Thursday, April 28, 2016

Clipped

By Travis Stahl

You ever wake up in the morning and not know what's going on?  You're not sure what day it is.  You don't remember where you are supposed to be going for work that day.  It really throws you off to start the day when you wake up like that in a state of confusion.  I have to imagine that is how Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers feel right about now.  LAC lost again last night o Portland and is one more loss away from being eliminated from the playoffs.  That leaves the Clippers rubbing the sleep from their eyes trying to figure out how they got to this point.  Well, I'll tell.


First of all, LAC got to this point thanks to some good old fashioned Clippers luck.  The Blake Griffin saga which included punching an equipment manager in the face was strike one.  Griffin's never ending quad injury was strike two and then having point guard Chris Paul break his hand over the weekend in a loss to the Trailblazers was strike three.  Anything that could go wrong for the Clippers this season did.  Sometimes that just happens to a team.  All you can do is wait for the bad streak to end and be ready to move forward.


This Clippers team also has the distinct misfortune of horrible timing.  When this team started to form four years ago it looked like a juggernaut.  With CP3 running the point and Griffin an DeAndre Jordan throwing down massive dunks the team looked like a sure fire contender.  All LAC had to do was figure out how to beat the Spurs who were sure to turn old at some point.  Then the Golden State Warriors happened.  Nobody saw that coming AT ALL.  The Warriors went from a bottom tier playoff team to one of the greatest teams in history over the course of one summer and zoomed past the Clippers.  That left LAC as the third over fourth best team in the West instead of an automatic contender.


The biggest obstacle for LAC to overcome though is not the bad luck or the rise of GSW.  Instead, and this is not going to be easy, the team has to overcome the game plan of Rivers.  Doc is also the general manager of the team.  He says who comes and goes.  Rivers, like a lot of other GM's in the league, failed to notice the shift in play away from big, powerful players to guys who can play on the perimeter and shoot and defend the three pointer.  LAC doesn't have any of those guys.  The closest thing they have is Jamal Crawford who was the sixth man of the year and one of the worst defenders in all of humanity.  Plus, Doc does not like young players.  So when it looked like LAC was close to a title Doc went all in and brought in veteran guys like Paul Pierce to get the team over the hump.  Those moves have left this roster with no young, hungry athletic guys who still have legs at the end of the season.


Some of the talking heads have been suggesting its time for LAC to break up its big three and try for something else.  That's not realistic at this point.  The team would get nothing close to value in a trade in exchange for Griffin or Paul.  No other team is going to be willing to trade it's young superstar for one of these guys.  The only possibility would be if Oklahoma City knows for sure that Kevin Durant is going to leave town and they work a sign and trade deal with LAC for Griffin.  That possibility seems pretty remote at this point.  Instead, the Clippers are going to have to build around its core three by getting younger.  The team has Brandon Dawson but Doc doesn't play him.  They need to hit on at least one draft pick this summer and then maybe see if they can pick up a guy from Europe who can shoot.


It's not an impossible task for LAC to rebuild this roster.  But it is going to be unbelievably difficult and there is no margin for error.  Next season is it for Rivers.  If it doesn't happen then it's time for changes.  I know this is a new problem for LAC to be experiencing.  As Shaun Gordon pointed out we are talking about a team that was still the laughing stock of the league not that long ago so they've come a long way.  But the expectations have changed and now is the time to win.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

10 Draft Predictions

By Travis Stahl

Predicting the NFL draft is like predicting the weather.  We see clouds, we automatically think it's going to rain.  But it might not.  Maybe it's just overcast and we are going to be cold and miserable all day.  Same thing with the draft.  We see a need at a position on a particular team and instantly think we know what they are going to do.  We don't though and teams fool us all the time, especially in the first round.  Here are a few things that I feel pretty strongly though will happen in the draft.


1. New England will draft Navy quarterback Keenon Reynolds - At some point in the draft, maybe in the second or third round, the Patriots are going to draft Reynolds.  The kids is ultra-athletic and competitive.  Bill Belichick has been working him out personally and views Reynolds as another Julian Edelman.
2. Arizona Cardinals will draft a quarterback - Arizona knows Carson Palmer isn't playing forever.  And, when Palmer does get hurt the team really struggles.  Might as well bring somebody in now and start grooming them.  The Cardinals could go with Connor Cook in the second round or Cody Kessler in the third round.
3. The Colts will draft a lineman - This should be a given for Indianapolis.  Andrew Luck got hit a lot last year and the team didn't address the concerns on the offensive line through free agency.
4. Robert Kmediche will fall in the draft - Kmediche already had several red flags.  Then he told a reporter he wants to own a pet panther.  Teams are scared to death of this guy.
5. Cleveland will keep trading - The new Browns front office knows about 50% of draft picks fail. By logic, the more picks you have the more your odds of hitting on a player so the team will keep adding picks through trades.
6. Minnesota will draft a wide receiver - The Vikings passing game was really stagnant last year.  Corey Coleman or LaQuan Treadwell would really stretch the field for Minnesota.
7. Teams will trade back in to the first round - Teams with a need at quarterback will try to trade back in to the bottom of the first round if they feel the right quarterback for them is still on the board.  It would not surprise me to see the Browns, Jets or Bears trade up to grab a guy they like.
8. Seattle needs a running back - If Derrick Henry is still on the board when Seattle picks in the first round the team will be on a dead sprint to turn the pick in.  Henry fits perfectly in the Seahawks scheme.
9. Every team will love their pick - General managers love getting on TV after they make their selection and say "this is the guy we wanted all along."  They're liars.
10. Roger Goodell will get booed - Fans hate Goodell.  As soon as he steps on stage tomorrow night the boo-birds will start serenading him.


The talent in this year's draft is really poor.  If you are hoping your team lands a guy that will change the whole complexion of your team you are probably out of luck.  This draft doesn't have superstars but it does have a lot of depth so teams are really cherishing second and third round picks.  There could be a lot of movement in those middle rounds as teams try to move up to get the player they want.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Rivalries Aren't What They Used to Be

By Travis Stahl

So Carrie (Behrens) Snyder put a couple of pictures on yesterday of her and the old Lakers softball teams.  I love seeing old pictures like that.  I had forgotten how much I hated those stupid orange and black colors together.  Hated them.  I went to Marshall, that's what I was supposed to do.  You want to pinpoint a spot where sports in our country went horrible wrong you can start right there. Kids don't have and don't understand rivalries anymore from a young age.  To this day I don't know if I wanted to beat other teams as badly as I wanted to win against the country rivals in middle school.


We didn't grow up in the age of travel league where we were playing with other kids from the country.  We grew up playing against those kids in everything.  Back then every sport except football was still separate and little league down at Morsches the teams were still split up by townships.  You definitely knew who the other good players were on those county teams and you probably didn't like them.  That is what competition is supposed to be.  And more importantly, your wins and losses against your rivals helped to develop you as an athlete and a person.  Those games are still important to this day.


Kids now don't have that.  They don't understand.  When one of the teams from Indian Springs plays Summit Middle School or Crestview Middle School they know those kids.  They play AAU basketball on a team with them.  They play on the same traveling league during the summer baseball season.  Hence, no rivalry every develops.  Those kids are just friends who you happen to be playing against.  That doesn't work.  We knew who the other players were on the county teams and for the most part we were not friends with them until we got to high school.


We knew in football that Chad Downing was a beast at Coesse and if he was coming at you it would be best to just get down.  We knew that in summer baseball down at Morsches Adrian Miller was going to be pitching for the Lakers and he was probably going to throw one inside on you.  In basketball Columbia had Josh Jagger and Dan Farber and they were about as good as any duo of players any other school had.  Those were rivalries and you wanted to beat those guys at all costs.  Sometimes you did and sometimes you didn't.  But that internal drive was there that so many of today's athletes are missing.  The game itself isn't as important to kids today as it used to be and that's the shame of it all.


I'm sure kids today still view somebody as their rival.  But not to the level we did in those middle school sports.  We hated each other.  Then, when we got to the high school we could put that all behind us and be friends and teammates.  You didn't forget that rivalry, you still held it dear to your heart.  Now as teammates though you were able to view that other player with admiration and respect because you knew he felt the same way about you as you did about him.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Some Teams Draft Well

By Travis Stahl

There was a great quote one time from Living Color that said "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  Somebody else may have said that too but Living Color put it in a video so that's more important.  The biggest fear facing NFL teams right now is failure.  The draft is just three days away and some teams have visions of Ryan Leaf and Lawrence Phillips dancing in their heads.  No team wants to be the one that busted in the first round but its inevitable.  There are going to be some players that just don't pan out.  But the good teams recognize those players and steer clear.  The draft is all about preparation and some teams just do it better than others.


New England Patriots - Why has New England been so good for the past 15 years?  It's because of the draft.  For the most part, you don't see big-name free agents flocking to the Patriots.  Instead Bill Belichick and the Patriots war room does a better job of draft prep than any team in the league. It's why they find guys like Tom Brady in the sixth round.  New England loads up on guys like Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski and Tedy Bruschi that have been overlooked by ever other team in the league.  To be honest, the thing that is most shocking to me about the New England run of greatness is that more teams don't try to copy what they do for the draft.


Carolina Panthers - Like the Patriots, Carolina isn't running out to sign big-name free agents.  And, a lot of the Panthers star players were picked early in the draft.  But Carolina has hit on every single one of those guys and then put them in a situation do play to their strengths. Luke Kuchly, Star Lutuleli and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin are all first-round picks Carolina has nailed in the last few years.  If you are going to keep your first round picks and not trade them away then you better make them count.  Few teams have avoided the draft bust as well as Carolina has and it shows on the field.


Seattle Seahawks - I remember when Seattle drafted offensive lineman James Carpenter in the first round and I thought they were crazy.  I think I even wrote an article about how it seemed like Pete Carroll and general manager Dan Schneider didn't seem to know what they were doing.  Turns out they did.  Seattle one a Super Bowl drafting that way.  Just look at all the mid-round guys they've hit on: Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Doug Baldwin and Cam Chancellor.  Seattle uses a very different model than the rest of the league to evaluate talent and it works even if the rest of us don't understand what they are doing.


You win championships in the NFL by building through the draft.  If you are going to trade away multiple draft picks like Los Angeles and Philadelphia did you better make sure you have the staff in place to coach those quarterbacks up.  Too many times we call a guy a bust when in reality the coaching staff failed to put that guy in a position to be successful.  All of these guys have talent, it's just a matter of how it is used on the field.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Good Move Cleveland

By Travis Stahl

I make fun of the Cleveland Browns a lot.  I do so because it's funny and because the Browns give me a lot of opportunities to kick them while they are down.  I mean, come on, Cleveland signed Robert Griffen III to be their new quarterback.  That deserves to be made fun of.  Yesterday, the Browns did a very un-Cleveland like thing.  The team traded the No. 2 pick in next week's NFL draft to the Philadelphia Eagles for a king's ransom and it was a very smart move by the Browns.


I had just released our latest mock draft yesterday when news of the trade broke.  That made me happy.  Essentially the Browns traded the No. 2 pick in this year's draft to the Eagles so Philly can draft whichever quarterback is left on the board, probably Carson Wentz.  In return, the Browns receive the Eagles' first round pick this year and next year and a slew of second and third round picks.  Cleveland has so many holes on this roster the move makes sense, especially if they aren't completely sold on Wentz as the quarterback of their future.  Now Cleveland just has to make sure they hit on some or all of these picks they have assembled and with the new regime in place running the show there is actually a brief glimmer of possibility that the team might be able to get it right this time.


Cleveland's front office is now being run by a guy named Sashi Brown.  It's ironic, I know.  Anyway, Brown is not a football guy.  In fact, he is an analytics guy who came to the team from Major League Baseball.  Translation:  This is going to work out brilliantly or fail miserable in the span of two years.  And, if you assign value to the trade between Cleveland and Philadelphia based on the Jimmy Johnson trade scale (it's a real thing) than the Browns almost double the value they receive over the pick they sent the Eagles.  However, like we said, now the Browns have to actually make those picks matter and that is where the team has struggled in the past.


We have Justin Gilbert, Barkevious Mingo, Trent Richardson, Brandon Weedon and of course Johnny Manziel.  Get it?  Cleveland has not drafted wisely.  Now, I tend to agree with the Chris Carter theory that only one percent of NFL players are transcendental and that the other 99% must be in the right system with the right coaches.  Cleveland never has the right system or the right coaches or the right trainers or the right scouts or the right personnel staff or the right general manager or the right team president or the right owner.  It's no wonder players get to Cleveland and fail.  If you look at the Browns in the big picture of all of professional sports wouldn't you say this team is in the bottom five?  I sure would.  So maybe under Brown using his baseball analytic formula things will change for the better.


It can't get worse, that's for sure.  Heck, just by swinging this trade fans in Cleveland now has some optimism that the front office knows what it is doing.  At this point outside of Corner Joe Hayden and offensive tackle Joe Thomas any player the Browns draft will be an upgrade at every other position on the field.  Just throw a dart at the board and the tea automatically gets better.  But, like we said, getting the players there isn't enough.  New head coach Hue Jackson is going to have to actually mold the talent into something now or the Browns will be right back in this spot three years from now.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

NFL Mock Draft 3.0



By Travis Stahl

The 2016 NFL draft is eight days away.  We haven’t revisited our mock draft since the Rams traded up for the top pick.  Now we are hearing rumors the Browns are considering trading out of the pick No. 2. That mindset pretty much sums up this whole draft.  Very risky.  There are no sure things in this draft.  Every pick can either be great or terrible.

1. Los Angeles Rams – Jared Goff, Quarterback, California – The Rams traded up here to get the new face of the franchise and Goff can certainly be that.
2. Cleveland Browns – Carson Wentz, Quarterback North Dakota State – Cleveland gladly settles up for the second best quarterback.
3. San Diego Chargers – Jalen Ramsey, Cornerback, Florida State – Ramsey has great range and can cover anybody but his ball skills aren’t great.
4. Dallas Cowboys – Joey Bosa, Defensive End, Ohio State – The Cowboys are in win-now mode so Bosa makes some sense.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars – Laremy Tunsill, Offensive tackle, Ole Miss – Don’t look now but the Jags could be very good.
6. Baltimore Ravens – Myles Jack, Linebacker, UCLA – A pure sideline to sideline tackling machine.
7. San Francisco 49ers - Deforest Buckner, Defensive End, Oregon – Who would have thought Chip Kelly would take an Oregon guy?
8. Philadelphia Eagles – Ronnie Stanley, Offensive tackle, Notre Dame – The Philly offensive line was neglected by the previous regime.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – LaQuan Treadwell, Wide Receiver, Ole Miss – Pure explosiveness with the ball in his hands.
10. New York Giants - Reggie Ragland, Linebacker, Alabama – A pure stud to plug in to the middle of the defense.
11. Chicago Bears – Shaq Lawson, Defensive End, Clemson – Chicago needs somebody to get after the passer.
12. New Orleans Saints - Veron Hargraves, Cornerback, Florida – You can’t find enough quality guys to cover receivers in this league.
13. Miami Dolphins -  Ezekial Elliot, Runningback, Ohio State – This could be the steal of the draft.
14. Oakland Raiders - A'Shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Alabama – Championship teams are built along the lines.  The Raiders are getting there.
15.Tennessee Titans - Jack Conklin, Offensive Tackle, Michigan State – This team wants to run the ball and Conklin is road grader.
16. Detroit Lions – Corey Coleman, Wide Receiver, Baylor – The Lions need somebody to catch the ball.
17. Atlanta Falcons – Kevin Dodd, Defensive End, Clemson – Dan Quinn still needs somebody to rush the passer.
18. Indianapolis Colts – Taylor Decker, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State –Andrew Luck will freak out if the Colts don’t take a lineman.
19. Buffalo Bills – Sheldon Rankins, Defensive Tackle, Louisville – Can you imagine this guy next to Marcel Darius.
20. New York Jets – Paxton Lynch, Quarterback, Memphis – The shock of the draft.
21. Washington Redskins – Jarran Reed, Defensive Tackle, Alabama – This is a safe, smart pick.
22. Houston Texans – Josh Doctson, Wide Receiver, TCU – Doctson gets overlooked in the wide receiver discussion.
23. Minnesota Vikings – Darron Lee, Linebacker, Ohio State – Another beast at linebacker for a pretty stout defense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Robert Nkemdiche, Defensive Tackle, Ole Miss – If this pick works out the Bengals defense will be lethal.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers – Karl Joseph, Safety, Virginia – A true leader in the secondary.
26. Seattle Seahawks – Ryan Kelly, Center, Alabama – Someone get Russell Wilson some help.
27. Green Bay Packers – Hunter Henry, Tight End, Arkansas – Aaron Rodgers will be doing back flips when this pick comes in.
28. Kansas City Chiefs – Eli Apple, Cornerback, Ohio State – The Chiefs are great at every level of the defense except corner.
29. Arizona Cardinals – Kyler Fackrell, Linebacker, Utah St. – Never heard of him?  You will.
30. Carolina Panthers – Noah Spence, Linebacker, Eastern Kentucky – Yes, Spence is a risky pick but if it pays off the Panthers will have found a gem.
31. Denver Broncos – Shaun Coleman, Offensive Tackle, Auburn – Doesn’t it seem like the Broncos line is always decimated by injuries?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Indiana Setting the Pace

By Travis Stahl

Two wrongs don't make a right.  Addition by subtraction.  Opposites attract.  You can call it whatever you want to call it but the bottom line is the same.  The Indiana Pacers retooled and got rid or mainstays Lance Stephenson and Roy Ibbert and not two years into the reloading process we can all see what this team is capable of.  With a 1-0 lead over the favored Toronto Raptors we might be seeing the Pacers on the rise to power in the Eastern Conference once again.


It doesn't seem like that long ago the Pacers were battling toe-to-toe with the Miami Heat for the right to play for an NBA championship.  Then Paul George got hurt.  Then we learned what a moron Stephenson is.  And we also learned you can't win in the league anymore with big, lumbering centers like Hibbert.  So the team let Lance walk and traded Hibbert to the stupid Lakers all the while biding time for George to return from his horrific broken leg.  It's taken a while but George is back as he showed in Indiana's game one win over Toronto.  This Pacer team got younger at just the right time and it's paying off.


Yes, it all starts with George.  And there are a few holdovers from the previous powerful teams.  George Hill still gives the team a quality outside shooter and veteran Monta Ellis joined the team to provide more scoring punch. But this team is a monster on the boards.  Lavoy Allen and Soloman Hill and flat out pound the glass.  And the biggest addition this season has been rookie center Myles Turner.  Turns out the experts (me included) who thought Turner was too young and unpolished to make any difference this year can actually play.  His mobility allows for Turner and George to run a great little game of cat and mouse with opponents to force defenders to choose when to switch and when to stay.


Let's not forget that Frank Vogel knows what he's doing on the bench.  This is a guy who really knows how to put his players in a position to be successful.  If Larry Bird likes the guy that should say something.  We can say this would be an upset if Indiana knocks off Toronto based on the numbers beside their names in the newspaper.  But really the difference between these two teams isn't really that significant.  As long as Indiana has George, who is clearly the best player in the series, on their side and lighting it up the Packers will be just fine.


You can definitely see that this team is trending in the right direction.  Indiana still needs to find one or two more young guys for the backcourt and then team will be really tough for opponents to deal with.  The Pacers aren't big spenders in free agency so they will probably have to find those guys in the draft which Bird seems to be adept at.  It will be interesting to see how this team continues to develop with the experience it gains in the playoffs this year.