Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Broken Tackle's NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Part 2

The 2007 NHL playoffs kick off Wednesday night, and for the first time in league history, don't include last year's Stanley Cup Finals participants, as the Oilers and Hurricanes both came up short of post-season berths.

Yesterday we previewed the first 8 teams to be eliminated in the Stanley Cup first round. Today we go through the final 8 teams all the way to the eventual champion.

On to today's rankings:

8. Nashville Predators (eliminated by Ducks in 4): About now would be the standard time for the Paul Kariya or Peter Forsberg injury that derails the Predators title hopes. But the fact is, even with some solid goaltending, the Predators don't have the depth or speed to keep up at all with Anaheim, even if everyone on Nashville stays healthy.

7. New York Rangers (eliminated by Sabres in 6): After dispatching of one New York team (the Islanders in Round 1), the Sabres take care of another when they roll over the Rangers. Expect some close games early in the series, but the Rangers lack of depth will finally catch up to them late, and their defenders will have a hard time with the Sabres' wave-after-wave of attack. The Rangers were a great story this year, with veterans Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Michael Nylander providing leadership through tough injuries and lapses in defensive play. If the team can reload on defense next year and get a full season of consistent play from forward Sean Avery, they will be dangerous next season.

6. Ottawa Senators (eliminated by Devils in 6): Anything short of a Stanley Cup at this point is a failure for the Senators, and this year their post-season futility will end thanks to a tough 2nd round match-up with New Jersey. Expect the Senators explosive front line of Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza to get theirs against Martin Brodeur, but the issue is how long the inexperienced Ray Emery can hold in goal for Ottawa. Emery has played terrific down the stretch, but he's young and he's playing with former starter Martin Gerber breathing down his neck. Expect Emery to come out with some nerves in the 2nd round and the Devils will take advantage, and by the time the Senators switch to Gerber, it will be too late.

5. Detroit Red Wings (eliminated by Stars in 7): A tough 1st Round match-up won't help Detroit much as they head into a confrontation with the big, physical Stars. The Red Wings did toughen up this season, especially by adding badass Todd Bertuzzi. But as usual, this is an older team, especially with Dominik Hasek in goal, and the longer this series goes, the worse off Detroit will be. This series will come down to Bertuzzi's play, if he can disrupt the action in front of the net and hassle Marty Turco, the Wings might come away with the series. Otherwise, Detroit could find it tough to score, especially as their defensive scorers start to wear down.

4. Dallas Stars (eliminated by Ducks in 6): Marty Turco has a chance this year to really pull a Peyton Manning and throw off the shackles of a playoff "choker" label. The problem is, up front the Stars are a little too seasoned and a little too shallow. This could be a last hurrah for Mike Modano and Eric Lindros, who have been playing well down the stretch. The Stars play a tight puck-control game that can work wonders come playoff time, but will probably wither against a Ducks team with too much talent on every line for Dallas to keep up with.

3. New Jersey Devils (eliminated by Sabres in 7): In one of the most curious GM moves in recent sports history (and remember, this recent history includes Isaiah Thomas), Devils GM Lou Lamorellio fired head coach Claude Julien and named himself head coach with only three games left in the schedule for a #2 seed. The level to which the Devils respond will of course define the length of their playoff run. Defense and goaltending usually win championships, and New Jersey has both in spades, with first-ballot HOF'er Marty Brodeur in net and John Madden and Brian Rafalski manning the blue line. Buffalo can't match New Jersey's defense and goaltending in terms of experience, but they can match it in talent and their deep and dangerous offense will be able to get key goals when the Devils can't.

2. Buffalo Sabres (eliminated by Ducks in 7): Dare we predict the Buffalo Sabres, a team with no championship in their rich history, a team whose heart has been broken on a regular basis in the Stanley Cup playoffs, a team with an eager fan base yearning for a title from one of its two disappointing pro teams as some kind of reward for lasting another harsh Buffalo winter; dare we predict the Sabres lose the Stanley Cup Finals to a hockey team from L.A. started somewhat in jest by Disney to cross-promote a kids movie with Emilio Estevez, unleashed one of the ugliest jerseys in pro sports history and is full of high-priced veterans and a French goalie named Jean-Sebastien? Yes, yes we do dare.

1. Anaheim Ducks (Your Stanley Cup Champions): Sorry Buffalo, but you'll have to join the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs fans in one more year of wanting to hang yourselves. The Ducks are loaded at every position, well-coached and led by former playoff breakout goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Another title for an Anaheim (L.A. Jr.) pro team may seem dubious, but the sweet poetic justice here is that the title will happen only after CEO Mickey Mouse sold the team, and the now contentious Ducks have shed their wholesome image and led the NHL in fighting penalty minutes this year. Watch for veteran Teemu Selanne to hoist the first Stanley Cup of his 17-year career and promptly beat somebody over the head with it, just as God intended the cup to be used.

(And if you need further reason to cheer for Selanne, check out his Babe Ruthian hat trick earlier this year in honor of a friend with cancer).

Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Just Let the Racist Idiot Be a Racist Idiot

I can't be the only one who's sick of this. How many times has this scenario played out in this country? The ignorant and insubstantial public figure makes a stupid and offensive comment. Everyone has to act overly indignant, even though none of us really care that much. In the end, the public figure makes a hollow apology, and we all continue to act incensed until we just stop caring on a literal level. Then they go back to being just as ignorant but slightly less insubstantial because of all the attention we just afforded them for being ignorant.

Nobody should give a crap about Don Imus. Imus has been an insignificant speck on the radio landscape ever since Howard Stern kicked his ass in the WNBC ratings in the mid 80's. There's probably about two dozen people left in this country who still listen to Imus on a regular basis. The only reason anyone knows the name anymore is from Stern making occasional remarks about what a useless douche nozzle Imus is.

When Don Imus made the comment that the Rutgers women's basketball team was a bunch of "nappy-headed ho's" we, as a society, should've shrugged and thought to ourselves "that douchebag Imus is still on the air?"

But no, Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson had to get involved. Approximately 12,000 sports columnists had to voice their opinion about it. And the Rutgers coach had to throw a press conference to call him "deplorable and despicable." This is an actual quote from the coach, C. Vivien Stringer:

I don't know how anyone could have heard this and not been personally hurt and offended. When there is not equality for all or when there's been denied equality for one, there's been denied equality for all.

I mean, is she describing her basketball team or the Little Rock 9? Is she seriously giving Don Imus that much authority over us as a culture? I wasn't personally hurt or offended because Imus is a friggin' moron and I couldn't care less what he has to say about anything.

(By the way, your fearless author is a Jewish-American who wasn't the least bit offended by the comments of Micheal Ray Richardson and I'm actually somewhat offended by all the media jag-offs who acted as if they were personally offended).

What all these people need to understand is that 98% of the country already agree with what I'm saying. We don't need the Rutgers coach to tell us the comments were deplorable, we're smart enough to figure that out for ourselves. I can understand the Rutgers team being offended, but I don't understand the need to throw a press conference just to let us know how offended they are.

As for the other 2% of the country who agree with Imus? Well, guess what, we're never convincing those ignorant morons otherwise. But some of those 98% are going to see people like Al Sharpton running his mouth, acting as if the incident has anything to do with him, and maybe even start to feel some vicarious sort of sympathy for Imus. In other words, putting on this big show in the media isn't going to get much done, and if anything, it's going to backfire.

What the Al Sharptons and Jemele Hills of the world need to learn is that in a society as sensitively advanced as ours, often it's a better idea to just let the racist idiots be racist idiots. Instead of stating the obvious counterpoints to their ignorance, why not just let them twist in the wind as we all jointly mock them as a cultural pariah?

It's the further expansion of the lowest common denominator stance in America. We always have to pander to the dumbest and most irresponsible out of all of us. This incident reminded me of a video link someone once sent me of that idiot Tyra Banks engaging in a debate with Shirley Phelps, better known as the God Hates Fags lady. The problem here is, Banks only gets a TV show because she used to be a supermodel, whereas Phelps is a lawyer and a shrewd public speaker. By the end of the debate, I found myself actually siding with the God Hates Fags lady. How the hell did that happen? Because Banks is an idiot who thinks she's deep by trying to point out the flaws in Phelps' lifestyle and ideals. Of course, Banks' audience ate it up. But those of us who aren't trained donkeys clapping at an "applause" sign didn't need Banks to point out these flaws because ANYONE WITH THE BRAIN OF A 4-YEAR OLD CAN SEE THE FLAWS FOR THEMSELVES.

I contrast this with the aforementioned Howard Stern, who frequently brings Phelps on as a guest simply to mock her by allowing her to espouse her insensible views without interruption (save for the occasional goading). That's because Stern understands that these views can stand on their own as mockable and ridiculous without the need for commentary and disagreement. Instead of ignoring the fact that there's a "God Hates Fags" lady, and instead of dropping down to her level by arguing with her, Stern instead does his audience a service by simply keeping them on guard to the fact that such ignorance and douchebaggery still exists in the world.

This is something that people like Al Sharpton will never understand. The only person in this whole Don Imus controversy who came off looking solid was Cal Ripken. As you may or may not have heard, Ripken was (for some reason) scheduled to appear on Imus' show later this week, but after learning of Imus' comments decided to cancel his appearance.

And that was it.

And that's how we should all handle a situation like this. If you didn't care about Don Imus before, then you should shrug your shoulders at his ignorance and continue to not care. If for some reason, in the course of your future life, your path was intended to cross with Imus' path, then take another path. That's how you get these ignorant racists to go away. You don't do it by making them apologize or firing them or suspending them or writing scathing columns about them. You do it by just letting them continue to be ignorant racists, but let them be an ignorant racist that we all admit exists, but eventually ignore.

Broken Tackle's NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Part 1

The 2007 NHL playoffs kick off Wednesday night, and for the first time in league history, don't include last year's Stanley Cup Finals participants, as the Oilers and Hurricanes both came up short of post-season berths.

Over the next two days, we'll be ranking the 16 playoff teams in the order by which they'll be eliminated from this year's playoffs. Today we start with the 8 teams getting eliminated in Round 1, tomorrow will be the final 8 teams up to the Stanley Cup champions.

So break out your dead octopi and start growing your playoff beard, it's Stanley Cup time!

16. New York Islanders (eliminated by Sabres in 4): Congratulations to the Islanders on scratching and clawing your way into the playoffs, now enjoy getting decimated by the Sabres. It is hard not to cheer for the Islanders in this series. They're coached by former spurned Sabres coach Ted Nolan, they had to run the table in their final four games to reach the playoffs, they're lead by Oilers cast-off Ryan Smyth and due to injury, their starting goalie is Wade Dubielewicz, a minor league call up who answers to the nickname "Doobie" and has Yoda painted on his mask. The Islanders physicality might allow them to steal a game at home, but beyond that, the Sabres' speed and depth is way too much to overcome.

15. Minnesota Wild (eliminated by Ducks in 5): Coach Jacques Lemaire knows how to slow down speedy opponents and the Ducks could play right into his hands with their wide-open offense. Unfortunately Lemaire's Wild team just doesn't have the talent to hang with Anaheim for too long. The Minnesota offense is too dependent on Martin Gaborik, and he can most likely be neutralized by the Ducks' physical defensemen. Replacement goalie Niklas Backstrom will keep most games close, but the Wild will not be able to generate enough offense to fulfill Lemaire's strategy.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning (eliminated by Devils in 6): The Lightning boast one of the league's top lines, with NHL leading-scorer Vincent LaCavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards; the three stars of Tampa Bay's '04 Stanley Cup victory. Unfortunately, it's quite a drop-off in talent after those three, most of the rest of the team struggled to really score or defend all season. Goalie Johan Holmqvist showed some flashes this year, but he's inconsistent and has no previous playoff experience. Meanwhile, you get the sense that Marty Brodeur knows he has limited chances left to win his fourth Stanley Cup title. The Devils trademark pressure defense will limit any chances for Tampa Bay beyond their first line, and Brodeur should shut them down effectively enough for New Jersey to lose no more than a game or two.

13. San Jose Sharks (eliminated by Predators in 6): The Sharks have a little bit of history against them this year. This is the third time in the past decade that they enter a playoff re-match in back-to-back years. The last two times, they won the first series and then fell in the ensuing series. Nashville reminds us an awful lot of last year's Hurricanes squad, led by veteran free agent veterans Paul Kariya and Peter Forsberg mixed with young stars Alexander Radulov and David Legwand. They even have an unheralded backup goalie, Chris Mason, set to fill in for the hobbled starter, Tomas Vokoun. The Sharks will need big scoring days from Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton to compete.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins (eliminated by Senators in 6): Don't get it twisted, if David Stern was running the NHL, Sidney Crosby and the Penguins would be making a run to at least the Eastern Conference Finals. But with Gary Bettman in charge, the young megastar and his talented prodigy teammates (Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal) are likely to fall in the first round to the deeper and more experienced team from Ottawa. If the Penguins are to make a run, they'll need some major production from their playoff neophyte goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury.

11. Vancouver Canucks (eliminated by Stars in 6): This will likely be the lowest scoring series in the entire playoffs, as both teams have struggled to put the puck in the net late in the year. Dallas has been beset by injuries, and is trying to shake the "choker" label of veteran goalie Marty Turco and forward Eric Lindros. Luckily for Lindros, he isn't asked to carry this team, but Turco will be the focal point night-in-and-night-out. The Stars have a favorable draw here, even as the lower seed, as the Canucks feature a green goalie in Robert Luongo. Even though Luongo played lights-out much of the season, this is his first playoff appearance and the Canucks don't have enough scoring options to cover his ass.

10. Calgary Flames (eliminated by Red Wings in 7): It could be deja vu for Detroit, once again entering the playoffs as the #1 seed in the West only to face a tough, physical, well-coached #8 seed in the first round. Last year the Wings were eliminated by the eventual Western Conference champion Oilers. It's tempting to say they fall again to the Flames, but Detroit bulked up and hardened in the off-season to prepare for just such a series. Dominik Hasek vs. Mikka Kiprusoff is probably the best goalie match-up of the first round. Unfortunately for Calgary, it's hard to imagine where their scoring will come from outside of Jarome Iginla.

9. Atlanta Thrashers (eliminated by Rangers in 7): The Thrashers and Rangers are two very similar teams: solid, veteran forwards; unheralded defenders; inexperienced goalies. Give the edge to the Rangers in the defensive department in this series, and that will likely be the difference. We also like the fact that Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has at least one season of playoff experience under his belt. Look for big games from Rangers forwards Sean Avery and Martin Straka to overcome the Thrashers explosiveness of Ilya Kovalchuk and Keith Tkachuk. By the way, even though we expect the Rangers to win, we are cheering for the Thrashers in these playoffs simply on the basis that not only is Lil' Jon a fan, he actually has a blog dedicated to the team.

2nd round, Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals coming tomorrow!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Even the Easter Bunny Couldn't Save Tiger Woods

Yes, Tiger Woods is somewhat human. But don't be too hard on the golfing prodigy, because there probably isn't a human alive who could defeat Jesus on Easter Sunday.

After finishing his fourth round of The Masters with a sizable lead, Zach Johnson credited Jesus for the victory, telling CBS cameras that he felt the lord and savior walking with him every step of the way. Yes, because, as usual, Jesus H. Christ had nothing better to do with his Easter Sunday then walk around a golf course in Augusta, Georgia with a bunch of privileged white people playing one of the silliest games ever invented.

Tiger Woods missing tough putts on the back 9 that could've tied him with Johnson is further proof, of course, that God hates cablasians. And God, overall, still really, really despises John Daly.

But we knew that already.

So, to recap, Jesus > Tiger Woods. For now. When Tiger is busy winning the British Open and PGA Championship while Zach Johnson slips back into 63rd place and general obscurity (Mike Weir, anyone?), maybe it's because Jesus is busy helping poor children in Africa. Or something else less important like that. But hey, maybe this year they can hold the Nissan Open on All Saint's Day, just so we know Jesus is paying attention again to Zach Johnson's short game.

Broken Tackle's Weekend Wrap-Up

Some other things that we learned this weekend outside of never sucker punch Tony Soprano...

1) Ah, springtime. Flowers are blooming. Birds are singing. Bees are trying to have sex with them (as is our understanding). And baseball season is underway. The only problem is, mother nature and global warming don't want to cooperate.

For those who still don't believe in global warming (we're looking at you, Utah, Kentucky and George W. Bush)... we present Exhibit A: Jacob's Field in April looking like Jacob's Field during the second ice age. And Exhibit B: Elijah Dukes rounds third base in a game in Yankee Stadium looking like Nanook of the North on his way to rob a train station.

It would appear that Al Gore might have a point.

2) Dwyane Wade returned last night, but the Heat dropped a tough one to the cellar-dwelling Bobcats, pretty much destroying their chance at home-court advantage in a first round series. Meanwhile, the Lakers fell to the Suns, dropping them to the 7th seed out West. And the Toronto Raptors pile-drived the Bulls, pulling them within striking distance of the 2nd seed in the East. NBA playoff seeding fever!

3) On the final day of the NHL regular season, the New York Islanders needed a shoot-out victory over the Devils to clinch the Eastern Conference 8th seed over the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is, of course, a great day for Americans who hate Canadians (especially Americans who give a crap about hockey), as the Islanders join teams from Tampa, Atlanta, Nashville and San Jose in this year's playoffs; while traditional Canadian powerhouses from Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton will be forced to watch the playoffs from home (assuming Canada carries the Versus network). The Islanders reward? Probably a first-round sweep at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres. More on the NHL playoffs later this week.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Barry Bonds is Still Black

On April 15th, Major League Baseball will celebrate a very-special episode of Jackie Robinson Day, the one where we fete the 60th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball.

The fact that we feel strangely compelled to give special treatment to the round, even numbers like 60 as opposed to the 59th anniversary or 61st anniversary is probably an impracticable point. (I might have been too young at the time to notice whether we gave special recognition to the 42nd anniversary in 1989, though I suppose that would've been pretty cool if we did).

A lot of people will commemorate this anniversary in different ways. Bud Selig will probably make a bunch of political statements in the form of press releases. The Los Angeles Dodgers plan on all wearing #42 that day in honor of Robinson. Many members of the mass media are likely already salivating at the excuse to write a faux-sociological dissertation on "The Scarcity of the Modern African-American Baseball Player and Why This is Important and How Did This Happen and What Will We Do to Remedy It?"

Ken Griffey Jr., one of the few high profile African-American baseball stars left, lobbied the Major League offices for the right to wear #42 on April 15th in honor of Robinson's legend. The MLB brass thought it was such a good idea, that they've extended the offer to one player on every single team.

One of the first players to take them up on that offer? Our old friend, Barry Bonds.

This is interesting on many, many levels. Bonds, of course, was one of the most abhorred athletes in the country before we all suspected he was taking steroids. And perhaps it says something about our evolution as a society that even subconsciously, we don't appear to hate Bonds because he's black. We hate him because he's an egotistical jerk.

But remember, according to Book of Shadows, one of the main reasons Bonds was compelled to take steroids in the first place was because of what he perceived as undue naivety of the American people towards Mark McGwire's obvious steroid use, simply because he was white. Learning this created a very interesting abstraction: did Barry Bonds take steroids just to teach us a lesson about racism?

The answer is probably not. By all accounts, Bonds is too self-serving a human being to take steroids with the intention to create a transcendent moment in American sports culture. (There's nothing wrong with that. 98% of us would be too self-serving to do that). But the answer here isn't as important as how we potentially react to the question.

A lot of people (both civilians and members of the media) are going to take their pot-shots at Bonds over the next few days saying he doesn't deserve to honor Jackie Robinson. But I think no player in the last 60 years of baseball is more qualified than Bonds to honor Jackie Robinson. Because in his own self-aggrandizing way, Bonds has forced us to contemplate the correlation that still exists between sports and race.

Guys like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and Frank Robinson were easy to like. This is especially true if you weren't actually alive when they played. They are probably three of the six or eight greatest hitters who ever lived and by all explanations were solid citizens who represented the game of baseball with aplomb both on and off the field. Compare this to many of the great "white" hitters of the 21st century: guys who we've come to know as pompous loners (Ted Williams), domineering narcissists (Joe DiMaggio) or womanizing alcoholics (Babe Ruth).

One could argue that Barry Bonds was the first fatally flawed black baseball player. The first black baseball player we were inclined to hate.

60 years ago, many Americans hated Jackie Robinson simply because he was a black man playing a white man's game. Over 30 years ago, many Americans hated Hank Aaron simply because he was a black man trying to break the most hallowed record set by a white man. Today, most of us hate Barry Bonds, who happens to be a black man, simply because he's a conceited jerk who wears earrings and cheated. But subconsciously, we all worry about Bonds being right, that we hate him on a deeper level because he's just another black man trying to re-write our culture.

Whether he intended to or not, Barry Bonds has reflexively forced us to glimpse into the juxtaposition of sports and race more so than any baseball player since Robinson. He was the first black athlete we were forced to deal with because he's a jerk. And he was the first black athlete we were forced to deal with because he's a cheater.

Let Bonds wear #42. Whether you hate him or not, he deserves it more than anyone.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Broken Tackle's NBA Mock Draft, Vol. 1

For the first time in over a decade, this year's NCAA Tournament doubled as an opportunity to scout almost all the top prospects in this year's NBA draft. With the will-he-or-won't-he rumors flying about all the underclassmen deciding whether or not to remain in school, and NBA teams tanking left and right to jockey for lottery position, this will be the most rudimentary and disjointed of all the mock drafts.

So, in all likelihood, it will probably end up being the most accurate.

1. Memphis Grizzlies - Greg Oden, C, Ohio State (Fr). Was already the consensus #1 ahead of Durant before blowing the doors off the national title game. If he pans out, he's the best center prospect since Shaq. At worst, he's a more athletic Robert Parish. (NBA comparison: Godzilla, if he learned to dribble and box out. I'm not talking about any NBA player nicknamed "Godzilla" I'm talking about the actual giant skyscraper-destroying lizard).

2. Boston Celtics - Kevin Durant, F, Texas (Fr). Holding the #2 spot in the draft this year will be a win-win situation for the lucky lottery runner-up. Not only are you guaranteed Oden or Durant, you can let the team ahead of you make the tough decision. (NBA comparison: Kevin Garnett with a jump shot).

3. Milwaukee Bucks - Corey Brewer, G/F, Florida (Jr). Brewer (or, to a lesser extent, Jeff Green) would be a dream come true for the Bucks, a team ready to contend now with Terri Stotts collecting unemployment and the team getting healthy. Brewer (a surname any red-blooded Milwaukee-an can appreciate and love) can step in immediately and perfectly complement Michael Redd. (NBA comparison: slightly shorter Lamar Odom).

4. Phoenix Suns - Al Horford, F, Florida (Sr). It really is unfair that the loaded Suns get this pick from Atlanta, but what can you do, the Hawks are idiots. The Suns are in the market for more bodies inside, and outside of Oden, Horford is the most NBA ready big man in the draft class, both physically and mentally. (NBA comparison: Zach Randolph minus the douchebagginess).

5. Charlotte Bobcats - Jeff Green, F, Georgetown (Jr). It's been hit-or-miss for the Bobcats picking high the past few years. Some would argue the 'Cats should take Green's teammate Hibbert and plug him in right away, but I don't think Jordan is interested in an old-school plodding center. Jordan likes scoring, and even though Green helped eliminate his Tar Heels in the tourney, expect to go after the guy on the board with a high basketball IQ who can score at will. (NBA comparison: do-it-all Josh Howard).

6. Philadelphia 76ers - Brandan Wright, F, North Carolina (Fr). It's no secret the Sixers need help pretty much everywhere on the floor, but especially in the post and at the point. Wright could arguably use another year in school, but he has arguably the biggest upside in the draft outside of Oden and Durant and this young Sixers team can afford to incubate some talent. (NBA comparison: calm and lanky Chris Bosh).

7. Portland Trail Blazers - Joakim Noah, F, Florida (Jr). Think of this as a pick based partly on public relations as well as talent. Noah isn't the best basketball player on the board, but he's selfless, he's hard-working, he's experienced, he's clutch and even though he seems like a douche, he also seems like a good kid who won't cause any problems. Basically he's the kind of guy who wouldn't take the time during his bereavement leave to visit a strip club. (NBA comparison: Anderson Varejao mixed with Tyson Chandler and beaten with an ugly stick).

8. Seattle Supersonics - Julian Wright, F, Kansas (So). Ideally, the Sonics would love for Green or Brewer to slip to them in this spot. Barring that, they could easily take a flier on Wright, who will potentially fill in for the departing Rashard Lewis. Wright needs another year of school after disappearing in the tournament, but the Sonics might as well draft another project after wasting last year's pick on Saer Sene. (NBA comparison: well... Rashard Lewis).

9. Sacramento Kings - Yi Jianlian, F/C, China. I'm not going to pretend to know anything about this guy. If the Kings have balls, they'll draft Mike Conley to light a fire under Mike Bibby's ass (he actually reminds me a little of Bibby when he came out of school). But that's doubtful. (NBA comparison: um. Yao Ming?).

10. Minnesota Timberwolves - Spencer Hawes, C, Washington (Fr). Keep in mind Kevin McHale still runs the T-Wolves and he's still an idiot. Hawes was a bit underwhelming this year, failing to lead Washington to the NCAA Tournament. But he's big and somewhat skilled so some moron GM will fall for him. (NBA comparison: pick a white center, any white center. Let's go with Nenad Krstic and call it a day).

11. Chicago Bulls (from New York) - Mike Conley, G, Ohio State (Fr). The Bulls could really use a big man in this spot, but with all the top post prospects taken ahead of them, they'll potentially be smart enough to grab Conley when they have the chance. He certainly doesn't fill a need on the team, but the Bulls have been good lately at trading spare parts when they need to. (NBA comparison: a more explosive Mike Bibby).

12. Atlanta Hawks (from Indiana) - Acie Law, G, Texas A&M (Sr). Could picking a little lower than usual mean the Hawks don't royally fuck up their pick for once? It's pretty likely picking 12th that either Conley, Law or Ty Lawson will be available at this point, and the PG-deprived Hawks could use any of those players. (NBA comparison: Chauncey Billups).

13. Detroit Pistons (from Orlando) - Al Thornton, F, Florida State (Sr). Thornton is being derived as a "tweener" but he can instantly come off the bench and contribute scoring and defensive intensity for the Pistons. (NBA comparison: Andre Iguodala).

14. New Orleans Hornets - Nick Young, G/F, USC (Jr). With Paul running the floor, the Hornets need to get more athletic on the wing and Young will be an instant boost with his polished mid-range game. Hopefully Peja Stojakovic doesn't injure his fingers calling Young to welcome him to the team. (NBA comparison: Caron Butler).

15. New Jersey Nets - Tiago Splitter, F, Spain. The Nets have had success with one foreigner inside (Krstic, when he's healthy) so don't be surprised if they take a chance on another one, who's supposedly NBA ready mentally and physically, especially defending and rebounding. (NBA comparison: a soft Chris Wilcox).

16. Golden State Warriors - Josh McRoberts, F, Duke (So). Donnie Nelson loves the big guys who can get up-and-down the floor and McRoberts is one of those guys. Unfortunately he doesn't bring much else to the table. But he's above average athletically and somebody is going to fall for his "upside." (NBA comparison: Charlie Villanueva).

17. Los Angeles Clippers - Ty Lawson, G, North Carolina (Fr). I probably shouldn't deliberate on this one much, because it would be the steal of the draft and it isn't terribly likely to happen. The only knock on Lawson is his lack of size. The Clippers need a PG in the worst way. (NBA comparison: Baron Davis).

18. Philadelphia 76ers (from Denver) - Darren Collison, G, UCLA (So). Another potential steal for the Sixers. Similar to Lawson, the only knock on Collison is his small stature, but he's blossomed into a terrific pure PG. Could use another year in school to develop his scoring. (NBA comparison: Andre Miller).

19. Los Angeles Lakers - Chase Budinger, G, Arizona (Fr). A young slasher who can light up the scoreboard off the bench subbing in for Kobe. Another guy who could use another year in school to develop his overall game and earn lottery money in '08, but will probably declare like an idiot anyway. (NBA comparison: J.R. Smith).

20. Washington Wizards - Hasheem Thabeet, C, Connecticut (Fr). Considered a top prospect coming into the year, hasn't done much to maintain that status. Could shoot up the draft with some solid workouts, but the Wizards would love to have the raw project fall to them here. (NBA comparison: Marcus Camby).

21. Miami Heat - Thaddeus Young, F, Georgia Tech (Fr). The Heat can afford to stick with the best player on the board, in this case that's the young project from Tech. His athleticism is off the charts but he hasn't developed much of a game yet. (NBA comparison: low rent Shawn Marion).

22. Charlotte Bobcats (from Toronto) - Ante Tomic, C, Croatia. After taking the NBA ready Green with their first pick, the Bobcats can afford to take a waiver on this second pick. Tomic is your typical European big man, he'll need a couple years before coming to the NBA to underachieve and plod around. (NBA comparison: pick a failed European big man. Shouldn't be tough).

23. New York Knicks (from Chicago) - Rodney Stuckey, G, Eastern Washington (So). Oh, Isaiah, how you continue to entertain us with your personnel decisions. Actually, Thomas has done a decent job of drafting for the Knicks so for once let's pretend he over-reaches for an oversized PG who scores a lot. (NBA comparison: all the score-first combo guards the Knicks have wasted time on the last few years. Or Ben Gordon, I guess).

24. Phoenix Suns (from Cleveland) - Marc Gasol, C, Spain. The unfairness continues as the Suns take their second pick of the first round. They can obviously afford a project, and Pau Gasol's little brother might be worth taking a chance. (NBA comparison: imagine Pau Gasol, if he was less talented, less bearded, younger and named Marc).

25. Houston Rockets - Derrick Byars, G/F, Vanderbilt (Sr). Byars played himself into the first round with a terrific NCAA Tournament performance to follow up his SEC POY title. (NBA comparison: Stephen Jackson. In a good way).

26. Detroit Pistons - Nicolas Batum, G, France. Like the Suns, the Pistons have a glut of first round picks and can afford to take some foreigner. (NBA comparison: Michael Finley, only wearing a beret and chewing on a baguette with a cigarette languidly resting between the middle and index fingers of his right hand).

27. Utah Jazz - Arron Afflalo, G, UCLA (Jr). Afflalo really needs to get back to school after another rough Final 4 appearance. But if he enters the draft, he'd be a good fit for the Jazz, who need to develop an athletic wingman that can defend. Could also go with Alando Tucker here. (NBA comparison: Raja Bell).

28. San Antonio Spurs - Glen Davis, F, LSU (Jr). "Big Baby" fell off the radar as LSU struggled in the SEC this season. He's undersized, but he's smart and strong and could fill in nicely off the bench for Duncan. (NBA comparison: Sean May).

29. Phoenix Suns - Marcus Williams, G, Arizona (So). A perfect fit on the Suns, an oversized guard who can move without the ball and hit open jumpers, and relies on his athleticism on defense. Will thrive on the floor with Nash. (NBA comparison: Quentin Richardson).

30. Philadelphia 76ers (from Dallas) - Tyler Hansbrough, F, North Carolina (So). Hansbrough actually saw his stock drop after staying in school, but another year really would help. He lacks NBA athleticism but might be able to make up for it with his work ethic. (NBA comparison: Udonis Haslem)

Sucks to Be Rutgers

I don't know much about women's college basketball (I know who Pat Summitt is, I know that lesbian coach got fired from LSU, I know Tennessee, Connecticut and Duke seem to always win the title and I know the Vols just beat Rutgers 59-46 to win this year's title. If I learned anything new, it would probably push one of those old pieces of information out).

I also don't know much about Rutgers athletics.

But I just learned that Rutgers University athletics, the athletic program that is credited as inventing modern college football, has won an NCAA title once in any sport in its history. That was a fencing title. In 1949. And they shared the title. With Army.

The school no longer participates in collegiate fencing. They do, however, currently participate in football, baseball, basketball, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field, swimming, wrestling, volleyball, and that sport from that movie with Arnold and the guy from Family Feud.

Ok, I made that last one up.

But you get the point. All those sports and only one title ever. Sucks to be Rutgers.

Maybe it's because of the nickname. Scarlet Knights? What do you think of when you think of scarlet? Scarlet Letter, Scarlet fever, Scarlet O'Hara. (Also Scarlet Johanssen, but that's just distracting). Doesn't really instill much fear, does it?

So as a public service to Rutgers, and any other university with a "faggy" (as Billy Packer would put it) nickname and mascot, we offer the following potential nicknames to anyone looking to really engender dread in their future opponents:

Rebels Without a Cause
Rock Eaters
Hell's Angels
Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles
Drunken Pacman Joneses
Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Penguin Rapers
Chompin' T. Rexes
Jerry Porter's Dogs
Satan's Army
Horny Walruses
Midget Tossers
Killer Shark Attack
Manson Family
Wife Beaters
Coked-up Grizzly Bears
Friends of John Amaechi (note: only works if your opponent is Tim Hardaway)
Ghost Pirates
Dirty Sanchezes
Cincinnati Bengals
Totally Fucking Badass Motherfuckers
Michael Jackson's Predators

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Dwyane Wade's Punk Rock Journey

Here's the thing about Dwyane Wade. He's not punk rock. He's also not not punk rock.

This concept may or may not make sense. But we'll get back to that in a minute.

Wade returned to practice yesterday for the first time since dislocating his shoulder about six weeks ago, and is expected to return to game action before the regular season ends on April 18th.

As Mark Twain would likely remark if he were alive today, "The reports of the Heat's demise were greatly exaggerated." And he would probably add: "Someone please deliberate to me posthaste the origin of this blinking box containing movable type! Com-poo-ter? What in the sam hill?" Or something like that.

This could be the last chance for this ever-so-short Heat dynasty, as Shaq is not nearly the force he used to be, the supporting cast needs to be reloaded and Pat Riley may soon be giving way to Billy "Dunn-a-von" as head coach and GM. Who in the East can stop a healthy Wade and Shaq? Probably not the Pistons, Bulls or Cavs, that's for sure. In other words, try not to sprain your ankle hopping back on the Heat championship bandwagon.


To further the point about Dwyane Wade not being punk rock. He's also not not punk rock. Wade is somewhere in the middle, a pure spirit probably influenced by his abundance of casual time spent with Shaquille O'Neal. (Shaq is decidedly punk rock. About 96% punk rock. Giving yourself nicknames is not punk rock, and yet Shaq somehow pulls it off. He's just that unmistakably punk rock).

The NBA culture is funny these days. In the minds of much of society, the stars of the NBA are a personification for the frightening ne'er-do-well underground culture of hip-hop America. Yet most major NBA stars are either prudent Madison Avenue brokers (Lebron James, Kevin Garnett), eccentric goof-balls (Gilbert Arenas, Dwight Howard... some call this class of players punk rock, but it's in that sporadic sense, like when people call Sonic Youth a punk band), really tall dorks (Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki), posers (Carmelo Anthony, Vince Carter) or negligibly batshit insane sociopaths (Ron Artest, Zach Randolph).

These are not the kids you thought were cool in high school.

Imagine if a Martian came down to Earth and asked you to summarize Kobe Bryant in two sentences or less. Could you do it without using the terms "calculated" and/or "insecure"? I'd be willing to bet Gilbert Arenas ten bucks you can't.

It's been like this in the NBA ever since the early 80's when Magic and Bird "revived" the fledging league. Basketball was without a doubt punk rock in the 70's, dominated by eccentric badasses like Julius Erving, Willis Reed, Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Bill Walton and Artis Gilmore. But off-court discretions and on-court masturbational (sic?) play detached much of America. Nowadays, if pro football is rock-and-roll (you can say you don't love it, but saying you hate it means you hate America) and pro baseball is pop music (beloved by all, to different extents, whether you want to admit it or not), then pro basketball is jazz music, the semi-marginal sport everyone can respect but a select few obsess over.

But the athletes themselves inherit a certain level of disdain, no matter how immaculate and non-punk rock their actual persona may be. Lebron James' recent "shoe controversy" just alludes to his spiritual inheritance of the Michael Jordan propensity to sacrifice individuality for corporate image. This isn't necessarily a bad thing or even really a judgment on Lebron's character as a person. But it does mean he's not punk rock.

There are very few NBA stars in the last quarter century who are or were truly punk rock, most notable among them: Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel and Dennis Rodman. They did things the way they felt like doing things and that's an admirable quality in an otherwise contrived society.

Which brings us back to Dwyane Wade.

Dwyane Wade does several commercials. But Dwyane Wade does those commercials with a sense of caustic detachment, as if to tell the consumer "Yep, I'm schilling myself for this product, but I actually use it, and I couldn't care less if you do now too just because I suggested you should."

Dwyane Wade also comes off as something of a dork. In a genuine way.

If Wade leads the Heat to the title again this year with his injured shoulder (and by all means, he probably should have had surgery performed on it by now); and if Wade performs this task with the same disengagement he affords to his commercial acting; then Dwyane Wade could possibly be punk rock.

The jury's out, as they say.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Handicapping the NCAA Title Game

It's been a strange tournament to handicap so far, with favorites winning and covering at an incredible clip.

The public went 50/50 on Saturday with Florida covering, but Georgetown coming up short. With the large amount of money pouring into Vegas on Florida -4.5, it seems like very few people are giving Ohio State much of a chance to win this thing. Most of the major national media outlets and talking heads are picking the Gators to win.

Which does seem suspiciously like the direct inverse of the BCS Championship game in January.

I made a lot of money on Florida on that fateful day, but I'm not nearly as confident with Ohio State in this contest. That being said, I'll be taking a small chance on the Ohio State +200 money line. Win or lose, it was a rough college basketball season, capped by a rough March Madness and it's time to start concentrating again on NBA betting.

There's not much to lose in making this bet. If Ohio State doesn't win, they weren't supposed to win anyway, and I just lose a little bit of money. If Ohio State does win, I don't win much, but at least I get to run around saying "I told you so."

Also, as evidenced by the above picture, Joakim Noah looks like a 7-foot tranny. Precisely the kind of person I feel it's my duty as an American to bet against. This is our country.