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  1. Mr. Underappreciated: Scottie Pippen

    August 11, 2010 by Jeff Wright

    The sportsfan of today has more sophisticated metrics for evaluating players than any generation of fan before him.  We are the John Hollinger people and this is the day of Moneyball, Plus/Minus, Sabermetrics, and The Sloan Conference.  More so than at any time in sports history we have the data (or at least the ability to get the data) that tells us what players really (objectively even) make a positive difference in the game.

    Yet, despite all these advantages, the player who should be the poster boy for ABPRmetrics remains, almost criminally, under appreciated.  At least in 96, (if not in 93 also) Scottie Pippen was the second best player in basketball.  For the better part of a decade (7 years by my reckoning) Pippen was somewhere between top 10 and top 5.   Yet history repeats the same drivel: “He played with Jordan” (Yes he did).  “He never won a title by himself.”  (No, he never did).

    In response I say better to play with Michael Jordan than against him.  I also ask whether or not you have ever seen a list of the player who the Jordan era denied a title?  Barkley, Malone, Stockton, Ewing, Reggie Miller… we could go on.  As a matter of fact an interesting wing of the basketball hall of fame could be constructed from just the historically great players who never won a title because of Jordan (and this doesn’t factor in players like Olajuwon and Robinson who won their titles during Jordan’s absences).  So should playing with Michael Jordan be a knock?  I don’t think so.

    The book has been written on Pippen: best second banana ever.  Pippen has become synonymous with Robin as an analogy.  I suggest a more accurate analysis would credit Pippen as developing an entirely new prototype of multi-talented player.  Yes, there have been jack-of-all trade players before him but Pippen perfected the genre as one of only a handful of players that could impact the game as a scorer, rebounder, playmaker, and defender.

    With than in mind enjoy this video.  Remember as you watch these are only highlights from the defensive end.

    (HT: Docksquad Sports via TrueHoop)


  2. On Lebron to Miami

    July 8, 2010 by Jeff Wright

    1. Pay attention. We’ve never seen anything like this before in professional sports. Rarely in this media-saturated age do we get a chance to see any scenario in sports that hasn’t been played out multiple times in history. With Lebron/D-Wade/Bosh in Miami we are seeing something truly unique. Three top 15 players (and 2 of the top 3) playing together on one team in their prime in unprecedented; the closest we’ve seen are the Kobe and Shaq years in L.A. If you look to those L.A. teams as the paradigm to work from you have to believe that we are in for basketball at an incredibly high level as well as a great deal of drama eventually. Whatever happens we are witnessing sports history.

    2. Back off Lebron in regards to Cleveland. Why should any one individual carry the weight of responsibility for a major city on his shoulders? Is it Lebron’s fault that the city’s economy went in the tank? That crime is high? How does this have anything to do with Lebron? I don’t personally know anyone who at 25 wouldn’t leave their hometown for a job with the elite talents in their field, particularly not when it involves a move from the frigid midwest to Miami Beach. This isn’t a moral issue; it’s a matter of a better opportunity in a better location. Few things in sports are more understandable. Furthermore, last year during the playoffs the fans of Cleveland booed Lebron James after he had the first mediocre (not even bad, just not stellar) game in the playoffs he had as a Cav. Read that again. They booed. And now they are burning his jersey in the streets. Cleveland fans, at least those booing and burning, deserve Lebron leaving.

    3. This speaks highly of Lebron’s desire to achieve the most he can as a basketball player. We have seen what he can do as an individual talent and we are very impressed. Now it is time to see how high he can climb as a (the?) member of an elite unit. Does every hero have to be not only willing but committed to going it alone? Why do we as basketball fans demand one man do it all when our greatest heroes, generally speaking, come in tandem. Jordan – Pippen. Magic – Kareem. Bird – McHale – Parish. Russell – Cousy. Really, we can go on as long as we want. More credit to Lebron for realizing his greatest potential is in the context of this group, not on the fringe by himself. That he was able to see this at 25 years old and while still at the peak of his physical prowess indicates a very rare maturity as a professional athlete.

    Now for predictions:

    1. They probably won’t win the East next year. They have an incredible top three but you play 5 at a time and most teams like a solid 7 to 9 man rotation. Jordan and Pipper needed HoGrant, Paxson/Kerr, Cartwright, etc. Kobe and Shaq needed Fisher and Horry. So give them a year to use their mid-level cap exception and sign some vets looking for one more run. Once we get to that spot with their roster can be rounded out with title-hungry vets and mid-level free agents look out. This should be a dynasty.

    2. I don’t think the rest of the NBA will concede the next 10 years to the Miami Heat. I’m predicting that ultimately tonight begins an NBA arms race wherein the teams with deep pocketed owners begin to assemble their own super rosters in an attempt to meet this challenge head on. What that ultimately means is that talent is going to be consolidated in a small number of teams. Thus we will very likely see a situation like in baseball where there are a few haves while the rest of the league becomes have-nots, merely providing a venue for the competitors. Could we see a Carmelo Anthony/Dwight Howard/Chris Paul roster in the near future? Is that good for the game? I don’t know. But I think it’s very likely the future of the NBA.


  3. ESPN Got Punk’d?

    March 15, 2010 by Jeff Wright

    From SportsbyBrooks:

    Based on on the record comments from Merrie Spaeth to me, sworn statements from Craig and Adam James and Texas Tech Trainer Steve Pincock, it appears that it would not be inaccurate to observe that Craig James used a public relations firm to spread misinformation about the nature of Adam James’ confinement.

    That misinformation was then reported and broadcast by James employer ESPN, along with other main media outlets, and may have damaged the reputation of Leach and affected the coach’s subsequent wrongful termination lawsuit against the school.


  4. Will Lebron make the NBA less fun?

    March 4, 2010 by Jeff Wright

    Today a notable sports site gave published ghastly and long-rumored possibility regarding the future of Lebron James and the NBA.
     

    We told you last week that Phil Jackson’s future — whether he re-ups with L.A this summer or heads elsewhere — could have an effect on whether or not Kobe Bryant gets out of his contract and tests the free-agent waters this summer We also noted that if Jackson were to stay in L.A. but instead coach the Clippers — a team that will be ooking for a new coach next season — it could be enough to convince LeBron James to come play the 3 for the Clips. But what about if Jackson were to stay with the Lakers? LeBron couldn’t possibly go there, could he? Well, maybe According to Roland Lazenby of HoopsHype, James “is quietly making overtures to the Los Angeles Lakers. He wants to play for them. And James is not all that concerned whether Kobe Bryant is part of the equation.” Lazenby also notes: “Mainly, he wants to wear a championship ring, which means he wants to play for Lakers coach Phil Jackson.” Lazenby also cites a source that says Jackson loves LeBron Obviously, there are several complicating factors here: to bring on James, the Lakers would have to free up a good chunk of their payroll, and one would assume Kobe would need to sign off on such a potential move. That is, of course, if he opts to stay with the team beyond this year. But some sort of a sign-and-trade isn’t out of the realm of possibility here Yet, if LeBron wants to play for Jackson, and Jackson apparently loves LeBron, the Lakers aren’t the only team they could team up on. We already mentioned the Clippers. But the Nets are looking for a new coach and are hoping to make a big-name splash, Vinny Del Negro’s job in Chicago still isn’t rock solid and the Knicks could also unload Mike D’Antoni in favor of Jackson, if they knew it meant landing James…

     
    Set aside for a moment my conundrum if this takes place (does my admiration for Lebron outweigh my disgust for Kobe enough for me to actually watch Lakers games were this scenario to play out?) and contemplate the ramifications for the league.
     
    Could Lebron James’ long-anticipated free agency actually make the NBA less fun to follow?
     
    For several years now I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that the NBA is in the midst of a Renaissance.  The talent level and player likeability is at a point unseen since the heyday of Jordan/Bird/Magic.  Another important factor in this resurgence is the distribution of talent across the league.  Every team in the league save the Nets either (a) is winning at a competitive rate, (b) features a player of sufficient skill to warrant the purchase of a ticket, or (c) both.
     
    There is no question that parity is beneficial to the bottom line of a professional sports league.  This is what salary cap rules, collective bargaining agreements, and competition committees are designed to encourage.  It is also one of the key elements that explain the meteoric rise of the NFL to national prominence.  Fortunately for the NBA parity is present throughout the league (due to a number of factors: more talent coming in to the game at a better level of development and a higher number of smart GMs being two of the most significant).
     
    What happens to parity and the resulting competitiveness parity creates when Kobe Bryant and Lebron James play on the same team?
     
    These two are widely regarded as the best two basketball players in the world.  (Take your pick as to which is #1 and which is #2).  The Lakers are also considered either the most (or at least top-2) teams in the league in terms of talent and the also-rans aren’t all that close.  Sure, they’d have to trade something to get Lebron.  But what if they retain even two of their other next-best players (Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum, and Ron Artest).  Imagine a Lakers team trotting out Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Jordan Farmar + what ever veteran free agents looking for a ring that are fortunate enough to get to sign with this mega team?
     
    Bye bye parity.
     
    Bye bye competiveness.
     
    Hello same-song-different-verse every year until… well, until who knows when.  Lebron is 23 I think.  Kobe is older and probably at the crest of the hill if not a bit on the downhill slope but he’s still amazing, shows no signs of letting up and is a notorious work-a-holic who has put himself in shape to play for a long, long time.  Not to mention that being able to transfer the burden of carrying the load to Lebron prolongs his near-peak prowess at least 3 years longer than he’d naturally be able to obtain.
     
    I’m getting a bit nauseous.
     
    There’s no conceivable scenario where a similarly stacked team is assembled as a foe.  Say Miami signs D-Wade and Bosh.  That would normally be very intriguing but compared against Mega-LA even this pairing of superstars comes up woefully short in terms of firepower.
     
    Maybe D-Wade and Bosh/Amare to Chicago.  Would you rather have the lineup above or D-Wade, Bosh, Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and… Joakim Noah?  Taj Gibson?
     
    Yeah, as impressive as that Bulls lineup would be there is still no comparison, huh?
     
    I’m all about the drama of Lebron’s free agency (sorry Cleveland) but I don’t want the league ruined so here is to a long career for both Lebron and Kobe.
     
    On different teams.

    ———————–
    Tagged:


  5. Open Letter to the Titans’ Fanbase

    October 6, 2009 by Jeff Wright

    To the fans calling for Fisher’s job and Vince Young to start:

    Anyone who watched football for more than three years knew Collins sucked and this was only a matter of time. That’s why so many of us were against signing Kerry at all, let alone playing him. Last year he had 4 picks overturned on penalties and a back breaking interception in the red zone last year in the playoffs but you were all too busy bashing Vince to notice.

    Now it is all about Vince. But Vince can’t fix the secondary or get heat on the QB. Sure he can make plays. And I’m convinced he’s been the best QB on the roster all along. But we’ve still got mediocre WRs, injured TEs, and a defense that is playing poorly. If (when?) he comes in it is entirely unrealistic to expect John Elway, Warren Moon, or even Jason Campbell.

    In regards to Coach Fisher (whose team radically overachieved last year): making Fisher the subject of all your finger pointing and complaints clearly indicates that you lack anything resembling perspective.

    He’s no more stubborn or loyal or silent now than he was last year when you were singing his praises. He’s still arguably the best active coach in the NFL but you are spoiled by his past ability to make something out of nothing. Were Bud to do the absolutely unthinkable and fire Fisher he would be on the market for approximately .05 seconds before some team snapped him up or fired their coach (read: Dallas) to make him an offer.

    It saddens me to be associated with something like this.

    Grow up and get some perspective. Stop making the rest of us look bad.

    The sky isn’t falling, Fisher isn’t the problem, Vince isn’t the Messiah (although he remains our best option at QB).

    The NFL is the most popular sport in the land largely because of parity. That parity allows small market teams with low operating budgets to compete but it also dictates that every now and then those small teams get crushed. It is just unrealstic to expect no down years.

    Cecil isn’t working out (maybe we should say yet), the secondary needs to step up, so dies the D Line, and the teams is simply suffering from breaks that went for them last year going against them this season.

    To the fans not resorting to such knee-jerk and baseless back-seat-driving:

    Take heart. We have talent, organizational stability, and a great head coach. Fisher has a 128-102 career record and has only finished last in his division twice.

    This too shall pass.


  6. Quick Thoughts: 2009 NBA Draft

    June 25, 2009 by Jeff Wright

    1. Chad Ford made a great point on Bill Simmons’ NBA draft podcast: not only did Chris Wallace of the Grizzlies destroy his reputation with the Pau Gasol trade to the Lakers but he also cost himself Ricky Rubio. When Pau and Juan Carlos Navarre got a taste of Memphis under Wallace and decided they’d rather play (a) in Spain [Navarre] or (b) anywhere else [Gasol] Wallace also lost Rubio, hence his reported refusal to play for Memphis.

    This caused them to reach badly on Hasheem Thabeet w/ the 2nd pick. I think Thabeet ends up being a serviceable NBA big (like a more defensive minded Keon Clark). Could Wallace not find a trade that got him more value at #2? Wait. It’s Chris Wallace.

    2. Minnesota’s GM was just on ESPN declaring his intention to keep both Ricky Rubio and Johnny Flynn. I love Flynn and think he has the makings of another (better) Mike Bibby. Conventional wisdom says you can’t have both. You certainly can’t start both but if Rubio (who is only 18) develops physically you might be able to play them together in a couple of years. Rubio can run point and hen guard the other team’s 2 while Flynn can play a Ben Gordon or Russell Westbrook role and guard the point. I’m talking my self in to this. Guess I’ll be buying League Pass again next year to watch Flynn.

    One more thing w/ Minny – how about, considering that Phoenix is having a fire sale, calling about Amare Stoudamire? He and Jefferson could cut it in the front court if you play small ball and I bet Kevin Love might be interesting to Phoenix (plus…something…to get Amare obviously). Rubio, Flynn, Jefferson, and Amare would be a very intriguing core.

    3. Congrats to the Tar Heels, particularly Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson. Both end up in good position to maximize their potential. Spending some years as Chauncey’s understudy is ideal for Lawson, as is playing in Denver – a team that can utilize his speed in their make-it-hard-to-breath system. Psycho T should be a 12 year rotation player and I predict he ends up as a poor-man’s David Lee.


  7. Broadened Blogging Opportunities

    September 7, 2008 by Jeff Wright

    I’ve been invited to contribute to SouthEastern Sports Blog. Will, the creator of SESB, is perhaps showing very early signs of dementia but I accepted the offer before he could rescind it. Consider this your invitation (and my groveling plea to you) to come by and check it out.

    In all seriousness Will is a top tier sports blogger and I’m honored to be allowed to share some Blogger space with him.


  8. Tom Brady: Manning Family Property

    February 3, 2008 by Jeff Wright

    Tonight validates belief in a just God.


  9. You Should Be Reading Tuesday Morning Quarterback

    September 26, 2007 by Jeff Wright

    If you are a sports fan, enjoy an alternative take on current issue mixed with some intellectual depth, and aren’t reading Greg Easterbrook‘s Tuesday Morning Quarterback column on ESPN.com you are missing out.

    Over the last several weeks I’ve finished off several of Easterbrook‘s offerings and thought to myself “I need to blog about this.” This week is the week I’m finally going to do so because it serves two purposes. One, if you aren’t reading it and you like sports you should be so this post amounts to community service. Two, Easterbrook’s latest column raises questions about the handling of the Patriots’ cheating (Cameragate) controversy that need to be answered.

    *Lengthy Quote Warning*

    On Sunday, Sept. 16, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell went on national TV and promised he would get to the bottom of the Patriots’ sign-stealing. Four days later, the NFL announced all videotapes and other spying materials compiled by the Patriots had been obtained by the league and destroyed. Goodell, who until then had been very upfront in addressing the Beli-Cheat scandal, didn’t go back on television to say what the tapes contained; the commissioner has been in radio silence about the Patriots since the files arrived at the NFL’s Park Avenue headquarters. The league acted in a hurry to dispose of damning documents, but has not revealed what was in the tapes and notes, nor said why there was a rush to get rid of them.

    The lack of answers leaves several questions hanging out there. Chief among them: Is it possible the Patriots’ tapes showed some evidence of New England cheating in a Super Bowl?

    This weekend, in an e-mail exchange with NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, I asked twice whether the Patriots’ documents contained evidence of cheating in the Super Bowl, and Aiello twice declined to either confirm or deny the existence of such evidence. The first time, he changed the subject with a detailed response about the original penalty; and the second time, after I protested he hadn’t answered my questions, he replied, “I did answer your questions to the extent I’m going to answer them.”

    As a matter of logic, refusing to deny something is not the same as admitting it. But if the Patriots’ tapes and documents contained no indication of cheating in the Super Bowl, it would be strongly in the NFL’s interest to publicize this. Instead, the New England documents were shredded within roughly 48 hours of the NFL receiving them — see timeline below. The rapid shredding occurred although Goodell said nothing about plans to destroy the materials when he was on national TV vowing his purpose was “maintaining the integrity of the NFL.”

    After Aiello twice declined to say what the Patriots’ materials showed, I heard from him a third time Sunday. He wrote in an e-mail that my assumption the tapes contained indications of Super Bowl cheating is “wrong,” then wrote, “There is no such evidence regarding the Patriots’ Super Bowl victories.” So, is this the denial that I’ve been seeking? But wait: Three days earlier, the NFL destroyed the evidence. I asked Aiello whether he meant there is no evidence now of New England cheating in a Super Bowl — that is, after the destruction of the files — or whether examination of the materials positively affirmed no cheating. He did not reply.

    Aiello’s “There is no such evidence” phrasing calls to mind what Richard Nixon’s attorney general John Mitchell dubbed the “non-denial denial,” an assertion that seems to say something but doesn’t. On Sunday, I asked Aiello whether the league would make a simple, declarative statement that the spying files proved the Patriots did not cheat in a Super Bowl — and have not heard back from him. I assume this is not because he has forgotten: I’ve heard from Park Avenue sources that the fact I am asking these questions is very much on the NFL’s radar. I have known Aiello professionally for years and, like others who deal with him, have always found him skilled, knowledgeable and forthright. It’s very odd to be getting a “non-denial denial” from him now.

    I further asked Aiello who had examined the New England materials before they were destroyed, and he would answer only “senior members of the league office staff.” I asked when the materials actually arrived at league headquarters — How long were they there before being destroyed? — and he would not answer. I asked whether the materials had been inspected by anyone conversant with the game plans and signals the Rams, Panthers and Eagles used against Bill Belichick’s Patriots in the Super Bowl; football signs and terminology are cryptic, so it would help to have a skilled eye. Aiello wouldn’t answer that. I asked who had ordered the tapes and notes destroyed, and he wouldn’t answer that, either.

    And I asked, if there was nothing incriminating in the New England documents, why was the league in such a hurry to shred them? First, Aiello wrote, “The purpose of destroying the tapes and related documents was to eliminate any advantage they might have given the Patriots going forward and ensure a level playing field for all 32 teams.” But the league announced last week that the Patriots “certified in writing” that no copies of the materials exist. If the sole copies of the sign-stealing materials had been sent to the league office, it would be impossible for these materials to give the Patriots any advantage. When I pointed that out, Aiello countered that the reason for the destruction was “so that our clubs would know they no longer exist and cannot be used by anyone.” Again, if the sole copies were being held by the league, how could any club use the material?

    Aiello further said Tuesday Morning Quarterback was wrong to assert, in last Tuesday’s column, that Goodell issued an “emergency” order on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 16, mandating New England turn over all illegally obtained videotapes and sign-stealing materials. Aiello explained Goodell actually issued that order Thursday, Sept. 13, but that the existence of the order did not become known publicly until the morning of Sept. 16, when it was reported by Chris Mortensen on ESPN. I regret the error.

    Aiello said the heavy penalties assessed the Patriots on Sept. 13 were for “the totality of the conduct” in multiple instances of sign-stealing over several years, not for “one tape seized at the end of one quarter of one game,” meaning the tape taken from the Patriots in their season opener at the New York Jets.

    It is unclear why, if Goodell on Sept. 13 issued an order for the surrender of all New England spying tapes and materials, the league said nothing about that directive at the time. More important, come Sunday night, Sept. 16, Goodell told Bob Costas of NBC that the Patriots had not yet complied with the order that we now know was issued Thursday and that he would “absolutely” impose additional penalties on the Patriots if they did not comply promptly. This means there were at least 72 hours in which New England was failing to abide by a high-profile direct order from the commissioner of the NFL — and in that time was doing with its spying materials, well, lord knows what.

    Interesting, no? Really, if the tapes show nothing more than a few hand signals why the rush to destroy them? Why the refusal to answer the questions posed by Easterbrook outright? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Even if that doesn’t whet your appetite you really owe it to yourself to cruise the TMQ archives and familiarize yourself with a unique offering in the world of sports journalism.

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  10. UFC 75: Rigged?

    September 8, 2007 by Jeff Wright

    It’s no secret that I love mixed martial arts, specifically the Ultimate Fighting Championship promotion. Tonight’s UFC event, a pay-per-view level card, was broadcast on cable television – one of the reasons the UFC is the greatest fight promotion going.

    So there is my obligatory praise.

    With that out of the way let me say that tonight I experienced the greatest disappointment I’ve ever known as an MMA fan.

    One of the most highly anticipated matches tonight pitted Matt Hamill versus Michael Bisping. Both fighters are The Ultimate Fighter vets and bright prospects for the UFC as main eventers. Bisping, in particular, has a charisma to match his fighting ability that makes him both impressive and marketable. This obvious combination of ability and marketability has led some MMA pundits (and many fans) to be suspicious that the UFC has been carefully guiding Bisping’s career to maxize his potential as an earner. His fights after The Ultimate Fighter have been of questionable quality, furthering the conspiracy theorists who say that Bisping is a paper tiger, propped up by the UFC.

    Tonight’s fight against Hamill very well might have fanned what was a smoldering suspicion of conspiracy in favor of Bisping into a full blown bonfire.

    Hamill dominated the first round, controlled the second, and – at most – fought dead even with Bisping. One judge acknowledged this with his card, scoring the fight 30-27. The other two apparently watched a different fight than he or the television audience got to see, scoring the fight 29-28 for Bisping.

    Plainly speaking, Hamill was robbed.

    I have great respect for Dana White and believe him to be one of the few people in professional sport who can be counted on to do the right thing. Hopefully this case won’t be any exception and he’ll do something to restore the integrity of his promotion’s judges.

    Otherwise people are going to expect Tim Donaghy to referee all future Bisping fights.

    P.S. – If you think I’m crazy then head over to MMAjunkie’s thread on UFC 75 and start reading at comment number 80 (warning for language). There is a problem amongst UFC fans over this fight and the UFC should move quickly to correct it.

    Tags: Mixed Martial Arts, MMA, UFC 75, Matt Hamill, Michael Bisping