Indiana Will Miss Stephenson

220px-Indiana_Pacers.svgThe Indiana Pacers made a big mistake in letting crazy-ass Lance Stephenson go to the Charlotte Hornets.

I know the Pacers had some chemistry problems and Stephenson may have had a lot to do with that.  I know that his antics in the playoffs – especially vs. the Miami Heat – were a major distraction.  As I wrote before, there is no reason why a grown man should be blowing into another man’s ear.

His teammates were eventually tired of his act.  Hell Larry Bird, an ardent Stephenson supporter, called him out for that foolishness.

However Stephenson was the only Pacer (outside of David West) who have the Pacers their heart.  He led the NBA in triple-doubles.  He can create his own shot, leading to instant offense when needed.

In short, Stephenson’s departure made Indiana’s lack of offense worse, while making the Hornets’ better.

Anyone who watched the Hornets last year noticed the following: 1) they were inexplicably called the Bobcats; 2) while they were one of the better defensive teams, they couldn’t score on their on wives.  Stephenson gives Charlotte the scorer it sorely lacked last season.  You think Al Jefferson will be glad to have another teammate who could create his own shot?

Stephenson also gives them something that Indiana lacked: heart.

Say what you want about him (crazy as hell and reckless come to mind), but Stephenson was not afraid of ANYONE.  Check out what he did during the Miami playoff series.  I realize anyone who challenges LeBron James and Dwyane Wade may be nothing short of “stuck on stupid”.  But count me as a person who rather have fearless cats as teammates than cowardly lions.

Look, I don’t know if Stephenson will be able to keep it together in Charlotte next season – let alone the next three years on his contract.  But this is a good inexpensive gamble by Michael Jordan and the Charlotte Hornets.

MLB Mid-Season Checkpoint…

mlbHow about that All-Star Game last night?  By that I mean, how about Major League Baseball and Fox forgetting to honor the late Tony Gwynn during that Derek Jeter love-fest last night?

Be that as it may, the first half of the 2014 MLB regular season had a few surprises (Milwaukee in first place, defending champion Boston in last place).  This “checkpoint” is a litmus test of sorts against my predictions before the season.  And while the season is not over, this checkpoint kinda helps determine whether I should stay out of the MLB prediction business.

Let’s go…

American League

East Division

Predicted Finish

  1. Boston Red Sox (98-64)
  2. New York Yankees-* (95-67)
  3. Tampa Bay Rays-* (93-69)
  4. Baltimore Orioles (88-74)
  5. Toronto Blue Jays (80-82)

Record at All-Star Break

  1. Orioles (52-42)
  2. Blue Jays (49-47)
  3. Yankees (47-47)
  4. Rays (44-53)
  5. Red Sox (43-52)

Analysis:  It wasn’t a big shock to see the Orioles playing well – I did predict them to finish over .500.  It’s seeing Boston, who are virtually the same team that won last year’s World Series, hit bottom that is more shocking.  Good to see the talent in Toronto finally becoming productive.  As for my Yankees, it’s shocking to see them so competitive, with no pitching and hitting to speak of.

Central Division

Predicted Finish

  1. Detroit Tigers (96-66)
  2. Cleveland Indians (90-72)
  3. Kansas City Royals (88-74)
  4. Minnesota Twins (74-88)
  5. Chicago White Sox (72-90)

Record at All-Star Break

  1. Tigers (53-38)
  2. Royals (48-46)
  3. Indians (47-47)
  4. White Sox (45-51)
  5. Twins (44-50)

Analysis:  No real surprises here.  The top three teams of this division are competitive as I predicted.  I am good at my job!!!

West Division

Predicted Finish

  1. Texas Rangers (93-69)
  2. Oakland Athletics (92-70)
  3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim near El Segundo south of Hollywood (81-81)
  4. Seattle Mariners (78-84)
  5. Houston Astros (60-102)

Record at All-Star Break

  1. Athletics (59-36)
  2. Angels (57-37)
  3. Mariners (51-44)
  4. Rangers (40-56)
  5. Astros (38-57)

Analysis:  The big miss here was on the Rangers.  Talk about the bottom falling completely out…

National League

East Division

Predicted Finish

  1. Washington Nationals (94-68)
  2. Atlanta Braves (90-72)
  3. Philadephia Phillies (87-75)
  4. New York Mets (70-92)
  5. Miami Marlins (60-102)

Record at All-Star Break

  1. Nationals (51-42)
  2. Braves (52-43)
  3. Mets (45-50)
  4. Marlins (44-50)
  5. Phillies (42-53)

Analysis:  Washington and Atlanta are at the top of the division, no shock there.  I thought too much of the Phillies though.  How Philly’s general manager Ruben Amaro still has a job is a mystery to me…

Central Division

Predicted Finish

  1. St. Louis Cardinals (97-65)
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates-* (94-68)
  3. Cincinnati Reds-* (93-69)
  4. Chicago Cubs (75-87)
  5. Milwaukee Brewers (70-92)

Record at All-Star Break

  1. Brewers (53-43)
  2. Cardinals (52-44)
  3. Reds (51-44)
  4. Pirates (49-46)
  5. Cubs (40-54)

Analysis:  I correctly predicted that this division will be the most competitive in baseball.  I’m shocked as hell to see Milwaukee on top.  Props to Ryan Braun, I guess…

West Division

Predicted Division

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers (93-69)
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks (90-72)
  3. San Francisco Giants (85-77)
  4. Colorado Rockies (81-81)
  5. San Diego Padres (65-97)

Record at All-Star Break

  1. Dodgers (54-43)
  2. Giants (52-43)
  3. Padres (41-54)
  4. Rockies (40-55)
  5. Diamondbacks (40-56)

Analysis:  Dodgers are on top of the division after a rough start – yay me.  And while the Giants are in the thick of it as I predicted, I didn’t think the D’Backs would suck THAT bad.

Melo Should Have Chosen Bulls Over Knicks

ny-knicks-logoI wish I was as shocked over Carmelo Anthony choosing to return to my beloved New York Knicks as much as I was over LeBron James leaving South Beach for Cleveland.  However, I had a feeling that Melo would return to the Knicks when it was all said and done.

In fact, Melo had over 120 million reasons to do so.

Thanks to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams that currently employ soon-to-be free agents could offer those players the most money.  In this case, the Knicks could offer Melo the max, which was a five-year contract worth $125 million dollars.  The most that other teams such as the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers could offer him was four years and $88 million.  Let’s face it, there was no way in hell that Melo would leave a year and over $30 million on the table.

And let’s focus on the Lakers for a minute.  If Melo felt like a one-man band in New York, how bad would it have been in L.A. with a hobbling, aging Kobe Bryant.  And we all know how Kobe likes the get down.  He could have a wooden leg with a kickstand and STILL want to be the man.  As much as Melo loves Kobe (and as much as Kobe wanted Melo), it would not have been a good fit.

As for Chicago, even though Melo would have taken less to go there I still thought it was the right spot for him.  The Bulls simply have better personnel than the Knicks.  The Bulls have Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and a healthy Derrick Rose gives Melo a better chance to win.  I just don’t see a Knicks team the employs Amare Stoudamire, J.R. Smith, Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert making any noise next season.

Yeah I know, Rose may not be 100% ever again.  But if you watched how Chicago competed the last two seasons (and postseasons) without Rose, you’d know that the Bulls were a dynamic scorer away from advancing in this year’s and last year’s playoffs.

Alas, Melo chose money and comfort over a better chance to win – and I am not mad at him.  His wife loves it in NYC, and his son attends school there and probably made some good friends.

As a Knicks fan, I am happy as hell Melo is staying in New York.  I just don’t need to hear him say “I just want to win” when it was clearly about him getting paid.

LeBron’s Move Back to Cavs Makes Sense

254px-NBA_Logo.svg_I have NEVER been so wrong about anything in my life.

I could have sworn that LeBron James would remain a member of the Miami Heat.  I thought to myself “why would LeBron leave the Heat, where he would have several opportunities to compete for championships in the weak-ass Eastern Conference?”  More so, “why in the hell would LeBron ever, EVER, play for owner Dan Gilbert after that childish scathing letter he wrote after LeBron’s departure?”

I guess I had it wrong.  In fact, I had LeBron’s thought process wrong as well.

But that doesn’t mean I do not understand where LeBron is coming from.

If we step back for a minute to survey everything, we’d realize that the Heat were in worse shape than we’d all imagine.  That curb-stomping administered by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals taught us a lot about Miami.  It is not deep and worst of all, OLD.  Miami’s bench was virtually non-existent against San Antonio.

Basically the Heat – beyond LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – are simply not that good.  And Wade’s health is once-again suspect.  LeBron had to have figured, if the Heat is in such bad shape, why stick around on an older beat-up team instead of going a place where the personnel are younger, talented – and dare I say HUNGRIER?

Enter the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cavs are younger, talented and deeper than the Heat.  Kyrie Irving is a stud.  Dion Waiters is a talented marksman.  LeBron is going to help get those two young brothers on the same page.  Oh, and Andrew Wiggins is going to be a star.

Granted Cleveland just hired a coach who hasn’t coached an NBA game (hell anyone is an upgrade over Mike Brown), but he is respected in international basketball.  What helps is LeBron also respects him and should help guide the Cavs to the promised land.

Plus given what LeBron said about his old-stomping grounds in an Sports Illustrated article, he longed to come back:

“I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”

LeBron returns to Cleveland a better player, a better leader – and a better man.  I clowned him in the past for running away to join another superstar and win titles elsewhere, but I understood his reasoning for leaving Cleveland the first time around:

“When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”

As for playing for Gilbert again, I guess LeBron has truly forgiven him and turned the page.  LeBron is a better man than me.  There was no way in hell I would play for an asshole who did me like that while walking out the door.

At any rate, good for LeBron, good for Cleveland – and perhaps good for the NBA…

Soccer Has Staying Power in the U.S.

719px-WC-2014-Brasil.svgFirst, let’s give props to the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team for its performance in the 2014 World Cup.

To those anti-soccer folks, sure the Americans lost to Belgium in the first stage of the Knockout Round.  Sure the Americans finished with a 1-2-1 record.  I get that all of that.

HOWEVER (channeling my inner Stephen A. Smith), those folks have to realize that the Americans were not expected to do but so well at the World Cup.  Hell, they weren’t even supposed to advance past the Group Stage.

I mean, the U.S. was stuck in Group G with Germany (a finalist who just curb-stomped host Brazil), Portugal (with Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best players in the world) and nemesis Ghana (who eliminated the Americans from the last two World Cups).  Fans and the media dubbed that group “The Group of Death” for a reason.

But thanks to gritty play and excellent leadership from coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the Americans not only played well – they advanced and nearly won their group in the process.

Now that the U.S. has been eliminated from the World Cup, what now?  Will people in the U.S. still watch the World Cup in record numbers?  Will Americans give two damns about soccer?

Before I continue, let me first say that I had long been an anti-soccer dude.  I have gone out of my way in the past to discredit soccer, dismissing it by saying “it’s not a sport, but an excuse to riot”.  I even bagged on soccer fans for being so damn deranged and crazy (in the RHOA sense). And while I still think some soccer fans are WAY too passionate for my comfort, I have to give soccer its due.

I think that not only soccer has caught on with the American public, but I think the sport has staying power.

Let me first acknowledge that soccer is still a niche sport in this country.  I get that.  It will never be football (NFL nor college), basketball, baseball nor even golf.

However, I do think that it’s almost as big as NASCAR and has done laps around hockey in this country.

If the ratings from the World Cup has taught us anything (Google it), it’s that soccer has caught on in this country from an interest standpoint.  There were HUGE watch parties around the nation tuning into the USMNT’s matches.  Even casual fans were watching World Cup matches not involving the U.S.

Now that soccer has officially caught on in the U.S., here is how it could have any more staying power.  It first has to develop big name talent.

Sports fans tune in to see the big names.  Check out the ratings the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga pull in this country.  Casual soccer fans such as myself want to watch stars such as Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, serial biter Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi do their thing on the soccer pitch.  If this country produces big name talent to go along with the likes of stud goalkeeper Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, more Americans will care.

Another thing that needs to happen is that Major League Soccer has to improve – a lot.

Let’s be honest here, the MLS is at best AAA minor league baseball compared to the European Leagues.  Washed-up European stars play in the MLS.  You couldn’t pay soccer purists in this country to watch it.

Now I know there are some MLS teams that draw well (the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and LA Galaxy lead the MLS in attendance), and that’s good for the league.  It’s just that the American public does not tune into minor-league shit.

The last thing I think needs to happen is that the MLS needs to somehow convince UEFA (governing body of the Premier League, La Liga, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1 and Dutch Eredivisie) to allow regular season matches (and more friendlies) between its teams and UEFA’s.  It’s a long shot to be sure, but with the right power brokers in this country (tycoons including some NFL, NBA, and MLB owners could have a stake in this) things could happen.  After all, they say “money talks” for a reason.

Even if my second idea does not come to fruition, soccer still has further ingratiated itself with the American sports fan.  More kids are playing it, and the older generations of naysayers are slowly dying out.

Move over Europe and South America!  North America has entered the soccer club.

Happy 4th of July!

We at “The Klown Times” wish you all a Happy Independence Day.  May you all get fat off of the BBQ, and drink to your hearts’ desires – all while remembering that we kicked the British’s asses to gain our independence.  Just don’t drink and drive dammit.

Latest Round of Realignment a Win-Win for ACC and B1G

Boz7c-KIIAA0D7nbig10-11-nav-logoThe latest round of conference realignment in collegiate athletics officially ended on July 1st.

The Maryland Terrapins departed my beloved Atlantic Coast Conference – where it was a founding member no less – for the Big Ten (along with Rutgers from the American Athletic Conference).  Meanwhile the ACC replaced Maryland with the Louisville Cardinals from the AAC.

While I am hoping the seismic plates of realignment calms down for good, I must say that BOTH conferences made out like bandits.  One conference made an athletic gain while the other a potentially huge financial gain.

Follow me for a minute.

The ACC has long played in the shadows of the Southeastern Conference.  While the ACC has made some huge gains in football the last two seasons, the SEC is still king and is perceived to be the big brother in an otherwise amicable relationship.  With the SEC gaining its own network, the folks in the ACC realized that the conference needs to be taken more seriously and make bigger gains in football.

Enter Louisville.

While Louisville would never be confused with other academically prestigious universities, it has one helluva athletics department.  The strides it has made in college football and college basketball (as well as baseball and soccer) is nothing short of amazing.  Hell Louisville comes into the ACC with the biggest athletics budgets in the conference (now over $87 million).  What Louisville will do for the ACC in football in basketball is make the conference stronger in football and perhaps the best in college basketball.

And with the possibility of an ACC channel looming, that could not come at a better time.

As for the B1G, the acquisition of Maryland (and Rutgers) was solely about money.  The Big Ten Network is a cash cow that was the brainchild of commissioner Jim Delany.  It is making tens of millions of dollars for each school in the B1G.  And with Maryland (and Rutgers) coming on board, the B1G could extend its network coverage into the Washington, DC (and New York City) markets.

And give Maryland credit for this: at least it was honest about its reasons for joining the conference (all about the $$$).  Maryland’s athletic department was broke, and the B1G can give it the financial lifeline that the Terrapins sorely need.

Let me add something here: as a sports traditionalist, losing Maryland hurts like hell.  I grew up watching those Maryland-Duke and Maryland-UNC battles in basketball.  It’s just going to be so weird seeing Maryland as a member of the Big Ten.

“No country for old men” I guess…

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