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The Few Things I Remember From This New Year’s Weekend

My body came back yesterday, but I think my head just finally returned from Tahoe this evening. It was a blurry three days up at the cabin, but I managed to sprinkle in some sports here and there. The majority of it came on Saturday morning/afternoon, as it was do or die for not only the Oakland Raiders, but also the West Sac Narwhals (you guessed it, my fantasy team). Here’s the recap of my weekend in sports…

Boring Morning Games – The scores may look close, but the 49ers-Rams and Jets-Dolphins definitely didn’t feel as close as your average 34-27 or 19-17 games. Neither had much meaning, other than the Jets being able to make a small claim toward a playoff berth. The Niners were also able to sew up a bye in the first round. The fantasy relevance was limited, with only Steven Jackson struggling to muster up 9 points. The Rams did a good job of wiping points away from my opponent though, putting up 17 against his 49ers Defense. I’d have much rather been watching the Lions-Packers. I opted to start Matthew Stafford for just the second time this season. The only other time was during Tom Brady’s bye week, and he turned in a dismal 12 point performance. Who would’ve thought, though, that it’d be the other Matt throwing for 6 TDs. But, when you’re in Northern California, you can’t expect to see any other NFC games while the 49ers are playing. Maybe I was just bored waiting for the game of the year….

Oakland Raiders Can End 9 Year Playoff Drought – The scenarios were many, but one was simple. Beat the Chargers, and get a Denver loss at the hands of Kyle Orton and the Kansas City Chiefs, and they’re in. Beating the Chargers isn’t usually a doable task, but Oakland beat them in pretty convincing fashion in front of a national Thursday night NFL Network stage IN San Diego. Throw in Orton’s return to Denver (he HAS to light it up against his old team, right?), and I was feeling like the chances were good. The Chiefs took care of business, even if Orton didn’t light it up. A 7-3 ballgame seemed like the perfect setup for the Raiders to get in. Ultimately, though, a porous defense and untimely turnovers – both Raiders staples this season – squandered away a golden opportunity. Oakland will miss the playoffs yet again, and Denver backs into the playoffs, riding a 6-22, 60 yard, 1 interception, and a fumble lost game by Tim Tebow. Sounds to me like a perfect script for a Denver upset against Pittsburgh next weekend. Too bad I wasn’t still 10 minutes from Nevada anymore!

Demarcus Cousins Demanded Trade From Sacramento Kings –┬áThis one caught me way off guard. I read the news on my phone, and quite frankly, I was many sheets to the wind at this point. The headlines, though, were crystal clear….

“Demarcus Cousins DEMANDS Trade”

“Demarcus Cousins SENT HOME For Good”

“Demarcus Cousins Has Played His LAST GAME In Sacramento”

By the time I got caught up on all the news, it was over. I just watched the Kings lose to the Grizzlies, but Cousins was back out there as if nothing ever happened. Albeit he came off the bench and played just 22 minutes, it’s amazing enough that he saw the floor at all. He struggled offensively, just 4 points on 1-5 shooting; but he grabbed 8 rebounds, including a game-high 6 offensive boards. I’m hoping it gets more back to normal in the next few games. Here’s a BIG reason why… Tonight, I was officially SOLD on Jimmer Fredette as an effective NBA player. He CAN get his shot off. He CAN create off the dribble. He CAN shoot 3’s from NBA range. OK, I suppose no one ever doubted the last one. Well to make up for that one, I’ll add that he CAN pass. Like Tyreke Evans, no one will ever be sold on him being an NBA point guard, but he can find the open man like one. So maybe two of those guys in the backcourt can equal one point guard. They’ve got another guy who can light it up with the best of them too in Marcus Thornton. If only they had a tall, quick, athletic, passing big man to round it out. Oh wait, they DO. It appears they’re on the brink of trading him though. If they end up shipping Cousins away, we’ll know it had to have been bad, because he’s a once in a decade talent, like a second coming of Chris Webber. Unfortunately, it took Webber a trade or two to really find his groove. Cousins has lasted longer in Sac than C-Webb did in Golden State, but it feels eerily similar. Who knows, maybe Demarcus gets reunited with John Wall in Washington for a few years, then he spends his prime in Oakland for the Warriors.

One Last Thought – Were there ANY College Football Bowl Games on New Year’s Day? I thought New Year’s Day was supposed to be about Bowl Games…? I swear, when I was a kid, roughly 6 of the best 7 of all 15 bowl games were on New Year’s Day. If I remember my weekend correctly (which I certainly don’t), NONE of the 35 Bowls were played on Sunday. What the HELL?! Oh well, Sunday was for BBQing. I broke out my new smoker and probably served up the best trio of Tri-Tip, Pork Loin, and Smoked Salmon this side of the Rocky Mountains. Yeah, I said smoked Tri-Tip… It’s California. I can’t find a brisket to save my life out here. One day, smoked Tri-Tip is gonna be a nationwide phenomenon though. It’s gonna be the Tim Tebow of barbeque… no one thinks it can be that good, but all it does it WIN.

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Remembering The Great NBA Lockout Of 1998

I’ve come to believe that I don’t have to worry about football not happening this year, but I’m afraid I’m a long ways from feeling that about basketball. I’ve only got my ear semi-firmly pressed to the ground when it comes to sports chatter, but the majority of news you hear about the NFL is that a deal will ultimately get done. The debate seems to be more about how much training camp time will get cut and at most, will we lose any preseason games? On the NBA front, it’s more about whether they’ll lose a half or a whole season. I am confident that it’s now time for us to prepare for a significantly shortened 2011-2012 season. A great way to do that is to revisit the last season in which a work stoppage wiped out half the season. 1998 saw no basketball games played until February of 99, and when play finally resumed, it was a pretty dreadful season. The Kings were the top scoring team, and the only one to average triple digits, with an enormous 100.2 ppg. Nine or ten teams averaged less than 90 ppg. It’s safe to say that the rust showed. But a few things happened that turned out to set major changes of the tides in motion in the NBA that season. Can we expect similar changing of the guards this season? Let’s revisit some of the top storylines from the 1999 season…

The Spurs won their first NBA Championship, and of course, they’d go on to win three more after that. It was their second year with the short-lived twin towers, Tim Duncan and David Robinson. The Spurs were contenders in the years before, with the exception of the lost season of 96-97, which enabled them to land Tim Duncan in the draft. The strike-shortened 1999 season was just what they needed to get over the hump. The Spurs have been a dynasty ever since. In fact, 1999 was the last time the Spurs failed to win 50 games in a season. That’s tough to do when they only played 50 games that year.

Who could it be this year? Maybe the Cavaliers, perhaps? They spent the decade building a contender, but then their star player was lost. It only took the Spurs one year to turn it around, so why should we expect anything different from Cleveland? Like San Antonio, they were fortunate enough to land the number one pick and get a sure-fire franchise player. Or, do you disagree? Add to that, they had the fourth pick too, and got a perennial all-star there. Oh, don’t like that one either? Alright, so maybe they’re a longer shot to win it all this year, but I bet there will be one similarity there. Antawn Jamison’s 11-12 season will look a lot like Sean Elliott’s 98-99 year.

Michael Jordan was no longer there. His Airness retired after notching a second three-peat from 96 to 98. The Bulls immediately fell to the bottom of the standings, losing an unprecedented 37 games in the shortened season. That’s the most losses in a season they had since 1987. Fans and media immediately started searching for the next Jordan. Would it be 5, 10, 20 years before the next Jordan came along? Where are we at now…

Jordan still isn’t here. I think Kobe came pretty close there for a while, but until he gets another title, people will probably always point to the 6-5 championship edge for Jordan. Even if it gets tied up, winning rings with Shaq / Pau arguably has a lesser degree of difficulty than having Pippen as your next best guy. In the meantime, we can pretty much write off Lebron James and Dwyane Wade until further notice. They proved in this year’s finals that they won’t be producing any Jordanesque highlights in the closing seconds of games in the quantities that he did. Dirk’s “clutch” stock skyrocketed this year, but to be the next Jordan, you gotta do dunk contests, not three point shootouts. Though he did rock the tongue out like Jordan in this year’s finals.

Jason Williams took the league by storm. I’ve always felt that J-Will doesn’t get credited enough for his part in winning back the league’s fans. He came into the league as the seventh pick by the Kings and immediately started cranking out must see highlights. He was doing things that no one had really seen on the court to that point. In a year where the pace of play was at an all-time low, J-Will sped the pace up, and he MADE people watch. Practically overnight, his jersey became the biggest selling in the country. It helped that he got to play with newcomers Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, but he definitely played a key role in getting a franchise turned around and become a contender for years to come. I remember 1998 being called a weak draft, much like this year’s installment. Can anyone in this also weak draft class make a similar impact on the league and his franchise?

For the first time since the 1998 draft that produced Jason Williams, the Kings were to select seventh this year. There was no obvious pick, much like 98, so they took a gamble. Only this time it was on someone that already had a little more accompanying fanfare than the relatively unknown Williams had. It’s not too far fetched to imagine that Jimmer Fredette, depending on how his rookie season goes, could wind up being the hottest selling jersey in the league. I envision close to 80% of those sales coming the kids sizes, but I could see him being this year’s must see TV and help soften the blow of a lockout season. He doesn’t have the flashy ball-handling skills that J-Will had, but he has something of his own that no player has had in our lifetimes: his own range. Most rookies have to worry about adjusting to the distance of the NBA three point line. Not Jimmer. The new three point line isn’t even in Jimmer Range. Hopefully the pro game won’t force him to reel it in a bit, much like it did with Williams a few years in, because the 30 foot three bomb is the short white guy’s slam dunk. If Jimmer starts dropping 3 or 4 of those each night, every short white guy in America will be watching his games. Throw in the Mormon population, and the fact that he’s one of those guys you can’t find any reason to hate – unless he just torched your team for 40 or 50 points – the NBA could very well have it’s next lockout-shortened-season-savior.


Doin Work NorCal NBA Draft Preview

The NBA Draft is becoming more and more like the MLB Draft with all the unknown players. These days, it’s pretty much one-and-done college players and international guys who most of us have never heard of. Fortunately Chappy still keeps up on his scouting and put together a mock draft for us, but I’m going to zero in on the Kings and Warriors. I’ll start with the Kings, mainly because they pick first out of the two teams. Also because at number seven, there will be fewer players off the board, so it’s easier to narrow down the search.

# 7 pick – Sacramento Kings: If ONLY one of the following names is available at number seven, it’ll be Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard, or Jimmer Fredette. I’d like to think those names are also in order of preference, but of that, I’m not so sure. The main area of need for the Kings to address in the draft is the point guard position. The verdict is in from last season and it looks like Tyreke Evans would be more effective off the ball. Marcus Thornton is locked in as a building block for the team as well, but after the opening tip, there’s no reason both of those guys couldn’t play with a third guard on the floor. Brandon Knight is the top PG in the draft, but also widely considered to be long gone before the Kings make their pick. That’s why it’ll likely come down to whoever is available between Walker and Leonard. Personally I hope it’s Walker. The Kings desperately need a small forward, but they need to get a veteran who can step in right away. They simply can’t afford to roll with Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi at the three this season. Leonard’s defense and rebounding would be much-needed, but unless he can produce right away, it’s going to leave a gaping hole at the wing. The wild card pick would be Jimmer. Most people think he’s a stretch at number seven, and some even question whether he can be effective in the NBA, but the Maloofs may not be able to resist the fanfare that is Jimmer Fredette. One of the greatest draft picks in Kings history was also a reach of sorts, taking the iffy Jason Williams at the same slot back in 1998, which in a way, kickstarted the Kings into contention. Maybe a quick little white guy who can pull up from 28 feet on a fast break is what a team needs to get over the hump. In all seriousness though, I really think his shooting is exactly what the doctor should be ordering for them. They are awfully short at long range shooting, and adding Fredette would seemingly help extend the defense. With guys like Evans and Demarcus Cousins, who are already elusive in traffic, Jimmer could be the most impactful selection should the team go in that direction. It will probably take a perfect storm to happen, but I would welcome the consolation, should the other two more highly-touted guards, Knight and Walker, go off the board.

# 11 pick – Golden State Warriors: It’s a lot tougher to call who the Warriors are even considering, let alone who they may take at number eleven. Most of the chatter out of Oakland these days is in regards to how many trades they propose with Monta Ellis, or how many trades are proposed to them for Stephen Curry. The Warriors obviously need size, but they try that every year and it never really seems to work out. It’s been 10 years by my count since the W’s had a successful selection at power forward or center – that’s if you count Troy Murphy (which I do). The list of name since then includes Andris Biedrins, Ike Diogu, Patrick O’Bryant, Brandan Wright (acquired by draft day trade), Anthony Randolph, and Epke Udoh. Most don’t expect the W’s to break this lineage either, with Bismack Biyombo the most popular choice. If not Biyombo, it will likely be another international big man. However, guys like Klay Thompson and Alec Burks are getting a lot of hype of late, probably due to the likelihood of an opening down the road at the shooting guard position. Monta Ellis’s departure seems more like a matter of when, not if, so the front office seems poised to find a bigger replacement to plug into the lineup once that happens. I think the team would be best served trading the pick for a veteran big man. I don’t think this year’s #11 pick would make the Ellis-Biedrins-Udoh for Dwight Howard offer any more enticing, but maybe it would be enough for the 76ers to throw in Marreese Speights or Thaddeus Young in that Ellis for Iguodala deal. If they don’t trade the pick, I expect Jerry West to put his stamp on the first draft pick of his Warriors tenure, whoever it may be.