Thursday, March 23, 2017

You Can Throw Out the Record Book When These Two Teams Meet, But I'd Keep That Kevlar Vest Handy

The Arkansas state legislature has passed a law permitting the carrying of concealed firearms in a variety of public places -- including the football stadium of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. Beginning in 2018, loyal fans may pack heat in the stands as well as bourbon.

One has to think Arkansas coach Bert Bielema is of two minds about this bill. On the one hand, it seems likely his team will get more than its fair share of marginal calls from the officials. On the other, a 7-5 season could have worse consequences for the coach than just talk show calls and a trip to an off-brand December bowl game.

As for visiting teams, well, you know the cadre of enormous state troopers that surround every SEC coach at home and on the road? Those guys are really going to have their pay.

Whoooie-Pig! Sooe-BLAM!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Gosh, I Can't Wait! Tell Me More!!

Minding my own business watching the NCAA tournament a few minutes ago when the phone rings.
I have caller ID so I wait a ring to see what it is.

"Call from Final Reservation."

Thank you, no. Perhaps you should speak to your marketing department.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Tradition of Failure Like No Other

The National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Men's Basketball Tournament Selection Committee checked into a New York hotel last Wednesday and spent the rest of the weekend in seclusion watching television and having meetings. Presumably they were all binge-watching "The Americans" much of the time because their college basketball viewing options didn't seem to impress them very much.

The committee began work with a list that had North Carolina, Villanova, Kansas and Gonzaga  as the four top seeds and ended it with the same list. Conference tournaments, we don't need no stinking conference tournaments! And a good thing for North Carolina and Kansas that the committee didn't, as both schools didn't even make the finals of the ACC and Big 12 tourneys.

In the former, Duke beat North Carolina in the semis. They beat Louisville and Notre Dame, too. Duke got a two seed. Committee chairman Mark Hollis told CBS the group had Duke listed as a four seed on Wednesday. He made the promotion to a second seed sound like an unprecedented papal dispensation, a reward too good for the likes of college kids, even if they'd beaten the Spurs, Warriors and Cavs in succession. Worse yet, he left millions of otherwise good Americans finding themselves taking Duke's side in an argument.

I'm sure those remarks went over real well at CBS and ESPN, each of which pay serious money to broadcast those conference tournaments to fans who're now told that a group of certified basketball experts considers them essentially meaningless. A lot of those fans will take that opinion to heart as they fill out their brackets. This will be a mistake. Of course, it'll be a mistake if they ignore the committee's opinion, too.

Having criticized, I must now express some sympathy with the committee's choices. The rules of the game require that four teams must be seeded first in their regions. In the 2016-2017 season, there were basically two teams with one seed credentials, Villanova and Kansas, and about 10 perfectly reasonable number twos, very strong teams with wholly reasonable expectations of playing for a national championship that at some point or another didn't play very well at all.

This places the handicapper (and that's what the committee does after all) in a serious quandary. How does one play chalk when there's too much of it? Look at the two seeds. Duke, Louisville, Kentucky and Arizona. Nobody would faint dead away if that's the Final Four. Look at the threes. Florida State, Baylor, UCLA and Oregon. That would be a startling Final Four, sure enough. But any one of them (well, not Baylor and Oregon) could be there and we'd all nod our heads as if we'd thought it all along.

As far as "upsets" go, SMU and Wichita St., seeded sixth and 10th respectively in their regions, could beat any one of the teams seeded ahead of them. The handicapper will note the importance of the word "one" in a contest where it takes six victories to win the grand prize.

So what the hell, in for a penny, in for ridicule from friends and family.

Sweet Sixteen: Villanova, Florida, SMU, Duke, Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Florida State, Arizona, Kansas, Iowa St., Creighton, Louisville, North Carolina, Butler, UCLA, Kentucky
Elite Eight: Villanova, Duke, Notre Dame, Arizona, Kansas, Louisville, Butler, Kentucky
Final Four: Duke, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky
Championship: Kansas over Arizona.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Gridiron of Mirrors

Adam Schefter of ESPN reported this morning that "league sources" have told him the Patriots have no plans to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Were I Garoppolo, I wouldn't sign any long-term leases around here just yet.

Schefter is as well-connected an NFL beat guy as there is, and this is not the sort of story he'd get wrong. Those league sources are real and in a position to know something. We may safely assume, however, none of them is Bill Belichick, the person in the very best position to know. Therefore, the powers of deduction allow us to assume that those sources are from the most desperately quarterback challenged franchises in the league, like the Browns, 49ers, Texans, etc. and that they are reporting what was said to them by the Pats when they made discreet inquiries as to Garoppolo's availability.

No words on such a subject spring forth from Foxboro unless spoken or at a minimum approved by Belichick himself. There's a good chance he meant every one of those words. Tom Brady functioned at peak efficiency in 2016, but Belichick doubtless remembers that so did Peyton Manning in 2013, and by the end of 2014, Manning could muster no more than five or six good throws a game. Belichick probably has even more vivid memories of Brady getting the crap knocked out of him in the first half of Super Bowl LI. Brady is a physical marvel of flexibility, but no human body sustains repeated blows by huge men with impunity. So if the coach has decided Garoppolo is an insurance policy he wants for 2017, it's hardly an irrational decision

(Incidentally, it would also be doing Garoppolo a favor. He could play out his rookie contract and become a free agent with his reputation, based on five quarters of play and Belichick's good opinion, intact. He couldn't louse it up by failing to do well with a team for whom it is impossible to do well, such as Cleveland. If I were a quarterback, I sure wouldn't want to go a team that lost four previous starters due to injury the previous season.)

But it wouldn't be an irrational decision if Belichick was just blowing smoke about his plans either. In general, persons seeking to sell an asset tend to talk up the value of the asset. Belichick could not do more to drive up Garoppolo's value than to declare it is so high he couldn't consider swapping him away. It might discourage some suitors, but it's bound to encourage one or more of them to return with better, probably ridiculous offers. After all, if Bill like the guy so much, he must be worth a lot right?

The market will offer further encouragement. Current free agent quarterbacks include Tony Romo, a proven success who's a cinch to be injured by Columbus Day, and a bunch of just good enough to lose chaps like Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum. Every time Deshaun Watson's agent sees that list, he grins. Same probably goes for everyone in the Pats front office from the coach on down.

Did you know that as of now the 49ers have a rookie coach, rookie GM and no quarterbacks whatsoever on their roster? Belichick does. Does he know the Texans' commitment to Brock Osweiler has put old colleague Bill O'Brien in an equivocal employment situation? Oh, yeah.

In short, Belichick has every incentive to say he won't trade Garoppolo if he really doesn't want to, and even more incentive to say it if he's willing to persuaded to do so. He is in the catbird seat, a seat that will become more and more comfortable as the draft approaches.

Pretty good deal if you're defending Super Bowl champion and your big offseason move might be to wait for the Cleveland Browns to screw up.

Friday, February 24, 2017

You Mean I Might Have Nothing to Do But Watch the Games?

Hell hath no fury like a talk show host whose home market teams don't swing big deals by their sports' trade deadlines. Doing nothing is unacceptable! (Make that three exclamation points here in Boston.)

As I went on a pizza run last night, it was very weird to hear Adam Jones on the SportsHub denounce Danny Ainge of the Celtics for timidity, no, downright cowardice for failing/refusing to make a trade before the deadline yesterday afternoon. But then, Jones had to top Felger and Mazz, whose squawks of scorn reverberated around town without one having to turn on one's radio.

Danny Ainge? The guy who made about 15 deals in his first year at Boston's helm. The guy who brought in Kevin Garnett? The one who acquired Isaiah Thomas at last year's deadline for a briefcase full of Imperial Russian railway bonds? Danny, timid? Making criticism loud is one thing. Turning up the volume to silly is another.

We know that Ainge could've acquired DeMarcus Cousins for almost nothing, since that's what New Orleans paid to get the volatile but gifted center, but decided, along with Brad Stevens, the Celts didn't want Cousins at any price. That's a real thing that happened, and if you or anyone else including talk show hosts disagree with Boston's assessment of Cousins, Ainge may fairly be criticized for that judgment.

Judgment, not temperament. To accuse Ainge of lacking the iron nerve of the true plunger is to ignore more than a decade's worth of Celtics' history. And to criticize his judgment for failing to pull off some unknown but allegedly available "big deal" that'd be a "real upgrade" is just nonsense. It's not only assuming facts in evidence, it's assuming assumptions not in evidence.

Fans and sports journalists the world over make the same mistake about trades every day in every sport. They blithely presume that their team is the only participant in one. The wants, needs, foibles, psychoses, etc. of the teams on the other sides of their fantasy deals are not considered, let alone the thoughts of the players who might be involved. It's usually a harmless way for outsiders to spend their time, much like imagining what they'll buy when their Powerball numbers hit.

But it's just as divorced from reality. There are no grounds for blasting Ainge for not acquiring Jimmy Butler from the Bulls or Paul George from the Pacers unless it is known (Twitter doesn't count as knowing) what either of those teams wanted in return for giving up an All-Star, whether they even wanted to do it in the first place, and if either player was amenable to coming to Boston. I mean, I wish I could go out and buy a Ferrari this afternoon, but I KNOW I can't because I get bank statements. Ainge is a capable GM. He's not Dr. Strange. Reality won't bend to his will.

Fans and sports journalists love deadline deals (hey, I used to as well) for a good reason -- they're something new to talk about in the dullest part of very long regular seasons. Front offices need a little more concrete return on investment than novelty.

Trade rumors are fun. They proliferate because teams talk about trades almost every day, in conversations ranging from late night hotel bar bullshit to deadly serious conference calls with lawyers, cap specialists and player agents.

Here's a trade reality that's less fun but worth knowing anyway. 999,999 out of 1 million of those conversations end with one or both parties saying "sorry, but no thanks."

PS: Just have to vent a pet peeve here. Heard either Jones or his sidekick say "what message does Ainge not making a move send to his team, to those guys in the locker room?" assuming they would obviously be disheartened by their bosses' failure to create an invincible powerhouse that would sweep the Cavaliers aside with ease in every drive time segment between now and the playoffs.

Do commentators ever look at player sentiment from the other end of that telescope? What is the effect on morale if Ainge HAD pulled off a big trade, one whose unspoken message would be "Boys, I love this team. But for it to have a chance of being any good, I had to get rid of one-third of you."

Monday, February 20, 2017

Maybe the Best Trades Are the Ones You Don't Make Because You Don't Want To.

The good news for DeMarcus Cousins this morning is that he is no longer a member of the Sacramento Kings. The OK news for Cousins is that he's now with the New Orleans Pelicans. The preceding sentence must be the best news of all for Celtics' basketball boss Danny Ainge.

Deductive reasoning leads us to an inescapable conclusion. Ainge did not want All-Star center Cousins at any price. He couldn't have, since the price the Pelicans paid for him (rookie guard Buddy Hield, veteran Tyreke Evans and their first and second round draft picks this summer) was both absurdly low and an offer the Celtics could have bettered without harming their current and future rosters whatsoever. Ainge has acquired so many future draft picks for the next few seasons commentators and fans have a tough time remembering them. The existing Boston squad, a pretty damn good one according to the NBA standings, has its quota and then some of "nice players" who could be sacrificed to acquire one of the few legitimate centers in the league.

So what wonders what if anything Ainge did offer Sacramento in the much-rumored trade talks over the past couple of weeks. A boxed set of Red on Roundball DVDs? More likely, he offered nothing, but politely listened over the phone as Kings GM Vlade Divac tried to scare up a market for his team's superstar who somehow can't help it win much.

That is not all Cousins' fault. The other Kings are pretty terrible. Some of it, however, is. Cousins is, how to put this politely, apparently not emotionally strong enough to cope with the undeniable stresses of an NBA season without acting out. That's just on the court, which in terms of NBA behavior, is only the visible part of the iceberg. When a bad team gives up on its one All-Star, there's usually a damn good reason for it.

New Orleans must've been aware of those reasons. The Pelicans must also have been aware that there is a long history of NBA big men who've broken their leases with teams in order to be traded away and it's worked out splendidly for the franchises who took on the "problem" centers Right, Wilt? Right, Kareem?

Ainge would not take that side of this rather large bet, even when cold numbers indicate it's an awesome value bet. If there's one thing we've learned from more than a decade of Ainge sitting at the personnel poker table, he's not a tight player. He has made far more than his share of big bets with worse hands than the one he's holding now.

My own wild guess is that Ainge's unwillingness to deal for Cousins has little to do with the latter's personality. More likely it stems from technical basketball analysis, a judgment that integrating Cousins' talents into the 2016-2017 Celtics would be a difficult and time-consuming endeavor that wouldn't be completed by playoff time.

Or maybe Ainge just looks at the cards he's holding and thought "this is what I want to play." That could be correct or not. But it's just as bold a move in its own way as swinging a major deadline deal.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

No Days Off, Pro-Am Division

Today's Globe has a nice story by Ben Volin in which PGA Tour pro Rob Oppenheim describes playing three rounds of the AT&T National Pro-Am on the Monterey Peninsula with a notable amateur -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick. According to Oppenheim, Belichick had one hell of a good time for the three days he competed in the event, enjoying the plaudits of the galleries and spreading cheerful positive energy to his playing companions.

The galleries, perhaps with a better sense of irony than fans of other sports, chanted "No Days Off" as Belichick strode down the fairways. That made Belichick even happier.

I'm not criticizing Belichick's golf weekend. Quite the opposite. The wisest leaders are those who understand that when there's nothing to do, do just that.

And all NFL coaches know they're in a grinding cutthroat business where unlimited amounts of hard work and even moments of inspiration can't alter the fact that the chances of failure far, far outweigh those of success. The grumbly, mumbly Belichick the outside world sees most of the time is because he understands, no, feels that fact deeper than most, seeing as he's lived with it his whole adult life.

The only way Belichick will stop being good at football is if he gets tired of it. Pats fans should be cheered that their coach knows the occasional victory lap is good for his soul.