    If the pattern of initially increased attendance followed by a return to old-stadium levels repeats itself, the new stadium will be considered an even bigger mistake than it currently is. The Marlins have consistently been cellar dwellers when it comes to attendance, attracting about half as many fans as the average National League team over the past five seasons, according to Baseball Almanac. The paltry turn-out has been attributed (by Loria and Samson) to the inadequacy of the Marlins' current home, Sun Life Stadium. Common excuses include the immense South Florida heat, rain-delays, and the fact that the stadium was designed for football. The "It's too hot" argument might fly on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, but it doesn't explain why a breezy Monday night affair with the current wild-card-leading Brewers drew only 12,404 (if we're counting actual people the number was more like 2,000) to a stadium that holds over 36,000 (particularly when you consider that the night's promotion included $5 bullpen box seats). The whole rain delay argument is flawed, too, as the Marlins have only had a handful of rain-outs the past few years. And the fact that Sun Life Stadium is designed for football does not mean that the place lacks great sightlines, especially when you're sitting between the first and third-base dugouts. Ticket prices for Marlins games are incredibly affordable, as well. The team practically tries to give tickets away, offering infield box seats for $7.90 and $7.10 often. A cursory search through Stubhub reveals a slew of $4 tickets available for next Monday's matchup with the Angels. If a budget-strapped college student (cough, or any baseball fan were so inclined, he could easily buy such a ticket, and simply walk over to the more expensive seats and sit wherever he pleased. Cavernous stadium or not, enjoying a Major League Baseball game is fairly easy to do when you're sitting in the fifth row.

    Still, the Marlins have failed season after season to attract a respectable number from metro Miami's 5.5 million residents. And it's not because we don't like the stadium. The real culprit, you ask? Apathy. We don't care. About the Marlins. About the flaws of Sun Life Stadium. About sports in general (the Dolphins and superstar-laden Heat have had trouble getting fans to their seats in time for the start of games). Still, those teams at least sell a large percentage of their tickets. The Marlins? Not so much.

    What's the solution, then? Well, it's too late to rectify the situation. The deal is done (in the immortal words of Samson, when asked if the team would be open to contributing more of its own money to the project, "A deal is a deal"), and the ballpark is nearly complete.

    Ideally, the city would've let Loria follow through on his multiple threats to move the team. A number of cities, including Portland and San Antonio, courted Loria and the Marlins. Nobody would've blamed him for relocating a competitive team which the South Florida community has consistently failed to support. Instead, Alvarez and the other numbskulls running the city government approved a stadium deal that nobody liked for a team that nobody (in Miami) wants. But hey, at least now the Marlins' sparsely attended games will be played in a beautiful, rain-delay-proof, air-conditioned gem of a stadium! Anytime you can burn billions of public dollars on the comfort of a couple hundred people, you have to do it, right?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Heat-Mavs Game 6 Blog

7:39: Brought my A-game today food-wise. Had a hot dog combo from Costco (The best $1.59 ever spent), followed by 3 slices of pepperoni pizza, with a footlong Russo sub ready in the fridge. If the Heat don't make it happen tonight, it won't be on me.

7:50: Mario Chalmers starting in place of Bibby. Panic move? Not really. Other than Game 2, Bibby has been awful throughout the playoffs

7:57: 1st Mountain Dew of the night. I'm going for 5,000 calories by midnight.

8:06: Before we get started, let's get 1 thing straight: this is a huge blow to Miami if they don't win it all this year. I don't want to hear any "LeBron and Bosh are only 26, they'll have more opportunities" nonsense. There are no guarantees of the Heat returning to the Finals year after year, and nobody knows how long the egos of Wade and James will be content to share the spotlight. Blowing a chance to get a ring in their 1st year together would sting.

8:11: James with Miami's first 5 points. Huge to get him going early. 7-6 Heat, 9:29 to go in 1st

8:14: James opens 4-4 with 9 points. When the J is falling, he is truly unguardable. 14-10 Heat 7:50 1Q

8:19: Poor Jason Kidd. He doesn't have a chance when Wade is running at him. 20-13 Heat, 5:43 1Q

8:24: Heat double Marion in the post and leave Terry wide open for a 3. When was the last time Shawn Marion beat a team with his post game? Does he even have a post move? Over-helping is a problem with the Heat's defensive scheme.

8:28: Dirk comes out, Mavs promptly go on 8-0 run. Missed opportunity for Heat to extend lead. 27-24 Mavs, 1:50 1Q

8:32: I didn't think the whole coughing thing was a big deal. Believe it or not, it is okay if players from different teams aren't in love with each other. A little bad blood always makes things more interesting.

8:34: As good as Heat were in the 1st 6 minutes, they were just as bad (maybe worse) in the last 6. When Dallas goes to zone, Miami has noone to hit the 3 (see Eddie House getting minutes). James Jones' injury (which nobody will publicly acknowledge) has really hurt Miami in this series. 32-27 Mavs after 1

8:38: The fact that Miami stopped scoring as soon as Dirk came out (17-2 Mavs run) is not a coincidence. For all of his offensive brilliance, he is an awful defender and an even worse rebounder.

8:42: Speaking of awful rebounding, Chris Bosh everybody. 40-28 Mavs, 9:30 2Q

8:46: Good for Mark Jackson for pointing out media hypocrisy in crushing Wade/James for Game 2 celebration, yet letting DeShawn Stevenson slide for acting like a clown everytime he hits a wide open spot up 3. You're a professional, and they're leaving you WIDE OPEN. Don't need to pimp yourself everytime you hit one.

8:53: BANG!! Eddie House is in the building! I'm so confused. House barely saw any action during the regular season, now Spo dusts him off and it's actually working...Haslem starts trouble with Stevenson after the timeout. The benches have cleared! Now we're playing playoff basketball! 42-40 Heat, 6:25 2Q

8:57: Okay let's get this thing sorted out. Ts on Chalmers, Haslem, and Stevenson. I can live with that. Stevenson had to be dealt with. Whistles are gonna be quick now. Should favor the Heat. 42-41 Heat, 5:45 2Q.

9:07: Mike Breen is having a hard time hiding his support for the Mavs. He probably should've worn a suit instead of his Nowitzki jersey. Heat putting House on Terry was probably not a great idea, either. 49-47 Mavs, 3:33 2Q.

9:16: Heat's half-court offense is all types of bad. Need to push the ball on misses. Their best shots usually come off the break. On cue, a shot clock violation. LeBron has been MIA (get it? Okay that was weak) since his 4-4 start. 53-51 Mavs at halftime.

9:20: Halftime thoughts: Dirk has been terrible (1-12), but Terry has been pretty incredible (8-10). Heat struggling to contain dribble penetration, and when they send help they leave Dallas' shooters wide open. That thinking plays right into Dallas' hands. Mavs would rather shoot jumpers than finish at the rim. Total opposite on the other end, where Dallas is daring Miami to shoot perimeter jumpers, giving them uncontested looks. The strategy works because Miami's only legitimate shooting threat is House. The Dallas zone cuts down the opportunities for Wade and James to penetrate into the defense, and the Heat are pretty much forced to shoot jumpers. Heat need to get out and run on misses before Dallas has a chance to set up their defense. It's Russo time!

9:51: I'm back. The sandwich was outstanding. Chris Bosh's defense and rebounding is not. Might not be a great idea to leave Dirk and help on a penetrating Brian Cardinal. If Heat wind up losing they'll have themselves to blame. Ton of missed FTs and overall unintelligent basketball.

9:53: Wade with an easy charge call and compounds the mistake with a T. When you're down 6 in a game where you can't get a stop to save your life, might not be a good idea to get T'd up.

9:56: Uh oh. Call arena security, someone called Brian Cardinal a bad word. When you openly embrace being called "The Custodian", I think you forfeit the right to complain about verbal abuse. 74-69 Mavs, 2:00 3Q

10:00: Heat hanging around, even though they don't really deserve to. 10 missed FTs. Unbelievable. 76-71 Mavs, 1:00 3Q

10:09: Mahinmi at the buzzer and the Mavs lead by 9. I'm not saying it's over, but it's probably going to take 1 of those ridiculous performances by Wade to push the series to 7. For all of his immense talents, LeBron does not have THAT type of mentality.

10:11: Nice backcut by Wade, who finishes at the rim over Nowitzki for the And-1. You're not gonna believe this, but he missed the FT. Heat's tally up to 12 now. 81-77 Mavs 10:32 4Q

10:15: Barea hits a tough 3, but the fact that House is guarding him made it a lot easier. When House's 3s are falling, he's an asset on offense. But his defense is consistently atrocious. There is simply nowhere to hide him (other than the bench), and Dallas exploits him by going to whoever he's guarding. 85-77 Mavs 9:20 4Q

10:20: Simply put, Dallas is the better team tonight. Heat will kick themselves all summer for giving away Games 2 and 4, though. In my last-ditch effort to stir up some Heat magic, Dallas led 89-76 in Game 3 of 2006 Finals with 6:30 to go when Wade turned into something from another planet. But, as Jake Taylor said in Major League 2, that was a different team. 89-77 Mavs 8:12 4Q

10:26: Scott Foster trying to keep the Heat in it with a highly questionable continuation call for the Chalmers And-1. Doesn't really matter, though. Dallas is scoring at will. 94-86 Mavs, 5:56 4Q

10:32: Evil Rio picks a really bad time to appear. Dumb turnover followed by dumber foul. Then commits an even dumber foul on the next possession. Just when Heat fans thought he had turned the corner, too. 95-87 Mavs 4:32 4Q

10:34: LeBron is getting rid of the ball like it's on fire. As a Heat fan, it's maddening. As a basketball fan, it's just disappointing. For all the bravado and arrogance he portrays, it's clear that he just doesn't believe in himself when it's time to win the game. At least we can stop with all the ridiculous MJ talk.

10:42: That's all. Give Dallas credit. Miami let them back in the series when they had a chance to take control, and the Mavs took advantage. Dirk was as efficient and devastating in this series as Wade was in 2006. By far the best player in the series. As is usually the case in the NBA, the team with the best player won.

10:47: Closing thoughts: Miami was never going to be a finished product this year. Developing chemistry between Wade and James was a struggle throughout the year, although there were times when the duo was unstoppable. Dallas did a good job of forcing Miami to beat them from the outside, a task that the Heat were not up to. Moving forward, the Heat have some holes to fill on their roster. Having a healthy Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem will help, but the hole at the PG position is glaring. Mario Chalmers emerged during this Finals series, but his contract is up and he may have played himself out of the Heat's price range, depending on the terms of the new CBA. Mike Bibby isn't expected to return, and Eddie House is nothing more than a 5-10 minute energy boost off the bench at this point in his career. The Heat hold the 1st pick of the 2nd round in the NBA Draft, where they will likely have a chance to bring in someone who can play a considerable role on a team littered with past-their-prime veterans. They'll need a quick, defense-first type who can knock down an open 3, as Miami struggled all year against the better PGs in the East.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

"Villain" Heat v. "Hero" Mavs: America's Confusing Moral Compass

     Above all else, the only thing you need to know about the 2011 NBA Finals is that the Miami Heat represent all things evil and the Dallas Mavericks stand for all that is right in this world. There is no middle ground. A large segment of today's sports media would have you believe that the Heat are made up of a traveling gang of bullies, flying to and fro NBA cities across the country stealing the collective milk money of each team, leaving every victim hanging by their jerseys from a coat hanger, kicking their feet helplessly. We, Joe Sportsfan, have eaten this angle up, spewing contempt for the Heat and throwing our support behind the Mavs without taking the time to ask, "Why?"    
     To be fair, we don't really hate the Heat, just their villainous leader. LeBron James embodies everything we hate about sports: arrogance, lack of loyalty, inflated sense of self-worth. He was blessed with incredible God-given abilities, and seems to have no qualms with flaunting that fact right in our face. "The Decision" showed us that much. But, at the end of that one-hour debacle, was there any real harm inflicted? To James' legacy, sure. To Cleveland's economy, perhaps (although entrusting the well-being of a major city's economy to the whims of an athlete is equal parts irrational and short-sighted). In the end, however, all that happened was a basketball player traded in one uniform for another. Nobody was harmed. No crime was committed. In fact, James donated all of the advertising proceeds of the televised spectacle (over $2 million) to over fifty Boys & Girls Clubs across America, including three in the Cleveland area. The only true lasting effect of the most criticized career move in the history of sports is that a whole bunch of kids will get to spend their summers and after-school time in much nicer facilities than they would've had at their disposal if not for "The Decision." Is that a good reason for designating James "Public Enemy Number One?" We never really took the time to ask. Ironically, most sports fans are deprived of the very qualities (self-awareness and humility) that we despise James for failing to possess.
     By no means should James be absolved of his complicity in the whole "Decision" fiasco. He should have known better. A simple phone call to the Cavs would've avoided all of the backlash that resulted. All of the traits attributed to him (arrogance, inflated self-worth, etc.) are appropriately given. The flaw in villifying James lies in the fact that he isn't much different from most of the players found on NBA rosters. Exorbitant egos run rampant throughout the league, not just in Miami.

     The Mavericks, themselves, feature a few characters whose actions haven't exactly reflected what we consider wholesome American values. Jason Kidd, Dallas' aging, venerable point guard, pleaded guilty to domestic abuse in 2001 for assaulting his wife. In 2001, DeShawn Stevenson, then 20, admitted to buying alcohol for and having consensual sex with a 14-year old girl. Stevenson had another run-in with the law in 2007 when a friend of his was shot in front of Stevenson's house in the wee hours of the morning. No charges were filed, due to the failure of all the parties involved (including Stevenson) to cooperate with police. Both players play prominent roles on this Dallas team. Neither has had to answer questions regarding their criminal pasts with anything more than a "no comment."

      If only life were so easy for James. Such is the reality of media coverage today. An athlete is more likely to be forgiven for committing a crime than for missing a big shot. James, himself, is experiencing this fascinating dichotomy during these Finals. Plagued by poor late-game performances throughout the series, the media (and sports fans everywhere outside of South Florida) are reveling in James' failure to live up to the lofty standards he set for himself and his teammates when he claimed the Heat were destined to win as many as seven championships. A reasonable argument can be made that James has invited all of the scrutiny being directed towards him.

      The rub is that by demonizing James and the Heat, our natural inference is to label the Mavs the "good guys", worthy of the public's support and adulation. It's not my place to say whether they are or aren't. My hope, however, is that we (sports fans and media, alike) take the time to look at the character of the players comprising both teams, and recognize that most of them, like us, are flawed. Consider it a "Decision" of our own.