Friday, July 18, 2014

Love, Wiggins and Front-Office buffoonery

Rumors emerged last night that the Cleveland Cavaliers have finally agreed to include Andrew Wiggins in any Kevin Love proposal. As a Wolves fan, this is the best case scenario assuming Love won't stay in Minnesota.

Receiving a high-ceiling #1 overall pick, along with other young players and/or draft picks, gives the Wolves the best chance at building a consistent winner over the next few years. However, let's be clear here: Kevin Love is an elite player in basketball. If he were willing to resign with the Wolves rather than demanding a trade, he would't even be available. Cleveland wouldn't be close to landing Love with their Wiggins, draft picks and young busts offer that will probably end up landing him.

Seeing so called "experts" rail against Love is getting annoying. Yes, I'm not a fan of him because he's clearly been counting the days to leave Minnesota since he signed his second contract. But to suggest he's simply a stat stuffer is unfair and quite honestly terrible reporting.

At first glance, I understand why people aren't as high on Love as they should be. He's never made the playoffs, and because the average fan seems convinced a great player can lead his team to the post-season on his own, Love is considered overrated. But he isn't. Not by a long shot. He's the third most efficient offensive player in basketball, behind only James and Durant. Yes, his defense is poor and he can get lazy and whiny at times on the court. That doesn't matter. His offense is so elite the Cavs would almost certainly finish with the league's best record, and despite ESPN talkingheads consistently saying the Western conference representative would beat Cleveland in the finals, that seems unlikely. Miami managed to win 2 championships in 4 years with a big 3 that simply put isn't as good as a LeBron/Love/Irving big 3 would be at this point in their careers.

San Antonio may have embarrassed Miami this summer, but let's not forget Miami did defeat them in 7 games the year before. The Spurs were determined not to let that happen again, but to just assume the Western conference team is going to be great as San Antonio was this summer is silly. Even San Antonio is unlikely to be close to as good as they were in the playoffs.

Cleveland with Kevin Love, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and a bunch of veteran ring chasers will be the favorites.

As far as Wiggins goes, his potential may be slightly overstated after being a hyped up high school product. He's long, he's young, and he's extremely athletic. If he can turn his tools into production, he could be a very good if not great two-way player. However, the chances he becomes even 90% of the player Kevin Love is are slim. If it takes him 3-4 years to develop into that kind of player, which most expect it will, LeBron James will be 33 years old. Sure, James may still well be the best player in basketball at that time, but everyone ages at some point. What if James and Kyrie can't get past the Western conference over the next few seasons while the team waits for Wiggins to develop? If Wiggins fails to become a star, and ends up as a Rudy Gay clone, (an actual overrated stat-stuffer, unlike Love) the city of Cleveland may continue to be without a championship for another 50 years.

Sure, there's a chance Wiggins develops quickly and as soon as next season is an above average player that helps the Cavs win the title, but it's not a good one. Wiggins looked overmatched at Kansas as a freshman at times. That's to be expected from an 18 or 19-year-old kid playing on the biggest stage in college basketball, but let's not act like Wiggins is an automatic franchise changing player. He's certainly not the next LeBron James, a man who averaged 20 PPG in the NBA at the same age Wiggins played at KU.

And despite Bill Simmons hatred of Minnesota clouding his judgement, Wiggins is not going to become Scottie Pippen to LBJ's Jordan. He just isn't. Pippen is probably a top 15 player of all time, he just doesn't get the credit because he spent basically his entire career being second fiddle to MJ. Simmons basketball knowledge makes me actually glad the Wolves hired Kahn and didn't let Simmons little public plea for the job gain any traction. Simmons actually seemed to take it personally, going from praising the Wolves in nearly every article to criticizing even the smallest moves.

Not trading Wiggins for Love would be a colossal misstep by the Cleveland front office. Fans and league executives around the league are simply showing their stupidity when they say Wiggins shouldn't be offered in a deal for Love. To be honest, Love likely isn't getting the respect many lesser players have received (namely, Carmelo Anthony) because he's white. Some people, for dumb reasons I can't explain, always assume what they see  live is better than stats. He looks terrible running up and down the court, he's never been to the playoffs, and he plays like a white guy. He shoots well and plays below the rim. His best skills, rebounding and outlet passing, are glorified in old men's pickup games moreso than the NBA. But he scored 26 points a game, shot 38% from 3 and 82% from the free throw line. Kevin Love, contrary to popular belief, is a superstar. That's hard to admit as he packs his bags and gets ready to leave Minneapolis, but it's the truth.

Thankfully, Steve Kerr and Jerry West seem to think Klay Thompson is Kobe Bryant, so it looks like Cleveland is the only viable trading partner. A Wiggins based package is much better than a Thompson based package, so here's to hoping Kerr continues to prove he's one of the worst executives in NBA history. How he got a coaching job after running the Suns into the ground as a GM is beyond me, but letting him have any say in personnel matters is even sillier. Steve Kerr can't judge NBA talent. That's been proven.

Ideally, the Wolves and Cavs will agree to a trade in the next few days, so we can put this Kevin Love hoopla behind us and get back to losing 55+ games a season--a franchise tradition. Now we'll have to wait and see if Rubio follows in the footsteps of Marbury and Love, or if he can remain loyal to the organization that brought him in. With Glen Taylor and Flip running the show, even Rubio's extension might be a mess. But at least it's not Kahn, or worse, Bill Simmons, doing the negotiating.

Have fun in Cleveland, Kevin, they'll Love you there.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ann Coulter and American Exceptionalism

In case you missed it, Ann Coulter wrote a scathing article about a week ago about the sport of Soccer. (Or, as it's correctly called everywhere else, Football) She received plenty of criticism for the article, and rightfully so. The article is terribly researched, and it reads like it was written in Greg Gutfeld's constant sarcastic idiocy.

I'm not a soccer fan. Not at all. I enjoy watching the World Cup every four years, but that's it. However, the article she wrote isn't just silly, it's completely incorrect. It would be funny if it was satire. Take a look.

In the very first paragraph, she rails against soccer for not focusing on individual achievements enough. 
Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer. In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls -- all in front of a crowd. 
That sentence alone should make those who think of Coulter as a "brilliant mind" reconsider. Has she never seen a penalty kick? Did she see Ronaldo's cross to keep Portugal momentarily alive against the US? It was a beautiful pass, and anyone watching or listening understood immediately who was responsible for that remarkable play. Ronaldo. Players miss the nets, score on their own goals, etc. There are just as many individual moments in soccer as there are in American football, basketball, baseball, etc.

Regardless, criticizing a SPORT because it's not individualized enough is laughable at best, downright mentally incompetent at worst. Sports are designed to teach people to work together for a common goal, not to make one person shine above the rest. Children learn to cooperate, how to accept failure, and how to deal with failure in front of their peers from playing team sports. This one quote--the first sentence of her argument, nonetheless-- is everything that's wrong with the belief of American exceptionalism. Soccer isn't as big in America, so it must be terrible, because America is the best!

Her second point was even worse.
 Liberal moms like soccer because it's a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys. No serious sport is co-ed, even at the kindergarten level. 
 Idiotic is too nice of a word. When I was little, I played tee-ball. The games were in the middle of the day during the week, so the coaches were all moms, not dads. And guess what? Some of the people on my team were GIRLS. But, you know, it's not like Baseball is considered one of America's oldest pastimes or anything. The reason boys and girls play TOGETHER on some kindergarten level sports teams isn't because the talent level is similar (trust me, it's not) it's because the POINT OF THE SPORT is to cooperate. Teaching children to cooperate with both girls and boys at a young age will only help them adjust easier when they are meeting new people on a daily basis.
No other "sport" ends in as many scoreless ties as soccer. This was an actual marquee sign by the freeway in Long Beach, California, about a World Cup game last week: "2nd period, 11 minutes left, score: 0:0." Two hours later, another World Cup game was on the same screen: "1st period, 8 minutes left, score: 0:0."
Either she's completely making this up, or whoever was updating that marquee sign in Long Beach knows nothing about soccer. They play halfs, not periods. They also count UP, not down. So rather than saying "11 minutes left in the second period" the sign would really say that the score was 0-0 in the 79th minute, because that means there's 11 minutes left in the game. There are less goals in soccer than other sports, but this makes each scoring opportunity very exciting. I think she made this up thinking it added humor to the piece. Sigh.
The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport.
This is completely and utterly false. That is a solid reason to watch Fox News, though.
You can't use your hands in soccer. (Thus eliminating the danger of having to catch a fly ball.) What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs.
Yet another example of someone who's supposed to be "brilliant" misleading a ton of her readers. What ACTUALLY separates humans from other species is our brain. It's considerably more complicated and developed than other species, and it allows us to work together to succeed in the Animal Kingdom. Think about it. We can't survive a night in the cold, we are nowhere close to as strong as many animals, yet humans have managed to reach the top of the food chain. It's not because we have thumbs, sorry. It's because humans can cooperate to eliminate a threat, while animals only do it on a very minute level.
I resent the force-fed aspect of soccer. The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO's "Girls," light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton. The number of New York Times articles claiming soccer is "catching on" is exceeded only by the ones pretending women's basketball is fascinating. 
She just keeps listing things she doesn't like and pretending that it's a liberal agenda. Light-rails, AKA cheap, public transportation, are fantastic. This annoyed me though because nobody is force-feeding soccer or Girls or Beyonce on anyone. This is 2014 in America, I'm pretty sure the only thing being forced upon you is the NSA's over reaching. If you don't like soccer, turn the channel. It's simple.
I note that we don't have to be endlessly told how exciting football is. 
The NFL off-season was covered more than the Stanley Cup Finals on Sportscenter, so let's not pretend like American Football isn't overhyped. I love football, it's wonderful to watch, but fans in other countries love soccer MORE than Americans love football. That's not because people in other countries are morally bankrupt or stupider, it's simply a cultural difference that Ann Coulter can't seem to get her head around.
Despite being subjected to Chinese-style brainwashing in the public schools to use centimeters and Celsius, ask any American for the temperature, and he'll say something like "70 degrees." Ask how far Boston is from New York City, he'll say it's about 200 miles.
Again, this is Coulter citing American exceptionalism where it doesn't exist. Celsius actually is a lot easier to understand than Fahrenheit, as anything below 0 is freezing. Seems simpler than 32 degrees, no? Using kilometers instead of miles, again, is a cultural thing. Why are we so against people being different? Isn't this America? The world's melting pot? Can I ask any more questions?

One final complaint:
I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time. 
My great-grandfather was born here. Both were. I've watched every game of this world cup. Soccer isn't the problem. The English comment was the worst by far, though. Does Miss Coulter understand that most teenagers in other countries are capable of speaking multiple languages? Unlike in America, where we can't even speak one language correctly, speaking multiple languages is considered an asset.

Soccer's here to stay, Ann, but here's to hoping America can drop it's "Kind of smart, kind of blonde, kind of a woman" fetish and stop paying any attention to you.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sports and Social Media

InfographicWorld has released a very interesting, well, infographic, with statistics about sports broadcasts and social media. Take a look, and then head on over to their website if you feel inclined to do so.

Courtesy of: Infographic World

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Flippin Out

Nostalgia is a dangerous thing for any person to deal with. The happy memories are often followed by equally sad memories, or a longing to get back to the happy memories. It can be triggered with a simple song lyric or even driving by an old restaurant. Nostalgia happens. It's unavoidable.

Unfortunately, Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor seems to live in nostalgia. Last off-season Taylor named former head coach Flip Saunders as the team's president, despite very little evidence suggesting Saunders would be well suited for the job. And today, he allowed Saunders to become the Head Coach again. Taylor and Saunders have had a close relationship since the first time Saunders coached the Wolves, and because he happened to be the coach when Kevin Garnett was here, he's the winningest coach in Wolves history. However, Saunders consistently had trouble developing young players not only in Minnesota but also in Washington. He traded the pick that became Ricky Rubio for Mike Miller and Randy Foye. One of David Kahn's few good moves in his time here, and it was a deal that ripped off the man that is now our current President. Oh, and the current Wolves GM, Milt Newton, also was part of that Wizards front office that agreed to the trade. Rubio would have been traded by Washington at this point anyway, but he certainly had a lot more trade value than Miller and Foye. Just a silly trade at the time that looks even worse now.

Saunders and Taylor, after botching the Dave Joerger negotiations, have agreed that Flip will return to the bench to be the Wolves coach for an unknown amount of time. Saunders and Taylor reportedly have an "open-ended" agreement that allows Flip to try to find a coach any off-season he chooses. Considering Saunders has wanted to coach the team since Adelman retired, I expect him to be the coach until Glen tells him otherwise.

Flip isn't a great coach. He's just not. His offense is heavily jump shot based, his teams have never been great defensive TEAMS (KG made some of his Wolves teams above average defensively) and as mentioned above, he has a terrible record working with young players. Many bandwagon Wolves fans will look at the hire and ultimately be fine with it, because they've heard of him and he did well the last time basketball was relevant in Minnesota.

Having Saunders and Milt Newton around to make the inevitable Kevin Love trade is even more worrisome. Common sense would suggest the Wolves take the best lottery pick offered and package of young players. If Cleveland wants Love, there's no reason the Wolves shouldn't pounce on a package centered around the #1 pick. Getting another franchise type talent is an absolute necessity in any Love trade, and in this draft that means a top 3 pick. Trading Love to Chicago for a package based around Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler is something Flip would have interest in, as he's not going to want to rebuild for the next few years.

Gibson and Butler are good players, and they would make the Wolves an improved team, even without Love, I think. However, neither player looks to be a franchise altering talent. Unless the team somehow was able to find a steal at #13, which is very unlikely, we'd likely be relegated to watching a 45-win team compete for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West for the next five or so seasons. With Saunders taking over as the head coach, I expect the Wolves to trade Love for a veteran package, possibly with some mid-to-late first round picks attached as sweeteners.

Oh, and next season, expect a lot of angry fans watching Ricky Rubio opt not to shoot, or even miss 20 foot pick and roll jumpers. I love Rubio, but his game is not tailored well at all to Flip's former offense. Maybe Saunders has learned to adjust to his personnel in the last decade, but as they say, you often can't teach old dogs new tricks.

However, because Flip's offense is shooting based, trading Love for a top 3 pick would be ideal. This would signal that the Wolves are rebuilding yet again, which would make winning games less of a priority (obviously). This would allow flip to tell Rubio to shoot every time he's open. The only way his shot will improve is with in-game reps, and the best way to get him those reps is in a season in which the team isn't competing at all. So while Saunders isn't a great coach, they could use one of his offensive strengths (creating open jump shots) to improve their point guards game a great deal. If that happens, Flip might be a success.

That said, I fully expect Saunders to be a disappointment, and while I'd love to be wrong, the Wolves history suggests I'll be exactly right.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Kevin Love, We Hardly Loved You

Kevin Love has been a darling of the advanced stats portion of NBA fans for years. His three point shooting percentages coupled with his ridiculous rebounding rate made Love extremely efficient on the offensive side of the ball. Now, of course, you don't have to believe in the advanced stats to know Kevin Love is considered one of the top players in the NBA.

Despite all of Love's ability, however, he's been unable to lead the Timberwolves to the playoffs even once since being drafted in 2008. That isn't entirely his own fault of course, but this isn't baseball. One star player in the NBA can and oftentimes should be enough to at least squeak into the playoffs. The problem with Love is that all of his value comes on one side of the ball. His defense is among the worst at his position, and his lack of hustle after certain offensive possessions hurts the team immensely. Multiple times this season Love would miss an easy layup on a play he felt he was fouled on, complain to the ref and watch the man he's supposed to defend beat him down the court by 5 steps for an easy layup. That sounds meaningless in a game that each team scores close to 100 points, but the Wolves horrible record in games decided by 5 points or less is the sole reason they missed the playoffs.

Kevin Garnett is and likely will always be the greatest Timberwolf in history. The team has never made the playoffs without him on the roster. I've seen people point to the increased strength of the Western Conference over the last 10 years as a reason for Love's inability to make the playoffs, but I don't buy it. From 1996-2003, the Timberwolves made the playoffs every year. They're worst record during that stretch was in 1996, when they finished 40-42. That 40-42 horseshit record is what the Timberwolves finished with again this year, in what appears likely to be Love's final season as a Timberwolf. That will be Love's best season here.

And to be honest, Wolves fans should be hopeful it was his final season. Love is a talented player who will be hard to replace, no doubt. But he's a west coast kid and wants to live out there. That's fine. He has trouble keeping his mouth shut at the right time, and for someone who can't seem to carry a team on his own, you can't have that kind of loud mouth leading a losing team year after year. He'll say something stupid once or twice a year.

David Kahn is more responsible for the team's losing obviously as he put together botched drafts and terrible free agent signings, including Love's idiotic 3-year extension instead of the obvious 5 year he should have given him. But at some point, the star player has to take the blame for constantly losing. Love will need to go to a team that already has a better player, or a team that has a dominating defensive center AND a tweener 3/4 that can guard the quicker 4's that give Love trouble. His defensive issues can be hidden to some extent in the right systems, but by being out of position and oftentimes caring more about getting offensive rebounds than defensive positioning, he's negating a lot of his offensive value.

Having a star player like Love basically admit he doesn't want to be in Minnesota is always going to be hard for fans to stomach, but it's for the best that he leaves. Love will likely go to a team that will play deeper into the postseason than the Wolves ever have, and ideally the Wolves will get a high enough lottery pick this year that they can start to build a real roster that not only scores bunches of points but also plays defense. A best case scenario would see the Lakers move into the top 3 picks, and then send a package centered around that pick for Love. As long as the Wolves take any of the elite prospects that aren't named Julius Randle, it'll be almost impossible NOT to improve the team's defensive numbers by losing Love. I'd be pulling for Andrew Wiggins in that scenario, as I think his length and defensive ability when paired with Rubio's defensive instincts would give the Wolves a nice core that isn't offensive-minded only. However, Parker or Embiid would be fine too, although an Embiid pick would have to be followed by a Pekovic trade in the near future.

Regardless of who the Wolves end up trading Kevin Love to, the fact of the matter is he's never had a winning season and he doesn't seem likely to if he stays in Minnesota. As someone with no ties to this state it's a bit ludicrous to expect Love to want to stay and deal with more and more losing, but that's what made KG so special. Even after a few losing seasons, he still wanted to stay. He didn't want to go to Boston at first. He eventually reneged on that after talking to Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale, and he's undoubtedly happy he did. Love will continue to be praised for his shooting and rebounding, and he will have some monster games over the course of his career. But as we've seen over the last seven years, numbers don't mean anything when you're losing. And anyway you slice it, when Kevin Love leaves Minnesota, he will certainly and undoubtedly be a loser. We'll see if he can change that label elsewhere.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Twins Should Steer Clear of Matt Garza

Rumors emerged yesterday that the Twins were in pursuit of Matt Garza, and that Garza was open to a return to the Twin Cities. Most fans natural reaction to the news was positive I'm sure, as was mine at first. The Twins starting pitchers have been horrible over the past few seasons, and adding a very good veteran in Garza seems like it would only help the team. Unfortunately, a deeper look into Garza's numbers over the last few seasons suggests otherwise.

There's no denying Garza has been slightly above average over the last three seasons, despite dealing with some injury issues and not throwing 200 innings or more since 2010. FanGraphs pegged Garza's WAR as 2.2 this past season, just 1.1 the season prior and 4.9 in his last mostly healthy season in 2011. The Twins starters, of course, were likely below replacement level over the last few seasons, so Garza's addition would likely increase the team's wins by even more than his WAR suggests. If the Twins were close to contending and needed to shore up their rotation to get past the Yankees in the playoffs (circa 2004), signing Garza would make a lot of sense.

Twins fans likely don't want to hear about money issues being a reason the team shouldn't target a big name, but with Garza it's the truth. He seems likely to sign a 4 or even 5 year deal, and while early projections of $20MM seem far too high, 5 years and $75MM seems within reach. Paying $15 million a year for five years for a pitcher who will turn 30-years-old before the beginning of next season is a huge commitment for a team like Minnesota. Once his health concerns are considered as well, the reward doesn't seem to outweigh the risk. 

At $15MM a year, Garza would need to average a WAR of 3.0 per season each year of his contract to earn his money. He failed to reach that benchmark in each of the last two seasons, and while an increase in innings would help his WAR considerably, expecting more than 170 innings out of Garza would be silly.

I'm not sold on the idea that he will struggle in the AL, as some suggest, because he struggled in a few starts with Texas after being traded. The sample size was simply far too small to gather any real conclusions about that. My best guess is that over the next five seasons Garza will have just one season in which he throws over 200 innings, and that will also be the only season that he earns his salary. Pitchers with a history of arm issues don't tend to pitch well into their mid 30's. For a team like Minnesota who is likely not going to contend in 2014 regardless, it makes no sense to spend big money for a long time on a starter who is already showing signs of declining. If Josh Johnson signs a one year deal to try to get back to his old self, the Twins would be foolish not to target him. Despite Garza's better pitching over the last two seasons, Johnson would require far less of a commitment, which is very important to a rebuilding team. If Garza gets hurt again and his skills fall off considerably, the Twins will have wasted more than 15% of their payroll on a pitcher who was never likely to be more than a #3 starter by the time the team is ready to contend anyway. 
It's definitely nice to see the Twins targeting some big name pitchers, and as frustrating as their starters have been to watch over the last few years, the need is clear. I'd just prefer the team wait for a better crop of free agent starters to go on a spending spree, or that they at least wait until they're closer to contention to target a 30-year-old injury riddled starter. As a Twins fan, we've seen countless players leave over the years because we simply couldn't afford them; here's to hoping Matt Garza stays a former Twin because his demands are, as always, too high for the Twins.

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