A California Focus Today

Almost 6 months ago in October 2021, the NBA regular season began.  After enduring 1,230 regular season games – most of which had little to no significance – fans can now expect to see a better brand of basketball during playoff time.  That is the positive NBA news of the moment, but there is a negative story out there that will likely not get nearly as much play as it should.

There are reports this morning that the LA Lakers are going to “part company” with coach Frank Vogel.  That makes about as much sense as firing the Director of Public Safety in LA in the event that a meteorite impacts the downtown area and obliterates the LA City Hall.  When you try to assess blame for the embarrassing fact that the Lakers will be sitting home watching these NBA playoffs, you have to go down the list a bit before you come to Vogel’s name.  I am not saying he is blameless, but there are other “culprits” who will likely get a pass here as Vogel is sacrificed to the angry Laker fans who have come to see deep playoff runs by their team as a birthright.

As is usually the case when a team has a bad season, a large measure of the blame ought to fall on the players and the folks who constructed the roster – – but it rarely seems to do so.  Last year when the Lakers traded for Russel Westbrook, there were lots of folks who wondered how it would be possible for Westbrook and LeBron James to be on the court together without each one detracting from the other’s strength.  There is only one ball in an NBA game and both James and Westbrook are at their All-Star best when they control the ball to create scoring chances for themselves or for teammates.  When someone else is controlling the ball and developing the plays, either James or Westbrook morph into just one of the many ornaments on a Christmas tree as opposed to being the star atop the tree.

Add to that compatibility issue the fact that the Lakers roster is old and fragile.  The youngest of its star players, Anthony Davis, cannot seem to avoid injuries.  Since joining the Lakers three seasons ago, the Lakers have played 235 regular season games; Anthony Davis has participated in 138 of those games.

  • Anthony Davis has missed a tad over 40% of the games on the Lakers’ schedule.
  • Is Frank Vogel the source of those injuries in some mysterious way?

I am not trying to say that Frank Vogel is a great coach; I maintain that the Lakers’ roster is a glorious mess and that it will not be any better next year unless one of two things happens:

  1. The Lakers find a team willing to take Westbrook’s contract off their hands.  [Aside:  The contract has one year left at $47.1M.]
  2. Russell Westbrook decides to retire from the NBA

For the record, I think “Option 2” above is about as likely as Forest Gump being admitted to MENSA.  So, good luck to whoever gets the honor of replacing Frank Vogel on the Lakers’ bench.  The pay will be nice, but you will have to navigate that roster through a full NBA season with expectations that an appearance in the NBA Finals is at least a 50/50 proposition.

Phil Jackson left the Lakers after the 2010/2011 season.  Since then, the Lakers have had 5 head coaches plus one interim head coach.  That speaks to the expectations and the long-range planning aspects of working there.  Here is a brief look at the Lakers’ roster situation in the future:

  • Unless Westbrook retires, the Lakers have just about no cap space.
  • Without cap space, the Lakers are hamstrung in signing significant free agents
  • Without meaningful free agents arriving, the Lakers’ depth continues to be a mirage.
  • In all the team’s maneuverings over the past couple of years, the Lakers next first round draft pick will be in either 2025 or 2026 and in this year’s draft, the Lakers have zero picks.

So, here is my message for the agent who represents anyone who might be under consideration for the Lakers’ head coaching job over the next month or so:

  • If the deal is longer than 3 or 4 years, be sure there is a full buyout clause in that contract – – because your client’s chances of surviving in the job for 5 years or more are meager at best.

Moving on…  I found the following item in Dwight Perry’s column in the Seattle Times over the weekend:

“The Oakland A’s have the same payroll — $33 million — as they did in 1991, when they led the major leagues, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.

“If this year’s team inspires a movie, it’s probably ‘No-Moneyball.’”

That “inspired” me to go looking and I found that indeed the Oakland A’s payroll in 1991 was $33.63M AND that payroll was the highest in MLB for that season.  José Canseco was the highest paid player on the A’s that year; other notable team members were:

  • Harold Baines
  • Ron Darling
  • Dennis Eckersley
  • Rickey Henderson
  • Mark McGwire
  • Terry Steinbach
  • Dave Stewart
  • Walt Weiss

Times have changed since 1991.  The A’s are no longer among the big spenders in MLB; and if you look at those players on the roster and project what they would cost in their prime today, you can see what a “bargain” it was to pay the team a total of only $33.63M back then.

Finally, since I quoted Dwight Perry above, let me close with another item of his from the Seattle Times:

“SiriusXM fired PGA Tour Radio analyst Mark Lye after he said on-air ‘I’ll shoot myself’ rather than watch a WNBA game.

“Now they call him Unplayable Lye.”

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



Baseball And The Masters Today

             A friend who is a sporadic reader of these rants happened to read yesterday’s offering and called me to ask why I had left Max Scherzer off my list of recognizable players in new uniforms.  He wondered if I “have something against Scherzer”.  I assured him that I did not and that I left Scherzer off the list because his situation seems to me to be different.  Granted everyone on that list signed with teams that offered top dollar for their services, but Scherzer’s contract is outsized even by those standards.  Scherzer’s deal is 3 years and $130M.  He will make – on average – $43.3M per year to make what the Mets hope is 30-35 starts per season.  I should not need to do math for anyone here…

Max Scherzer won the Cy Young Award 3 times in his career and will be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame down the road.  But he will be 37 years old in mid-season and last year he had to miss playoff time with a “dead arm” followed by a hamstring tweak this Spring.  I fear that Scherzer’s contract is one that the Mets are going to regret instead of celebrating.

While that may also be the case with the four players I listed yesterday, I think it is more probable in Scherzer’s case; so, I left him off the list.  I will be happy to be wrong about that…

Sticking with baseball as a subject, there was a report in the Washington Post yesterday that the “spending gap” between MLB’s big spending teams and MLB’s frugal teams is increasing.  Obviously, that gap works against creating parity in MLB and it was – reportedly – one of the important areas for change in the new CBA from the union’s point of view.  A preliminary glance says that the union did not get much of a change here.

  • In 2017 the median payroll for the top 8 spenders in MLB was 2.3 times the median payroll of the bottom 8 spenders in MLB.
  • In 2021, that ratio was 3 to 1.
  • For 2022, that ratio is projected to be 4 to 1.

The reason is not that the big-spending teams have gone wild – – notwithstanding Max Scherzer’s $43.3M per year deal with the Mets.  The reason is that there are more frugal teams, and they are being even more frugal than before.

  • In 2017 the lowest spending team (Brewers) had a total payroll of $68.9M and only 5 other teams spent below $100M on player salaries.
  • In 2022, the lowest spending team (Orioles) will spend about $33M in salaries and there should be 10 teams that will spend less than $100 M.

The upshot here is not good for the game nor is it good for the players in the long run.  However, the two sides just emerged from a CBA battle that included a lockout and a delayed start to the regular season with this imbalance in place and with no progress being made to address it.  Let me repeat something I have advocated here before:

  • Competitive balance – parity in the parlance of the NFL – is enhanced when there are comparable payrolls on all teams in the league.
  • MLB owners have found that they can make a profit without spending a lot of money on salaries, so they are motivated to do just that.  Max Scherzer did not have a competing contract offer close to his final number from teams like the Pirates, Orioles or Royals.  I am not saying anyone here is either “right” or “wrong”, I am just saying there are teams that were not interested in spending that kind of money on a single player.
  • The system that has shown itself to work to achieve competitive balance is what I call “Cap and Floor”.  There needs to be a salary cap in MLB (the union hates that) AND there needs to be a salary floor in MLB (about a dozen owners hate that).

The Cap and Floor model works for the NFL and the NBA and the NHL.  That does not mean it would certainly work in MLB – – but the odds are that it can be made to work to the benefit of owners and the majority of players who are not ever going to make more than $40M per year to play baseball.

According to Spotrac.com, the Cubs have the 15th highest payroll for 2022 at $141.8M and the Rockies are 16th highest at $137.9M.  For the sake of argument – and to simplify the math – let me assume that the median payroll in $140M.  If every team spent $140MK, the total payroll cost for MLB owners would be $4.2B.  There is plenty of money to go around here but instead of having the Dodgers support a payroll north of $270M while the Orioles would have to open their wallets to spend $35M, a cap and floor would force both teams to compete on a much more level playing field.  Whatever…

There was one other interesting piece in yesterday’s Washington Post addressing an issue related to The Masters.  Chuck Culpepper is an excellent reporter and writer for the Post and yesterday’s article had this headline:

“Walking Augusta National, Woods faces an uphill battle”

The piece dealt with the challenge to Tiger Woods’ surgically repaired leg posed by the “undulating terrain” of Augusta National.  What a great irony here:

  • If only there were some technological invention that would allow Tiger Woods to get from place to place on the golf course without having to walk up and down those hills that could threaten his game.
  • Perhaps Tiger Woods should get in touch with his former teammate at Stanford, Casey Martin, to see if Martin knows of any such magical device…

Finally, I will close today with some dating advice for young singles:

“If you think it’s hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball.”

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



MLB Opening Day 2022

Glancing out the window of Curmudgeon Central here in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC, it is drizzling, and the total cloud cover is at about 3000 feet; it is a dreary day.  According to the weather app on my phone, the current temperature is 47 degrees; it will go up to 54 degrees today and the probability of rain is greater than 70% for the rest of today and into tonight.  I mention this not because it is important; I mention this because today is the day that I personally call the “First Day of Spring” – – because today is Opening Day in MLB.  So, today I want to present some random thoughts about the upcoming baseball season.

The beauty of Opening Day is that all 30 teams in MLB have a “magic number” equal to 162…

Two players should reach statistical milestones this year:

  1. Miguel Cabrera enters the season with 2,987 base hits to his credit.  He may not be the hitter he was 5 years ago, but he should make it to the 3000 base hit level sometime soon.
  2. Albert Pujols needs 21 home runs in what he says is his final season to become only the fourth player in MLB history to hit 700 home runs.  The other three are – of course – Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth.  Last year, Pujols had 17 home runs in only 85 games.

There are four  “recognizable players” who will be in new uniforms this year:

  1. Kris Bryant will be in Colorado having signed a long-term deal worth $162M.  I was surprised at that offer by the Rockies given that they had Nolan Arenado signed to play third base for them and traded him away – – and they let Trevor Story walk away in free agency.
  2. Freddie Freeman is now with the Dodgers after spending the first 12 years of his career in Atlanta.  The Braves sought to replace his bat in the lineup by acquiring Matt Olsen from the A’s.
  3. Robbie Ray won the Cy Young Award last year with the Blue Jays – – after having a disastrous truncated season in 2020 – – and then signed on with the Mariners on a 5-year deal.
  4. Noah Syndergaard had Tommy John surgery and then suffered “elbow inflammation” limiting him to two innings pitched since 2019.  He signed a 1-year “prove it” deal with the Angels for this season.  He will be 29 years old in mid-season; if his arm is right, he could be a top free agent next winter.

The Atlanta Braves will be an interesting team to watch this year and not just because they are the defending World Series Champions.  The Braves had a bizarre season in 2021.  They were at or below .500 until early August; at that point in the season, they had lost their best player, Ronald Acuna, Jr.; they looked dead in the water.  So, all they did was to go on a two-month rampage to win their division by 6.5 games and go on to sweep through the playoffs and win the World Series.  By the way, Acuna will not be available on Opening Day as he continues his rehab, but reports say he should be up and ready to go early in the season.

Speaking of the Braves, there was a report on CBSSports.com earlier this week that they will offer fans a special burger at the park this year to commemorate last year’s championship season.  Here is a link to the full report; I will just quote a part of that report here:

“For a staggering $151 – a price reflecting the number of years the Braves have been a franchise – fans can buy ‘The World Champions Burger,’ a ‘half-pound Wagyu beef burger topped with cage-free pan-fried eggs, gold-leaf-wrapped Hudson Valley foie gras, grilled cold water lobster tail, heirloom tomato, bibb lettuce, Tillamook Cheddar cheese and truffle aioli on a toasted, Irish-buttered brioche bun.’  All purchases of the burger include a replica 2021 World Series ring – and Parmesan waffle fries, of course.”

The American League East Division is loaded this year – – save for the Orioles of course who have lost 108 or more games in each of the last 3 full seasons of baseball.  Given the rest of the AL East teams, you can pretty much pencil the Orioles in as “Eliminated” from the playoffs as of tomorrow.  In fact, if you list the teams in the AL East alphabetically by their cities you just might have the final standings of the division at the end of the season in reverse order:

  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • New York
  • Tampa
  • Toronto

There are three wildcard slots available for the playoffs this year.   Were it not for the fact that these AL East teams will beat each other up during the season, it might just be that the top four teams in that division could make the playoffs.

Here are a few random and brief observations:

  • Astros look like the class of the AL West – – especially if Justin Verlander can return and resemble his former self.
  • Mariners won 90 games last year; that performance came out of nowhere.  Was it a mirage or is this team poised to be a playoff team in 2022?
  • Padres folded last year after looking like a shoo-in for the playoffs in early August.  Can they put that 79-83 horrible record behind them for 2022?
  • White Sox lost several of their best players for over a hundred games to injury – – and all they did in 2021 was to win the AL Central by13 game as the only team there better than .500.  Absent more injuries, I think the White Sox might be playing very late into October this year…

Finally, Opening Day for MLB presents fans everywhere with hope for their local heroes.  So let me close with this view of “hope” from Nietzsche:

“Hope in reality is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man.”

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



Not A “Happy Day” Today…

The Los Angeles Lakers are officially eliminated as of this morning from the 2022 NBA Playoffs.  Last night the Lakers lost – not surprisingly – by 11 points to the Phoenix Suns, a team that has now won 63 games in this regular season.  That loss coupled by the Spurs win over a favored Denver Nuggets team last night eliminates the Lakers and cements the Spurs in the NBA playoffs as the 10th seed in the Western Conference bracket.  I would like to suggest that this outcome could be a plus for the Lakers – – and not because it puts them in the lottery where they might get the overall #1 pick in the Draft later this year.

The roster for the Lakers now is a cobbling together of mismatched parts; it more closely resembles Frankenstein’s monster than even a poorly oiled machine.  Let me count some of the problems with the Lakers’ roster:

  1. The roster skews old; 8 players are 32 years old or older.
  2. The roster is injury prone.
  3. The top players on the roster do not fit with one another – and probably did not even when all were in their prime.
  4. The bench is a mirage – – unless one turns back the clock to 2014

The Lakers spend about $120M in base salary for LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis; no other player on the team earns $10M and 13 players earn less than $2.7M per year.  Every NBA team has a huge disparity between its most expensive players and the “guys at the end of the bench”, but this imbalance is monumental.  [Aside:  Some politicians love to bloviate about “income inequality”.  Next time you hear about that, just remember these numbers.]  The Lakers need a complete restructuring of the roster but do not have a lot of wiggle room – – unless the “folks in charge” can put their egos aside and admit that they got themselves into Gargantuan mess when they cobbled together this team.  Just maybe, the ignominy of finishing 11th in the 15-team Western Conference with the likes of the Rockets, Thunder and Kings will get the “folks in charge” to blow this roster up and start over.

I would suggest that the braintrust for the Lakers should ponder this observation by the author, Anatole France:

“It is human nature to think wisely and act foolishly.”

Next time, act less foolishly…

Moving on…  For the last year or so, the sports world had been missing one of its great “drama queens”; not to worry, however, Tiger Woods is back.  After teasing the “sports journalists” who cover golf for about a week on the subject of would he play in The Masters or not, Woods finally ‘fessed up and told everyone he would indeed tee off tomorrow morning and gave the media the news they so desperately needed to report:

  • Woods thinks he can contend for a 6th Masters championship.

Obviously, no one knows what the state of Woods’ game might be this weekend; his last tournament appearance was in the 2020 Masters which was held in the late Fall that year because of COVID-19 concerns.  Maybe he is “rested and ready”; maybe he is “rusty and rotten”; there is no need to speculate about such things because we will all find out pretty soon when the scores come in for the first two days of The Masters.  Notwithstanding that certain status, you may be sure that the cameras covering the tournament will be focused on Tiger Woods from the moment he comes out of the clubhouse and onto the course.  If he stops to pick his nose, there will be a video record of that somewhere.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about the coverage of Tiger Woods in the last week or so as he was leading the golf media around by the nose:

“If you’re wondering about who still moves the needle in golf,” tweeted golf analyst Jason Sobel, “Scottie Scheffler became No. 1 in the world a few days ago and didn’t trend on Twitter, while Tiger Woods took a plane ride today and has been trending all morning.”

Changing lanes – – while using my turn signal…  Thanksgiving in the US this year will take place on November 24th.  Four things are certain for that day:

  1. Lots of turkey and ham will be consumed.
  2. The Detroit Lions will play an NFL opponent in the early afternoon EST.
  3. The Dallas Cowboys will play an NFL opponent in the last afternoon EST.
  4. There will be another NFL game (Teams TBD) in prime time EST.

However, there is one other sporting endeavor that will be in progress on November 24th that could divert some attention from the NFL orgy that day.  The FIFA World Cup Tournament in Qatar will be in its first round of games on that day; there are 4 games scheduled for Thanksgiving.  Fortunately, the US team’s first game – – against England – – will be on November 25th so there will be no division of interest on Thanksgiving Day.

Lest anyone worry that watching the US/England World Cup Game might cut into significant time thrashing about on Black Friday looking for deals on things one really does not need, let me try to assuage those worries.  If my calculations are correct, Qatar is 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time – – so the US/England game starting at 1400 in Qatar will be on TV here in the eastern time zone at 0700.  No problem…

Finally, apropos of nothing other than my appreciation of H. L. Mencken as the quintessential curmudgeon, consider:

“It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods.  If such a board actually exists, it operates precisely like the board of a corporation that is losing money.”

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



Congratulations To The Kansas Jayhawks

I must admit that I did not think Kansas had a chance to win that game when the second half started.  The Jayhawks were outplayed and outhustled for the first twenty minutes to the point that I thought they were going to suffer an epic defeat in a championship game.  Obviously, those thoughts were completely invalid.

Kansas shot 44% from the field and UNC shot only 31.5%; normally, that would produce a solid win for the better shooting team.  Last night, the game had a 3-point margin and UNC had two shots at tying the game in the final seconds.  Carolina’s poor shooting for the night can be traced to the three players who carried them to the championship game.  RJ Davis, Caleb Love and Armando Bacot shot a combined 13 for 54 from the field.

Congratulations to Kansas – – and thank  you for providing basketball fans with a dramatic and exciting championship game.

While Kansas sits atop men’s college basketball at the moment, it would appear that LSU is plumbing the depths of the sport.  The school chose to fire coach Will Wade just before the start of the tournament after the NCAA notified LSU that it was facing multiple serious penalties for rules’ infractions.  Since that firing about a month ago, LSU hired Mike McMahon from Murray State as its new coach but here is the rub:

  • Eleven LSU players have entered the transfer portal and a couple others have declared for the NBA Draft.
  • As of this morning, LSU has zero scholarship players on its roster who are certain to be back next year.

There are two important caveats to that situation.  First, players in the NCAA’s transfer portal can choose to return to the school they are in if they do not find a suitable situation for themselves elsewhere.  Second – and probably more important here – is that Coach McMahon is likely to bring some of his Murray State players with him to LSU and those players were part of a Murray State team that made it to the NCAA tournament this year.

All is not lost in Baton Rouge, but the situation there is a lot more fluid than is the situation in Kansas where Coach Self is a fixture and can stay there as long as he chooses to stay there.  And I say that even considering the NCAA holding the Sword of Damocles over the head of the Kansas basketball program which also faces multiple charges of NCAA rules’ infractions.

Moving on …  There are some famous “jinxes” in sports:

  • Being on the cover of Sports Illustrated
  • Being the face of Madden Football in any given year
  • The Chicago Cubs and the “Billy Goat Curse”
  • Appearing on the Manningcast
  • The “Curse of the Bambino”
  • Winning the Masters Par Three Tournament

I am beginning to wonder if there is one other sports jinx/curse that has gone unnoticed until now.  Maybe it is a bad idea for major league starting pitchers to sign with the NY Mets.  Consider:

  • Last year, Noah Syndergaard spent most of the year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.  He threw a total of 2 innings for all of 2021.
  • Jacob DeGrom has been “shut down completely” for at least 4 weeks this Spring with tightness in his back.
  • Max Scherzer who signed with the Mets in November 2021 may or may not be able to start on Opening Day for the team because he has tweaked his hamstring.
  • Hmmm…

An interesting player to keep an eye on in MLB this season is Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers.  He is 26 years old and was the NL MVP in 2019.  In that season, he posted an OPS of 1.035, hit 47 home runs and drove in 115 runs.  Not bad for a 23-year-old kid…

In 2020, Bellinger’s OPS dropped to .789 which is clearly a precipitous decline – – but 2020 was a truncated season due to COVID and it was easy for folks to see the entire season as an aberration.  The problem here is what happened to Cody Bellinger in 2021:

  • Batting Average = .165
  • OPS = .542
  • Base Hits + Walks = 83
  • Strikeouts = 94

If Bellinger can return to anything near his 2019 performance, he will win the Comeback Player of the Year Award in a walk.  Here is the problem.  As of this morning his Spring Training Batting Average is .121 and his Spring Training OPS is .262.  Moreover, he struck out 14 times in his first 20 plate appearances this Spring Training.

If you believe there is some mysterious force at work creating injuries for Mets’ starting pitchers, perhaps you might also think that some malevolent energy has caused Cody Bellinger’s career arc to change dramatically over the last year or so.

Finally, let me close today with an observation about the sport of boxing by longtime boxing promoter, Lou Duva:

“You can sum up this sport in two words.  ‘You never know.’”

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



Success And Failure…

Congratulations to South Carolina as the 2022 Women’s NCAA Basketball Champions.  The Gamecocks beat UConn last night 64-49 in front of an almost full Target Center crowd of 19,600 folks.  The women’s tournament has come a long way in the past decade; full house crowds on neutral courts more than a thousand miles distant from both schools would not have happened then.  Progress…

South Carolina dominated the game; they never trailed, and the final score was almost their largest lead of the night.  South Carolina’s coach is Dawn Staley; last night was the second time she had guided South Carolina to the women’s national championship which raises an interesting question:

  • Is Dawn Staley a better coach than she was a player?

On Saturday night, Kansas proved to be too much for Villanova and UNC beat Duke by 4 points in a game that was a nail-biter from start to finish.  With Kansas and UNC playing in the championship game tonight, get ready to hear a lot about Roy Williams who coached at Kansas for almost 2 decades compiling a record there of 418-101 before moving to North Carolina where he won 3 national championships and compiled a record of 485-163.  Kansas is a 4-point favorite in the game, and they probably have the better team.  However, the Tar Heels are playing their best basketball right now and they have a pair of guards that complement each other perfectly.  I like the Tar Heels plus the points because I think UNC is going to win outright.

In this morning’s Washington Post, there is a column with this headline:

“With Krzyzewski gone, Self could be the next voice of college basketball”

That headline got me to thinking not about the “next voice” for college basketball – – the guy who provides an example and leadership/guidance for the sport itself but about who should be recognized as the “best active coach in the game” starting now.  Here are the men I would nominate for consideration – – in alphabetical order:

  1. John Calipari – – Great recruiter but not nearly as good at developing players
  2. Scott Drew – – Resurrected a dumpster fire of a program and won a title there
  3. Mark Few – – Dominates a weaker conference every year; gaudy record
  4. Tom Izzo – – Develops good-not-great talent and wins a lot of games
  5. Rick Pitino – – He has won a lot of games at a lot of places
  6. Bill Self – – Has never coached a team that did not make the NCAA tournament
  7. Jay Wright – – Develops good-not-great talent and wins even more than Izzo

For me, it would come down to Drew, Self and Wright with the winner being the one who is leaning furthest at the finish tape…

Sticking with basketball – but at a different level – let me toss out an idea for which I do not expect to get unanimous agreement:

  • LeBron James continues to chase/emulate Michael Jordan – – except his latest pursuits are not flattering.

Hear me out…  Michael Jordan and LeBron James both dominated the NBA on the court for a decade or so to the point that there are advocates for both players who assert that one of them is the “GOAT”.  However, in the twilights of their careers, both men floundered a bit.  After Jordan had been retired for 3 seasons, he returned to the NBA ostensibly as the President of the Washington Wizards.  The idea was that Jordan’s aura would bring attention to an attention-starved franchise and that star players would want to sign there simply because it would align them with Jordan.

  • News Flash:  Nothing of the sort happened.

Jordan returned to the court with the Wizards as a shadow of his former self; played with them for two years and never finished at .500 whereupon he was summarily fired from his position as President of the team, and he drove off into the sunset.

When LeBron James signed with the Lakers, it was not because the Lakers were attention-starved or woebegone, but with James there – along with his manipulative agent – the idea was that he would build a Lakers team that would become a dynasty even after his playing days were over.  Indeed, the Lakers won the asterisk-ridden championship in 2020 in the COVID bubble, but other than that the team has gone down the drain.  As of this morning, the Lakers are 31-47 putting them in 11th place in the West meaning they would be out of the expanded NBA playoff structure as of now.  Their ability to get into the 10th slot is not going to be an easy task; the Lakers trail the Spurs by 2 full games with only 4 games left to play and the Spurs own the tiebreaker.

How could this happen?  Well, like the situation with Jordan in Washington, James is no longer the player he was even 5 years ago let alone 8 or 10 years ago.  And while he may not have the title of “President” or “GM”, it is pretty clear that the Lakers’ roster has been tailored to James’ specifications and that roster has several “issues”:

  • It is injury prone.
  • It has no depth
  • It is littered with star players who are on the downside of their careers and who do not play well together.

Other than that, Emperor Napoleon, how was your winter in Moscow?

LeBron James has let it be known that he wants to play at least one season with his son, Bronny, in the NBA.  Bronny graduates high school this year meaning he can be part of the 2023 NBA Draft which means that LeBron will be part of the NBA scene through at least April/May 2024.  It will be interesting to see what personnel moves he engineers with the Lakers – – or some other team to which he orchestrates a trade – – over the next two seasons and if they continue to emulate the latter stages of Michal Jordan’s career.

Finally, since today’s rant has dealt with successes and failures at various levels, let me close with this observation by Gore Vidal:

“It is not enough to succeed; others must fail.”

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



Bruce Arians Steps Down

The  retirement of Bruce Arians earlier this week was a surprise particularly considering Tom Brady’s “unretirement”.  Arians is indeed a “football lifer”; early in his coaching career, he was an assistant to Bear Bryant at Alabama.  Not counting a stint as an interim coach in Indy when Chuck Pagano had to step aside for medical reasons, Arians was a head coach for 8 years first with the Cards and then with the Bucs.  In those 8 seasons his teams went 80-48-1 in the regular season and 6-3 in playoff games.

Some QBs get a reputation as a “gunslinger”.  Arians was the coaching equivalent of a “gunslinger”.  No matter the game situation, if his QB saw a key matchup at the line of scrimmage, the QB had a green light to go for the big play.  Arians’ teams were fun to watch.

Arians will stay with the Bucs as a “Senior Football consultant” – – whatever that means.  According to reports, he convinced Bucs’ ownership to turn the team over to his defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles.  I will be surprised if Bowles demonstrates the same offensive boldness that Arians showed, but I think the Bucs made a good choice.  [Aside:  Arians and Bowles have a long-term association; Bowles was a cornerback at Temple in the 1980s when Arians was the head coach there.]

Even though Bowles’ record as the head coach of the Jets is a bad one (his teams went 24-40-0 in 4 seasons there), I think he did a good job.  He took over a Jets squad that had gone 4-12 under Rex Ryan the year before he took over, and the Jets finished 10-6 in his first season.  The Jets’ problem was not the coach; it was the roster.  Importantly, even when the Jets posted bad records in Bowles’ subsequent seasons, the team played hard for him.  To my simplistic sense, that showed Bowles had the leadership/motivational chops to be a head coach in the NFL.

Having said all that, I would have to turn in my credentials as a curmudgeon if I did not see one potentially ominous outcome here:

  • Memo to TV Network Execs:  Please take pity on your audience and resist any and all temptations to hire Bruce Arians as a color commentator.  He did that for one season, and he was as bad on the microphone as he was good on the sidelines.

Moving on …  Obviously, I am anticipating three entertaining college basketball games for the weekend.  I have mentioned here before that I spent more time in the Palestra in Philly as an undergrad than I did in the library and that I have not missed an NCAA Tournament Final Game telecast since LaSalle beat Bradley in 1954.  I love to watch good college basketball games as much as any other sporting endeavor.

Often, I am criticized by NBA fans who say that I should prefer NBA basketball because the skill level there is far superior to the skill level in the college game.  I do not think that the linkage between skill level and fan enjoyment is as strong as my critics would assume.  I stipulate that the worst NBA team would beat this year’s national champions nine times out of ten and the margins of victory would be double digits.  Here are two things about NBA basketball that I find far less interesting than college basketball:

  1. In the college game, every player hustles and plays hard all the time.  Such is not the case in NBA games.
  2. Too many NBA games have devolved into a 3-point shooting contest.  Such contests are not entertaining when staged as such during All-Star Week and they are not entertaining as a basketball game.

The prosecution here would like to offer as Exhibit A the results of a game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 19, 2022.  The Timberwolves won the game 138-119 so it wasn’t exactly a nail-biter going into the final moments of the contest.  But that is not the worst part.  Consider:

  • The Bucks attempted 52 3-point shots in the game
  • The Timberwolves attempted 47 3-point shots in the game.

Those numbers do not lie; the two teams combined to launch 99 3-point shots in a 48-minute game.  That works out to be one long range jump shot every 29 seconds.  Had I spent $75 for a ticket to that game, I would not have left the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis thinking I had been well and properly entertained for the evening.  If anyone is interested, here is a link to the box score for that game.  This is not an April Fool’s prank.

Granted, I went and found a game with an outrageous number of 3-point shot attempts for this rant.  However, it is not uncommon to find games with 80+ such attempts and if you do the math there, you might have to concede that watching an NBA game in 2022 consists of watching a whole lot of long-range jump shots.

The NBA has far superior athletes – – but those athletes exhibit their skills in a less than exciting fashion.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…

Finally, Dwight Perry had a cogent observation in the Seattle Times recently:

“Definition of a moral dilemma: You’re an anti-masker AND a major-league catcher.”

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