Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dump Pau Gasol, the Lakers' Locker Room Cancer

The LA Lakers, a dysfunctional mess as usual, are immersed in yet another soap opera. Once again, there's a cancer eating away at the team, dividing the locker room. This season it's center Pau Gasol. His relationship with his teammates grows uglier by the moment, with the team in free fall, even losing to the NBA's bottom-feeders.

Last season the Lakers' cancer was Dwight Howard, the best center in the NBA, who played hard only when he felt like it, partly because he hated both coach Mike D'Antoni and his fast-paced system. But Howard bailed out at the end of the season. Unfortunately his exit, applauded by knowledgeable Lakers fans, didn't leave the team cancer-free. Now Gasol has become the villain--the lazy prima donna who rarely plays all out and who's always nursing some injury. Lately he's been sitting out games because of an upper respiratory infection. Can you imagine Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan or LeBron James doing that?

In most games, Gasol is a shadow of the player who anchored the championship teams last decade. On defense his job is to patrol the paint and challenge anyone who drives to the basket. But, because of his half-hearted efforts, opponents look like they're having layup drills throughout the game.

According to two sources close to several players, Gasol's teammates are furious with him. It's a tension-filled locker room, mainly, say the sources, because of the animosity toward Gasol. They're angry at his minimal effort on the court and his sitting out games because of what appears to be a minor ailment.

According to one source, a Laker player told him, referring to Gasol: "The dude just has a bad cold. He should play through that. He's got no heart." Apparently, that's the consensus of his Laker teammates.

The problem is that the team, which is without Kobe Bryant for the next two months, consists of grade B and C role players, mostly young guys with no seniority who are relatively low on the NBA totem pole. Gasol, however, is a veteran former All-Star with one of the league's fattest salaries. According to the sources, none of these young Lakers feel they have enough clout to yell at Gasol, to tell him their true feelings and order him to shape up. So they bitch about him to each other, behind his back. Said one source, if Gasol paid any attention to his teammates he'd realize they resent him and have little respect for him.

Many stars in the league are, like Gasol, highly paid slackers. But they can get away with it because they're in small markets or maybe they're surrounded by first-rate players who pick up the slack. Gasol, however, is being flaky when he's under a national microscope. He's the lone quality player--and by far the highest-paid--on arguably the most popular team in the league. What happens to the Lakers, a premiere NBA franchise, is major national sports news. Gasol is not dogging it in Milwaukee or Charlotte, he's going through the motions on a high-profile team in the second largest media market in the country.

What's really ailing Gasol? One of his big problems is coach D'Antoni, who covets a fast-breaking system that's alien to lumbering, aging, post-up players like Gasol. It was D'Antoni, by the way, who drove Dwight Howard to Houston. Maybe Gasol is angry about something else. Who knows? Who cares? What matters is that he's behaving in a totally unprofessional manner.

The Lakers have tried to trade Gasol, but can't get equal value for him. Realizing the team is desperate to unload the center, interested teams are low-balling the Lakers, offering much less than he's worth.

No matter. What do you do when you have a cancer? You get rid of it. What should the Lakers do with Gasol? Dump him. He's killing the team. His behavior says he doesn't want to be a Laker. So get rid of him. Getting a player or two of lesser talent--players who hustle and work hard and want to be Lakers-- in return for Gasol is a plus.

Gasol's slacker act is tired. The players are sick of  him. Most fans are fed up too. Dump him. The Lakers will be much better off without him

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Seattle, Dammit, Will Stroll To The Super Bowl Title

It's over.

Sure, we'll go through the motions and play out the games, but the NFL season is over. There's no more mystery. The commissioner might as well hand the trophy to the Seattle Seahawks now instead of waiting until February. The rest of the season and the playoffs? A mere formality.

This past week of games said it all. Nobody can touch Seattle.

They're real good--scary good.What they did to the New York Giants Sunday, that 23-0 beat-down, bordered on criminal. The Giants, with a paltry 181 yards total offense and five interceptions, never had a chance. The Seattle offense, anchored by QB Russell Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch,  is among the best, but it's that defense that tortures opposing offensive coordinators. The Seahawks defense is just a notch below the legendary, bone-crushing Chicago Bears' defense of 1985. The Seahawks secondary is not only the best in the league by far, it's also the best of the past decade.

No question that defense is Seattle's primary advantage. But there's something else that solidifies their position in the driver's seat on the road to the Super Bowl--home field advantage. Seattle, which has won 14 straight at CenturyLink Field, is simply unbeatable at home. For the normal team home-field advantage is worth three points. According to some bookies, though, for the Seahawks, it's worth seven. In Seattle, that deafening crowd noise, enhanced by acoustics and sound-system amplification, is incredibly disruptive to opponents and makes it nearly impossible for the opposing QB to call audibles, wiping out a key offensive strategy. For instance, take audibles away from Peyton Manning and he's not nearly as effective.

Seattle, most likely, is at home from now until the Super Bowl, including their final two games, against Arizona and St.Louis, and all their playoff games. All they have to do is win one or both those regular-season games, depending on what happens with their closest NFL competitors. This means that, for the rest of the season and the playoffs, they only play in Seattle, where they never lose, and then in New York--the Super Bowl site--where they just demolished the Giants.

In the NFC, Seattle's only real challengers are New Orleans, Carolina and San Francisco. Scratch the Saints and the Panthers as serious competition, since the Saints suck on the road and Carolina has an exceptional defense but an inconsistent offense that would be smothered in Seattle. The Seahawks' only real competition is the 49ers, who proved they're the second best team in the NFL with a recent, bruising 19-17 victory over Seattle in San Francisco.

When Seattle and San Francisco meet in the playoffs, that's the real Super Bowl. But it's extremely doubtful that the Niners can win in Seattle. It would take a near perfect game--a real long shot. The Niners' defense, which is nearly as good as the Seahawks,' will stifle the Seattle offense, but the Niners' offense will falter in the fourth quarter, due to the unnerving stadium noise and QB Colin Kaepernick's inevitable mistakes. If the 49ers had won more convincingly in San Francisco, Niner fans could be more optimistic about winning the NFC title in Seattle. But that narrow home victory indicates the two teams are neck-in-neck and Seattle's home-field advantage, which is sizable, should boost the Seahawks to the conference championship.

When Seattle clears the San Francisco hurdle, it's clear sailing to a Super Bowl title. That's because the  AFC is a joke. Last week Denver couldn't even beat a so-so San Diego team at home. That Bronco defense was pitiful. So was the New England defense in the Patriots' 24-20 loss to unimpressive Miami. Denver and Miami are the best the AFC has to offer. Neither one, however, has anything close to a championship defense. Besides,  Denver QB Peyton Manning turns soft in the playoffs and the New England offense, without premiere pass receiver Rob Gronkowski, QB Tom Brady's right-hand man, sputters in the red zone.

It's possible, though, that injuries, to QB Wilson, RB Lynch or some key defensive players, could halt Seattle's march to a Super Bowl title. Or horrible weather conditions on Super Bowl Sunday could even the playing field, erasing Seattle's defensive advantage and opening the door to an AFC win.

But we're talking long shots. Sorry, Seattle haters. The Seahawks are the champs. All non-Seattle fans have to look forward to is Seahawks' coach Pete Carroll, an insufferable ass, laughing and celebrating and gloating and talking about how tough that journey to the Super Bowl title really was.

Makes you want to barf.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Behind-The-Scenes Mess in USC Locker Room

You're probably familiar with those reports about things being rosy and hunky-dory in the USC football locker room now that Steve Sarkisian has been hired away from Washington to be the new head coach. Well, don't believe them.

SC football is a mess. There are some really unhappy Trojan players.That's the word from sources close to several members of the team. A bunch of  them are really angry. Regardless of what you hear, some don't like Sarkisian, considering him mediocre and not as good as either Lane Kiffin, who was fired in September, or interim coach Ed Orgeron, who chose to leave when he didn't get the head coaching position..Some players, report the sources, think it's a flat-out bad hire and aren't looking forward to playing for Sark. AD Pat Haden doesn't really know how dissatisfied many players are with the new coach and some of the assistants he's bringing with him.

On the one hand,  the players would like to present a united front, one brimming with positives. Some of that is out there for the media. But, quietly, behind the scenes. they're really miffed at what's happened--that interim coach Ed Orgeron is gone and has been replaced with a coach many in college football circles consider to be difficult, hard to like and just plain second -rate.

Some still think USC rates a coach in the Urban Meyer-Nick Saban class. Sark, however, isn't in that ball park--or anywhere close to it.

Were any other teams knocking at Sark's door? Not really. He wasn't considered a hot, in-demand coach. In fact, inside word from Washington is that some of the boosters were disgruntled with him. The feeling was that he'd elevated the Huskies to a mid-level Pac12 team but wouldn't take them any farther. Up in Seattle there was the beginning of a movement to find a better coach, someone who would raise Washington to that next level, where Oregon and Stanford reside. Many UW followers are happy he's gone.
So, from the point of view of SC players, this coach, one that wasn't even on solid ground at UW, is what we wind up with? This is the guy that forced beloved Coach O out the door? You can see why Sark isn't the darling of the SC locker room.

Most SC players think Orgeron got a raw deal, that losing to major rivals Notre Dame and UCLA should not have cost him his job. They respected him, played hard for him and looked up to him as a friendly father-figure. They knew he'd leave if he didn't get the permanent head coaching job. Staying on under those circumstances would have been humiliating, so they don't blame him for leaving. They're just bummed out that he's gone.

So the Trojans, who finished 9-4, will be led by offensive coordinator Clay Helton, in whatever bowl game they wind up in--the third head coach of this season. You expect the players to be focused and motivated? Forget it. You can bet gamblers will be be putting their money on whoever is playing against the Trojans in that bowl game.

And, next season, with the Trojans still short-handed because of those long-term penalties from the Bush scandal and many players not that crazy about the new leader, don't expect much from this team. The other eleven teams in the conference are already rejoicing.