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Harden’s Performance Proves He Is NOT a SUPERstar

254px-NBA_Logo.svg_Earlier this week on Facebook, I posed the question in the spirit of a debate on ESPN’s First Take which centered around the following topic: “which active NBA player is a superstar?”

Stephen A. Smith gave his list: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan.  Skip Bayless agreed – sort of.  There were some talk on those who were on the verge of SUPERstardom: Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Dwight Coward and James Harden.  Both Stephen A. and Skip were bullish on Harden and his potential.

Well, given his performance in the postseason – or lack thereof – methinks Harden is just a star.  In fact, I don’t think he should EVER be considered a SUPERstar.

Let’s work backwards here.  In last night’s Game 2 vs. Portland, Harden shot 6 of 19 shots for 18 points to go along with FIVE turnovers.  In Game 1 Harden made just 8 of 28 shots (including 3-14 from three-point range) and finished with four turnovers.  As a result, the Rockets are down 0-2 to the Trail Blazers.

In the 2012 NBA Finals vs. Miami, Harden went 18-48 from the field and averaged 12.4 points per game for the series.  Remember how people in the sports media criticized Harden – including Stephen A.?

That doesn’t pass the SUPERstar smell test to me.

SUPERstars perform at their best when the stakes are at their highest.  Think Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Julius Irving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, and Moses Malone if you wanna go old-school.  Or Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade, KD, Dirk Nowitski, Duncan, and Paul Pierce if you are new school.

Look, Harden is a stud.  He didn’t get that phat contract from the Rockets for nothing.

Just don’t call him a SUPERstar because, well, he’s not.

Woodson Was in a No-Win Situation

ny-knicks-logoMike Woodson is no longer the coach of my beloved New York Knicks.  He was fired this morning by new Head of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson, with a replacement to be named in the upcoming weeks.

For anyone who followed this situation closely, there was no surprise that Woodson got fired.  My only thing was what took New York so long to do so.

To say Woodson was placed in a no-win situation is beyond stating the obvious.

Let’s start with Woodson himself.  The team fired general manager Glen Grunwald before the season, who was a good friend of Woodson’s.  The Knicks did not give Woodson’s assistant coaches contact extensions.  And while the Knicks did pick up Woodson’s option at $3.4 million, he was not given a contract extension, thus making him a lame-duck coach.

As for Woodson’s former team, it fell behind the eight-ball – in some cases before the season even started.

J.R. Smith was suspended the first five games of the season for violating the NBA’s substance abuse policy.  Amare Stoudamire was playing hurt most of the first half of the season.  Tyson Chandler missed over 20 games with a broken leg.  Raymond Felton got busted for a domestic dispute that turned into gun possession charges.  Jason Kidd, Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace retired, which let a huge leadership void in the Knicks’ locker room.  And last but not least, there was Carmelo Anthony’s impending free agency.

So let me state this one mo’ time: the odds were against Woodson to get back to the playoffs, let alone repeat as Atlantic Division champions.

That being said, Woodson has to learn that you cannot get away with using injuries as an excuse in the NBA.  Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has done an outstanding job of keeping the Bulls competitive in back-to-back seasons in the wake of the knee injuries to Derrick Rose.  Other good and great coaches adapt to their personnel in the wake of injuries and such.

Look, Woodson is a good coach who didn’t get it done – and he would be the first to say that.  Too bad my Knicks didn’t give him the best shot to do so.

 

Happy Easter Dammit!

We at The Klown Times wish everyone a HappyEaster!  While y’all are getting fat off of hot crossed buns and wonder what the hell do bunnies and eggs have to do with Easter, remember that He has risen!

2014 NBA Playoff Preview – First Round

254px-NBA_Logo.svg_The 2014 NBA Playoffs are here – abound with rather interesting storylines.

Will anyone challenge the Miami Heat in the East?  Will the Pacers get their shit together in the playoffs?  Should I give a damn about the other teams in the East?  Will the Spurs avenge the collapse in last season’s NBA Finals?  Could anyone stop the Thunder in the West?

I could go on and on, but let’s get this 2014 NBA Playoff preview started, …shall we?

Eastern Conference

#1 Indiana Pacers vs. #8 Atlanta Hawks

Analysis: The Pacers have struggled headed into the playoffs and split the season series 2-2 with the Hawks.  In fact, I would not have been but so confident that the Pacers would advance out of the first round if their opponents would have been the Bobcats, Nets, or even the Wizards.  Fortunately for Indiana, the Hawks are so God-awful that it could moonwalk its way into the second round.

Prediction: Pacers in 5.

#2 Miami Heat vs. #7 Charlotte Bobcats

Analysis: The Heat won the season series 4-0 vs. Charlotte, and had over a 10-point margin over the Bobcats.  Keep in mind that LeBron James once dropped 62 on the Bobcats’ defense.  Don’t sleep on the Bobcats.  They play great defense, grind, and have a top-level interior player in Al Jefferson.  Unfortunately, Charlotte has a hard time scoring – not good news when facing the two-time defending champion Heat.  The Bobcats are good enough to win a game (maybe two) in this series, but Miami is just too damn good.

Prediction: Heat in 5.

#3 Toronto Raptors vs. #6 Brooklyn Nets

Analysis:  The Nets and Raptors split the season series 2-2.  The Nets obviously tanked down to grab this matchup.  In spite of both teams splitting the regular season series, Brooklyn has some cats that are playoff-tested in Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett.  Toronto is a talented team with a nice story, winning their second Atlantic Division crown in franchise history.  However, the Raptors are in for a rude awakening when they learn what post-season basketball is all about.

Prediction: Nets in 6.

#4 Chicago Bulls vs. #5 Washington Wizards

Analysis:  The Wizards won the season series 2-1.  Like the Raptors, the Wizards are playoff neophytes compared to the more playoff-grizzled Bulls.  I think the pressure of the playoffs coupled with Chicago’s intensity on defense will overwhelm the young Wizards.

Prediction: Bulls in 6.

Western Conference

#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Dallas Mavericks

Analysis:  The Spurs won the season series 4-0.  The Spurs and Mavs are two of the best perimeter attack teams in the NBA, and are extremely playoff-seasoned.  Both are well-coached – while Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich is one of the best in the business, Rick Carlisle is no slouch himself.  I think this will be a very competitive series, but the Spurs are just a bit better.

Prediction: Spurs in 6.

#2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #7 Memphis Grizzlies

Analysis:  The Thunder won the season series 3-1.  These teams are meeting for the third consecutive year in the playoffs.  While the familiarity should help the Grizzlies in this series, we are all seeing a different Kevin Durant.  I mean, who on the Grizzlies is capable of keeping him in check?  Who will be able to score at a relatively similar clip to keep pace with this Thunder team?  The bottom line is that Memphis simply can’t score, and that will play in OKC’s hands.  Plus, Durant is on a mission.

Prediction: Thunder in 5.

#3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #6 Golden State Warriors

Analysis:  The Clippers and Warriors won the season series 2-2.  This is a different Golden State than what we’re seeing now, thanks to the Andrew Bogut rib injury.  This Warriors team is going to rely heavily on Jermaine O’Neal and probably David Lee at the five.  Not a good thing knowing that they would go up against an athletic and brawnier frontcourt led by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.  Plus that Chris Paul dude is not bad and will probably make a little noise in this season.  All and all, this should be one entertaining series.  Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, aka the “Splash Brothers”, will light it up from the outside.  But I think Clippers’ Doc Rivers will out-coach Mark Jackson in the end.

Prediction: Clippers in 5.

#4 Houston Rockets vs. #5 Portland Trailblazers

Analysis:  The Rockets won the season series 3-1.  If you like 3-point shooting, this is the series for you. The Rockets and Blazers are one and three, respectively, in 3-point attempts per game.  The only difference between these teams is that the Rockets are a bit better defensively.  Dwight Howard will be a difference-maker down low, with Omer Asik coming off the bench.  And James Harden is a bonafide superstar who is on a mission.  The Blazers are good, and have a bright future.  They are just too green for the playoffs right now.

Prediction: Rockets in 6.

The Numbers Don’t Lie: Tiger Is the Most Important Figure in Sports

300px-TigerWoodsOct2011I said it before the Masters, and I’ll definitely say it now: golf needs Tiger Woods more than Woods needs golf.

The ratings for the Masters back up my argument.  The final round earned a 7.8 rating Sunday afternoon (by the way, a 7.8 rating means that 7.8 percent of American households tuned into the Masters).  Keep in mind that final round included a highly likeable Bubba Watson winning his second Masters title in three years.

The ratings were down 24 percent from last year’s Masters finale, in which Adam Scott beat Angel Cabrera in a playoff.  That’s right, a playoff round in one of the most cherished golf major tournaments generated little interest in the viewing public.

Here’s more.  One of the highest ratings for the Masters in the last 10 years was Tiger’s last win in 2005, which got a 10.3 rating.

So the moral of the story is this: no Tiger (or Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy) in contention means low-ass ratings for golf tournaments.

Allow me to take this a step further.  Tiger is the only athlete in recent memory (the last 10 years) where sports fans – casual or otherwise – literally stop what they are doing to tune in to see him in action.  Ever since Tiger won the Masters in dominating fashion in 1997, he had single-handedly drove several new viewers to golf.  Hell, I never gave two damns about the sport until Tiger started dominating.

As his sponsorships grew to mammoth values (Nike, Titleist and Cadillac are among his biggest), so did tournament purses for his fellow golfers.  You think there were as many multimillionaires on the PGA tour before Tiger came along?  I didn’t think so.

Tiger’s dominance has also made him a transcendent athlete in all of sports.  He and his brand is recognized worldwide.  In my opinion Tiger is the second-most popular athlete in the world after Michael Jordan.

Love him, like him, loathe him, or hate him – y’all have to give Tiger his props.

UConn: the School of Champions

uconnStudents, alumni – and fans – have to be mighty proud to be associated with the University of Connecticut.

After all, both its men’s and women’s basketball teams won national titles this week.  The UConn men defeated the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 Monday night for the national championship.  The UConn women hammered Notre Dame the following night for their national championship.  Not only the men and women became the second tandem to win the national title in the same season, they were also the first tandem to do so in 2004.

Both teams were impressive in different ways.  The UConn men seemingly came out of nowhere in this tournament.  The Huskies were the seventh seed in their region and were not even expected in some circles to win their opening game vs. St. Joseph’s.  Keep in mind the UConn men got their asses kicked 81-48 to conclude the regular season.  the American Athletic Conference was also devalued by the NCAA Selection Committee (Louisville was a 4-seed?  Really???).

Gotta give props to head coach Kevin Ollie for pushing the right buttons and the senior leadership of Shabazz Napier.  Without those two, UConn would have fallen to St. Joseph’s in its first NCAA Tournament game.

As for the UConn women, what else needs to be said?  40-0.  An average victory margin of over 20 points in the NCAA Tournament.  Oh, and the Lady Huskies slapped the dog piss out of the Fighting Irish in the national title game 79-58.  Oh by the way, Notre Dame was undefeated coming into that game.

And love him or hate him, head coach Geno Auriemma is the best in the business.  His career coaching record is 879–133 (that’s an .868 winning percentage for those keeping score at home), and is not slowing down.  It’s pretty much his program and everybody else in women’s college basketball.

One more thing…

Since 1999, the UConn men won four national titles – and is undefeated in the title games.  The UConn women won nine national titles, the most in the history of women’s basketball program.  Jim Calhoun built UConn men’s basketball, and Ollie is keeping that train rolling.  Auriemma is the standard in women’s basketball.

Like it or not, UConn is not going anywhere in college basketball – men or women…

2014 NCAA Tourney Is Calipari’s Best Coaching

ncaaThe college basketball world’s nightmare is on the verge of coming true: John Calipari becoming a national champion (again).

That’s right folks, the poster child of the “one and done”scenario that has fans, the NCAA, and college basketball seething is one the verge of winning another national championship.  Calipari’s 2011-2012 title team at Kentucky was led by “one and dones” Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.  And while this 2013-2014 freshman-led team is not as good as the one that won it all in 2012, the stars are aligning for Calipari to take home another national title.

Haters gonna hate, and college basketball purists are going to lose their ever-loving minds.

While Calipari is perceived as a slimy individual who could coach an all-star Mafia squad, the man can coach – and he is only taking advantage of a stupid-ass rule that was collectively bargained between the NBA and its players’ union.  Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that Calipari is getting away with murder by recruiting these “one and done” team.  Last I checked, prominent coaches such as Syracuse’s Jim Boehiem, UNC’s Roy Williams, and (gasp!) Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski have/are recruited/recruiting “one and done” players and have had success with those players.

The bottom line is this: coaching is a bottom-line business, and the bottom-line is winning games and championships.  If these “one and done” players give coaches the best chance to win a championship, so be it.

Plus y’all have to give it up for Calipari’s coaching in this tournament.  He has taken a mentally fragile squad whose toughness was questioned throughout the season (remember that bad loss to South Carolina on ESPN way back when?) and has it on a potentially historic roll since the SEC conference tournament.  Calipari’s Wildcats when toe-to-toe with Florida in the SEC tournament final, upset top-seeded Wichita State (though I called that one), beat defending champion/hated rival Louisville, beat last year’s runner-up Michigan, and slipped by 2-seed Wisconsin in the Final Four.  Calipari is pushing the right buttons in getting his freshman-laden team to buy in and accept their roles when it matters the most.

It’s hard to believe that this year’s Wildcats are on the verge on winning its second national championship in four years.  That is due to Calipari’s outstanding coaching, whether we like it or not.

Kobe’s Trayvon Comments Were Understandable, but Executed Poorly

kobe_bryant_extensionThis has not been a good sports year for Kobe Bryant.

First, he came back from an Achilles injury he suffered near the end of last season before Christmas – only to get hurt again with a knee injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.  The experts – and haters – all said that Bryant came back WAY too soon from his Achilles injury.  Some of those same haters thought that Bryant wanted to stay relevant – which I thought was ridiculous.

Second, when he signed 2-year $48.5 million ridiculous extension, Bryant was criticized left and right for hamstringing the Lakers’ salary cap for the next few seasons.  It will be harder for the Lakers to bring in more than one superstar a la the Miami Heat and be salary cap compliant.  Hell, even I gave my two cents on the matter.

And last – but not least – Bryant gave perhaps the controversial quote of the year.  When asked by a reporter from The New Yorker about the Miami Heat’s hoodie photo in support of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old kid who was gunned down by a wannabe vigilante/neighborhood watchman, this was what Bryant had to say:

“I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American.  That argument doesn’t make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we’ve progressed as a society? Well, we’ve progressed as a society, then don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won’t assert myself.”

Let’s examine Bryant’s comments.

First of all,  I understand Kobe’s sentiments.  Kobe’s thoughts were aimed at fellow black people.  Too many of us label our own “Uncle Toms” for not going along with our way of thinking. 

For example, when Mike Vick got busted for dog-fighting, a lot of black folks thought that dog fighting was not such a big deal and Vick should not have been thrown in jail.  The problem with that thought is dog fighting is not only a crime, it became a federal felony when he and his crew crossed state lines while orchestrating the dog fighting.  During ESPN’s Town Hall in Atlanta, many black folks in the audience showed their asses and booed Bryan Burwell (a black sportswriter) who had the nerve to disagree in saying Vick should do his time.

I also feel that just because some issues pertain to Black America, it doesn’t mean we all as Black Americans have to react a certain way.  Here are some good examples: Tawana Brawley and the Duke lacrosse case.  Look it up – Google it. 

I live by what my dad used to say: black people are not sheep.

However, I think Kobe used a bad example in the case of Martin’s murder.  Even though the prosecution failed to convince a jury beyond the reasonable doubt of George Zimmerman’s guilt, I believe that the young brother was racially profiled and led to him being murdered.  In making those statements, Kobe appeared out of touch – and frankly condescending  – with folks in the African American community.

A lot of Black folks are coming out in droves against Kobe.  A had the pleasure of conducting a podcast with Lawrence Watkins (younger brother of the great activist Dr. Boyce Watkins), founder of the Great Black Speakers series.  He called Kobe one of the “safe negroes” for those comments.

I think that is a case of the sentiment being there, but the execution being piss-poor at best.

Something Ain’t Right about DeSean Jackson’s Release

NFLThere are times where I step back and wonder aloud “something ain’t right”.

The Philadelphia Eagles cutting DeSean Jackson last Friday is one of those times.  This comes on the same day reports surfaced of his alleged gang activity/support via the website NJ.com.

Look, I understand that Jackson was, according to most “in the know”, a royal pain in the ass.  I’ve seen his histrionics on the field, most notably when he blew up at his position coach on the field at Oakland.  I do know that the Eagles have a plethora of talent on offense that could make head coach Chip Kelly’s offense thrive in stud LeSean “Shady” McCoy, a health Jeremy Maclin, newly acquired Darren Sproles, and the bigoted Riley Cooper.

I also know that Jackson committed the sin of wishing he was paid more after a home playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints.  That did not sit well with fans, and apparently not with Kelly as well.  Kelly figures that he now has more than enough talent on offense to move on from Jackson.

That said, I have a big problem with folks who intentionally sully a guy’s name.  First of all, that report in NJ.com had to come from the Eagles’ organization.  What would anyone else seek to gain from leaking Jackson’s alleged gang ties?

What makes this “leak” even more messed up is that Jackson’s childhood teachers, coaches and family friends all swore that he is not a member of – or even affiliated with – gangs.  While all of those folks would not say that he was a choir boy, they do not think he is a true gangster in any form or fashion.  Also, keep in mind that Jackson has never been arrested or even thought of to be a person of interest in any crime.

And let’s be honest about something here: do we REALLY think that Philly didn’t know about any suspicious off-field activities from Jackson before a few days ago?  Hell everyone knew that perceived character issues were reasons Jackson dropped into the second round to begin with.  So the report making the Eagles nervous is, frankly, bullshit to me.

It’s time for the Eagles organization to come correct.

If Kelly was tired of Jackson’s diva act and thinks that his offense would be just fine without Jackson, just say it.  If the Eagles’ front office didn’t think that Jackson was worth the huge cap number this season, just admit it.

Just don’t sully Jackson’s name for no reason.

Union Ruling for College Athletes Bad for NCAA

ncaaThe Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday that Northwestern football players qualify as employees of the university and can unionize.

This has the potential of being a HUGE game-changer in collegiate athletics.

If the student-athletes are able to withstand future legal challenges from universities and the NCAA itself, then those athletes will be able to command the following: suitable working conditions, appropriate times for practices, and most of all MONEY.  The working conditions could be anything from clean training facilities (see the mess at Grambling State University), to tricked out locker rooms.  Look at the common denominator in the recruiting arms race in collegiate athletics: flashy, tricked out facilities.  Check out Oregon’s and Florida State’s facilities (newly built or planned) to get an idea.  Simply put, if a school’s facilities are not up to snuff, it’s getting left in the dust on the recruiting trail.

Remember those instances at Michigan and Ohio State when they got popped for too many practices a few years back?  Could you imagine unionized student-athletes bitching about having to practice too much, and not allowing for a life outside of athletics?  Seems far-fetched I know, but you never know.

And of course there is the issue of student-athletes getting paid.  I have been on record of being staunchly against those young people getting paid.  Student-athletes have the type of perks that average college students would give an arm and a leg for – free room and board, access to the best training facilities, better medical care, better dining hall facilities (and food), better living quarters, and – most importantly – access to the best coeds.  As a guy who had part-time jobs in college in order to pay for books and dates, I think that student-athletes get what the need – if not more – from the universities they attend.  Otherwise an inner-city kid, for example, would not be able to attend an institution such as Stanford, Duke, and Michigan.

As for the universities, I think this is potentially bad for colleges everyone.

Most colleges barely break even with their athletics budgets as it is.  If colleges start paying football and basketball players, what about the baseball, lacrosse and volleyball players?  What about women’s sports?  You think the Title IX would be licking their chops over this?  Those colleges that barely break even would pull a Maryland and go broke.

This would also create a bigger gap between the “power conferences” (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) and the “lesser ones”.  You think St. Bonaventure and the like could compete with the likes of Duke, Louisville, Ohio State, Syracuse and Florida for basketball recruits?  Good luck with that one.

All of that said, I think the NCAA needs to blow itself up and start the hell over.  It has some of the silliest rules I have ever seen – remember when some kids got popped for eating too much pasta at a graduation banquet?  Deadspin has a list of some of those stupid-ass violations.  Here is a snippet:

FOOTBALL

Feb. 1, 2012

Violation: Assistant coach Bruce Kittle sent congratulatory text to a student-athlete who had signed with OU.

Feb. 1, 2012

Violation: Assistant coach Cale Gundy sent two congratulatory text messages to a student-athlete who had signed with OU.

May 14, 2012

Violation: Assistant coach Jackie Shipp sent a text message to a recruit who was a junior at the time.

Sept. 12, 2012

Violation: Assistant coach Bruce Kittle sent contact information for one recruit to another recruit, who was a junior at the time, when he meant to send it to assistant coach Josh Heupel. Resolution: For the four violations above, the football staff was precluded from having any written or telephone contact with recruits for two weeks and Kittle, Gundy and Shipp were provided detailed rules education. Contact for the three assistants involved was self-imposed. The NCAA expanded the noncontact period to the whole staff.

Nice job NCAA.

At any rate, couple student-athletes being able to unionize with the on-going Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, the NCAA is entering precarious times.  What happens to the NCAA the rest of the way will be “must-see TV”…

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