2/22/07 – A Perfect Storm

There’s a perfect storm brewing for sports fantasy players. The time is upon us for the NFL Combine, the NBA trading deadline and the start of NFL free agency. Oh yeah, the NHL trading deadline happens sometime soon too. Think of the possible changes these can make to one’s fantasy squads; imagine the head start you can have at your fantasy football draft if you know the vertical leap for a rookie offensive guard who will be blocking for your key running back next year. How will free agent signings work out for the players and the teams? There’s a lot of work to be done here… But, since the NBA trading deadline is today, that seems to be the happening that is getting the most attention at the moment; and lots of folks are expressing shock and amazement that Jason Kidd is still with the Nets.

There’s no denying that Kidd is a very good player and that he is one of those guys who tends to make the players around him look better than they actually are. But there are a few speed bumps on the highway for a team looking to add him to their roster. First of all, Jason Kidd is no kid anymore; he will be 34 years old in a month. Sure, he can still play; but his employer will owe him the balance of his $18M salary for this season and then another $41M over the next two seasons. That’s a whole lotta money. In addition, Kidd is in the very early stages of a divorce proceeding that looks as if it could be a beaut. Given only the first barrages fired by each side in the first set of court filings, this one could get nasty; and his estranged wife claims that he in the company of other teammates partied around and behaved in ways that led to the divorce action. That means the divorce could spread out in a locker room. This has to give a team thinking of acquiring Kidd a moment of pause.

In addition, the Nets obviously want to get something decent in return for a really good player. At the moment, the rumor is that the Lakers want to give them a package deal with Kwame Brown and/or Chris Mihm as the lead players from the Lakers in the deal. Yes, Brown and Mihm are big; yes, they are both young; that would sound like a good start to a deal – - except there is one problem. Neither Brown nor Mihm can play all that much. The shoulder injury suffered by Dwayne Wade last evening ought to vault the Miami Heat to the top of the “We’re Really Interested In Acquiring Jason Kidd” List. The problem is that the Heat don’t have a whole lot of talented players that the Nets might want as part of a rebuilding program. Jason Williams, Udonis Haslem and Michael Doleac would probably get close enough to match the salaries in terms of a trade, but if I’m the Nets, I don’t want any of the three all that much but would take Haslem as a throw-in on a trade to sweeten the deal.

The other trade that has been rumored for a long time is the one that gets Pau Gasol out of Memphis. He’s unhappy there; the team is losing money hand-over-fist and Gasol’s contract is for $12.3M this year and has four more years to go with a total of about $63M left on it. It would seem that the Grizzlies would be “motivated sellers” in the final hours leading to the trade deadline…

As I’ve been thinking about the NBA trade deadline, I began to realize another change that the NFL could make in order to make its product better. The NFL trading deadline is way too early (mid-October); teams haven’t played half their games yet and the possibility of trading is already gone. Why not move the trade deadline up until the weekend before Thanksgiving? That way a team that looks to have playoff hopes might cope with an injury or two – - assuming they were smart enough to save some cap room along the way to handle an acquisition. That may be the stumbling block in getting that change through the next set of CBA negotiations; the NFLPA tends not to like any system that rewards teams for “hoarding cap room”.

I have not finished my research on who are the potential free agents in the NFL this year so I’ll have to put off commentary on that until tomorrow. What I can say from the data I have so far, there’s not a lot of blue-chip players on the market this year without a franchise tag around their necks.

Another event that is just over the horizon that will generate scads of debate and howls of outrage is Selection Sunday for the NCAA basketball tournament. I read where the Selection Committee met back in early February to get an idea of what the individual members thought made sense at that point in the season. There are 10 people on the committee and the chairman is the Athletic Director at Princeton. I don’t care if he’s the smartest person on the entire Princeton campus; there’s no way he can put out a bracket of 65 teams that will make everyone happy with the outcome. It has been generally assumed that a team with 20 wins will always find its way into March Madness. However, the proliferation of the early season “exempted tournaments” now allows some teams to play hefty schedules prior to Selection Sunday; some teams could have as many as 35 games under their belt by then.

The “20-win mark” has been devalued to some extent because a team could have 20 wins and more than a dozen losses; so,now you have to look at the quality of the wins and the horror of the losses to get a better handle on who should be in the tournament and who should not. The selection process is an art and not a science; it always leads to controversy and to finger pointing and to conspiracy theories. In that sense, it is sort of like the BCS except for two very important differences:

    1. The BCS makes its selections and then waits for about a month until it plays its games. That just gives people too much time to vent their spleen and work themselves into a frenzy. The Selection Committee makes its announcement on Sunday night; the play-in game is Tuesday; the tournament begins Thursday. The time span for spleen venting is about 90 hours. And most folks have to stop venting and get busy picking their brackets; so, the wailing dies down.

    2. The outcome of the Selection Committee is a tournament where the teams decide the champion; every team has a theoretical shot at winning it all. The BCS process forbids that.

I wish good fortune to the Selection Committee. I know I won’t agree with every one of their selections or seedings, but I don’t think I’d really want their job…

Finally, with Bud Selig waffling on whether or not there will be some big celebration when Barry Bonds breaks the all-time home run record, Scott Ostler posed this rhetorical question in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“With 16 technical fouls [Rasheed Wallace] has a shot at his league record of 34. The big question: Will David Stern show up to honor ‘Sheed when he breaks the hallowed mark?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…

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