Sunday, March 29, 2009

Celebrate with Me ... Come On!

The difference between the NBA and the NFL? Celebration penalties.

The NFL has been renamed the "No Fun League" for a reason. Instead of encouraging creativity in end zone celebrations, the NFL has over the years penalized players for any and all entertaining end zone shenanigans. Off the top of my head, several celebrations come to mind, including T.O.'s homage to the fastest man on the planet Usain Bolt, Santana Moss's assault on dirt, and Ocho Cinco's cameraman fun.

The NFL in 2006 made the notorious excessive celebration rule change. No props and no celebrating on the ground. The stated reason for the rule is to promote sportsmanship.

Fine. I understand wanting to promote sportsmanship. In the old days, nobody celebrated. They acted like they had scored before. That is a good mantra to teach young players.

Unfortunately, some of these celebrations are too darn entertaining to penalize. Lets give the fans what they deserve, entertainment. As long as the celebration isn't malicious or taunting, let the players have their fun. Because when the players have fun, so do the fans.

These days celebrations are becoming more and more common in the NBA. The Cavs seem to have 3 or 4 different celebrations for the games, from pretend picture taking, to pretend baseball games, to sparking fires. I can't wait to see what they have in store the rest of the year.

Granted, the NBA celebrations are not done after scoring, like in the NFL. That just isn't possible given the lack of time outs after scores. In the NBA, the celebrations occur after a time out is called, or during the pregame. But the creativity we have seen lately in the NBA is just like that in the NFL. I just hope the NBA rule makers embrace this new form of game entertainment.

Until next time, this is Barry Lakin saying all the world is schlach.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

Mullens to the NBA . . . DL

It's march which means aside from the college basketball madness, it's time for the annual migration of Ohio State freshmen to the NBA. This year, Canal Winchester's own BJ Mullens has decided to follow in the footsteps of such luminaries as Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos and take his unique skill set, and by unique skill set I mean 7 foot frame, to the NBA. A few quick thoughts:

1. I've seen plenty of Ohio State fans who just can't wait to tell anyone who will listen that Mullens isn't ready for the pros. Oh really doctor? You think so? You mean to tell me a soft big man with a questionable attitude and work ethic, who got pushed around in the Big 10 and averaged 9 and 5 isn't ready to play against the likes of Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard? These folks must be privy to some sort of inside information or scouting reports because I personally can't see any reason why he can't step in to the league and make an immediate impact. It's a can't miss!

2. This is all part of the reason that bigtime college basketball isn't what it should be. Every year, major programs have to roll out a new cast of characters for their fans to connect with. Sure, there are talented guys like Tyler Hansborough and, um, Tyler Hansborough that stay for multiple years, but most of the premium talents that come through the college game aren't even there long enough to make an impact. When the NBA came up with the 19 rule, I loved it. I thought it meant that we would finally get to see guys like Lebron and Kobe take on the college game. As it turns out, the rule is causing some serious damage to the sport. For every Carmello Anthony or Kevin Durant that actually makes a memorable impact on their campus, there are a host of Michael Beasleys, O.J. Mayos, and Eric Gordons whose time in college is mostly forgettable.

3. Anyone who calls out one of these kids for jumping early is absolutely absurd. If I'm a 19 year old college freshman and someone is offering to guarantee me a couple of million dollars to show up to practice and sit on the bench for a couple of years, that's a pretty easy decision. Now, I presume that being a star athlete on a college campus is certainly more fun and entertaining than essentially being lost and alone in the NBA, but you have to look at the big picture. Financial security is everything. Sure you might be miserable (as I assume Greg Oden is and I presume BJ Mullens will be) for a while but it's got to be worth it. If you're smart, you'll never have to worry about puting food on the table again. And please, don't give me the lecture about not having a college education to fall back on. How much does the average person coming out of Ohio State with an undergraduate degree make? 40k a year? I think I'll take my chances with the guaranteed millions.

4. There are two other considerations that make jumping early a prudent move for these kids, aside from just the first contract: First, a player can get better faster sitting on the bench in the NBA than he can playing in college. I know that sounds counterintuitive but the level of coaching, training, and practice competition in the NBA is such that players can improve faster by jumping early, even if they're essentially glued to the bench. J.J. Hickson will be a better NBA player at 21 than he would have been if he had decided to stay at NC State for 3 years before entering the league. People love to spout off about how college seasoning is necessary to prepare a player for the next level, and that may be true in terms of immediate impact, but, if you're comparing a player's ability based on age, and not number of years in the league, I would be certain that most players improve more quickly on an NBA bench than they do playing in college games. Second, the way the NBA pay scale is structured, it's important for a player to start accruing his time in the league so that he can hit restricted free agency and get on to that second contract. As long as a player is genuinely talented, it makes sense to get those years accruing as soon as possible.

5. I hate seing NBA benches filled with underdeveloped young players who have no business occupying roster spots on NBA teams. That being said, the 19 rule is completely discriminatory and unfair. There is absolutely no legitimate business reason that players shouldn't be allowed to be drafted out of high school. This isn't the NFL. There is no genuine safety concern associated with allowing young kids to play in the NBA. They may not be mature enough to deal with the money and the fame, but physically, they're not endangering themselves by stepping out onto the court with bigger, stronger guys. They may get knocked around but their safety won't be in jeopardy. So, essentially, the rule tells young, predominately African American kids, that they can't pursue their careers, and accept the millions of dollars that general managers are knowingly craving to pay them, for no good reason at all. It's baseless, it's unfair, and it should be abolished.

6. As an Ohio State basketball fan, I'm finding it harder and harder to care about the program. Of course I enjoyed the ride from the Oden-Conley-Cook class but the whole thing was a little contrived. I may have enjoyed seeing an Ohio State jersey at the final four but I certainly didn't feel much of a connection to the team. Winning is always fun but watching your school act as a halfway house for NBA-bound prospects isn't really quite the fulfillment that most people are seeking through sport. Obviously, sentiments like these put a guy like That Matta between a rock and a hard place: Ignore the blue chippers and fans will get on you about recruiting. Lock down the Mullens and Koufos's of the world and people will get upset that your program lacks continuity. Based on the recruits that have already signed on for future classes, it looks like Matta is going to try to keep winning with mega-prospects as he's already received committment from's #1 center, Jared Sullinger, and #2 PF, Deshaun Thomas, for the class of 2010.
Given the transient nature of major college programs, I'm sad that the Big Dance doesn't really have a Cinderella this year. For me, the plight of the underdog is one of the few compelling stories left in the college game. Unfortunately, I don't think the situation will improve until the NBA either abolishes the age limit or moves it to 21. I'm interested to hear how the rest of you feel about this.
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Swamp Thing

You know how over the last few years we've been beaten over the head with stories from "reputable" media sources like ESPN saying that Lebron is headed to Brooklyn in 2010 to play for the Jay-Z owned Nets? Well, it seems like such talk may have been a little premature . . . And by premature, I mean partially fabricated and completely misleading.

You see, Jay-Z reportedly only owns about 1.47% of the Nets. That we've known for quite some time. But perhaps more important is the news coming out of yesterday's New York Post that the Nets are most definitely NOT moving to Brooklyn:

The renowned architect who designed Brooklyn's embattled Atlantic Yards project
says he now believes it will never be built because of the economic downturn. In
an interview with The Architect's Newspaper, Frank Gehry yesterday referred to
Bruce Ratner's $4 billion plan to bring an NBA arena and 16 residential-office
towers to Prospect Heights as one of several "unrealized commissions" he most
wishes had been built. "I don't think it's going to happen . . .

More than two years after officials approved the project in December 2006, little work has been done, private land remains to be acquired, and Ratner is scrambling to keep the project afloat. There is no timeline to compete the plan anymore. At best, construction on the arena and, perhaps, one of the skyscrapers could begin this year and possibly be completed by late 2011.

So, based on this article, it would appear that if Lebron shows up to play for the Nets in Brooklyn in 2010, he's going to be sorely disappointed and roughly 20 miles away from where any Nets games are actually taking place. Sadly, if Lebron wants to play "for" Jay-Z, he's going to have to do it in the house formerly known as Brendan Byrne Arena. Now I know downtown Cleveland isn't exactly paradise but if there's one place on earth that it trumps, it's the swamps of New Jersey. But don't start breathing too easily Cavs fans because there's always the Knicks; You know, that flagship NBA franchise full of tradition, stocked with great players, and coached by a wizard of all facets of the game. Face it Cleveland: Lebron is outta here. Stephen A. Smith told me so.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Meanwhile, in Berea . . .

Does anyone understand what on God's Earth the Browns are doing right now? I've purposely been ignoring them for the last month or so but now I'm just so baffled that I feel like I need to talk about it.

Lets quickly recap the last couple of months for our fine organization:

  1. Our only non-atrocious defensive player locked horns with our new coach and tried to piss and moan his way out of town.

  2. Our only talented (albeit a complete turd) offensive skill position player, fresh of his own campaign to get himself traded, is currently at the center of trade talks that reportedly have him going to New York for, among other things, a second round pick (hey now, we once got Quincy Morgan and Chaun Thompson in the second round!).

  3. Our gigantic bust (although can you really call someone a bust if the only person who didn't expect him to be terrible was the guy who signed him?) of a receiver got drunk in Miami and mowed down a pedestrian in his car...shortly after receiving his big fat bonus check from the team.

  4. We've let several sub-par young players leave in free agency . . . and replaced them with much older players of the same, or perhaps even lesser ability.

  5. We cut a beloved 34 year-old receiver who, in all fairness, was completely finished . . . and replaced him with a not beloved 34 year-old receiver who, in all fairness, is completely finished.

  6. We paid a boatload of bonus money to retain bad players because 1) we didn't have any better options, and 2) unbeknownst to us, the guy we've had managing our salary cap for the last four years didn't know anything about, well, the salary cap.

  7. We traded a former first round pick for a second round pick after several memorable years of motorcycle accidents, staph infections, and public throwdowns with the organization.

  8. We learned that we don't have a receivers coach, which really isn't a big deal because we don't really have any receivers either.

  9. Our director of pro player personnel stabbed a fan on a press tour after the fan questioned the direction of the organization.

Ok, I made that last one up but come on: You didn't even realize it there for a second. I just...I don't even know what to say. I'm speechless. I have absolutely no idea what the plan is for this organization. I mean, there is a plan, I presume. It seems foolish to think that those in charge of the Browns are just haphazardly making moves, but at the same time, I just can't see how any of this fits together and makes any sense.

I have 100% confidence in the fact that the Browns are going to be completely horrid this year....and the year after....and most likely, the year after that. If you look at this roster and the team's cap situation, how could you possibly envision them being successful at any time within the next 3 years? But that's not even the worst part. Teams get bad on purpose all the time. They cut unproductive veterans and replace them with younger guys knowing fully that they're going to experience years of growing pains before becoming competitive again. But that's not what the Browns are doing. They're cutting unproductive guys and replacing them with older, equally unproductive guys. I'm not even being smug when I ask all of you out there to help explain this to me. WHAT ARE THEY DOING!?

And let's not forget, people are actually going to pay thousands of dollars for season tickets to watch this team play next year. I can't imagine what it must feel like to write that check these days. The economy is in the tank, everyone is feeling the pinch, and yet this team is going out of its way to antagonize the poor fans that are still loyal/naive enough to care about it. I looked over and starred at Browns stadium on my way in to work this morning; except today, for the first time ever in an offseason, I didn't feel sad that it wasn't September and the stadium wasn't filled to capacity. I felt sad that we couldn't knock it down and build a casino and hotels there instead. Right now, Browns stadium is just a hulking corpse, peering out from its perch on the lake to taunt us and remind us of how horrible our greatest love has turned out to be.

Come on Cavs. We need you.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Cavs Win in OT

Quick thoughts after the Cavs OT win over Portland:

1. I actually attended the game tonight, my first at home this season. You would think that since I now live about a 5 minute walk from the Q, attending games would be a no-brainer. Well, a funny thing has happened as I've grown older: My tolerance for all the hassles of attending major sporting events has been greatly diminished. The horrible music, the atrocious entertainment, the lines at the bathroom, the absurd concession prices, the uncomfortable seats . . . it was one thing when the alternative was sitting at home and watching the game on a grainy pixelated tube. But now, with gigantic HD plasmas and LCDs and DVRs . . . you can make a very compelling case for staying home. Still, my buddy DC has great seats in the lower bowl and even for someone who has attended his fair shair of NBA games, there is something special about being that close to NBA players. The same can be said for guys in the NFL but even that's not quite the same. NBA players are just a different species.

2. As for the game, the Cavs did their now common sleepwalk through the first half taking bad jumper after bad jumper. It was amazing, given the way that they played, that they were only down two at the break. Then, in the second half, as soon as they started taking the ball to the hoop, the game changed dramatically. Brandon Roy did a nice job hitting free throws down the stretch to force the game into OT but I felt fairly comfortable, once the Cavs got the lead, that they weren't going to lose it.

3. I like the way Delonte took the ball inside a couple of times in the second half. I can't stress enough how much the Cavs need him ready to go for the playoffs. It's an old NBA cliche' but it only takes a few easy buckets to get a shooter's outside stroke going again.

4. The Blazers, even without Batum and Aldridge, are a very good young NBA team. We were talking during the second half about the fact that if the Blazers had taken Durant instead of Oden, the NBA might have to shut down operations in the next couple of years because the Blazers would be OWNING everyone including the Cavs. A top 3 of Durant, Roy, and Aldridge plus an owner who could afford to pay all three? That, my friends, would've been game, set, and match. Luckily, they took Oden and the rest is history. I know people like to point out the fact that this is still technically his rookie season and he's still young BUT . . . I can't say I would be too excited if I were a Blazers fan about a skinny, timid 7 footer, with no offensive game, a fragile psyche, and a microfracture procedure under his belt. Oden could very well be a 17-12 guy some day but I wouldn't be the farm on it.

5. It's been a while since I've said this and I know some of you think I'm too hard on Lebron so let me just say this: My god, he is breathtaking. The ease with which he was getting to the hole down the stretch was just amazing. How does one guy just slice through an entire defense that knows exactly what he's going to do? Ridiculous. If that's playoff Lebron, and history would indicate that it is, then I feel pretty good about our chances of getting out of the East.

6. Nice adjustment by Mike Brown to go small and Bring in Sasha in the 4th quarter to contain Travis Outlaw, who had developed quite the hot hand. Normally, I like to see Andy on the floor late in the game but sitting him tonight was the correct move.

7. I had no idea that the Cavs were on the verge of setting the record for fewest turnovers until I was told after the game. Obviously, you don't notice a turnover unless it happens.

8. Looking at the schedules, the Cavs play better teams down the stretch than the Lakers but LA has almost all of theirs on the road. I would say if the Cavs lose 3 or fewer games the rest of the way, they'll get the top overall seed. With games against Boston, San Antonio, and at Orlando just to name a few, that's going to be a tall order. The Cavs will almost definitely lose at least one more game against a sub-500 team so limiting the remaining losses to 3 is going to be a tall order.

That's it for now. Happy Friday everyone!


You've got to be shitting me ESPN. Against my better judgment, I just went to the worldwide leader's NBA page to read the daily dime. I was actually somewhat pleased at the "Beast of the East" headline for the article. I should've known better. Inside, I was treated to a nice sloppy Tim Leger/Celtics BJ featuring a host of completely insane comments. Allow me to post some of my favorites:

With all their injuries, the Celtics have no rhythm right now and the Magic
need to figure out a way to steadily feed Dwight Howard at crunch

Those are the two biggest reasons I don't think that Boston or Orlando can catch Cleveland. Cleveland is 4.5 games in front of Boston and five games ahead of Orlando, and with the exception of Ben Wallace, the Cavaliers are the one team that is not dealing with injuries.

. . .

It is more important for the Cavaliers to have home court than it is for Boston . . . The Celtics won big games on the road last season so they are confident they can do it again.

. . .

[The Celtics] are the most complete team in the league and they have more options offensively than the Cavaliers or Magic.

. . .

The Celtics are mentally tough.

. . .

I think Paul Pierce needs to get a mention [for MVP].

So let me get this straight: The reason that Boston can't catch the Cavs right now is because of injuries? Now that's interesting. You see, I thought the reason was that the Cavs never fucking lose and have already played 95% of their tough road games. Silly me. I can totally see your point though Tim. With a healthy Garnett, I could definitely see Boston jumping the Cavs in the seeding. The selection committee would certainly take into account the way Boston played after Garnett's return.

And really? The Celtics don't need home court because they've already shown their ability to win on the road? Are you sure it was the Celtics that won on the road last postseason, Tim? Are you sure it's wasn't, I don't know, NOTHING?

The Celtics have more options offensively than the Cavs or Magic? That must be why they've established such a strong offensive identity. It's a good thing they're not just a sloppy offensive team with a great defense.

The Celtics are mentally tough? Are you sure about this? When did this new information come to light? You've been holding out on us the entire time! You should really alert the rest of the gang at ESPN as to this fact so that they can incorporate it into their regular schtick.

Paul Pierce for MVP? Are we talking about Celtics MVP because I think Ray Allen would disagree with that statement. I know you can't be talking about league MVP because statistically, that type of argument would be ridiculous right? I mean Lebron averages 8 more points a game and his team is 4.5 games ahead in the standings. Wade has single-handedly made the Heat dangerous. Certainly, you're not proposing that someone should actually vote for Pierce for MVP are you?

ESPN, seriously, your NBA coverage has become a joke. How can you let people write this stuff! It's one thing to take a controversial position. It's quite another to make statements that are so asinine that no reasonable person could believe them (like that Paul Pierce deserves MVP consideration). Get a life ESPN. And while you're at it, could you do some research for me? You see, I've been sitting around all morning wondering whether Kevin Garnett is intense. That fact was strangly omitted from the dime this morning and so I'm now questioning whether everything I've read about him prior to today was just unsubstantiated rumor. Can you get back to me on this?

I really wish the playoffs were here because I can't wait for the Cavs to shove it right up ESPN and Barkley's ass.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cavs Get Big Home Win: Top Seed Within Reach

I don't have much time to write this morning but I wanted to get a few Cavs thoughts out there to start the discussion. I'm interested to get the pulse of CMCR nation regarding this team right now.

1. In full disclosure, I only really watched the last quarter of the game as I was out and about in Cleveland taking in the St. Patrick's day festivities. With that being said, I think I pretty much got the gist of things: The Cavs tried to limit the damage caused by Howard down low and ended up getting scorched by Orlando's bigger perimeter players. At the same time, our beloved Cavs, now reincarnated as a pure jump shooting team, hit enough shots and got enough stops and friendly whistles down the stretch to pull it out. Not exactly the way I'd want to win but a win nonetheless.

2. Orlando is a huge problem for us because they have the best frontcourt player in the league and a ton of tall guys that can stroke it from the outside. That's not to say that the Cavs couldn't beat them in a seven game series, but I would absolutely rather play the Celtics. That's right Jon Barry, I said I would rather play the Celtics. Your idiotic Daily Dime notwithstanding Jon, I would rather play the Celtics. I encourage all of you to go read his Daily Dime column on ESPN this morning and go tell him what an idiot he is. Right Jon, the most "mentally tough" team in the Eastern Conference is the same one that couldn't stand upright away from home last year in the playoffs. Why is it that the "experts" over at ESPN only mention the Cavs as a contender with flaws? When LA shits the bed at home to a crappy Philly team, it's because they're realizing that they don't need home court in the playoffs and the Sixers are really playing tough. When Boston folds down the stretch, it's because of Garnett. When Cleveland keeps winning, it doesn't matter because they don't have a "legitimate third option" and they can't win without Ben Wallace. Great analysis this morning fellas.

3. I said it in a comment earlier this week: I'm not alarmed about the Cavs right now but I'm definitely concerned. This team can't jump shoot their way to a title. Lebron has to be attacking the rim all night and when teams take him away, Mo and Delonte need to be penetrating and Z needs to be getting the ball down low. Honestly, I'm more concerned with the offense right now than I am the defense. A few matchup problems aside (Guys like Yao and Howard), the Cavs can turn the screws on anyone defensively when they want to, especially at home. But, if they continue to develop an identity as a jump shooting team, it will be hard to break out of it in May and June.

4. Everyone talks about Ben Wallace being a huge difference maker but from where I stand, the biggest difference between the current version of the Cavs and the one that was mauling everyone earlier in the year is Delonte West. He doesn't look like he's ever been fully healthy since he came back from the wrist injury. Before he got hurt, his shooting was fantastic and he was attacking the basket with regularity. Now, he just disappears on the court for long periods of time. I know with his psychological issues, there is a lot that can be going on at any given time that can impact his play but this team desperately needs him to return to his early-season form.

5. Like I said, I missed three quarters of this game and I can see from the box that Lebron played out of his head. That being said, the deep three he hit at the end of the game made me want to vomit. I know, I know, I'm Mr. negativity but come on: You're comfortable with Lebron taking ridiculously deep 3's when we're down at the end of games? Me either. Yes, I know he made it and that's what great players do but I just hope that in his head, he knows that such a shot would never be acceptable with the season on the line. Sure, he tried the dribble drive and kick in the few possessions before that and guys were missing the open shots but it still didn't justify what he did. I'll take the win and not say any more about it but please, someone out there just assure me that Lebron understands that he can't take these shots in the playoffs.

6. LA lost and the Cavs now have the best record in the league. Will they hold on to it? I'd say it's 50/50. The Cavs aren't playing that well right now and still have plenty of tough games ahead. They need to treat every one of them like a playoff game because as much as this team can win on their road, their best bet to win a title is an 08 Celtics type playoff course where they win everything at home and try to steal a couple of games on the road.

Ok, that's it for this morning. I honestly don't even know how to feel right now. We have the best record in the NBA but I felt much better about this team two months ago. I need some reassurance people. What do all of you have to say?
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Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Old Place

We Cleveland fans have had plenty to debate, trash, and bitch about this week. The Cavs sorry inside game, the Browns Jet-centric signings, the Tribe's spring training (its a given we will all question whatever happens in Goodyear). So, I figure we might as well reminisce about the old days. What do you˜ loyal bloggers remember about the old Richfield Coliseum? I'll share a few of mine just to get the ball rolling.

1)The late 80's and early 90's Cavs. The 2 games I remember most were against the Spurs and Timberwolves. The Spurs had David Robinson in his early years and the T-wolves had Jim Breur. The Admiral was his impressive self and i remember thinking how great it was to see him on a school night. I remember Breuer because he got kicked in the face and left the court bloodied (pussy). And just for random knowledge, John Battle threw a pass between his legs from half-court. I think our boy Ehlo finished it with a lay-up

2) The Cleveland Force. I played soccer growing up and i remember going to many Force games. The place always seemed to be sold out, probably because it was in a prime location to draw people from Akron and Cleveland. I remember them being good, but not good enough to win a title. Typical Cleveland. They did have a pretty cool intro for the players that featured Darth Vader and the theme from Star Wars.

3) Monster Truck Rally. This is here because it was the only time i was ever in one of the loge's. You remember the loge's at the top of the arena? It was awesome being there, but i remember being uneasy about the plummet distance.

3) The Billy Joel concert my mom took me and my siblings to after my parents' divorce. I wasnt the biggest fan, but he did put on a great show.

Anyways, with the state of our Cleveland teams I thought it would be cathartic to come together and share our memories about the old Richfield Coliseum. It was a great venue so why not share your good times?
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Adios Joey J

The new Browns regime took another small step forward today in its quest to alienate the entire fan base by releasing Cleveland's own Joe Jurevicious. From a football standpoint, releasing a 34 year old posession receiver coming off a catastrophic knee injury is certainly defensible. From a PR standpoint, given the fact that Jurevicious was apparently willing to take a major paycut, it would seem as though the move simply gives the fans one more reason to have a little less patience with Mangini and Kokinis.

In light of the fact that the pair doesn't seem to have any problem bringing in nondescript 30-something former Jets, perhaps a little outcry from Browns fans is warranted on this one. If there is any chance that Jurevicious could play this year, it's not as though the team couldn't use a guy whose hands are actually NFL calliber. I'm not sitting here trying to argue that Jurevicious could have in any way contributed to the rebuilding effort. All I'm saying is that for a relatively small sum and a roster spot, the new coach and GM could've thrown the fans one bone and not ousted one of the few beloved players the team has left.

I know, I know . . . It's a crappy argument. You don't turn around a pathetic franchise by pandering to a desperate fanbase. I guess I'm just bitter because we hired a huge prick whose only moves thus far have been to bring in aging never-was players from a team that consistently underachieved. Let's not kid ourselves here: It's not like David Bowens and Abram Elam are really going to bring a championship attitude to the locker room. We didn't hire a coach from a successful franchise. He's not really doing us any favors by bringing in "his" guys.

Whatever, I tried to write about the Browns and now I'm nauseous and depressed. Wake me up in two years when the fans are revolting, Lerner is losing money hand over fist, and Mangini is begging to get fired.
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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tales From Beantown

A couple of months ago, I decided that this would be a great season to catch the Cavs on the road. As any diehard fan can tell you, there is something special about being a road fan. You can't help but feel like a bit of a celebrity walking into another fan base's house wearing enemy colors. It's impossible not to enjoy the fact that you stick out like a sore thumb and everyone that sees you knows that your love for your team is unimpeachable. You instantly begin to revel in all the dirty looks, snide remarks, and empty threats you receive from opposing fans. I know it sounds a little ridiculous but anyone who has traveled for a big game can tell you that you just feel like a little bit of a hardass the entire time.

There is one small problem with the "road fan" concept in the NBA, however: There is nothing inherently significant about attending an NBA road game. In baseball, there is an unmistakable novelty attached to attending a different ballpark for the first time. Since the death of the stadium and rebirth of the park, being a baseball road fan has regained its appeal. My buddy and I attended a mid-season Pirates/Nationals game at PNC last year and even though we couldn't have cared less about the game, the whole afternoon couldn't have been more enjoyable. Every baseball park is like a new world to explore. You don't even need your own team on the field to enjoy the experience. In the NFL, while each stadium is a little different, it's really the unique gameday atmosphere of each city that makes the travel worth it: the tailgaiting, the fans, the traditions....the overall experience in each city is always unique. Plus, with only 16 games in a season, every game is a big game.

The NBA doesn't have any of that. For all intensive purposes, an arena is an arena and based on my limited experience, there is nothing particularly special about the "atmosphere" in any given city. For the most part, over the course of an 82 game season, a team is only going to play a few truly meaningful or memorable games and the rest are just forgettable snoozefests attended by tons of corporate types entertaining their clients and season ticket holders paying their dues to get playoff priority.

So, the point is that traveling with your team in the NBA lacks the cache' of the other two major sports. Given this reality, when picking my destination and game back in December, I tried to ensure that regardless of how the season went, my game would be memorable. Thus, I settled on the March 6 Cavs/Celtics tilt. Aside from the fact that I assumed that the game would have a meaningful impact on conference seeding, I figured that even if one of the two teams went in the tank, I would still get to experience the whole Celtics . . . you know . . . thing. As a Cleveland fan, I don't really know anything about tradition. Sure the Browns were great before the merger but that almost doesn't even count. If your team hasn't won in the modern era of its particular sport, it's hard to say that the fan base has truly been enriched by tradition. Now I know the Boston Garden is long gone but I thought that there would still be something special about going to a Celtics home game . . . just because, well, it's the Celtics. Bird, Russell, McHale, Havlicek . . you get the point. Just because I may hate the Celtics, it doesn't mean that as an NBA fan, I can't appreciate their cultural relevance.

Having decided upon my game, I hit Craigslist hard for about a month and found a Celtics season ticket holder willing to part with his 3rd row floor seats (about 10 feet beyond the baseline by the Celtics' tunnel) for a fairly reasonable price (Yes, I know it's shocking that my CMCR press credentials weren't enough to get me in with the rest of the mainstream media). Thus, last friday afternoon, the significant other and I headed for Beantown.

So, without any further windup, I'll give offer my observations from the evening. You'll notice that I don't have much to say about the game and really, there are two reasons for this: 1) It was a terrible game and in my opinion, aside for a few disturbing trends, was an aberration rather than a harbinger; and 2) It's really hard to understand the x's and o's of a game when you're attending it, especially when you're sitting at court level. I mean I figured out that our guys were dominated down low, but in terms of Boston's defensive schemes or any really insightful observations as to why we were dismantled, I would need to see the tv footage. Ok, oberservations:

The Arena:

As I said earlier, there really isn't much you can do with a basketball arena. There may be some unique ones out there but I certainly have been to one. Still, I expected that there would be at least something unique about TD Banknorth. After all, it is home to the most successful NBA franchise in history in a city that prints money. However, after attending a game in "the new Garden," I'm pleased to report that I was wrong. There is absolutely nothing noteworthy or significant about it. It's built on top of North Station and I found it hard to tell where the station stopped and the arena began. Everything in the place is a little bit drab and underwhelming. The concourses seemed a little bit narrow and poorly appointed. The concession stands were uninteresting and the merchandise shops were small and forgettable. Inside the arena, the dimensions actually look similar to the Q. It seats about 2,000 fewer people than the Q but you can't really tell just by looking at it. About the only noticeable difference other than the parquet floor is the ugly urine colored seats. Overall, although my expectations were probably a little bit too high, I was completely underwhelmed by the place. Without all the banners hanging from the rafters, it's just another sterile NBA arena. Even my girlfriend, who has never been one to heap compliments on anything Cleveland-related, admitted that she preferred the Q to TD Banknorth.

The Atmosphere:

This was by far the most shocking aspect of the night for me. I was walking into the home of the defending NBA champions, the most storied franchise in the sport, on a night when they would be taking on perhaps their biggest current rival with Eastern Conference supremacy on the line . . . and I was wearing the colors of the other team. I thought for sure that people would be getting in my face. As we made our way to our seats, I was a little surprised that there was absolutely NO buzz in the air . . . no "let's go Celtics" chants in the concourse . . . no yelling or high-fiving among fans. It was, for lack of a better word, weird. When we arrived at our seats, I observed the other individuals in the immediate vicinity, figuring that I was destined to have a few words with at least some of these people throughout the course of the night. Sitting directly behind us was a young kid, about high-school age, and his overly made-up high-school girlfriend. He had obviously been given the tickets by his father and seemed more concerned with impressing his female companion than anything related to the game. To our left was a 30-something woman, at least 200 pounds, attending the game by herself. I gathered throughout the course of the night that she was a) a season ticket holder, and b) attended the game for the sole purpose of getting absolutely shitfaced. I'm not kidding when I tell you that she sat there the entire night pounding beer after beer without saying anything to anyone. It was bizarre. By the end of the game she was an absolute mess.

To our right were a couple of 20-something guys that looked and acted like they'd rarely been out of their mothers' houses or spent much time away from playing World of Warcraft. It's not like we were sitting in the cheap seats and these guys didn't know the first thing about the Celtics. Throughout the game, they would take turns offering inane observations while the other would act like he had just been given color from Hubie Brown. I couldn't help but be reminded of the following exchange from The Waterboy:

Paco: Look at Bobby tackle. I haven't seen a tackle like that since Joe Montana.
Walter: Joe Montana was a quarterback, you idiot.
Paco: I said Joe Mantegna.

. . . except the guys sitting next to me could've both played the role of Paco. In front of these two oracles of NBA wisdom sat a group of 65+ grandparents that looked like they got lost on the way to Country Kitchen and ended up at an NBA game. Suddenly, I was starting to get worried that there wouldn't be a serious Celtic fan in the vicinity to get in my face and make things interesting. Then, about 10 minutes before tip, my fears were allayed when two gigantic meatheads-walking stereotypes if you will-sat right down in front of me. The one was wearing gigantic diamond earings, a massive diamond encrusted watch, a gold and white "Bird" USA Basketball Jersey, and was sporting some religious ink on his shoulder. I was sure that this guy was going to turn around and get into it with me at some point.

Now, you guys all watched the game. The Cavs absolutely laid an egg. I mean other than about a 5 minute stretch in the second quarter, the Celtics absolutely OWNED the game. Plus, the game featured a skirmish in which Varajao and Z completely overreacted to a hard fould by Glen Davis. This was exactly the type of game in which, if I were at home at the Q and the Cavs were dominating, I would be absolutely crucifying any opposing team's fans. Well, would you believe that I spent the entire night standing up and yelling for the Cavs and got no more than a few glances from the guy in front of me. I mean nothing! I was shocked. This was Boston. These fans were supposed to be merciless. Yet, I stood up the entire game and didn't receive a single insult. Moreover, the atmosphere in the arena was terrible. If I didn't know better, I would've thought I was attending a January matinee against the Bobcats. I mean the fans got a little loud when the Celtics dropped the hammer in the 3rd but other than that, the only times they made any noise all night were when Lebron blew the dunk and Rondo came back from the gimpy ankle. I was astonished. Maybe one or two chants, standing for a couple of possessions . . . but other than that, nothing. I don't know why the energy level in the building was so flat but here are my best guesses:

1. Boston is and always will be a Red Sox town. Walking the streets all weekend, you would've thought it was October. Red Sox gear everywhere. Just because the Celtics are a legendary franchise, it doesn't change the fact that Boston's first love is baseball. The same could be said for the Browns in Cleveland. We may love the Cavs and adore Lebron but the Q will never match the type of atmosphere that could exist in Browns stadium if the franchise ever stopped trying to murder professional football in Cleveland.

2. This Celtics team....doesn't look like the old one. I know I'm going to get a lot of flack for saying this but there is something very different from Bird, Cousy, Cowens, Havlicek, Heinsohn, McHale and Walton when compared to KG, Allen, and Pierce. I'm sorry but Boston isn't exactly known for embracing cultural diversity. I have absolutely no way of backing this up (and I know guys like Russell stand in direct opposition to the point) but I just get the impression that Boston would be a little happier to root for white superstars.

3. This team was not built organically. These Celtics fans went from hoping to land Oden or Durant and praying that Doc Rivers would get fired one day to being a title favorite the next. I've used the analogy before but it's like a mother waking up one day and being handed her baby without ever being pregnant. Unlike Cleveland's relationships with the Cavs, Boston fans never went through the growing pains with their team. I know we've gone through a lot of roster turnover but essentially, we've watched our "core" guys go from lottery team to perennial contender over about a five year period. Boston fans probably know that Kevin McHale and Sam Presti have more to do with their team's success than shrewd management or player development. You can just tell that these fans don't quite connect with their team in the way that you would expect. There are only two players that really seem to have a special connection to the fans: Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. This makes total sense. Peirce is a career Celtic and Rondo is Boston's guy. As I've said, you develop a special connection to a player when he makes his breakthrough with your team. Do Boston fans love Garnett? Of course. Still, it's just different. The connection isn't the same. (Side note: Does anyone else think it's a little ridiculous that everyone is blowing Garnett for being "so intense" that he can't even sit on the bench while he's injured? I mean if J.R. Giddens pulled the same thing, would the Boston media slobber all over him like they've done with KG?)

The Entertainment:

Completely contrived: The opening video during player introductions was WAY too long and reaked of the idea that this was a franchise that had a lot of tradition but didn't know how to incorporate it into the present. It featured tons of old game footage, former player interviews, and speeches by Red that all had the cumulative effect of lulling the fans to sleep rather than pumping anyone up. The video culminated with the obligatory "Kevin Garnett is intense!" shot of KG growling into the camera. Objectively speaking, it just didn't do it for me and surprisingly, I got the impression that even the Celtics fans were a little bit over it.

The in-game entertainment was horribly cliche'. Lots of clips from Hoosiers and 300. Lots of "fan cam" timeouts. Overall, there was not an ounce of originality on display the entire evening, which, in all fairness, could really be said for any NBA arena including the Q. Every place is doing the same tired annoying stuff during every break in the action.

The Players:

Kendrick Perkins is huge. Mikki Moore is massive and looks a little like Busta Rhymes. Big Baby Davis is extremely short and wide and has the potential to sport some Antoine-Walker-like neck fat later in his career. Rajon Rondo looks like a Somali Warlord. Paul Pierce looks like a catfish.

The Game:

1. If you attend a road game, you can see why the people that know say that the role players are the reason that it's so hard to win on the road in the NBA. Sure Lebron stunk up the joint but the more alarming trend was how tenative some of our role players were. Everyone just looked terrified that they might make a mistake. Sure guys like Gibson, Hickson, and Pavlovic can give you a handful of passable minutes when they're feeding off the energy of the home crowd but on the road, they're complete liabilities. About the only one who looked comfortable is Varejao who, no matter what the venue, always plays with energy and reckless abandon. I walked away feeling even more convinced that the Cavs need homecourt all the way through to win a title. Sure they have a chance to win a series against a team of equal or greater talent without the home court...if Lebron pulls another game 5 at the Palace. But, there's no way he's doing that in two consecutive series and without it, the Cavs don't have the bodies to win two consecutive series against good teams without having both of them begin and end at home.

2. I couldn't believe how badly Mike Brown messed up the game. The Cavs got outplayed in the 3rd and as I recall, began the 4th down 9. Now, on the road against a good team and down 9, you know that if you don't start closing the gap and take the momentum early in the quater, the game is going to get out of reach. So, what does Mike Brown do? Put Lebron on the bench and start the quarter with Gibson on the floor and Szczerbiak guarding Pierce. Shockingly, Boston blew the game wide open. I just couldn't believe that Brown was essentially conceding a game that wasn't even a double-digit deficit with a full quarter to play. I really like Mike Brown but that decision was indefensible.

3. If Garnett isn't in there, the Cavs should be running the offense through Z. Again, we figured this out about 40 minutes too late. Nobody on the Celtics outside of KG has the combination of size, instincts, and footwork to guard Z down low.
4. Having Marbury on the Celtics is like having a double-agent working for our team behind enemy lines. I have absolutely no fear for his game and I'm thrilled about the possible destruction he could cause in Boston. After a week, Celtic fans are already a little uneasy every time he steps on to the floor. A part of them is rooting for the great reclamation story but deep down, they're all a little disgusted with the fact that they have to root for such a despicable guy. Overall, in light of the cries of "don't shoot" I was hearing from the faithful every time he touched the ball, I get the impression that things between Marbury and Boston fans are going to end badly...and if he tries to do anything other than bring the ball up the court come playoff time, the fans, and more likely, Garnett, might kill him.

5. Our frontcourt is soft but you didn't need me to tell you that.

Overall, it was a strange night. The experience was a little bit of a letdown...the team's performance was terrible...and yet I came away oddly satisfied. Maybe it's just because I realized that as NBA fans, we're not missing anything. Attending a game at the Q is just as good, and I would even argue better, than attending a game in Boston.

One final note: It's a special feeling walking into an opposing arena knowing that Lebron is on your team. It's like showing up to a gunfight with a machine gun and knowing that everyone else is carrying a civil war pistol. The sheer terror harbored by opposing fans toward Lebron is palpable. Sure Lebron had a horrific night, but you know what: Boston fans are still terrified of him. And as you and I know, they have every reason to feel that way. We may have lost the battle on this night but I still believe in our chances to win the war.
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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Welcome Back Joe!

Brian Windhorst is reporting that Joe Smith has reached a buyout agreement with the Oklahoma City Thunder and will be joining Cavs in time for their game Wednesday. This is a move most Cavs fans have been waiting for since Smith was traded in the deal that netted Mo Williams. (In retrospect that trade was basically Damon Jones for Mo - not a bad swap - an All Star for someone out of the league).

Before the injury to Ben Wallace, bringing back Joe Smith would have provided needed depth and an additional big man for the playoffs. After Wallace's injury, bringing back Smith fills a necessity. The chances of the Cavs winning a championship running out Z, Andy and J.J. Hickson to compete with the Pau Gasols, Lamar Odoms and Kevin Garnett was rather slim.

Smith is the least disruptive option the Cavs had to replace Wallace. Though other names were thrown out as possibilities, Drew Gooden, Carlos Boozer, and Rasheed Wallace - bringing back Smith avoids the baggage of these other players. Having played with the Cavs last year, Smith knows the system and the players. Bringing in anyone else would have required an adjustment period, a mending of egos, and a counseling of an entire city. Mike Brown is familiar with Smith and knows who he compliments. If I were Mike Brown, I would start Joe, moving Andy back to the bench, where he has shown himself to be most effective - providing his burst of energy off the bench.

Though Smith is in the midst of his worst statistical season, there is no reason to think that he can't provide numbers similar, if not better, than the 8 pts, and 5 boards that he averaged last year with the Cavs (in about 20 minutes per game). Considering what Wallace gave the Cavs offensively each night, Smith will no doubt provide a better offensive threat. Where Smith really needs to focus is on his defensive intensity - this is where the loss of Wallace will be felt the most. Joe doesn't need to dominate the middle, rather, he needs to control it - providing a presence that prevents the type of big performance that the Cavs have shown themselves susceptible to this season (see Yao Ming and Lamar Odom). The fact that Smith hasn't played in about three weeks hopefully means that he'll be fresh for the important run for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.

I'm glad to see Danny Ferry and the Cavs taking the necessary steps to put this team in the best position to bring a championship home this season. With Wallace's injury, bringing back Smith is the smartest option for the team's ultimate success this year.
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