Wednesday, June 30, 2010

NBA stars aligning in Miami?

Anybody who follows the NBA has been waiting for this day since the NBA Finals ended (or since their team was eliminated). In less than 12 hours, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and numerous other NBA superstars will become free agents. Where will they all land? At this point, that's still anybody's guess.

Does any fan of an Eastern Conference team really want to see James, Wade and Bosh playing together in Miami? That rumor came out yesterday but today Bosh went on record saying he didn't know how that scenario would work. One ball, three stars and ZERO supporting cast, not to mention someone having to take a pay cut. Some would argue that with three of the top 10 players in basketball, you wouldn't need a supporting cast. But you still need to fill out a roster with rotation-worthy players.

I think Miami getting all three is nothing but a pipe dream; the logistics and the finances just don't work out. The Heat would likely need to trade Michael Beasley to afford three max contracts and they would have little other money to spend on the 4-5 other players they would need to fill out their rotation. It's just not feasible.

Then there's the argument of whether that triumvirate would lead the Heat to multiple championships. I'm inclined to say yes, considering the Celtics won two years ago with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. But those players were heading into the twilight of their careers and willing to make personal sacrifices for a ring. James, Wade and Bosh are all entering their prime (scary, isn't it) and may not be so willing to defer to the other two.

Also consider that the Celtics had a young point guard by the name of Rajon Rondo (who has become a household name two years later) and other valuable role players on that 2008 squad (Kendrick Perkins, James Posey, Eddie House and Tony Allen to name a few). The Heat would not be able to afford such players and would likely be stuck stocking their roster with players that don't deserve to be in an NBA rotation. Would three superstars and a bunch of no-names be able to hang with deep teams like the Lakers and Magic?

It's an interesting discussion, but one I'll stop since it's highly unlikely to happen. So now it's back to realistic possibilities.

There are so many that I could list, but one I will leave out is LeBron to the Knicks. I've been skeptical on his interest in coming to New York from the start and the recent rumors that have placed him everywhere else (Cleveland, Chicago, Miami) seem to support that. Then again, maybe that's a good sign for the Knicks chances of landing LeBron.

I don't know if LeBron wants to play in Michael Jordan's shadow with the Bulls or if he wants to share with Wade in Miami. That leaves Cleveland, his home and the team that can pay him the most. But the Cavs can't bring anybody else in to help him out, something he surely wants. So while I'm skeptical on him coming to New York, I see a reason for him not to go everywhere else as well.

I won't sit here and try to predict where everybody is going to land, that would just make me look silly. But I'll throw some thoughts out there nonetheless.

LeBron and Bosh could team up in Chicago or New York, or Bosh could go to Miami to play with Wade. The one constant I see is Bosh playing with either James or Wade; he has no reason not to. If Bosh doesn't go to Miami, I think the Heat will bring in Carlos Boozer as a nice inside complement to Wade, who I believe will stay with the Heat as long as they bring some players in, which they almost have to.

Dirk Nowitzki and Amar'e Stoudemire seem likely to stay put, leaving Joe Johnson to go to the Knicks if they don't get James and Bosh. I know I left out the Nets, but I don't really see any. of these players choosing New Jersey over other, more attractive destinations. When I revisit this post in two weeks, I'm sure I'll shake my head at these "predictions" and how wrong they really were.

Monday, June 28, 2010

FIFA could be going down the path of MLB

Soon enough I will stop pretending to care about soccer. But one thing I definitely care about is controversy, and the FIFA World Cup has been full of that so far.

It all started in qualifying, when France's Thierry Henry's obvious handball was missed by the refs and cost Ireland a shot at the World Cup. Karma's a killer though, as the French had their share of non-official related controversy once the World Cup began. As an American, I couldn't be happier about all the drama surrounding the French team and their exit from the tournament.

During the actual World Cup, there have been plenty of human-error issues with referees. The U.S. lost a victory against Slovenia after a spirited comeback due to a phantom foul call in the waning minutes and if it weren't for a Landon Donovan extra-time goal against Algeria there would have been a lot to complain about in the United States, especially since the refs wrongly took a goal away from Clint Dempsey in the Algeria game by calling him offside.

Sadly, these weren't the only blunders made by FIFA referees. On Sunday, England had a shot bounce off the crossbar and behind the goalline that would have tied their game with Germany, 2-2. Instead, the refs called nothing as the German goalkeeper snatched the ball out of the air behind the line and the Brits went on to lose, 4-1.

On the same day, Carlos Tevez was blatantly offside when he scored the Argentina-Mexico game's first goal, but it was also missed by the refs. Argentina went on to beat Mexico, 3-1. In both cases the better team won, but both missed calls drastically shifted the momentum of their games. England coach Stuart Pearce was quoted as saying his team could have played a different style if the game had been tied.

The most frustrating part about all of this for soccer fans (and Americans like myself who are pretending to like the sport only during the World Cup) is that FIFA is willing to do nothing about it. FIFA officials have consistently refused to consider replay as a viable option and after a half-time confrontation between players, coaches and refs in the Argentina-Mexico match, will even stop showing controversial plays on stadium big screens. Rather than addressing the problem head-on, FIFA is doing everything possible to avoid it.

Baseball fans, does this sound familiar? Didn't Bud Selig and the rest of the MLB brass ignore the steroid issue until it was too late? Now baseball has a black eye it may never recover from and an era that saw many talented players pass through the game is tainted forever. Is FIFA trying to let the same thing happen with the 2010 World Cup?

Apparently not anymore, as FIFA president Sepp Blatter has apologized for the officiating errors and said FIFA will re-open the discussion of using goal-line replay technology (and only goal-line technology) for the next World Cup. Out of the five controversial calls I've alluded to in this post, only one would be fixed by goal-line technology. Is this enough?

I don't believe it is and not surprisingly, I have a suggestion to make everything better. Goal-line technology is all well and good but all five of these controversial plays happened inside the penalty box. Limiting replay to controversial plays within the box would solve all the issues we have seen in this year's World Cup.

Although it would be difficult to find visual evidence to overturn the phantom foul call that cost the U.S. a victory against Slovenia, it would clearly help in the two offside cases as well as the Henry handball. Screw goal-line technology; if FIFA really wants to keep the integrity of its sport at a high level and not go down the same path MLB did with steroids, they need to adopt in-the-box techology. And if they call it that, I will demand royalties.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Big 12: From Powerhouse to Power Outage?

The college football landscape is changing right before our eyes, as one of the nation's top conferences if not its best is on the verge of dissolving. Colorado made the decision today to leave the Big 12 for the Pac-10 and if Nebraska follows suit to the Big 10 on Friday as expected, the Big 12 will be down to 10 teams.

Losing Colorado, who went 3-9 last season and 2-6 in Big 12 play, is far from a death blow but Nebraska is a different story. Losing a program with the storied history of the Cornhuskers that is coming off of a 10-4 season and blowout bowl victory would do nothing to save the Big 12.

But the real team that will decide the conference's fate is the Texas Longhorns. Without last season's national championship game runner-up, everybody in the Big 12 might as well move to the Pac-10. The conference can survive with 10 teams if it includes the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Take the Longhorns out of that mix and a conference with nine teams doesn't seem to work, especially with no obvious top 10 or even top 20 team.

I could care less about the Big 12, especially if its destruction leads to what everybody has been clamoring for in college football for years: A playoff system.

Without the Big 12 there would be just five "power conferences:" Pac-10 (or Pac-16, whatever it's going to become), Big 10 (or the new Big 12), SEC, ACC and Big East. And to be honest, the ACC isn't even that powerful.

With five BCS bowl games and just five conferences to fill these games (discounting potential at-large teams like Boise State and TCU), it would be increasingly difficult for the committee to stick to the rule that a maximum of two teams from a single conference can play in a BCS bowl and just as difficult for bowls to maintain their allegiances, like the Rose Bowl pitting Pac-10 champion versus Big 10 champion.

Eventually I wouldn't be surprised if the ACC and Big East join forces into a super-conference like the Pac-10 is doing, not like there hasn't already been movement between the two conferences in recent years. This would leave the lower-level teams comparable to Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor from the Big 12 to join smaller conferences, making it even more difficult for those coaches to recruit without the attraction of playing larger big conference schools.

That would leave four major conferences in college football and set up a dire need for a playoff system, not like there already isn't one. If college football realignment leads to the institution of a playoff system, I think everybody will look back on this as a step in the right direction for college football. Too bad only time will tell if that's the case.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Allen, Rondo steal Game 2 show to tie NBA Finals

When people talk about the continued development of Rajon Rondo as a jack-of-all-trades point guard, they sometimes seem to forget just how good his supporting cast can be, even at their advanced ages. Ray Allen (age 34) proved that fact on Sunday night.

Allen hit the first seven three-pointers he attempted in the first half on his way to tying an NBA record for three-pointers made in an NBA Finals game. He would break the record late in the third quarter with his only three of the second half and finished with 32 points, 27 coming in the first half.

Allen is already well regarded by many (myself included) as one of the best pure shooters in NBA history and this performance will only cement his place among the Larry Birds and Reggie Millers of yesteryear. He has the game's quickest release (showcased on the record-breaking three with Shannon Brown closing hard) and it seems like most of his shots never hit the rim at all, instead splashing into the net like rocks thrown into the ocean.

His ability to come off screens is unmatched and he balances himself better on the fly than anybody else. Allen's body looks so contorted and off balance at times when he shoots, but everything that he needs to be in balance is there, every time he puts up a shot. Combine that with his lightning-fast release and there really is no way to stop him once he gets into a rhythm like he did last night.

Despite Allen's first half heroics, the Celtics were up just six heading into halftime after Kobe Bryant stole an outlet pass and drained a three-pointer to beat the buzzer. The Lakers went into halftime with enough momentum that anyone watching would have thought Allen would need to score 40 or more for the Celtics to win.

Allen scored just five points in the second half, but the Celtics ended up winning by nine. Rajon Rondo took over, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half and finished with his FIFTH triple-double of the playoffs, adding 12 rebounds and 10 assists, 8 of which came in the first half to aid Allen's shooting barrage.

Rondo also came up with key plays at key moments, including a late offensive rebound and putback around the rim that put Boston up for good. Just a minute later, he blocked Derek Fisher's three-point attempt from behind, ignited a fast break and hit a 20-foot jump shot to put the Celtics up 95-90. If there were any questions whether Rondo could step his game up on the road at the most important time, in the most important series, they have been answered.

The Celtics now go back home for three straight, but I don't see home court holding serve in those games. It's hard to keep the Lakers down for three straight games with a player like Bryant and their depth, even on your home court. I think Boston will ride the momentum to a Game 3 victory before the Lakers come back in Game 4, just because I don't see them falling behind 3-1.

Game 5 will be the pivotal one and a must-win for the Celtics. If the Lakers win that game I think the series ends in six although I wouldn't put it past the Celtics, who went 26-15 on the road this season and 6-4 in the playoffs, to force a Game 7. If Boston wins, I think they have a great shot to win their second NBA championship in three seasons. If you predicted that before the playoffs cheers to you, because I sure didn't! I'm still taking L.A. though.