Thursday, June 23, 2011

'Loyal' Suns Should Trade Nash

Loyalty is a noble cause. And nowhere in sports is it more apparent than with the face of the Phoenix Suns, Steve Nash.

Since his return to Phoenix in 2004, the Suns have improved from a lowly 29-53 team to a perennial contender.  Under Nash's guidance, the Suns have three times reached the Western Conference Finals while averaging 53.1 wins per season.  Nash has twiced been named the league MVP, and has also been recognized as J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award winner for his dedication to the community.

But after the Suns missed the playoffs for the second time in the past three seasons in 2011, Nash's name has once again become the subject of various trade rumors.

In response to an ESPN report that the Suns were considering
shipping Nash to Minnesota for the second overall pick, Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby had this
to say.

"We are not trading Steve Nash. Period. Exclamation point."

Forget that Nash will forever be remembered as one of the greatest to never win a title, surely he doesn't care. Despite the fact that Nash is a prized commodity around the NBA and would likely fetch a few talented pieces, the Suns are adamantly sticking by their man.

Call it loyalty; call it love.  But in my opinion, a smart executive would move the All-Star in an effort to accelerate the rebuilding process, even if it meant crippling the team for the upcoming season.

Though the team is clearly rebuilding and no longer a championship contender, the 37-year old future hall of fame point guard has no intentions of abandoning the team that drafted him in 1996.  In fact, he had this to say to in January.

"Maybe I'm old school," said Nash, "but I signed a contract to play here and I want to honor it. I feel like I owe it to my teammates and the city and everybody to keep battling until they tell me it's time to go."

For Nash to imply that he owes the city anything is foolish. He has already given the city and the team more than anyone ever expected. Now it's time for the Suns to be 'loyal' and give back.  Trade Nash to a contender, and rebuild your team in the process.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why Baseball Needs Ozzie

Over the past 8 years, I have come to hate Ozzie Guillen. His history of homophobic slurs, on-field tirades, and offensive twitter mistakes have worn me down and jaded my view of the current White Sox manager.

But after his abrupt ejection from Monday night’s game against the Cubs, I have come to a stark realization: baseball needs him.
Watch the show put on by Ozzie last night in a 6-3 defeat to the visiting Cubs.

As we venture further into the worn-out spectacle of interleague play, baseball needs more intrigue.  That’s not to say that the Red Sox-Padres (14-5), Rangers-Astros (8-3), and Orioles-Pirates (8-3) games weren’t incredibly entertaining (insert sarcastic look).  But with roughly 89 games remaining on the season, the game needs more than an occasional sliding catch or walk-off single to entertain most fans.  Ozzie provides that, and more.

Let’s not pretend that the Venezuelan manager is solely a side-show clown either.  As a player, he was a three-time All-Star selection and the 1985 AL Rookie of the Year with the White Sox.  And in 2005, Ozzie became the first Latin American manager in history to win a World Series.

So before you write off Ozzie and call for the White Sox to fire him, think about what you will be missing.  Think about what baseball will be missing without his charismatic and unfiltered approach to managing.

If anyone should be offended by his spirited on-field display last night, it would be Cubs’ catcher Geovany Soto.  His catcher’s mask was the victim of a right-footed kick during Ozzie’s tirade.  But even he appreciated the entertaining display put-on by Guillen.  He laughed throughout the event, and so should you.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

When Putting, Length Matters

 No other shot in sports is more frustrating than the missed 3-footer in golf.  How difficult could it possibly be to guide a 1.68-inch diameter ball into a 4.25-inch hole?  It sounds simple, especially considering that four balls could theoretically fit within the diameter of the hole at the same time, with room to spare.

But putting is the most challenging, confusing, and frustrating shot in golf.  The world’s best often circle the green, lie close to the ground, and confer with their caddy, only to miss a seemingly straightforward putt.
In an attempt to make this impossible yet simple task that much easier, golfers have begun to experiment with alternate putters.  A standard putter is 33 to 35-inches in length, yet some golfers have strayed far from that standard in an attempt to improve their short game. 
A strong advocate of the ‘broomstick’ putter, which measures roughly 49-inches in length and is steadied on the players chest, is world no. 21 Adam Scott.  In Scott’s opinion, the club has vastly improved his putting game and put him in position to move back up the world rankings. 
"I love it, and feel the best I have for years on the putting green, which is giving me a lot of confidence generally,” said Scott before the 2011 Masters. “Basically from the first day I tried the long putter it felt right and putts started going in, so I'm very hopeful that will be an ongoing pattern at my tournaments this year."
Though Scott feels comfortable with the putter, his rhythm seems astray as he ranks 164th on tour in putts per round in 2011.  To many golfers (excluding Scott), the fact that the club is touching another part of the body constitutes cheating.  If nothing else, it looks like an absolutely ridiculous use of a club intended for senior players on tour.
On the other end of the spectrum is Robert Garrigus, who sports a stubby 28-inch putter.  An awkward and aggressive bend at the waist is required to ground the putter.   Garrigus views this stance as an opportunity to place his eyes directly above the ball.  Unfortunately for him, he too has performed poorly on the greens in 2011 (140th in putts per round).
Note that the overwhelming majority of top putters on tour use standard putters.
But it’s difficult to argue that a change in putters is a pointless exercise when considered in a historical context.  In 1996, the longest hitter on tour was struggling mightily with his short game.  After transitioning to an unorthodox putter, measuring nearly 63-inches in length, he went on to capture the Tour Championship.
So if you have the urge to make a change, take comfort knowing that Happy Gilmore accomplished that feat no more than 15 years ago.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hicks' Star is Fading

He’s done it before to a Dallas area team.  Now, owner Tom Hicks is at it again as he looks to destroy the proud and successful Dallas Stars. 

After a frugal decade by Hicks prevented the Texas Rangers from contending for an AL pennant, the team was dragged through a time consuming and drama-filled bankruptcy process.  After MLB stepped in to control the finances of the team, the Rangers were eventually sold to a group led by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan.
As the Stars enter the offseason without a playoff appearance for the third consecutive year, it’s clear that the team is headed down a similarly gloomy path.  Less than two months after the Stars season ended, the team announced that they would no longer be able to retain their one and only true star, center Brad Richards.
“There’s really not any point because we know that he is not going to sign without an owner,” said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk.
In an interview with’s Pierre LeBrun, Richards spoke about the Stars’ situation.
"Obviously I have to move on," Richards said. "I had fun in Dallas and I like the city. But the (ownership) situation is unclear so I really didn’t have a chance to stay there.”
On Monday, reported that the Stars are expected to name Glen Gulutzan as the new head coach by the end of the week.  Gulutzan comes to Dallas after a successful stint managing the Texas Stars of the AHL for the past two seasons.  He also had success as the head coach of the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL over six seasons, compiling a record of 254-124-55.
But the fact remains; he has never experienced the NHL as a player or coach.  The team will sell him as an energetic, successful, and young coach who is a perfect fit for a young and developing roster.  But others will see it for what it is…an inexpensive option.
Rumors have swirled over the sale of the Stars.  But as Hicks proved before, months will likely pass before any resolution is reached. 
But there is hope for the Stars after all…The Rangers got out from under Hicks and promptly reached the World Series.  But with the damage Hicks is causing now, the Stars should just hope for the former.

Fay Vincent and the Case Against Mark Cuban

Former MLB Commissioner, Fay Vincent, joined ESPN Radio's "The Herd" with Colin Cowherd on Wednesday.  Vincent was the Commissioner of baseball from 1989-92. On the show, Vincent discussed the idea of Mark Cuban owning an MLB franchise.  Let's take a look at a few of the statements he made.
"I went through the Steinbrenner business. Some of the behavior of owners can be very troublesome for commissioners…George Steinbrenner was a real problem in baseball, and I think Mark Cuban is a real problem in basketball."

First of all, it is difficult to argue that George Steinbrenner was purely bad for baseball. During his tenure, the Yankees became the most successful organization in the game, winning 7 World Series titles and 11 pennants. He also largely grew the Yankees brand, which currently stands as the most valuable sports franchise in America (and a huge contributor to revenue sharing). His excessive spending and abrasive personality were controversial, but did not damage the game.

Remember also that Vincent has a history with Steinbrenner.  In wake of the Dave Winfield controversy in 1990, Vincent banned Steinbrenner from baseball for life. Just a year after Vincent left baseball in 1993, the Yankees’ owner was reinstated. 
"I think it's more important for owners to be gentlemen, play by the rules, respect the authorities, do what's good for the sport, than it is to manage his franchise into total success… I mean winning is not everything, and I'm afraid for some of these owners they get so carried away with winning they believe that's the objective."

Have you ever heard of Robert Nutting?  Exactly.  He is the principal owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  You never hear of him in the news because he runs a largely irrelevant franchise.  The Pirates 2011 payroll is roughly $45 million, the third lowest in the league (compared to Yankees’ $203 million).  The Pirates last reached the postseason in 1992, and have averaged only 67 wins per season since 2000.  BUT, by all accounts, he is a very respectable businessman and gentleman.

Woopty-freakin-do! (Haven’t said that since 1995) Unfortunately, fans care about one thing and one thing only: winning.  Yankees fans defend the Steinbrenners; Mavericks’ fans love Mark Cuban.  Why?  Because they get results. 

If winning isn’t the objective, then what is…being a philanthropist? turning a profit? That’s a tough sell to season-ticket holders.

"The rules are the rules. I think this enormous criticism -- the screaming about officials, the kinds of things that got him fined by David -- those are not actions of a sensible, responsible owner,”

What is a responsible owner?  A yes-man that kisses the Commissioner’s ass?  No, it’s the guy that does everything within his means to win games.  If you really want to call out anyone for being irresponsible, seek those owners who simultaneously cut payroll while raising ticket prices. 

Is Fay Vincent still the voice of MLB?  No. The eighth Commissioner of baseball resigned in 1992 after getting an 18-9 no confidence vote from MLB owners.  But his opinion is echoed throughout the fraternity of baseball owners.  The ‘old-school’ approach is still very much alive.

While other sports continue to adapt to the changing times, adapting new technologies and becoming more fan-friendly, baseball is the Augusta National of sports.  Change is evil.

Mark Cuban revolutionized the Mavs and could similarly help infuse life and interest into the ranks of baseball ownership.  I don’t think owners fear the complaining or excessive publicity that Cuban would garner.  If that were true, Frank McCourt and Fred Wilpon would be former owners.

I think they fear the innovator, the big-spender, and the success of a boisterous owner that would crash the country club vibe.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Voice of a Trojan

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Pete Arbogast, the radio play-by-play broadcaster for USC Trojan Football.

On select Saturdays in the fall, a small crowd gathers in front of the Coliseum in Los Angeles.  Proud fans dressed in cardinal attire enjoy a Little Debbie’s Brownie, as glasses of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider are served and toasted.  For fans of the University of Southern California football team, it represents a milestone of sorts.

When the Trojans win and the rival Notre Dame Fighting Irish and UCLA Bruins lose on the same day, it’s cause for celebration.  Because it has happened a mere 44 times since 1921, it’s special.  At USC, it’s called a “Perfect Day”.

The inventor of this day, a USC graduate and long-time fan of USC football, has served as the radio play-by-play announcer at USC for 16 years.  His name is Pete Arbogast.
“There aren’t too many of these days,” says Arbogast.  “So when they happen, you celebrate them.”

The son of legendary broadcast and television host Bob Arbogast, Pete first achieved his lifelong goal of being the voice of the Trojans in 1989.
For his work, Pete has been selected nine times as a finalist for the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Association (SCSBA) play-by-play man of the year.

“To be nominated in the same breath as Bob Miller, Chick Hearn, and Vin Scully…let’s just say I have never prepared a speech,” remarks Arbogast.  “Maybe once Vin retires, I will have a shot.”
With or without an award, it’s clear that the lifelong Trojan relishes the opportunity to work for his alma mater.  While the USC program is under intense scrutiny from the NCAA following the Reggie Bush scandal, Pete hopes to remain as the voice of the Trojans until at least 2030. 

Though the program has hit hard times, to Pete, it’s just another perfect day.
For the full length article, visit the full-length page.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Butler's Injury Molded the Mavs

On December 21, the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks were an unstoppable force.  Fresh off of back-to-back road wins against the Miami Heat and Orland Magic, the Mavericks had won 16 of 17 and were an impressive 23-5. 

But the team would soon face adversity like they never expected.  In a December 27 road victory in Oklahoma City, Dirk Nowitzki sprained his left knee as he came down awkwardly after being fouled.  Though listed as day-to-day, the 11-time All NBA performer would miss the next nine games.

Just three days after Dirk’s injury, small forward Caron Butler tore his patellar tendon in his right knee requiring season-ending surgery.  Many, including former Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson, thought the injury would cripple the Mavs.
"He just leaves a vacuum that's going to be very hard for them to fill," Jackson told the L.A. Times.
But the team evolved and filled the void in a variety of ways.  Coach Rick Carlisle soon began experimenting with a variety of lineups that would eventually reshape the team and pay huge dividends for the NBA Champs.

For starters, J.J. Barea’s minutes rose from 19.4 in December (pre-injury) to 25.3 by March. The injury also forced the Mavs to utilize a three guard lineup at times, pairing Barea with Jason Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson.  This lineup was proven particularly useful against a slow-moving Lakers team in the Conference Semifinals.  Barea was phenomenal in that series, slashing and gouging the Lakers for 11.5 points in only 18 minutes per game.
In a seemingly minor roster move just two days after the Butler injury, Brian Cardinal’s non-guaranteed contract became fully guaranteed as the Mavericks elected to waive small forward Steve Novak.  Though Cardinal played a grand total of 37 minutes in the playoffs, his physical play, aggressive defense and 3-point range were critical in Games 5 and 6.
And on January 24, the Mavericks signed forward Peja Stojakovic to be the starter at shooting guard for the remainder of the season.  Though Stojakovic was ineffective in the Miami series, he was a key part of the Lakers’ series as he shot a deadly 52.5% from 3-point range and contributed 12.5 points per game.
The roster changed following the Butler injury, and the roles of other key contributors shifted as well.  Stojakovic and Cardinal provided needed minutes at key times off of the bench.  And the maturation of Barea was instrumental in providing interior scoring from the bench.
Butler was undoubtedly a key piece in the Mavs plans early in the season, averaging 15.0 points per game as the starting small forward.  Though a loss to Miami would have been a convenient opportunity to blame the Butler injury, the win provided another explanation.   
Though the Mavs were crippled without him, they were built around his absence.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Lebron and my second grade basketball team

I remember it like it was yesterday.  Though the moment paled in comparison to the NBA Finals, I am pretty sure it was an important game for my second grade basketball team, the DeSoto Indians.  There I was, receiving an inbounds pass, just as the opposition had successfully converted a go-ahead layup with seconds remaining.  We had practiced these scenarios before, and deep down, I knew what needed to be done.

Ben Hudspeth was an absolute beast.  For an 8-year-old, his physical makeup was a weapon in itself as he towered over lesser children.  And there he was.  I saw the lane...his defender sealed as I hurried the ball to midcourt.  All I needed to do was make a solid entry pass, let him go to work, and we would leave the court victorious.

Yet I panicked.  With more than 10 seconds remaining on the clock, I concluded that the best option offensively was to throw the ball with all of my strength towards the basket.  When the ball left my hands, people were hopeful.  The gym was silent.  A historic moment was in the making.  When the ball landed 10 feet short and 6 feet left of the backboard, the crowd remained silent.  Except for that little boy, with his hands covering his face, still at midcourt and in tears after realizing his costly mistake.

I'll admit it now, 18 years later, that I used poor judgment with my shot selection. But had that long distance bomb gone down, I would have been a hero.  People would have forgotten my tumultuous off-season in which I had fractured my wrist during a careless swing-set incident.  People would have forgotten that I hadn’t played aggressively enough leading up to that moment.  With one shot, I still had a chance to be a king.

But I melted in the Heat of the moment.  I let my team down in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line.  My legacy was crushed. 

Those situations are difficult to navigate, trust me.