Saturday, August 11, 2012

08/11 (Dwight) Quickie

St. Augustine, Fla. -- On the annual pilgrimage to Tim Tebow's hometown. (Ha: Or maybe just where my wife enjoys spending our summer vacation.)

I made my points about Dwight Howard on the Lakers yesterday (scroll down to the post immediately below). I will say that I reject the moralistic stuff that "petulant" Dwight was "rewarded" for his "infant-like behavior" by "getting" a trade to a championship team. Meh, is that really worth worrying about? Howard is the edge case of edge cases, not a litmus test for How All Athletes Should Act To Win Approval From Pundits (Who All Basically Acted The Same Way Earlier In Their Careers).

I say all that and can still say that if you're a Magic fan, I feel tough for you -- I don't think the deal you got now was as good as the one you'd get from Houston, although I really like Arron Afflalo and there is potential in Moe Harkless. Orlando wasn't getting out of this as an NBA title contender (they weren't an NBA title contender with Howard anyway); their goal should be the Treadmill of Mediocrity. I have come around to the idea that there is nothing wrong with the Treadmill of Mediocrity if winning a championship is entirely unavailable to you, which covers roughly all but 3-4 franchises in the NBA at any given moment.


*LSU boots Tyronn Mathieu: Damn right it hurts their chances of winning the SEC (and, thus, qualifying for the SEC's automatic entry into the national-title game), and damn right it deprives fans of watching the single-most electrifying player in the country. It might nick Mathieu's draft stock (see Jenkins, Janoris) but it won't hurt his NFL future (see Jenkins, Janoris)

*Tim Tebow's Jets debut: Are people really going to put stock in his completions total or the one pick or the score of the game? It's the first step in an inevitable progression to Tebow starting at QB for the Jets, nothing more or less than that.

*Olympics (which aren't over yet but between Howard and Mathieu and Tebow, drifting dangerously close to seeing its quadrennial window of public attention slam shut): The women's 4x100 relay team was absolutely brilliant. What a wonderful group.

*Tiger leading PGA: For now. That's basically all analysis of Tiger early at a major -- "leading for now."

*Lane Kiffin vs. USA Today: I love that my colleagues at USAT couldn't stand Kiffin's double-talk about not voting his own team No. 1 and checked to see that, in fact, he did vote them No. 1, a legit story. The stupid part is that all Kiffin had to do was say: "Damn right I'm voting my team No. 1." It's not like there isn't a legitimate argument to be made that they are No. 1 in preseason.

*Strasburg Watch: I wouldn't shut him down as long as the team was in the playoff hunt. If he blows out his arm and has to sit out all of next season rehabbing, staring at that World Series Championship flag will be the ultimate curative.

More later this weekend.

-- D.S.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

08/10 (Dwight Howard) Quickie

So Dwight Howard to the Lakers, eh? It may only last a year (Dwight will still enter free agency next summer), but the Lakers pull off a coup, landing the league's best center to go with arguably the league's best-passing point guard and its most dominant shooting guard of the past decade, who still has enough in the tank to make it interesting.

And, oh by the way: The Lakers are apparently also keeping Pau Gasol. That's a Big Four if you're keeping track. A very Big Four. Arguably the most talented foursome since Jordan-Pippen-Rodman-Whoever, if not Magic-Worthy-Kareem-Whoever and Bird-McHale-Parish-Whoever. The point is: It's an incredible group.

The Lakers' Big Four is every bit as good as Miami's Big Three -- better, if you consider the balance and extra star; slightly worse, if you consider LeBron to be the most dominant force in the NBA, whether you paired him with Wade and Bosh or 6-year-old Gabe and 3-year-old Jonah Shanoff. And the Lakers' Big Four is better than the Thunder's Big Three.

It is nothing short of gobsmacking that the Lakers would be able to land Howard without having to give up Gasol. And all of a sudden, the Lakers are the team to beat in the NBA next season -- a short run for the Heat dynasty.

More pieces from the deal:

*Sixers get Bynum: Love this risk. Bynum is the best center in the East, moving within an hour of where he grew up and will be treated like the franchise cornerstone he has always wanted to be. When you have the chance to get a year to recruit a top-tier free agent like Bynum, you do it.

*Nuggets get Andre Iguodala: Arron Afflalo is an underrated player -- savvy on offense, hard-working on D. He has a reasonable contract (albeit one lasting a bunch of more years). But Iguodala is arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA. You're not doing anything in the West if you can't lock down either Durant or Harden when you play OKC -- Iguodala can defend either/both. His deal also expires after the '14 season.

*Magic get...: Well, they get Afflalo, who is solid, if not spectacular. They get Nikola Vucevic who is a bruiser, but no one that Sixers fans will miss. They get Al Harrington, who shoots a lot. And they get Moe Harkless, who has some potential, but that's about it. (And with Harrington on the team, good luck with getting shots.) And they get a bunch of really mediocre draft picks, because the Sixers, Nuggets and Lakers won't be Lottery teams. Is this really the best Orlando could do? Was this better than Houston's offer? Was this better than Brooklyn's offer?


*Usain Bolt wins 200: Again. Along with his 100 gold, following up his double gold in the 100 and 200 in 2008. Does nothing to change the idea that he is the greatest sprinter of all time. If he wants to crow about it a bit -- or dump on Carl Lewis? He's earned it. It might not be your cup of tea, but you can't say he hasn't earned the right to say whatever he wants.

*US women's soccer win gold: An unstoppable team, with no signs of slowing down. The "revenge factor" against Japan is precisely what they needed to stay sharp. That and Carli Lloyd.

*US goes gold-silver in the decathlon: Remember when Bruce Jenner was the king of the U.S., Wheaties box, etc? Now, you'd be hard-pressed to find fans who could name both guys who went 1-2. But still: An amazing accomplishment a half-century in the making.

*NFL Preseason starts in earnest: Peyton's body didn't fall apart, so that's a win.... RG3 looked terrific, which was awesome to see... and don't miss Steelers rookie Chris Rainey (a favorite of mine when he was at Florida) with a zip-zoom-to-the-moon TD run.

-- D.S.

08/09 (Olympics) Quickie

The Olympics are winding down, but not without some drama: Misty and Kerri's third straight Olympic gold in women's beach volleyball, Allyson Felix winning the 200, more US gold in the women's long jump and men's 110 hurdles, USA hoops cruising to the semis (and Nic Batum's never-to-be-forgotten crotch-punch on Spain's JC Navarro). We've still got women's soccer gold today (US vs. Japan) and watching Bolt destroy the 200 and the always-entertaining 4x100 and 4x400 relays.

Ever the instant-historian, I'm fascinated by the "Best Evers" in their respective sports: Misty May and Kerri Walsh, Usain Bolt, Kim Rhode, Michael Phelps (obviously).

I can't help presuming that in LeBron, we're watching the greatest player to ever participate in Olympic basketball, catapulting past Michael Jordan's '84/'92 combo. And the potential that, in Missy Franklin, we've just got our first glimpse of another "Best Ever."

This is, of course, why we watch: To see "best ever" performances -- maybe not of all time, which is a luxury, but there's something appealing about "personal best," to watch someone culminating a lifetime of commitment with a gold (or even a silver or bronze).

There was this moment during Bolt's 200 semi where, immediately afterward, this young South African competitor rushes over to Bolt to give him a hug -- partly it was out of respect, partly out of admiration and partly out of his joy to come in second.

Imagine coming in second to the greatest sprinter in the history of the world -- not a bad place to be.

We also watch for the disappointment and the surprises and the collective "moments" and rooting interest in sports we mostly couldn't care less about the other 3 years and 50 weeks of every four-year stretch. But what a joy to watch greatness -- the achievement and the pursuit.


*Best thing I read today, this week, this month and in the lead-up to the college football season: Wright Thompson on Urban Meyer. Give yourself 15 minutes to read it, then set aside some other time to think about two things: (1) Do you think there's any way that Meyer can change his essential nature -- can any of us? And (2) What are the personal costs you are willing to assume to achieve professional success? What level do you expect/demand from your sports heroes?

How does this second question make you think about Andy Reid and the tragic death of his son Garrett? Without presuming to know how he parented -- Andy was clearly more involved after Garrett got older and got into more trouble -- what about the choices Andy Reid clearly made about how involved he would be with his kids when they were little and most likely to benefit from his influence, versus his obsession with creating a professional career for himself at the highest levels of football? There is always a trade-off, and we don't talk about it enough.

*NFL Camping: I was all set to pick Trent Richardson in my fantasy draft far higher than almost anyone would find reasonable -- back of the first half. Now, news of his knee surgery makes me a wee bit nervous about that kind of investment. Tough break for the Browns, because this has ominous foreshadowing written all over it.

*More NFL: I'm totally rooting for Terrell Owens, well past the twilight of his career, to make it in Seattle.

*Meanwhile, if you missed the first episode of "Hard Knocks" with the Dolphins on Tuesday night, it was outstanding.

Note: Taking the family down to Florida for our annual summer pilgrimage to St. Augustine, but I look forward to having some time to write and reflect while I'm down there. Posts continue here, daily.

-- D.S.

Monday, August 06, 2012

08/06 (Bolt) Quickie

Wow. I'm not sure there's much I can add to the discussion of Usain Bolt's jaw-dropping 9.63 in the 100M finals yesterday, except to marvel at how EASY it was for him.

He started slow -- cautiously, so he wouldn't get a false-start DQ -- was seemingly behind (or "behind"), then simply zoomed past the fastest group of runners ever assembled.

It wasn't even close. It was less than 10 seconds, but felt like an entire three-act play: Seeming conflict (he's behind!), thrilling middle (look at him surge!), triumphant conclusion (easy win!)

What also isn't even close is that Bolt is the greatest sprinter of all time. I think because of that -- not to mention the best-ever competitive set -- he deserves consideration among the Top 10 Olympians of all time.

Here's how good Bolt is: The second-best story of the 100M -- Tyson Gay openly weeping after the race -- was entirely a reflection of Bolt. Gay is one of the greatest sprinters of all time, did his absolute best... and it wasn't even close. Now, maybe he was weeping at not medaling, but even Justin Gatlin's response was a variation on "What can you do?"

Bolt's mastery of the event -- one of the handful of signature events in all of sports -- is so extreme that I'm not sure any other athlete or team is as dominant against an insanely competitive field as Bolt is of the sprinters.

That he does the entire thing with panache -- his pre-race and post-race preening for the cameras are part of the show, because he backs it up -- only makes it all the more spectacular.



*McKayla Maroney: Ah, McKayla. So pissed at losing, and I love it. She could have settled for a simple second vault to secure her gold, but she went for the tough vault -- because it's her event, because that's how she's hard-wired... to assume she would not just win gold, but nail the toughest routine (HER routine) while doing it -- and that's why I think she's even more awesome for it.

*Sonya Richards-Ross: Hell, almost as dominant in her event (400M) as Bolt is in his. What an electrifying talent.

*Andy Murray gets his title at Wimbledon, over Federer no less. That it was Olympic gold and not a Slam title shouldn't make it any sweeter for him that he was able to pull it off in front of his countrymen, who were jubilant for him in a way that the staid Wimbledon crowd never could be.

*Is it too late to say again how much I love a jubilant Serena? Her win made me think of my favorite athletes of all time, and she's on the short list. It was so fun to watch her domination of Sharapova with my kids and explain who Serena was and why I'm such a fan.

*Today: Gabby on the uneven bars. Women's soccer semi. And Spain vs. Brazil in hoops, with the loser avoiding the US as long as possible -- massive game-tanking potential.

*Non-Olympics news: The NFL preseason started last night, which means it's time... to start thinking about my fantasy drafts. (Nah, but just a reminder that the Saints and the post-bounty-punishment reality are the most compelling storyline of the season.)

*Meanwhile: In what shouldn't be unexpected, the NFL is negotiating with the Saints to reduce player suspensions -- the NFL got the P.R. bump it needed from "looking tough," and now they can back down on the suspensions because people aren't paying attention to it anymore.

*Penn State Watch: Did you see that Penn State football commit who backed out to pick Notre Dame? There's going to be a lot of that this year. (And that doesn't even count the top WR who bolted for Oklahoma -- as with RB Silas Redd, more power to him.)

*The Garrett Reid story is so sad -- you don't have to be a parent to lament how badly Andy Reid and his family must feel. Condolences to the Eagles family.

*The Mars landing should affirm your faith in what we can accomplish in science.

-- D.S.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

08/05 (Olympics) Twitter

One of the things I love about the Olympics is the way you can suddenly -- even instantly -- get enthralled by a sports event you otherwise wouldn't care about.

Case in point: The men's 10K final, which started slow but ended as dramatically as you could imagine, with Britain's own Mo Farah sprinting to gold in front of a frenzied crowd, and his training partner Galen Rupp finishing 2nd, the first medal for an American runner in the 10K in half a century. It is impossible not to love that, even if shortly afterward, it's on to the next.

BTW: The read of the morning is SI's Tim Layden on that race, one of the best pieces of deadline writing I've read this year.


*Michael Phelps finishes with gold -- that's 22 medals overall in his three-Olympic career, including 18 golds, which is double the nearest Olympian. Hell of a way to wrap a career.

*Meanwhile, US swimming is in great shape -- the Missy Franklin-led women's 4x100 medley relay team won gold and broke the world record while doing it. Franklin probably has two Olympics still to go, and she could easily finish her career with more than a dozen medals, mostly gold.

*The men's 100m semis and final are today. Usain Bolt is a must-see, but so is the rest of the most compelling field in track. Here's a good essay from Joe Posnanski on the 100.

*USA Hoops: Lithuania got as close as anyone will get to knocking this team off, and good for them -- if you can't win a gold, universal respect is a pretty good consolation prize. USA is going to roll on from here. (BTW: Lots of love for Russia's coach David Blatt. Instead of my Wizards hiring the mediocre Jerry Sichting as an assistant coach, I would have loved for them to bring in Blatt. Presume Randy Wittman doesn't want an assistant coach so clearly more talented than he is.)

*Serena: I tweeted this yesterday just after she won -- Jubilant Serena is one of my favorite images in sports.

*McKayla Maroney is my favorite of the gymnastics Fab Five (or "Fierce Five," in Maroney's view). She'll be the heavy favorite in the vault after her stunning leap in the team comp.

Enjoy the day.

-- D.S.