Friday, July 18, 2014

For the Love of Wiggins

By Travis Stahl

It's amazing how quickly our perceptions of people can change.  Prior to last Friday Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and his midget were regarded as the worst owners in basketball what with Donald Sterling out of the way.  Then poof!  LeBron James is coming home and all of a sudden Gilbert is huggable old Danny again.  Word broke late yesterday that Danny and his midget are now considering adding No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins to the trade mix in an attempt to get Kevin Love.  I have only one thing to say ... don't do it!

If you have even half a brain Dan Gilbert, don't put Wiggins on the table in this trade with Minnesota.  Yes, Love is one of the 15 best players in the NBA and would be a great addition for the Cavaliers.  And, picking up  Love now would vault Cleveland into sure-fire finals participant if they weren't already.  I think it would be a huge mistake to even consider trading Wiggins right now without seeing what the kid can do when games matter.  Wiggins is still considered a once-in-a-generation talent that had every team in the league tripping over itself to lose games on purpose just for the shot at drafting him.  Cleveland should not even be whispering his name in these trade discussions.

Love would be helpful, that is certain.  Cleveland only has Anderson Verajo and Tristan Thompson on the front line.  There is the possibility last year's No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett becomes an actual in shape human being this season but if he doesn't the Cavs will be pretty thin up front.  But that's OK.  This isn't a game for huge massive front line players anymore.  Love would give Cleveland a bigger body who can still run the floor and shoot three's when the team goes to a small-ball line-up.  But at what cost?

If Wiggins really is as special as we all think he is just consider the possibilities.  Wiggins, LeBron and Kyrie Irving out on the break and outright harassing opponents defensively on the perimeter.  Who could possibly handle that?  This would be one of the top three defensive teams in the league.  For everything that Love is a great defender is not one of them.  Just picture Wiggins soaring through the air on a fast break hauling in lob passes from LeBron and throwing them down with ease.  In the Eastern Conference as it stands now, the only team that can even come close to competing with Cleveland is a healthy Bulls team.  Nobody else is even close.

Gilbert needs to consider the market for Love before he starts throwing around the possibility of involving Wiggins.  The only other team that had any interest in acquiring Love is Golden State and even they have been hesitant to pull off the deal.  Remember, this is the last year of Love's contract and there is no guarantee he resigns with whatever team acquires him.  The longer the Cavs wait on this deal the cheaper they can get Love too.  The most Minnesota was going to receive in a trade for Love would have come right before the draft and there was nobody ponying up first-round picks in offers to the Timberwolves.  The asking price only goes down from here.

If Cleveland was smart they would wait until closer to the trade deadline in February and see just how things stand.  At that point this Cavs team could already have its sights on a title and be blowing everyone else out of the water.  If so, there is no point in going after Love.  Or, if things just don't seem like a good fit for Wiggins and the rest of the team then you can make the move.  I think it would be horrible remiss of Gilbert and his midget to trade Wiggins without really seeing how he gels with LeBron and Kyrie.  Why mess with a good thing?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer League Stars are Shining

By Travis Stahl

Everyone knows what a dork I am when it comes to sports.  Fantasy hockey?  I'm in.  NFL Draft combine?  I couldn't get more excited.  One of the more obscure things I like to keep track of is the NBA Summer League games.  It is our first look at the recently drafted rookies as well as the second-year players who are still looking to make some improvements.  The Las Vegas summer league started last week and some players are looking very good already.

Andrew Wiggins - Cleveland's No. 1 draft pick has looked streaky which was to be expected.  Wiggins had an amazing behind-the-back 360 degree dunk in warm-ups that was beyond anything most people have seen.  There have been times though that Wiggins has gotten his defender off balance only to step back and put up a jumper instead of continuing towards the basket.  The tools are all there though and I don't buy the rumors of a potential trade to Minnesota.

Doug McDermott -
The Bulls traded away their other two first round picks to get McBuckets to add some scoring punch.  So far McDermott is probably the front-runner for the Las Vegas MVP as he is routinely putting up more than 20 points.  What has been most impressive is the way McDermott runs his defender through picks in a constant effort to find open shots.

Jabari Parker - Parker has mostly looked lost thus far in the summer league.  The No. 2 pick in the draft to Milwaukee has struggled to find an offensive rhythm and is getting eaten alive on defense.  It's not that Parker won't get a lot better, but it might take a little longer than expected for the Bucks.

Nerlens Noel -
Philadelphia's No. 1 pick last year is looking like a steal.  Defensively Noel is swatting anything that gets remotely close to the basket.  The surprise has been what Noel is bringing offensively.  The center has developed a beautiful drop step as well as an up-and-under move that is getting him easy looks after his defender goes for the fake.  The 76ers might be a much better team next year if Noel keeps this up.

Dante Exum - Utah's first pick in the draft as looked good and bad at times this summer.  Exum has flashed what he is capable of by dominating for stretches of some games.  But then he goes in to a funk where he allows other players to routinely put up bad shots without bringing everyone back together.  When Exum decides to take over though nobody in the summer league has done anything to stop him.

If you get really bored waiting for football to start check out the summer league action.  It is a free flowing game that resembles open gym.  It's not a structured offensive system so some players can really shine.  The summer league is also a chance for players who may have fallen through the cracks to come in and make a roster.  Glen Rice Jr. is in the process of lighting up the summer league for Washington and he was a second-round pick.  This is the first step in the career of a lot of NBA players and we can learn a lot by seeing how these young players carry themselves in the summer league.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

NBA Free Agency Winners and Losers

By Travis Stahl

Well we all knew when the first domino fell (LeBron James) the rest would topple soon and they did.  NBA free agency was like a tornado sweeping down and consuming everything in its path.  Some cities were left devastated and others were reborn.  The system of free agency as it stands now, along with summer league action going full speed right now, keeps the NBA relevant during the summer months.  We will look at summer league later this week but for now we need to discuss the teams and players that made it big in free agency as well as the ones who struck out.

Winners

Cleveland Cavaliers - I don't need to explain this one right?

Chicago Bulls - The Bulls didn't get Carmelo Anthony and that's OK.  What they did get is Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic to shore up the front line behind Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.  Gasol is still one of the best passing big men in basketball but Mirotic is the real gem here.  The 6'10 forward was the MVP of the Spanish League and has three-point range.  We all know how good Cleveland is but if Derrick Rose is healthy this Chicago group is every bit as talented.

Miami Heat - Yeah ... I know.  Somehow the Heat came out of this deal looking pretty decent.  They don't have LeBron but they did convince Chris Bosh to come back and keep playing with Dewayne Wade.  Throw in Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger, Luol Deng and rookie Shabazz Napier and this team could still win 45 games and be a five or six seed in the Eastern Conference.

Carmelo Anthony - Obviously he isn't going to be competing for titles in New York because the Knicks have done nothing else in free agency this off-season.  But it's hard to call a guy who got an extra $50 million for resigning with his current team a loser.

Chandler Parsons - Right out of the gate in free agency the Dallas Mavericks offered Parsons a pretty hefty deal.  While Houston played footsie with every free agent on the market Dallas kept whispering sweet nothings in Parsons ear.  The Rockets never did match the offer for Parsons thinking they would find something better.  Instead Parsons is heading to Dallas on that big new contract.

San Antonio Spurs - Remember them, the NBA champs?  San Antonio didn't add one significant player to its team from last season.  So how are they winners you might ask?  Because they were able to convince Boris Diaw and Patty Mills to resign with the team for less money than they were being offered from other clubs.  That means every member of last year's Spurs team will be back to defend the title.

Losers

Houston Rockets - The Rockets knew they had to get better at point guard and power forward so they rolled the dice with letting Parsons walk.  All along the Rockets thought they could get Melo or at the very least Bosh.  When LeBron went to Cleveland it was almost a done deal that Bosh was going to be a Rocket right up until the last minute when he opted in at Miami.  That left Houston with no LeBron, no Melo, no Bosh and no Parsons.  Whoops.  The Rockets did add Trevor Ariza who gives the team a perimeter defender and I commend the Rockets for swinging for the fences.  But this team might take a step back.

Los Angeles Lakers - The Lakers had grand plans of retooling the team around Kobe Bryant and rookie Julius Randle.  But nobody wanted to come out to LA and play second fiddle to Kobe and then Gasol fled the scene.  The Lakers are still flush with cash but nobody to spend it on.  Somehow this team has found a way to waste the last couple of years of production that Kobe has left.

Carlos Boozer - The odd man out in Chicago.  In order to have enough cap space to bring in Gasol and Mirotic the Bulls will use the amnesty clause to waive Boozer and his bloated contract.  Somebody will sign poor Carlos but it will be at a greatly reduced rate and roll.

There are still a few players out there looking for a deal but now it's just a matter of filling in around what you already have.  And if you don't have it now you aren't going to get it.  The teams that struck out during free agency missed out on some golden opportunities to take the next step.  Unless the Rockets or Lakers pull of some trades it's hard to see either team moving forward to anything more than they were last season.

Monday, July 14, 2014

4H Kids Have Talent

By Travis Stahl

Hard work, effort and success.  Those are the things we want from our athletes.  The success you receive comes from working long hours at your craft with the maximum amount of effort spent to get better.  We don't often equate the 4H fair with athletics because we don't think of the kids that participate as playing in sports.  But there are some pretty athletic events taking place at the 4H fair with a lot of kids putting in some hard work and effort.

The grandstand events are the most obvious forms of athletic activity taking place at the fair.  The demolition derby has long been a staple of the fair and always draws huge crowds.  I've seen some of the drivers from the derby as they exit their car after the even.  They are exhausted.  It takes a lot of effort to drive a car like that, constantly turning and then being slammed into by other cars.  The people who take part in the quad races, truck pulls and pig wrestling also put a lot of effort in to what they do all for the entertainment of the fans at the fair.

There is one event at the fair that is pretty athletic that often times gets overlooked.  Have you ever tried to ride a horse?  I have and it is not easy.  Those kids train their horses and care for them year round.  They they bring them down to the fair and perform some pretty precise skills in riding competitions.  It's amazing to see how good some of our local kids are on horseback.  And, they make it look so effortless because they have practiced so much it is second nature at this point.

The other kids that work with animals are putting in a lot of work too.  It may not be as athletic as horseback riding.  But it does still require long hours of work and training animals that sometimes want no part of the activity.  Oh, and they have to shovel poop. 

If you want to have your faith in humanity restored go down and visit the fair.  The animal count is a little down this year and it seemed like attendance was down some too.  It shouldn't be.  Whitley County has one of the greatest 4H fairs in the state and its free.  To see what some of these young people are learning from their hard work makes you proud to be a part of this community.  Plus, if you go to the fair you get to eat maple ice cream.

Friday, July 11, 2014

LeBron is Going Home

By Travis Stahl

So I'm driving back from Irish Hell (aka South Bend) this afternoon listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio.  I listened to ESPN on the way up north too so I've now had three solid hours of LeBron James speculation.  Around Bremen Cowherd predicts that he thinks LeBron will make a decision within the hour.  I'll be damned if Cowherd doesn't start to flip out as I'm just outside of Warsaw.  James had written a letter to Sports Illustrated announcing his decision and Cowherd reads it.  It was Amazing and if you live under a rock and haven't heard, LeBron is going back to Cleveland.  I have so many thoughts and emotions running through me right now I will do my best to get them out in complete thoughts.

LeBron's letter announcing his decision to return to the Cavaliers was beautiful.  I was choking back tears as I was driving and was easily the equivalent of Kevin Durant's MVP speech about his mother.  It was a purely classy move by LeBron who likened his four years in Miami as his opportunity to leave and go away to college.  Mostly though, LeBron stated his decision to return to Cleveland was about more than basketball.  He felt it was his obligation to be a leader in that community and show people in Northern Ohio that hard work is worth the effort.  The last line of James' letter simply stated "I'm coming home."

This erases everything.  The Decision?  Gone.  The Gilbert Letter?  Forget about it.  The past is the past.  LeBron really only had two choices when it came right down to it.  He could go home to Cleveland or he could stay in Miami.  Going anywhere else would have labeled him as a mercenary simply chasing titles.  If I had to guess, and really that's all I can do because LeBron and I aren't as close as we used to be, I would say the signings of Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger in Miami didn't fill him with confidence.

In a basketball sense what does this all mean?  Plenty, especially for Cleveland and Houston.  The Cavaliers welcome back the best player on the planet to play alongside Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Dion Waiters, Anderson Verajo, Tristin Thompson and Anthony Bennett.  That's a lot of talent.  Plus, Cleveland is expected to sign LeBron's buddies Ray Allen and Mike Miller.  There are rumors that the Cavs might be exploring a trade to send Wiggins to Minnesota for Kevin Love.  I will be even more shocked if that happens then I was about this happening.  Head coach David Blatt, as we stated the other day, is one of the most brilliant minds in basketball.  This Cleveland team is championship caliber right now.

I'm guessing as soon as the LeBron letter broke Chris Bosh ran as fast as he could to find the telephone number for the Houston Rockets.  Bosh has been contemplating a max offer from the Rockets but he was waiting to see what LeBron was going to do first.  Now that James is out of Miami Bosh surely is too.  I would be shocked if he wasn't already on a plain.  This is the domino affect Houston was hoping for as the Rockets now become a very viable title contender in the west.

Now that the first piece of the puzzle (LeBron) is in place we will start to see the large picture as well.  That means we will now learn an awful lot about the character of Carmelo Anthony.  Does Anthony want the money or the rings.  If he just wants the money he will resign with the New York Knicks with no chance at every winning a title.  If he really wants a ring he will sign with Chicago for less money but have a legitimate chance at an NBA crown.  If Melo chooses Chicago the Bulls will be right there with Cleveland in terms of talent.

The biggest loser here is Miami.  No LeBron, no Bosh and only a Dewayne Wade who has nothing left to offer.  The Heat will be starting from scratch and could easily finish with the worst record in the league next season.  There is no star power to draw other free agents there right now.  The Heat are going to have to start building from scratch and find a young superstar in the draft to get back to the top.  It's not going to be pretty in Miami though for a long time.

People can bad mouth LeBron all they want but the guy made the right decision.  Miami had nothing left to offer him and Cleveland had everything.  Most importantly, it's home to LeBron and his family and I think he probably missed it.  Now, just imagine if you can, what a spiritually rejuvenated James is going to be able to accomplish in the league next season.  I'm not wiling to bet against that.  This Cavs team is going to be the best team in the league for the next five or six years.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Solving the NBA Puzzle

By Travis Stahl

As some of you know my favorite television show of all time is Lost.  I can't get enough of it still and am in the process of re watching it on Netflix.  At one point somebody got me a lost puzzle to put together that had no picture to go by for guidance on putting it together.  It took forever to find the pieces that fit.  I'm reminded of that Lost puzzle with every passing day of NBA free agency.  There are so many pieces to put together and nobody knows where they go.  Rather than speculate about which players sign with what teams I decided to take a look at how some of the possible line-ups could look once the pieces of the puzzle fall in to place.

Los Angeles Lakers Starting Line-up:  PG Steve Nash, SG Kobe Bryant, SF Carmelo Anthony, PF Julius Randle, C Pau Gasol - This team doesn't have a coach yet so it is unclear how well this team could perform.  One thing is for certain, this would be one of the best offensive teams in the league.  It would also be one of the worst defensively with no on-ball pressure and no rim protector.

Miami Heat Starting Line-up:  PG Shabazz Napier, SG Dewayne Wade, SF Danny Granger, PF LeBron James, C Chris Bosh - Can a rookie run this team?   How much does Granger and Wade have left?  The questions surrounding this team would be better answered by the supporting cast than it would the starters.  Right now, just adding Granger and Josh McRoberts isn't the answer.

Houston Rockets Starting Line-up:  PG Patrick Beverly, SG James Harden, SM Carmelo Anthony, PF Terrance Jones, C Dwight Howard or PG Beverly, SG Harden, SM Jones, PF Bosh, C Howard - Either one of these line-ups instantly makes the Rockets one of the top three teams in the Western Conference.  Melo or Bosh takes some of the scoring burden from Harden plus both are capable of having the offense run through them so Howard faces less double teams.  It will be very interesting to see if Houston has a Plan C in case either of these scenarios doesn't work.

Chicago Bulls Starting Line-up: PG Derrick Rose, SG Jimmy Butler, SF Doug McDermott, PF Carmelo Anthony, C Joakim Noah:  This would still be a super-scary defensive unit because Butler and Noah are so good.  A Bulls team with this line-up would also field three legitimate scorers and pose a serious threat to the Heat in the East.  As with any year in Chicago though the success of this team comes down to Rose and his knees.

Phoenix Suns Starting Line-up:  PG Goran Dragic, SG Eric Bledsoe, SF LeBron James, PF Chris Bosh, C Miles Plumlee:  Are you kidding me?  This situation is HIGHLY unlikely but still in play.  Phoenix has the best medical staff in the league which could extend LeBron's career an extra two or three years.  This would easily be the best offensive unit in the league and a ton of fun to watch.

Cleveland Cavaliers Starting Line-up:  PG Kyrie Irving, SG Andrew Wiggins, SF LeBron James, PF Tristin Thompson, C Anderson Verajo:  Probable?  Not at all.  Possible?  Maybe.  This team is young enough that in the weak Eastern Conference it could contend for titles for the next four or five years without James being the focal point the entire time.  This would be a huge coup for the Cavs.

We don't really know how everything will fall in to place but we do know the landscape of the league is going to change significantly.  Player movement, while viewed sometimes as being disloyal, is exciting and keeps the fans watching during the off season.  Let's face it, whether we like some of these guys or not we still are paying attention to it every day to see what happens.  When the dust finally settles and we see the whole puzzle we might be pretty shocked at what pans out.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Start Planning for Your Fantasy Draft

By Travis Stahl

We are now officially one month away from the beginning of fantasy football draft season.  Let's face it, the draft is the most exciting part of the fantasy season.  It is the renewal of your roster and the kick-off to what is hopefully another successful year.  If you don't leave your draft feeling good about things you probably have reason to worry.  Two years ago my first two picks were Michael Vick and Andre Johnson.  I left the draft terrified and my team fell apart.  It would be wise to start planning your strategy now and we are hear with some tips as you start to prepare you for battle.

1. Running backs aren't that important - Remember when the only thing that mattered in fantasy football was having two stud running backs?  It used to be everyone drafted running backs with their first two picks but that isn't the case anymore as the position isn't used around the league like it used to be.  If you can get one of the top two or three backs like Adrian Peterson or LeSean McCoy than by all means take them.  But keep in mind the drop off comes pretty quickly after those two.  The next tier of backs with players like Matt Forte, Reggie Bush and Jamal Charles is very deep so get some more important players first and then get your backs in rounds four, five and six.
 
2. Get your wide receivers early -
The NFL is a passing league now so you better have two top-flight receivers.  It helps that there are more receivers now putting up big numbers than ever before and each team has at least one guy who is going to catch a lot of passes.  Even some of the No. 2 receivers, guys like Alshon Jeffrey, T. Y. Hilton and Wes Welker can put up big numbers and will come off the draft board pretty quickly.  You can start your draft by getting a top quarterback but you better get two wide receivers within your first four picks if you want to have a chance at being competitive.  Teams that win have receivers that can blow up at any moment.

3. Tight-ends matter - Last year at the draft I wanted to take Cleveland tight-end Jordan Cameron but decided to wait because I knew I could pick him up as a free agent after the draft, which I did.  Tight-end is still possibly the key to winning a fantasy football title.  If you can get a tight-end like Cameron or Jimmy Graham that can put up wide receiver numbers on a weekly basis your team will be vastly better than the opponent.  I would even suggest getting a great tight-end before a running back if you have the option.  Granted, the number of great tight-ends is limited to three or four, but that is what makes the position that much more valuable.

Don't make your fantasy draft too complicated and never deviate from your script.  I got thrown a curve ball two years ago and I went off script, that's how I goofed and got Vick and Johnson.  Odds are whatever you discovered in your research is accurate and you should trust your planning.  Go in to your draft with a Plan A and a Plan B.  You will be surprised how many guys you can pick up exactly where you thought you would.