Saturday, July 04, 2009

Saturday 07/04 (July 4) Quickie

Happy Fourth of July. To celebrate, yesterday I benched Shin-Soo Choo (4/5, 4 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 1 SB) for Manny (0/3, 0 R, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB) in a week where I'm in a back-and-forth fantasy matchup with AJ Daulerio. Choo's line alone would have given me a decisive advantage. Ugggghhhh. This is how my day began. I will now slowly and carefully close my computer and not open it back up until tomorrow. Have a safe and enjoyable holiday today.

-- D.S.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Obama: Jordan > Kobe

And, of course, the President is right. It's kind of a ludicrous question, actually.

But consider, just in time for Independence Day, what kind of roll President Obama has been on this year, sports-wise, since he took office:

*Picked the Lakers over the Magic.
*Picked UNC to win the NCAA Tournament.
*Made his NCAA bracket-picking a national event.
*Hosted the Florida Gators at the White House.
*Beat UConn women in White House P-I-G.
*Made the White Sox trendy again.
*Made pick-up hoops the national pastime.
*Supported his biggest backer in Western Pennsylvania all the way to the Super Bowl.
(And I'm sure I'm forgetting something.)

Heading into this 4th of July, I am thankful for a country that elected, among other things, such a die-hard, just-like-you-and-me sports fan.

-- D.S.

Friday 07/03 (Artest) Quickie

Who said the 2009 NBA Free Agency season was going to be lame?

The Lakers snagging Ron Artest is, of course, brilliant. The first thing I thought of was the Bulls signing Dennis Rodman -- but Artest isn't nearly the nut Rodman was, and he is a vastly superior player.

Bring it on, contenders: Artest can guard LeBron, Rashard Lewis, Paul Pierce, Hedo Turkoglu, Richard Jefferson, Carmelo Anthony.

Is Ron-Ron a fit in the Triangle offense? Who cares? Will he freak out in the glare of L.A.? All the better! Artest is the best kind of acquisition: Talented AND interesting.

Jordan kept Rodman in check and the '96 Bulls were one of the best teams ever. It is not an inappropriate analogue to think the same thing about Kobe and Ron-Ron, who are friends.

Imagine that: Artest with a ring -- and the last laugh.

(As for the Lakers letting Trevor Ariza go? We may look back and realize that his youth and length were a critical X-factor for the Lakers' title run. But more likely Artest is an upgrade and Odom can play the "long" defender role that Ariza did. Still: Does Artest or Odom trigger bad inbounds passes from the Nuggets that seal conference-finals wins for the Lakers?)

It makes it all the more intriguing that Ariza might WILL end up with Houston, which seems to match his versatility with the Rockets' innovative approach to personnel. I don't think he is as good as Artest, but Ariza is at least young, with lots of room for growth. But no matter how big my man-crush on Daryl Morey, perhaps it's time to put the Rockets into my "rebuilding" NBA, rather than my "contending" NBA. (No! Never!)

(The Rockets appear to have lost out on Marcin Gortat, who looks like he is going to the Mavericks.)

Rumors: AI to the Bulls? Rubio staying in Spain for 2 years? (Or at least until the T'wolves trade him to a team he would rather play for.)

Quick MLB Hits:
*CC Sabathia: Streak-stopper, and not in a good way.
*Joey Votto is so back.
*Mark Reynolds (22nd HR) affirms my ASG selection.
*Orioles just the tonic for the Angels
*Phils swept by Braves heading into weekender with rival Mets
*Fantasy Stud: Derrick Lee (2 HR, 7 RBI)
*Did the Rangers borrow money from MLB? -- TOTALLY UNDERRATED STORY
*Can I get Aroldis Chapman off my fantasy waiver wire yet?
*Aaack! Bees!

I'm not much of a tennis fan, but I will probably tune in for a little of Andy vs. Andy.

And, yes, Manny is back. 50 games goes by so quickly, doesn't it?

-- D.S.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Varsity Letters: Tonight! Baseball Mania

UPDATE (AFTER THE FACT): I didn't see this until today, but as the founder of the Varsity Letters Reading Series, this endorsement from Joe Posnanski makes me very very happy.

You know you're not going anywhere this weekend -- it's a Fourth of July staycation. So if you live in NYC, here's a good plan for tonight: Why not jump on the F (or the A/C) and head to DUMBO for this month's Varsity Letters extravaganza -- including the Daily News reporters on Clemens, Selena Roberts on A-Rod and SL Price on Mike Coolbaugh. Plus: It's FREE. Complete details here.

-- D.S.

Thursday 07/02 Quickie:
MLB All-Star Voting, Pistons Spend, July 4

Ben Zobrist.

I wouldn't exactly call him a "protest vote" on my MLB All-Star Ballot -- final day to vote is today and he (and my ASG ballot) leads today's SN column.

He is leading the AL in OPS (and Slugging). He is the surprise star of the rejuvenated Rays -- and it's no coincidence that the rejuvenation started when Zobrist finally started playing every day.

And, yes, I am voting him as a starter in the AL outfield because he has led my perennially woeful fantasy baseball team into playoff contention for the first time ever.

Zobrist was a pickup after the season started -- I'm not sure anyone actually drafted him. After all, he wasn't slated to get full-time at-bats. Even after his hot start, I followed him on the free-agent wire -- unclaimed -- because who wants a guy who won't play?

But the combination of his per-AB results and his amazing eligibility -- OF, SS, 2B -- was enough for me. I snagged him and he has been clocking the ball ever since, leading my team to its best fantasy year ever -- this despite having to sit Manny for the last 50 games, having Kazmir suck and having Joey Votto develop DL-landing depression after a terrific hot start.

And so I voted Zobrist -- I know full well that he won't make the starting lineup. But I am eagerly anticipating his spot on the reserves, the most unlikely All-Star of the season, for sure.

Don't forget to vote, and I'll be cranking up my annual "Extra Man" campaign next week once we find out who the contenders are. I think in the age of Twitter, it will be particularly interesting, because teams have become very savvy about marketing campaigns for "Extra Man."


*Pistons sign Gordon and Villanueva. The Pistons are the new Knicks -- unwilling to admit that they can't compete with the East elite but unwilling to actually start rebuilding.

So instead they commit nearly $100 million to younger versions of players they just lost -- AI and Sheed. Problem: Gordon needs shots -- what about Rip and the development of Stuckey? Villanueva is a little more solid -- seems like every team wants their "new 4" -- the 6-10 forwards like Rashard Lewis who can step out and shoot 3s. Who knew Matt Bullard would become an NBA archetype?

Lots more NBA Free Agency stuff that might pop this weekend: Will Artest sign with the Cavs? Will Hedo sign with the Blazers? Will Ariza bolt -- and what does that mean for the Lakers?

Complete column here
. More to come later today and all weekend long.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

About the Orioles' Comeback Over Boston

I grew up going to Orioles games, and so I am sympathetic to Baltimore fans. Obviously, you know how I feel about the Red Sox. (Although you know I love Theo! And Jed Hoyer! And Youk!)

You could sense the national feeling of schadenfreude over the Orioles' epic comeback over the Red Sox last night.

Look: We all know that Boston is going to the playoffs. By all rights, they should be the favorite to win the World Series. So can't we have just one moment to give a Nelson Muntz-style: "HA-ha!"

Red Sox fans will rightly snoot that this was just a single game, a single loss. (FJM's Ken T. had a great tweet, about how this merely represents a -1 hit to Boston's season-total run differential.)

But I suspect that this was Orioles fans' version of a championship. The team is in last. There are some nice young parts, but they're not competing this season -- or probably a few after that.

(And the AL East is sizing up as so obliteratingly nasty -- not just this season, but for the foreseeable future -- that you wonder if the O's can ever compete, no matter how good they get.)

Every fan of a last-place team deserves SOMETHING -- some kind of consolation prize -- that even minimally offsets what is otherwise a terrible season.

(Even Lions fans got the consolation prize of the ignominy of "all-time" history. 0-16 was a better ending than 1-15. 0-16 is epic. 1-15 just sucks.)

This was Orioles fans' moment. (The tragic part is that given Boston's lead, I'll bet most O's fans turned off the game before the comeback began, only to wake up to the results.)

Red Sox fans have no reason to be defensive -- just take the mockery; you get the last laugh when you win the division, the AL pennant, the World Series. This will be a blip, if not forgotten.

But for Orioles fans, it is a season-maker.

-- D.S.

Wednesday 07/01 Quickie:
NBA Free Agency, Orioles, Stephenson

I led today's SN column with NBA Free Agency, because at 12:01 a.m. this morning, that's what I was thinking about.

But not 2009 NBA Free Agency, but the countdown that officially began to 12:01 a.m. on July 1... 2010, what I argue will be the biggest single day in NBA history.

(No, really: Make an argument for any other single day as being bigger. Not even the day of Jordan's first unretirement, which I would argue is the reigning champ, right up until 7/01/10.)

Carlos Boozer is staying put. Hedo Turkoglu could be headed West to the Blazers. Jason Kidd might be going to the Knicks. I have no idea where David Lee will end up, but as one of my Top 5 favorite players in the league right now, I sort of care. And he'll make a big impact. (The real question there is whether the Thunder sign Lee, sign Millsap or sign neither.)

But the meta storyline of NBA Free Agency is this: It's a terrible year to be a free agent, not just because everyone is hording cash for 2010, but because no one wants to spend cash, period, and the combination of the current economy and the FA forecast in 2010 gives them an excuse not to spend it.

Meanwhile, this is a point I make in the column, and I expect to hammer it for the next 364 days: There can only be 2 or 3 "winners" (ie, signing LeBron, Wade, Bosh) next summer; everyone else will have a ton of cap room and a mess of good-not-transcendent free agents to pick from, along with a decision:

Do they spend to try to compete now, or do they maintain the "rebuilding" thing. Problem: Everyone has kept saying "Just wait for 2010!" At that point, fans will want action; no more excuses for not spending -- or competing for a title, at least among the middling teams who aren't quite legit contenders and aren't quite bottom-feeders.

Complete column here. More later -- I mean, did you drop by yesterday at all? Apparently, "more" means "a lot more."

-- D.S.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tweet of the Day: Best Front Office in Sports

from ESPN SportsNation producer Kevin Wildes, who asked what the top front-office in sports is.

His proposed Top 5 included: Cavs, Red Sox, Patriots, Steelers, Red Wings.

I immediately responded "no way" for the Cavs, who not only lucked into LeBron via ping-pong balls, but failed to figure out they needed someone to stop Rashard Lewis.

My nominee was current man-crush Daryl Morey and the Rockets, but I quickly changed my mind seeing Jonah Keri's nomination of the Spurs. Of course: The Spurs front office rules.

If I had to pick a Top 3, it would be in this order: (1) Patriots (because the NFL is so much more competitive than the other big sports, but I'd like to see how they'll do without Scott Pioli); (2) Red Sox; (3) Spurs. I'd like to give a shout-out to Andrew Friedman and the Rays, too.

I would also like to point out that if you consider college football and college basketball programs to be damn-near-professional, then a contender for "best front office" is Florida football, no question. They run that team modeled after the Patriots, and it shows.

-- D.S.

Xavier Henry: Why Not Try D-League?

Great post by Dash at Deadspin about the Henry Brothers at Kansas. Xavier, the can't-miss star, seems uninterested in college for anything than the minimum before he can turn pro.

He doesn't want to go to Europe because he thinks its too far off the radar (yeah, because Jennings' Top 10 draft status and shoe deal really suffered) but he doesn't want to go to class.

Here is what his solution should be, and it's so simple: Go to the D-League.

(1) Be the trendsetter, the first top prep to go to the NBA's minor league. Being the prep to go to Europe is totally played out now that Jennings has done it after h.s. (and Jeremy Tyler did it before h.s. was even over). Chance to stake out new marketing ground.

(2) Sign the shoe endorsement deal today, along with any other marketing deals he can get. He doesn't even really need the money; the shoe deal would be about the marketing support.

(3) The D-League would be incented to put Henry in a position to succeed: Make him the team's star, develop his game for the NBA and help, not hurt, his draft stock.

(4) As for visibility, I could imagine that the novelty of Henry's year in the D-League would make it an appealing play for ESPN or TNT to produce a game or two.

The big thing is this: Why should he (or Bill Self or fans) "suffer" through his cynical single year at Kansas when he really just wants to be a pro? If he wants to be a pro, go pro: The D-League is right there, available to him.

-- D.S.

Freemium Case Study, Cont'd: Rivals

Great tweet response from a reader about a terrific case study for successful deployment of a "freemium" strategy (in online sports media, no less) being Let's examine...

How did Rivals pull it off? I'd argue three main reasons:

(1) Partly, it was the same reason that the Wall Street Journal pulled it off -- they launched with a strategy to make subscribing part of the service, right from the start.

(2) Partly, it was because they trafficked in, what was then, very exclusive information. It's the same reason finance and political newsletters still find a paying audience.

(3) Partly, it was because of the incredible message board communities -- incredible, in part, because the subscription fee was a hurdle to keep out the trolls and leave it to serious fans.

Hard to replicate now:

(1) Sites that might charge aren't launching; they are established (as free destinations);

(2) Info/intel -- even recruiting -- is simply too commoditized; you could not start Rivals or Scout in 2009 and expect folks to pay a subscriber fee;

(3) Great message boards are VERY hard to develop. They take years and dedication, which was all more available pre-Web 2.0.

When Yahoo bought Rivals, I was curious to see if they would eliminate the subscription fee and make all that juicy recruiting content widely (and freely) available, to try to increase their market share of overall unique users. They didn't, to their credit (I think -- hard to calculate the opportunity cost). Obviously, Yahoo Sports is doing just fine, audience-wise, without Rivals being free.

-- D.S.

Free vs. Premium: Case Study

Lot of discussion recently about free content online versus charging for it -- ad-supported models versus subscription fees. Obviously, the answer is some combination of the two.

Here is a thought experiment, using one of the more powerful brands/products in online media:

What if put everything original they did under an Insider subscription?

Free: Commodity products like AP stories, game recaps, scoreboards (and scoreboard info like box scores) and fantasy games, plus anything video. They could also make free any hard news the site reporters break or report, which will be out there anyway as fast as they hit "Publish."

Subscriber-only: Anything original, which means -- basically -- analysis and columns, but I would even include blogs like TrueHoop or Rob Neyer or the NFL divisional blog group. And, yes, even Bill. Especially Bill. But we'll get to that in a minute.

They already put magazine content behind the Insider wall, along with a small selection of other content. Most notably and recently, they showcased Chad Ford's NBA Draft content -- not just his mocks, but his original reporting, too.

Here is the quandary of the current context, of course:

News reporting has been commoditized; as fast as someone can "break" something, I can post it here (with my take) or anyone can post it anywhere. (Happy to credit you for "breaking" it, by the way -- not sure consumers have ever cared about that. You would be much better off not worrying about the credit and making sure you got me to LINK to it. A link is worth more than "as first reported by" text credit. Much much more.)

But even as news reporting has been commoditized, commentary has been commoditized even further. You could read a newspaper columnist's take on the Dodgers in the LA Times or the Red Sox in the Boston Globe. Or you could read your favorite team blogger -- one of many that cover your team. Or you could read the message boards of your favorite team's best online community. Or, hell, just the tweets of smart fans. The terrific thing about this commoditization of commentary is that it has become far more of a meritocracy; the best stuff tends to win.

Sure, promotion on a highly trafficked site helps artificially inflate page views, but that remains in the short-term; the long-term trends point towards highly fragmented audiences going to the sources that serve them best (presumably with the best-quality analysis, however you define "quality" to you -- a cute turn-of-phrase, a smart idea, well-researched data). Long-term trends also point toward the power of passed links: What people you trust recommend you look at.

Back to my thought experiment:

Let's assume that the majority of's page views are coming from this commoditized "free" content -- headline news that folks come back to check 5 times per day, scores and scoreboard information, fantasy. You could continue to sell ad sponsorships on this content with little if any erosion of the audience size necessary to generate large sponsorship deals. (Take it from me: The Quickie was sponsored from time to time -- you missed out, Starbucks! -- but it was a rare piece of original content that WAS revenue-positive; compare that to the mega sponsorship of, say, Tournament Challenge.)

Now, after you have still sold out your sponsorship inventory on the free content, take everything original you have created and offer THAT for a subscription fee: Forget the piecemeal offerings currently available; this is EVERYTHING. It has incredible value -- the best columnists across every sport, real-time commentary and morning-after commentary and enterprise super-stories that are worth the investment. Everything original.

What percent of's 20 million unique visitors per month would be willing to pay for that kind of content value? 5 percent (1 million)? 10 percent (2 million)? More? (I don't have the existing Insider subscriber numbers to use as a baseline.) And what if you charged a nominal fee for all that content: They currently charge around $40 a year. $3 per month seems more than fair for all that high-quality content. That nets anywhere from $40-100 million a year, on top of the ad sales.

Now, the downside: Going behind the pay wall provides an opening to competitors to emphasize that they have FREE commentary! But if quality is going to be the differentiating factor between sources of commentary, it forces everyone to step up their game: If you're going to charge for your commentary, you better have the best stuff; if you're going to try to convince people that your free commentary is just as good (or better), you better have great stuff, too. I am somewhat convinced that most sports fans would simply consume both, even at nominal cost to them -- especially if it was only nominal cost.

(Actually, I would make everything related to Fantasy sports free, including commentary and analysis, because the fantasy landscape is SO competitive that you have to offer as many high-quality free services as possible. If you satisfy the fantasy consumer, you will make back any lost subscription revenue in selling sponsorships to reach participants; besides, it's not like would lack for original content if you removed fantasy -- still a ton every day.)

The larger issue is that pay walls remove the content from the wider conversation online. Set aside the issues with search discoverability -- I don't mean to minimize that, because it's huge, but our example property,, has never really been focused on optimizing its original commentary for search (note that I specify its "commentary";'s commodity content like headlines, scoreboards and team pages is VERY search-friendly, to their credit). No, it really makes it harder for people who traffic in passed links -- bloggers, message-board participants, people on Twitter -- to link to your stuff, because there's always that pesky "Subscription required" caveat you have to apply.

But here's the upside: See enough of those links -- and those caveats -- and soon consumers might start to wonder what they are missing by not having a subscription themselves. That, in turn, will create more subscribers; once a critical mass of folks are "inside" (no pun intended), the passed links generate even more value.

(Funny: You hear a lot of newspaper company executives talking very hostile about Google and Huffington Post; you haven't heard that kind of talk from online-sports-media execs... I suspect that's because they recognize the traffic that comes from Google and from folks who excerpt-but-link-back, like sports bloggers. Might not drive a TON of traffic, but it drives credibility.)

Again, this is just a thought experiment. My inclination is to say "Information wants to be free!" My inclination is to go to sites that offer me free content, rather than pay for it, because I think that every time someone puts up a pay wall, someone else creates (or can create) free content of equal value on the same subject (without ripping the other outlet off, obviously). But that's because there are very few places that have shown me that they are worth my subscription payment -- put something as valuable as, say, every original piece of opinion and analysis on behind a subscriber wall and I'd pay for that in a second. It would simply be too much content that is too good to be missing.

Maybe I'm cherry-picking my argument, because it feels like it would work for in a way that it wouldn't for other competitors in the online sports media world -- or certainly the news or entertainment world. Besides, none of's competitors have an existing subscription product to build off of, as ESPN does.

And, make no mistake: I see the potential downside -- what if consumers don't adopt? (It certainly would indicate something about the value of the original content -- "I like it, but not so much that I'm willing to pay for it.") What if consumers stop coming to, not just for original commentary, but for the commodity stuff, too? Honestly, maybe it would happen like that. But -- and, again, maybe this is because ESPN is a special case -- the brand loyalty remains very very high. I think that if anyone could do it, ESPN could do it.

And, yes, purely from an academic perspective, I would be very curious to know how many folks would pay, say, $3 a month to read Simmons. He does, what, a million or two uniques per column? Let's be absurdly conservative and call it a million uniques, in aggregate, over an entire year. If even 10 percent of those fans felt strongly enough about him to pay $3 a month, that's $4 million a year, which -- as the business manager -- I would gladly split 50/50 with my star, roughly doubling what I figure is his current annual deal. Yup, those are 10 percent of his readers.

I have mentioned this idea to folks around a handful of times over the years -- I bring it up every couple of industry shifts. Usually, it is dismissed as a crackpot theory -- for a lot of good reasons listed above. I'm not even going to commit to supporting it myself -- I just think it makes for an interesting theoretical discussion. You might not be willing to pay for a small fraction -- however high-end -- of's original content, but would you be willing to pay for EVERYTHING they do?

I guess you could file it under "Freemium" -- some stuff free, some stuff paid. Antenna TV: Free. Basic cable: Paid. "Sopranos" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Joe Buck Live": Pay even more.

Again, this is just a thought exercise, inspired by the current discussion over free versus subscription and the "value" of original content produced by high-end content publishers.

I can say this with certainty: Who in their right mind would try to make LINKING illegal? (Oh, a Federal judge? AWESOME.)

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Great tweet response from a reader about a terrific case study for successful deployment of a "freemium" strategy being

How did Rivals pull it off? Three main reasons:

(1) Partly, it was the same reason that the Wall Street Journal pulled it off -- they launched with a strategy to make subscribing part of the service, right from the start.

(2) Partly, it was because they trafficked in, what was then, very exclusive information. It's the same reason finance and political newsletters still find a paying audience.

(3) Partly, it was because of the incredible message board communities -- incredible, in part, because the subscription fee was a hurdle to keep out the trolls and leave it to serious fans.

Hard to replicate now:

(1) Sites that might charge aren't launching; they are established (as free destinations);

(2) Info/intel -- even recruiting -- is simply too commoditized; you could not start Rivals or Scout in 2009 and expect folks to pay a subscriber fee;

(3) Great message boards are VERY hard to develop. They take years and dedication, which was all more available pre-Web 2.0.

New William & Mary Nickname: One Option

I don't really have a particular name in mind for a new nickname for William & Mary's athletic teams. From one of my favorite trivia questions, I will offer a few criteria:

*Not an animal.
*Not a color.
*Doesn't end in "S."

Know how many teams qualify under those criteria? In 1-A football, three: Navy (Midshipmen); Notre Dame (Fighting Irish); Illinois (Fighting Illini).

Expanding that to Division 1 basketball, William & Mary "Tribe" was one of the few others that qualified.

W&M has always had a place with me because they were part of that answer.

And so I think that the uniqueness of their nickname is the rarity of the animal/color/"s" trifecta -- THAT is the legacy they should maintain.

-- D.S.

Update: Yes, UMass MINUTEMEN makes the list. Wasn't a dis. I just didn't list all of the DI hoops schools that qualified. And, no, Alabama CRIMSON TIDE does NOT qualify -- the whole "crimson" thing, obviously.

Tuesday 6/30 Quickie: Who Needs Yao?

Who needs Yao?

That was my first reaction to the news that the Rockets might lose Yao for all of next season -- with the ominous suffix "maybe longer" attached to every blog post about it.

But without Yao (or T-Mac, for that matter), the Rockets nearly knocked off the Lakers -- and gave the champs their toughest series of the playoffs.

It was a testament to Houston's thinking-man's approach to the NBA, and it leads today's SN column, if you want to check it out.

So: Do the Rockets need Yao to be playoff competitive? Obviously not.

Do they need Yao to actually BEAT the Lakers (or whoever) and win a championship? I would argue that the playoffs proved otherwise, but -- yes, sure -- Yao would certainly help.

Then again, the team was better without McGrady. And far better with the addition of Ron Artest, whose re-signing should be a priority for the Rockets.

Do the Rockets need a quote-unquote "superstar?" I don't think so, just based on their style and what happened last month in the playoffs.

That said, the Rockets are trying to win a championship -- one of a handful of teams actually more concerned with winning now than rebuilding for later.

It might be the case that Houston is the NBA equivalent of the early-00's "Moneyball" A's: For now, the Rockets are able to arbitrage inefficiencies in NBA team analytical proficiencies.

That would be enough to get them into the playoffs -- with the right matchups, even winning a few series. The odds are long that a team of journeymen can hold it together against superstar-powered juggernauts for 3 months. That said: Look what they did against LA.

Richard Justice had an interesting take on my "Who needs Yao?" theory in today's Houston Chronicle: He says that the Rockets should target Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010.

It is actually a pretty smart idea: I wouldn't consider Bosh a true put-team-on-his-back superstar like Kobe, LeBron or Wade. But I would consider him a terrific top-tier talent to mesh within a system as sophisticated as Houston's.

The point of "Who needs Yao?" is that Houston has built a system that works without superstars. Bosh is not a superstar -- just a terrifically talented 6-11 player.

It is hard to imagine that Yao's NBA career is over -- arguably, before it even really began. But the reality is that Houston doesn't really need him.

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Daryl Morey Loves The D-League

I'm an unabashed fan of Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Here's one more reason he's smarter than the rest of the NBA: The Rockets will run their own D-League team. That means they can develop their own players (and coaches) the way they want to, test out stastistics-based theories and play sets -- and test new ways to collect and analyze information. It is a (mostly) true minor-league affiliation, ideal both for the parent club and the D-League. As for players who want to make the NBA, why wouldn't you want your career trajectory to rely on a league (and a team front office) incented to get you to the NBA? (h/t: True Hoop)

-- D.S.

PS: It's worth repeating, because it is a phenomenal stat -- 1 in 5 NBA players have played in the D League.

Farewell to The Stephen A. Sock Puppet

One of the great memes in online-sports history closes with its final chapter.

-- D.S.

Monday 06/29 A.M. Quickie:
US Soccer, Mo Rivera, Rubio, Kazmir, More

The No. 1 best outcome for US Soccer in their can't-possibly-win Confed Cup final with Brazil was achieved:

People were talking about (or watching) US Soccer. (And it wasn't even the World Cup.) It leads today's SN column.

A win over Brazil would have been nice, but it was not a necessary condition for this to work out as well as possible for the U.S.

3-0/3-0 was a fluke. Beating Spain was huge -- a radar-hitting achievement, but still setting up "Well, we're going to get KILLED by Brazil."

To spend that glorious half not just keeping up with Brazil -- but beating them at their own game -- was a remarkable moment.

If nothing else, it likely increased US fan interest for the team's fortunes in the World Cup next year. And that's the most important thing.

But it also has a downside: Before 3-0/3-0, I would say that fans had zero expectations the US would get out of the group round of the World Cup.

After Spain, I think fans should have had expectations that we will advance to the World Cup knockout round.

After Brazil, there will be no excuse if we don't make it at least to the quarters -- that's an awful lot of pressure, where "anything-but-quarters" will be viewed as a failure.

But you know what? That's progress. Huge progress. New, higher expectations are a step in the right direction.

More you'll find in today's column:
*Why the Knicks don't need (and shouldn't want) Rubio.
*Mo Rivera: Best closer ever?
*Shaq to Blazers nixed? What about Odom?
*Whose return is more important to their team: Kazmir or Manny?

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.