Friday, August 22, 2014

Why Johnny Manziel Is An NFL Bust So Far

Cleveland Browns' rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, the team's heralded No. 1 pick, is a self-absorbed jerk. At least that's what some of his teammates are quietly saying.

None of them are going to publicly trash him. Teammates don't do that. But in the locker room some of them are griping to each other and, at times, to him about his silly, frat-boy behavior. Early this week, he gave the finger to the Redskins' bench--on national TV yet. Could  you see Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees doing something that idiotic?

Sources close to three Browns' players report that many guys on the team are livid with Manziel, don't support him, regard him as a lame leader, are embarrassed by his immature antics and hate that he's the face of the franchise. Can you blame them?

The Browns, among the NFL's have-nots forever, are dying to upgrade their image. They're eager to be known as a tough, dedicated, hard-working team. But now, thanks to Manziel, they're known as the playmates of an out-of-control playboy who'd rather be hanging out in Las Vegas than working on improving his game.

It's not his incessant partying that his teammates hate. Some players can romp in the club scene until early morning and still do their job efficiently on the field. In the old days, for example, quarterbacks like Joe Namath, Dan Pastorini and, in the real old days, Bobby Layne, managed to be playboys and good players at the same time.

Manziel, however, can't do both--not on the pro level anyway. At Texas A& M, as a party animal, he had no peer. In those days, put Manziel up against the most degenerate, slacking frat boys, and he'd win, hands down. Nicknamed Johnny Football, he was legendary. Some of his favorite bars in College Station, home of the A&M campus, boast plaques in his honor.
But he could get away with that nonsense in college, even in the rugged SEC. At A&M he had a mountain of an offensive line, was familiar with his receivers and was working in a system he knew in his sleep. Also, he played against a lot of  linebackers and secondaries that couldn't keep up with him. He could get through a practice or even a game with a hangover. He could get by with a lazy effort. In college, he was that good. Remember, he won the Heisman as a freshman. But the NFL is a different ballgame. The game and the players are faster and he's learning a new system, so he's going to be, at times, indecisive. If Manziel were a mature guy, he'd put partying on hold and dedicate himself to fitting into this new system. But that's not what he's doing.

The Browns really need him. The players are desperate for a leader, for a QB to lead them out of the NFL darkness. Manziel has the skill set to do that. He could be the Browns' savior--if he put his mind to it. That's why his teammates are so angry at him. Right now, he's too much of a slacker and a lazy leader to be awarded the reins of the Cleveland offense.

First-year coach Mike Pettine is furious with Manziel too. These sources report the coach has been putting on a good front, appearing calm and level-headed when talking about Manziel's competition with Brian Hoyer for the first-string job. That's his media face. In the locker room, though, he's genuinely angry and extremely disappointed at Manziel. Pettine knows that if the rookie would dedicate himself to being a good pro QB, he'd be starting.

But Coach just named Hoyer, who's coming off a serious knee injury, to start in the opening game on Sept.7 against Pittsburgh. Face it--Hoyer is terrible. His mechanics suck, he's a mediocre passer, he's lousy at reading defenses, etc. He's looked horrible in the games so far. But he knows the system and the players have confidence in him.

As bad as Hoyer is, he's still, at this point anyway, a notch above Manziel, who's looked lost at times in practice and games because he's still learning. Manziel's pre-season numbers haven't been great. He was spotty (7 of 11 for 63 yards) in the Detroit loss and unimpressive ( 7 of 16 for 65 yards) when Cleveland dropped a close one to Washington. Still, he has shown flashes of brilliance as a runner and a passer. Occasionally he'll make a play that Hoyer could never make, that makes you see why he was nicknamed Johnny Football. Clearly, when Manziel figures out what he's supposed to do and gets comfortable in that system, he could be an effective starter.

Prediction: Manziel will take over as the starter after a few games because Hoyer will be so awful that even an unsure, unfocused, often ragged rookie like Manziel will look good.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Michael Sam's Rocky Road With The Rams

What's really going on in the St. Louis Rams' locker room re: rookie Michael Sam, the University of Missouri defensive end and 7th round draftee, who's the first openly gay player in the NFL?

The league would like you to believe that everything is warm and fuzzy and friendly in that locker room and that the players are getting along well with Sam.


Scratch the surface and, according to two sources close to two Rams, many players are uncomfortable around Sam, are sniping about him privately, liberally using the f-word, and hoping he doesn't make the team. First of all, there are the homophobes, the hard-core anti-gays who flat out don't like being in the same locker room with gays. Guys like this will always be around and will make life miserable for guys like Sam. As you can imagine, the homophobes really hated seeing Sam kiss his boyfriend on TV and are appalled at his affinity for public affection. This anti-gay bunch, report the sources, is generating an undercurrent of tension in the locker room. They're not going to broadcast it, for fear of angering league officials, but many Rams wish Sam would go away..

Some of Sam's competitors--the other late-round draftees and marginal players--also aren't crazy about him. These are the guys desperate to make the team, desperate for a job. But all they have going for them is their skills. Sam, however, has more than that. A player drafted near the end of the final round should be hanging by a thread. But Sam isn't the typical seventh-rounder. And he's not hanging by a thread. He's a media darling, the face of the NFL gays. He's in a preferred position, but not because of his playing skills. When it's time for roster cuts, Sam will definitely have an edge. There's no denying that. If he was up against a player of equal skills for one roster spot, who do you think would get the spot?  To his competitors, he's playing the "gay" card and winning the pot. They think he has an unfair edge and resent him for that. That situation is creating a lot of locker-room tension.

Let's face it. The NFL doesn't want Sam to fail. It's bad public relations. If the league is perceived as a place that's not gay-friendly, that will be, among the general population, a black mark. Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL bigwigs don't want that to happen--and they'll make sure it doesn't. Sam will make the Rams or some other team. Goodell will make sure of that.

Of course, the commissioner says he stays out of such decisions. Don't believe that for a second. Remember that Sam, the SEC defensive player of  the year, wasn't even drafted. One problem is that this award is tainted. If you look closely, it was based on him running wild against bad teams. For the most part, the good SEC teams held him in check. He wasn't even the best DE on his own team--Kony Ealy was. Sam's big drawback is that he's a "tweener," too slow to be a demon pass-rusher and not fast enough for linebacker. He's not really a potential starter and teams didn't want to put up with all the media distractions for a so-so talent. That's why he fell to the bottom of the draft.

But do you really think Goodell was going to let Sam, perceived by most as a courageous good guy, go undrafted? That wouldn't have looked good for the NFL's image. The word around the league is that the commissioner's reps were working the phones in the seventh and final round to make sure Sam was drafted. Once again, Goodell's people will deny they had any part in that. But these are the same people who'll make sure that Sam is on some team when the season starts.

By the way, according to several league sources, there's another NFL group--the league's closeted gays-- that is uneasy and unhappy about all the media attention Sam is getting. These guys--some estimates say there are twenty or thirty of them--like being under the radar and prefer keeping their private lives private. Because of Sam, though, there's a spotlight on the NFL's gays now and the glare just might spread to these closeted gays. More tension.

Of course, there's a way Sam can make the tension go away and wipe out notions he's getting special assistance to stay in the league. The solution is for him to morph into a good, solid, dependable, humble NFL player. Hell, that way he might even win over a boneheaded homophobe or two.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why The Lakers Shouldn't Hire Byron Scott

Already in deep decline due to some stupid moves, the LA Lakers are about to make another monumental blunder--hiring Byron Scott as head coach.

After several interviews, Scott is the leading candidate, boasting  the support of two iconic, influential Lakers--Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. Johnson played with Scott during the Showtime era, while Bryant has fond memories of Scott as a mentor during his rookie season.

But there are plenty of reasons the Lakers should look elsewhere for a head coach.

First of all, check Scott's record. After nearly 1000 games as head coach, he has a crappy 44% win percentage. In eleven seasons, he guided teams to the playoffs only four times. And what about the fact that he was unemployed all last season and no one hired him? If he's such a good coach, why didn't other teams come after him? Could it be that he's not such a great coach?

Scott has had three head coaching jobs--New Jersey Nets (2000-2004), the Charlotte Hornets (2004-2009) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (2010-2013). All ended badly. The Nets and Hornets didn't even wait until the end of the season to dump him. Charlotte, where he had been named Coach of the Year in 2008, kicked him out just nine games into the 2009 season. The Nets and Hornets players were fed up with Scott, leaving management no choice but to get rid of him.

Things were even worse in Cleveland. All three of his seasons were disasters. Stumbling along with awful defenses, with teams that were barely NBA caliber, he never won more than 24 games. Though he didn't have top-notch talent to work with, he could have gotten more production out of those players.

NBA players aren't crazy about Scott. According to several sources, when you talk to players around the league, off the record, they'll give you the lowdown on Scott. And it's not pretty. Most brand him as an egomaniac who lets his ego get in the way of decisions. Some players also damn him as notoriously stubborn, which has hurt his teams and turned players against him. Also, they don't like his coaching style. He's an abrasive, surly type whose harsh handling of players wears thin after a few years. As a result of those mental beat-downs, players stop listening and tune him out. In New Jersey, a player uprising, led by Jason Kidd, ran Scott out of town.

As a tactician, Scott is questionable. Though his New Jersey teams were strong defensively his status as a defensive strategist was severely tarnished by his miserable years in Cleveland. As an offensive coach he's always been considered sub par. Ask around the league about Scott in this capacity and you hear the same criticisms over and over--his schemes are ridiculously predictable and are totally lacking in imagination and creativity. His deficiencies in this area got him booted out of Charlotte. The Hornet players hated his offense and deplored his abilities to map game-plans and make in-game adjustments. Sources report that those players griped that Scott made the wrong decisions about who to play and when to play them. In short, they had little confidence in his coaching skills.

And another thing. The shining star on his resume--coaching the Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003--is tainted. The Eastern Conference was truly awful then, as bad as it is now, so topping that division wasn't a big deal. In both Finals, the Nets, clearly inferior, were trashed by the Western team.

After that fiasco in Cleveland, many wondered if Scott would ever get another coaching job. There's surprise in NBA circles that he's being considered for a plum job like the Lakers' head-coaching gig since he's not considered a top coach. The Lakers need a smart leader to guide their rebuilding years. That ain't Scott. Laker management may be looking at the turnarounds in New Jersey and Charlotte, for which Scott gets credit. But in both cases, great point guards--Kidd in New Jersey and Chris Paul in Charlotte--were as important as Scott.

At best Scott is a passable coach. The Lakers, one of the top franchises in all of sports, deserve better. They took a few steps down in hiring Mike D'Antoni. They finally came to their senses and sent him packing. And now they're going to hire Scott? Can't they see that is nothing but another step down?

One question. If Phil Jackson were, as he should be, guiding Laker management decisions or at least having a say in them, do you think Scott would be anywhere near the head coaching job? Of course not.

Don't you get the uncomfortable feeling that the inmates are running the asylum?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How LeBron Sank The Lakers

Wake up, Lakers fans. Stop dreaming of a rosy future. Time to get real. Here's how you should be looking at it. Your team is the Titanic and it just collided with an iceberg. You're going down.

What happened?

Well, defying consensus, tradition and logic, LeBron James, mostly because of  home loyalty, made a decision that rocked the NBA. He abandoned Miami and signed with Cleveland. Free agency, in a holding pattern until he made his decision, was suddenly up and running. Carmelo Anthony went back to New York. Kevin Love may follow LeBron to Cleveland but he's not coming to LA. Finally it's clear. The Lakers, after the worst season in franchise history, have been desperate for a free-agent savior. But they aren't going to get one. No one is coming. What's worse, another key Laker abandoned ship. Pau Gasol, the team's best big man, went to Chicago. Not too long ago, the team had already lost point guard Jordan Farmar to the Clippers. No question, the ship is sinking..

Remember how crappy and laughable the Clippers used to be? That's the mess the Lakers have become. They don't even have a coach, and haven't had one since they dumped Mike D'Antoni on May 1. They'll probably hire Byron Scott. If he does get the job, condolences rather than congratulations are in order. Why? Because the Lakers' roster is bad, really bad.

The big star will be a broken-down Kobe Bryant, an aging superstar who only played in a handful of games last season due to Achilles-tendon issues and a bum knee. The weight of the team rests on his shoulders. Unfortunately he's not good enough any more to carry a team. What's worse, he's such a maniacal competitor that he'll press and press and most likely push himself  into another injury that will keep him out, once again, for part of the season.

They did draft a promising rookie, Julius Randle. But you can't count on a rookie. He could be the next Zach Randolph or he could be a bust. They just signed point guard Jeremy Lin, a skilled ball-distributor who's a wizard at creating his own shot. But he's a weak defender who'll be eaten alive by the legion of quality point guards in the Western Conference. Their big returnees are Nick Young and Jordan Hill. But Young is a selfish gunner and Hill, a defensive specialist, is wildly inconsistent. Both are nice pieces for a good team but sore thumbs on a bad team like the Lakers. No doubt management will sign more players but, for sure, no one who's going to make an impact.

What's funny is that, as awful as the Lakers are, if they were in the Eastern Conference, which is cluttered with bad teams, they would probably make the playoffs. But the West is loaded with first-rate teams. The top ten in this division are all superior to the Lakers, who won't be barging into that elite circle any time in the next few years.

What has screwed the Lakers? Mainly a lot of bad decisions. First of all, they should never have hired D'Antoni as head coach. He was an abysmal failure because the personnel was wrong for his run-and-gun offense. In addition, Jeanie Buss should never have paid Bryant over $20 million a year when he's now not even worth half that. Money that could have been used to improve the roster was wasted on him. Squandering a ton of money on over-the hill Steve Nash was another idiotic move.

Another major blunder was not hiring Jeanie's beau, Phil Jackson, as coach or GM or consultant or something. Instead, boneheaded Jim Buss let his bad feelings toward Jackson cloud his thinking, forcing Jackson into the waiting arms of the Knicks. In the Lakers' glory days, Jerry Buss was around to steer the franchise. His kids lack his savvy and smarts. The team sorely misses its late owner.

Most of all, what has hurt the Lakers is that times have changed. In the old days, when the team had a major hole to fill, they had the clout to attract a Kareem Abdul Jabbar or a Shaquille O'Neal to help pile up championships. Used to be that LA was the prime destination, the shimmering franchise everyone wanted to be part of. But, with the radical media evolution,  it's different now. You don't have to play for LA to make big money in commercials or to become a big star. Places like Dallas, Chicago, Golden State, Miami and San Antonio are much more attractive than LA.

Players want to sign with a well-run organization, with a good team that makes the playoffs. That certainly ain't the Lakers.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why LeBron is Crazy To Return To The Heat

LeBron James is making a big mistake. He may be the best player on the planet but he definitely isn't the smartest.

He recently opted out of his fat contract with the Miami Heat but, almost certainly, after fielding some offers, he'll re-sign with Miami. Stupid move. His goal is to win more NBA championships, to pile up rings at a record rate, to surpass the lofty totals of Michael Jordan (6) and Kobe Bryant (5), the other two players in his elite class. James picked up two rings, in 2012 and 2013, in Miami. But if he wants more, he'd better pack his bags and get the hell out of South Beach.

Miami is desperately in need of a major overhaul. That was obvious a few weeks ago when they lost the NBA championship to the San Antonio Spurs in five games. Actually, they didn't lose, they were bulldozed and buried. After the second game it was clear the Heat was doomed, totally outclassed by a superior team.. Miami was flagrantly and rudely exposed. The other two players in the Heat's Big Three--Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh--have slipped, badly. James was out there all by himself, anchored by two lame stars, an inept point guard (Mario Chalmers) and some subpar role players.

The biggest problem, though, was Wade, not too long ago one of the best players in the league. Saying he's lost a step is being kind. Injuries have mercilessly slowed him down. A friend of mine--a Wade fan by the way--has tapes of games in the recent Finals that focus only on Wade. They were shocking.

Wade's defense was pitiful. He did a lot of standing around. He was usually slow on his rotations, paving the way for many easy San Antonio layups. The Spurs, by far the best passing team in the league, were constantly whipping balls past Wade, who simply couldn't keep up. Young Spurs were blowing by him like he was standing still. Offensively, he's a shadow of his former All-Star form. He can't jump as high as he used to, so his shot is way off. He doesn't drive to the basket any more, he lumbers. Defending him is a cinch. Wade doesn't require double teams now, so defenders can leave him and help out on controlling LeBron, which really cripples the Heat offense.

Bosh isn't much any more either. Once a gritty inside player, he's fallen in love with the three-pointer. He spends way too much time outside, lurking around the perimeter, instead of doing the dirty work inside, the way he used to. With Wade ineffective in the Finals, the Heat needed Bosh to step up his game and be a solid No. 2 man behind James. But Bosh blew it. LeBron sorely needed help, but he didn't get any from Bosh. With Wade and Bosh bungling, the Miami role players, like Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, needed to shine. They didn't.

This is the team--stumbling and crumbling--that James wants to come back to? The only reason they reached the Finals, as the Eastern champ, is because the East stinks. Beating up on those lousy teams didn't take much. The Heat's biggest competition, the Indiana Pacers, is a mess. If either of these two teams played in the powerhouse Western Conference, they'd have trouble making the top five. Even in the soft East, the Heat is going to have trouble passing the Pacers and making it to the Finals next season. Another NBA championship? Out of the question.

Why? Because Wade is nearing 33 but is playing like he's 38. He's only going to get worse. Bosh, who's verging on 31, has a lot of miles, eleven seasons' worth, on him and is past his prime. LeBron can't do it by himself.

The Heat needs to get better but can't. Not enough money. Like LeBron, Wade and Bosh opted out of their contracts recently. Both will re-sign with the Heat for less money, so general manager Pat Riley will have more cash to lure new players. But they need at least one big-time star to make up for Wade's decline, but can't afford one. LeBron now says he wants a max deal, calling for about $20-$22 million a year. Re-signing Wade and Bosh won't be cheap either. But even at reduced salaries, these two will be dramatically overpaid. With the big three hogging most of the money, the Heat won't be able to sign the kind of quality players necessary to win championships.

LeBron should consider signing with some Western Conference team, like Phoenix or the Clippers, that could afford to pay him while not gutting its roster. Add LeBron to any Western team, without subtracting any of its stars, and it becomes an instant championship favorite.

What's likely to happen to LeBron? Putting his personal hunger for more rings aside, he'll probably re-sign with the Heat but, in an effort to help the team, will likely back down from his max-salary demand and settle for less money. But look for him to sign a limited contract--for just a year or two-rather than one for five years..

Right now LeBron's problem is that his loyalty to the Heat and its fan base is overpowering his desire for rings. But as he gets older--he turns 30 in December--and hasn't picked up any more rings, while also feeling his prime years slipping away and that Wade and Bosh are just dead weight, he'll finally see its time to make a move.

Then it's goodbye, Miami.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Surprise! Pete Carroll is Lying

Pete Carroll is a liar. Plain and simple. Absolutely. No question.

The Seattle Seahawks coach, who just won the Super Bowl, wants us to believe he would have never left his USC head coaching gig to take the Seattle job had he known SC was going to suffer NCAA sanctions that would cripple the program for years. He bailed out in January, 2010, five months before the NCAA lowered the boom on USC with years worth of penalties, including a loss of 30 scholarships over three years and two years without bowls. In an LA Times interview, Carroll claimed he would have stayed at SC to help rebuild had he known the sanctions would be that severe.


Does Carroll think we're stupid? Does he really think we believe he would have hung around SC for the dog days? Does he think we believe he would have passed up the cushy Seattle job to wade through the penalty-laden muck at SC, where winning, with those restrictions, would be extremely difficult? Carroll had unprecedented success at SC. With a gaudy 97-19 record and six BCS wins in seven games, USC was one of the top five college teams of the last decade. But hampered by sanctions, SC wouldn't be able to effectively compete with the cream of the Pac12--Stanford and Oregon--thus staining Carroll's record. And he swears he would have hung around to help dig SC out of that hole.


SC was busted primarily because the family of RB Reggie Bush was taking all sorts of goodies from sports marketers. Carroll claims he and his coaches knew nothing about the violations. He also contends that he never thought the sanctions for those violations would be that severe.


First of all, talking to sources close to the program in those glory days, apparently lots of people knew the Bush family was on the take. According to one source, it was "an open secret." If players and their buddies knew, how could the coaches be that blind to what was going on? Not only that, it was clear--very clear--that the NCAA was going to crucify SC. A slap on the wrist just wasn't going to happen. According to one source, many in the football program knew that the NCAA hated SC and that smug, arrogant athletic director Mike Garrett, instead of being diplomatic, was being difficult with investigators and ruining any chance of light penalties. So the NCAA, which took years to build its case, was sure to crush SC. Many close to the program, said the source, knew what was coming. So Carroll, a hands-on leader with his nose in everything, certainly knew what was coming.

Carroll was just biding his time at SC until the right pro head-coaching job came along. He insisted that wasn't true but, said the source, those close to the program knew that denial was pure nonsense, that he would bolt for the NFL the moment he got the right pro offer. But, he'd be more attractive to a pro team if he were armed with a flashy collegiate record. If the SC program took a dive, as it surely would if handcuffed by penalties, that would take some of the gloss off Carroll's record. So it would be a smart move, given his agenda, for him to escape SC as soon as possible.

According to one source, the NCAA knew in 2009, long before the sanctions were announced, that SC was going to be murdered. The NCAA, said the source, which dislikes SC as much as the rest of the college football world, delayed the official announcement just to make SC sweat. But word leaked out in 2009 about the unmerciful sanctions. According to the source, even people at other schools knew what was coming--and were delighted.

So, many knew the NCAA hammer was about to cut the SC program off at the knees. And Carroll, when he skipped out to Seattle, didn't know crushing penalties were just around the corner.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Heat-Pacers Game Five--Rigged? You Bet

What in the hell is the NBA doing?

The league is constantly trying to skirt charges that games are rigged. But last night's game, which was a travesty of officiating, is just fodder for conspiracy theorists. The Pacers, at home, nipped the Heat, 93-90, to extend the Eastern Conference Finals to six games. Had the Heat, with a 3-1 lead, won last night, the series would have been over, robbing the NBA of revenue from a sixth or possibly seventh game. But the Pacers couldn't do it alone. Their offense is so pathetic it managed a mere 11 points in the second quarter. To win that game, they needed help from the officials. And, man, did they ever get it.

The recipe for beating the Heat is simple--just take Miami's superman LeBron James out of the game by putting him in foul trouble. With him playing limited minutes--and playing cautiously--the Heat is just an ordinary, very beatable team. In just over 24 foul-plagued minutes, James had only seven points. If he had his usual 25 points and was able to play his normal all-out, bruising defensive game, the Heat would have cruised to victory and the Pacers would be on vacation now instead of preparing for a sixth game in Miami.

The refs got rid of James early. He picked up his fourth foul a few seconds into the second half. With about eight minutes left in the third quarter he was awarded his fifth, diving for a loose ball. Right then, he was finished for the night, mostly riding the bench or operating tentatively, afraid to drive or play tough defense.What's worse, that fifth foul was flagrantly bogus.. Even the TV announcers questioned it. The NBA's unwritten rule is to make calls in favor of its biggest stars, to keep them from fouling out and to allow them to play with abandon. So it looks ridiculously fishy when the best basketball player on the planet, who is rarely in foul trouble in playoff games, is handcuffed by a series of rinky-dink fouls.

That wasn't all. In the fourth quarter, with the Heat still in contention, the refs did it again. The Heat's Shane Battier was mugged by some Pacers, yet, somehow, a foul was called on Battier. On another play, a replay clearly showed a Pacer last touched a ball that went out of bounds. Yet the refs, in keeping with their policy of Pacer-boosting, awarded the ball to the Pacers. Even with the refs' help and James severely limited, the Pacers, at home yet, barely won. That's how weak they are.

Some gamblers were laughing about the game, charging that the refs didn't do a very good job of camouflaging their intentions. Observed bookie Donnie F, who works out of New Jersey: "The NBA is saying they're always on the look out for gamblers trying to fix games and then the refs do what they did last night. It was lame. It was sloppy. It was obvious. Guys in my business can't believe it. If you're going to do it, do it right--not like that crap last night. Now everybody's talking about how the game was rigged. It gives rigging games a bad name."

Clearly the Pacers, with that cartoon offense, can't win the Miami series. But extending the Eastern Finals a game or two is good for the league. Let's face it, though--the last thing the NBA wants is for the Pacers to make the league championship Finals. Of the final four, Miami is the only big-time city left. Can you imagine what a TV ratings disaster the championship series would be with Indiana playing San Antonio or Oklahoma City?

Don't worry. Miami--and, of course, superstar attraction LeBron James--will be in the Finals. The refs will see to that.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Inside the Clippers' Failed Playoff Run

Who beat the Clippers? Who kept them from turning a franchise-best season into at least a trip to the Western Conference Finals? Was it the Oklahoma City Thunder? Not really.

It was that selfish, racist owner Donald Sterling who torpedoed his team. When that anti-African-American rant, the one secretly recorded by his bitter ex-girlfriend, went public on TMZ, Sterling could have taken the high road and backed away and refused to play along with the media.. But he clearly loved the attention. So did his wife Shelly. They happily plunged into the media sewer, dragging the Clippers with them.

The team was never the same after that. The Clippers wanted to play basketball, to just focus on beating Golden State and Oklahoma City. But they couldn't. They wanted no part of the Sterling scandal. But they couldn't escape it. They had no choice. And they got buried.

Sources close to two team members report that Clippers officials were trying to downplay the effects of the the scandal, insisting that the players were fine, that things, after a brief, early.slip, were back to normal. But, according to these sources, it was clear in practices and in relationships between players and their relationships with family and friends, that things weren't the same. Far from it, in fact.

What happened was that people wouldn't leave the players alone about the scandal. It was everywhere they went. Dealing with that ugliness constantly turned them into different people.

 Said one source: "If you're around those guys a lot, you could see that the Sterling mess really changed them. This negative thing was hanging over them. It really drained their energy. They were snapping at each other, off the court and even on the court.. There was this negative vibe that wasn't there before. They used to laugh and joke around. They used to be hang loose and confident. But then they became anxious and tight. It was gloom and doom. Some of the guys couldn't sleep. Their heads were all wrong. Playing basketball should have been the main thing on their minds. But it never was, not after that Sterling mess hit the fan."

Continued the source: "It really effected Chris Paul. The whole thing depressed him. You could see him fighting it, but it was a losing battle. The Chris Paul in the OKC series, that wasn't the real Chris, not him failing in the clutch. And DeAndre Jordan? He was really down, not his usual self in the locker room. And on the court, his mind was somewhere else. He had a few good moments in that OKC series but he mostly disappeared. That really hurt the team."

The Clippers barely won the Warriors' series, which should have been a cinch for them since Golden State center Andrew Bogut, a huge defensive difference-maker, was out and there was no one else to effectively guard the interior. The real Clippers, the pre-scandal Clippers, would have rolled over that Bogut-less bunch. But they struggled and were lucky to win in seven.

According to the sources, there was no way the Clippers, in their fractured state of mind, were going to beat Oklahoma City, a much better team than the Warriors. The Clippers' blowout in that series opener in OKC was misleading, insisted the source: "The Clippers didn't win that game, the Thunder just didn't show up. They hadn't recovered from that brutal seven-game series with Memphis. They were too worn out to put up a fight. But they recovered next game. The real OKC showed up."

After that, the Clippers couldn't cope. Their heads were elsewhere. They couldn't muster up enough energy to play their usual brand of high-powered defense. They were usually a step slow, particularly on the perimeter, where they generally excel. OKC killed them with open shots. OKC is good, really good. You've got to be at the top of your game to beat them. The Clippers weren't even close.

After that opening game win in Oklahoma City, the Clippers had just two strong spurts in the next five games. One was at the end of the fourth game, which carried them to victory. The other was at the beginning of the sixth game, which translated into an early sixteen-point lead. But from then on, they didn't put up much of a fight, ultimately losing that game and the series..

Let's face it. The Clippers could have handled the scandal better. A stronger-willed bunch might have. But this was virgin territory. No NBA team has ever had to go through something like this while competing in the playoffs. Yes, the Clippers failed. But they only get part of the blame.

They were pushed into a cesspool and they drowned. But who pushed them in? That selfish, racist, idiot owner Donald Sterling. A lot of the Clippers' playoff failure is on him.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Dirt Behind the Warriors' Firing Mark Jackson

Everybody figured Mark Jackson would be the Golden State Warriors' coach for the next ten years. Yet he was just fired, right after the team's playoff's run ended.

What happened? In a situation like this there can only be one answer--behind-the-scenes dirt. Before we get to that and what Jackson did wrong, here's what he did right.

A former NBA star and television analyst, Jackson had no previous coaching experience when he was hired by Golden State three seasons ago, in June 2011. Yet he quickly transformed a perennially average team into one of the most feared powers in the NBA, powered by a pair of crowd-pleasing sharpshooters, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. For decades, the Warriors hardly ever made the playoffs. But under Jackson's guidance, they surged into the playoffs two consecutive years, even getting into the second round last season. Consistently packed with frenzied followers, their arena is one the toughest for visiting teams. This season the Warriors won 51 games and battled a favored team, the LA Clippers, down to the last few minutes before losing a brutal seven-game playoff series. All the while though, Jackson was a dead man walking.

According to sources close to the team, to keep his job he had to make it to the West Finals. However, ace defender, center Andrew Bogut, was injured just before the playoffs and was done for the season. The Warriors' playoffs hopes went with him. So did Jackson's job.

What most people didn't know is that, all season, there was an ugly soap opera raging behind the scenes. Jackson was at war with his bosses. He didn't like them and they didn't like him. Said one of the sources, Jackson's superiors considered him "arrogant, stubborn, inflexible, defiant, hypocritical and unable to take criticism." One of his enemies was Kirk Lacob, assistant GM and son of co-owner Joe Lacob--probably his biggest enemy.

Jackson was consistently doing things to anger management. For instance, when center Jason Collins came out of the closet and everybody in the league was being supportive,  Jackson was lukewarm. It turns out that Jackson, pastor of a church in Van Nuys, is a fundamentalist who's not favorable to gays. That's not a popular stance in the Bay Area, which includes San Francisco, a gay mecca. Team vice president Rick Welts, who's openly gay, was also offended. This was definitely a strike against Jackson. In a gay-friendly league, with more players likely to come out in the next few years, a coach not supportive of gays is a liability.

What galled the team front office is that Jackson, despite his sanctimonious, holier-than-thou attitude, doesn't practice what he preaches. When Jackson, who's been married for more than 20 years, was working back east about eight years ago, he had an affair with a stripper, who tried to blackmail him in 2012. The scandal, foiled by the FBI, went public, embarrassing him and the team.

Another problem Jackson had with management--he prefers to live in Southern California, to be closer to his church. The bosses wanted him to reside in the Bay Area so he could have easier access to team operations. But, as he did in other matters, Jackson ignored them.

It didn't help that some of his bosses didn't care for his coaching, particularly his penchant for one-on-one basketball and his tendency to make poor half-time adjustments. Someone who questioned his coaching moves was Warrior executive Jerry West, the former Laker great. Jackson, however, tuned him out, adding him to his enemies list.

Another black mark against Jackson--his handling of coaches. He had epic battles with Brian Scalabrine and defensive specialist Darren Erman, often in front of the players. Both were removed. Because of these conflicts with assistants, Jackson's management skills were always in question. Much of his staff, according to the sources, was unhappy and not too supportive.

Jackson has a reputation for being a player's coach. However, report the sources, some of the Warriors weren't in his corner. They felt he favored Curry and Thompson and treated others unfairly.

In spite of all the behind-the-scenes soap opera, Jackson still managed to produce a winner, even though handicapped by the loss, for the playoffs, of a key player--Bogut. That's a testament to his coaching skills.

But, in this case, coaching skills and wins and losses didn't matter. The off-court issues may seem relatively minor and not important enough to get Jackson fired but his bosses, fed up with all the transgressions, saw it differently. Only a trip to the Western Conference could have saved him--because you can't really fire a coach that takes his team that far.

Setting the bar impossibly high was the Warriors' less-than-subtle way of getting rid of someone who had alienated the key powers of the organization.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Plea To Clipper fans. Support Your Team!

Enough of this, Clipper fans. Halt this distraction. Put this Donald Sterling scandal to rest. Put it where it belongs, in your rear view mirror. It's time to get back to the business at hand--winning games.


The NBA has spoken. It has done all it can do. Sterling has been ordered him away from the team--forever. The process is in motion to strip him and, hopefully, his family, of Clippers' ownership. That's all that can be done at the moment. The NBA doesn't have the power to force him to sell the team. The other owners can do that. They can vote him out some time in the next few weeks. Being a stubborn, litigious old coot, he may fight to keep the team and drag this mess out in the courts. Who knows?

Meanwhile Sterling still owns the team. Revenues from its operation still go in his pockets. Yes, supporting the team still means supporting the repulsive racist. But, Clipper fans, get beyond that. Don't desert the team when it needs you most.

Here's a reality you don't want to face. The Clippers have the best team in franchise history, a team capable of winning the NBA title. How did that happen? Who's responsible? You may hate to admit it, but Sterling is, to a large degree, responsible. Known for most of his years as an owner to be cheap and indifferent to the team's success, he cleaned up his act in the last few years, hired some smart people, loosened the purse strings and set the wheels in motion to field a winning team.

He may be a racist moron but, under his watch, the Clippers have morphed into a top-notch team. As much as you hate to, give him credit. This is a winner, to a large degree, because of him. Fortunately, he didn't let his racist views interfere with building this team. He could have done something stupid like hiring all white management and player personnel, but he didn't. Being a racist doesn't make him dumb.

So, Clipper fans, just because it finally became public that he's a racist, you want to abandon the team. The fact that he's a racist really has nothing to do with the team. That's in his head. He didn't impose his views on others. The woman he was talking to when the racist rants were recorded is part black and part Mexican. Not only is he a racist, but he's a confused racist. He doesn't even know how to be a good racist. He can't even stay away from the people he hates.

Clippers fans, don't let what goes on in Sterling's mashed-potato brain keep you from backing this team. What has changed in the last few days? You found out that the owner of your team is a racist. You think that comes as a surprise to coach Doc Rivers or stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin? Of course not. It's been an open secret for years. He's a racist bully. Stories about his rude, crude, mean behavior have been circulating for decades. Just about everyone who goes into business with Sterling on a  high level knew what they were in for.

What's bothering you, Clipper fans,  is that supporting the team means supporting racism. You feel tricked and betrayed. But look at it this way. Why should what goes on in Sterling's head keep you from supporting his team. These people are not racists. They're victims, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Right now, these "victims" need your support. If you have tickets, go to the playoff games. If you don't have tickets, watch on TV. But support the Clippers. If they are focused they have a good shot at winning the Western Conference championship, maybe even the NBA title.

It would be a shame, Clipper fans, if this team didn't reach its potential because it was sidetracked by this scandal. Don't let that happen.