All That Is Golden….

I keep meaning to write a piece on the current baseball season, but the NBA keeps stealing its thunder, and if you pardon the pun, the Thunder have had something pretty major stolen in the last 24 hours.

I was on a train home last night when the Awful Announcing Twitter feed dispensed the news. Kevin Durant was leaving Oklahoma City for the Golden State Warriors. In many ways I was shocked, but logical brain wasn’t. Kevin Durant had never said he was definitely staying, and when a player faces unrestricted free agency there is always the chance his head will be turned. Durant had always said the right things, that he believed that OKC were the favourites to sign him, but he never said he would definitely stay. That’s crucial.

So, when I heard that the race was between the Celtics (up and coming, but still rather limited even with Al Horford, who I think makes an average team good, but not a good team great), the Warriors (will they have too much firepower) and the Thunder (Western Conference finalists, but unable to get over the last hurdle to the finals) logic would suggest going to the team almost guaranteed to win the most. The contract is interesting – two years at $27m per year, with a player option at the end of one (when free agents can expect an even bigger boom in their pay packets – it is almost certain Durant will opt out then) so there can be buyer’s remorse in a short period of time if this doesn’t work out. According to this site Klay Thompson is signed through another three seasons, Draymond Green through four, and the crux of the matter comes next season when Steph becomes a free agent, as does Andre Iguodala. Next summer is going to be fun in the Bay Area.

So what of this year? Well there are two clear precedents in the theory of the nuclear arms race in the NBA and neither were successful in year one. Perhaps the closest fit is the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers, who added Karl Malone and Gary Payton, two superstars at the end of their careers, chasing rings with Shaq and Kobe. Of course, that ended in a Finals flameout against the Detroit Pistons, amid recriminations and regret. The other is the LeBron James sweepstakes as he and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach to join Dwayne Wade to win championships. The first year ended in failure at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, before two seasons of championship basketball ensued. With Durant added to Thompson, Curry, Green et al, this looks like a very serious team. However, maybe all is not assured. While an effective trade for Durant means giving up Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, and that looks great on paper, there are questions about the Warriors size. When challenged physically in the play-offs, the Warriors looked to be completely out of the comfort zone, and they are going to need to secure rebounding talent to assist this star-studded line-up. Either that, or Draymond Green is going to be knackered in a fortnight.

If you want a less assured response to the trade, then the comments on Fansided seem to go over the top. They start with the proper antidote to some of the nonsense about how this means the Warriors are expected to win 75 games next year (utter hokum) because you don’t just add Durant’s points to the total the Warriors got this year, as we all know. There’s still only one basketball between the two teams playing. But some of the conspiracy nonsense is out there:

Adrian Wojarnowski of the Vertical said that the sole reason Nike wanted Durant in Golden State was to take away Stephen Curry and Under Armour’s shine. This is what Durant will do, he will come in and get 20 shots per game. Curry’s points per game will decrease, Klay Thompson’s points and shots will decrease and Green will be lucky to score 14 points per game this season.

Really? Woj is great, but is this really a thing? Can we take this seriously? As many point out, Steph Curry is the most popular player in the league, probably since Michael Jordan, because of the flashy, showy player he is. Durant has always been really well respected, a fundamentally sound player, but does he push the entertainment buttons. Isn’t it a bit like comparing Tim Duncan to Kobe Bryant?

The final impediment could be expectations. With Durant’s move the Warriors became the 2010-14 Miami Heat on steroids. It isn’t good enough for the Warriors to win the championship but they will be expected to win 75 plus games and go 16-0 in the playoffs next season. Those are lofty expectations, though the Warriors have shown they can handled pressure.

That’s silly. Expectations, yes, but the Warriors hold that record now, the Spurs may be on their tails, but no-one else really is as the Thunder have lost their best player, and the Clippers seem to be stuck in mid-range stasis. So while you could probably put your house on a third Warriors v Cavaliers Finals next year (outside of major injuries to stars, of course), the coast hasn’t got rougher for the Warriors, but probably easier. I don’t expect them to win 70. I think Kerr will rest players more, and the Warriors might coast quite a bit of the Regular Season. So I don’t think that fear is there. As for the 16-0 in the play-offs? That’s being daft.

Durant to the Warriors makes them the favourites, but I’d suggest they were that anyway this season. I think chasing 73 wins, a tough play-off series with Curry never consistently at his best post-injury and a refocussing would have put them over the top with the Cavaliers. I think, if anything, that the Durant move poses some questions. The chemistry and depth of the Warriors was their strength. They have given up a key, if limited, defensive player to acquire Durant, who bangs around in the paint. KD is many things, but he isn’t a down in the trenches player. They need one or more of them to compensate. KD does stretch the offense, but as many have found, getting players their shots is important, and Green stands to lose most (and he’s not known as the most level-headed guy). Also, KD and Steph are two alpha-male players with beta-male attitudes. That they co-exist, while not forgetting Klay and Draymond, is going to be a serious coaching challenge. It’s set to be amazing.

Bulls Secure Rondo

So the Bulls have lost Joakim Noah to the Knicks and Pau Gasol to the Spurs, after the farewell to Derrick Rose. In their stead, and presumably to give the illusion that they are trying, the Bulls have recruited Rajon Rondo on free agency from the Sacramento Kings. Now, the 2008-9 era version of Rondo would have been a “yes please” acquisition, but I think it fair to say that the media are pretty convinced that’s not who they are getting.

Sports Illustrated let them have it in a magnificent diatribe! http://www.si.com/nba/2016/07/03/nba-free-agency-rajon-rondo-chicago-bulls-grades

Some excerpts:

To anyone paying attention, and to any front office with a reasonable solution at point guard, Rondo is no longer worth the hassle. Although he shot a career-best 36.5% on threes and posted a respectable 16.9 Player Efficiency Rating for the Kings, he again failed to translate his own individual production into team success. Sacramento’s offensive efficiency rating was higher with Darren Collison on the court rather than Rondo, in large part because the latter is a flow-killer thanks to his ball-stopping and a floor-cramper thanks to his shaky jumper and reluctance to attack the hoop in search of his own offense.

Any other complaints?

Defensively, Rondo hardly resembles the player who earned four All-Defensive selections while in Boston. He alternates between reckless gambling and inexplicable ambivalence, ranking 30th among point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus and posting a terrible 106.8 Defensive Rating for a Kings defense that ranked 23rd in Defensive Efficiency. Chicago’s other top point guard option, the 34-year-old Jose Calderon, played such poor defense last season that it was the subject of tabloid headlines. Nevertheless, Calderon posted better marks in both DRPM and Defensive Rating than Rondo. That’s remarkable and, frankly, tragic.

OK, I’m guessing you don’t think there’s an upside here?

Even Rondo’s most stubborn apologists—those who delude themselves into thinking his triple doubles are significant, point out that his numbers have recovered since a serious knee injury in 2013 and buy into the notion that he’s merely “eccentric”—had to question their support during his ugly incident with referee Bill Kennedy last December. Not only did Rondo cross way over the line during the confrontation with Kennedy that led to his ejection, he first issued a muddled statement that fell short of an apology. Finally, after ducking the media and setting off a firestorm of criticism, Rondo issued a second statement that included an apology.

The Kennedy episode was the latest example of Rondo being his own worst enemy. At the end of the 2014–15 season, Rondo bailed on the Mavericks during the middle of a playoff series after butting heads with coach Rick Carlisle at multiple points during the season. Before that, Rondo drew three suspensions in 2012 (for throwing a ball at a referee, for making contact with a referee and for engaging in a fight) and another a suspension in 2013 (for bumping a referee again). While Rondo was a key member of the Celtics’ 2008 title team, doing very well to keep a loaded cast of stars on track, he hasn’t played in a postseason win since 2012.

No, definitely not a fan…

Defenders of this move will point to the fact that the Bulls can simply part ways with Rondo next summer. As the Kings discovered during their circus of a season, it’s never quite that simple, is it? SI.com gave Sacramento an “F” last summer for its decision to ink Rondo, and nothing that has happened since then indicates Chicago deserves more favorable treatment.

The occasional breathtaking assist simply comes at too high of a cost. Even Vlade Divac managed to figure that out. Grade – F

The portents aren’t good. There’s still a feeling that the Bulls are shopping Jimmy Butler and about to embark on a full-blown rebuild, but from what I’ve seen that has to be resisted. I wouldn’t put John Paxson and Gar Forman in charge of rebuilding a garden shed, let alone a franchise which undermined the best coach it had had in a generation. The Bulls are set to be in the wilderness for a long time, without star players, deluding themselves that there are loads of stars tripping themselves to follow in the legacy of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen et al. They soon get tired of all that, and in the case of Rose, almost desperate to leave. Rondo seems quite a fit when you consider it like that.

 ——xxxxxxxxx——-

The offseason may calm down a little after this, but the earthquake around Durant will reverberate around the league. Screamin’ A Smith, a man who certainly doesn’t like being ignored, call his move “the weakest by a superstar in league history”, berating Durant for taking the easy option, and daring anyone not to compare it to LeBron’s move to Miami. Screamin’ is a rabble rouser, and no-one should pay any heed to his wibble, but the suspicion is there that Durant may have taken an easy option. After all, it was Durant who didn’t particularly like LeBron moving to Miami all those years ago……

But this is boom time for the Screamins and Skips of this world. Of course, Bayliss is moving / has moved on but Screamin was doing the rounds yesterday with his nonsense. In any other sport a player going to a potentially win now situation is given barely a glance. I know how I felt when players went to the Yankees in the 2000s, and that’s what make its sweeter to beat them. It’s not weak of Durant, it’s common bloody sense. Westbrook may well be gone next year, and then what. Durant and the Stiffs? No. He saw a great chance now, and the Warriors would have been daft to let it go. It’s not weak, but sadly it is the most logical. Scream on Screamer.

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Baseball Trading Card #2 – Tim Flannery

 

Flannery front

The second baseball card drawn out of the pile I acquired has provided me with a player that has a ton of material to review. Indeed, my delay in actually writing about him is due to this mass of information. I’ve sat through him doing a quiz competition on MLB TV, a tribute to him retiring as a 3rd base coach for the Giants from the Manager, and all other manner of stuff. I drew out Tim Flannery, a baseball coach, pundit and player. What is there to say?

Well, let’s start with this Deadspin article!

http://deadspin.com/former-padres-player-and-coach-tim-flannery-rips-the-or-1758434459

The card I have is from 1987 and Flannery was playing for the Padres. Never a great player, he appeared to be a fan favourite, and yet. And yet. Here we are, earlier this year, with Flannery taking to Facebook to have a right old go at his former club’s fans. I’m sure it must be tough for divisional rivals to watch one of their former favourite sons win three World Series in five seasons while your own team is a relative irrelevance, but Flannery’s riposte is really funny. You know, when you respond to the fans, you sometimes have lost the battle, but not in this case! If you put “Tim Flannery San Diego Padres” into Google, you get post after post on this one incident. So maybe this is going to be tougher than I thought.

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/oct/12/padres-manager-search-tim-flannery-1090-interview/

Seems he’s burned his bridges with San Diego.

Tim Flannery was a Padre for his entire MLB career. Born in 1957 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he was selected in the 6th round of the amateur draft in 1978 and made his Major League debut on 3 September 1979 against the Giants. In that game he batted lead off, getting a hit and an RBI on his third at bat against Ed Whitston in a 3-0 win for the Padres. Judging by the stats, Flannery was a light hitting batsman, totalling 9 home runs in his entire MLB career, and finishing it with a .255 batting average (he never topped .300 in a season) and a best OPS of .738. In the modern era it is doubtful whether these sort of numbers would have resulted in a ten year career, but in the 80s, the Padres appeared to hold Flannery dear to their hearts. A career Win Above Replacement (WAR) of 6.7 indicates that he had a career only slightly better than a call-up.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/f/flannti01.shtml

So let’s go to Wikipedia, that unimpeachable source.

It took Flannery five seasons to hit his first home run – in 1983 he hit one off Chuck Rainey of the Chicago Cubs. Flannery has his own musical collective (The Lunatic Fringe). He made four plate appearances in his only post-season of 1984, three in the NLCS and one in the World Series (where he went for 1/1 with a hit off Jack Morris – who I have an autographed baseball from). When he went to the plate in San Diego he was accompanied by the Ride of the Valkyries. He is an MLB Network Analyst, which he took up after retiring from the San Francisco Giants coaching staff.

Despite what looks like an undistinguished record, the Padres seemed to love Flannery in his playing days…

His retirement announcement in 1989 resulted in an outpouring of gifts and attention. In his final game, the sellout crowd greeted his first plate appearance with a standing ovation so prolonged that the umpire had to stop play,[11] and following the game, there was discussion on at least one call-in show of whether Flannery’s number should be retired.[9]

He seemed to want to make a statement with his retirement. The attached article goes through the way he decided to call it a day, two days early, forever to remain a Padre as a player. His only club.

http://articles.latimes.com/1989-09-29/sports/sp-28_1_tim-flannery-s-thoughts

This is terrific about superstition in baseball:

Wade Boggs thinks superstition is the key to life. Tim Flannery isn`t so sure anymore.

Flannery recently was reminiscing about the longest hitting streak of his career. It went on for 11 games. There were extremely compelling reasons that it didn`t go on longer.

“The problem was, I`m very superstitious,“ said the San Diego Padres second baseman. “The day after it started, I ate Chinese food and drank tequila. So I didn`t switch.“

Think about that for a second. Think about 11 straight days of that.

“The streak had to end,“ Flannery said, “or I was gonna die.“

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1987-09-10/sports/8703080628_1_wade-boggs-tim-flannery-switch

There’s friendship with the Grateful Dead. There’s winning three world series as a 3rd bench coach. There’s not being interviewed for the Padres job. It’s a many, varied career.

Flannery Back

As for the season of the Trading Card, which is a Fleer one, it was before the 1987 campaign. In it, Flannery’s strength and weaknesses were assessed in the where he hits ’em bit – showing he liked the ball up, and not down! It wasn’t a vintage year for Tim. There were no home runs, which wasn’t a surprise, and just one triple (against the Cubs at Wrigley on 1 May 1987). In 326 plate appearances, Flannery managed 42 walks, 20 RBIs,  63 hits for a batting average of .228. Vintage it wasn’t – http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/gl.cgi?id=flannti01&t=b&year=1987

So, finally, to a couple of clips.

Tim Flannery and Lunatic Fringe:

MLB piece on Flannery and Bochy

http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/0/v37115087/tim-flannery-and-bruce-bochy-are-the-odd-couple

There’s a ton out there on his post-playing career…

https://www.google.com/?ion=1&espv=2#q=Tim+Flannery+mlb&safe=off&tbm=vid

But if you know, or have anything else, please let me know. And let’s see if I draw a Padre AGAIN next time.

 

 

Ben Simmons – A Number 1?

Tonight Adam Silver, the NBA Commissioner, will announce the first pick in the NBA draft. Assuming the 76ers do not trade that pick away, it seems almost certain that the name announced will be Ben Simmons, a one-year college player from Louisiana State University, born in Melbourne, Australia and he will be off to Philadelphia. This has been pretty much set in stone for most of the year, as Simmons is seen as one of those rare talents that may, and I repeat may, turn into a franchise player. A superstar to define a generation. It’s also been set in stone, subject to lottery conditions, that the Sixers would be most in line to get him. Simmons has been number one all year. A can’t miss. A man with rare talents.ben-simmons-ftr-lsu-090115_9s371xdq80yvzudoznpwh51p

But then, I’ve heard this before. I heard it about Andrew Wiggins. While Wiggins is definitely a star player, he’s currently playing for a Timberwolves team that has young talent in abundance, but not making the postseason (in a sport where more than half the participating teams do). Wiggins was packaged in a trade for Kevin Love, thus missing out on the Cleveland Cavaliers / LeBron James show, indicating that there was no room for a major 19 year old talent in the James homecoming. Wiggins entered his freshman year as the putative number one draft selection, and indeed, maintained that despite a less-than-dominating college career at Kansas (if one year is a career).

Ben Simmons has had to carry that putative number one tag all season, but it is one he isn’t scared of, or even shy of admitting. It’s one he almost seems to expect. I was reading the latest edition of ESPN The Magazine last night and there is a large article on Simmons. It was a fascinating read. In my view, Simmons doesn’t come off well at all, despite the author of the article almost framing it as a celebratory piece. Simmons, to his credit, doesn’t pay lip service to his NCAA career. All indications are is that he saw his one year term at LSU as an inconvenience he could have done without – he would absolutely have put his name into last year’s draft as a High School athlete, but the NBA rules do not allow that to happen. Simmons makes no bones that he skipped classes because he was turning pro. Simmons makes no bones that he has the trappings of fame, despite not earning a dime at college. Simmons makes no bones that he was part of something bigger than a bad season at LSU – his entourage, his attitude to female approaches, the texts from LeBron. It’s the prime example of the hypocrisy in college sports. Simmons is no more an amateur than I am in doing my paid work. The NCAA get to fill out college arenas to watch a talent like Simmons, while not paying him a cent. Simmons doesn’t have any intention of securing an education, because he knows where he is going. Why carry on this pretence any longer? But that’s for another article.

You can’t have a draft, where there appears a standout number 1 pick, and have nothing to talk about. So there are people out there suggesting that Brandon Ingram of Duke might be taken. The 18 year old has a huge “wing span”, played quite impressively in his year of college ball, and interestingly, has a better shot at this stage than Simmons. The rub on Simmons is that although he averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists per game, his jump shot is non-existent, and that the NBA (with the Warriors style in vogue right now) is a shooters league. The appearance of this lack of shot is intriguing to me. I read a lot about this on the way into the office – people saying Michael Jordan wasn’t a polished jump shooter in college was a particular favourite – and this doesn’t seem to be a red flag in drafting Simmons. You’d have thought a number one pick, a talent known for years, and an individual who said he aspired to this and worked towards this, might have shown more on a major skill he is going to need. It certainly interests me that this issue doesn’t prevent the hype.

The Sixers, though, are giving off all the signals that they will select Simmons:

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nba-ball-dont-lie/report–76ers-promise-to-pick-ben-simmons-at-no–1-in-2016-draft-172303219.html

This is an interesting article, not so much for the Sixers indicating that Simmons is their man, but the rigmarole surrounding a choice. Simmons has a new shoe deal, Simmons won’t work out in Philly, Simmons would prefer LA (I don’t think this has ever been said publicly, but who wouldn’t have their head turned by the glamour of the Lakers), Simmons agent wouldn’t allow him to work out unless he was the number one pick etc. etc. This is real world sports, not those of dreamers and romantics. A highly structured, highly organised campaign by LeBron’s management company and a family who know what they want.

So what allures teams to a man with a work-in-progress jump shot? Here’s Draft Express (http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Ben-Simmons-61928/) :

He has ample size at 6’10, and a sturdy frame at around 240 pounds. While he does not possess great length, with a wingspan measured between 6’11 and 7’0, he is one of the most fluid and coordinated athletes you’ll find. 

Simmons has superb quickness, incredible body control, long strides and can operate at different speeds in a nearly unprecedented way for a player his size. Few players in recent memory are as effective at grabbing a defensive rebound and igniting the fast break as Simmons is, and a sky-high 26% of his offensive possessions comes in these situations according to Synergy Sports Technology.

In the half-court, Simmons is much more of a mixed bag. He saw some success operating with his back to the basket this season, but struggled when asked to act as a primary ball-handler and facilitator in pick and roll and isolation situations, partially due to LSU’s very poor spacing.

Simmons’ best traits in the half-court revolves around his tremendous ball-handling and passing ability, as he has outstanding court vision and a knack for finding open teammates with bullet passes. He’s one of just five players (Luke Walton, Danny Ferry, Nick Thompson and Jerald Honeycutt) in our extensive NCAA database to average over 5 assists per-40 minutes while standing 6’9 or taller, and is the only one to do so as a freshman.

While Simmons doesn’t show much range as a shooter, he has excellent touch with either hand around the basket, being highly creative and acrobatic with the way he can finish plays, sometimes above the rim with a head of steam. His average length and propensity for avoiding contact around the rim hurts his percentages as a finisher inside the paint (he converted a just-decent 55% of his attempts here in the half-court), but he is such a mismatch at his size that he’s able to draw a huge amount of fouls and free throw attempts (9.8 per-40) to compensate.

He also shows some ability to score inside the post with right-handed jump hooks and excellent footwork. He is devastating operating in isolation situations from the mid-post area as he’s simply too quick and too creative with the ball for most big men to stay in front of. College opponents negated that somewhat by putting smaller players on him as the season moved on and double-teaming the post, but things could be different in the NBA with better spacing, superior teammates and more creative coaching adjustments than we saw this season.

That’s quite a resume, and there appears little doubt that as a passing big man, he has few comparisons. But much of what I read says how great he is in “transition” (for those not as up to basketball terminology, it’s the basketball equivalent of a rapid counter-attack in football) and not as good in the half-court (your more “normal” style of play). Philadelphia are a struggling team, a club who have stock-piled high end draft choices, in the hope that they can land the sort of transcendental talent that can lead to victories and long play-off runs. To a degree they had this in the late 90s with the selection of Allen Iverson (and an appearance in the 2001 NBA Finals), and they need Simmons to be that sort of star or else the years of fallow play will be a total waste.

The consensus is that Simmons is a potential superstar, but the level of certainty that this will happen is perhaps not as widespread as it was maybe six months ago. Will he adapt his game to suit the NBA, will he develop a jump shot, will he show the attitude and aptitude to get through the grind of a season with a team that has serious deficiencies and which he will need to make his own? Questions turn to his attitude and to what people saw of Simmons at LSU. Reading between the lines, and reading his own words, I’d be worried if I was drafting him number one and hoping for that.

Sport is a funny beast, and personal tastes and fandom are funny things. Readers of my cricket blogging will know I am a huge fan of Kevin Pietersen. He is a polarising figure in the game, and undoubted talent, but maybe not the best team man of all time. But he wins you games with his batting and he is so entertaining when on song, it is always better to take the rough with the smooth. He also revels in social media, he loves the contact with other stars, and to a degree, went above England cricket. If he hadn’t performed, he wouldn’t have had those things and he’d be another flashy sportsman with nothing to show for it. I think the nearest in US sport that I could pin to that is Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals. He appears very self-confident, very individually driven, and, perhaps, not the greatest team man. But he’s an immense talent, producing lots of good stuff for his team. He’s also had fights with his team-mates. The thing with both of these stars is that they’ve earned their stripes through performance. Simmons, depending on who you read is a great team man, a player who makes others better, but unable to carry a college team, or a selfish, didn’t want to be there, user of LSU who abused the system and now reaps his reward. I’ll go a bit more into that in Part 2, when we’ll know if he has been picked.

The D-Parting Of D-Rose

The whatsapp notification from my good mate Martin came through last night.  “Derrick Rose traded to the Knicks”. I must admit, I didn’t see that coming. All I’d seen yesterday were potential deals involving Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins. Not that. Maybe I wasn’t looking. Maybe I was lying to myself.

(Images from The Bull Show – www.thebullsshow.com)

I was a big fan of Derrick Rose. He was the first big superstar player to grace the Bulls post-Jordan. A number 1 pick with flair. His energy and ability seemed to get better performances out of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. The first series he played in the post-season, against the Boston Celtics in the 1st round will go down as an all-time classic. He energised a moribund franchise, pining for the glory days, and even, briefly, threatened the juggernaut Miami Heat (I’m still mad about that Game 2 in 2011). Rose was Chicago. When he was announced it wasn’t “from Memphis, at guard, Derrick Rose” but “from Chicago….”

The story is well known. Having done enough in the strike-shortened season of 2011-12 to secure the number 1 slot, the Bulls faced the 8th seeded Philadelphia. Towards the end of Game 1, which the Bulls had put away, Rose went down, clutching his knee. The prognosis was not good. He’d torn his ACL and was out for a year. That that injury rehab took more than the “usual” 12 months grated on a lot of people. Rose missed the entire 2012-13 season, including the play-offs, while his team-mates scrapped and fought to make the play-offs and then stun the Brooklyn Nets before losing to the Heat. When he came back at the start of the next season, he suffered another season-ending injury and the thoughts were that this was the beginning of the end for the Bulls’ talisman.

When Rose commenced playing again in the 2014-15 season, there were high hopes that his reintroduction to the line-up would regenerate the Bulls, with a new star in Jimmy Butler evolving, and that they might challenge LeBron’s new outfit, the Cavaliers. But noises coming from Rose indicated that all was not well. While it is easy to see the impact of a knee injury physically on a player, the mental scars are not visible and may not heal. Rose talked about not being physically incapable of picking up his kids, of not wanting to risk a lifetime of incapacity for the game of basketball. While players might think that, it’s not something they should ever vocalise in the macho world of sports. Once a player’s desire is questioned, the stories pretty much right themselves.

Rose appeared to “lose a step”. His game, pre-injury, was predicated on laser sharp, rapid drives to the basket, for either spectacular finishes or offloads to his wingmen on big men. Post injuries, that was much less on show. His somewhat flaky jumpshot had to be his go-to weapon, and on many occasions it misfired. His confidence in making and taking those shots had not diminished but without the regular sorties into the paint that defined his game, he wasn’t the player that had energised the city. Rose was vital, but not as vital. Butler was an increasing force. Pau Gasol was a key offensive weapon. The Bulls should have been able to make a better fist of things. So while they qualified comfortably for the play-offs, they would need to play Cleveland in the Semi-Finals. They won Game 1, with the offense in synch. They lost Game 2 after a lamentable start. Won a classic Game 3 on Derrick Rose’s game-winning three (which was banked in) and then lost Game 4 on LeBron’s riposte (and that will set Martin off….). That Game 4 loss took the wind out of their sales, Game 5 was comfortable for Cleveland, Game 6 the word was the Bulls had quit. Thibodeau, the only coach Rose had known in the pros was gone, and the “window” was closing as Joakim Noah showed the miles on his clock.

The less said about last year’s nonsense the better. Even with injuries, even with a new coach, the Bulls had more than enough talent in a weak Eastern Conference to make the play-offs. But Rose, who needed to be good, was not. For his salary he was an expensive millstone around the Bulls necks. He started with blurred vision, it ended with the trade to New York for an assortment of pieces that won’t be selling Bulls Season Tickets.

I collect/wear a load of US sport stuff, and I have a Bulls vest with the #1 on. Rose was one of the few players I would do that for. I love re-running those early, pre-injury days, and watching the carefree Rose play with abandon. At the time some were saying he was another Allen Iverson – fun to watch, would score a lot, but in the end, wouldn’t win you anything. They were right, but for the wrong reasons. Rose changed due to an ACL injury and then another torn meniscus, and he lost a step. One day the basketball fundamentals might compensate for that loss of explosiveness, but it does need to catch up. Rose in full flow is brilliant fun. I would watch him every time I could. But now, with his departure, as a Bulls fan, you sort of think “it’s probably for the best”.

Rose was an MVP. Rose was the spark that lit up Chicago. Rose brought Bulls fans joy and excitement. But in the end, it wasn’t for long enough. Maybe he’ll do this in New York, but I think we all feel he won’t. The Bulls can now be taken forward on the form and ability of Jimmy Butler. I don’t think it will be a particularly successful one, as the Bulls will not do anything unless they somehow lure a major free agent to the team, but they have turned the page. Rose had one year left on his contract. Would he have stayed beyond that? I doubt it. The Bulls front office never seemed that happy with him this year. The stats put out there in casting doubt on the deal said that Rose was the 3rd least valuable point guard out there – out of 33 . I read this last night and do you think I can find that article now?). The Pro Basketball Blog summed up the trade from the Bulls perspective:

Because of his contract and health, there was almost no market for Rose. They were going to have trouble getting a rack of shoot-around basketballs for him. To land Lopez, Calderon and Grant is a quality haul. Lopez is the key — the Bulls are losing Gasol and Noah for sure (that has been obvious since before the season ended, it was confirmed with this deal), this gets them a quality defensive big who can be an anchor in the paint. Calderon and Grant can be quality backup points, but the Bulls still need a starter.

The only person who doesn’t like this deal for Chicago is Benny the Bull.

And maybe someone who hoped, against hope, he might get there again. Sport. Eff it.

Seven Golden Wonders…

First up, congratulations to Cleveland, Ohio. A champion team at last, on the back of a local hero playing superbly. A comeback that defied all rational analysis, a victory that cast a historic season by the vanquished in a much different light. I’ve had a little soft spot for Cleveland, even though I’ve never supported their teams. I liked the Browns in the days of Kosar and Byner, and felt their pain when Elway robbed them of a Superbowl place (because I loathed Elway and still do). When Modell moved them to Baltimore and then win a Superbowl a few years later, I thought that a horrible irony. While never a fan of the Cavs, being a Bulls fan in the 90s, they had good teams that suffered a lot with injuries. When LeBron left for Miami, and then won a couple of titles in a pseudo-dream team, it had to have stung. In the 90s the Indians, albeit a terrible name for a team in this modern era, rode the back of the Major League film (main reason I got interested them) and came oh so close to a World Series win. They now have Terry Francona, the man who ended the curse, managing them, and I will always wish well for that man. So I have a little soft spot, a little sympathy. Years ago I read a book by the local Cleveland writer Terry Pluto on his love for the Indians and the bond with his father, that was touching on the one hand, but gripped the nature of sports fandom on the other in a way I’ve not seen in many other books.

That’s a long intro into a piece on the NBA Finals, isn’t it? But through it all, and with Cleveland’s joy overdue and well deserved, a pause for thought is needed. What just happened here?

As you know, I was an avid watcher of the Finals in its early stages. The Warriors won Game 1 handily, Game 2 in a blowout, and the word was “sweep”. Ten days or so later, and the Warriors have lost a series they were entirely in control of. Cleveland are right to point out that there should be little sympathy for the Warriors if injuries or suspensions played a part, because the Cavs reached the Finals last year without one key part (Love) and then lost another (Irving) in the first game. But from the outside you can’t help but feel that the somewhat arbitrary suspension of Draymond Green for Game 5 was a key turning point. I’m not a huge fan of Green, it has to be said. I think he got away with a suspension for something much worse in the Thunder series, which then meant the conspiracy theorists out there had something to point to. And I have to say that due to the sheer hectic nature of life and sport at the moment, I’ve not seen Games 5-7, so can’t comment on their content. Losing Green, who had been the Warriors best player in the first four games (and the undoubted series MVP if they’d pulled out a win last night), was a major blow and that allowed that elusive, intangible concept of “momentum” to hold in place. The new format for the Finals (relatively) helped Cleveland here. That Game 5 suspension was a road game, the Warriors found it tough without him, and lost comfortably on their own floor. Imagine if that were Game 5 in Cleveland and having to go back to the Bay Area and win two on the bounce? Much tougher.

The question has to be, what the hell happened to Steph Curry in this series? There have been more than a couple of eyebrows raised at the “unanimous MVP” and his play in these PlayOffs. Of course, he was injured in the early stages of the Houston series, missed a couple of weeks, and then had it put out there by someone that he wasn’t healthy once OKC had stuck a couple of blow-outs on them. Those mutterings weren’t anywhere near as loud when they were hauling back a 3-1 deficit on OKC, and cruising through the early stages of the Finals. Curry had not convinced in these games – his shot seemed off, his passing looked even more awry, and whereas the self-assured cockiness and borderline showboating in the offense worked like a charm in the regular season, it came off as “not caring” and “casual” when the turnovers piled up. Curry’s passivity towards the end, not dominating in the way you’d expect an MVP to is going to be a question he might here for quite a while yet. It may be that he wasn’t A1 in terms of health, but in June, in the NBA, you rarely are. This does not take away from the fact that I’m a massive Steph fan. What this did do is put the comparisons to MJ well and truly in their place. I said before, I thought the 96 Bulls would beat the Warriors. I am utterly convinced of it now.

Maybe the Warriors pushed too hard to get to 73 and then felt the consequences. The Bulls in 1992, a year after their first triumph, cruised to 67 wins and then hit rough turbulence in the play-offs, when the Knicks frightened the life out of them, and the Cavs blew them out on their own floor in the Eastern Conference Finals Game 2. Defending your first title is always tough. The Warriors looked in serious trouble when OKC took a 3-1 lead, but that always looked a seriously limited team outside of Durant and Westbrook, and it was a tad surprising they dominated so easily early on. Maybe the pools of energy required to clinch the deal were used up when it came to Cleveland’s glorious final charge. Maybe they just weren’t as good as we thought they were. As they thought they were. Enter the Golden State Patriots (in tribute to the perfect team, imperfect in the Superbowl).

This is tough for me though, because I’m just not a LeBron James fan. I think any sport for me needs polarising figures, ones you can support, ones you root against. My real problem with LeBron isn’t that he is a bad man – he never seems to come across like that in the way Kobe did, for instance – but that he had got the accolades before he’d truly earned them. There were people calling him the Greatest of All Time, which was, and still is, a nonsense. He’s in the top 10, maybe top 5 players I’ve seen in my lifetime, but he’s a lot closer to 10th than he is to the number 1. LeBron impressed me most in his early days with the Cavs, a moribund franchise with a superstar trying to do it all. His departure was sickening, the hour long programme to announce it was surely something he must regret now, and then the whole Miami Heat experience turned me off. It is easy to say that LeBron has made 6 NBA Finals in a row, but in the Eastern Conference that isn’t as massive a deal when you’ve picked your playing partners quite carefully and the Conference has no behemoth challenger (the Rose Bulls ended when his knee blew out – it’s never been close since). That you lost 3 out of those 6 is also a little underwhelming, when you consider MJ won all six, never went to a Game 7 at all in the Finals, and just the twice in the Championship play-off years. But even with this, some, this week, were anointing LeBron as the greatest. It might have been blatant clickbait, and yes, your vision of greatness is predicated on your own personal memories and prejudices, but LeBron isn’t it for me. But bloody hell, he’s a great player. A true all-time great. You cannot argue with hauling a team back from the abyss against a team with 73 wins in the Regular Season. The fairy story of bringing a championship to Cleveland may be a little too saccharine, but it’s a fine one nonetheless.

So ended the 2015-16 NBA Season, and I’ll be posting my thoughts on that in the near future. I’ve got back some of my love for the sport, BT do a great job of covering it with lots of games to watch during the Regular Season, and then doing the full job on the Play-Offs, and it was great to see games in waking hours while in the States. The season had compelling story lines, a couple of upsets (the Bulls not making the play-offs being one) and a Finals we probably expected, but didn’t think would have the outcome it did. Some will go off to the Olympics, some will rest, and then it’s all back on again in the Autumn (Fall). Oh – there is the draft next week. More on that as well.

Baseball Trading Card #1 – Rich Folkers

Rich Folkers Front

The first in however many I try to do, will focus on the various trading cards I secured on my recent visit to the States. The first comes from the collection my beloved had accumulated in her childhood years and were found in her mum’s garage. She has a load of them, so there’s a rich font of cardage to tap!

I’ll have a scout around the internet to see what I can find on the individual, and if anyone cares or would like to assist, then I’d be happy to have any comments / observations. Intend to do a couple a week if I can.

So drawn completely at random here is Rich Folkers, playing for the San Diego Padres on a Topps 1976 card. First stop is Wikipedia which tells me that he is Richard Nevin Folkers, he’ll be 70 this October, appears to be very much still with us, and that he was a pitcher for a number of ballclubs. 1976 was towards the end of his career. According to the reverse of the card, Rich was 6 feet 2 inches, was a lefty, born in Waterloo, Iowa and he was acquired from the Cardinals in November of 1974.

If you stick Rich Folkers into Twitter you get a lot of reference to his 1973 card with the Cardinals. Here is one example, as recently as 10 June.

Also, when inputting his name into Google Search, the following terms follow:

Rich Folkers Stats

Rich Folkers Baseball Card

Rich Folkers Throwing Up

Now the last one interests me. It appears to be a comment from the Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman who made this statement on a commentary and it stuck with Folkers (it does not appear to refer to a time in which Folkers was psychadelic yodelling, but let’s dig deeper). There’s a whole article dedicated to the comment at gaslamp ball (a Padres site on SB Nation), and it actually has the baseball card picture I have at the head of the article. Take it away gaslampball…

“As soon as you saw the name Rich Folkers you thought one of two things. Either “Aw, jeez, did Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro seriously make another one of those crappy movies?” or “Oh, hey, that one guy Jerry Coleman said that one thing about that one time.” It’s the second one, of course. You know what I’m talking about: “Rich Folkers is throwing up in the bullpen.” I wonder if Rich Folkers has thought of that line every time he’s vomited over the past 35 or so years. If not, I’ll still bet he gets sick of hearing “Oh, yeah, you’re that one guy…” all the time.”

This appears to be a little seam to mine.

The point of this post, and those to follow, is not to demean a career, to downplay the achievements or to sniff at records. Rich did not seem to have a particularly memorable career. He pitched 142 innings in 1975 at a respectable, if not auspicious, ERA of 4.18, but through his career he did not appear to start too many games. In 1975 he started 15 games. In the rest of his career, he started 12 at the Major League level. In 1976, the season of this card, Rich pitched in 33 games. The Padres would be on the losing side in 29 of those. He would be used in low leverage situations, throwing a few non-vital innings here and there, and one game sticks out against the Reds, when in the 14th innings, the visiting Big Red Machine racked up 7 runs to make a 5-5 game, a 12-5 laugher. Rich came in with the damage done, with it 6-5, and then on three hits another 6 scored.

Rich’s career stats can be found here.

A little nugget of information. Rich’s father, John, lived until he was 105.

There’s a part of me now that wants to know more about my first card on the blog. The man behind it. Number 611 in 1976. It seems he’s most famous for the Jerry Coleman quote.

Rich Folkers (back)

Other links:

http://www.amazinavenue.com/2012/10/17/3513390/this-date-in-mets-history-october-17-grand-slam-single

Detroit Tigers remember a trade…

http://www.blessyouboys.com/2013/1/24/3909322/retro-recap-for-augt-16-1975-tigers-8-angels-0-losing-streak-ends-19-games

Ben Oglivie was part of one of the most lopsided trades in Tigers history. Despite hitting 21 home runs in 1977, the Tigers believed Oglivie (whom they had acquired for fan favorite Dick McAuliffe after the 1973 season) was a platoon outfielder. In need of pitching, GM Jim Campbell sent Oglivie to the Brewers for pitchers Jim Slaton and Rich Folkers. Just entering his prime and finally allowed to play every day, Oglivie would blossom into a middle of the order masher for Harvey’s Wallbangers. Oglivie averaged an .835 OPS and 27 home runs a season from 1978-82, with a high of 41 homers to lead the AL in 1980. Oglivie would spend the remainder of his 16 year career with the Brewers. Slaton was 17-11 for the Tigers in 1978, then immediately bolted back to the Brewers in free agency after the season. Folkers was released, never playing a game in Detroit. The Tigers essentially traded a future home run champ in order to rent a league average starter for 1 season.

I’ll add as I find. But thanks Rich. A decent, interesting start to my baseball card pieces.

Another mention on a Mets site – http://risingapple.com/2013/09/23/amazin-look-back-september-23-1973-red-hot-mets-sweep-redbirds/

2016 Stanley Cup Champions

I am, it has to be said, a Pittsburgh Penguins “fan”. I have been since the days of Mario Lemiuex and Jaromir Jagr. It’s a soft spot rather than a diehard love. If the Red Sox are 100 on the index, and Miami 99, the Bulls are 85 and Penguins 20. It’s not a sport I follow avidly, as it is hidden on a niche channel which is just one pay TV contract too many for me in the UK. So it has been nice to catch some of the action while I’ve been over here. Given this is my last night in the States for a while, I have had other things to do in the evening but watched the final period as the Penguins sealed the series with a 3-1 win in the 6th game in San Jose.

I’ve been to one NHL fixture in the US. About seven or so years ago I saw the New Jersey Devils (my wife’s team) against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Rock in Newark. Actually, it was before I was married so it was longer ago than that! I thought a couple of things – it was a lot more expensive than I thought it would be (I went to the Sixers v Bulls a few nights later and that was much cheaper for better seats) and it wasn’t as tough to follow as I thought it was going to be. The Devils won 3-0, Martin Brodeur keeping another shutout, and it was a great evening. As I come over to the States for nicer weather, the NHL is in full play-off mode and so chances to watch in the flesh are few and far between, but I wouldn’t write it off.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lots going on – Flyers at Devils – January 2008

I remember getting into the NHL when it was on Channel 5, and especially around 2000. don’t know why but that season’s postseason had a lot of long games if I recall. I’ve just looked it up and the game I recall is the 4th game between the Flyers and the Penguins which lasted 5, yes 5, overtime periods.

The Devils were not a loved team but I also recall that their final opponents, Dallas Stars weren’t that much loved either! The Devils won the series 4-2 and won the Finals in a double overtime game in Dallas.

I do have some gear from the NHL – a Crosby T-shirt, a bit of Devils stuff, a Bruins t-shirt and once the new season gets under way in the next few months, I’ll see what I can do.

In an US visit marred by some major deaths and incidents, it is important to note the passing of Gordie Howe, and ice hockey legend. I’m not going to pretend I know a huge amount about Howe, but the sheer gravitas the name is held in will tell you (and me) how much respect he had.

It has been a trip. I’m on the flight home tomorrow night, and back to watching the US sport at appalling times. It’s been a different kind of US visit. I’ll be missing Game 5 of the NBA Finals, which has an added spice as arguably the best Warriors player in the series, Draymond Green, is suspended. I will be taking off at 10:00 so I doubt I’ll catch much of it at all.

I’ll also miss the US coverage of both major football tournaments, which I might go into in a subsequent post. What I will say is there is a tremendous contrast when you watch England v Russia and then the US play Paraguay, with one half of playing with 10 men. The US team are not in our league, but they play above themselves. They are inspirational in many ways. Tonight Brazil went out of the Copa America. It’s a funny old world.

Have a good one, all.