Rutgers Made the Right Decision

Mike Rice, former Rutgers University basketball coach

Mike Rice, former Rutgers University basketball coach

I usually write about happenings in the NBA, but today I’m going to venture into the world of college basketball.

Even if you’re not a fan of sports, you probably have heard of the Rutgers University basketball coach who was fired for his behavior toward players at practices. 

Within the last week, footage has surfaced showing Mike Rice, former head basketball coach at Rutgers, being overly physical with players, throwing basketballs at them, and yelling at them using gay slurs. He was fired by the university the day after the videos became public.

Personally when I played basketball in high school, I preferred playing for a coach that was tough on me but Rice completely crossed the line. I’m amazed that some of his players did not come forward and speak about the abuse that they received in practice from Rice.

Tactics like the ones used by Rice are some that have been used by coaches on different levels of sport for decades. But I’m glad that players are now taking a stand against these measures, like former University of Minnesota football player A.J. Barker who quit the team and wrote the coach a letter detailing all the coach’s inappropriate behavior. 

One thing that I will commend Rutgers University on is the swiftness that they took action on the situation. A day after the videos aired, the university fired Rice. This was a good strategic PR move that saved the university some embarrassment and controversy.

With a situation like this, you had to fire Rice. Hearing allegations of his behavior is one thing, you would have to do an investigation and then make a decision on his job. But having video evidence that supports these allegations left the university no choice in the matter.

Rice has since apologized for his actions and I believe that he is sorry for his actions. He knew what he was doing was wrong and because of it, he lost his job at a program in one of the country’s best basketball conferences.

In the subsequent days after Rice was fired, an assistant coach, Jimmy Martelli, known to the coaches and players as “Baby Rice” resigned. There is footage of him doing the same things that Coach Rice was doing.

Also this morning, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti is no longer an employee of the university.

This situation truly showcases how the actions of one person can affect many people at an institution. Hopefully, this situation sheds light on coaches who cross the line and something can be done about it.

*Photo courtesy of blogs.mydesert.com*

Kobe vs LeBron: The Ring Argument

This week, I’m going to discuss the ring argument. I saw a picture on Instagram that had a comparison of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant’s playoff statistics at age 28.

Let me first preface this post by saying I am one of the biggest Kobe Bryant fans in the world and have liked the Lakers ever since I can remember.

The two had pretty much equal statistics across the board, except Bryant had three championships to James’ one. And a great number of the people who commented on this went on to say that Bryant was a better player because he had more “rings”.

This has been a go-to argument for Bryant fans for years. “Bryant has more rings so he is the better player.” Even Michael Jordan said so, when asked who he thinks is better, he said “Five beats one,” inferring that Bryant was better than James.

The rings argument is dumbest argument in all of sports. First and foremost, winning championships is a team accomplishment. Some players have a greater effect in leading teams (i.e. Michael Jordan, Bill Russell) but one player can not do it by themselves.

Bryant was the second best player on the Lakers during his first run of titles from 2000-2002. But the best player on that team was unquestionably Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal was the most dominant player in the entire league and carried the Lakers to three consecutive titles.

Don’t get me wrong, without Bryant, the Lakers would not have won any of those titles. But that is exactly my point, it took O’Neal, Bryant, and all the other 10 guys on the roster to win these titles.

Jordan didn’t start winning titles until his team added Scottie Pippen and a few other key players. LeBron was able to win his first title after leaving Cleveland to team with two other All-Stars down in Miami.

So please people, if you are going to compare players, base it off of their talents or individual accomplishments. Championships hold some merit but do not make them your only argument.

Let me know what you think about the rings argument by commenting on the blog.

And for the record, LeBron is the most talented basketball player on the planet but if I had to pick a player to win one game, it would be Kobe Bryant. By the way, here’s a video I found on YouTube with highlights from both players. Enjoy!

NBA MVP Race (and some bonus award picks)

It’s almost the end of the season, which means it’s time to start thinking about the awards for the year. I’m going to tell you guys who I think should each of the awards.

I’m going to save my MVP analysis for last but here are my picks for the other awards:

Defensive Player of the Year: Joakim Noah, Bulls

Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

Coach of the Year: Frank Vogel, Pacers

Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers

Most Improved: Paul George, Pacers

My picks match up pretty well with Sports Illustrated picks, but I have a few differences.

I gave the Coach of the Year to Frank Vogel instead of Gregg Popovich because Vogel did more with less. He lost one of his top three players for most of the year and led Indiana to the second seed in the conference. Popovich and the Spurs are always a top contender in the West, while Vogel has led the Pacers to their first sustained success since the mid 2000’s.

Now onto the award that everyone cares about: the MVP award. No disrespect to Chris Paul and Tony Parker, but I feel this is a three man race. And those three players are Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

KD, LeBron, and Kobe

Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant

First, let’s look at Kobe Bryant. He is in his 17th year in the league, so for him to even be in the MVP discussion is amazing. And he is having a career year this year. To put this in perspective, Kobe played his first NBA game when I was four years old. I just turned 21 a few weeks ago.

He is averaging a career high field goal percentage to go along with 27.8 points per game and almost 6 rebounds and assists per game. After the All-Star break, Kobe has ratcheted his game up even more, averaging 33.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game.

But the reason I feel that Kobe should be in this discussion is because he has elevated the Lakers into a playoff spot. The team has dealt with a coaching change, injuries and horrible play all season, yet Bryant keeps on playing great. Without Bryant, who knows where the Lakers would be. If the MVP is for the most “valuable” player, I think Bryant deserves it.

Who will finish second in the voting is Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. Durant is enjoying a tremendous season, averaging 28.3 points, 8 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game. In any other year, Durant would most likely be the MVP.

He is on pace to become a member of the ultra-exclusive 50-40-90 club, which is a great accomplishment (This is when someone shooting over 50% from the field, 40% from three point and 90% from the free throw line, only five players have done it). Durant has also led the Thunder to the top of the Western Conference.

But like it was three of the past four years and will be this year, the MVP resides in South Beach.

LeBron separated himself from Durant during a spectacular streak of games where he scored over 30 points and shot over 60% from the field, all in Miami Heat victories. The Heat are also riding LeBron during their current 20 winning streak (which is tied for the third longest winning streak in league history).

King James is averaging 26.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7 assists per game with an efficiency rating that no player in the league is even close to. James is the most talented player in the league and will continue to dominate the MVP race (and the league) for the foreseeable future. Sorry, NBA.

Do you think that LeBron is the MVP? Do you agree with my other award picks? Let me know what you think by commenting on the post.

*photo courtesy of undergroundsoles.com*

Dwight Howard Disses Former Teammates

Dwight Howard can’t catch a break this season. I’m starting to feel sorry for the guy. But many of the things that happen to him, he brings upon himself.

Well this time when talking about his time playing in Orlando, Howard basically said that his team was full of people that nobody wanted and he was their leader and led every day with a smile on his face. Ouch.

The crazy part about that quote was that during Howard’s time in Orlando, the team had success, reaching the playoffs in five of eight years. They even went to the NBA Finals in 2009 with Howard and apparently a “group that nobody else wanted.”

Two of Howard’s teammates in Orlando, Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis, both responded to Howard’s statement. Lewis told reporters that Howard’s comments were more disrespectful than anything.Lewis went on to say that the Magic helped Dwight become the player he was and is today.

Nelson’s response was slightly less diplomatic. Nelson basically told Howard to take ownership for his actions and comments and told the media he’d be less of a man if he were to comment further on this issue.

Howard with Nelson and Lewis

Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis at the 2009 All-Star Break

This isn’t the first time that Dwight Howard has had negative publicity from the media. The entire previous season was a disaster with Howard waffling about his decision to stay in Orlando or to test the free agent market. It seemed like he would change his mind weekly.

I actually like Dwight Howard. When healthy he is, without a doubt, the best and most dominant center in the league. Even a somewhat injured Howard is still a better option that about 90% of the rest of the centers in the league.

But in this instance, Howard is in the wrong. His teams in Orlando were perennial contenders for the Eastern Conference title, especially in his last few years there. He claimed that the team was full of people nobody wanted but in 2009, Howard, Nelson and Lewis were all named to the Eastern Conference All-Star Team.

I understand that he never had another “superstar” player to play with while in Orlando but Howard was surrounded by a group of guys that worked great together. Howard was the dominating force on the inside and everyone else made three pointers and played defense. They used this formula to reach the Finals in 2009 and almost defeat my Lakers.

 Recently, Howard has tried to come back on his previous statements. I think this was the right thing to do. Even though they did not achieve all the success that they were hoping for, Howard’s Orlando teams were still successful and those comments had the potential to alienate Howard from those teammates for a long time.

But Dwight’s in LA now, surrounded by three other future Hall of Famers, whom every team would want. So Dwight, here’s a message from a dedicated Lakers fan: Shut up, make the playoffs, win the championship and then re-sign. Please and thank you.

*Photo courtesy of myspace.com*

NBA Second Half Outlook

Well the second half of the season is underway. Some teams are jostling for playoff positions, others are fighting for a spot in the postseason, and the bad ones are trying to lose enough to get a good draft position.

You have to love it.

But there are a few interesting storylines going the stretch run of the NBA season and I’m going to break them down for you.

WILL THE LAKERS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?

This is the million dollar question. If the playoffs started today, the Lakers, preseason title contenders, would be sitting in their nice suburban L.A. mansions watching them on TV. If this scenario occurs, it will be one of the biggest disappointments in recent NBA memory.

But good news Lakers fans (including myself), the Los Angeles Lakers will indeed make the playoffs. It will be a tall task for the team but I feel that they are capable of pulling it off.

Currently three games out of the last playoff spot in the West, the Lakers have the fourth-easiest schedule for their 24 remaining games. If the team can win at least 16-17 games, with some help (losses) from seventh-place Utah and eighth-place Houston, they should be able sneak into the playoffs as a seven or eight seed. Take a look at Bleacher Report’s analysis.

If the Lakers do get in, they will be a team that few will want to play. But first, they have to get in. I think they do it because the team is too talented not to make the playoffs and I believe that Kobe Bryant will will this team into the postseason. I mean when you’re capable of making faces like this….

Courtesy of cleveredfool.com

Kobe Bryant has his game face on for the playoff push.

….you can pretty much do whatever you want*.

WILL D-ROSE RETURN THIS YEAR?

If you didn’t know, 2011 NBA MVP and star of the Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, tore his ACL in last year’s playoffs and has not played this season. But he has been recovering and recently has been filmed dunking in pregame warm-ups.

So naturally, the people want to know when Rose will return. And I have the answer or you all.

He’s going to come back…exactly when he feels like he’s ready. It is nobody but Rose’s decision to make. When he feels like he is physically and mentally prepared to make his return, that’s when he will come back. His team is sitting relatively comfortable in the sixth seed of the conference and would love to have him back, but is also capable of making a playoff run without him.

Take your time coming back Derrick Rose. We would love to see you back at 100 percent and nothing less.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

First, here’s a quick look at the current standings.

Miami will cruise to the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. This is all but determined. But that is where the certainties end.

The teams with the second seed and sixth seeds are separated by only three and a half games. With around 24 or so games left for each team, there will be some jostling for spots and changes. So the 2-6 seeds will be some combination of Indiana, New York, Atlanta, Brooklyn, and Chicago.

Boston and Milwaukee are pretty much slated into the seven and eight seeds, respectively. I don’t think that Toronto has enough firepower to challenge Milwaukee for that last spot. So the East playoffs are pretty much set.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Now, peek at the standings again, this time for the Western Conference.

The West is pretty much in the same condition as the East with a few teams set in their positions, while the others are likely to move around.

San Antonio has the top seed pretty much locked up. Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers will jostle back and forth for the second and third seeds.

The next three teams will battle for the four seed, which gives the team home-court advantage in the first playoff round (and possible the second round). Memphis, Denver and Golden State are within five games of each other and will have to win most of their last games to get that coveted four seed.

The final two spots are Utah and Houston, for now. The Lakers are charging and playing well lately. These three teams will be fighting for the final two seeds. And this will probably be the most entertaining of the “playoff position battles.”

Well, I’ve dove into my mind and gave you some of my thoughts. I’ll have more for you all next week. Let me know what you think about the Lakers chances, Derrick Rose, and the upcoming playoff races by commenting on this post, tweet me, or talking to me on Facebook. Talk to me people!

*Photo courtesy of cleveredfool.com*

NBA All-Star Weekend Recap

Courtesy of paulpierce.net

2013 NBA All-Star Houston Logo

NBA All-Star Weekend is easily the best All-Star celebration in all the major American sports. From the Slam Dunk contest to the Three Point Shootout to the Celebrity Game to the actual All-Star Game, this weekend combines the biggest names in basketball and entertainment. When you have international music stars like Jay-Z and Beyonce mingling with the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a basketball game, you know this event is wide-reaching. Plus pretty much anyone who is relatively famous throws a party sometime during the weekend.

But let me get back to the actual NBA-related activities:

 CELEBRITY GAME

The weekend’s activities began with the annual celebrity game on Friday. This is personally one of my favorite events because I get to watch famous people who aren’t known for playing basketball showcase their “skills” on the court. Some of this year’s contestants were 2012 Celebrity Game MVP comedian Kevin Hart, singer Trey Songz, Josh Hutcherson from “The Hunger Games”, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a host of other celebs and former NBA players.

In a low-scoring game, the Eastern squad defeated their Western counterparts, 58-38. Kevin Hart was the MVP for the second consecutive year, despite only totaling five points and three rebounds. But he was hilarious the entire game, yelling things out to the refs, missing open shots and even beating the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, in a footrace. Well played, Mr. Hart.

RISING STARS CHALLENGE

Formerly the Rookie-Sophomore Game, the Rising Stars Challenge used to pit the best first-year players against the best second-year players. But starting last year, NBA legends Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley were designated “general managers” and each chose their own teams from a pool of rookies and second year players. Nobody really plays defense in this game so it’s usually a high-scoring, eventful affair.

This year’s game was no different. From the onset, “Team Chuck” (Barkley’s team) jumped out to a lead behind great three-point shooting and monster dunks from Denver’s Kenneth Faried. Going into halftime, Team Chuck was leading 90-66! The game continued in this blowout fashion until the end. But one entertaining part was when Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Detroit’s Brandon Knight began to go one-on-one against each other. With all the other players clearing out, these two went “mano-y-mano” for a few possessions. Irving got the best of Knight on one particular play in which he crossed Knight, making him fall down, and then hitting a jump shot over him. I believe you young folks call that “breaking someone’s ankles.”

Anyway, Team Chuck ended up winning big, setting a new record for points scored in the process. Faried ended up being the MVP after a 40-point performance, with most of his baskets coming on dunks. I always will enjoy the Rising Stars Challenge.

ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

The bulk of the weekend’s activities go down on Saturday night. The first event is the Shooting Stars Competition. This is where teams with an NBA player, WNBA player, and former NBA player (all usually from the same city) compete and shoot from different spots on the court to see who can complete the shots in the quickest time. But nobody really cares about this event so…

The next event on the schedule was the Skills Challenge. This is where selected NBA guards have to navigate the court, while going through a course of passing, shooting, and obstacle drills. This is a funny event to watch because you get the chance to see some of the elite NBA guards display their ability to run, stop on a dime to cut, and make precision passes. This year’s competition included a good group of young players including Jrue Holiday, Jeremy Lin, and (one of my favorite young guards and pick to win) Damien Lillard. Lillard was able to complete the course in the fastest time, and took home the trophy.

*Side note: Damien Lillard is going to be one of the top point guards in the league in the next two years. I have been saying this since I watched some of his summer league highlights. I did not jump on the bandwagon late.*

*Side-side note: I drafted him with my third pick in my fantasy league. Third!*

THREE POINT SHOOTOUT

Saturday’s third event was the Three Point Shootout. This event brings out some of the best long-range shooters the league has to offer. There was stiff competition in this year’s field including Stephen Curry, Steve Novak, and Matt Bonner. Here was one of the surprises of the night. Kyrie Irving came out of the proverbially blue to win the contest, almost tying an all-time record in the process. Irving was not really known as a three-point shooter previous to this, so his winning shocked me. I almost bet on my main man Steve Novak and I would have lost some money since he let me down. I’m shaking my head at you, Steve.

DUNK CONTEST

Finally we come to Saturday night’s marquee event, the Slam Dunk Contest. In recent years, many have complained that the contest is losing its luster, with the league not getting big names to participate, but I was extremely intrigued by the contestants this year. There was James White, whose YouTube dunks are stuff of legend. There was Gerald Green, a former Slam Dunk Champion, who once blew out a candle on a cupcake that was on the rim while dunking. Last year’s champion, Jeremy Evans, was in the field. But I thought that Terrence Ross, a rookie for the Toronto Raptors, had enough creativity to win the contest.

There were some good dunks from the competitors but the finals came down to Ross against last year’s winner Evans. Evans started out strong by dunking over a painting, which showed him dunking over a painting, that he painted himself. That was a super-creative idea that actually made me laugh.

But Ross had two better dunks.  He did a 360 windmill dunk from the baseline off a pass from the side of the backboard. And for his second dunk, Ross did a between-the-legs dunk while jumping over a young boy, the internet is alleging is Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s son.  Ross was able to come away with the trophy after his performance, and I thought he was deserving of it.

But here’s a video showing all the dunks. You be the judge and let me know who you think won.

*Side note: Don’t think I simply chose Ross to win after the contest to just make myself look good. Check my Twitter and you’ll see that I tweeted about him winning BEFORE the contest. I’m just that smart.

 ALL-STAR GAME

The whole reason that this weekend exists is because of the All-Star Game. The best players from the Eastern Conference square off against the best players from the Western Conference. Aside from your regulars like Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, this year’s game featured a host of first-time All Stars.

As usual, the game consisted of players running up and down the court, scoring easy baskets and defense took a backseat. But just like every year, in the final eight or so minutes, it turns into a real game, with the best and brightest stars playing at their highest levels to bring home the “W.” The West was able to hold off the East, mainly because of a great performance from MVP Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul scored 20 points and handed out 15 assists, a stat line only reached twice before in an All-Star Game.

This concludes my wrap-up of NBA All-Star Weekend. It’s a great event each and every year and I will continue to look forward to it (Plus it’s always right before my birthday). Anyway, if you feel differently about anything I’ve said, shoot me a comment so we can discuss it and I can tell you why you are wrong. Until next time, hoops lovers.

What’s Up with the Los Angeles Lakers?

Kobe Bryant

This has probably been the most talked about topic in professional basketball in the past few years. Sportswriters have written about this as if they are the only team in basketball. You can’t go a day without seeing the Lakers highlights within your first few minutes of viewing SportsCenter.

Well if you were live in Antarctica or just aren’t a basketball fan, I’ll explain to you why the Lakers are the “talk of the town” (if that town is the whole country). The Lakers already have Kobe Bryant, easily the best player of our generation and one of the top ten basketball players of all-time. They also have Pau Gasol, a very good 7-footer who might be the best passing big man in the league. Over the previous offseason, the Lakers added Steve Nash, a two-time MVP and perennial league leader in assists, and they also acquired the league’s best center and defender in Dwight Howard.

http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/story/_/id/8254617/suddenly-los-angeles-lakers-team-beat-again

Expectations were championship or bust from the second both of the previous stars arrived in L.A. I was already looking forward to a Lakers vs. Heat NBA Finals and was seriously debating buying tickets to L.A. for some of the Finals games.

But then the season started and all hell broke loose.

After starting the season 1-4, the Lakers fired their head coach, Mike Brown, who had only been named the coach the previous season.

http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/story/_/id/8610888/los-angeles-lakers-fire-coach-mike-brown

This was one of the earliest firings into the season in league history. The team then began to talk to Phil Jackson, the former Laker coach who had won 5 NBA championships since 2000 with the team. But unexpectedly, the team hired Mike D’Antoni, the run-and-gun innovator who had previously coached Nash in Phoenix.

This was a stupid hire. The Lakers have one of the oldest rosters in the league, as well as two of the best post-up options in the world. It makes no sense for them to try and become a run-and-gun team. But oh well.

So after hiring D’Antoni, the Lakers troubles continued due to the fact that they  had one of the worst defenses in the league. They were also plagued by injuries to Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol, with limited the “Big 4” of Bryant, Nash, Howard, and Gasol rarely sharing court time. So of course, the team struggled and lost many games to inferior teams.

After starting the month of January with a 2-7 record (which brought their overall record to 10 games under .500), the Lakers had a players-only team meeting in which they aired out their differences.

http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/story/_/id/8875019/los-angeles-lakers-hold-team-meeting-air-grievances

This meeting led to somewhat of a turnaround in the play of the team. Kobe Bryant, known to all basketball fans as one is not shy about shooting as many times as possible, had three consecutive games with over 10 assists. The team began to actually play like a team and began to win games.

But it seems the Lakers take one step forward, only to take two steps back. Pau Gasol recently tore a muscle in his foot, which will sideline him for at least four weeks. With Dwight Howard already out due to a shoulder injury, the team is particularly thin on big men, therefore creating another struggle that the Lakers must overcome.

Hopefully, the team turns it around for good soon. At least All-Star Break is coming up, and you can’t lose when you don’t play. Amen.

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