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By: timbersfan, 5:57 AM GMT on February 27, 2014


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Soccer Players You Should Know Before the World Cup: David Luiz

SOCCER
FEBRUARY 26, 2014
by RYAN O'HANLON
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Back in 2011, after a game where Chelsea lost to Liverpool, former Manchester United player and current Sky Sports analyst Gary Neville offered what’s become an infamous quote about David Luiz:

“He plays football like he’s being controlled by a 10-year-old on a PlayStation.”

Two important things here: (1) This was meant as an insult. (Never mind that video gams are fun or that, months prior, Xavi, the greatest midfielder of this century, described his own playing style as “It’s like being on the PlayStation.”) And (2) David Luiz’s response on Twitter:


The 26-year-old’s Chelsea career up to this point has sort of been defined by his efforts to carve out a role for himself. Luiz is one of a long line of quartos zagueiros, “a term still used in Brazil for a centre-back with a responsibility to step up into the midfield,” and a position that doesn’t really exist in Europe. Since moving from Benfica in 2011, he had his best season last year, often playing as a midfielder under Rafa Benitez in the second half of the campaign.



This season, though, he’s started 12 games in defense, with only four starts in midfield. He’s probably not even part of Chelsea’s first-choice 11 at the moment, which makes some sense because if there’s anyone who likes watching 10-year-olds play video games less than Gary Neville, it’s Jose Mourinho.



Luiz is such a presence, though. He’s way more proactive than Chelsea’s other defenders, second on the team with 1.7 interceptions a game. He averages more take-ons than Samuel Eto’o. And he’s way ahead of all his teammates in the number of long balls he completes per match. There’s a patience that seems common to all great center backs, but that word doesn’t apply here. Luiz claims he is most definitely a center back now, but he plays the position so differently from everyone else — with an outsize sense of danger, both for his own team and the opponent, creating from weird and awkward parts of the field with his battering-ram jaunts forward — that you wonder how much value that term even has. David Luiz might just be David Luiz.

Sorry, were you upset about Derek Jeter retiring? Don’t worry. HEY, YANKEE.



Not sure how you’re supposed to act after winning the Champions League?



Looking for a friend who has multiple car-racing arcade games in his house and/or who will treat you like a human-size cat?



Think David’s just another guy who talks about “reducing his carbon footprint” but secretly burns mounds of scrap paper on his balcony? Well, David Luiz just planted multiple trees in Brazil to reduce his emissions, and now he’s smiling, because it’s his job to be happy. Literally, as he told the Guardian just over a year ago: “You have moments where you’re down but I can be sad for one or two hours, no more. The rest of the time I have to be happy because the team needs me to be positive.”

This summer, he should be starting for Brazil, alongside Thiago Silva, maybe the world’s best center back. While Bayern Munich’s Dante might seem a more logical choice, Luiz got the nod in the Confederations Cup last summer, making what was probably the play of the tournament, clearing Pedro’s shot off the line to preserve a one-goal lead in the final against Spain. With Brazil hoarding a collection of attackers worth more than the world’s supply of zinc, Luiz might be actually be the host nation’s most important player: He could help solidify Brazil’s defense and provide another dynamic most teams won’t have, or, well, he might not.

But either way, David Luiz, we will love u.

FILED UNDER: SOCCER, DAVID LUIZ, CHELSEA, 2014 WORLD CUP

RYAN O’HANLON is the senior digital editor at Pacific Standard.

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By: timbersfan, 5:55 AM GMT on February 27, 2014


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The NBA Bag, Volume 1

NBA
FEBRUARY 26, 2014
by BILL SIMMONS
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Editor’s note: Every Wednesday from now until the final day of the regular season (April 16), I am cranking out an all-NBA mailbag for the Triangle with a 5,000-word limit. If you want to send me an NBA email, send it here and stick “NBA Bag” in the subject heading. As always, these are actual emails from actual readers.

Q: I dare you to write an NBA mailbag. And I double-dare you not to mention the Harden trade in that NBA mailbag.
—Randy, Norman, Oklahoma

SG: You’re on!

Q: Diehard T-Wolves fan here. Since everyone claims Love is leaving after next year, I am trying to come up with a trade that makes sense. Love for Thibs, Noah, Butler and a pick, who says no?
—Paul, San Francisco

SG: You can’t stick Thibs in Minnesota and have him try to get Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin to play defense. That’s un-American. The Thibs laughing GIF will become his full-time personality until he’s institutionalized.


Anyway, here’s the best case for keeping Love: We just watched what happened in Portland, when Unhappy LaMarcus Aldridge turned into Happy LaMarcus Aldridge as soon as the Blazers started winning.

On the other hand, Minnesota hasn’t shown Love anything for six years other than “We’re a complete mess behind the scenes,” “Congratulations, you’re the new KG circa 2005″ and “If you want to go down as the best player who never played in a playoff game, you should definitely stay here.”

I think they have to trade him. Only four trades make sense. Any Love trade should happen before June’s draft — one year before Love can opt out of his contract — and it can’t happen without his wink-wink consent. For instance, you can’t trade him to Detroit for Andre Drummond and draft picks; he wouldn’t want a front-office situation that’s just as screwy as the one in Minnesota. But you could trade him to these four places:

Location No. 1: Phoenix
I gotta admit, the thought of Love playing run-and-gun in Jeff Hornacek’s entertaining offense with Dragic and Bledsoe is downright titillating. But this would be the ultimate quarters-and-dimes-for-a-two-dollar-bill trade: something like Alex Len (last year’s no. 5 pick), three 2014 first-rounders (from Indy, Washington and Phoenix, all top-12 protected at least) and a protected Minnesota first-rounder that Phoenix already owns (thanks, David Kahn!) for Love and J.J. Barea’s Expiring-in-2015 Contract. That’s about 60 cents on the dollar since there’s no lottery pick in the deal other than Len … and he might be the Ukrainian Meyers Leonard for all we know. I am lukecold. Odds of this happening: 12-to-1.

Location No. 2: Los Angeles
Love went to UCLA, dates an actress, lives here during the summers, the whole thing. If there’s a smart way to get him here, he’s coming. Cross the Clippers off for now because they’d never trade Blake Griffin when he’s playing this well. The Lakers? That’s far-fetched since they have no trade assets, no present and no future beyond “We have a lottery pick!” and “People love playing here!” Only one scenario works: a three-teamer in which Memphis gets Pau Gasol (sign-and-trade to reunite the Gasol hermanos), Minnesota gets Zach Randolph (expires in 2015) and L.A.’s unprotected lottery picks in 2014 and 2017, and the Lakers get Love. That’s 80 cents on the dollar, especially if that Lakers pick falls in the 3-to-5 range.

Problem No. 1: It’s too hard to pull off three-teamers. Problem No. 2: If I’m the Lakers, I’d rather keep my 2014 pick and cross my fingers that I can sign Love in 2015 (and his Olympics buddy Kevin Durant one year later). Problem No. 3: Because of the Stepien Rule, the Lakers can’t trade that 2014 pick right away because they already traded away their 2015 pick (to Phoenix). They’d have to make the 2014 pick, sign that player, THEN trade him. (Highly unrealistic.) And Problem No. 4: If you’re Love, why trade one mess for another? Why not wait a year? Don’t worry, Lakers fans, the NBA is rigging the 2014 lottery for you. You’ll be fine. Odds of this happening: 15-to-1.

Location No. 3: Chicago
Hmmmm … what about Taj Gibson, Charlotte’s 2014 first-rounder, their own 2014 first-rounder and the rights to Nikola Mirotic for Love? Even without a lottery pick, that’s 75 cents on the dollar for Minnesota. And if Chicago made the deal AND amnestied Carlos Boozer, then assuming the cap goes up next season, it’d have enough cap space left to throw at someone like Lance Stephenson or … (wait for it) … Luol Deng! INTRIGUING! Noah, Love, Rose, Butler and Deng/Lance? Here come the Bulls!

The problem: There’s no sexy piece in that trade for Minnesota. How do you sell that baby to your fans? “We replaced our franchise player with two non-lottery picks we’ll definitely screw up, an unknown foreigner and Taj Gibson! GET YOUR SEASON TICKETS NOW!” I can’t see it happening unless Love’s agent, Jeff Schwartz, makes it clear that they’re only OK’ing a trade to Chicago. Odds of it happening: 4-to-1.

Location No. 4: Boston
Like Love in Minnesota, Rondo can leave Boston in July 2015. And like Love, you can’t trade him unless it’s a team that (a) has assets to give back, and (b) could entice him into staying. Harder than you think. Houston and Dallas don’t have the assets. New York DEFINITELY doesn’t have the assets. A “Rondo to Sacramento for Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams’s expiring and the right for Boston to swap picks once in 2014, 2015 or 2016” deal makes sense on paper — and was seriously discussed last week, too — until everyone remembered that you’d have a better chance of seeing Rondo host an ABC late-night talk show of him playing Connect Four with celebrities called Connect Rondo than you would of seeing him spend the rest of his prime, five years, in Sacramento with Boogie Cousins.

So, what do you do? Well, aren’t you better off keeping Rondo — one of the league’s 15 to 20 best players when healthy — and finding him an All-Star teammate? Enter Kevin Love. They did it in 2007 with Paul Pierce and they could easily do it again: by paying a premium price for a second All-Star, suddenly it becomes MUCH easier to get that third All-Star. The Celtics couldn’t have convinced KG to play with just Pierce … but Ray Allen and Paul Pierce? The rest was history.

OK, so what happens if Boston throws its shamrock-shaped Asset Penis on the table and trumps everybody? Let’s say the Celtics lose the 2014 lottery and end up with a pick between no. 3 and no. 5. They could send that pick to Minny along with Atlanta’s first-rounder (probably ending up in the 13-to-18 range) and their 2015 Clippers pick for Love. And they could throw in Brandon Bass and Keith Bogans’s immediately waivable deal to make the contracts work. Oh, and if Minnesota were more interested in one or more of those future Brooklyn picks that Boston owns (unprotected in 2016 and 2018, pick swap in 2017), the Celts could discuss that, too. Remember, they have a WAR CHEST of picks: 10 in five years, including Brooklyn’s draft right as they’re entering the “Deron and Joe are old and Brook Lopez wears a suit to every game” phase of the Prokhorov era. You team up Love and Rondo and suddenly it’s 10 times easier to land that third All-Star. (You reading, Carmelo?) And yes, that deal could potentially net the Timberwolves three top-15 picks in a monster draft. Odds of it happening: 3-to-1.

The big picture: If Love is loyal to a fault, he’ll stay in Minnesota. If he wants to jump to the Lakers, he should wait a year, anyway. If he wants to play in a big market and contend for a title, Chicago makes sense … unless he thinks Derrick Rose will never be the same. But if this were a poker table, the Celtics would have the biggest stack of chips right now. If any current NBA player appreciates stuff like “Celtic Pride,” “That’s a great organization that looks out for its dudes” and “wearing the same jersey that Russell and Bird wore,” it’s Kevin Love.

My best guess: I think Love rides it out in Minnesota, then jumps to the Lakers in 2015. But I wouldn’t rule out the Celtics. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Q: I know it doesn’t fit your “Worst 30 Contracts” criteria necessarily (other than the title of the article) but doesn’t Kevin Love’s contract deserve a mention? Not signing him to that 5th year so you could save that hammer for Rubio was a monumentally bad decision that is likely to cost us a chance to resign him. Especially because the contract gave him an early out. Its unbelievably bad. It will keep the stench of Kahn on us for years to come …
—Steve, Coeur d’Alene

SG: You know what’s amazing about that one? That was an atrocious decision at the time … and that’s when we thought Ricky Rubio was good! Now that Rubio has established himself as the worst shooter in modern NBA history, it has to go down as David Kahn’s single worst decision. Yeah, even worse than taking two straight point guards in 2009 without making sure either of them was named “Stephen Curry.” What an abominable talent evaluation. Did anyone other than Kahn, at any point in the past three years, believe that Ricky Rubio had a higher ceiling as an NBA player than Kevin Love? It’s staggering. For old time’s sake …



Q: Did Willie Burton lose the trophy for “Most Random Player to Score 50 in an NBA Game” to Terrence Ross? I’m waiting for Contract Year Rodney Stuckey’s 50 point game. It’s coming.
—Tony N., Richmond, Virginia

SG: Nope. Willie still has the trophy — he and Tony Delk mail it back and forth every three months. And Ross will have a much better career than Willie. But Ross did earn himself pole position in this year’s “WTF Box Score” award race, which raises the question … shouldn’t we be able to vote on things like this season’s “Best In-Game Dunk,” “Greatest Regular-Season Game” and “Craziest WTF Box Score” just like we vote on the MVP and Rookie of the Year?

Off that same idea: Why doesn’t the NBA have an awards night? What is it waiting for? Throw it two nights before the draft in New York. Why not? Even if it leads to one wonky trade between two drunk owners or GMs, it will be worth it. Think of the groupies! Think of the outfits! Think of the paternity suits! Also, what chain of events would have to happen for Kevin Hart NOT to host the NBA Awards? And what are the odds he’d tell a joke that would lead to Shaquille O’Neal being slumped over the guy next to him for three minutes straight? If I had one dumb wish for 2014 other than the Lakers inexplicably making Kobe’s contract twice as long, it would be for the NBA Awards to happen.

Q: I was working valet in the Hollywood Hills for a bit for parties thrown by (Name Deleted). I didn’t know who he was, but knew he had a lot of Playboy Bunnies at his parties and was a very generous tipper. The man is mind numbingly rich, which explains all the nice cars I got to park and celebrities I got to briefly meet. Rich people with rich friends and that. The nicest car I ever parked, by far, however, was some form of Ferarri I had never seen before. When I went to open the door, a tall, graceful, chiseled African American stepped out and asked me to keep his car close. I am terrible with facial recognition but figured, yeah, this guy is SOMEONE. So after parking the car, I noticed a dry cleaner stub, picked it up, and read “G. Arenas”. WHAT THE F??? GILBERT??? Has he played basketball since Mad Men began? Oh God, how many guns are in the trunk right now? Why is he in LA mid season? Is he still on the Magic? Is he on any roster? Is David Stern paying him to go away? Does it make any sense that, 30 minutes later when Jared Dudley showed up to see if Gilbert was still there, JD3′s car is a 1/8 of what Gilbert’s costs? There is a Mount Rushmore of Keep Getting Dem Checks. It is four Gilbert’s.
—Brandon, Los Angeles

SG: “Welcome back to the 2014 NBA Awards. Our next two presenters have something in common — she always stays in the shot, and he nearly shot someone. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Kate Upton and Gilbert Arenas!”

Q: On Feb. 21st, at about 1 am est., Jermaine O’Neal, a Keep Getting Dem Checks 1st ballot hall of famer, MADE. A. PLAY. In crunch time. His textbook “keep get dem checks guy routine” followed. First, the obligatory ‘stare into the crowd to make yourself look cool while not moving,’ look which died in popularity 10 years (O’Neal’s pre KGDC days). Then, knowing the camera will stay on him following Houston’s timeout, he walks out of the group huddle 5 seconds early and busts out ANOTHER ‘stare into the crowd while walking slowly to soak in the moment and look cool on TV’ look. This is the stuff of a KGDC legend! As a man with NBA ties, can you to get a copy of this video to Marcus Camby, Richard Jefferson, and all of the other KGDC guys so they know how to act the next time they make a play … (thinking) … IF they ever make a play?
—Eric M.

SG: You left out one part of the KDGC-made-a-play arsenal — teammates flocking to congratulate him with semi-surprised, semi-insulting “I can’t believe you just did that, we were just talking in the locker room yesterday about how little you give a shit!” looks on their faces. I always enjoy that part.

Speaking of Jermaine, there were four NBA certainties heading toward the 2014 trade deadline: (1) The Cavs would forget to deal Anderson Varejao before he got hurt (happened); (2) the Knicks would somehow make their fans deeply, profoundly unhappy (happened); (3) OKC would cheap out at the deadline, then pretend afterward that it tried to do something but it fell through (happened); and (4) the Warriors would pass on getting a backup big man because Jermaine O’Neal duped them into thinking they didn’t need one, only to watch him get injured within two weeks of the deadline passing (about to happen).

Q: Kevin Durant’s step back jumper has to be one of, if not the most unguardable move in NBA history. You just have to hope he misses. Can you think of anything more unstoppable? I tried for a solid hour with three friends and neither of us could come up with anything.
—John Lezzi, Richmond, Virginia

SG: Um …



Q: Here’s a quick list of the things that make me want to give Chris Grant a jab to the kidney:

1. Every Jarrett Jack contested two.
2. Every time Tristian Thompson gets an offensive rebound only to miss an easy bunny or get his shot blocked.
3. Every time Mike Brown is shown on the sideline.
4. Every time I get a SportsCenter alert notifying me that Anderson Vaejao will be sitting out today’s game.
5. Every time Luol Deng gets that look on his face like he’s seriously considering what wrong he committed to end up in Cleveland.
6. Every time Mike Brown is shown in the huddle.
7. Every time Alonzo Gee takes a shot.
8. Every time Anthony Bennett is shown wheezing with hands on hips.
9. Every time Mike Brown takes a timeout to draw up a play with 4 seconds left in a seven point game.
10. Every time that play drawn up takes 4 seconds and ends in a Jarrett Jack contested two.
—Jordan, Bradenton, Florida

SG: How did you leave out “Every 20-rebound game from Andre Drummond”? And where was “Every near-triple-double by Victor Oladipo”? By the way, you don’t need to give Grant a jab to the kidney — not after Adrian Wojnarowski removed his kidneys two weeks ago. How many times do you think Grant typed an angry email to Woj that included the lines, “How can you not mention that I fleeced the Clips for the pick that led to Kyrie Irving? WHAT DO YOU HAVE AGAINST ME?” before deciding not to send it? Ten? Twenty? Thirty?

Q: I’m sure you heard that the Washington Professional Basketball Team put Miami Heat fans on a “Bandwagon Cam” at the game in DC tonight. I cannot tell you how happy this made me. My question is simple: Why doesn’t every other arena in the NBA do this???
—Clark Gerber, Provo, UT

SG: I’m demanding it. People running the video screens for the other 28 teams — let’s get this done. You see Heat fans or Thunder fans at your arena in good seats, you throw them on the Bandwagon Cam during a timeout. Just do it. It will be a bigger hit than the Kiss Cam. (Thinking.) Actually, nothing will ever be a bigger hit than the Kiss Cam. ABC should just stop launching new shows and broadcast the Kiss Cam in prime time for 10 hours a week. What would you rather watch — a new drama starring Christian Slater and Steve Zahn, or the Kiss Cam?

Q: Is Adam Silver the best commissioner in professional sports by default now?
—Ryan D., Westlake Village, California

SG: It might not even be by default. I have high hopes for the Silver era — huge basketball fan, smart thinker, not afraid to take chances, not afraid to think outside the box. The NBA definitely got a little stale these last few years. Adam won’t be afraid to innovate. (Don’t hold it against him that he went to Duke. I know it’s hard.) A good example: Mark Cuban’s gushing quote that “I think he’s taken some great steps on the officiating. There’s been more changes in 15 days, or whatever it is, than I saw in 14 years.” Praise from Mark Cuban! We’re in good hands here.

Q: Can you please explain why you place Todd Day as the least likeable Celtic of all time? Of all time? You’re telling me in nearly 70 years of history there’s no one easier to hate than Day? Just because Todd liked to shoot and was sure of himself and once participated in one of the weakest attempts at fighting ever during college, doesn’t mean he should be the least likeable Celtic of all time! Please explain!!
—Todd, Arkansas

SG: Could this be Todd writing the email???? I screwed up … I totally forgot that Rasheed Wallace was the least likable Celtic of all time, and that I wrote a whole column about this just four years ago. In my defense, I blocked that out of my mind because we had to play Rasheed 35 minutes in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals after Perkins went down. And this was at a point in Rasheed’s career when you wouldn’t have wanted to count on him to walk slowly on a sidewalk for 35 minutes, much less play 35 minutes in a do-or-die basketball game. If I ever wrote a running retro diary of this game, the last paragraph would be me hopping into my car, driving to Staples Center and ramming my car into the Kareem statue at 110 mph.

Anyway, Todd Day didn’t pass or play defense, he showed up teammates on the court, he’d gun for his own stats no matter what the situation was, and he made the mistake of tying Larry Legend’s “most points in a quarter” record in 1995. This was also post–Reggie Lewis, post–Big Three, post–Boston Garden, and after M.L. Carr had ruined our salary cap, when the Celts seemed screwed for the rest of the decade and Todd Day symbolized everything that was going to hell. So it wasn’t totally his fault. More bad timing than anything. My least favorite Celtics ever were Sheed, then Day, Vin Baker, Curtis Rowe, Sidney Wicks, Fred Roberts, Mark Blount and Jermaine O’Neal in some order. Speaking of Sidney …

Q: In 2013’s NBA Trade Value column, you mentioned how Blake Griffin could be the next Sidney Wicks. However, I think the real candidate is Tyreke Evans, right? Halfway to reaching Wicks!

09-10 ppg: 20.1
10-11 ppg: 17.8
11-12 ppg: 16.5
12-13 ppg: 15.2
13-14 ppg: 12.2
—Andrew, Morgantown, West Virginia

SG: I’m worried that he dropped off too much this season. Wicks’s career was a thing of beauty — either a testament to somebody getting paid too much too soon, an indictment of someone literally losing the capacity to give a shit, a road map for how cocaine use steadily climbed in the 1970s, a perfectly designed algorithm for basketball decline, or all four of those things at once. It’s amazing.

71-72 ppg: 24.5
72-73 ppg: 23.8
73-74 ppg: 22.5
74-75 ppg: 21.7
75-76 ppg: 19.1
76-77 ppg: 15.1
77-78 ppg: 13.4
78-79 ppg: 9.8
79-80 ppg: 7.1
80-81 ppg: 6.7

Q: Fast-forward to the 34-second mark of this clip …



Who would have guessed that Footloose could have such a profound affect on the celebration in the NBA?
—Anders, Copenhagen, Denmark

SG: “What if I told you that one awkward dance moment with Kevin Bacon and Sean Penn’s brother would lead to an NBA revolution? ESPN Films presents, a 30 for 30 film, Chest to Chest — directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.”

Q: I was encouraged by Zach Lowe’s progressiveness in combining the Jason Collins and Big Baby stories in one single article instead of making a big deal about it. I for one look forward to the day when a big fat guy playing in the NBA isn’t a big deal. I think this brings us a step closer.
—Adam Tomlinson, Toronto

SG: I see what you did there. By the way, I am hearing that the Knicks considered signing Collins for two solid weeks — even checking with some of their players for their thoughts — before backing off because they worried about Collins bringing an even bigger spotlight to their already-melting-under-the-spotlight team. As always, you can count on the Knicks to do the wrong thing.

Q: In your Worst Contracts column, how could you forgot one crucial point about the Knicks and their Billups amnesty? The point: Billups could have been a free agent and the Knicks could have either let him walk or signed him for less. Instead, they picked up his 1-year option and wasted their amnesty on him when the rule was practically created to use for Amare. Although this shouldn’t be a surprise coming from the team that didn’t use the Allan Houston rule on Allan Houston.
—Jason, Boston

SG: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. James Dolan!



Q: Is it just me, or could Jimmer do to New York what Jeremy Lin did? The Kings announced they are working on a buyout today, and this coincides perfectly with Raymond Felton’s arrest. Couldn’t you see the point guard hungry Knicks pick him up and Jimmer immediately put up 23 a night with 5 threes? We’ve been waiting for Jimmer’s chance in the NBA and this is it. He could light up MSG for 2 months, become a free agent, and then Dolan could let him walk because he doesn’t want to overpay the best thing that happened to happen to New York basketball in years. This almost makes too much sense.
—Adam C., Foxborough, Massachusetts

SG: Welcome to the Jimmer Bandwagon, Adam from Foxborough! Can I get you a doughnut or a soda? It’s just us two right now. I couldn’t agree more — Jimmer in MSG almost feels scripted. Look, I’ve been on the record for three years: At some point, Jimmer is going to find the right team, he’s going to be unleashed, and the rest will be history. It’s going to happen. Either he’ll become a quality Heat Check Guy off the bench for a contender, or he’ll be drop 23 a night for a lousy team à la Dana Barros on the ’94 Sixers. But he’s going to have a moment. We WILL have Jimmer Time. You wait.

Q: What are the Vegas odds that a Dolan crony planted the guns on Felton, then tipped off NYPD so the Knicks could get out of his $3.95M contract after they couldn’t trade him? Would you say it’s better than ‘Inside Job -145?’
—Michael, Seattle

SG: Are you kidding? The Knicks can’t even figure out how to use their amnesty! They’re going to suddenly be smart enough to frame a player to get him off the cap? I’d say the odds are 16-to-1. Hey, who wants to look at Ray Felton’s suddenly ironic 2013-14 shot chart with me?



Q: After porn star Ava Devine offered to have sex with every player on the Cavs team if they made the playoffs, they won 5 in a row before tailing off. How is this not a bigger story? How would you rank the current Cavs roster, in order from least likely to most likely, to follow-up on this offer should the Cavs make the playoffs? Anthony Bennett has to be most likely, right?
—Jim, Cleveland

SG: Since it’s the NBA, I’m going with “every player is the most likely.” But I’m glad you brought this up. Lord knows I’ve made enough “God Hates Cleveland” jokes, but if the Cavs are making a crazy playoff push during that final week, can you imagine First Take right before the 82nd game?

Stephen A: I don’t care what the girl said, I don’t care how well the Cleveland Cavaliers happen to be playing right now … YOU CANNOT PROMISE SEX ACTS AS COMPENSATION FOR AN ACCOMPLISHED DEED, that is absolutely ILLEGAL! That is prostitution, Skip! The Cleveland Cavaliers CANNOT CASH IN THAT OFFER! I do not CARE if she made it, I do not CARE if she wants to deliver it, I do not CARE if she wants to keep it DISCREET! That offer has to go by the wayside. Adam Silver CANNOT allow those shenanigans in the National Basketball Association.

Skip: I’m gonna go the other way, Stephen A.

Stephen: No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Skip: Lemme finish!

Stephen: No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Skip: Lemme finish!

Stephen: No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Skip: Lemme finish!

Stephen: No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Skip: Lemme finish!

Stephen: No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Skip: Lemme finish!

Stephen: No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Skip: Lemme finish!

Stephen: No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Skip: Lemme finish!

Stephen: No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Skip: Lemme finish!

Stephen: No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Skip: Lemme finish, please.

Stephen: Go ahead.

Skip: An offer was made. Terms were set. The Cavaliers are close to achieving those terms.

Stephen: No! NO, SKIP! NO!

Skip: Ava Devine is a consenting adult. The Cavaliers are consenting adults.

Stephen: Not Anthony Bennett!

Skip: He’s 20!

Stephen: HE CAN’T DRINK YET!

Skip: He’s 20, and if he wants to have sex with Ava Devine, you can’t stop him and neither can I!

(QUICK CUT TO THE TEST PATTERN.)

Q: Watching your B.S. Report with KD the other day, it occurred to me that he’s basically become mid ’90s Eddie Vedder. He got too popular and now he’s pushing back against the notoriety by being distant and trying to give himself the horribly faux humble nickname “The Servant.” Therefore, while he goes through this “uncomfortable in his own skin” phase, the only appropriate nickname for him is “Vitalogy”. Ah if only he was still in Seattle.
—Matt, Westminster, Colorado

SG: I’m gonna defend KD on this one — we caught him at 9:30 a.m., right after he had played a late-night game against the Lakers (and dropped 43 points), then flew a red-eye and slept for less than two hours. He was just grumpy. It happens. Normally he’s a fun interview. With that said, if we wanted to extend Matt’s analogy just for shits and giggles, then Durant’s Sonics year was definitely Mother Love Bone, the first OKC year was Mookie Blaylock, the second OKC year was the name change to Pearl Jam (when the band finally knew what it was), Year 4 was the Ten album (when everything took off), Year 5 was the NBA Finals/Time magazine cover, Year 6 was Vs. (great follow-up album, some tension/discord/injuries), and now we’re slowly morphing into Vitalogy (greatness crossed with weariness and a general longing just to do great work without all the other bullshit that comes with it). Oh, and never forget.



Q: You may not want to admit to it because of how strongly you criticized the Harden trade, but it’s starting to become lite version of 2008′s Gasol trade. Trading a star for parts seemed completely one sided at the beginning, but not as bad as guys start to develop. Mainly, I think you completely undervalued what the Thunder got and their vision as an organization.
—Tyler, Madison, Wisconsin

SG: We’ll be back on Living in Denial after these brief messages!

(Dammit! I lost the dare! Oh well, might as well keep going now.)

I gotta say — I love Thunder fans. And they spend money on their team — according to Forbes, Oklahoma City has the league’s most expensive ticket right now — which makes it even sadder when OKC cheaps out and its loyal fans just accept it. That they continue to defend the indefensible Harden trade and email me every time Jeremy Lamb or Steven Adams looks good while overlooking things like “We could have just waited a year and traded Harden last summer” or “We cheaped out at the 2014 trade deadline as always and three days later we had 39-year-old Derek Fisher trying to defend a red-hot Jamal Crawford in crunch time on national TV” makes them genuinely endearing. At least for me. I hope my kids will always love me as unconditionally as much as Thunder fans love the Thunder.

Here’s a fun game: “How One-Sided Would the Trade Have to Be for a Thunder Fan to Turn on Their Team?”

For instance, let’s say they lost the 2014 Finals and traded Durant to Phoenix for the Morris twins, Channing Frye and three first-round picks, then told their fans, “This will make us better and deeper long-term” … would the Thunder fans get mad?

What if you removed all three first-round picks and it was just Durant for the Morris twins and Frye, along with $3 million cash and 40 second-round picks through 2055? Would that push them over the edge and piss them off?

What about just Durant straight up for Channing Frye? They’d definitely get mad at that, right? I’d love to know where the line is. Because it’s clearly not “We broke up a possible dynasty and replaced the best 2-guard in basketball with a backup shooting guard, an energy guy off the bench, a non-lottery pick and one year of Kevin Martin.”

Q: I was at a bar last night with my girl friends from high school. On Tuesdays they play trivia and if you win, they cover your tab (obviously one of my friends is sleeping with the bartender, so we drink for free, anyway). All of the other team names have been something along the lines of “just the tip,” “this microphone is a dick,” “show us your tits,” and some other names that sound like someone who is wearing way too much Axe body spray came up with them. We make ours “Plz don’t ask sports questions.” One of the rounds is “doctors” – we are the ONLY TEAM to correctly answer a question about Dr. Julius Erving. Should I pretend to know less? I think that I’ve officially become undateable.
—Rachel Z, New York

SG: Yup, these are my readers.

(By the way, I’m about 200 words over. I need to work on this whole word-count thing.)

FILED UNDER: NBA, MAILBAG


BILL SIMMONS is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland.

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nba trade deadline

By: timbersfan, 9:49 AM GMT on February 21, 2014


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The Trade Deadline Diary
Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons swap emails as the buyers and sellers in the NBA make their moves

BY ZACH LOWE AND BILL SIMMONS ON FEBRUARY 20, 2014
E  ditor’s note: Every time there’s an NBA trade deadline, Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons like to trade emails about the relative nonaction while secretly hoping that something huge will happen. It never does. Every February, they gamely press on. Here are today’s emails from coast to coast, as they appeared in real time, as our boys killed time until the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.

Zach Lowe (10:08 AM EST)
So, I was about to ask for your thoughts on why the deadline is so quiet at this point — whether it’s the new CBA in effect, general managers getting smarter, some sort of overcautious groupthink, or something else. But Spencer Hawes just got traded to Cleveland for two second-round picks!! Spencer Hawes is officially the best player to have been traded so far at the deadline, and we only have about five hours to go!

Irony: His last game as a Sixer came against Cleveland, and he was blatantly not trying on defense. He was leaping out of the way when Cleveland players attacked the rim. TRADE FOR THAT MAN!!!

Bill Simmons (10:16 AM EST)
Now that it’s over, I want Spencer Hawes to know how much I appreciated his little cat-and-mouse game of “Oh, you think you’re gonna shamelessly sabotage this team while dangling me around the league in trade talks for three months? DANGLE THIS!”

Check out his monthly splits — each month, he gets 15 percent worse. He went from 16 and 10 with 51/47/72 shooting percentages in November to 8 and 8 with 32/27/78 in February. And that doesn’t even count the other end of the floor; by February, he was wandering around on defense like a Walking Dead zombie. I wonder if Philly made Hawes its tanking mole. Maybe the Sixers said, “Hey, Spencer, give us three gawd-awful months, and then we’ll send you to an awesome contender”? And then they double-crossed him by sending him to Cleveland?

Zach Lowe (10:19 AM EST)
Philly will receive two second-rounders, which is decent return for a mediocre unrestricted free agent who has regressed defensively this season. That’s especially so if Philly is getting Orlando’s 2014 second-rounder from the Cavs, which is pretty much a first-round pick without the long-term salary guarantees. But we’ll have to see. Ditto for what the Cavaliers are sending out, since they are over the cap and don’t have a trade exception to just fit Hawes. It will almost certainly be random expiring contracts. No way Sam Hinkie is taking on Jarrett Jack’s contract.

Bill Simmons (10:21 AM EST)
So, to recap — Jordan Crawford was worth more than Spencer Hawes in an NBA trade this season. I love the NBA. Never change, NBA!

Zach Lowe (10:22 AM EST)
Well, Crawford is much cheaper, which will come into play as we discuss Hawes deals that didn’t happen. I can see the thinking here for Cleveland, I guess.

Bill Simmons (10:22 AM EST)
That sentence hasn’t been written in four years.

Zach Lowe (10:22 AM EST)
Don’t be mean! The Cavs already hate you, and that hatred is starting to trickle over to me!

Anyway, they want to make the playoffs, they’re on a nice six-game winning streak against mostly very bad teams, and Hawes gives them a big man who can shoot 3s. The Cavs suffer from spacing issues, in part because none of their bigs can really shoot beyond 15 feet or so on the pick-and-pop/pick-and-roll — which is just about all the Cavs run, in various forms. Anderson Varejao has become quite good from midrange, and Tyler Zeller has shown flashes of late on jumpers and rolling hard to the rim. So has Anthony Bennett, even out to the 3-point line.

But Hawes is a proven 3-point shooter and an elite passer for his position. He should help unclog a cloggy Cleveland offense, especially if Varejao is banged up for any prolonged period. Cleveland is giving up assets to chase the no. 8 seed, which is stupid in a vacuum. But the Cavs aren’t operating in a vacuum. They’re operating under a screaming owner who wants to win.

Bill Simmons (10:24 AM EST)
On NBA Countdown last night, we discussed how the two most exciting types of people at the trade deadline are new owners and restless owners. I totally forgot about screaming-and-restless-owners-who-want-to-win. Any sane person running the Cavs would be thinking two things. First, missing the best lottery in six years just so the Cavs can get annihilated by Miami or Indiana in Round 1 sounds like the dumbest plan since “We have a young and impressionable team … let’s bring in Andrew Bynum as a mentor for everyone.”

And second, they needed to use these next two months to (a) see if Kyrie and Waiters can be their long-term backcourt (and not a long-term threat to fight to the death), and (b) get Anthony Bennett as many minutes as possible. Bennett was just starting to show flashes and extricate himself from that Kwame Brown/LaRue Martin narrative … now he’s going to lose minutes to Hawes? What???

Zach Lowe (10:30 AM EST)
They’ve now given up five total picks for Hawes and Luol Deng, plus swap rights with the Bulls in 2015, which could be valuable — to Chicago. Four of those picks will be second-rounders, and the first-rounder, from Sacto, is protected in such a way that it might become a second-rounder. Still: That’s a lot for two unrestricted free agents. Cleveland fans are bombarding me on Twitter, saying second-round picks “don’t matter.” Umm … what did you just use to trade for Hawes and Deng? Extra second-round picks!

They absolutely matter, as sources of cheap labor and as wheel-greasing ingredients in trades. If you think they don’t matter, you haven’t been paying any attention to how the league is evolving. It’s true that teams gather extra picks in order to monetize them, as the Cavs have done here. But I’m not sure monetizing them for two unrestricted free agents, one of whom doesn’t really move any team’s needle, is the smartest play. It will be interesting to see whether the Cavs re-sign either guy, and for how much. They won’t have much cap flexibility, if any, if they devote about $21 million combined to Deng and Hawes. But both will help this season, especially if Varejao’s injury is serious.

Bill Simmons (10:36 AM EST)
One of my favorite underrated traditions: when a healthy Anderson Varejao plays well for three or four weeks, then the Cavs forget to trade him before he gets hurt … and then he gets hurt. I think this has happened in every NBA season since 1965.

Zach Lowe (10:39 AM EST)
Also: Don’t talk to me about needing to please Kyrie Irving so desperately. He’s going to become a restricted free agent. The Cavs control the situation. This only changes if he’s made it known he’ll sign the one-year qualifying offer, or the mini-max extension LeBron and Bosh signed. Otherwise, it’s just noise.

Bill Simmons (10:41 AM EST)
But they have to please Kyrie — he doesn’t make his teammates better, thrives in pickup games when there’s no defense, and has lost over 60 percent of the NBA games he’s played. You have to take care of guys like that! Here’s my question, Zach — where the hell were the Clippers on Hawes??? If the price was two second-rounders, they couldn’t have topped that? They have Ryan Hollins, Byron Mullens, Hedo Turkoglu, Keith Closs Jr., Mike Golic, Stan Verrett and Snoop Dogg as their backup bigs right now. Hawes REALLY would have helped. Explain this to me.

Zach Lowe (10:45 EST)
There’s no question the Cavs frontcourt is crowded now. And Bennett can’t really play small forward, though they’ve tried him there. Look: The Cavs feel they need a culture change, and that making the playoffs will help everyone jell and get serious. There is some precedent for the value of a first-round loss in the no. 8 spot — see the 2011 Pacers, for instance — but the precedent is all over the place on that.

As for the Clips, well, Hawes is making $6.6 million this season, and the Clips are $2 million over the tax. So that’s hard to swallow, even though this is a freaking potential title contender in obvious need of a third quality big man.

Bill Simmons (10:49 AM EST)
Is it OK if I don’t break out my violin for the Clippers — playing in America’s second-biggest market, filling Staples every night, charging Hollywood prices and trotting out two of the NBA’s most marketable players — because they might creep into the luxury tax this season? Especially when the league is about to double its media revenue with its next media deal? And especially when 29 of the 30 NBA teams aren’t for sale right now because the league has quietly turned into a cash cow? The Clippers could sell for ONE BILLION DOLLARS right now. That is not a misprint. If they’re afraid of the tax, that’s embarrassing. You’re right, Donald Sterling is incapable of being embarrassed. Forget everything I just wrote.

Zach Lowe (10:53 AM EST)
Less sympathetic figure to you, in terms of non-tax spending: Sterling or Clay Bennett? (Please don’t reenter the James Harden Vortex!)

Bill Simmons (10:54 AM EST)
I can’t answer that because everyone in Oklahoma City already hates me. I keep making the mistake of pointing out that it could have had the probable 2014 MVP (Durant), one of the NBA’s five or six best guards (Westbrook), the NBA’s best third banana (Ibaka) and someone who just started the All-Star Game (Harden) all on the same team. Sorry, this seems relevant.

Zach Lowe (10:58 AM EST)
In any case, the Clips also don’t have great pieces to sell in a direct two-team trade with the Sixers, since they need Jamal Crawford (given J.J. Redick’s injuries) and Jared Dudley has long-term money the Hinkster won’t want. Now you’re starting to talk about cobbling together a three-team deal when the Clips might actually want to duck the tax so they can reap the Brooklyn bonanza payout only non-tax teams can get. I’ve also heard indirectly that Doc Rivers isn’t a huge fan of Hawes’s, but I haven’t asked him directly about that. Maybe they’re hoping there’s a buyout candidate looming. Chris Kaman?

Bill Simmons (11:02 AM EST)
Update: Philly got Earl Clark’s expiring contract in that Hawes trade. Earl Clark made $4.25 million this season, Zach. Let that one soak in for a second.

Here was my dream 2014 trade deadline deal that died an hour ago: Thaddeus Young and Willie Green to Phoenix; Hawes to the Clippers; then Philly gets Jared Dudley, Byron Mullens, Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract, Byron Mullens’s expiring basketball career, the highest of Phoenix’s 2014 first-rounders and a super-duper-ultra-protected future first-rounder from the Clips. Everyone would have been a winner. Alas.

Zach Lowe (11:10 AM EST)
That’s not bad. Young is an interesting trade piece. There hasn’t been much noise about him. He’s due about $19 million combined over 2014-15 and 2015-16, and that kind of price tag is scaring teams right now — even when it is attached to a good player. And that gets back to the overcautious thing I mentioned earlier. Teams are just paranoid about taking on money right now, even though most of them have cleaned up their cap sheets under the new collective bargaining deal. Half the teams are going to walk into every summer with semi-significant cap room, which didn’t used to be the case. If everyone has cap room, it would seem to follow that your team’s individual cap room isn’t quite as valuable as it once was.

There’s an opportunity, I think, for teams to recognize quality players on fair-value contracts, and swoop in to get them — to take advantage of the paranoia. The Mavs did this with Monta Ellis, but they had supreme confidence in their coaching staff, their system, and their superstar to mold Ellis’s game in a way that maximizes it. The Bucks tried the same sort of money play with O.J. Mayo, and, umm, it went badly. But there’s opportunity here. Four hours to go!

Bill Simmons (11:19 AM EST)
You just laid out Cuban’s zigzag theory: If a growing cluster of NBA teams are trying to execute the same strategy (in this case, keeping their cap unclogged, avoiding that no-man’s-land range of 39-45 wins, stockpiling picks and maybe even semi-sabotaging their current team for ping-pong balls), then common sense says it’s better to zag the other way because you’ll find inefficiencies just by thinking differently. In this case, there might be hidden value in targeting contracts for quality starters ranging from $7.5 million to $10 million — Jeff Green, Thaddeus Young, Jeff Teague, Arron Afflalo, Taj Gibson, Whatever Gordon Hayward Gets Paid Next Season, etc. — because there’s no real market for these guys. So if you’re getting them for 60 cents on the dollar, that’s great: You just got a quality starter for 60 cents on the dollar. I gotta say, I like this line of thinking.

(By the way, Marcus Thornton — you absolutely did NOT qualify for the previous paragraph.)

Zach Lowe (11:27 AM EST)
We’ll get back to Marcus Thornton later, I suspect. The Nets are an anomaly, clearly, and they may cause the next lockout that ends with me hanging myself in a hotel ballroom at 4 a.m. while waiting for the two sides to come out and hold a press conference announcing NOTHING. Sorry, flashed back to 2011 there.

The CBA has done two other things that chill the trade deadline: shortened contracts and eliminated the most toxic ones via the amnesty provision and that reduction in length. Teams can see the end of any contract almost the second it is signed, meaning they don’t feel an urgent need to move it. (Exception: Josh Smith, currently being shopped everywhere.) Fewer toxic deals means fewer Rashard Lewis/Gilbert Arenas–type crap swaps.

Bill Simmons (11:29 AM EST)
Crap swap! Good one. Anyway, four hours until the deadline ends and I’m super-confused by two things right now …

First, why aren’t the Clippers doing everything they possibly can to add a backup big right now? They’re really pinning their hopes on a game of Backup Big Buyout Roulette after the deadline? Kaman? Okafor’s broken-down body? Andris Biedrins? The Artist Formerly Known As Marcus Camby? I don’t think even the likes of Kris Humphries will be there … I just don’t see it. There’s no 2008 P.J. Brown this season. So where’s the big Clips move?

Zach Lowe (11:32 AM EST)
Biedrins has made one free throw this season, and I predicted he would exceed his total of four from last season. So: GET ANDRIS BIEDRINS, SOMEONE! FREE HIM AND HIS PERFECTLY PARTED HAIR! But, yeah, the backup big thing is tricky. Okafor being unable to play chilled the potential buyout market. Maybe you could get Bernard James from Dallas? Joel Anthony from Boston? Chuck Hayes from the Raps, provided you can swallow the midlevel salary somehow? Jason Thompson is out there, but he’s got a long-term salary obligation a team like the Clips can’t touch.

Bill Simmons (11:38 AM EST)
I like the Joel Anthony call! He’s better than any of those Clips backups, that’s for sure. And for the record — he’s available, Zach. He’s very, very available.

The second deadline subplot that confuses me: Why isn’t Phoenix trying to parlay one or more of those four first-rounders, Okafor’s expiring and/or Alex Len into a major trade piece? What are they waiting for? That’s a dangerous playoff team with one more quality perimeter guy; they remind me of some of those explosive Western Conference teams from the early ’90s (KJ’s Suns, the Run TMC Warriors, etc.) — potentially, anyway. But it seems like the new wave of GMs are afraid to make in-season moves unless it’s absolutely the perfect move. Do you think GMs are getting too smart and too risk-averse? I would hate this. I need stupid contract extension, crazy trades and insane free-agent overpays, Zach — that’s the NBA gasoline that fuels me.

Zach Lowe (11:51 AM EST)
There’s definitely a caution taking over the league, and I think the CBA is only partly responsible. Like, everyone says teams are overvaluing first-round picks, or hoarding them. But look at all the first-rounders that flew around the league in the offseason, and then during this season: Washington, Indiana, Golden State, Brooklyn, and Cleveland have all dealt first-rounders since the end of last season. Teams are handcuffed in trading first-rounders today because so many of them have already traded first-rounders, and you can’t trade two consecutive future firsts. Picks are moving. People are valuing them more highly than ever before, but they can move.

Bill Simmons (11:59 AM EST)
Quick interjection: Imagine how much more fun this trade deadline would be if teams could trade their amnesties (remember, 10 teams have amnesties left) and teams could trade back-to-back first-rounders? Remember, the NBA created that first-rounder rule because of the immortal Ted Stepien, who recklessly traded so many first-rounders that the NBA actually had to give Cleveland’s next owner LOTTERY PICK REPARATIONS to quell some of the damage. Three decades later, I just can’t imagine any team giving away first-rounders left and right to the point that the NBA would have to intervene for their own safety. (Thinking.) You’re right, this could totally happen with James Dolan’s Knicks. My bad. Forget I brought this up.

Zach Lowe (12:05 PM EST)
I actually wrote during the lockout that teams should be able to trade amnesties. It rewarded teams who had done dumb stuff, but did not offer any similar reward to teams with no real amnesty candidate.

Bill Simmons (12:05 PM EST)
Yeah, if I had been an NBA owner who didn’t have an amnesty candidate, I would have gone nuts about that. Thrown a drink across the room, flipped over a chair, stormed out of the room, the whole thing. You shouldn’t be able to make massive mistakes and then get mulligans on them.

Zach Lowe (12:08 PM EST)
Anyway, the paranoia about money is the larger story to me. Teams are becoming very risk-averse about taking on anything above $5 million or so, even if the player in question has real value. The CBA plays a role in that, since the tax penalties are so onerous now. But if you have, say, $50 million committed next season, and $35 million committed in the next season, you’re nowhere near the tax. What are you afraid of? Sure, there’s opportunity cost in using up cap flexibility, but that was always the case. And like I said earlier, half the league will have major cap flexibility going forward; is yours so meaningful?

On the flip side of that opportunity-cost argument: Shorter contracts also mean more free agents every summer. Teams may hesitate to trade for a $10 million guy today in hopes of signing a better one in July. If the new CBA does end up chilling the trade deadline, it will probably also invigorate free agency. July is the new February, on steroids. We also had seven trades from October 1 through early February, about on par with what has happened each season over the last decade. (I actually went back and checked!)

Bill Simmons (12:12 PM EST)
And also — the cap keeps going up as long as revenue keeps going up. Everyone forgets this part. In November 2012, David Stern announced that the NBA’s revenue had increased to $5 billion, a 20 percent bump from the league’s last full season (2010-11). Last season, the league broke its own record for gate revenue. This season, attendance is still popping, and the TV ratings are better than ever; just last month, Forbes reported that the Knicks and Lakers are the most valuable NBA franchises ever. And a bunch of teams have figured out how to leverage local TV deals into ongoing cash cows.

All 30 NBA teams know — for a fact — that the salary cap will keep climbing. So, claiming they’re afraid of long-term deals is disingenuous, I think. It’s OK to be afraid of Josh Smith’s deal or Eric Gordon’s deal. It’s not OK to be afraid of Thaddeus Young’s deal. To me, it seems like too many NBA franchises are operating like that guy in your fantasy football auction who thinks he’s being cute by passing on the expensive players so he can clean up on value guys later in the auction. What always happens to that guy? He realizes he has 40 percent of his money left for a bunch of half-decent guys, so suddenly he’s spending $17 on Darren Sproles. That’s where 40 percent of the NBA is headed.

Zach Lowe (12:20 PM EST)
I also agree with the theory that GMs are just getting smarter. A lot of guys have looked at the Atlanta-Brooklyn Joe Johnson deal and told me, basically, “Every team trying to make a big trade wants a lopsided return like Atlanta got.” And there are just fewer guys who can get hoodwinked now. The specter of Kevin Durant’s free agency is affecting some teams, too. They want those post-2016 books as clean as possible.

Bill Simmons (12:24 PM EST)
Yup. We should also mention that those teams are delighted that OKC is standing pat at the trade deadline. Every KD suitor (Washington, the Lakers, Philly, Chicago, etc.) is praying for a 2014 playoff universe in which Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeremy Lamb and Kendrick Perkins are playing more than one-third of OKC’s available playoff minutes. That’s their dream scenario. All of these teams want to keep reading stories with lines like “an increasingly frustrated Kevin Durant” and “Kevin Durant seems surlier than ever.”

Zach Lowe (12:29 PM EST)
All this said, I know for a fact there are big names and big contracts being talked about right now — and not just teams begging other teams to swallow some unpleasant deal. There are real discussions about teams taking on some large contracts, and giving up stuff to do it. Those deals probably won’t happen, but teams are considering them, at least.

Bill Simmons (12:30 PM ET)
Sorry, I’m coughing — (Melo Houston) — still coughing (Melo Houston).

Zach Lowe (12:31 PM EST)
And Josh Smith. And Rondo, too. And I didn’t even address Phoenix! I think they have their eye on a bigger prize than is available now. I know Ryan McDonough thinks he can nail all those picks if the Suns end up keeping them.

And, hey, the Heat just traded Roger Mason to Sacramento for a fake second-round pick they’ll never see. Miami is officially open for buyout business. I’m so rooting for the Kings to buy out Jason Terry and for JET to sign in Miami, even though the Heat have a million small guards. Dirk might kill him.

Bill Simmons (12:35 PM EST)
Here’s a theory for you: If you’re a GM, what’s the best way to make sure you’ll stay employed for four to five years? The answer: Blow everything up, bottom out, build around young players/cap space/lottery picks, make a bunch of first-round picks, and sell the “illusion of hope” to your fans. What the new wave of young GMs like Sam Hinkie, Ryan McDonough and Rob Hennigan are doing is extremely smart — both from a basketball standpoint and a self-preservation standpoint — because it’s hard for anyone to say “YOU FAILED!” when you’re executing a multiyear plan that can’t be judged until 2016 or 2017 at the earliest.

I’d like to see people in other professions try this. For instance, the guy who runs ABC right now, Paul Lee, is mired in a two-year mega-slump. I think he’s launched 23 shows in the past two years and only two of them have had even mild success. Last week, Kimmel’s 11:35 late-night show outrated ABC’s 10 p.m. prime-time show on three different nights. That’s almost impossible.

OK, so let’s say Paul Lee started thinking like an NBA GM. What would happen? He’d tell everybody, “Look, we fell into the bad habit here of throwing up 10 to 12 shows every year just because we had to have new shows for our schedule. I gotta be honest, I knew most of these shows wouldn’t work. But we needed to put SOMETHING on. So next year, I’m swinging the other way — I have only two new shows that I like, so we’re launching those and that’s it. Instead of wasting your time with the other eight to 10 shows that won’t work, I’m filling those spots with the cheapest reality shows possible, then long-term, I’m using the extra money we saved on failed pilots and lousy pilots to develop better shows with more accomplished showrunners. We’re going to be really good … in 2016!”

You know what would happen if Paul Lee announced that? He’d get fired within five minutes. But in the NBA, everyone accepts that mind-set and even encourages it. Hey, fans — who’s ready to bottom out? Who wants to hinge their hopes to a bunch of maybes and might-bes? Totally bizarre. I find it hard to believe that every Phoenix fan would rather use those four first-rounders over parlaying one or two of them into players who would make this season’s already-fun Suns team even more fun. But what do I know?

Zach Lowe (12:45 PM EST)
There is truth in that. Job preservation is a bigger driver of transactions than a lot of fans realize, and teardowns can fall under that category. But in some of the cases you mention, and maybe all of them, the GMs are new and came in with a mandate from ownership to rebuild/tear down. So they are not changing course in order to save their jobs. They do, however, get a long window.

This also impinges on the sometimes hysterical tanking debate. There is the notion that every team should be trying to get better in the immediate future, on the court, all the time. And I’ve never bought that. Sports don’t work that way. Should Phoenix trade real assets for, say, Pau Gasol, just because? Why? He’s an awkward fit, he’s old, his defense is in serious decline, and he doesn’t move the needle much. On the other hand, I pitched on Twitter a potentially less costly deal that upgrades a position of greater need: Okafor’s contract and one first-rounder to Cleveland for Luol Deng. He’s an easier salary to fit, might cost a tad less in terms of which pick Phoenix would have to send, and can take minutes from several players who aren’t as good as he is.

Bill Simmons (12:52 PM EST)
Come on, Zach — the Cavaliers can’t make that trade! Don’t you realize they’re trying to win the 2014 title? They’re in this thing!

Zach Lowe (12:53 PM EST)
Breaking: The Bobcats and Bucks just agreed on a trade that will send Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour to Charlotte for Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien. Are you excited yet?

Bill Simmons (12:54 PM EST)
Also breaking: a three-teamer with Jan Vesely going to Denver, Eric Maynor and two second-rounders going to Philly, and Professor Andre Miller, PhD, going to Washington! Trades! TRADES!!!!!!!! Are you excited for the Professor in our nation’s capital?

Zach Lowe (12:55 PM EST)
The Nuggets insist Miller is in shape, and that they would have eventually welcomed him back, since, you know, all their point guards are hurt. But we’ll see. Dre does not have the strongest history of working out diligently outside the team context.

Bill Simmons (12:58 PM EST)
Kudos to the Nuggets — they knew Miller was one of the proudest and surliest veterans in the league, so they crammed him into a playing rotation with three other point guards, yanked his minutes around and involuntarily ended his consecutive games streak. I still can’t believe that didn’t work out.

Zach Lowe (1:01 PM EST)
But the Wizards badly need a backup point guard, and they got a very good one while really giving up only Vesely. The Wiz score about 105 points per 100 possessions with John Wall on the court, and a hair shy of 93 points per 100 when he sits. That last number is miles worse than the worst offense in the league (Philly). And we get a Professor Miller–Nene reunion! Fun times.

Bill Simmons (1:03 PM EST)
Is it wrong that I kinda like Washington’s top eight? Nene, Gortat, Booker, Ariza, Webster, Wall, Beal and Miller. Some major toughness/attitude/moxie in that group — they’d absolutely spend Round 2 woofing it up with Miami or Indiana. Miller fits in with that. He’s not afraid of anyone, obviously. That’s why we love the Professor. Like that move for Washington. RIP, the Vesely era in Chocolate City. Yet another horrible Washington lottery pick. At least we’ll always have this.



Zach Lowe (1:08 PM EST)
Vesely can’t play, but he’s tall and he tries hard, so he might be a workable rotation guy somewhere. Denver is cornering the market on athletic big men with no shooting range. Good on them for finding a third team, Philly, to eat Eric Maynor’s $2.1million player option for next season; the Nugs save a bit of future scratch with this deal. Philly, by the way, is still about as far below the minimum salary floor as they were before the day started. They just don’t appear to care. It will be interesting to see if the NBA ever increases the penalty for going below the floor, provided the Sixers remain this far down. The Wiz were supremely disappointed in Maynor, especially in his defense and overall (in their view) lack of effort. (Miller can’t guard anyone, either.)

Bill Simmons (1:11 PM EST)
I’m supremely disappointed that the Wiz were supremely disappointed in someone who’s never been good.

Zach Lowe (1:12 PM EST)
Also, Philly gets two more second-round picks, with these two falling in 2015 and 2016, it appears. This is what you do with cap space: rent it, and charge assets (the two picks) in return — especially when you’re likely out one first-rounder and one second-rounder already via the weird Arnett Moultrie draft-day trade from 2012. The league should just let Sam Hinkie announce the second round of the draft for the next three years. It’d be great! He could come out dressed as Ben Franklin or the Liberty Bell, fans would boo him, and he could start negotiating contracts with every pick onstage. Maybe Allen Iverson could be involved.

Bill Simmons (1:15 PM EST)
“Next on When GMs Totally Outsmart Themselves, we’ll talk to Sam Hinkie — who mistakenly accumulated 38 second-round picks over a three-year span when you’re allowed to carry only 15 players at the same time! And coming up later — more of our interview with Chris Grant!”

Zach Lowe (1:17 PM EST)
And, hey, Maynor might prove semi-useful to the Sixers next season. Philly is trotting out D-League-level pseudo ball handlers behind Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten. If Maynor remains this unproductive, well, I don’t see Philly really trying to win games, anyway. Meanwhile, the Bobcats-Bucks deal makes sense for both teams in some sad way.

Bill Simmons (1:18 PM EST)
It’s an inherently sad combination, so that makes sense.

Zach Lowe (1:19 PM EST)
I like Charlotte taking Ridnour, even though they come out with about $1.7 million more in payroll now because of the trade. Gary Neal isn’t a backup point guard, and if the Kitties were going to trade Sessions, they needed someone to fill that spot other than Neal or Jannero Pargo. Sessions has actually been a big piece for Charlotte, in part because of injuries to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeffery Taylor. Sessions and Kemba Walker play a ton together, and Sessions is doing what he does — attacking the rim, getting to the line, shooting poorly, and defending like he’s allergic to the task.

Bill Simmons (1:22 PM EST)
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually had a strong first-blink opinion on this trade. I like Sessions. That dude gets to the rim, the SportVU numbers back it up. He’s overqualified to be a backup point guard. I’d rather have Sessions than Ridnour. And they could have gotten Neal for nothing. I am confused. Is there a chance MJ swung this deal between the 11th hole and 12th hole after two Bloody Marys, had bad cell reception and mistakenly thought he was getting Gary Payton?

Zach Lowe (1:27 PM EST)
Charlotte has the sixth-worst offense in the NBA, and only two teams have attempted fewer 3s. Neal will help them space the floor, and Ridnour can partner with him so that Neal doesn’t have to handle the rock too much. That’s a small backcourt, but so was Sessions-Walker, and with only three healthy “bigger” wings in the rotation now — Gerald Henderson, MKG, and Anthony Tolliver — it’s just hard for Charlotte to play entire games with two real wing players on the floor at once. But, yeah, Sessions is the best player in the deal. Maybe Charlotte could have gotten Neal for less, though they don’t have quite the right tradable asset, or a trade exception. Also, they probably avoided Evan Turner by making this trade! They could still pull the trigger, in theory, but it’s a good idea to pass on dealing a first-round pick for Turner and then coughing up the inevitable four-year, $40 million instant albatross on him in the summer. Yay!

Bill Simmons (1:37 PM EST)
Or as it’s more commonly known, “The John Hammond.”

Zach Lowe (1:39 PM EST)
For the Bucks, this is simple: They save money, both this year, and next, with Neal’s $3.25 million for 2014-15 off the books. Both teams are pretty flexible going forward, with max or near-max cap room, but every dollar helps. Neal made the mistake of yelling at Larry Sanders and not being very good this season. So he’s out.

Bill Simmons (1:45 PM EST)
Yeah, you can’t yell at someone who just got paid a lot of money right before he was involved in a PETA incident and a disco fight video that went viral. That’s just a bad career move. The Bucks made me sad. I don’t care what happens to them — I just don’t want the Greek Freak infected in any way. I love the Greek Freak so much. Every decision Milwaukee makes right now needs to revolve around two questions: How can we keep getting worse to ensure that we get a top-three pick? And how can we make sure we surround the Greek Freak with high-character teammates? Nothing else matters.

Zach Lowe (1:55 PM EST)
And Sessions, by all accounts, is a great dude.

Bill Simmons (1:56 PM EST)
I feel like he already played for Milwaukee. I’m having lottery team déjà vu with this one. (Looking it up.) Yup, he already played for Milwaukee — they drafted him in the second round in 2007, they lost 56 games with him as a rookie, then they turned him into a key bench guy for their 34-48 team in 2009. RAMON SESSIONS IS COMING HOME!

Zach Lowe (2:03 PM EST)
Breaking: Daryl Morey somehow just got Jordan Hamilton for Aaron Brooks. Morey loves to take shots on failed projects who once had first-round talent, and Hamilton fits the bill. He looks like he could be a silky scorer, only he never really scores efficiently and plays zippo defense. He dominates summer league with herky-jerky off-the-bounce stuff and midpost scoring that doesn’t translate to the NBA. But he’s got good size, he’s a league-average 3-point shooter, and he’s on a cheapo expiring deal. I could see Houston giving him a small shot if they try to revive the small-ball lineups they’ve ditched of late. It’s not like Francisco Garcia is lighting the world on fire.

The Rox have no space for Brooks, barring a Jeremy Lin deal, which they’ve tried like heck to execute all day. Denver needs a point guard, since they have zero healthy ones. But they’re toast this season anyway, as far as the playoffs go.

Bill Simmons (2:11 PM EST)
Yup, we’re at the point of the day when you’re spending two paragraphs on an Aaron Brooks–Jordan Hamilton trade and I’m juggling texts on my BlackBerry from league insiders wondering if Jason Thompson could potentially swing the title race if he somehow lands with the Thunder, Clippers or Miami (either via trade or a Sacramento buyout). I have to admit … I had higher hopes for the 2014 NBA trade deadline. Let’s take a quick break. You make some calls and send some texts, see if you can dig anything up. And I’ll pretend to do the same while secretly watching the end of the USA-Canada women’s hockey game. Will hit you back in 20.

Bill Simmons (2:30 PM EST)
My favorite tweets from the last hour (my notes in parentheses) …

Howard-Cooper: “Philly has 9 picks in the second round.”

(Only 21 more to go!)

Broussard: “Lots riding on Shumpert MRI: in addition to possibly going to LAC, source says possible he goes to OKC for 1st round pick. If mcl not torn!”

(The perfect trade deadline tweet — just stuff getting thrown around left and right, only you have no idea what’s true and not true. I love the trade deadline so much.)

Woj: “After trading for Steve Blake, Golden State is shopping Jordan Crawford before the deadline, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.”

(Cut to Danny Ainge doing the Dr. Evil “muhwahaaaaaahaaaahaaaa” laugh.)



Bill Simmons (2:37 PM EST)
Uh-oh, Zach, you went MIA. Really hope ESPN didn’t just trade you to Sam Hinkie for three second-round picks. Was just thinking about it … my favorite deadline move is still the first one: Steve Blake to the Warriors for Kent Bazemore and 750 elaborate Sacre-Bazemore sideline celebrations to be named later. Golden State desperately needed another ball handler; the Lakers desperately needed the night-to-night possibility of two teammates knocking each other unconscious with a violent chest bump. Loved that one for both teams.

Bill Simmons (2:50 PM EST)
Big non-call in the USA-Canada game! Canada should have gotten a penalty shot on a breakaway. Still, this doesn’t look good. Any deadline news? Anything? You alive?



Bill Simmons (2:52 PM EST)
We just lost the gold to Canada. Dammit. My favorite tweet from the last 20 minutes …

Shelburne: “Sounds like Jordan Hill discussions are dying or dead, per sources on both sides.”

(I like how this is open-ended — it can be discussions about trades, Hill’s career as a whole, whatever you want.)

Zach Lowe (2:55 PM EST)
Jordan Hill is a pretty good two-way big man, and especially a rebounder!

Bill Simmons (2:55 PM EST)
You’re alive!

Zach Lowe (2:56 PM EST)
I can think of a lot of good teams that could have used Hill — Atlanta, the Clippers, Portland with Freeland out, and, heck, even the Spurs. But finding the right contract to send out — one that fits in terms of cap math and leaves L.A.’s books beyond this season unencumbered — was strangely tough. I thought until the very end the Nets would just cave and take him into the Lopez disabled player exception, but Brooklyn apparently balked at paying the equivalent of nearly $17 million for a few weeks of Hill competing with Andray Blatche step-back jumpers. Oh well. Maybe Prokhorov needed that money for a heli-skiing trip.

Bill Simmons (2:57 PM EST)
Just looked up Hill’s stats — had no idea he was throwing up 8.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in less than 20 minutes a game. That’s impressive! If he were doing that on the Celtics, I’d be demanding two first-round picks for him. Speaking of the Clips, our pal Windhorst just reported that the Clippers traded Antawn Jamison to Atlanta. Don’t think they’ll be breaking in to SportsCenter for this one. This deadline is shaping up to be a dud. What else is new?

Zach Lowe (3:01 PM EST)
That was a pure tax dump for the Clippers, but guess what. They’re still about $1.1 million over the tax! Donald Sterling is paying the luxury tax for the first time ever!!

Bill Simmons (3:02 PM EST)
Next up: War, Famine, Pestilence and Death.

Zach Lowe (3:03 PM EST)
In New Orleans, Clips officials were adamant they would not sacrifice any asset to get under the tax — not Reggie Bullock, not a first-round pick, not even a borderline rotation player like Willie Green. I guess they were telling the truth, or that at the very least, they were willing to swallow that kind of outcome if they couldn’t find a deal that was palatable in some other way.

The Hawks can actually use Jamison, which is to say they can use a tall human with professional basketball experience. Mike Budenholzer’s dream is to have outside shooting at all five positions, and Jamison kind of brings outside shooting. And the Hawks are banged up, badly.

Also: My wife is a Canadian citizen, so this is going to be a tough night. Stupid hockey.

Bill Simmons (3:08 PM EST)
Did the fork in Jamison’s back count against the Clippers’ luxury tax? If so, good trade. Two things …

1. No Knicks trade! Any time you can keep your roster intact when you’re 21-33 and might lose your superstar in four months for nothing, you have to do it.

2. No significant Lakers trade, either. The Celtics and Lakers are standing pat. It’s a race to the top level of the lottery. It’s like the mid-’80s in reverse. Kris Humphries and Chris Kaman are Bizarro Bird and Bizarro Magic. You hearing about any late ones?

Zach Lowe (3:10 PM EST)
Hold up! One for the buzzer! The Raps trade Austin Daye for Nando De Colo! I actually like that one for Toronto. De Colo is interesting, with a weird skill set and some high-level national experience. Daye has basically done nothing in the NBA beyond having his agent call every team he’s been on to complain about his lack of playing time. But long ago he projected as semi-stretch power forward, and if you’re the Spurs (Hubie Brown mode: engaged!) and you have a million marginal NBA ball handlers, why not flip one for Darren Daye’s kid?

Bill Simmons (3:12 PM EST)
The Spurs go through stretch-4’s like Leo goes through models. Is that really it? We’re ending on “Austin Daye for Nando De Colo”?

Zach Lowe (3:20 PM EST)
But wait!!! The Clippers just unloaded Byron Mullens, who plays NBA basketball as if it were Pop-A-Shot, into the Sixers cap space! Does that do it? (Whips out calculator.) No, it does not! The Clips are still about $162,000 over the tax line. Do they have anything else to trade that adds up to $162,000? Some old uniforms? Elgin Baylor’s old jock strap? A down payment on an apartment in one of Sterling’s buildings? They’re down to Ryan Hollins and Hedo Turkoglu as backup big men at this point, since they’ve been using Pizza Man as a small-ball power forward. That is … not good.

Bill Simmons (3:24 PM EST)
I have three thoughts …

1. We learned a valuable lesson with Doc’s signing of Mullens: “Don’t trade for someone who had the best game of his career against you.” Oh, and “Don’t rely on someone who plays basketball like it’s Pop-A-Shot as your backup big man when you’re trying to win a title.” That one, too.

2. I don’t think the Clips care about falling under the tax. They’re clearly a buyout guy waiting to happen. My guess: Jason Thompson. My backup guess: Kris Humphries. My backup backup guess: Chris Kaman. My backup backup backup guess: Emeka Okafor. It’s going to be one of those four guys.

3. Jason Collins? Jason Collins! JASON COLLINS!!! LET’S DO THIS!!!

Zach Lowe (3:31 PM EST)
The Clips have only 12 guys on their roster, so they’re not going to duck the tax after all; they need to add someone. You listed all the good candidates, including Jason Collins, who is based in L.A. and has played for Doc before. That would be a nice story. Thompson would be an awfully expensive buyout, with three years left on his deal after this one.

Bill Simmons (3:33 PM EST)
If I’m Thompson, I’m asking the Kings to buy me out for 40 percent of my deal, then I sign with a contender, hope I impress other teams this spring … and make up that lost money this summer. But that might be too logical. By the way, Doc Rivers loved Collins in Boston and claimed that Collins was one of the best people he ever coached. Also, Collins defended Dwight Howard as well as just about anyone. He’s Kendrick Perkins for one-tenth the price, only he’s smiling instead of scowling. And the advanced metrics community doesn’t break out in hives when they think about him. Sure, the thought of Donald Sterling being Jason Collins’s boss is frightening for about 243 different reasons. But I hope they sign him, anyway.

Zach Lowe (3:37 PM EST)
As for the Knicks … they’ve got nothing good to trade, and they took the Iman Shumpert–centric talks down to the very last minute. I suspect we’ll be talking more about them in the next few days. Ditto for Thunder, your favorite trade candidate, and a team that reportedly made an offer for Shump.

Bill Simmons (3:39 PM EST)
What a shocker — wait, the Thunder cheaped out, avoided the luxury tax and decided to “go with what they had?” Who saw that coming? Keep rakin’ in that money, Clay Bennett. And keep looking the other way, everyone who lives in Oklahoma City.

Just got this email from Friend of Grantland Alan Sepinwall: “Please mock the Knicks as much as possible for the worst of all possible trade deadline worlds: didn’t face reality and blow it up by trading Chandler and/or Melo, didn’t do anything to improve chances of the team making the playoffs (in a season with ZERO draft picks), and didn’t fire Woodson (who has ruined Shumpert and refuses to play the optimal lineup except when injuries leave him no choice).” The natives are restless!

Zach Lowe (3:45 EST)
Whoa! This is like when you go see a bad comedy movie, only you decide to stick around for the credits, and they unleash a surprise blooper reel that tops the entire movie! The Sixers just dumped Evan Turner on the Pacers for Danny Granger!

Bill Simmons (3:46 EST)



Zach Lowe (3:47 EST)
And … let’s settle down. Turner has been only OK this season. Let’s not act like the Pacers are acquiring the missing piece here. They are taking a flier on Turner doing what Granger was trying to do: fill the modest wing minutes Indy was giving to Solomon Hill types before Granger came back. That’s it. Viewed that way, Turner could be an important upgrade.

Bill Simmons (3:50 EST)
Fine, fine.



Zach Lowe (3:52 EST)
The negative stuff: Turner can’t shoot from 3-point range, and he’s a very bad perimeter defender with so-so instincts and a disastrously slow and out of whack first step on defense.

The good-to-middling stuff: He’s a tricky ball-handler who does well on the pick-and-roll, has learned to draw fouls by taking one extra bounce toward the rim, and throws nifty passes in tight spaces. He’s a decent midrange shooter when open, even though he lost the corner 3 this season after flashing it last season. He’s putting up strong per-game stats — 17 points, 6 boards — but Philly’s insane pace and lack of overall talent around him are inflating those numbers.

Put broadly: Turner is just not that good an NBA player, and the things he does well require him having the basketball. Well, Lance Stephenson has already turned into the ball-handling captain of the second unit, even pushing C.J. Watson, a nominal point guard, mostly off the ball. Stephenson’s a good enough 3-point shooter to spot up around Turner-centric plays, but that would represent a large rejiggering of Indy’s second-unit offense late in the game. Turner isn’t providing much spacing as a spot-up guy around Stephenson, and he’s probably a defensive downgrade even from a hobbled Granger. And those bench units have survived based upon very stingy defense. Turner might be able to goose the offense a bit by pushing the base, running the occasional pick-and-roll, and driving past defenders when Stephenson kicks the ball to him on the perimeter. But we have to see that in action.

Bill Simmons (4:04 EST)
I concede all of those points. But Granger looks done to me – we just watched a 24-game sample size of someone who couldn’t shoot anymore and lost his brakes. You lose your brakes in the NBA, you’re done. They couldn’t have relied on him against Miami … and who knows if he would have broken down before then? Turner offers the following things: creates his own shot, played in big games (college and pro), a little fearless (irrationally so), can play either guard position, provides an extra set of young legs … oh, and remember his 26-point game on Opening Night when Philly shocked the defending champs? I’d rather take my chances with Turner than Granger in Round 3. Plus, they saved some money and added Lavoy Allen, who quietly averaged 20 minutes a game in the 2012 playoffs when Philly almost made the conference finals. You can throw either of those guys into a playoff game without wincing. You still liked the gamble for Indy, right?

Zach Lowe (4:10 EST)
Yes. This is a free rental of a strange NBA talent. The Pacers give up only an expiring and a future second-round pick, per a source familiar the deal. A team with shaky ball-handling tendencies could certainly use another ball-handler. I don’t see Allen playing real minutes with four rotation bigs and Andrew Bynum already around, but a center who can walk and chew gum is always nice to have around. Shows you how far the market for Turner fell, too. As I said before, picks are moving to some degree, but Indiana had already moved its 2014 pick for Luis Scola, and it appears only teams in urgent win-now mode are willing to even consider dealing first-rounders.

Bill Simmons (4:11 EST)
And as you predicted right after the Gortat trade happened, Phoenix was smart to grab that first-rounder for him right away, if only because you never know when the market might change? Clearly, it changed – Hawes and Turner fetched less than Gortat. I loved Indiana’s gamble on Turner, personally. Just don’t think they risked anything. Plus, I’m excited for how Grantland’s Mark Titus handles this one – his hometown Pacers acquiring his archenemy from his college days (the man Titus nicknamed “The Villain”), then going into battle against Miami and his good buddy Greg Oden in Round 3? Can you say “conflict of interest?”

Any chance Turner re-signs with the Pacers and haunts Titus for the rest of the decade?

Zach Lowe (4:15 EST)
Let’s not act as if Turner gives Indiana huge leverage when negotiating with Stephenson this summer. Both Turner and Stephenson are free agents, which is why Indiana can do this deal in the first place. They couldn’t flip Granger for a player who carried money into next season, since that would imperil Indy’s ability to re-sign Stephenson without going into the tax. Stephenson is clearly a better two-way player than Turner, he’s two years younger, and he will command a higher market value. The Pacers want Stephenson. They are not excited about Turner as a potential alternative.

But for this season? He should be an upgrade over Granger, who has lost his jumper and off-the-bounce oomph. And the Pacers won’t ask much of him. A healthy Turner also gives Indiana more flexibility in going small against Miami, though the Pacers have been loath to do that, and the Heat have been playing bigger of late. The Sixers get another second-round pick, a buyout candidate in Granger, and they hit the salary floor. Hooray! Thaddeus Young is weeping somewhere right now. Philly might not win five games the rest of the season.

Bill Simmons (4:23 EST)
Philly’s over/under for wins in Vegas was 16½. Right now, they’re 15-40. And they’re trotting out the likes of Byron Mullens, Eric Maynor, Tony Wroten and a sobbing Thad the rest of the way. They might not get to 17 wins! That would be an amazing “under” cover. As for Indiana, let’s all agree that “The Villain” makes the Heat-Pacers playoff series a little more fun. Maybe this trade deadline was a belated success – at least SOMEBODY did something. We may have blown the Celeb Game on Friday thanks to six straight missed free throws and a little too much Kevin Hart, but hey, we’ll always have the 2014 Trade Deadline column.

FILED UNDER: NBA, NBA TRADING DEADLINE, BILL SIMMONS, ZACH LOWE


BILL SIMMONS is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland.

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diego

By: timbersfan, 5:56 AM GMT on February 16, 2014


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Wolfsburg say goodbye to enigmatic Diego

By Ross Dunbar | February 15, 2014 9:46:50 AM PST
VfL Wolfsburg have seen the many shades of Diego. The skilful, fleet-footed ingenuity of his Werder Bremen days, his first foray in Europe, were fleeting glimpses, not enough to ever become the fulcrum of the team.

And so in the closing moments of the January window, the Brazilian returned to Atletico Madrid on a permanent transfer in a deal worth around 1.5 million euros. It brings to an end an eventful, colourful and divisive three-and-a-bit year spell in Germany; in truth, a move which will please both parties after failing to really justify the lavish transfer fee from Juventus.

The Brazilian doesn't necessarily possess fifty shades all told, but Diego was rarely out of the spotlight during his time in Wolfsburg. He managed 24 goals in 87 matches with 23 assists -- and the same number of yellow cards.

Diego's first spat with authority came when Steve McClaren was the coach of the 2009 Bundesliga winners. The Brazilian was the club's marquee signing that summer, costing 15 million euros from Juventus -- a sign that Wolfsburg still meant business after the Championship success a year before.

With the pressure building on the former Middlesbrough and England manager as Wolfsburg languished at the bottom end of the table, three points were an invaluable commodity to the Wolves. And so in a mid-February trip to Hannover 96, Wolfsburg were awarded a spot-kick and after wrestling the ball from Patrick Helmes, Diego went on to smack the crossbar and his side lost 1-0.

"We had agreed that, should we be awarded a penalty, Patrick would take it. We announced that to the team, but Diego defied the instruction. He should not have taken the penalty," fumed McClaren, who handed the Brazilian a fine of 84,000 pounds.

The Englishman's days in Germany were soon numbered and the club re-appointed Felix Magath to the helm when Pierre Littbarski couldn't turn things around in his month-long interim role. Only 12 months since his arrival from Juventus, Diego had booked, signed and dotted his departure from Wolfsburg after a spat with Magath.

The totalitarian coach was appalled by Diego's decision to leave the team hotel ahead of their match at Hoffenheim -- their Bundesliga status was riding on that final game -- after being dropped from the starting eleven. Although Wolfsburg emerged from the relegation dogfight, Diego was fined 500,000 euros for his petulance and also forced to train with the second squad.

Wolfsburg were keen to offload the player -- a 10 million euro valuation was placed on his shoulders -- and in the summer, Diego agreed to join Atletico Madrid on a season-long loan deal.

That spell allowed Diego to reconcile his differences, and he returned to Wolfsburg with the hope of living up to the star-player expectation. Yet his annual salary of 8.2 million euros became a problem. Wolfsburg -- and Volkswagen -- were stuck with the Brazilian for the remainder of his contract.

Diego wrote an open letter to Wolfsburg supporters through official club channels, thanking the club's hierarchy for a second chance: "I know that I have many of you are very disappointed at the end of the season before last, although I have been so warmly welcomed here in Wolfsburg. Here are my family and I always felt at home," Diego said.

It helped as the Brazilian performed sporadically under short-term coach Lorentz Gunther-Kostner before the arrival of Dieter Hecking from 1.FC Nurnberg in January marked a noticeable shift in his on-pitch application. The midfielder bought into the philosophy of the club's new head coach, who had traditionally mastered defensively solid and hard-working teams in Franconia.

Yet the club continued to flounder thanks to their a reactive transfer policy, splashing out almost at will when handed the cheque book from controlling stakeholders Volkswagen. Players like Christian Träsch, Rasmus Jonsson, Giovanni Sio, Felipe, Naldo and Fagner were added to the already piling Wolfsburg roster, which led to cohesive issues within the squad – and thus, the appointment of Hecking and Allofs has marked a big change in policy around the club.

Hecking's team-focused philosophy, leaving the individualism of the past behind, inspired Diego to his best period of football at Wolfsburg and he chipped in with six goals after Hecking’s arrival in January. The match that really typified his natural ability was the 3-1 win over Borussia Monchengladbach in April in which he was outstanding, scoring a goal and setting up the other two.

However, the emergence of 18-year-old attacking-midfielder Maximilian Arnold saw Diego become increasingly surplus to requirements. Upon Arnold's integration into first-team football, Diego was displaced from the central No. 10 role in favour of the languid and direct Arnold whose left-foot, vision for passes and more efficient nature of play improved Wolfsburg's attacking trident.

Diego worked hard in a wide position, but remained ineffective. Santos couldn't prize him away from Germany in December, yet it was always on the cards for a January departure with his contract expiring in six months. It was simple: wait until the summer and lose him for free, while still paying his bumper salary, or save on the excesses. In the end, Atletico Madrid were all too willing to oblige.

While investment has been focused in certain areas during the window, removing Diego's massive salary from the books is a sensible one for both parties considering that Wolfsburg expect Portuguese flanker Vierinhia to return from injury, adding to left-side options such as Ivan Perisic and Daniel Caligiuri. Meanwhile, Kevin de Bruyne was recruited after a 20 million outlay from Chelsea and the Belgian has the diligent, team-oriented tendencies that complement his forward-thinking play from midfield.

Ultimately, Diego will be a loss for the nation's tabloids and mixed zones -- he's regularly trotted out by the DFL because of his sound command of English -- but despite being a decent servant for the club, Wolfsburg and their fans will be happy to see him go.

Tags:WolfsburgAtletico MadridRoss DunbarDiego
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vela

By: timbersfan, 5:56 AM GMT on February 16, 2014

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Futbolmexico
Sanchez seeking truth about Vela

By Andrea Canales | February 13, 2014 12:11:57 PM PST
Carlos Vela may or may not be the "Lionel Messi" of Mexico's national team, as ex-El Tri coach Hugo Sanchez stated to Mexican media recently, but one thing is certain: Sanchez is most definitely an annoying element to the current hierarchy of national team leadership.

The former coach is too outspoken for their liking, and he pulled no punches in his assessment of the current situation in which Mexico finds itself.

"If for some reason Messi didn't want to go [to the World Cup], the coach, the president, the directors, everyone, would need to beg him to play with the team," Sanchez stated. "For us, Carlos Vela is like Argentina's Messi, or like Cristiano Ronaldo is for Portugal. At that level, we can't allow ourselves the luxury of not having our best player on the national team."

- Marshall: El Tri Hot List: Fabian rising

Put aside whether the scenario of Argentina or Portugal begging those players would happen -- it's purely imaginary because neither country has to do it. Both Ronaldo and Messi have reported for duty with their squads time and again in international competition. Vela has not.

Current coach Miguel Herrera and director Hector Gonzalez Inarritu would love to put the blame for that squarely at Vela's feet and did as much in their recent announcement that Vela would not participate in the World Cup after meeting with the player. Vela himself released a letter stating that he did not feel 100% ready and also, that it wasn't really fair of him to join the team after not being part of the qualifying campaign.

In Sanchez's view, whether or not Vela is completely ready or did enough to help the team qualify is immaterial. He's the best, so he should be part of the team, goes the basic logic. The calling out of the FMF for not doing enough to bring Vela back in to the team is clear.

"Some players should be given preferential treatment," Sanchez claimed. "Not everyone is equal."

The former Real Madrid player also threw out a bit of a veiled challenge to Vela himself. Sanchez pointed out that he had his own issues in his day with the federation, and was direct and public with his reasons.

Sanchez mentioned his distrust for powerful directors Emilio Maurer and Francisco Ibarra, stating that he told the federation he would not play while the two were part of the organization. He kept that promise and did not return until they left.

Vela has been circumspect and vague about specifics concerning his problems with the federation.

Sanchez did raise one specific point, however, that could possibly be a motive for Vela. In his view, Mexico's players aren't treated fairly, especially in relation to how lucrative their earnings are for the federation.

"Fifty percent of the profits generated by Spain's national team are given to their players -- so they are really taken into consideration," Sanchez attested.

Sanchez relishes the role of national team critic, but he also has an insider's view of things, as both a former national team player and coach, so his perspective is more valid than most.

One thing is clear, Sanchez has thrown down a gauntlet to Herrera and company -- and perhaps even to Vela -- that the issue of Vela not going to the World Cup was decided too soon. All parties, in his view, should return to the negotiating table and come back with a new deal.

Whether one considers Sanchez a blowhard or not, it's not a stretch to think the entire matter of the European visit was a rushed affair that likely put Vela on the spot in a defensive manner. Who, if not the FMF representatives, even planted the idea in his head that it wasn't fair for him to go to the World Cup instead of another player who had taken part in qualifying? Who else could have given Vela the idea that his locker room return would be less than welcoming? Or even if Vela trusted in the loyalty of fellow players, some of whom he has known since he was a young teenager, could he have despaired of winning over a coaching staff and team directors resentful of his popularity and earlier avoidance of national team duty?

We may never know the complete truth. Yet Sanchez, for one, isn't content with the answers currently put out by the federation. He has a point. Vela is too good for his loss to be accepted without question, even if the questions make Mexico's federation uncomfortable.

Tags:Mexican National TeamLiga MXMexicoMexico National TeamWorld Cup drawMiguel HerreraEl TriCarlos VelaHugo Sanchez
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Miami vs Orlando

By: timbersfan, 5:50 AM GMT on February 16, 2014


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MLS's incoming Florida teams aim to have the best rivalry in the league

By Jason Davis | February 14, 2014 10:45:22 AM PST
Orlando City Soccer Club doesn’t start its first MLS campaign until next year, and David Beckham’s Miami project doesn’t yet have a name, colors or a place to play. But already rivalry is percolating in Florida.

The future Miami franchise’s entry into American soccer’s top league follows another Florida team, located a 3½-hour drive north in Central Florida. Orlando City, built on the foundation of a successful three-year run in USL PRO under chairman Phil Rawlins, begins MLS life in 2015. By the time Miami comes on board a few years later, Orlando will have already established itself as the team that brought MLS back to the state the league deserted nearly 15 years ago.

Despite Orlando’s head start and the interval until Miami’s club launches, there is already nascent bad blood between Central Florida and South Florida in the soccer realm. That being said, the rivalry can't fully start until the two play each other, but the anticipation is already building.

“The sport is built around local rivalries,” said Rawlins. “You can see that in the Pacific Northwest. The rivalry between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. It’s great for all of those three. It’s great for the game, it’s great for the MLS. We really welcome David into the state, and welcome Miami. We can’t wait -- we’re champing at the bit to take them on on the field.”

The Cascadia standard is a high one, but Max Ramos of the MLS Miami supporters group Southern Legion echoed Rawlins when talking about the dynamic between Orlando and Miami. Like in the Pacific Northwest, this isn’t just about soccer or even sports; there are cultural differences at play that will raise the heat of hatred.

“When people think Florida, they think Miami,” declared Ramos, who runs social media efforts for the Southern Legion group. “It’s Florida’s biggest city. It’s the richest city. When people want to travel to Florida and they’re not doing family stuff, when they want to do something more adult, they come to Miami.

“Orlando is Disney World, it’s Universal Studios. That’s why we’ve been calling them ‘Mickey Mouse Club,’ because of the old theme park idea. And this year they’re actually playing at Disney World. It’s pretty funny to us.”

A war of words is already underway between the two teams and their supporters. There is no soccer yet, but that’s not slowing down the rhetoric. Miami fans throw “Mickey Mouse Club” at Orlando while Orlando fans quickly latched on to a hashtag spread by the club’s Twitter account during Beckham’s announcement: “Built not bought.”

“We wanted to welcome Miami to the league. Just let them know where their place was, that they were on the verge of being the second-best team in the state,” said Rawlins with a chuckle.

Ramos tried to play off Orlando’s criticism by hurling some of his own. He pointed to Orlando’s former life as the Austin Aztex. He also highlighted Miami’s place as an international city.

“They already don’t like us because in their minds, they earned an MLS club by being in USL PRO for a few years and having these big crowds and everything, while we were just given it because Beckham wanted a club. Because Miami is a posh city and Beckham is posh.

“The fact that [Miami] hasn’t [had a team] has hurt MLS’s image around the world, because when people around the world think of American cities, the big three is Miami, New York and L.A. New York has two teams, L.A. has two teams, and Miami didn’t have one. And now we do, and we’re excited about the future of this club.”

Talking to figures from both sides of the equation, it is clear that the major differences between Miami and Orlando -- and the basis for a future rivalry -- lie both in Florida’s cultural variation and the distinct ways the two clubs arrived on the scene. Keeping in mind that Miami isn’t a sure thing quite yet, the rivalry is already heating up in anticipation of 2017.

These things almost always fall to the fans, something Rawlins recognizes and Ramos embodies.

“These are things that are best developed and determined by the fans,” said Rawlins. “The fans themselves have got a natural rivalry between the two cities. There’s going to be a natural rivalry that grows up between the two teams. I think it’s always best to let these grow organically.”

The Orlando City SC part owner also admitted that he enjoyed playing a role in stoking up the rivalry.

"We had a little bit of fun. Our fans loved [the ‘built not bought’ hashtag]," Rawlins stated. "The fans jumped in on it and took it to a whole other level between themselves as well. And that’s what it’s all about."

“That’s what makes soccer such a great sport around the world,” opined Ramos. “It’s the idea of the ‘other,’ the rival. The team down the road, or in our case, the team up north in Central Florida. What will really drive this rivalry too will be the difference between Central Florida and South Florida because while they’re within the same state they’re two different worlds. So it will be more of the cultural thing as well. That's why I think the rivalry has a chance to grow, because of the cultural difference, the geographic difference.”

The jury remains out on whether Orlando-Miami can approach the intensity and passion of Cascadia. The bar is high, and it wouldn’t be an indictment of the renewed MLS presence in Florida if the new rivalry fails to reach that standard.

But there remain a few years between now -- with Orlando preparing for its first MLS season and Miami seemingly on its way to joining it -- and when a Florida derby hits the field. That’s plenty of time to ratchet up the vitriol. Ramos foresees the already fomenting dislike transforming into the type of hatred that will push Orlando-Miami into rarefied rivalry air.

“Obviously we don’t want to have any physical problems, any violence," Ramos said. "It isn’t good for American soccer. But it will be an intense rivalry."

He added, “I feel like this rivalry could really grow into something similar to what we have in college football in the state, where it’s a very hard-core thing. We’re excited for it.”

Tags:U.S.MLSMLS ExpansionOrlando City SCMiami FCDavid BeckhamMiamiMLS MiamiOrlando
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city vs. Chelsea

By: timbersfan, 5:48 AM GMT on February 16, 2014


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Three Things: Man City vs. Chelsea

By Miguel Delaney | February 15, 2014 3:43:18 PM PST
MANCHESTER -- Jose Mourinho's Chelsea side were second-best at the Etihad as Man City ran out deserved winners. Here are three thoughts from City's 2-0 FA Cup fifth-round win...

Man City pay it forward
Normal service resumed for Manchester City, even though this was not their normal attack. After a hugely frustrating past two games, the second-most prolific English team since 1945 finally scored again. Stevan Jovetic's strike was their first in 198 minutes, and an odd quirk of this otherwise free-scoring campaign can now be forgotten.

The key to it, of course, was that City also remembered their best qualities again. One of the genuine concerns of the previous week's 0-0 draw with Norwich was not that they didn't score but that they didn't really create, the 1-0 Premier League defeat to Chelsea having appeared to affect their confidence.

- Report: Man City 2-0 Chelsea
- FA Cup wrap: Wigan, Sunderland win

At Carrow Road, we didn't see the same surges or interchanges and their attack was so much flatter. That was not the case here, as Yaya Toure's 16th-minute thrust forward seemed to force City back to their old selves. The reason the Ivorian was able to make that run, meanwhile, should not be overlooked.

Against Norwich, Manuel Pellegrini seemed oddly reluctant to release Toure in the manner Roberto Mancini did, keeping him shackled just in front of the backline. The presence of error-prone Martin Demichelis, however, might have had a lot to do with it.

Here, Pellegrini put Javi Garcia into the middle, and that allowed Toure to move so much more freely. The same effect was seen on City as a whole.

No going back for Luiz
It wasn't too difficult to work out the difference for Chelsea -- not just in this game but in the majority of their past 16 matches in all competitions. Over that period, they had conceded just three goals, and produced by far the best defensive record in England. With just 21 let in over 26 league games, Chelsea were the only Premier League side to have conceded less than a goal a game.

That durability was undeniably built on the development of a new partnership between John Terry and Gary Cahill, and it is no coincidence that one of their worst performances over all that time came when one of them was out and the other hobbling back from an injury.

Chelsea were given due warning when they conceded their first goal in six matches after Cahill suffered a calf problem at West Brom, but they were not heeded. And, with David Luiz in the centre instead of Terry, the same organisation just wasn't present.

The lack of concentration was encapsulated in the 68th minute. With David Silva and Samir Nasri wonderfully working their way into the Chelsea box, the French forward seemed a fraction offside. Rather than keep an eye on his man, however, Luiz committed the cardinal error of looking to the linesman.

As his arm shot up, Chelsea went 2-0 down -- and out of the FA Cup.

Mind games vs. real games
It was perhaps not the most ideal time for Jose Mourinho to so conspicuously fail in something, given all the controversy of Friday afternoon. Worse yet, it represented just a second defeat in 10 to a manager who has proved so unperturbed by the Chelsea manager's regular barbs.

It seems that Manuel Pellegrini's refusal to rise to Mourinho might be the way to go for opposition as, despite putting out a weaker team, he maximised every other strength -- not least City's sense of revenge and purpose. Much as with Mourinho's comments on Friday, however, this might have a few unintended consequences that suddenly look a little different with a bit of time.

The Chelsea manager has frequently preached about how Liverpool have an advantage over everyone else precisely because they are not so many competitions, and Pellegrini has now handed him the same virtue -- as well as a bit of a pasting.

How much that matters, of course, depends on mentality as much as physicality. Although Mourinho undoubtedly will point out how his supposedly threadbare squad will be spared the excess games, City might suddenly benefit from vengeance over a team whose victory at the Etihad so seemed to disrupt them.

For all the complaints about fixture lists, developing a rhythm in a congested run of games at a complicated spell of the season can actually aid a team. Whatever happens, Pellegrini has provided the best riposte possible.

Tags:ChelseaManchester CityFA CupManuel PellegriniJose MourinhoMiguel Delaneyman unitedMan CitySamir NasriStevan Jovetic
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hazard

By: timbersfan, 6:19 AM GMT on February 15, 2014

Eden for the top

By John Brewin | February 14, 2014 4:25:31 AM PST
One of Jose Mourinho’s keenest skills is making key players walk tall. “You can be the best player in the world,” is the advice Mourinho handed to Frank Lampard in the summer of 2004. Lampard went very close indeed, finishing second in 2005’s FIFA World Player of the Year and Europe’s Ballon d’Or polls. Only a peaking Ronaldinho stood in his way.

- Who is the best young player?

Eden Hazard presents richer raw materials than Lampard, and Mourinho is now similarly backing the Belgian. "He's the best young player in the world," Mourinho enthused after Saturday’s hat trick against Newcastle. Comparisons with prime movers Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are not being shirked.

Hazard himself is no shrinking violet. This is a player whose 32 million-pound move to Chelsea was prefaced by a very public LeBron James-style guess-who over his eventual destination. This week, he was happy to take up the cudgels his manager had handed him.

“I'm as good as they were at my age,” Hazard said of Messi and Ronaldo. This was a bold claim. At 23, both had won a Ballon d’Or, and a Champions League medal, and, in those years -- 2008 for Ronaldo, 2010 for Messi -- were way ahead of any of their rivals to be considered the world’s best.

However, this can still be Hazard’s year. Should Chelsea win the Premier League this season, Hazard’s goals will have given them the chance to do so. He is certainly following the Messi/Ronaldo template of being his club’s top scorer while not playing at centre-forward. A prodigious strike rate is making up for Chelsea’s absence of a top-level No. 9.

With a low centre of gravity augmented by the large rear end that has served well many a footballing great and Yorkshire cricket fast bowler, Hazard has graduated from fey luxury item to bull-like, relentless destroyer. Real Madrid, Arsenal and Manchester United were among the clubs that circled his talents for years at Lille. Now they must look on as Chelsea reap the benefit of patience.

At Manchester City on Feb. 4, Hazard was the heart of Chelsea’s excellent attacking play and eventual victory. Throughout, he lent himself to defensive efforts with full gusto. It was telling that Oscar, no mean tackler himself, was benched after Juan Mata had been jettisoned by Mourinho for an inability to track back. By far the evening’s star performer, Hazard paired menace with maturity. After 18 (sometimes troubled) months at Chelsea, he now appears to be flourishing under his new responsibility.

“He was just seeing football as something he could enjoy,” says London-based Belgian journalist Kristof Terreur, who follows his country’s ever-growing phalanx of Premier League stars for Het Laatste Nieuws. “He didn't care about defensive things, he just wanted to enjoy himself, but Mourinho told him that he had to play for the team and be a good defender -- if you do that, then you will also get your freedom in an attacking way.”

Under first Roberto Di Matteo and then Rafael Benitez, Hazard often looked underemployed and frustrated out on the left flank. Scouts visiting Lille saw him playing with freedom, almost always at the centre of their attacks. Such a player was rarely in view at Chelsea, although inclusion in last season’s PFA Team of the Year suggested that fellow professionals at least recognised his talents and threat. However, his club manager was rather less impressed.

“Last year, I had a chat with Benitez, and he said that Eden had to learn to track back and that was his problem,” Terreur says. “They really had to push him to adapt to the Premier League. In France, you can go forward and others will always take care of it [the defensive side of things].”

Even in his home country, there have been measures of disappointment in Hazard. The national team still have yet to truly see the best of him. Too many of his performances have reprised the anaemic showing for Belgium at Wembley in May 2012 that came two days before his move to Chelsea was confirmed.

Instead, Kevin De Bruyne, Hazard’s erstwhile club colleague, has assumed the mantle for Belgium and was far more crucial in qualification for this summer’s World Cup. Mourinho’s excommunication and eventual sale of the sainted De Bruyne to Wolfsburg led to pariah status in Belgium. The Chelsea manager was even whistled when he attended a World Cup qualifier at Brussels’ King Baudouin Stadium, but the transformation of Hazard has latterly revived Mourinho’s reputation. The expectation is that Brazil can see the best of a player who has been famous back home since he was the 16-year-old prodigy in an under-17 team that reached 2007’s European Championship semifinals.

“Now everyone sees that Mourinho is a great influence on Hazard,” Terreur says. The Rubicon moment came in November when Hazard was dropped for a midweek Champions League match with Schalke. He had missed Monday training after a mishap on a Sunday trip back to Lille had left him without a passport to board the Eurostar home. Mourinho fined and dropped Hazard but was conciliatory in immediately reopening the door.

“Look, he's a kid,” Mourinho said that night. “Kids make mistakes, and fathers have to be clever in the way they educate their sons. He didn't play. He wanted to play. He was sad because he didn't play. We won without him. On Saturday against West Bromwich Albion, he is back.”

That Saturday saw Hazard convert the last-kick penalty that preserved Mourinho’s unbeaten Premier League home record with Chelsea. Hazard has hardly looked back since. The lost passport affair caused the penny to drop; now he reaches for the stars. Never a big socialiser, and bordering on teetotal, he spends most of his spare time at home with his wife and two children, making the type of sacrifices all modern greats must make.

Such dedication has swiftly converted Hazard into Chelsea’s key man. Next, he aims to meet his manager’s lofty predictions for him.

Tags:ChelseaEden Hazard
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rakitic

By: timbersfan, 9:43 AM GMT on February 14, 2014


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Soccer Players You Should Know Before the World Cup: Ivan Rakitic

SOCCER
JANUARY 21, 2014
by RYAN O'HANLON
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This is a good idea: buying a player who will go on to become one of the best midfielders of Europe, and doing so before he turns 20. This is a bad idea: selling a player who will go on to become one of the best midfielders in Europe, and doing so before he turns 23.

Schalke managed to do both of those things with Ivan Rakitic.

Rakitic, who made his debut for Schalke and Croatia at age 19, joined the German club from FC Basel in 2007 for €5 million. After 97 appearances for Schalke, he was sold to Sevilla in January of 2011 for about €1.5 million. Now, he’s 25, the captain of Sevilla, the club that just drew with Atletico Madrid (thanks to his game-tying penalty kick), and, yes, one of the best center midfielders in the world.

In Europe’s top five leagues, only Mesut Ozil and Franck Ribery had more assists than Rakitic’s 13 in 2013. Only David Silva, Mathieu Valbuena, Francesco Totti, and Ozil averaged more key passes than his three per game. And only Kevin de Bruyne hit more accurate crosses than his 2.6 per game. If you’re picturing Rakitic as a dangerous, creative attacker who won’t do much from inside his own half, you’d almost be right.



Except! Statistically, he profiles as an Andrea Pirlo, according to this analysis by Ted Knutson. Rakitic tackles, he passes accurately, he can play a long ball — and he can do all the things mentioned above. This is what makes The Rocket (sure?) so uniquely awesome.

Pirlo plays at a different frequency than everyone else. Sure, it’s soccer, but the way he can influence not just “the game” — in the vague way we talk about metronomic defensive midfielders — but things that happen near the goal, despite not spending too much time anywhere close to it, isn’t like anything else you’ll see. The fact that he could probably play a full game with a filled wine glass in his hand, not spill anything, and still be the best player on the field just emphasizes all that.

Rakitic would spill the wine within the first five minutes, but dude, why are you handing out wine to soccer players? He’s played about half of his games this season tucked in behind a striker, while the rest have come from deeper-lying central midfield roles. He’s been equally effective, if not more so, playing further back. So, you get this kind of restlessness just short of recklessness that’s not typically seen in players who play in front of the defense. (It also helps explain his not-great pass completion numbers.)

He can swing the ball from side to side. He can hit that 40-yard diagonal ball. He can break pressure with an easy-to-underestimate touch — but then, well, he’s got the ball so why not run it up the field himself? And sometimes he will. While it seems like most great center midfielders are as economic as possible with their touches each time they have the ball — the “get it, give it, get it, give it” mode — Rakitic often seems to want to keep the ball at his feet for as long as possible. And you can’t really blame him; nine goals and six assists in 18 games is a pretty good argument.

Presumably, Rakitic will be on the field when the World Cup kicks off in São Paulo and Croatia takes on Brazil. And presumably, by then, he’ll be playing for a different club team. If a move happens, Sevilla will make something along the lines of a 900 percent profit. Somehow, though, I’m not totally sure that’s a good idea.

FILED UNDER: SOCCER, IVAN RAKITIC, LA LIGA, SEVILLA, ANDREA PIRLO, RYAN O'HANLON

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cuadrado

By: timbersfan, 9:41 AM GMT on February 14, 2014


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Soccer Players You Should Know Before the World Cup: Juan Cuadrado

SOCCER
JANUARY 28, 2014
by RYAN O'HANLON
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Earlier this season, in a game against Napoli, Juan Cuadrado was ejected after receiving two yellow cards. Both of them were for diving. He plays on the wing for the fourth-best team in Serie A — and completes about one successful cross every two games. He’s a top-10 player in Italy — in the categories of both “losing the ball” and “giving it to the other team.” He has taken 44 shots and scored two goals. His nickname is “Vespa.”

And yet, Juan Cuadrado has been linked with [insert any team from the Forbes Top 20].

The 25-year-old Colombian may appear to have been cultivated in a lab by some crazy scientist who just really disagreed with Sir Alex Ferguson’s morals, sure, but is that such a bad thing? And while “efficiency” and “being good at everything” seem like the two most prevalent characteristics among the world’s best players, Cuadrado does one thing impeccably: He will dribble your goddamn face off.

When I watch Cuadrado’s highlight clips on YouTube, I’m left pumping my fists, taking my shirt off, and getting ready to sprint to the nearest Mediterranean-themed club. That always wears off, thankfully, but the generic Euro-house music of every soccer video on YouTube somehow makes sense with Cuadrado. Those compilations of perfect Mesut Ozil passes seem better fit to Philip Glass compositions, and pairing anything less than the voice of God reading “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” with Steven Gerrard’s best goals is an insult. But the highs and still-pretty-high lows of crappy trance music weirdly enhance Cuadrado’s game — otherwise, it’s just him running past people.



Step overs and elásticos are more signifiers of danger than consistently effective moves. It’s a quick cut, a change of speed, and the ability to run as fast as an actual motorized scooter, all while keeping the ball an inch off your foot, that breaks people down. Cuadrado can dance — more on that in a bit — but it’s the almost effortless stop-and-start and the extra gears (not on the top end, but he’s got in-between speeds that seem to fit whatever problem presents itself) that let him get past his man so easily.

Last year, he led Serie A in completed take-ons, with 118. This season, he’s averaging almost one more per game, currently topping Italy with 4.2. That’s good enough for eighth-best in all of Europe, better than Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Luis Suarez. He gets fouled more than three times per game — no doubt a byproduct of the thing he does well. His other numbers — 20th in the league with just over 1.5 key passes per game, two goals from the 15th-highest shots-per-game average, three assists in 15 starts — are a mix of tantalizing, frustrating, and him maybe just being who he is. Even if those dribbling numbers never convert into more goals and chances created — right now, he’s on pace to about match last season’s five-goal, six-assist output — he’s the late-game sub of nightmares.

When Cuadrado scores, he celebrates with the world’s most violently aggressive Dougie. “The fans like the dance I do after scoring,” he said at the beginning of the season, “and I’m training a lot on the pitch to be able to dance more.” For Colombia, he’s been occasionally used as a fullback, and he was in and out of the lineup toward the end of qualifying, so there’s a chance he’s not fully featured in Brazil. That, speaking for law-enforcement officials across the world, would be a crime. The guy just wants to dance.

FILED UNDER: SOCCER, JUAN CUADRADO, NAPOLI, SERIE A, RYAN O'HANLON

RYAN O’HANLON Ryan O'Hanlon is the senior digital editor at Pacific Standard.

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nash

By: timbersfan, 9:39 AM GMT on February 14, 2014


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Approaching the Finish Line
Steve Nash is out to prove that he’s more than just a cap number

BY BILL SIMMONS ON FEBRUARY 13, 2014
T   his is the accompanying column for the Steve Nash video series The Finish Line. If you want to watch the video before reading the piece, click here.

2014: $9,300,500
2015: $9,701,000

Steve Nash wears no. 10 for the Lakers, but it’s really 9.3. Next season, that turns into 9.7. Those are the numbers Lakers fans see. They see a walking cap figure.

You can’t blame them for feeling that way. The Internet changed the way we consume professional basketball. Whenever Blake Griffin unleashes a hellacious dunk, you can locate it on YouTube within eight minutes. If you’re dreaming about your favorite team stealing Kyrie Irving from the foundering Cavs, you can create fake Kyrie trades on the Trade Machine for hours. If you want to find every NBA salary from LeBron James to James Johnson, Sham Sports has them shaded in multiple colors.

Adam Silver once told me his league had evolved into a 10-month sport: from preseason (October) all the way through free agency and summer league (end of July). He was half-complaining, half-bragging and 100 percent amazed. But only the NBA offers a five-week stretch after its championship that’s nearly as interesting as the actual Finals. It’s a nonstop frenzy of mock drafts, calculated leaks, fake trades, unsubstantiated rumors, misleading tweets and hopeful executives knocking on front doors at 12:01 a.m., with everything feeding off the collective sophistication of the fans. Believe me, we didn’t always inhale summer that way. Right after ESPN.com hired me in 2001, I wrote a column handing out Boogie Nights quotes as “awards” for the NBA’s best and worst offseason signings. I didn’t have a feel for ESPN’s readers yet.

Will this piece go over people’s heads? Is there too much salary stuff in here? Do people care? Is this too nerdy? How many readers actually give a crap?

Thirteen years later, that piece reads as if I deliberately dumbed it down. You can only imagine how Kirk Goldsberry’s Expected Possession Value feature or Zach Lowe’s detailed breakdown of Brooklyn’s semi-resurgence would have played back then; I’m pretty sure it would have broken people’s brains. In 2014? You can’t nerd it up enough. Many NBA junkies care about building teams almost as much as they care about watching them. So salaries resonate more than they ever did.

I don’t remember cap figures mattering for me until 1994, when I came to the horrifying realization that I understood the cap better than my beloved Celtics did. That summer, we were already saddled with Sherman Douglas’s never-ending contract,1 Xavier McDaniel’s expiring toilet-clogger and two more years of the late Reggie Lewis’s expensive salary.2 That didn’t stop our bumbling general manager, M.L. Carr, from splurging close to $40 million on Dee Brown, Pervis Ellison and an aging Dominique Wilkins. Suddenly 80 percent of our cap was earmarked for two washed-up stars, a fat point guard, a guard without a position, a center who never played and someone who wasn’t alive. We had no way to improve — no real assets, no future stars, nothing. We were trapped under .500 for years.

To nobody’s surprise, the ’95 Celtics lost 47 games before getting bounced by Orlando in Round 1. On a Sunday that summer, I was driving back to Boston from a weekend in Vermont. I stopped for gas, bought a Sunday Globe and flipped to the sports section. Unbelievably, improbably, incredibly, Wilkins was reportedly ditching Boston to play in Greece. And I’m in the middle of nowhere, holding a gasoline nozzle with one hand and the newspaper with the other, and I’m yelling, “YES! YES! YES!!!!! CAP SPACE!!!!!”

Just a few weeks later, M.L. squandered that miracle by gift-wrapping Dana Barros $20.8 million over six stupefying years. Overpaying a 5-foot-9 point guard when we already had Douglas, Brown AND David Wesley?3 And what about M.L. naming himself coach as well? Since the Internet hadn’t taken shape yet, I couldn’t vent about Bizarro Red Auerbach to anyone other than my father and my friends. I didn’t have a column or a podcast, I didn’t have a message board … shit, I didn’t have email. I wanted to climb Mount Washington, Balboa-style, stand at the top and scream, “M.L. CARR IS RUINING MY TEAM!!!!”

So that’s when I started caring about cap figures. Those numbers are part of following hoops in 2014, no different from knowing someone’s stats, nicknames or shoe brands. You want to know what your team spends and how much it might be able to spend. Many times, that transforms players from human beings into salary pawns. I look at Gerald Wallace and think, $30.3 million through 2016. Knicks fans look at Amar’e Stoudemire and think, Off the cap summer after next. Phoenix fans see Emeka Okafor and think, $14.5 million, expiring, what can we get for him? Pistons fans look at Josh Smith and think, I have 54 million more reasons to handcuff Joe Dumars to a radiator in my basement.

And Lakers fans look at Steve Nash and think, 9.3 this year, 9.7 next year.

It’s no different from how I thought of ’Nique at that Vermont gas station — when I didn’t care about his 25,389 career points or his dunking-in-traffic legacy. I only cared that ’Nique was in the way. And that’s how Lakers fans feel about Nash. He just turned 40. His body keeps breaking down. The Lakers need his cap money — desperately — whether it happens through trade, medical retirement, buyout, stretch provision, whatever. He’s in the way.

Please leave, Steve Nash. We need that money for someone else.

It’s a cruel finish for such a wonderful player. I never saw Cousy and Oscar, obviously. I only caught the tail end of Frazier and the second (and inferior) incarnation of Tiny. I caught everything Magic and everything Isiah; they’re 1-2 on the “Best Point Guards I Ever Watched” list. After them, not counting current stars, it’s Stockton, Nash, Kidd and Payton in some order. Stockton submitted the most impressive start-to-finish career. Kidd and Payton were the most dominant two-way players. And Nash was the most skilled offensive player, a gifted playmaker who doubled as one of the most efficient shooters ever. Right now, his career shooting percentages are 49 percent (field goal), 42.8 percent (3-point) and 90.4 percent (free throw), which means Nash passed 10,000 career assists while also nearly creating the Lifetime 50-40-90 Club. Good luck seeing that again.

Nash peaked on those “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns teams, when Phoenix built him a high-powered Formula One racing car — with Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and a rotating cast of 3-point bombers as the engine, and Mike D’Antoni as the lead mechanic — knowing that Nash and Nash alone could steer such a complicated vehicle. Maybe they never won a title, but Chris Connelly nailed it when he called them “critically acclaimed.” Not the worst legacy in the world. Nash and D’Antoni reunited in Los Angeles four years later, only the pairing belonged to another era — wrong teammates, wrong situation, wrong point in Nash’s career. When he battled nerve damage in his back last November, rumors stupidly swirled that Nash might retire. You know, because it’s so easy to walk away from 10 million bucks. Anyone paying attention knew what was more likely: a 2014-15 season featuring phrases like “Steve Nash’s Expiring Contract” and “Keep Getting ’Dem Checks!”

Then again, that’s par for the course with great players. Only Russell left at the right time. Everyone else hangs around for an extra year or two — their bodies break down, they lose a step, their pride never totally kicks in. Eventually, they get it. Kareem needed to get shoved around like a rag doll by the Bad Boys. Jordan needed the Wizards. Hakeem needed the Raptors. Bird needed a 15-pound back brace. Barkley needed to blow out his quad tendon. Kidd needed to brick 225 straight 3s last season and postseason. You could keep going and going. And no, Kobe, Dirk and Duncan haven’t reached that “get it” point yet. But they will.

Steve Nash? I thought he’d already arrived. I thought he was there. And then, one night … my phone rang.

It was him.

♦♦♦

I have known Steve Nash for nearly five years. We met by phone during the summer of 2009, when Nash needed a copilot for a potential book project. Teaming up for a modern-day version of Life on the Run or The Game absolutely intrigued me, especially after chatting with Nash and finding out how perceptive he was. For instance, Nash didn’t just play with Stoudemire. He wondered why Stoudemire behaved certain ways in certain situations, and what internal and external forces contributed to that behavior. He wondered how to make him happy and keep him happy. He tried to figure out every conceivable way to make Stoudemire better at basketball, both on and off the court. And a lot of times, it didn’t have anything to do with basketball. Amar’e Stoudemire was a complicated puzzle that Nash never stopped trying to solve.

This was a whole other level of thinking. I was doing backflips. This could have been, potentially, one of the great sports books. Steve Nash would be allowing us behind the curtain. Of course, the most appealing thing about the project became the same thing that derailed it: Over the course of a few phone calls and emails, Nash smartly realized he could never publish the book he wanted to write. Not while he was still playing, anyway. He couldn’t be candid about teammates and coaches as he was leading them. Impossible.

Deep down, I knew this — that’s why I urged him to scribble out some thoughts while being as frank as possible. I promised I would never show anyone those emails. (And I won’t.) He sent a few. They were remarkably, staggeringly outspoken. And by the third or fourth one, he realized, “Oh yeah, it would be crazy for me to write a book right now.”

(And he was right.)

So we placed the book on permanent hiatus. Nash became involved with one of my big projects, 30 for 30, codirecting our film about Canadian hero Terry Fox. We spent a night at Sundance eating dinner with an oversize group; teammate Jared Dudley had borrowed Nash’s no-sugar diet to lose weight, so I have a vivid memory of Dudley pointing to menu items (like a little kid) and asking Nash, “Can I eat this? What about this?”4 After Nash’s Fox film received universally positive reviews, we remained in touch and recorded a few podcasts, crossing paths by accident a couple more times. His move to Los Angeles opened the door for a belated collaboration. Well, for about three seconds. Almost immediately, Nash’s first Lakers season degenerated into a full-fledged soap opera — Starring Dwight! And Kobe! And Jimmy! And Phil! And Mike Brown as Mike! — right as Nash’s divorce trial became weekly TMZ fodder. I never felt right about following up.

A solid year passed. My phone rang one night.

Nash???

Within a few seconds, he was spilling everything. He hated being a cap figure. He hated that his teammates only knew him two ways: as the quarterback of those delightful Suns teams, and as the banged-up geezer who was barely hanging on. He spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about basketball and his body, and not in that order, coming to the conclusion that he couldn’t retire yet. He wasn’t sure if that stubbornness was fueled by denial or hubris, or both. He wondered if the same trait that made so many athletes great — supreme confidence at all times — was their mortal enemy in moments like this. He didn’t trust his own instincts.

Did he have anything left … or did he just WANT to have something left? And how could he tell the difference?

He wouldn’t know for sure unless he killed himself to come back. And that’s what he had been doing, Steve Nash said. For weeks and weeks. He figured he could play quality basketball once a week. But in the NBA, you need to do that three or four times a week. That’s the subtle difference between being productive and being a scrub. He found that more frustrating than anything, Nash confided — being able to get there every once in a while, just not all the time.

I mean … who couldn’t identify with that?

Now, imagine you’re me. You’re sitting home on some random night watching hoops when the phone rings. It’s one of the five or six best point guards who ever lived, a two-time MVP, one of the most entertaining players of the past 40 years. He’s talking candidly, telling you about his myriad problems, vowing that he isn’t done yet. And then he says he’s been documenting this latest comeback with his production partner, Ezra Holland, and that 30 for 30’s talented-and-then-some visionary Jon Hock had gotten involved,5 and that maybe Grantland could get involved, too. At that point, I was waiting for him to say “Baba Booey” and hang up. Nope.

Halfway through the phone call, I started to comprehend the stakes. We finally had a chance to pull off that Life on the Run/The Game idea, only in video form, and in real time. You read those books, as great as they are, while already knowing the ending. This time around, the ending would write itself. We could root for Nash as it happened. A once-great athlete, trying to hang on, searching for a rare talent that may or may not have vanished from his body. He doesn’t know if it’s gone. Neither do you. Neither do I.

As if that’s not a good enough wrinkle, here’s one more: Nash spent a good deal of energy, legal and financial, to guarantee his children would be raised in Los Angeles. He doesn’t want to move them again. When we talked that first night, he mentioned the “stretch provision,” a newish cap wrinkle that allows the Lakers to waive Nash’s final year, then “stretch” his $9.7 million cap number over as many as four years.6 It’s a fancy way for the Lakers, or any bumbling NBA team, to dilute the impact of a damaging contract. Nash believed the “stretch” buyout was a looming threat — if it happened, he’d probably retire unless the Clippers wanted him.

I took the other side, believing the Lakers would be foolish to use the stretch. Wasn’t Nash more valuable as an expiring deal, both as a potential trade piece and a 2015 cap hold before free-agent studs like Kevin Love become available? Then again, the Lakers have done a variety of silly things lately. Who knows? Nash and I batted around the various scenarios like we were Wilbon and Kornheiser. Only later did I realize how surreal it was to discuss Cap Figure Nash with Real Person Nash.

We stayed in touch over the next few weeks, as Nash rehabbed his back in Vancouver and eventually returned to the Lakers’ lineup in Minnesota. I have to admit, I expected the worst. But he dished out nine assists and looked like the old Nash crossed with Old Nash. On his birthday a few nights later, he scored 19 during an encouraging performance in Philly. Less than 48 hours later, he tweaked his leg against Chicago. Now he’s day-to-day. Maybe when you’re 40, you’re always day-to-day. Regardless, I couldn’t believe how much I was pulling for him last week. Cap Figure Nash had morphed into Real Person Nash — the guy trying to save his career, his contract, his family and his inordinately special gift. I didn’t see 9.3 and 9.7 anymore. I saw only no. 10.

Whether Lakers fans follow suit remains to be seen. The day of that Minnesota game, a buddy of mine who loves the Lakers stopped by Grantland’s office. He knew nothing about our Nash project. As I started describing it, he hissed, “Oh God, I hope it’s a project convincing him to retire.” We showed him a rough cut. Within 10 minutes, he was begrudgingly admitting, “Now I’m rooting for him to come back.” In the wonderful world of sports, things flip that fast. Welcome to The Finish Line.



This article has been updated to correct the nature of Charles Barkley’s career-ending injury.

My dad derisively called him “Fat Sherm.” ^
Why did Reggie stay on Boston’s cap after he tragically passed away in 1993? Two words: David Stern. One of many reasons I didn’t write a “Farewell, David” column. ^
M.L. eventually solved that glut by dealing Fat Sherm for Todd Day, a.k.a. The Least Likable Celtic of All Time. Not even one of M.L.’s five worst moves. ^
I remember thinking, God, this would have been great for the book. ^
Hock directed three of the 10 best 30 for 30 docs: The Best That Never Was (about Marcus Dupree), Unguarded (about Chris Herren) and Survive and Advance (about Jim Valvano). ^
Nash still gets paid in this scenario. ^
FILED UNDER: NBA


BILL SIMMONS is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland.

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chris Grant

By: timbersfan, 5:50 AM GMT on February 07, 2014


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Grant Runs Out of Luck (and Time) in Cleveland

NBA
FEBRUARY 6, 2014
by ZACH LOWE
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Chris Grant did some good things as general manager of the Cavaliers, a job he got in 2010 after a half-decade of working there under Danny Ferry during those shiny LeBron James days. We won’t hear about those things today, because the Cavs are a dysfunctional stink bomb so smelly that the team elected to fire Grant. The move comes less than 24 hours after the Cavs lost at home to a Lakers team that nearly ran out of players.

The Cavs have lost five straight by double digits, and though this season has seen blips of competence, there have just been too many demoralizing blowout losses in which they’ve looked stagnant and uninterested. I caught them in Philadelphia in early November, just 10 days into the season, and players and coaches were already grumbling about the team’s issues sharing the ball.

So Grant is gone. The bottom line is this: You can’t have four consecutive top-four picks, use two on big men, and come away with just one player, Kyrie Irving, who is a lock to be an above-average NBA rotation guy. You can’t spend three first-round picks on big men, including two of those top-four picks, and end up with precisely zero bigs who look like they could be starters on championship-level NBA teams.

Grant did well in the trades he executed, especially in gathering first-round picks and positioning Cleveland to rebuild after LeBron’s devastating and very public departure. He and his staff just couldn’t do enough with those picks, both in the draft and via trade. The Cavs now have to shift into the franchise’s next phase with just two weeks to go before the trade deadline. David Griffin, Grant’s well-regarded no. 2 guy, will take over the position on an interim basis, but most league observers expect the Cavs to look outside the organization for a fresh leadership voice before next season.

In addition to the front office, the franchise should ask itself whether Mike Brown is the right coach for this next phase of Cleveland hoops. The Cavs have been terrible on both ends of the ball, and they’ve barely improved at all on defense, supposedly Brown’s specialty. The team’s offense has gotten worse under Brown, with predictable sets, poor ball movement, zero reliable post play, and horrific shot selection. You could make a funny highlight reel of Jarrett Jack standing in the corner, holding out his hands to receive a pass that will never come — and continuing to hold the gesture in an exaggerated fashion even after Irving or Dion Waiters has launched a shot. It was Jack’s subtle mutiny, and though he is far from blameless in Cleveland’s awful season, it has been a regular symbol of this team’s dysfunction.

They should have already been wondering about Brown, but he is in just the first year of a mammoth four-year, $20 million contract he signed in the offseason. Grant was working on an expiring deal, making him the easiest and cheapest to fire, and some of his staff might not make it to next season, either.

None of the three alleged “busts” of Grant’s tenure are even 23 yet, so it seems harsh to judge them. And too many people do so without bothering to research what alternatives might have been realistically available to Cleveland at the time. Anthony Bennett has been a disaster and the most blatantly unprepared top pick in at least a decade, but you can’t ignore that he’s coming off shoulder surgery. As a result, he arrived to camp out of shape, and the Cavs have been trying to deal with at least two other medical issues of his: asthma and sleep apnea. Rival executives still see a longtime rotation guy in Bennett, though his NBA start has been discouraging.

Tristan Thompson is a decent player, but his career trend line has plateaued early. He remains an unreliable midrange shooter despite the high-profile hand switch, and though Anderson Varejao has improbably turned himself into a midrange ace, the Cavs have suffered from poor spacing in part because neither starting big man is a feared perimeter threat. Thompson has worked to craft a quirky post-up game of face-up floaters and herky-jerky off-the-bounce stuff, but it’s not a weapon that scares anyone or produces efficient points. He still looks hesitant with the ball, often pausing to bring it down or pump fake himself into an ugly rejection.

Thompson is a mobile defender capable of executing Brown’s aggressive blitzing scheme, but he’s still learning on that end, and he’s never going to be a rim protector. Grant chose him over Jonas Valanciunas, a pick who seemed shaky and impatient the moment it happened. Valanciunas hasn’t lit the world on fire, but his development is going the right way, and his size makes him a potential defensive centerpiece — something Thompson, a great guy by all accounts, will never be.

The criticism of the Thompson pick really ends there. The next set of guys were either busts or point guards the Cavs didn’t need after drafting Irving, and no one was clamoring for the Cavs to select Klay Thompson (no. 11) or Kawhi Leonard (no. 15) in Thompson’s slot. The Cavs probably should have picked Valanciunas, but the Thompson pick was not an indefensible reach.

Waiters hasn’t worked out, either, and the Cavs knew he was a reach at no. 4. He didn’t start at Syracuse, and there were very loud whispers about his negative attitude and off-court behavior well before the draft. But again, of the next half-dozen or so picks, only two, Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond, are playing at a day-to-day level above where Waiters is now. Lillard, of course, plays the same position as Irving. You might prefer Terrence Ross or Harrison Barnes, but there is very little separating any of these guys for now. Drummond is the one that got away, that one-missing-piece big man, but he got away from lots of teams.

Waiters is clearly skilled, and some team will take a shot at him if the Cavs go into full rebuild mode over the next two weeks. He can get to the rim with an off-the-dribble game featuring both power and tricky changes of pace, and he is a decent jump-shooter hitting an above-average mark from deep this season. But he just has some of the worst judgment in the NBA. He takes horrible shots, breaking plays early in the shot clock to launch off-the-bounce 20-footers. He might be the worst perimeter transition defender in the league, standing like a statue to admire his misses as entire teams leak out behind him, though most young players struggle on defense.

Had Grant nailed just one of these three picks, he’d probably have his job now. The Cavs might not be all that much better, but they’d be happier, with a clearer road map to improvement.

And again: Grant did well on the trade market. He fleeced the Kings for a first-round pick in the J.J. Hickson–Omri Casspi deal, and he used that pick to land Luol Deng. He coaxed an unprotected first-round pick from the Clippers in exchange for taking on Baron Davis’s contract, and that pick ended up being the one that got them Irving. (Fun fact: I was in the lottery drawing room the next season, and the Cavs were one number away from winning the lottery for the second straight year and getting Anthony Davis.)

He snagged a first-round pick for Ramon Sessions, though he paid a heavy price to do so in absorbing Luke Walton’s contract. He snagged an attractive first-rounder from Memphis last season — the only first-rounder to change hands at the trade deadline — by allowing the Grizz to use Cleveland as a salary dumping ground. He beefed up Cleveland’s analytics department, turning it into one of the largest in the league.

All those draft picks just never became anything that good. A segment of the front office pushed Grant hard to make a run at James Harden before last season, using a combination of picks and any Cavalier other than Irving. Grant resisted, and he has generally been known around the league as a difficult sort to deal with. Executives on other teams lament that Grant overvalues his own players to the point of paralysis, and that could have prevented the Cavs from throwing their hat in the Harden ring. Who knows how many Varejao-centric deals the Cavs didn’t even consider due to their (justified) love of Varejao, even as his age and skill set no longer fit as snugly within their rebuilding timetable?

Grant tried to accelerate that timetable by signing Andrew Bynum and splurging on Jarrett Jack, but Dan Gilbert, the team’s owner, played a role in that acceleration. Ownership made no secret of its desire to make the playoffs this season, and league sources say Gilbert was the driving force behind the Bynum signing. The Jack signing was an overpay, especially since the Cavs already had two ball-dominant guards on the roster, though at least the fourth year is almost fully unguaranteed. But Jack is a minus defender who needs the ball, and he just hasn’t fit on this team.

The Deng trade was understandable given the pressure on Grant to win now, and the giant pile of bricks previously manning the small forward position. But Cleveland gave up a lot to get him, especially since it was offering Chicago massive financial relief by sending the Bulls Bynum’s nonguaranteed deal. Deng hasn’t yet moved the needle for this team, in any way, and has struggled at times to pick up Brown’s defensive scheme — which is very, very different from Tom Thibodeau’s in Chicago.

Any GM fortunate enough to have a job for several seasons will end up with a spotty record, but the returns so far on Grant’s draft picks and free-agency signings just haven’t been good enough. (Props for spotting Alonzo Gee, though.) The misses outweigh the hits.

So, what should Cleveland do now? There will be noise about trading Irving, but I wouldn’t go there. Irving still has star potential, and all the chatter about him wanting out of Cleveland means nothing unless he’s willing to sign a short extension (as LeBron did) or even take the one-year qualifying offer in restricted free agency (something no star player has ever done). The Cavs control the situation, and though Irving has belched out a so-so season, they should be in no rush to deal him. Ditto for Waiters, Thompson, and Bennett. The Cavs are still slated to have very nice cap flexibility going forward, depending on what they do with Deng in the offseason, so they have no urgent need to sell low on any of their young guys. If they can get a first-round pick with only some protection on it, then, sure, think about dealing Waiters and his attitude issues. But otherwise, try like hell to dump Jack, test the market for Varejao and Deng, and keep the roster young and flexible.

Rebuilding in the NBA is hard. You need luck, along with hard work and skill. The Cavs just need to keep at it.

FILED UNDER: NBA, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS, CHRIS GRANT


ZACH LOWE is a staff writer for Grantland.

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By: timbersfan, 5:47 AM GMT on February 07, 2014

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The Designated Player: DayVid

MLS
FEBRUARY 6, 2014
by GRAHAM PARKER
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After months of rumors, I am delighted to confirm that at some unspecified time in the future, in a place to be determined, the Designated Player will be adding the tag “David Beckham” to his indexing system. Obviously.

He’s back. Officially. And so it begins.

Is there any other retired athlete on the planet whose movements could continue to generate such intense media interest, even at the moments where nothing is quite happening? Pele hawking foot-long sandwiches and impotence treatments doesn’t quite compare (at least till Subway and Viagra get some cross-branding, late-night synergy figured out).

Major League Soccer knows what it has in Beckham as media catnip. Given the chance for a personal appearance to announce what was already common knowledge, without adding any real detail beyond what’s already been discussed and endlessly revealed and tweaked for months, the league gleefully seized the opportunity to parade its prime hunk of clickbait. And it did so knowing we’d all bite and hate ourselves afterward, like Louis C.K. wrestling with the siren song of ice cream.

Basically, Wednesday’s announcement in Miami, to the effect that Beckham had decided to exercise his option on an MLS franchise, was official confirmation of what everybody knew. I’m not entirely sure whether I learned more from watching his press conference at the Pérez Art Museum than I did from watching Beckham parkour his way through his H&M Super Bowl ad in his boxers. Wednesday was all about his tailored suit and some perfectly nice but hardly revelatory statements about a commitment to a youth academy, and wanting to build a global team that was still “personal.” Sunday was about a reasonably priced line of sweatpants.

Of course, we shouldn’t really have expected anything else — that’s not really the point of an Official Beckham™ Appearance, where meaningful narrative runs a distant second to the image. An Official Beckham™ Appearance is almost like a Jeff Koons kitsch sculpture, in its attention to surface above all. In this case, it’s a surface that Bolivian telecommunications billionaire Marcelo Claure is willing to project many millions of dollars onto. (Mind you, Koons has had a fair amount speculated on him, as well.) Of course, that depends on reports about Beckham’s backers being accurate. Other than some allusions to “finding the right partners,” there weren’t many more details on that score. We wouldn’t want to complicate the streaming of Beckham’s image at the presser.

Celebrities have their best angles, and the best ones know them well. My wife once interviewed Liza Minnelli, who came into the room and instantly moved the camera and the key lights to accentuate her best side — and did so brilliantly — while telling everyone she’d done a lighting course after the disaster that was how she looked in Arthur 2.

Beckham, too, knows his best angle. It’s basically the same one painters use when depicting Jesus in “suffer the little children to come unto me” mode. That head-on, beatific, crinkle-eyed, closed-lip smile thing where he invites the viewer to look and meets their gaze, knowing in all humility he is a special one.

If I’m concentrating too much on this image thing, I apologize. To get more substantive about yesterday’s events, David Beckham has basically confirmed he is exercising the right in his original MLS contract to buy a discounted MLS franchise, and he is focusing his efforts on Miami. He and his partners have looked at some 30 sites for a potential stadium, narrowed it down to five, and are committed to building in downtown Miami, where they will use private rather than public money — though the city may be asked to donate land at PortMiami, if Beckham gets his preferred site. There is no timeline on when the team would enter the league, or where they’ll play, short term or long term, or indeed what they’ll be called.

I’m pretty sure these facts were all publicly known on Tuesday, and other than confirmation that “he” has walked among us again, I’m pretty sure we didn’t learn much more from his official announcement on Wednesday.

And if that sounds too snarky, that’s OK, because Beckham tends to use his unofficial appearances to communicate most important stuff anyway. From the hair-band experiment he just so happened to conduct a couple days after Sir Alex Ferguson kicked a boot at his head, to the various artfully contrived and meticulously documented “just going about his business” appearances in and around Miami, looking at potential stadium sites, or cropping up on Claure’s Twitter feed — Beckham knows exactly how to create a throwaway moment so that it lands right where he wants it. I daresay we’ll learn as much about Beckham’s progress toward a Miami franchise through a time-lapse collage of similar fragments over the coming year, as we will through official events such as Wednesday’s “announcement.”

And just to be clear: Ultimately, I’m blaming myself. Beckham does what he does, and I and many others repeatedly consent to be part of the clamor that greets it (often at the prompting of editors, but we’re clearly more volunteer than victim). I can’t honestly tell you there’s nothing to see here, folks, because, “LOOK, THERE’S DAVID BECKHAM!” — but on this occasion at least, there’s maybe nothing new to learn, because frankly, if you’re reading this, you’ve been watching for months/years already.

FILED UNDER: MLS, GRAHAM PARKER, DAVID BECKHAM


GRAHAM PARKER writes the Designated Player column for Grantland. He is the chief soccer writer for The Guardian US and an editor at Howler.

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By: timbersfan, 12:51 PM GMT on February 06, 2014


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Boooooooooooooom: The Year of the Seahawks

NFL
FEBRUARY 3, 2014
by ANDREW SHARP
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Whenever Peyton Manning retires, I’ll remember him for the abject terror he inspired when he played against teams I liked, or teams I’d bet on. Whenever I think back on this Super Bowl, and this Super Bowl Week, I’ll remember feeling none of that.

The Legion of Boom in the secondary, the defensive line that didn’t have a nickname but was just devastating all year, Pete Carroll with two weeks to prepare, Marshawn Lynch, the possibility of Percy Harvin, Russell Wilson making just enough plays on offense … All of it would be too much for Peyton to handle.

So all week long around New York City, everyone I saw, I would ask, “Do you really think the Broncos have a chance Sunday?” Some would say yes of course they do, others would agree with me, but in retrospect, the most amazing thing about Super Bowl XLVIII is that the Broncos were favored for two weeks.

I was completely biased, of course. Biased enough so that I never wanted to outright predict a blowout, for fear of jinxing it all. The Seahawks are a team I’d fallen in love with over the past few months. Not really because of all the winning, but how they won, and who was winning.

The more I read about them, the more I got hooked. One thing that popped up over and over as I went down the Seattle wormhole was the players talking about preparation. Whether it was Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, or Richard Sherman, they all said basically the same thing. People see them talk trash and look cocky, but all that confidence goes back to preparation. They work so hard during the week that by Sunday, everyone’s relaxed. Winning is just a reflex. That’s what the Super Bowl felt like.

About six minutes in, Peyton hit Demaryius Thomas for a 3-yard pass in the flat, Kam Chancellor came up and just obliterated Thomas. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound receiver went flying five yards backwards.



The Broncos’ best chance to win this game was to dink-and-dunk the Seahawks to death, but right then, it became clear there was going to be a price to pay on every single one of those routes. Denver was already down 5-0 at that point, but when Chancellor delivered that hit and Earl Thomas ran over and bounced into his arms, it was already over. They’d been working two weeks for this. The game was just the fun part.

There was no drama in the Super Bowl this year. It was a game that turned into a coronation, that turned into a party all throughout the second half.

Once Percy Harvin ran the kick back right after halftime, the only question was how ridiculous it would be at the end, and how ruthless the Seattle defense could be in the meantime.

I watched the game from the top row of MetLife Stadium with some friends, and at one point in the second half, one of them yelled, “WOOOOOOOOO! Glad 80,000 people showed up for Peyton Manning’s funeral!”

Football games are the best. And this is a good place to admit that watching the Seahawks play taps into a side of me that would be hard to explain to my girlfriend, and definitely hard to explain anytime I act concerned about concussions. When I watch this team, I’m not just rooting for them to force someone into a three-and-out, but to do it by making Demaryius Thomas think twice about ever going over the middle against Kam Chancellor again.

It’s definitely weird in 2014 to love a team for punishing people, when we know more than ever what kind of toll football’s punishment takes on the people who play it. And I don’t know if there’s ever been a team that exposes the hypocrisy in football better than this season’s Seahawks — they’re the most exciting team in football not in spite of the punishment, but precisely because of it. It’s just too good not to love. They play games that remind you of Patrice O’Neal’s “Take his socks!” standup. It’s a kind of football that doesn’t happen anymore. It’s why Seattle’s defense was more exciting than Denver’s offense all year.

There are the PEDs, too. Seattle’s had scandals with performance-enhancing drugs for the past few years, so plenty of people think it’s hypocritical to cheer for them now. It’s hard to mention this team without acknowledging the cloud of rumors and accusations and Internet comments that follow them through every success. But the answer here helps me reconcile the hypocrisy about the hitting, too.

If anyone on Seattle is on PEDs, the one thing we can say for sure is, they aren’t the only ones taking some cocktail of legal and illegal drugs that help them play every week. If a handful of positive tests in three is enough to make you hate the Seahawks, that’s fine, but I can’t really bring myself to care. Knowing everyone’s on some batshit combination of stimulants and anti-inflammatories, knowing most of these players will probably spend the rest of their lives living with the consequences of playing eight or 10 years in pro football … all of that has made football a guilty pleasure for anyone who pays attention.

I think I love the Seahawks because they make the guilt worth it. As the game gets progressively softer without actually getting much safer, a team like this keeps it fun. If we’re going to watch football, let’s get the real thing.



We got that from Seattle all year, and they did it with one of the most enjoyable cast of characters we’ve seen in years. Pete Carroll, the hyper-positive gym teacher who made us all realize that not every football coach has to be an asshole. Russell Wilson, the quarterback who’s humble and hardworking enough to make us all sick of hearing about how humble and hardworking he is … only I think all the anecdotes are true.

Richard Sherman, the relentless trash talker who backs it all up on the field, then talks some more, and turns out to be as impressive as anyone in the league. Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. Chancellor watches highlights of Sean Taylor before every game, and Thomas went to the Super Bowl last year to watch Ed Reed. Both of them are doing a pretty solid job carrying on the legacies of their heroes.

In between those names you’ve got guys like Michael Robinson, whose story needed its own piece; Red Bryant, Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett, three defensive monsters who’ve wreaked havoc in the shadows all year, and Harvin, the superstar who didn’t show up all year until he made this team more or less unstoppable in the Super Bowl. With him as the spark on offense, Seattle became that much more unfair. How much would the line have swung if everyone knew that was the Harvin that Seattle was getting Sunday?

And Marshawn Lynch, the dude who’s just trying lay back, kick back, mind his business, stay in his own lane, and then win everything. Football always has one or two fun teams like this, it’s just rare to find one that also happens to be the best.



There were other memories from my first Super Bowl. Going through security with 300 other people in what felt like some kind postapocalyptic processing tent. Taking a picture of this tent, getting pulled out of line and forced to delete the photo. The strange mix of the worst rich people who didn’t care who won and the biggest diehards who flew in for the game. The guy in front of me from Seattle who brought his grandma so she could see it, too. The crime of having this game in New York City and not forcing Jay Z to perform at halftime. The lights going down for halftime, and my entire section suddenly smelling like weed. All kinds of little things I’ll remember.

There were other storylines, too. The Peyton stuff. As good as everyone has gotten at beating back hot takes and ignoring questions about “legacy” and whatnot, losses like this will be part of what we remember him for, which I think is literally what everyone means when they talk someone’s legacy. Whenever it’s over, it’s possible for us to baffled by how good he’s been and baffled that he didn’t win more. But then, if you’re having that discussion after this game, it’s probably important to remember the exact same thing would’ve happened to Tom Brady if he’d played the Seahawks on Sunday.

And the New York part of all this. In the end, it was a success. New York’s not a perfect host city — correction: New York–New Jersey  — but I think everyone was so terrified of this turning into a disaster that we avoided the worst-case scenarios all week. Everything was planned obsessively, and then executed without a hitch. The train on the way back sucked, but it wasn’t much worse than I’d imagine transportation at most Super Bowls is. And all things considered, it was cool to put the game in the biggest city in America for a year. I mean it was insane, but it worked.

But all of that felt secondary Sunday. Nobody who walked out of the stadium was going to go home and remember anything from Sunday night beside how stupidly great the Seahawks looked.

It was different from most other Super Bowls in the new millennium. If you look back at all the recent history, almost every game has been outrageously dramatic. It’s how all of football’s been. As parity has set in, the NFL’s gotten more and more competitive, and with a mostly level playing field, we get some of the closest games we’ve ever seen. This happens every single week. Sunday Night Football almost always comes down to the final minutes. So when it all happens in the Super Bowl, in front of 100 million people, it’s hard not to be baffled by how this sport churns out this much drama every year.

At the same time, if you think back over the last decade or so, unless you’re a fan of one of the teams that won, there aren’t actually that many Super Bowl teams we’ll be talking about 10 years from now. Not like the ’90s Cowboys or the Niners in the ’80s, full of stars who still loom large, who dominated in a way that resonates for decades. Maybe the Patriots count in this category, but beyond Tom Brady, how many players can a non-Patriots fan name from the team that won in 2004?

The parity-era trades unforgettable teams and gives us unforgettable games instead. So a blowout was kind of nice for a change. The perfect ending to a season where Seattle was always on a whole other level. Something that shouldn’t even be possible in 2014.

Somehow the NFL’s formula got flipped. Instead of a great game, we got a great team. The Seahawks played the most dominant offense of all time and one of the greatest quarterbacks we’ve ever seen, and it was over by halftime.

This team’s motto the past two years has been bigger, faster, stronger, louder, and it’s never fit better. I think it’s technically a fact now.

FILED UNDER: NFL, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS, RICHARD SHERMAN, CLIFF AVRIL, PETE CARROLL, PEYTON MANNING, ANDREW SHARP, SUPER BOWL


ANDREW SHARP is a staff editor at Grantland.

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By: timbersfan, 9:42 AM GMT on February 02, 2014


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The Official Super Bowl Preview
When the coin is flipped and the game actually starts, what will we see on Sunday?

BY BILL BARNWELL ON JANUARY 30, 2014
While 2011 might have been the year of the quarterback, 2013 was the year of the pass. NFL games featured an average of 70.8 pass attempts per game this year, the most in league history. 61.2 percent of those passes ended up as completions, another league record. And 58.3 percent of all offensive plays were pass plays, which, as you must surely know by now, was another NFL record. Teams are passing more — and with more success — than they ever have before.

So it seems fitting, then, that the Super Bowl brings us a matchup of historic passing proportions. The Denver Broncos are led by the best quarterback in NFL history, Peyton Manning, who aims to finish up the greatest season any passer has ever had with his second Super Bowl trophy. Their opponents are the one team that seemed to figure out how to stop these new passing machines, and the Seattle Seahawks’ solution is to collect and unleash an irresistible amount of talent. As I wrote on Monday, it’s a matchup of the greatest offense in NFL history against one of the 10 greatest defenses in NFL history. And that’s only half the battle.

Graphic of Helmets Colliding

So, what typically happens when a dominant passing offense takes on a dominant passing defense? Usually, there’s something like a seven-yard slant to start the game followed by a big hit on the receiver before the color commentator starts giggling about how those boys are out there to play today. That checks out, I promise. On a more macro level, there’s the interesting question of whether one side in these huge matchups tends to have the advantage over the other. Our own Robert Mays broke down some key offense-vs.-defense matchups from prior Super Bowls, while Chase Stuart statistically identified the Broncos-Seahawks matchup as the greatest passing showdown the league has ever seen.

I wanted to extend those thoughts and analyze the great passing offense/great passing defense matchups, mostly to see whether one side retains more of its value in a strength-vs.-strength matchup. So I went back through 1990 and figured out each team’s adjusted net yards per pass attempt1 on either side of the football, and then isolated each of the games that included a top-three passing offense (by the terms of this metric) playing a top-three passing defense. Here’s what happened in those 69 “titanic” games and how it compared with what those dominant teams did against the rest of their competition that year:

Offense Defense
Average Points, All Other Games 28.0 21.9
Average Points, Titanic Game 24.5 24.5
Point Swing -3.5 +2.6
Difference -12.5% +11.9%
Win %, All Other Games 72.9% 66.3%
Expected Win %, Titanic Game 57.8% 42.2%
Win % in Titanic Game 62.3% 37.7%
As you might have expected, both sides suffer a bit from playing their mirror image; the numbers seem to very slightly favor the defense, but it roughly degrades each team’s scoring performance on their respective sides of the football by three points, or about 12 percent. Interestingly, that doesn’t seem to help the defense win more frequently. Given their winning percentage across the remainder of their respective seasons in non-titanic games, the Log 5 methodology estimates that a team with the winning percentage of a typical dominant pass offense would beat teams with the win percentage of a typically dominant pass defense just less than 58 percent of the time. Instead, they’ve won a little more than 62 percent of the time. That’s not an enormous difference — roughly three more wins than you might expect over the 69-game sample — so I’m not sure the statistical record suggests anything notable, except there’s no clear favorite when a great pass offense meets a great pass defense.

You Can Throw the Numbers Out the Window

Instead, as I suggested on Monday, I believe that the specific matchup presented by these two teams against one another could render any small statistical differences irrelevant. I think it does. In fact, I think the Seahawks represent a particularly bad matchup for this Broncos offense, and it’s going to force Denver to go away from some of its usual strengths on Sunday.

There isn’t any easy or consistent way to stop Denver’s passing attack, but most teams try to do the same things. They know they can’t let Manning and his receivers get free breaks into their routes, so defenses often try to play man coverage at the line of scrimmage against the Broncos’ receivers, hoping they can disrupt Denver’s routes and create enough time for their pass rush to get home. That’s what the Colts did to beat the Broncos in October. Given Manning’s ability to read defenses, they are also terrified to blitz and create a mismatch in the secondary. Per ESPN Stats & Information, teams rushed five men or more at Denver on just 25.3 percent of its pass attempts, the lowest rate in the league. And with the big-play receivers in the Denver offense, most teams do their best to try to contain the Denver passing attack and force it into long drives of short passes, hoping they can come up with a stop, a dropped pass, or a sack to end a drive when they need to.

I just don’t know that the Seahawks plan on trying to stop the Broncos that way. As Chris Brown wrote two weeks ago, Seattle’s primary defense is Cover 3, named for the three defenders each assigned to cover one-third of the field in deep zones. Seattle twists it by pressing its starting cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell, up onto the line of scrimmage, where they can trail each split receiver’s route from step one before settling into their more traditional zones. Earl Thomas takes the deep middle in center field, and the Seahawks play four underneath zones with strong safety Kam Chancellor, two of their linebackers (one of whom is almost always Bobby Wagner), and either a third linebacker or a nickel cornerback. Since Denver lines up with three or more wide receivers on the field more than 70 percent of the time, that seventh defender in zone will likely be a cornerback, with Jeremy Lane and Walter Thurmond rotating in that role.

The Broncos’ offense has evolved in ways to attack those best-practice game plans that other teams use. Take one controversial methodology they — and seemingly everyone else — have used during this postseason: pick plays. As Greg Bedard wrote about before the AFC Championship Game, pick plays aren’t inherently illegal, and Wes Welker got away with a pick during that game when he injured Aqib Talib. Legal or illegal, pick plays are designed to beat tight man coverage by forcing defenders to either run into each other or around each other, creating passing lanes and open space for receivers to run after the catch in the process. While they will remain tight to Denver’s receivers, I honestly don’t think Seattle will be running a ton of man-to-man defense over the middle of the field against the Broncos’ offense, which makes it exceedingly difficult to create picks. Seattle’s interior defenders have uncommon range and timing, as the Saints and 49ers have seen when they’ve tried to throw in those areas in recent weeks. Manning will certainly make throws to the inside of the field — he simply doesn’t have a choice — but the pick play has become an increasingly important friend to Denver this season, especially in the red zone, where Seattle has the league’s best defense, allowing a league-best 3.7 points per drive. Manning will instead have to attack those zones by stretching them horizontally and vertically (as he will with his legendary Levels concept).

Playing the Seahawks also really takes the jump ball out of the Denver playbook. Manning is very fond of throwing fade routes to his receivers when they’re isolated one-on-one in coverage against a cornerback, perhaps even to the extent that it’s a minor detriment. This most frequently happens with Demaryius Thomas, but Manning even has no qualms about throwing a 15-yard fade to a covered Andre Caldwell on third-and-3 if he thinks it’s a good matchup. In many cases, the worst-case scenario for these throws is an incomplete pass, while there’s the upside of a long catch or a defensive pass interference call. Denver’s overwhelming size and athleticism at wideout makes it difficult for isolated cornerbacks to pick off those passes.

That’s a very dangerous move against Seattle, which will start big cornerbacks with ball skills on the outside. Sherman requires no introduction these days, but Maxwell has really come on since entering the lineup after Thurmond was suspended, as he finished with four picks despite starting just five games at the end of the season. The Seahawks aren’t unbeatable on deep throws to the outside — the Cardinals beat them on a 31-yard touchdown on a Michael Floyd fade route against Maxwell (who was in almost-perfect coverage), but the ball hawks in Seattle make it a far riskier throw than you might hope for, regardless of what the matchup reads like on paper or looks like at the line of scrimmage. Ask Colin Kaepernick about that.

The pregame expectations have Sherman, the best cornerback in football, matching up against Demaryius Thomas, Denver’s top receiver, but I doubt the game will play out that way on the field. While Sherman did famously move around the field with Anquan Boldin in Week 2 and hold him to one meaningless catch, that’s not a common tactical move for the Seahawks. Seattle prefers to keep its starting cornerbacks on their respective sides of the field, regardless of whether the opposing team’s top wideout is lined up on the right side of the formation, where Sherman spends most of his time. And it’s not as if the Broncos are, say, the Bengals, a team with one dominant wideout and a bunch of other guys. Eric Decker and Welker are both dangerous, and the Broncos will occasionally split out tight end Julius Thomas as a wide receiver. The Seahawks will probably be confident that Maxwell can handle Demaryius Thomas on the more physical routes, too; the Denver wideout has two inches and 20 pounds on Maxwell, but Thomas is inconsistent with leveraging that size and strength into winning one-on-one battles, as Cian Fahey noted at Football Outsiders. The game could very well come down to whether Demaryius Thomas is able to use his physicality to win versus Sherman or Maxwell on a pass in the red zone.

The Men Staring Down a GOAT

One of the many other questions, of course, is whether the Seahawks will stick with their Cover 3 against the most devastating offense in NFL history. Most teams are horrified at the idea of dropping seven men into zone coverage and letting Manning bide his time before picking out an open receiver. Virtually every defense in football would install some new looks and pressure packages to try to present Manning with something he hasn’t already seen on film and solved in his head, especially with the extra week of preparation provided before the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks don’t appear to be that team. They’ve gotten this far playing what is honestly a very simple, vanilla scheme because the players suiting up in their Cover 3 are so damn good that they don’t need to do anything else. My suspicion is that they’re not going to scrap what they normally do just because they’re facing a wizard with the league championship on the line. They’re going to dare Manning to beat them while they’re running their best stuff. That’s what fits with their identity, especially as a defense.

So, if the Seahawks do stick with their usual defensive game plan, how will the Broncos adapt and adjust to attack the weaknesses of the Cover 3?

The simplest way is to just outnumber the Seahawks. Denver can test Seattle’s flexibility by lining up in bunch formations and creating numerical advantages on the outside. The Broncos can use Trips alignments, like the Trips Bunch or the Trips Open that Chris Brown wrote about in his excellent breakdown of the Denver offense today, to try to flood Seattle’s zones on the outside. That can create blown assignments or, more likely, a steady series of quick, safe completions for Manning, notably on bubble screens. Denver’s very good at blocking on screens, and while most teams can’t dream of matching up with Seattle’s size, the Thomases and Decker can match up physically against the likes of Sherman, Maxwell, and Chancellor.

The Broncos will also likely combine those screen looks with runs to create simple packaged plays. To steal a GIF from the AFC Championship Game preview, packaged plays like this one:



Installing more packaged plays over the two-week break makes some sense for the Broncos. It gives them new looks that Seattle hasn’t seen on tape, forcing the Seahawks to adjust on the fly. It allows Manning to play to his strengths by reading the defense, both before and after the snap, and gives him the opportunity to exploit the aggressiveness of Seattle’s outside linebackers, Chancellor, and Seattle’s nickelback — likely Lane or Thurmond — at the snap. If those guys flow quickly to the flats, Manning will hand the ball to Knowshon Moreno. If they delay for a moment, Manning will throw the bubble screen for a safe completion with the numbers in his favor.

Out of their more typical alignments with 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) and Welker lining up in the slot, the Broncos will attack the Cover 3 with the curl-flat route combination. Matt Bowen breaks down how the curl-flat attacks the Cover 3 here, and it should apply well to this matchup. Because Seattle relies on Sherman and Maxwell to basically shadow outside receivers like they’re in man coverage while also maintaining deep zone responsibilities for their third of the field, teams do find some success throwing at the sideline with curl routes. Chancellor and the nickelback are responsible for flowing to the outside and taking away the curl, but if they get too deep, Manning will have an easy throw to Welker in the flat for positive yardage. And if the routes and the throw are both perfect, not even Seattle’s secondary can close on those routes quickly enough. Curl-flat isn’t going to produce a huge play, but it’s likely to be a steady offensive component when Manning recognizes that Seattle’s in three-deep.

If Denver wants to attack Seattle deep, the key player is going to be Julius Thomas. Having a tight end with the athleticism to run deep routes is a huge advantage against any defense, but it can be an absolute killer against Cover 2 and Cover 3. There are a few ways the Broncos can get Julius Thomas open downfield against Seattle’s favored coverage. One is with a sail route, described by Bowen here. With the strongside wideout (likely Demaryius Thomas) running a go route to occupy Sherman and the running back running a flat route to occupy Chancellor, the soft spot in the zone is on a deep corner route to the sideline, which is too deep for the safety in the underneath zone to sink toward and too wide for Earl Thomas to drive on from center field.

Julius Thomas will also run the dig (deep in) route, allowing Manning to identify and throw to a safe spot over the middle of the field in between the shallow zones of Seattle’s linebackers and the three deep zones of its defensive backs. The best way to attack Seattle deep is with four verticals. The most vulnerable columns in Cover 3 are up the seams, and while slow tight ends can’t really make it up the seam quickly enough to be a notable threat on a go route, Julius Thomas has the speed and the hands to be a significant concern on a vertical route. It would be a surprise if Manning didn’t take at least one shot up the seam to him during the game.

At the same time, teams have presumably had a shot at running four verticals against the Cover 3 all year, and they haven’t really been able to pull it off because of the presence of Earl Thomas. Seattle’s brilliant center fielder makes this entire defense work because of his ability to diagnose plays and snuff out anything to the vulnerable deep middle of the field. As Danny Kelly notes in his excellent look at the Seattle Cover 3, Pete Carroll expects his deep safety only to defend against the post and seam routes. Earl Thomas has the ideal blend of size, range, and smarts to know how to angle himself to cover those routes, and when the ball is thrown, he has the speed needed to close on them and make a play on the receiver. The proof is in the numbers. Kelly found that just eight passes were thrown to the deep middle of the field against Seattle this season, the lowest figure in football. The Seahawks had the fewest deep middle passes thrown against them in 2012, too, at 15. For what it’s worth, Manning went 16-of-23 for 472 yards and five touchdowns on passes designated as throws to the deep middle of the field this year.

Of course, the Seahawks know all this, and Manning knows that they know. Both teams have to execute, too. Seattle can’t just rely on its size and strength; it has to transition from its presnap look into its coverage responsibilities while rerouting Denver’s receivers away from the weakest points of the coverage. Seattle’s corners on the outside need to disrupt the timing of Denver’s receivers, and the defense as a whole needs to recognize Denver’s route combinations and successfully pattern-match as the play goes on. And Manning needs to look past whatever disguises Seattle has on before the snap, diagnose the coverage, and make accurate, on-time throws into the brief windows the Seattle defense provides. Nobody is less forgiving of subpar throws than the Seahawks and their 20 percent takeaway rate, and while Manning just completed the greatest season a quarterback’s ever put together, his biggest weakness is that propensity to throw one or two ducks each game.

Or, if they want to make things simpler, the Seahawks’ front four could just beat the Broncos up front over and over again. That’s how the 2007 Giants slowed the 18-0 Patriots and their juggernaut of an offense. Denver’s offense is the best unit to hit town since that Patriots attack, and it doesn’t operate the same way, but the same rules apply: If the defense disrupts a play as it gets started, it’s probably going to win. The Seahawks don’t necessarily have to sack Manning a half-dozen times to win, which is good, because they probably won’t; Manning was sacked just 18 times all year and has been knocked down only once in 79 dropbacks this postseason. Instead, what they need to do is disrupt Manning’s timing and force him to either throw passes away or rush into contested throws that end up one-hopped or in uncatchable spots.

That takes more than just beating your man; disrupting Manning requires disciplined rushing. Manning isn’t a threat to run, but his footwork in the pocket is impeccable, and you’re not going to surprise him with a hit from behind, because he’s been feeling rushes for the past 20 years. The Seahawks have a mismatch on the outside with Chris Clemons or Cliff Avril against Broncos backup tackle Chris Clark, but if those ends take a wide route past Clark and try to buzz around Manning, he’s just going to step up in the pocket and make his throw. That leaves the likes of Clinton McDonald and especially Michael Bennett as key contributors; they’re likely to be the Seattle defensive tackles in clear passing situations, and any pressure they can get up the middle against Denver’s strong guard tandem of Zane Beadles and Louis Vasquez will serve to eliminate Manning’s escape routes.

Red Bryant will also need to hold up as a two-gapping defensive tackle on earlier downs when Denver inevitably tries to run the football, especially if it goes hurry-up to try to prevent Seattle from making substitutions. Seattle has a handful of stars, but its depth up front and in the secondary remains a valuable part of its total defensive package. When Seattle makes substitutions between plays, it’s often subbing in a player who is nearly every bit as good as the guy coming off the field. It would behoove Denver to play fast to try to dictate personnel on the other side of the ball, and then make decisions with its play calling to exploit the relative weaknesses of the front seven Seattle has on the field at any given time. That wasn’t an issue against the Patriots, who used the same defensive linemen on virtually every snap and ended up with a gassed front four for most of the game.

Wait, Go Grab Those Numbers You Threw Out

Given each team’s strengths and likely game plan, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Denver dink and dunk its way down the field on a seemingly endless string of passes into the flat and shallow throws before making its way into the red zone. That’s where things will change for both teams. The Seahawks will likely have to come out of their Cover 3 shell and play more man-to-man coverage, while the Broncos will have to transition out of those underneath throws and move more toward their pick plays and runs.

The results for both teams this year in the red zone have been, well, phenomenal. Denver had the league’s best offense in the red zone this year, averaging 5.9 points per trip to the red zone, well ahead of the league average of 4.8 points. The only problem? Seattle posted the league’s best defensive performance in the red zone, as opposing offenses have scored just 3.7 points per red zone trip. They’re both significantly impressive figures, too; Denver’s offensive performance is the third-best red zone showing in the Football Outsiders database stretching back to 1997, while Seattle’s defense posted the best red zone performance since 2006. Denver’s red zone DVOA on offense was a staggering 51.5 percent. Seattle’s red zone DVOA on defense? An even more freakish minus-70.5 percent. You get the idea.

More so than any two individual players, the matchup of this offense and that defense in the red zone is the most critical one of this game. Denver’s going to make it into the red zone; you just can’t stop it in the middle of the field over and over again. If it makes it there four times, this game could swing on whether the Broncos score three touchdowns and a field goal (24 points) or, say, one lone touchdown and three field goals (16 points). And, hey, if Seattle could find a way to sneak in a takeaway or one of those famous Red Bryant blocked kicks, their fans wouldn’t mind that much.

Who will win that matchup-within-the-matchup? I’d be lying if I suggested there was some way to tell. My hunch is Seattle, if only because I think its size will play up against Denver’s running game and its taller receivers near the goal line. I would expect Denver to try to isolate Welker against Chancellor or Lane in the slot on an option route more than the likes of Demaryius Thomas on a fade against Sherman or Maxwell. That’s just my hunch, and I wouldn’t want to count out the interior of Denver’s offensive line against what might be a very tired Seattle front four at the end of a bunch of 12-play drives, either. How those final 20 yards play out on Sunday should have a huge impact on the final outcome of the game.

Good Health

Relying on numbers or past performances to tell you something about the Super Bowl means something only if the same players who gave those performances are actually around to suit up and play in the big game. And yes, every NFL player is hurting by February, but there’s a huge disparity in the relative health and player availability of these two teams. Sunday will quite possibly be the healthiest Seattle team we’ve seen all season, at least in terms of its core talent. Denver, meanwhile, might very well be at its most injured. And that gap is most notable on Denver’s weaker side of this game, the matchup of its defense against Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle offense.

Denver has lost a number of enormously valuable contributors during the season on the way to this Super Bowl. That started in September, when All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady suffered a Lisfranc injury that ended his season. The team replaced Clady with the aforementioned Chris Clark, who hasn’t exactly held the offense back, but he isn’t in Clady’s league. He’s also been responsible, per STATS, for 7.5 of Manning’s 18 sacks this year.

Since then, the key injuries have come to the Denver defense. The most notable name is irreplaceable linebacker Von Miller, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL in December, but he’s far from the only missing part. Safety Rahim Moore was eligible to return from short-term injured reserve before the AFC Championship Game, but a setback in his recovery from compartment syndrome means Moore will likely miss the Super Bowl. Cornerback Chris Harris tore his ACL in the divisional-round win over the Chargers. And Denver was already thin up front after losing Kevin Vickerson to a hip injury, but when versatile lineman Derek Wolfe was placed on injured reserve two weeks ago after struggling to recover from a “seizure-like episode,” it reduced the Broncos to a skeleton crew. Denver has had to push 2012 fifth-rounder Malik Jackson and 2013 first-rounder Sylvester Williams into the starting lineup, and it’s demanded more out of Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton, who had an excellent game against the Patriots. Consider that Jeremy Mincey — who was cut by the lowly Jaguars in December — saw 16 defensive snaps for the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game. That’s how desperate things are up front.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, have only one player missing from the core group they would have hoped to bring to New York because of injury: wideout Sidney Rice, who tore his ACL at the end of October. They’re also missing cornerback Brandon Browner thanks to a suspension, but otherwise, just about everybody on the Seattle roster is ready to go.

If anything, these Seahawks should be better than the team that went 13-3 this season because they’ve gotten a number of key contributors back from injuries. Starting linebacker K.J. Wright returned from a foot injury he suffered in Week 14 to play in the NFC Championship Game; he should be healthier and quicker with two more weeks of healing under his belt. Seattle’s two best offensive linemen — left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger — each missed time during the regular season, with Okung suiting up for eight games and Unger starting 13. They’re both back and at their healthiest for the Super Bowl.

And, most notably, wideout Percy Harvin will return to the lineup for just his third game of the season, having played only 38 offensive snaps after the Seahawks traded a first-round pick (along with a 2013 seventh-rounder and a 2014 third-rounder) for the former Vikings star this past offseason. Harvin missed 15 games during the regular season with a hip injury before returning for Seattle’s playoff win over the Saints, only to leave that game before halftime when he suffered a concussion. It seems foolhardy to count on Harvin to suit up for 65 offensive snaps on Sunday, but there’s also no reason to believe that he can’t contribute in at least a limited role. Seattle built a surprising chunk of its offensive attack around getting the ball to Harvin during his 19 offensive snaps against New Orleans, and a healthy(-ish) Harvin gives the Seahawks a weapon the Broncos just haven’t seen much of on film. Harvin will also almost surely move back into his role as the team’s kickoff returner, which is excellent news for Seattle. Harvin was one of the best kickoff return men in the league during his time in Minnesota, and Denver’s biggest weakness on special teams comes on kickoff returns, where it allowed a league-high 29.3 yards per kick return this season. Broncos kicker Matt Prater can nullify that problem with touchbacks, but his touchback rate falls from 84 percent at home to 58 percent on the road, and the cold air in the Meadowlands shouldn’t do him any favors.

The only guy Denver was without who might help it look better than its regular-season performance is Champ Bailey, who started just three games all season because of a recurring foot injury. Bailey made his way back at the end of the season in a limited role before graduating to the starting lineup in the AFC Championship Game. A healthy Bailey is unquestionably somebody the Broncos want to have on the roster, but it’s also fair to say that Bailey isn’t the player he once was, given that he’s 35 years old. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has had a fine season on one side of the field as Denver’s primary cornerback, so Bailey doesn’t need to shoulder quite the workload he did for so many years, but he’s still going to need to hold up against a team with far better wideouts than the group that the Patriots sent out two weeks ago.

The Textbook Committee

Injuries are also informing my opinion of the Broncos’ defense right about now. Denver’s had a very interesting season; it would have been very reasonable to expect the Broncos to struggle without Von Miller and play significantly better with him in the lineup, but instead, the opposite’s been true. Miller suited up for and finished eight games this year before leaving his ninth, a win over the Texans, after just six snaps with the aforementioned torn ACL. The Broncos have been notably better, strangely, in the 10 games without Miller around:

2013 Split Record Defensive PPG
With Von Miller 5-3 26.8
Without Von Miller 10-0 21.8
Denver had previously won its only other game without Miller in the lineup, leaving it 11-0 with its defensive dynamo on the sideline. I’m not advocating that the Broncos ceremoniously tear Miller’s ACL at a preseason fan fest to ensure an undefeated season, but I’m certainly surprised they’ve been better without their best defensive player in the lineup. Is that meaningful over eight- and 10-game samples? Probably not. My guess is that the Broncos would suit Miller up if he were healthy this Sunday, numbers be damned.

Stranger still, the Broncos defense has followed an uneven regular season with an unexpectedly impressive postseason run. After finishing 15th in DVOA during the regular season, Denver’s defense has been lights-out for most of the postseason. It shut out the third-ranked Chargers for three quarters before allowing 17 points in a fourth-quarter sprint, and then held the fourth-ranked Patriots to three points during the first three quarters of that game before allowing 13 relatively meaningless points in the fourth quarter. It certainly looks like the Broncos’ defense is raising its game when it needs to.

It wouldn’t be unprecedented for a middling defense to get hot and suddenly start playing better during a memorable postseason run, either, and Manning would remember as much. The 2006 Colts went 12-4, but that was almost entirely thanks to their offense; their defense was deplorable, finishing 25th in DVOA and 23rd in points allowed, giving up 22.5 points per game. During the postseason, though, they locked opposing offenses down; they allowed eight points to the Chiefs, six to the Ravens, and 17 to the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. The Patriots did score 34 points in Indy’s memorable comeback win in the AFC Championship Game, but even that included a pick-six. In all, the Colts allowed just 16.3 points per game during their run to the Super Bowl. Could the Broncos be riding a similar sort of hot streak?

It’s possible. With the Colts, though, there was an obvious and tangible reason for their improvement: Bob Sanders. The mercurial safety was one of the most impactful players in football on a per-snap basis at that point of his career, and while Indianapolis had been a top-five defense the year before with Sanders suiting up for 14 games, the Iowa product managed to play in only four games during the 2006 regular season, sitting out 12 of the final 14 contests that year. Indy wisely saved its star defensive back for the playoffs, where he was a one-man wrecking ball: Sanders picked up two interceptions, forced a fumble, and broke up a key pass that might have ended the AFC Championship Game in New England’s favor.

Could Bailey be Denver’s version of Sanders? It’s hard to say. Certainly, there are some similarities — Denver was great with Bailey last year, and he’s been a dominant player in the past— but I’m not sure that the situations match. For one, Sanders was 24 years old and in the prime of his career. Bailey’s 35, and it’s not clear that even a healthy Champ is the player he used to be. Sanders was also an every-down defender for those Colts after his return, while Bailey suited up for just more than half of the defensive snaps against the Chargers in the divisional round before the injury suffered by Harris pushed him into the starting lineup for the AFC Championship Game. There’s also a smaller sample to work with; those Colts exhibited improvement over a four-game stretch, while we’ve seen these improved Broncos for only two games.

Plus, both the Chargers and Patriots were suffering from their own injury woes. The Chargers unexpectedly lost guard Jeromey Clary during the week, and backup Johnnie Troutman got smoked in his absence. Star back Ryan Mathews — who had driven San Diego’s stunning run to the playoffs — carried the ball only five times because of an ankle injury. And while the Patriots did drop 43 points on the Colts in the divisional round before being shut down by Denver, they got some help from Andrew Luck’s four interceptions; that offense had been in steady decline from the moment Rob Gronkowski tore his ACL. Denver’s done an admirable job in the playoffs regardless of the circumstances, and it has been much better than it was during the regular season, but the extenuating issues just make me wonder whether it can keep that up for a third game.

And if it’s not playing at its previously high level, Denver’s at a pretty significant disadvantage against the Seattle offense. The Seahawks were a balanced, effective unit that was seventh in DVOA during the regular season, and while Russell Wilson’s been inconsistent during the postseason, there are the mitigating factors of wild winds and bad weather in the Saints game.

The 49ers’ front seven beat up Seattle when it tried to throw in the NFC Championship Game, with a few big plays sustaining the Seahawks’ attack. That really came down to the incredible work done by their linebackers, especially in pursuit of Wilson. You saw what Aldon Smith could do on the first play, when he chased Wilson out to the edge, brought him down, and stripped him of the football in the process. Ahmad Brooks knocked Wilson down three times while serving as San Francisco’s primary spy on Wilson during play-action, and the 49ers knocked Wilson down 10 times amid just 29 dropbacks.

Denver just doesn’t have that kind of pass rush or athleticism at linebacker. Danny Trevathan is a useful player, and Shaun Phillips can both get to Wilson on a rush and spy him on one side of the field, but what they really need is, well, Von Miller. He would be the perfect asset against Wilson, a player who can keep up with every step Wilson makes while finishing plays on the edge. Robert Ayers just isn’t that guy. As a result, I think this will be Wilson’s best game of the postseason; he might not have as many big plays as he had against the 49ers, but I think you’ll see him have his way outside the pocket, creating throwing lanes and improvising for first downs.

An inexperienced Broncos front seven will need to stay disciplined in its run lanes against Lynch. Seattle’s myriad blocking schemes frequently allow Lynch to cut back against defenses flowing to the point of attack, which is where he ends up one-on-one against some terrified defender who ends up resembling roadkill. Denver has an excellent pair of defensive coaches in John Fox and Jack Del Rio, and it will be well-coached for this game, but this is a thin group of journeymen and undrafted free agents; they’ll need to win a lot of one-on-one matchups against superior talent to keep Lynch in check.

The Weather Underground

You’ve already read more words about the New Jersey weather and how it might affect Super Bowl XLVIII than you needed to, so I won’t waste your time here. In short: The weather’s not going to make a noticeable impact upon how this game is played. The only weather phenomenon2 that really drastically changes how offenses perform is wind, and Sunday’s forecast calls for light winds. Colder weather might dampen each team’s propensity for passing slightly and take a yard or two off each kicker’s range on field goals, but as currently forecast, it’s going to be a relatively mild 40 degrees.

The possibility of a cold-weather game was perceived to be an unfair disadvantage against the Broncos, but I’m not sure either term fits. The idea that Manning can’t handle cold weather, as I wrote about earlier this year, is overblown and disingenuous. The case against Manning is jaundiced in a number of ways; it uses an arbitrary and misleading temperature endpoint, it relies on a small sample, and it hides the fact that the vast majority of quarterbacks tend to play worse on the road, where virtually all of Manning’s cold-weather games have occurred. Furthermore, while the effect isn’t exactly game-changing, all quarterbacks are worse in cold weather. Here are the numbers for passers since 2000 split by 10-degree temperature bands:3

Temp Cmp Att Cmp% Yds Y/Att TD INT Rtg
<21 1,312 2,306 56.9% 13,968 6.1 93 78 74.1
21-30 4,958 8,619 57.5% 54,598 6.3 369 287 76.8
31-40 12,171 20,765 58.6% 129,376 6.2 810 672 76.4
41-50 18,492 31,280 59.1% 196,474 6.3 1,287 970 78.3
51-60 23,677 39,727 59.6% 253,243 6.4 1,587 1,215 78.9
61-70 22,521 37,484 60.1% 242,159 6.5 1,530 1,123 80.2
71-80 13,586 22,736 59.8% 145,270 6.4 868 687 78.6
81-90 4,601 7,751 59.4% 50,196 6.5 306 234 79.1
>90 267 445 60.0% 2,983 6.7 22 19 78.7
The argument of fairness, meanwhile, seems to revolve around the idea that the Super Bowl is normally played in a dome or other warm-weather environment. That might be typical, but it’s not inherently fair; if you believe that pristine conditions give a little bit of a boost to a pass-heavy team, that would seem to suggest that the Broncos would actually gain an unfair advantage from playing in your usual Super Bowl conditions. Instead of suggesting that the Broncos are at a disadvantage by playing in the (relatively) cold outdoor conditions of New Jersey, it’s probably more accurate to say the Broncos simply don’t have a weather advantage. And just because something is the usual arrangement doesn’t mean the usual arrangement is in itself fair to both sides.

The Prediction

Seattle was a better team than Denver during the regular season by DVOA, Simple Rating System, and Advanced NFL Stats’ Team Efficiency metric. The Seahawks are unquestionably healthier than the Broncos right now. And while Denver’s offense is probably slightly better than Seattle’s defense, Seattle’s advantage when it has the football is far superior. Before the season, I picked Seattle to beat Denver in the Super Bowl.4 It seems wrong to go against that now. Seattle 27, Denver 16.

The formula: (gross passing yards + 20 * passing TDs – 45 * interceptions – sack yards)/(attempts + sacks). ^
That is to say at small-to-medium levels. Obviously, monsoon-level rain like we saw in the Panthers-Saints game this year or the blizzard-like conditions in Eagles-Lions are meaningful, but storms that severe obviously aren’t in the picture for Sunday. ^
Without including games played in domes, which obviously deflates the numbers both by removing great weather from the equation as well as most of the careers of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. ^
Ignore the part where I picked the Giants and Buccaneers to win their respective divisions. Robert Mays made me do that. It was weird. ^
FILED UNDER: NFL


BILL BARNWELL is a staff writer for Grantland.

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marshawn lynch

By: timbersfan, 9:40 AM GMT on February 02, 2014


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Marshawn Lynch: Beast Mode Evolved
The rise, fall, and rise of Seattle's bruising running back

BY BILL BARNWELL ON JANUARY 28, 2014
Marshawn Lynch occupies a weird, compelling space in the football world. More so than anybody else in the league, he’s the guy I find non-football or casual football fans gravitating toward. He’s your favorite basketball blogger’s favorite football player. On a team known even within the outsize sphere of the NFL as one of the league’s biggest1 and most bruising, Lynch stands out for not only making a fair number of defenders miss, but also for seeming to truly relish shaking tacklers off or running them over more than any other back in football. At the same time, he’s a good-natured, downright goofy character with a legitimately funny TV reel, albeit a character with a troubling record of off-field incidents. Maybe what makes him so interesting is that contradiction: Lynch is both that Skittles-slurping folk hero and an old-school archetype being squeezed out of football: the workhorse franchise running back.

Lynch’s professional backstory and the path he has taken to the biggest game of his life are equally disjointed. His lows were lower and his burn was slower than most remember. Somehow, he’s both a cautionary tale for investing too much in a running back and an argument that upper-echelon talent just needs the right spot to shine.

It’s probably fair to say Marshawn Lynch never really should have made his way to Buffalo at all. It was a surprise when the Bills took him with the 12th pick of the 2007 NFL draft, not because of anything to do with Lynch’s talent, but because the Bills were just coming off a dismal experience with their last highly selected running back. They had just been rewarded for spending a first-round pick on Willis McGahee in the 2003 draft by having him complain his way out of Buffalo, refusing to sign an extension while taking shots at Buffalo’s women on the way out. The Bills were only able to net a pair of third-rounders and a seventh-rounder for McGahee. They would end up, years later, getting a fourth- and a fifth-round pick from Seattle for Lynch. Buffalo would even use a third first-round pick on a running back when it nabbed C.J. Spiller with the ninth pick of the 2010 draft.2

As tempting as it is to say that Lynch showed flashes of the brilliant back he would become, he was really a nondescript player for his three-plus years with the Bills. He started from day one and spent his first two seasons as the team’s featured back, but those two seasons produced ho-hum results: He produced an average of 265 carries, 1,076 rushing yards, and eight touchdowns over those two years, just barely squeaking his way over four yards per carry. There’s nothing wrong with those numbers, but you don’t draft a guy in the top 15 to get a league-average back.

The more exciting option was lurking on the bench. Fred Jackson was a 26-year-old undrafted free agent out of tiny Coe College who had spent his postcollegiate career playing minor league indoor football before excelling in the now-defunct NFL Europe; the only reason the Bills likely even gave him a glance was that then–general manager Marv Levy is a fellow product of Coe. Jackson didn’t get the ball as frequently as Lynch, but outperformed him when he did touch the rock. Jackson averaged 4.6 yards per carry on his 188 rushes over that two-year span and was regarded as the better receiver of the two. At the very least, it wasn’t clear that Lynch, the much-ballyhooed first-round pick, was better than his out-of-nowhere backup.

If Lynch’s play left the door open for question marks, his behavior off the field kicked it down. In May 2008, Lynch hit a woman in the middle of a Buffalo street while at the wheel of his Porsche Cayenne before leaving the scene of the accident. He would later plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, claiming he didn’t realize he had hit the woman, and have his license revoked. The woman would later sue Lynch, claiming he was drunk at the time of the accident. Then, in February 2009, Lynch was arrested on felony charges for possessing a concealed firearm; he pleaded down to a misdemeanor.

After the firearm plea, the NFL suspended Lynch for the first three games of the 2009 season. Whether it was the off-field issues, Lynch’s uninspiring on-field performance, or more likely the combination of the two, Jackson began to establish himself as the superior option at tailback. The team lost faith in Lynch as the season went along, and by Week 12, it had installed Jackson as the team’s starting halfback for good. During the subsequent offseason, the Bills drafted Spiller with their first-round pick and installed him in a time-share with Jackson atop the depth chart. Just three years into his career, the 24-year-old Lynch had fallen from the lofty heights of the first round to the third string of the 6-10 Bills.

During that 2010 offseason, Lynch told Yahoo’s Michael Silver that he felt unwelcome in Buffalo; he and his agent reported that Buffalo cops had chastised him for playing music too loudly in the stadium parking lot and falsely accused him of stealing a $20 bill. His homeowners’ association then wouldn’t allow him to keep a pair of pit bulls he intended to raise. By the end of the story, Lynch had suggested it was time for him to move on from his past and improve his reputation, regardless of where he played. He had an ominous threat for opponents, too: “What will you see from me this year? Beast mode.”

Lynch’s time with Buffalo was coming to a close. Trade rumors swirled around him all summer, and while he suffered a preseason ankle injury that prevented the Bills from dealing him before the season, a season-ending injury to Packers back Ryan Grant in Week 2 just added fuel to the rumor fire. A reunion with former college teammate Aaron Rodgers in Wisconsin seemed to make sense for both sides, but during Buffalo’s Week 5 bye, it finally pulled the trigger on a move and shipped Lynch to Seattle for two midround picks. The Seahawks weren’t dealing with a notable injury at running back, but they were dissatisfied with the performance of preseason starter Julius Jones, whom they released shortly after the trade.

This seems like a natural turning point in the Lynch story, with the back getting a clean slate in his new surroundings and exhibiting the considerable raw talent that had fallen by the wayside in Buffalo. It wasn’t. Lynch was barely passable during his debut season in Seattle. He carried the ball 165 times for just 573 yards, averaging a lowly 3.5 yards per rush. Seattle kept its faith with Lynch and used him as its starter for most of the season, but he was benched after fumbling twice in one quarter against the Saints in Week 11, with The Olympian referring to his playing style as “Bumbling Lynch Mode.” The Seahawks again took him out of the starting lineup for their Week 17 play-in victory over the Rams, during which he fumbled for the third time; he fumbled again in the opening round of the playoffs against those very same Saints.

Lynch ran for 57 yards on his first 16 carries against New Orleans, a near-perfect match for that 3.5-yard rushing average from the regular season. On his 17th carry of the game, he unleashed the Beast Quake, arguably the greatest individual run in football history. For a player who never seemed to feel at ease in Buffalo, where he had been rendered irrelevant and unwanted, Lynch became an instant folk hero the moment he crossed that goal line. It must have felt like he had finally found his professional home.

If the trade to Seattle isn’t seen as the turning point of Lynch’s career, it’s the Beast Quake run that’s seen as his step forward into becoming an upper-echelon running back. Again, it’s simply not that clear. He carried the ball just four times for a total of 2 yards against the Bears in Seattle’s subsequent playoff loss, suffering a shoulder injury in the process. He returned as the team’s starting back in 2011 but was relatively ineffective through the first half of the season; in six games (plus a bye and a missed week because of a back injury), Lynch carried the ball 74 times for a total of just 263 yards, keeping his rushing average at a paltry 3.6 yards per attempt. He fumbled in consecutive starts against the Giants and Bengals, turning over the ball on both occasions. The Seahawks were 2-5 and floundering, as they turned the ball back over to Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback for a start at Dallas, which was without emerging linebacker Sean Lee.

Before the game, Lynch went to offensive line coach Tom Cable and asked for some extra guidance on how to run behind Seattle’s zone-blocking scheme. Although the changes were subtle — Seattle Times writer Danny O’Neil described the shift as “[not changing] how he ran so much as where” — Cable credited Lynch for being brave enough to mix things up. “What he showed me is that he had the courage to accept something new,” Cable said. “I say courage because it takes that to actually change your mindset and go to something different.” That shift in mind-set, very clearly, was the turning point in Marshawn Lynch’s career.

The results from the change were immediate. Seattle lost 23-13 to Dallas, thanks to a pair of interceptions on consecutive passes from Jackson, but Lynch had his first big game — game, not lone play — as a Seahawks back. He ran for 135 yards on 23 carries, marking his first 100-yard regular-season game in nearly three years. The Seahawks had hesitated to rely on Lynch before that contest; he’d averaged 13 carries per contest as a Seattle player up to that point, with just four of his 18 games involving 19 carries or more. From the Dallas game on, Pete Carroll turned Lynch into the focus of the football team. He averaged more than 23 carries per game over the final nine contests of the year, carrying the ball at least 19 times in each of those nine games. Lynch finished with six 100-yard games over that nine-game stretch. Seattle went 5-4 to finish the season, and while it would be getting cause and effect backward to suggest Lynch’s workload caused the Seahawks to start winning (when it was likely, in part, the other way around), that second half was really the first time we saw the style of the Seahawks team that will line up in New Jersey this Sunday.

After the season, the Seahawks finally locked Lynch up with a four-year contract extension that guaranteed him $17 million. While Lynch had become a key contributor to and a beloved member of the Seahawks, his off-field issues again arose. He was arrested on suspicion of DUI in Northern California while driving a Ford van, a case which is yet to be resolved, due to come to trial on February 21.

On the field, Lynch has become Seattle’s beating heart. Since that fateful meeting with Cable, the mercurial running back has led the league in both carries and rushing yards:

Player Car Yds TD YPC
Marshawn Lynch 827 3,788 32 4.6
Adrian Peterson 669 3,538 25 5.3
Chris Johnson 710 3,065 15 4.3
LeSean McCoy 652 3,002 20 4.6
Alfred Morris 611 2,888 20 4.7
Frank Gore 676 2,878 20 4.3
Jamaal Charles 544 2,796 17 5.1
Matt Forte 616 2,758 15 4.5
Reggie Bush 591 2,743 16 4.6
Lynch has averaged 92.4 rushing yards per game over that stretch, a figure topped only by Adrian Peterson. He hasn’t missed a single game over that time frame, and after losing that week to Dallas, the Seahawks have gone 32-12 since, including three playoff wins. They’ll aim to make it four on Sunday.

Marshawn Lynch’s history reveals a convoluted, inconsistent story. All the popular reference points for his turnaround are off. He didn’t leave the inexcusable off-field behavior in Buffalo. He doesn’t remotely fit any single past archetype that would suggest a reasonable comparison, but there are players who seem to be in the middle of Lynch’s story, players we probably shouldn’t rush to judge.

Those include LeGarrette Blount, who threw an infamous punch in college before coming to the pros and winning a starting job, only to lose it immediately thereafter and get traded away to a more tolerant franchise. Like Lynch, Blount had his breakout game in the playoffs (against the Colts), only to follow it with a goose egg in the next contest (five carries for 6 yards against the Broncos). Lynch’s history tells us Blount’s next move is to find and adapt to a scheme that plays to his strengths; Blount’s surroundings might be more important than his actual ability to exceed those surroundings. Lynch’s slow rate of adoption in a new scheme after being traded also evokes thoughts of Trent Richardson, a fellow first-round pick and college star who was dealt during his rookie contract.

And, really, it’s important to take away that Lynch’s story is far from over. Believe it or not, he is just 27 years old. In four years, he managed to go from first-round pick to troubled afterthought, and in the subsequent four years, he’s gone from malcontent to superstar. Predicting the future of veteran NFL running backs is often a fool’s errand; with Lynch, it seems downright impossible. About all I can guess is that he’s likely to remain one of the more compelling figures in football.

Per Pro-Football-Reference, Seattle’s average start this season came from a player with an average weight of 255.1 pounds. Only the Jets, Bills, 49ers, and Browns were larger. ^
New Orleans is the only other team to spend as many as three first-round picks on running backs since 2000. ^
FILED UNDER: NFL


BILL BARNWELL is a staff writer for Grantland.

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super bag

By: timbersfan, 6:16 AM GMT on February 01, 2014


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The Super Bag
In honor of Super Bowl XLVIII, here are 48 emails from actual readers

BY BILL SIMMONS ON JANUARY 31, 2014
Even if I’ve written something like 150 normal mailbags over the course of my career, ultimately, only the Super Bags matter. So, how will this particular Super Bag affect my own legacy, as well as the legacy of the Super Bag in general? What will the legacy of that legacy be? Will the fact that I used performance-enhancing drugs to help me recover from Thursday night’s hangover end up working against that legacy, as well as the legacy of the legacy? We’re about to find out. In honor of Super Bowl XLVIII, we’re tackling 48 mailbag questions. As always, these are actual emails from actual readers.

Q: My buddy and I came up with a great idea for a stoner flick called “Archie Manning’s Vasectomy.” Two Boston burnouts somehow find a time machine and go back in time to New Orleans circa 1973. They try to convince Archie Manning that he and the Saints will win the Super Bowl if he has a vasectomy. It’s The Terminator meets Bill & Ted meets Half Baked. What do you think?
—Gabe Perez, Los Angeles

SG: I think you just created something that could potentially leapfrog The Verdict, The Town and The Departed as the most popular Boston movie ever. My biggest note: Definitely name the lead characters “Murph and Sully.” And I’d seriously consider throwing them into the title — something like Murph and Sully Stop the Mannings, just to avoid the inevitable lawsuit when Archie hires an army of lawyers to stop production of Archie Manning’s Vasectomy. You want to make sure this movie gets made. Even if you’re losing a better title, take consolation in Archie Manning’s Vasectomy becoming the most popular name for a fantasy football team. Which should probably happen anyway.

Q: Can we give Marshawn Lynch the Dan Dierdorf award for most negatives in a sentence? He told Deion Sanders, “I ain’t never seen no talking winning nothing!” That quadruple negative has Dierdorf wanting to broadcast another season or two.
—Joe Davis, Baltimore

SG: Did anyone think Marshawn Lynch would defeat Richard Sherman as the MVP of Super Bowl week so far? As late as Monday night, Lynch had to be a +800 underdog, right? Then he stole attention on media day with his pseudo-talking boycott, then successfully repeated the saying-just-enough-not-to-get-fined strategy on Wednesday. He announced a Skittles deal and a new Skittles flavor (“Seattle Mix”). He said the word “shit” on NFL Network. Another one of his media day quotes (“Just ’bout that action, boss”) was quickly turned into a DJ Steve Porter–type remix song that’s actually pretty decent. His incredible candy interview with Japan from a while back continued to make the Internet rounds. And he unleashed the first recorded quadruple negative in sports interview history. I’m not so sure that Dan Dierdorf can’t believe what just happened!

Q: Is Aqib Talib hobbling off the field your least favorite AFC Championship Game tradition?
—Kyle, Philly

SG: It’s right up there with the annual Sunday-night post-Pats elimination conversation with my dad — you know, the one in which we try to figure out why Belichick won’t get Brady more weapons, why the Pats can’t score more than 17 points in any playoff exit game even though they always average 30-plus during the season, and who’s going to fold first and point out that Brady has unquestionably played poorly in five of these playoff losses (Denver twice, Baltimore twice, Jets) and missed big throws in all those games, followed by us both profusely apologizing to one another for ever daring to criticize Brady.

Q: I can take solace in this one fact post-AFC Championship game: At least we know the Patriots aren’t using steroids.
—Mike, Boston

SG: (Nodding sadly.)

Q: If anyone can bring back the nickname for Richard as “Dick,” it is Richard Sherman. In fact, for Super Bowl week, why isn’t he insisting that everyone refer to him as “Dick Sherman?”
—Chris G, Burbank

SG: That’s baloney — after Dick LeBeau and Mighty Mighty Bosstones singer Dicky Barrett did a phenomenal job of carrying the “Dick” banner in the 1990s, we watched Dick Cheney mortally wound the Dick franchise last decade, then saw Twitter CEO Dick Costolo valiantly save it once Twitter took off in 2009. There’s even a Twitter account for fake Dick Costolo tweets called “Fake Dick.” If you’re the impetus for “Fake Dick,” then you brought back “Dick.” But that doesn’t mean Sherman can’t make the shift to “Dick Sherman.” Who knows, maybe he could even pave the way for Dick Incognito, Dick Simmons, Dickie Sambora, Dick Gannon, Dicky Deitsch, Dick Grieco …

Q: Every time Richard Sherman gets an interception my friends and I call it a “Dick Pick”. It could be the greatest inappropriate way to describe an interception of all-time. Why can’t the media say this? This should be a thing. Life is unfair sometimes.
—Pete, Seattle

SG: Hold on, I’m trying to figure out if I count as media.

(Checking.)

Good news — apparently I count! Thanks for coming up with my ideal ending for SB XLVIII, Pete. Imagine if Peyton Manning lost Super Bowls in 2010 and 2014 thanks to a TAINT1 and a Dick Pick, respectively.

Q: Remember the time Roger Clemens threw a bat at Mike Piazza like an out-of-control freaking lunatic and we were all like “He’s pretty pumped up in the heat of the moment, yuk yuk yuk yuk yuk,” and then in retrospect we were all like “Whoa, he was obviously REALLY on steroids or PEDs or something” and “how did that not occur to us at the time?” Cue montage of every single Richard Sherman clip and/or reaction from Championship weekend … aaaaaaand roll tape!
—David Chernicoff, Oakland

SG: Allow me to swerve the other way — I’m defending someone from a team that’s running away with the “most PED/drug suspensions since 2010” record, and who even got suspended himself in 2011 before getting the result overturned with the rarely seen “urine sample taken in a leaky cup by someone with a history of errors” defense (otherwise known as the Ryan Braun2) and then answered “It seems like we do” last summer when asked if Seattle had a problem with PEDs. Sherman had just finished playing tackle football against someone he disliked for three solid hours. That person had disrespected him on Twitter, which is the third-worst thing one athlete can do to another in 2014, trailing only sleeping with his girlfriend/wife and running him over with a Hummer. On top of that, the opposing team had disrespected Sherman by challenging him late on the biggest drive of the game — with a 25-yard fade pattern, no less — which he foiled (on a play that sent Seattle to the Super Bowl). And he was fired up about heading to the Super Bowl, obviously. So he gets yanked off the field and interviewed immediately after the game. And he’s a passionate guy, anyway.

My question: Let’s say I presented that scenario to you right before the game, then said, “Let’s bet … if a charged-up Richard Sherman doesn’t say anything that outrages America in this interview, I will give you $500. But if he DOES say something that outrages America, you have to give me $200.” Would you have taken that bet? No way. You would have tried to negotiate a 1,200/200 ratio. So I don’t get the Clemens/Piazza parallels at all. It can’t be forgotten how insane/illogical/perplexing that Clemens moment was: Piazza’s bat breaks, then Clemens mistakenly fields one of the bat’s pieces like it’s a baseball, whips it at a jogging Piazza and starts F-bombing him. That was like a deleted scene from Pain & Gain. And it took us an extra eight years to realize it.

Q: Apparently some of the survival traits you learn by growing up in Compton and scrapping to survive are only acceptable for rappers. You worship Pac, Simmons, and I do too, but was Pac a better human than Sherman? Pac bangs a guy’s wife and calls him out on the national stage and it’s this epic “throwing down the gauntlet” moment, but Sherman destroys the Niners, calls out Crabtree and he’s classless? F–k the Niners and f–k Jim “A man can be defeated but not destroyed” the warrior poet Harbaugh.
—John Wolff, Missouri

SG: God, you were so close to grabbing the lead in the Best Mailbag Email of 2014 race, John Wolff! If only your last sentence had been, “Well this is how we gonna do this. F—- Crabtree, f—- Harbaugh, f—- the Niners as a team, a franchise and a motherf—ing crew, and if you wanna be down with the Niners, f—- you too!”

Q: What is it about attending Stanford immediately negates the fact that Richard Sherman is an a-hole? Let’s all remember this is the same place that Tiger Woods, John McEnroe, Kerri Strug and Manti Teo’s fake girlfriend all attended. Don’t get me wrong, some schools like Duke graduate more a-holes than others, but no school should give their graduates a free pass from their future behavior.
—Sean McGuire, Gaithersburg, Maryland

SG: I just spent the last 15 minutes trying to figure out how Kerri Strug ended up in that email. Even went down a Kerri Strug Google rabbit hole and everything. Unsolved mystery.

Q: On December 22, 2013, a special teams defender came streaking in from the right side of the formation, lept, extended his arms, and delivered a glancing blow on the pigskin, stopping it from reaching the goal posts. It was the NFL’s last blocked extra point. The blocker? Bernard KARMELL Pollard! That’s right, there’s a chance that Bernard KARMELL Pollard murdered the Point After Touchdown.
—Ryan U, Somerville, Massachusetts

SG: Add that to the list. Pollard also concussed Wes Welker in December, then Welker came back for the playoffs and knocked Aqib Talib out of the AFC title game — it was like Pollard transferred his evil powers to Welker like they were starring in a Wes Craven movie. If Welker takes out any Seahawks in the Super Bowl, we might have to use the Indiana exorcism specialists on him. As for the death of extra points, kickers missed a total of 18 extra points during the past three regular seasons … and made 3,691 of them. So, every 200 times they miss one? What a waste of time. If the NBA turned all technical foul shots into layup attempts, wouldn’t people think that was ridiculous?

All right, so how do you fix it? Snapping the ball from the 10 on point-after kicks just sounds goofy. Roger Goodell brought up an intriguing wrinkle: Maybe the NFL makes every touchdown worth seven points, but if you go for two and get it, you climb to eight points (and if you miss it, you drop to six points). I also like the “every point-after kick has to be a dropkick” idea, if only because nobody is turning the channel on a dropkick. But what’s the best idea? I give you Travis T. from Alabama.

Q: What do you think of this PAT idea? One of the 11 offensive players on the field at the time of the touchdown has to kick the PAT. So it’s still worth one point, but it will decrease the difficulty disparity between 1 and 2 points — thus increasing potential for 2 point conversions and lessening certainty of the PAT kick.
—Travis T., Montgomery, Alabama

SG: Bammo. Just a phenomenal idea that creates the following wrinkles …

1. Every PAT now becomes a must-watch, especially any game-tying PAT in the fourth quarter. Real tension! Who’s turning the channel as LeSean McCoy or Tom Brady tries to cap off a game-tying drive by nailing the point after?

2. More two-point conversion attempts if a team decides that the right PAT kicker isn’t on the field. The phrase “more two-point conversions” is never a bad thing.

3. We just created a new way for Tony Romo to lose a nationally televised game.

4. The free-agent value of certain skill position guys, quarterbacks and even offensive linemen would increase if they could bang home 95 percent of those PATs. Couldn’t you see the Lions overpaying some right guard who also “kicked in high school and could become a PAT weapon”?

5. Bill Barnwell’s inevitable “Best PAT kickers” monthly power rankings column. Coming in at no. 1 … Randall Cobb! Who knew???

6. At least one field goal kicker revolting and writing a whiny “they’re making a mockery of the game and what I do for a living” essay for a sports blog (bonus points if he’s mysteriously waived Kluwe-style a few weeks later).

7. A valuable offensive player (probably a QB, and definitely someone on the Bills, Browns, Vikings or Lions) blowing out his ACL while kicking a PAT, followed by a week of sports debates about how the new PAT rule is moronic … and then, of course, the league panicking and switching back to the old PAT rule.

Q: When listing nicknames for SB48, aka the first Stoner State Bowl (hey, there’s another!), how could you miss “The Cotton Mouth Bowl”?
—Ray Charbonneau, Arlington, Massachusetts

SG: I still love the Doobie Bowl … but man, the Cotton Mouth Bowl is pretty inspired. Can we use both nicknames? If Sean Combs, Triple H and Apollo Creed can have multiple nicknames, then our first Super Bowl between the two states that legalized marijuana should have multiple nicknames. By the way, you guys can stop sending me every conceivable variation of the “After seeing this Super Bowl matchup, when are Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota legalizing marijuana?” joke. We’re at capacity.

Q: I heard your podcast with Sal the Cuz when you predicted the Seahawks would be favored by 3 and a half. I thought you were a half point off but agreed with you that Seattle should be favorites. We were both way way off and Seattle is now a field goal dog. You love shoehorning pop culture references into sports conversations more than Bieber loves Sizzurp. What movie scene captures your feelings about jumping on the Seahawks +3 even though the bet looks too easy and you stunk picking games all season?
—Brandon, The Metropolis

SG: Look, there’s no way I love shoehorning pop culture references into sports conversations more than the Biebs loves sizzurp. That’s crazy talk. But you read me well. I love the Seahawks. They played a much tougher schedule. They’re a better all-around team. They’re built for cold weather. They have the perfect pass rush–secondary combo to throw at Manning. And even if you look at the difference in January games, Seattle played two wars against elite teams (New Orleans and San Francisco); Denver needed a third-and-17 laser to finish off 9-7 San Diego, and it coasted to an easy win over an overachieving Pats team. Throw in a frosty night in Jersey and I think Seattle should be favored by 3.

Important note to remember: The general public sets every gambling line. Vegas only wants to guarantee itself an equal amount of action on each side. From the moment this line posted, people started banging Denver. And they kept banging Denver. And they kept banging Denver. So you could even say there’s a little “Nobody Believes In Us” potential with the Seahawks. It’s the perfect gambling situation in every respect: getting points, going against the public, taking the proven cold-weather team, going with defense over offense … it’s just perfect. And that’s why the line makes me feel like De Niro imploring Henry Hill’s wife to pick up some dresses at the end of Goodfellas.

Yeah, there’s your free Seattle money … you’re definitely gonna win. It’s right over there. Just around the corner. No no no, it’s right in there! Where you going?



Q: Also I bet my friend 20 dollars that this email gets in the mailbag. I studied other mailbags to see what worked and figured it out. I put this email on a platter for you Simmons.
—Brandon, The Metropolis

SG: So to recap — Brandon ruined my confidence in my Super Bowl pick AND ruined my confidence in my ability to pick mailbag questions. Terrific.

Q: During the most recent Cousin Sal podcast (Jan. 21), the AOL “goodbye” sound byte can be heard at 12:34. I’m sure of it since I decided to rewind it 50 times for confirmation. Which one of you is using the computer from the Lost hatch? Does the loser of the ‘guess the lines’ contest have to use AOL CD’s for internet access until next season?
—Jesse Majcher, San Francisco

SG: That was me. Wait, is this why everyone on Grantland’s staff starts laughing every time they hear the “good-bye” sound, or when I pull out my BlackBerry to type an email? Am I like Unfrozen Caveman Sportswriter?

I don’t understand your Gmail and your iPhones. I hear the word “Gchat” and I think to myself, Is this a new cable channel? Someone asks me if I want to FaceTime and I think they want to make out with me. I’m just an Unfrozen Caveman Sportswriter, I don’t understand your fancy new technology. But I’ll tell you what I do understand. PEYTON MANNING SUCKS IN COLD WEATHER!



Q: I believe the closest qb to ever become the greatest quarterback of all time (including playoffs) was Tom Brady in 2007, when he set the touchdown record (50), was undefeated until the Super Bowl (18-0), and one win away from achieving four Super Bowls in eight years and breaking the ’72 Dolphins’ record. He also would have had the greatest win percentage ever. Unfortunately, the “helmet catch” happened and you know the rest. That’s how close Brady was to being the greatest quarterback of all time. But I do believe Peyton Manning 2014 will win the Super Bowl, to go along with the td record, and passing yds record, making him the greatest single season quarterback of all time.
—Dr. Funk, Halifax

SG: This was the last step in a Halifax conversation that clearly started with the question, “How can we get Simmons to open the window of his New York hotel and jump out of it?”

Q: The immense backlash against Richard Sherman can only lead to one possible conclusion: it is all a setup by Roger Goodell to keep other, far more important topics from becoming media talking points! If the ongoing concussions debate and retired players compensation lawsuits get pushed aside, then nobody will push for some true safety reforms that might diminish league revenue if the public thinks the product has “gone soft.” So what does he do? He writes a brilliant speech for a player who was already outspoken that comes off as so arrogant and showboating that a whole week of real issues is instantly lost! Your thoughts?
—Trey, Boise

SG: So you’re saying that Goodell is stealing from the David Stern playbook? I like it! Maybe that’s also why he brought up changing point-after kicks — anything he can do to deflect attention away from concussions, lawsuits and PEDs is a big win. I’m amazed he didn’t “throw it out there” that Los Angeles is being seriously considered as an expansion team, or that they’re “considering” proposals to legalize medicinal marijuana, shorten the goal posts or test an orange glow-in-the-dark football for night games. Stern would have done all these things.

(Since we’re here, congratulations to Stern for 30 unforgettably great years with the National Basketball Association. So what if those 30 years were from 1976 through 2006 — starting when he facilitated the NBA-ABA merger as a hard-driving league attorney in 1976, took over as deputy commissioner, created the salary cap and came up with a hardcore drug policy even before he actually took office — and not the actual 30 years when he ran the NBA? That 1976-2006 stretch was spectacular. If it’s OK with you, I am saving my extended thoughts for another time.)

Q: I have tried to come up with words. I have tried to come up with sports award analogies (breakthrough performance, etc.). But in the end, I have found that I am neither emotionally prepared nor literally capable of describing the importance of Alexandra Daddario’s nude scene in the second episode of True Detective. Please, I need your help.
—Steve, Atlanta

SG: Hands down, it was the most extraordinary nude scene since Saving Private Ryan.

Q: I was thinking of titles for the inevitable 30 for 30 in a couple years on the Seahawks after the whole organization gets suspended for a season due to PEDs. This was the best I could come up with: “The Space Needles”. Thoughts?
—Steve, Nashville

SG: I like The Space Needles slightly more than I like Guiltless in Seattle or The Greenie River, but not as much as I like The Real 12th Man.

Q: What would the best Super Bowl week trash talking comment be? Can you top Manning saying “I’m gonna complete so many passes on Richard Sherman, that he’ll be the most depressed Seattle resident since Kurt Cobain”?
—Tony Greco, New Orleans

SG: There’s only one way to hurt people from Seattle. Even the email we just ran didn’t hurt them. If you make fun of their celebs, grunge music, the weather, Paul Allen, Starbucks, Microsoft, the Mariners, pot legalization, their football team’s PED/drug suspensions … say anything, it will roll right off them. They don’t care. But if a Bronco like Manning said anything along the lines of, “On Sunday, I’m gonna steal this Super Bowl from Seattle like Clay Bennett stole the Sonics!,” or, “There are two certainties in life: The Seahawks aren’t winning the Super Bowl this Sunday, and Seattle is never getting another NBA team,” or even something more subtle like, “I look forward to winning the Super Bowl, then celebrating with Clay Bennett, Howard Schultz and Aubrey McClendon,” that might start our first American civil war in 150 years. The 206 wouldn’t stand for that. Six months from now, you’d be watching Brian Williams say on NBC Nightly News, “The casualties continue to mount in the Civil War of 2014, as Seattle’s army surged into downtown Denver and inflicted the biggest damage yet … ”

Q: No one is talking about Peyton Manning’s Glove. He knows he can’t grip the ball well under 40 degrees. That’s why he’s been using this ENTIRE season to get used to that glove. That’s why he’s worn in it domes and on 70 degree days. It was all in preparation for the wintry playoffs. It was all in preparation for THIS GAME. This is what he does, Simmons. He’s going to win. He figured this all out months ago. BET ON PEYTON. Heed my words.
—Robbie, Chicago

SG: For me, this game isn’t about Manning’s glove and his grip/velocity — it’s about Seattle’s ability to keep pressuring/hitting/belting/walloping/nailing Manning and turn him into a beaten-up 37-year-old guy who doesn’t want to get thrown into the frozen turf anymore. And alongside that, Seattle’s secondary should crush Denver’s receivers after the catch, much like Baltimore did to New England’s skill guys in January 2013. Seattle has to make Manning miserable — that’s been the recurring theme in just about every Manning playoff loss. Make him miserable, and make his skill guys miserable. Keep belting them. The Seahawks are uniquely equipped to do this. That’s why I am leaning toward picking them.

Q: What are the odds that the Broncos win the Super Bowl, it’s hovering around 15 degrees when the game ends and they douse Coach Fox in Gatorade where he immediately goes into cardiac arrest? It’s horrible to think about, but frighteningly practical.
—Jeremy, Denver

SG: I’m not running this email for laughs — I’m running it as a public warning. If the Broncos win, can we all agree that the Broncos shouldn’t dump a giant bucket of Gatorade on John Fox in frigid weather? Just pour a ceremonial 16-ounce bottle on his right shoulder and be done with it.

Q: So I guess that now football is over you’ll go back to shooting the shit about crappy NBA games on TV and writing a column once every three months. Consider this a preemptive strike: You suck, Simmons! Write a column already!
—Charles, Inglewood

SG: My readers keep finding new and improved ways to complain about my columns. I need to take a break to regroup — let’s throw it to one of our new sponsors, Manny’s Sports Bar & Restaurant in New Jersey.



Q: I have some concussion prop bets for you: (1) Who is the first player to officially be diagnosed with a concussion/concussion-like symptoms during the Super Bowl?: Field (-260), Percy Harvin (+150) or Wes Welker (+210) … (2) Over/Under on total concussions during the game: 1½ … (3) Which player will be the first to concuss Wes Welker? Earl Thomas (-150); Kam Chancellor (even); Bobby Wagner (+200); Bruce Irvin  (+300); Pete Carroll (+900).
—Kaya Simmons, Brooklyn

SG: Man, this is really becoming the darkest Super Bag ever. Concussions, cardiac arrest, civil wars — what’s next? Aren’t we obligated to bring the Biebs, Corey Haim and Marvin Harrison into this sordid mess? I say yes.

Q: I used to believe in you. In 2010, you predicted that Justin Bieber would be the one child star “who wouldn’t go off the deep end,” explaining, “He’s Canadian. Canadians don’t go off the deep end. Lock it down.” How can I trust anything you say anymore?
—Jebediah, Fullerton, California

SG: Wait, it took my horrible Bieber prediction for you to stop trusting my opinions??? That was the catalyst? It wasn’t me being 34 games under .500 picking NFL games this season? By the way, that Bieber prediction was flawed coming out of the gate, given the late Corey Haim was Canadian (and I totally forgot this).

Q: It pains me to ask you this, because I consider you an inspiration to me. And to waste your time with Justin Bieber insults your writing and the use of my time. But has Bieber entered the Tyson Zone?
—Will Alisberg, New York

SG: Terrific question. I like that you managed to insult yourself and me. My quickie answer: OF COURSE! Are you kidding me? Name me a Bieber story that would surprise you right now. Bieber funded a dog-fighting ring? Bieber funded a cock-fighting ring? Bieber visited Aaron Hernandez in jail? Bieber fought Shia LaBeouf to the death … and won? Bieber staggered onto the field during the Super Bowl, covered in sizzurp, and got tackled by four security guards? Bieber hit on Cheryl Bernard in Sochi during the Olympics before getting knocked unconscious by a curling stone? Should I keep going?

There’s only one way Bieber can make Tyson Zone history: By dating someone who also happens to be in the Tyson Zone, which would then quadruple their Tyson Zone powers. It’s happened only one other time that I can remember: when Bobby Brown was married to Whitney Houston, ultimately producing a Tyson Zone daughter who recently announced that she is married to her adopted brother. Those are the stakes for Biebs. He needs to knock up Miley Cyrus pretty much tomorrow.

Q: Will you acknowledge in this Friday’s column that Manning and the Broncos completely dominated and beat the Belichick and Brady Pats fair and square?
—Deepak, Texas

SG: (Grimly nodding.)

Q: I like Richard Sherman. He took it a bit too far with Crabtree and I may not like him as a person, but he makes the league more entertaining. Now we need a receiver who will talk with him. Today’s elite offensive players say the right things and go about their business. Give me the players, past or present, you’d most like to see lined up against Richard Sherman on game day.
—Curt, Boston

SG: 2000 Randy Moss in a landslide — not just for the nonstop woofing and shoving that would eventually cause a double ejection and a frustrated Troy Aikman to sob on live TV, but because the matchup itself (tall, athletic cornerback trying to stop tall, freak-athlete receiver) would have been consistently fascinating. Runner-up choices: 1991 Michael Irvin, 2005 Steve Smith and 2002 Marvin Harrison — wait, scratch Harrison, I don’t want Sherman to coincidentally get shot by a custom-made and extremely rare Belgian gun.

Q: While everybody gushes about how quickly the 49ers have become contenders under Harbaugh, what’s ignored is that they have also mastered the mysterious art of the Pre-2004 Red Sox of getting thiiiiiiiiis close and then losing in the most painful way possible. First it was Kyle Williams, who needed only to literally do nothing and walk away to avoid a punt to beat the Giants in regular time, then he fumbled another punt in OT. Against Baltimore, they get to the 5 and call the four dumbest plays imaginable to lose. Then against Seattle, they get into the red zone, 35 seconds left, 2 timeouts. And they call a fade. Thrown by a mobile QB who isn’t a static pocket passer. Into double coverage. Against Richard Sherman. On 1st down.
—Drew, Raleigh, North Carolina

SG: Glad Drew brought this up. Has another NFL team made the Final Four for three straight years, had a legitimate chance to win all three games late, then lost those games in legitimately agonizing ways? My gut feeling was “no,” but we have this thing called “the Internet” that allows us to look up useless crap at all hours of the day. Well … since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only Philly (2001-04), Buffalo (1990-93), Oakland (1973-75),3 Dallas (1980-82) and the Rams (1974-76) played in at least three straight conference title games without winning the Super Bowl. None of those teams lost three straight “heartbreakers,” which means the Niners made tortured football history.

And if this current bunch never wins the Super Bowl, they’d have to be mentioned in every Absolutely Brutal Football Stretch conversation along with the 1973-77 Vikings (three Super Bowl losses, one NFC title loss AND the Staubach-Pearson Pseudo Hail Mary/Push-off loss), the 1986-87 Browns (shaking my head) and the 1990-93 Bills (shaking my head). Important note: The 1968-75 Raiders (two AFL title game losses, four AFC title games losses AND the Immaculate Reception loss) and 2006-07 Patriots (blew an 18-point AFC title game lead, then the Helmet Catch Game) are ineligible because they won Super Bowls near those windows, although they have to be mentioned.

You know who Jim Harbaugh has to thank for his 2011-13 Niners teams not getting thrown into the same sentence with Bud Grant’s Vikes, Marty Schottenheimer’s Browns and Marv Levy’s Bills? Peyton Manning and Dick Sherman. Those guys blew away every other story line coming out of championship weekend, right? The poor Niners got a reprieve — just know that people will be rekindling that angle in August as we’re closing in on the 2014 season. Start getting emotionally prepared for a never-ending barrage of clips of the Pearson catch, the Drive, the Fumble, Wide Right, Kyle Williams and the Sherman tip, Vikes/Chiefs/Bills/Browns/Niners fans. It’s coming.4

Q: I was thinking earlier about the pain to pleasure ratio of testicles and trying to think of an appropriate analogy. The best I could come up with would be the 1 v 16 seed in college basketball. What do you set the line at?
—Ryan Moskal, Atlanta

SG: PAIN (-2500) Pleasure. I also think it’s a home game for Pain — that’s why I put it in all caps.

Q: How amazing would it be if the next Beats by Dre “Hear What You Want” commercial was Obama walking into the State of the Union address?  I’ve always thought they should introduce the President WWE-style, but this approach seems much more Obama.  Wouldn’t this be the best way to fire up America for the next three years?
—Robert L, San Francisco

SG: Wait, why can’t we have the “Hear What You Want” commercial with Obama AND the WWE entrance for his next State of the Union? Why do we have to choose? Just steal Vince McMahon’s entrance music and be done with it.



Q: Why does Russell Wilson suddenly have Greg Gumbel’s hairdo? This is the strangest hair related decision any athlete has made since Jordan said, “Yeah, the Hitler mustache is a solid idea.?”
—Alexander, Minnesota

SG: There’s actually a neat answer for this — something we learned during Wilson’s hour at media day that exploded the whole “Media day sucks and it’s a total waste of time” narrative. In Wilson’s junior year in high school, Wilson and his father grew their hair out as a bonding thing until Wilson’s football team reached the state championship (and they won). His dad passed away in 2010, so Wilson decided to honor him right before this season by doing it again. Very cool story … and a possible Gambling Manifesto tweak if Seattle wins on Sunday. The tweak: “Never bet against God, puppies, gambling theories in Pakistan, and QBs honoring their parents in a hair-related way that already worked once.”

By the way, that blown-out Wilson hairdo is much more Philip Michael Thomas than Greg Gumbel. And I’m not just saying that because I wanted to post the greatest strip-joint clip in network TV history.



Q: After watching the NFC championship game and watching Sherman’s rant about who knows what, I proceeded to take the garbage out. I somehow forgot the recycling bin and about an hour later my girlfriend proceeds to start screaming at me about the recycling bin for three seconds, then changed and went on three different tangents that involved the words laundry, toilet seat, and remote that all intertwined and from an English standpoint made no sense. I know you’ve been there. Can we coin this phrase getting “Richard Sherman’ed”?
—Mike D., OCNJ

SG: (Wincing.)

Q: Just read a piece on Pete Carroll’s career arc and Carroll being sandwiched by Bruce Coslet and Rich Kotite in New York. I had forgotten they weren’t the same person.
—Case, Seattle

SG: It’s your best possible explanation for Carroll’s belated success at USC and Seattle. Wouldn’t it take eight to 10 solid years for Carroll to shed the Coslet/Kotite/Jets stink?

Q: Once upon a time, your nickname for Pete Carroll was Coach Fredo. But what if when Fredo was sent to Vegas (USC) to learn the casino business, he defied all odds and kicked ass? He didn’t take shit from anyone and effectively ran a casino or two. He gained confidence, learned a few valuable lessons along the way, and came out of his shell. Then he went back to New York (the NFL) and with his newfound wisdom and toughness, FREDO became the one who settled all family business and took over the Corleone family. Too big of a stretch?
—Jeremy, Portland

SG: I don’t think you could say anything is too big of a stretch with Pete Carroll. When he fled from USC like it was a crime scene because he knew its program was about to get sanctioned took over the Seahawks four years ago, I was still scarred enough by the Patriots/Fredo experience that … well … I wrote this:

“It took Carroll two years to destroy a Super Bowl team (in New England), and after he left, it took the Patriots two years to win a Super Bowl. You couldn’t do worse. Even Fredo has ‘banged two cocktail waitresses’ on his résumé. Now, this was a good 10-plus years ago, and I was smoking a ton of pot back then, but I specifically remember thinking to myself in 1999, “Pete Carroll is definitely not meant to coach professional football or pick the players.” I didn’t think Carroll was meant to coach football, period. His USC experience revealed that he’s meant to recruit 18-year-olds, hop around on the sideline, pump his fists, do the rah-rah routine, design fun defenses and give likable news conferences. We already saw this routine in the NFL: His name was Herm Edwards. It’s not going to work.”

Look, I don’t know where this ranks on the “Worst Simmons Predictions” ever list — a really, really, really, really, staggeringly long list, by the way — but it has to crack the top 10. I actually find myself rooting for Carroll now, and I didn’t realize why until Jeremy from Portland summed it up so well. Seventeen years ago, in one of these very mailbags on my old website, a reader emailed me, “Pete Carroll answers the question of why Fredo was never given control of the Corleone family.” Now it’s 2014 and Fredo is one victory away from (a) avoiding the fishing boat shooting, (b) outlasting Michael and Sonny, and (c) settling all family business. He’s smart, he’s not dumb, he’s smart, and he wants his respect. I wish I could email this paragraph back to 1998 Me — he wouldn’t believe it.

(Also: 1998 Me would say, “Wait a second … you’re still writing mailbags in 2014??? That’s impossible! Weren’t you the guy who promised that you’d never become a middle-aged sportswriter? I hope you’re getting paid. (Listening.) Wait, you’re making HOW MUCH? And Pete Carroll is about to win the Super Bowl???? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON???????? I AM ABSOLUTELY HALLUCINATING THIS!!!!!!! I NEED TO STOP BUYING THIS SKUNK WEED FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE, IT’S MAKING ME CRAZY!!!!!!!)

Q: What’s the greatest possible ending to the Super Bowl that would break the internet? Ok here we go…. 4th and 4 Denver with the ball down by two with the ball on the Seahawks 44 yard line with 20 seconds left and one time out…. Manning from the shotgun, instead of OMAHA we hear STANFORD followed by choke gesture … Play Action to Moreno pump fakes slant and go to D. Thomas who beats Richard Sherman deep for the game winning touchdown! Peyton runs off field with the evil Peyton Manning face but before he goes straight to Hell to complete his agreement he made “I’ll give you one great season and a Super Bowl win for your soul” with the Devil just like the movie Damn Yankees! Who plays the Devil you ask???? JOHN ELWAY!!!!
—TJ, Huntington Beach

Q: When they first set the date for the “Big Game” it was supposed to be in the middle of a blizzard, and as the Broncos won more games and got closer to the “Big Game” the forecast has been getting clearer and warmer. The forecast for the “Big Game” Sunday is 45 degrees and clear with little wind. Do we need any more proof that Evil Manning made a deal with the devil to win a title this year?
—Kalvin, Fort Myers

SG: As you can tell, we had a two-way tie in the Super Bag for people trying to Jedi Mind Trick me into running the Evil Manning photo again. Fine, fine, twist my arm. You win.



Q: I present to you the last two years of football/basketball first round selections in Cleveland: Trent Richardson (3rd), Brandon Weeden (22nd), Dion Waiters (4th), Tyler Zeller (17th), Barkevious Mingo (6th), Anthony Bennett (1st), and Sergey Karasev (19th).
—Thomas, Cleveland

Q: So this shirt exists. And as proof of how bad it is to be a Chiefs fan, my thought was “Do they mean playoff victory?” Because that seems like an admirable goal at the moment, and I’m 30.
—Aaron Schmidt, Santa Monica

SG: We also had a two-way tie for “The Most Depressing Super Bag Email From a Fan Whose Team Didn’t Make the Super Bowl” this year.

Q: Did you see Mike Pettine’s quote after getting hired by the Browns? “It’s been a lifelong dream to be an NFL head coach and however that opportunity presents itself is fine with me.” However that opportunity presents itself is fine with me?!?!?!? Could he be any less excited about the job? That quote bundles up all the suffering and pain that Cleveland fans have endured.
—Gautam B, New York

SG: I’m spinning it the other way — I loved the “However that opportunity presents itself is fine with me” line. Pettine is basically saying, “Look, I just want to coach an NFL team. I don’t care if that team starts Brandon Weeden and hasn’t won a title since the year after JFK died. I’m THAT desperate. I’m like a horny guy who’s trying to hook up with someone I met online who seems cute and is almost definitely catfishing me, but I’m so horny, I’m willing to roll the dice on the 4 percent chance that she’s real. I’m like the guy who just bought a house that’s been on the market for three years because it had a triple homicide in it and everyone is reasonably convinced that it’s haunted, but there’s no way to know and I can’t resist the outside chance of getting a great deal. I am walking into this job with my eyes wide open. I’m probably screwed. I don’t care. I’m your new Cleveland Browns head coach, Mike Pettine.”

Q: From the opening kick of the 2013 season through Week 17, which three NFL coaches drank the most alcoholic beverages among all 32? Location, bad luck and quality of the team had to play into it, so I am heading north and in some order guessing Mike McCarthy, Doug Marrone and Rob Chudzinski.
—Rock, Jacksonville

SG: I’m going McCarthy, then Marrone, then Chud. Our 2014 favorite … Mike Pettine!

Q: Brandon Weeden played in eight games this season. The Browns won two of those games. In one win (Baltimore), Weeden threw just two passes. The other? A 37-24 win over Buffalo. Who was Buffalo’s defensive coordinator in that game? New Browns head coach Mike Pettine. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Browns!
—Andrew, Reminderville, Ohio

SG: HOWEVER THAT OPPORTUNITY PRESENTS ITSELF IS FINE WITH ME!!!!!!!!!!!!

Q: Who are the top five current starting QBs (in order) that need a Super Bowl win? It can be any reason from “He can’t seem to win the Big One” all the way to “He hasn’t won anything since Spygaye.” My list would be: (5) Philip Rivers (both Eli and Big Ben have two and Rivers had more weapons); (4) Tom Brady (to stick it to those saying he hasn’t won since Spygate); (3) Jay Cutler (Pro Bowl weapons everywhere, recently got a huge payday); (2) Tony Romo (zero playoff wins, more season ending collapses than December wins); (1) Peyton Manning (needs another ring to go along with the 415,527,174 records that he holds, and Eli can’t have more rings than him).
—st1nky_diver, New York

SG: I’m answering this question in ascending tiers. Tier 1: Eli, Big Ben, Rodgers, Flacco and Brees, all of whom could absolutely use another ring for career cachet (and in Eli’s case, needs it for his Hall of Fame case). Tier 2: Andy Dalton, who could at least be remembered in a Brad Johnson/Trent Dilfer–type of way with a ring. Tier 3: Romo, Rivers and Cutler, the three guys who could reinvent themselves historically with just one ring. And Tier 4: Brady and Manning.

As I wrote two weeks ago, we’ll never decide on a QB G.O.A.T., but that second title probably guarantees that Manning gets mentioned just before Brady in any “best QB ever?” argument when people are talking about Manning, Brady, Montana, Elway and Unitas (and maybe in a few years Rodgers, too). Manning’s résumé if Denver wins on Sunday: best regular-season QB ever; more passing records than anyone else; best single-season passing year ever; three Super Bowl trips; two rings. Which leads us to …

Q: Is this Super Bowl the worst possible scenario for us Boston homers? Pete Carroll versus Peyton Manning. Should we … (A) Root against Peyton and for that phony Pete Carroll, who left both the Pats and USC in flames; (B) Root for Peyton even if it means that all of your ESPN colleagues will drink the Kool-Aid and label him the G.O.A.T; or (C) Hide in my closet and hope Rex Ryan turns off the lights in MetLife Stadium before kickoff?
—Will, Boston

SG: Keep in mind, you’re asking this question to someone who changed his Super Bowl flight during the third quarter of the Pats-Denver game because he wanted to be at least 2,500 miles away from Manning winning his second Super Bowl. But I’ll try to be objective here. For Boston fans, “Brady vs. Manning” has been the “Russell vs. Wilt” or “Bird vs. Magic” for this generation. If Manning wins the Bowl, you wouldn’t say he grabs the entire upper hand in that rivalry, but he definitely grabs all five fingers. No Boston fan wants that. Even if you’re still a little bitter at Pete Carroll for screwing up a talented Pats team in the late ’90s, how can that trump the Manning-Brady stakes here? And you can’t even say, “I loved Welker, I’d love to see him get a ring,” after he intentionally or inadvertently wiped out Talib two weeks ago. (My personal stance: YOU ARE DEAD TO ME, WES WELKER.)

Now, throw in the Seattle component — an unquestionably tortured sports city that hasn’t won a title since 1979, suffered through some amazing so-close-and-yet-so-far Mariners seasons, got blatantly screwed by the refs in Super Bowl XL, had the Sonics stolen away from them while David Stern did everything short of helping Clay Bennett purchase the getaway car (again, congrats on 30 great years, David — the ones from 1976 to 2006), and sunk so low that they’ve spent the past few years trying to convince themselves that the MLS can be anything bigger than “Triple-A baseball with soccer players.” Seattle needs this. For that and a variety of other reasons, I’m riding with the 206 on Sunday.

Q: I’m sensing some real palpable anti-Denver anger from your podcast comments with Cousin Sal, so I’m predicting the following: You pick Denver to win straight up and cover the spread in your column; your actual bets (if betting was legal) will be on Denver; you will spend the entire game rooting for Seattle to destroy Denver. Billy Zima is out for revenge and somebody (Peyton) has to pay.
—Tristan S., Victoria, British Columbia

SG: Come on, I’d never be that vindictive. That’s crazy talk. (Frantically checking to make sure Tristan doesn’t have access to my emails and texts this week.)

Q: In your Book of Basketball, you mention multiple times that you’ll have to rewrite it because you’ll be broke and need the money. Judging by your record on gambling this season, you might be right. You’re either a psychic or you sprayed yourself with the skunk spray and jinxed yourself. Billy Zima strikes again! Honestly, I’m loving this. At this rate, you’ll be broke by 2016 and then the Book of Basketball 2.0 will be released soon there after. ZIMA!!! ZIMA!!! ZIMA!!!
—Josh E., Provo

SG: We’re right on pace, my friend. We’re right on pace. Hold on, it’s time for a quick tangent because nobody asked me this question and it’s illegal to make up mailbag questions. I thought for sure someone would ask what it’s like to have a Super Bowl week in New York City, especially because I am a longtime proponent of the “Super Bowl should only be hosted by Miami, San Diego and New Orleans in a three-city rotation and that’s it” theory. Of course, I’m also the same guy who once wrote this:

“Either way, the Super Bowl should be given only to cities that double as bachelor party destinations or feasible destinations for a Real World season. Think about it. If you were a best man throwing a bachelor party, you’d never say the words, ‘Hey, guys, we’re going to Jacksonville!’ If you were an MTV executive planning a Real World season, you’d never say, ‘Hey, what about Houston?’ So why would we hold the Super Bowl in those places? Isn’t Super Bowl week supposed to be fun?”

Well … New York City definitely passes the bachelor party/Real World test. And then some. It’s been freezing cold all week, obviously, but here’s a news flash: Jacksonville 2005 and Dallas 2011 weren’t exactly St. Bart’s. It’s going to be an absolute pain in the ass to get to and from MetLife Stadium, but you could say that about a variety of Super Bowls (Glendale 2008, anyone?). There are more than enough hotels and restaurants and bars and late-night food options and cabs and things-to-do-that-can’t-be-printed, that’s for sure.

Here’s my only nitpick: It doesn’t feel like it’s the Super Bowl. I’ve been here since Monday — it feels like any other week I’ve ever spent in New York City. You wouldn’t even know it was hosting the Super Bowl save for the 10-block stretch they carved out near Times Square. The best thing about attending the Super Bowl is that nonstop feeling of, “Cool, this is awesome, I’m at the Super Bowl!” Everywhere you look and everything you do reminds you of that. That’s why everyone appreciated the Indianapolis Super Bowl so much, actually — for everyone living there and working there, it was like their whole life revolved around making every visitor enjoy Super Bowl week. New York City is just being New York City. If Jacksonville was severely overmatched by the Super Bowl, then New York is the one and only American city that has actually overpowered the Super Bowl. It’s an overqualified host. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

The one great outcome here: possibly, a cold-weather football game that FEELS like a real football game, where real men decide the title and stuff. I’m excited for that more than anything. An old-school, cold-weather, kick-ass football game that couldn’t have unfolded the same way in a dome or a warm-weather venue would single-handedly swing my verdict toward “YES!” Anyway, I’ve been to 11 of the last 13 Super Bowl weeks (only missing Tampa and Detroit). Ranking those cities in order from “best host” to “worst host”: New Orleans/Miami (tie), San Diego, Indianapolis, New York, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Dallas, Houston, Jacksonville, Jacksonville again, Jacksonville a third time. Whether New York climbs past Indy and San Diego remains to be seen. All right, back to the Super Bag.

Q: Your picks this year were as hard to read as watching Obama throw the opening pitch like a woman. Please pick against the Seahawks for the Super Bowl.
—Joe, Dana Point

SG: I’m thinking about it. We’re getting close to make-a-pick time.

Q: I’m interested to know if you think On Golden Blonde is the most extraordinary porno since Shaving Ryan’s Privates.
—Randy E., Oakland

SG: That was our 48th email. Look, at that, we’re suddenly in range! Bonus round!

Q: I finally got the balls and the idea to send you an email. Four words. German Shepard Pro Bowl. Here’s the idea, QB has his five guys and the ball is snapped. As soon as the ball leaves his hands 11 police German Sheperds are let loose to follow wherever the ball goes (they’re trained to follow the ball in this scenario and everyone is wearing appropriate gear). I don’t see anything  terrifying Jimmy Graham more than 11 dogs being let loose to get him as soon or before the ball gets to him. Thoughts?
—Cody, Dearborn Heights, Michigan

SG: Getting closer …

Q: On the lameness scale, how high is watching the Super Bowl at home alone with your wife? No buddies, no poker, no profanity, no drinking. Please list the things you would rather do than watch the Super Bowl at home alone with your wife. I typed that again because I still can’t believe that’s what I’m doing on Sunday.
—Neil, Ottawa

SG: Closer …

Q: I need your infinite wisdom. Just got home from a great first date in Atwater Village with a girl I met online. I ordered a chai latte and a greek yogurt parfait, drizzled with organic honey with blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. I told my roommate this and he said my order alone had relegated me strictly to friend zone status with this girl forever. What’s your take?
—Michael, Los Angeles

SG: Closer …

Q: My tongue has been hurting me for awhile now and I finally went to the doctor today. First thing he asks me after looking at my tongue was if I had been eating a lot of cinnamon lately. I immediately started laughing and told him I drink a lot of fireball (had to explain to him cinnamon whiskey) and he Seems to think this is the problem. It’s quite coincidental that he led with that question if you ask me. He put me on the fireball DL for 2-3 weeks which if I actually adhere, will be an awful time. My only hope is “fireball tongue” will forever be known as Brian Linner Disease (BLD) ala Lou Gehrig which is good news for Bud Light since my intake will skyrocket considering no fireball to compete with.
—Brian, Staten Island

SG: Yup, these are my readers.

All right, time for my big Super Bowl pick: Broncos minus-2.5 or Seahawks +2.5??? For the record, I thought about pulling a Berman and making this pick worth 35 games, in a last-ditch attempt to finish over .500 this season, before realizing that would be ridiculous. I got crushed this season. Shit happens. This spring, I’m killing off Billy Zima and coming back stronger than ever next season. By Labor Day 2014, they’ll be throwing me in this montage.



Anyway …

Why You Regretted Taking Denver: You took a great offense over a great defense even when history says you should do the opposite. You got seduced by a very good Broncos team that looked like a juggernaut because it played an easy regular-season schedule, then beat a 9-7 Chargers team and a ludicrously depleted Pats team at home in Rounds 2 and 3 … and you forgot that Seattle had a much tougher road from Week 1. You forgot that Russell Wilson might be special, and that Beast Mode can be pretty frightening to wager against. You didn’t realize that Seattle’s Cover 3 defense was created to frustrate someone like Manning, or that Seattle’s defense would punish him and his receivers all game long. You hoped Seattle wouldn’t make one big special teams play (but it did), and that the colder weather wouldn’t bother Manning as the game went along (and it did). You forgot about the Manning Face. You didn’t care that Seattle had a better all-around team and a decidedly healthier team (and you should have). You went with the general public, who threw their money behind Manning for two weeks (and you should have known better). You are the reasons that bookies drive BMWs and casinos keep getting built.

Why You Regretted Taking Seattle: You forgot that San Francisco had Seattle in that title game and let it off the hook. You forgot that it’s REALLY hard for Seattle to top 24 points against a good defense, and that it’s just about impossible for Denver NOT to score 24 points. You forgot that Denver’s D has been swallowing up the run lately, which means young (repeat: young) Russell Wilson will probably have to win this one for Seattle. You forgot that Denver’s O-line has done a masterful job of protecting Manning all season, and that he’ll have plenty of time to pick apart that Cover 3. You forgot that he’s playing in MetLife Stadium, and that the karma of Peyton tying Eli’s two rings on Eli’s turf after Eli passed him on Peyton’s turf is just too perfect. You forgot that it’s been Peyton’s season since Week 1 — seven TDs, Thursday night, Baltimore — and that his out-of-body experience has even spread to him being able to control the weather. You forgot that this journey can’t end any other way — more heartbreak for Seattle fans, the ultimate storybook start-to-finish season for Peyton Manning, all the “Greatest QB Ever!” talk flipping into full swing. Most of all, you forgot how spiteful Billy Zima is.

The Pick: Denver 22, Seattle 19

Playoffs: 3-5-2
Season: 111-145-10

That’s the acronym for TD after INT. ^
Question: How can someone have a history of errors taking urine samples? How hard is that job? Isn’t it easier than, say, being a Starbucks barista? ^
The ’76 Raiders won the Super Bowl. ^
Colin Kaepernick and I discussed this very theme on Thursday’s B.S. Report from the Bud Light Hotel in NYC. Stopping by today: Drew Brees, Erin Andrews and Joel McHale. ^
FILED UNDER: NFL


BILL SIMMONS is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland.

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