Happy final Friday in June! Summer is here in New England and hockey and basketball have finally finished their seasons. Baseball is in full swing, and in the NFL, there is no such thing as an offseason anymore. The grass courts of Wimbledon are being trod to dust under the sneakers of the world’s greatest players.
OK, time to get to the sports on the last day of school for the Bent children (June 28th is very late indeed!) . It is also the day after the lovely Mrs. B started her first class (summer course) at Nursing School which is great news for me personally as I get to cross off “knocking boots with a college girl” from my mid-life crisis checklist.
WHAT THE PUCK?:
I was hoping to write on Thursday about a thrilling game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday night in Chicago, but the Boston Bruins dropped the ball (puck) late in the third period, allowing two goal in 17 seconds with under 2:00 minutes to play. I hate hearing that the Bruins “choked” or “blew it” against Chicago. To do so is such a disservice to an amazingly talented Blackhawks team.
To be fair, I did not see much of the Blackhawks until the Western Conference Finals where they dismantled the defending champion Los Angeles Kings. This Chicago team has a strong defense, a very good goaltender, and amazing speed, versatility, and playmaking from their forwards. They seemed a bit run-down in games one and two, but still gutted-out a split with the Bruins.
In game three, the Bruins dominated an out-of-sorts Chicago squad after their coach, Joel Quenneville, got over-creative and with Marian Hossa out, shuffled his lines until ALL of the players were uncomfortable and underperformed. At this point, Boston fans were plotting out the Duck Boat path for the championship parade. Of course, once Quenneville got the lines in order for game four, the Blackhawks were clicking on all cylinders and just would not be denied.
One of the negatives of the Boston sports market is that the media/fanbase seems to point fingers and look for home team deficiencies rather than acknowledge that, just maybe, the other teams are good and played well. So much anger was directed out that the Bruins “blew it”, that “they choked”, that “they shoulda won.” Gentle Readers, the Boston Bruins--even having hung on in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals--would have been annihilated on the road in Game Seven. This Blackhawks team was too talented, too driven, too motivated, and was not going to be denied.
Sure, there is always a chance the puck bounces your way, but the Blackhawks were the better team, and the better team won. There is no shame in that, no reason to point fingers, no need to disparage the Bruins. They put up a hell of a fight and I’m proud that the local team went out and put forth such an inspired effort (Patrice Bergeron: broken ribs, punctured lung, torn cartilage? Wow. Just WOW!) and got to that point.
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BIG ROUND BALLS:
The NBA news cycle was driven by seemingly two stories: LeBron James & Doc Rivers.
1. LeBron James is an amazing player. In no way should there be meaningful comparisons to Michael Jordan until there is some historical perspective, but considering it is 2013 and snap-judgements rule (yes, I am as guilty as the next person if not more so) there has to be a debate so Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith earn their exorbitant salaries. I am finally old enough (I’ll be 40 next year) to apply the “back in my day” arguments, so in this case it is hard to argue Michael Jordan. He beat Magic Johnson, he beat Larry Bird, he beat Isiah Thomas, he beat Karl Malone and John Stockton, he beat Hakeem Olajuwon, he beat EVERYONE.
Sorry to say, LeBron, but you beat NOBODY until you teamed up with the best players in the league instead of challenging them and beating them. How easy would Michael Jordan have had it to hold out and force the Bulls to trade him to the PrimeTime Lakers or Big Three Celtics teams of the 1980s. Of course he would have won more rings with Magic, Kareem and Worthy or Larry, McHale and Parish, that’s a no-brainer. Unlike LeBron James in Cleveland, Jordan stuck it out in Chicago and lifted his teammates to victory, rather than let his superstar teammates support him as is the case in Miami.
That, more than anything, separates the two most amazing NBA players of my lifetime (and yes, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are right there as well).
2. I have no anger towards Doc Rivers. I think he is an excellent coach who has one world championship and nearly two in his time in Boston. If he wants to capitalize on his earning power and status as one of the best head coaches in the game (San Antonio has the BEST, hands-down...game six not playing Tim Duncan at the end of the game notwithstanding) then more power to him. In the NBA, it does not take long to go from coach of the year to unemployed, as Rivers learned during his tenure in Orlando.
Rebuilding in Boston is not going to help him improve his standing--it will only detract from his skills as a leader of a good team who maximizes talent and game plans well. His window of opportunity is small and he has to act now if he wants another chance in the near future to win. The Los Angeles Clippers may or may not be the best option for Rivers, but if the team is able to resign point guard Chris Paul and trade for center Dwight Howard, he will certainly have the talent around him to compete for an NBA Championship.
Doc will be missed in Boston, but he was within his rights to look for greener pastures, and bravo to Boston Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge for making the move work for Doc and get something for Rivers.
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A Rose By Any Other Name:
One great note out of the Aaron Hernandez saga is that for me, personally, it is in practically in my backyard. The Bristol County D.A.’s office is heading up the investigation, arrest, and prosecution and their offices are in my city of residence. My two children were in a tennis clinic last year that is put on each summer for free by the Bristol County D.A.’s office.
Who is the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office for the Community Affairs Division Neighborhood Liaison who registered them and chased down loose tennis balls? Why, none other than former Boston Red Sox 1994 draft pick Brian Rose. Red Sox fans will remember him as the local (Dartmouth, MA) product who looked like a future star after winning 17 games in AAA in 1997. Instead, he was a washout in Boston and got dumped to Colorado for Mike Lansing and Rolando Arrojo. So when I see the Bristol County D.A. staff in the footage of Aaron Hernandez’s house, the assistant D.A. and D.A. in court, it still somehow brings up thoughts of the all encompassing Boston Red Sox.
A-Rod & the Cash:
As a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, dishing compliments to anyone New York Yankees related is often done through gritted teeth. Many a dentist trip was required by listening to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver marvel at Derek Jeter’s ability to go from 1st base to 3rd base on a single (Seriously? Any player under the Prince Fielder/David Ortiz body type does that on a regular basis. There is no need to make up stupid reasons to complement a player.), or have them laud accolades on Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, Jim Leyritz like they were Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Babe Ruth. However, one New York Yankee I have an inordinate amount of respect and admiration for is the person most responsible for their success: General Manager Brian Cashman.
Cashman was back in the news this week, bashing injured steroids abuser and ultimate fraud superstar third baseman Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez for taking to social media platform Twitter to tweet his status as able to play in rehab games, contradicting a statement made by Cashman the day before. Rather than hide behind the marketing department, Cashman made his feelings about the matter clear by telling ESPN New York:
"You know what, when the Yankees want to announce something, [we will]," Cashman told ESPN New York. "Alex should just shut the f--- up. That's it. I'm going to call Alex now."
Bravo, Mr. Cashman. A-Rod has been over-coddled and it is obvious that the Yankees have had enough of his bologna. Since the Yankees are stuck with him (where are all those Yankees fans who blasted us Red Sox fans when the Sox “lost out” on A-Rod? Hello? Anyone there? Is this microphone on? Yankees fans? Hello?), A-Rod needs to realize he needs to put his ego aside and play ball with the Yankees as no one else in MLB wants anything to do with him. Heck, the Yankees want nothing to do with him, but have no choice but to deal with him. However, any dealings with him are on the Yankees terms, and A-Rod needs to realize that and get in line with the team’s wishes ASAP.
Domonic is Hitting like a Demon:
One player who has been under the radar all season is Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown. Perhaps it has to do with the Phillies flying under the radar as their veteran stars age and the team tumbles down the standings, or maybe it is that Brown is not a big self-promoter and focuses on improving himself and keeping his job.
Brown has long been discussed as a top prospect in Philadelphia and the Phillies have resisted all overtures for the slugging young outfielder. What’s amazing is that he is leading the league in home runs after three years of fits and mis-starts where he never seemed to get any consistent playing time over the past three seasons. How bad was he jerked around by the Phillies? They played decrepit and putrid corpse of Raul Ibanez and the horrific-even-in-his-prime Juan Pierre ahead of him the past few years. Why? Well, maybe the manager is an idiot.
Seriously, Brown did not do much in his limited opportunities. The history of major league baseball is littered with players who were “can’t miss prospects” who never made it the show, or fell flat on his face when given multiple opportunities. There is even a term for the player who destroys AAA pitching and fails in the major leagues, a 4-A (Quad-A) or AAAA hitter. Even this season, Brown had a lousy first month of the season but stuck because the Phillies had no one else to take his at-bats.
One final point with Brown is that he is overcoming a broken hamate bone in his wrist from spring training 2011. This is a serious injury for a hitter and although it usually heals in a few months, the loss of power can take over a year to return. Brown, with both the injury and the frustrating loss of power, is finally at the point where he feels he is the same hitter he was prior to the injury, and the results show in the box score. Whatever the reason, its great to see the turnaround by a young (25 years old) left-handed power hitter.
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Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish:
Some quick points about former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez:
As I stated before he was arrested, if he murdered Odin Lloyd, life in prison is not enough, but will have to be because this is Massachusetts.
As I also stated before he was arrested, if he covered up information, destroyed evidence, or hindered the police investigation in any way he should get the punishment commensurate to the conviction with no special athlete/celebrity exceptions made.
Based on the evidence presented in the bail hearing and naming of charges, Hernandez has to be one of the stupidest, most arrogant individuals on the face of the planet to commit such a heinous crime and believe he was not going to be caught. Forensic evidence, video surveillance, rebuilding/retrieving information from physically damaged equipment is so prevalent, that thinking he could not be caught is inconceivable to me.
The two worst things about this:
1. He has a young daughter who has this idiot’s stigma attached to her for life;
2. There is a man, Odin Lloyd, who was murdered.
At this point, I feel as if Hernandez is just another former player. As a fan of the New England Patriots, I applaud the team for releasing him and dealing with the salary cap situation rather than suspending him. It is a sign of organizational integrity. Hernandez has likely spent his his last days on this planet as a free man, based upon the news about the evidence.
The Patriots--already transitioning their offense following years of stagnant game plans built around 5-yard slant patterns--now have the entire training camp to further rework the offense without the Hernandez distraction hanging over the team. It was a smart move, and more importantly, it was the right move for the team and entire organization.
Browns No Longer Blue?:
It sounds ludicrous to those of us in of the Northeast corner of the country, but there is football news taking place outside of North Attleborough, MA that does not involve New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez and the homicide of semi-pro player Odin Lloyd. I know I need a break from the non-stop coverage and some REAL NFL news:
The Cleveland Browns appear to be on the right track with General Manager Mike Lombardi in charge of the front office. Cleveland, going back to their expansion days with Butch Davis have lacked strong, experienced leadership in the front office. Browns CEO Joe Banner made what I consider to be the best move available by hiring Lombardi away from the NFL’s cable television station and website to take over the seemingly eternally struggling franchise.
Lombardi made an immediate impact in the draft, not reaching for a quarterback, but instead wisely staying put to draft impact OLB Barkevious Mingo, an impact pass rusher much like when former Patriots coach/executive Bill Parcells grabbed Willie McGinest to build his eventual Super Bowl defense around. The team was patient in the draft--not reaching for need--and then trading later round picks for future draft picks and moving up a round. If this sounds like the New England Patriots, remember Lombardi cut his teeth on Bill Belichick’s staff with the original Cleveland Browns franchise.
Another under the radar move was the draft day trade for Miami’s Davone Bess. Bess is a quarterback’s best friend as a slot receiver with good quickness (though not high-end speed) and soft hands. Hmmm, an underappreciated Dolphins slot receiver obtained for a draft pick? Sounds like another Belichickian move with hints of the 2007 trade for Wes Welker. This gives the Browns two quality, young outside receivers in Josh Gordon and Greg Little, with a veteran slot receiver. If free agent acquisition David Nelson--formerly of the Buffalo Bills--is healthy, the Browns have a solid group of wide receivers.
The Browns now have made strides on offense under Lombardi at wide receiver, have second year back Trent Richardson looking to build off his rookie season and back-ups Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson,, and an offensive line built around all-world left tackle, Joe Thomas, who is probably the best player in the NFL that most fans wouldn’t know.
Adding Mingo to the defense on one side to rush the quarterback can only help the unit, and former Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger who was added in free agency should give the Browns a solid quarterback hunting crew, but the best pick-up could be defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Brought in by new coach Rob “Chud” Chudzinski, Horton is bringing the 3-4 base defense to Cleveland and a mind-set of attacking the offense and dictating the game, rather than reacting to the offense. That mindset was evident by the other big free agent signing, defensive tackle Desmond Bryant, who--his world’s worst mug-shot notwithstanding--was a judicious signing for below market value. Add in the return of young potential stars nose tackle Phil Taylor and cornerback Joe Haden, and the defense could be a pleasant surprise in 2013.
The big question in Cleveland is the quarterback position, as last year’s front office drafted quarterback Brandon Weeden in the first round in a move roundly criticized on the NFL Network by none other than current Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi. While not drafting a quarterback this year, the Browns did trade back-up quarterback Colt McCoy away. Weeden’s biggest problem was that he was a 28 year old rookie, so there is no time to wait for him to grown into the role.
With Pat Shurmur’s west coast offense out the window and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner running the offense (just a side note: Norv is a terrible head coach, but a fantastic offensive coordinator--some coaches are not meant to Captain the ship, but can be the best First Mate in the fleet, and that is Turner) there has to be nowhere to go but up. Nothing-but-a-backup free agent signee Jason Campbell was signed, but the interesting pick-up was former New England Patriots clipboard holder Brian Hoyer. Lombardi once said on NFL Network that the Browns should have traded for Hoyer and put him in ahead of prior starter Colt McCoy.
With extra picks in 2014, the Browns could be planning to grab their quarterback from next year’s draft, and even if they do, either Weeden, Campbell or Hoyer could potentially surprise and bump Cleveland up into the Wild Card mix. With an improving defense, a strong running game, and two dynamic young wide receivers, a game manager at quarterback who protects the ball could be all Cleveland needs right now. Either way, after 11 wins over the past two years, this year’s squad looks ready to aim quite a bit higher in 2013.
ButtFumble and Fumbling His Butt
No week is complete without a New York Jets player or coach causing some kind of news. This week embattled Quarterback Mark “Dirty” Sanchez went out of his way to make sure that the pressure of competing for his job this summer was not going to let him down. Oh no, instead video footage emerged at TerezOwens.com with the Sanchise getting down and dirty with his butt-naked and dancing with the ladies at a house party.
Nice to see the Jets offensive leader is taking advantage of the offseason to work being offensive, since there is no offense between the harsh-marks except offending the sensibilities of fans of proper execution of plays and scoring touchdowns.
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OK, that’s all I have for today. Thanks as always for reading! Have a superb summer weekend (unless you are in the southern hemisphere and are in the dead of winter, in which case you’re probably cursing me and flipping the bird to the computer screen).