Ball Don’t Lie’s 2012-13 NBA Season Previews: The Milwaukee Bucks

22 Oct

For the first time in two years we'll have an orthodox, full-length NBA season to look forward to. No lockout nonsense, and precious little obsession as to whether or not LeBron James will ever win the big one. He's won it, already, and our sanity as NBA followers is probably better off as a result. However big that shred of sanity is remains to be seen, following yet another offseason that once again proved that the NBA is full of Crazy McCrazytons that appear to take great delight in messing with us continually.

As a result of that offseason, and the impending regular season, why not mess with Ball Don't Lie's triptych of Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine and Eric Freeman as they preview the 2012-13 season with alacrity, good cheer, and bad jokes.

We continue with the combustible Milwaukee Bucks.

Kelly Dwyer's Kilt-Straightener

At first or even fifth glance the Milwaukee Bucks seem an unremarkable cast of characters, destined for .500 at best and a crushing bit of anonymity along the way.

A re-tread coach. A small market setup. A series of middling low lottery picks. Samuel Dalembert, on his 49th team. An, um, "experienced" GM. The answer to several "Who He Play For?" questions, should Charles Barkley remember that there is still a team in Milwaukee. Just one nationally televised game all season that isn't on NBA TV or WGN.

Beyond all that lies a ticking time bomb, though. One that very well could prove a positively-toned breakthrough for several of the more prominent cast of characters, but one that could also make for a Hindenburg-sized disaster that only the League Pass know-alls would notice. Rub your hands together, NBA sickies, because you can't lose.

Leading the Bucks, ostensibly, is coach Scott Skiles; a truly intelligent basketball man who truly did try to get himself bought out last season so that he didn't have to return to this noise. Skiles had unpleasant endings in each of his last three head coaching spots — Greece, Phoenix, Chicago — and his expert (as in, "probably should have won the Coach of the Year award") turn riding the 2009-10 Bucks to an unending series of 89-81 wins seems like ages ago. In the last year of his deal and his fifth (!) season in Milwaukee, Skiles could lead the league in passive/aggressiveness in 2012-13.

The actual leader of the team is Brandon Jennings, because either Skiles cannot tame him or doesn't care to. Jennings does play hard and wants to win, but even after 7171 career NBA minutes it's not readily apparent if he knows the quickest way between an in and out dribble maneuver and an actual win. Jennings comes off as the sort of waterbug you can't stay in front of, but he averages fewer than four free throw attempts per 36 minutes of play, and seems quite content by wasting his youth on fading low-percentage jumpers.

Above him in pay but behind him in seniority is Monta Ellis, owner of an expiring contract and capable of the sort of 14-point quarters that keep you coming back time after time. The shakeup the brought Ellis to Milwaukee last March breathed new life into the franchise — the last thing Bucks fans could handle in the autumn of 2012 is the sort of day to day injury updates that Golden State Warrior fans are pouring over as they keep up with Andrew Bogut's "progress" — but Ellis and Jennings did not work especially well overall in a small'ish, training camp-less sample size last season.

Best, for the sickies anyway, is the fact that Ellis could potentially opt out of his contract this summer (something we're not sure Bucks brass wouldn't especially mind), and Jennings' restricted free agency. Also prepare for a series of "Is Brandon Jennings Worth It?"-columns from websites with an eye for advanced metrics.

All while the Bucks shoot for the lower rungs of the playoffs, again, hoping to take in some playoff revenue and a trip to Miami. Or, erm, Indianapolis.

Prospects could genuinely improve, if all are engaged. Dalembert is by no means a panacea, but his presence allows Drew Gooden (who, with dozens outside of Wisconsin watching last season, enjoyed a career year in 2011-12) to move down to the power forward slot. Mike Dunleavy Jr. also enjoyed a career renaissance of sorts, and if his painful knee condition allows for it he should be able to provide the sort of all-around offensive play that teams crave once a play breaks down. Larry Sanders is a sound helper, provided he reins in his pick and pop instincts, and I simply cannot dismiss the chance that Ellis and Jennings could create some sort of chemistry together under Skiles' tutelage.

Skiles is the guy that went from high school/college scorer to NBA assist record-breaker to defensive-minded head man. He's changed, before. It hasn't happened much since Bill Clinton took office, probably no co-incidence there, but he's been proven capable of learning on the fly before. If he comes up with something in some way that shows that he wants to make Milwaukee home for the next few years, the Bucks could be onto something.

Or, they could fall short while falling out. Ellis and Jennings might be encouraged to find safe haven elsewhere, Hammond and Skiles could be let go, and the team could head into 2013-14 with Ersan Ilyasova as its highest-paid player and yet another 11th overall pick to attempt to trump up. We genuinely would hate every bit of this, considering the potential on both the sideline and starting lineup.

Whatever the turnout, the sickies will be on board.

Projected record: 38-44

Fear Itself with Dan Devine

It is tonally appropriate that the NBA season tips off just before Halloween -- because on any given night, each and every one of the league's 30 teams can look downright frightening. Sometimes, that means your favorite team will act as their opposition's personal Freddy Krueger; sometimes, you will be the one suffering through the living nightmare. In preparation for Opening Night, BDL's Dan Devine considers what makes your team scary and what should make you scared.

What Makes You Scary: The chance that the production that followed the trade for Monta Ellis will hold up for a full season. The idea behind sending injured defensive centerpiece Andrew Bogut and never-made-for-Milwaukee shooter Stephen Jackson to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for shooting guard Monta Ellis and young big man Ekpe Udoh was, primarily, to try to inject some offensive life into a unit that seemed in need of a jolt to make a postseason push. The Bucks ranked 17th in the NBA in points scored per 100 possessions through last season's first 43 games -- an improvement over the dead-last finish they managed in 2010-11, sure, but still in the bottom half of the league and not looking in much danger of improving in time to catch the New York Knicks or Philadelphia 76ers for one of the East's final two playoff berths.

So general manager John Hammond swung for the fences with a deal that looked like a score at the time, and while the Bucks wound up finishing in the lottery, four games out of the No. 8 seed, the numbers show that the deal bore fruit -- Milwaukee did get better offensively over the final 23 games of the season, improving by more than three points-per-100 to an offensive rating of 104.5, making them the league's 11th-most efficiency offense during that stretch. And as Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings made a point of noting during the offseason, a big part of that was the supercharged offense the Bucks featured when he and Ellis shared the backcourt. As I wrote at the time:

[…] during the 601 minutes that he and Ellis played together, [the Bucks scored] 106.2 points per 48 minutes of playing time compared with 98.9-per-48 on the season as a whole, according to's statistical analysis tool.

Part of that's due to Milwaukee playing at a significantly faster pace with the Jennings-Ellis unit sharing the floor — when the duo played at the same time, the Bucks averaged 100.6 possessions per 48 minutes, more than four-per-48 faster than their season average — but they also scored more effectively in that uptempo game, doing much more damage on fast breaks and in the paint and producing an average of 105.3 points per 100 possessions. That's a big improvement over the Bucks' 102.4-per-100 season mark — over the course of a full season, it's the difference between having a top-five offense on par with the Chris Paul-led Los Angeles Clippers and having a middle-of-the-league group like the Orlando Magic or Atlanta Hawks.

It's weird to think about a Scott Skiles-led Bucks team heading into a season trying to make its bones on offense. But with two guards who thrive in an uptempo, open-court, transition-keyed style, plus stretch bigs Ersan Ilyasova (whose season 3-point mark was inflated by an unsustainable 50.8 percent from deep after the All-Star Game, but the Bucks would probably be fine with the 38.8 percent he hit before the break, too) and Drew Gooden (44.5 percent from between 16 and 24 feet away last year) back to space the floor in the frontcourt and (Bucks fans hope) a potential breakout season from trimmed-down 2011 lottery pick Tobias Harris, who reportedly has the inside track on starting at small forward after a strong summer, just letting it rip might be the team's most effective, and efficient, shot at fielding the kind of top-flight offense that could propel the Bucks back into the playoffs for the first time in three years. If nothing else, it should make the Bucks a lot of fun to watch, which is something they haven't consistently been since ... oh, 2000-01.

What Should Make You Scared: The prospect of Jennings-Ellis lineups getting roasted on D. Ah, the yin and the yang. From the stat dive I did during the summer:

Opponents made more field goals per 48 minutes, posted a higher effective field-goal percentage, and grabbed a higher share of available offensive and defensive rebounds to key second-chance opportunities and transition offense.

In sum, teams playing the Bucks feasted when Jennings and Ellis shared the court, scoring an average of 107.7 points per 100 possessions of floor time, more than five points-per-100 below Milwaukee's season defensive mark, according to's metrics. To put things in perspective, only one team put up defensive numbers that inept over the course of the full 2011-12 season — when Jennings and Ellis shared the backcourt, the Bucks ceased being a slightly-worse-than-average defensive team and became the Charlotte Bobcats (107.8-per-100 allowed).

Now, to be fair, as Milwaukee-focused blog Behind the Buck Pass noted after I wrote that, the presence of a legitimately capable defensive center/rim protector behind the guards -- most notably offseason trade acquisition Samuel Dalembert, but perhaps also Udoh, ace shot-blocker/iffy team defender Larry Sanders, free-agent signing Joel Przybilla (if he can stay healthy) or 2012 lottery pick John Henson -- could change matters drastically, as could the steadying presence of multipositional lockdown man Luc Richard Mbah a Moute once he returns from rehab following offseason surgery to repair the patella tendon in his right knee. After shipping out former defensive linchpin Bogut, Hammond may have provided Skiles with enough frontcourt and wing pieces to cover over his explosive guards' perimeter mistakes. If he hasn't, though, a third straight lottery trip could be in the cards.

Eric Freeman's Identity Crisis

There is no more important asset for a basketball team than talent, and yet the more loaded squad does not always win. What we've seen in recent seasons isn't only that the best team wins, but that the group with the clearest sense of self, from management down through the players, prevails. A team must not only be talented, but sure of its goals, present and future, and the best methods of obtaining them. Most NBA teams have trouble with their identity. Eric Freeman's Identity Crisis is a window into those struggles, the accomplishment of realizing a coherent identity, and the pitfalls of believing these issues to be solved.

Any team coached by Scott Skiles will focus itself around the defensive end of the floor, and for years that approach made total sense for the Bucks. With Andrew Bogut serving as defensive linchpin, they could organize themselves accordingly. Several major Bogut injuries led to some disappointing seasons, but his abilities nevertheless gave the Bucks a coherent strategy. After trading him last season for Monta Ellis, everything changed.

Put simply, the Bucks now make very little sense. Both Skiles and general manager John Hammond are in the final years of their contracts, suggesting that massive change is imminent barring a surprising playoff run. On top of that, the team's two key players, Ellis and Brandon Jennings, are both small scoring-oriented guards who match each other's strengths and cannot possibly serve as a solid long-term combo at the defensive end. The frontcourt is more jumbled: rookie John Henson has promise and Ersan Ilyasova has improved much over his career, but Drew Gooden has aged considerably.

This is now a team without a clear identity, and it seems unlikely that they'll have one until Skiles and Hammond leave town. Unless that happens midway through the season — possible for Skiles, unlikely for Hammond — the Bucks may be looking at a lost season. Despite having some tradable assets and looming cap space, they arguably have few reasons to maneuver right this minute. Why plan for the future when some other brain trust will be controlling it?

It should be clear that this puts everyone involved in the franchise — the coaches, the players, the executives, etc. — in an odd situation. And that, my friends, is why most coaches on middling-to-bad teams rarely make it to the end of their contracts. Because, when an entire season is run-up to coming change, it's a little hard for any of it to matter.

Tags: , Ilyasova, , , , ,
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Steelers grab extra timeout with unconvincing injury

22 Oct

The Pittsburgh Steelers kept their season alive with a 24-17 Sunday Night Football win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and they gained a little bit of late-game help from the Imaginary Injury Fairy. Or, so it would seem.

The incident in question occurred with 6:04 left in the game, and the Steelers at the Cincinnati 36-yard line. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked for a loss of one yard by Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, and Roethlisberger appeared to be a bit worse for wear as he got up from the ground. Because Big Ben wasn't as quick to the huddle as usual, the Steelers were in danger of either losing five yards on a delay of game penalty, or having to burn one of their timeouts.

That's when receiver Emmanuel Sanders stepped in -- or, more accurately, that's when Sanders fell down. Those in NBC's booth were unimpressed with Sanders' performance. Cris Collinsworth called it "an injury ... of sorts," Al Michaels sounded skeptical right off the bat, and Collinsworth followed with, "All I know is, Emmanuel Sanders was in the huddle, he's not looking like he's in too much pain now, and then, 'Oh, boy -- here comes the cramp!' He goes down, and they don't have to burn the timeout.

"That is a savvy play, let's call it that, on the part of the Pittsburgh Steelers."

Miraculously, Sanders was able to come back in the game after missing just one play. He even gave a gratuitous stretch leg stretch for those who weren't quite buying it. Boy, those NFL doctors are really something these days!

Of course, as Michaels pointed out, the Steelers might wonder how savvy it is when the league office reviews the tape. It would behoove Mike Tomlin's team to know that especially in a nationally televised game, the cameras are everywhere. And it wasn't as if the Steelers benefited from the exercise -- Mike Wallace dropped a short pass on the play in which Sanders was "out," and Roethlisberger punted on the fourth-and-11 play where Sanders was back in.

Well, you know how it is -- all hands on special teams.

You may remember a similar ploy in September of 2011, when the New York Giants managed to delay the St. Louis Rams' no-huddle offense with mysterious injuries to defenders Deon Grant and Jacquain Williams. One second, Grant and Williams were up, and the next, they went down as if shot by imaginary enemies.

"They couldn't get subbed, they couldn't line up," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. "Someone said, 'Someone go down, someone go down,' so someone just went down and grabbed a cramp."

Players don't generally seem to think the act of faking injuries is a big deal, unless their team is affected in a game.

"It's always been in the game," Baltimore Ravens Ed Reed told the Associated Press last year. "It's all tactical stuff you need to use. Whatever it takes ... If you're tired, you're tired. You get a break however you can."

After the Giants pulled that little stunt, the NFL distributed a memo to all 32 teams after that game that said, in part:

"Going forward, be advised that should the league office determine that there is reasonable cause, all those suspected of being involved in faking injuries will be summoned promptly to this office ... to discuss the matter. Those found to be violators will be subject to appropriate disciplinary action for conduct detrimental to the game.

"We have been fortunate that teams and players have consistently complied with the spirit of the rule over the years and this has not been an issue for the NFL. We are determined to take all necessary steps to ensure that it does not become an issue."

Interestingly enough, Steelers safety Ryan Clark seemed most aggrieved by the NFL's stance on the issue.

"It is just another situation where people in power can judge what you do on the field, but now they can judge what is inside of your character," Clark said at the time. "How can they judge how your body is feeling? How do you know I'm not hurt?"

Well, that's the problem. We'll see just how seriously the NFL takes that idea when and if it's addressed with the Steelers organization. Perhaps the league should consult Al Czervik in a case like this.

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Video: Like most sequels, ‘The Play II’ is no match for the original

21 Oct

With time almost out and options dwindling, Carolina's Cam Newton tried to turn defeat into victory using a time-honored pull-it-out-of-your-back-pocket technique in the tradition of The Play.

You know The Play, right? Cal-Stanford, November 1982, five laterals and one flattened trombone as part of a last-second Cal victory. Here's a little refresher:

Eerie coincidence time: Panthers coach Ron Rivera was a member of that Cal team. So would history repeat itself?

Nope. Teams practice some variant of The Play, but there's a reason that it, and The Music City Miracle, and other similar freak events have their own names: they don't work very often. They tend to collapse like plays designed by ten-year-olds in the back yard, and that's exactly what happened here. The Cowboys, thanks to a fourth-quarter go-ahead drive engineered by Tony Romo — stop giggling, we're serious — beat the Panthers 19-14.

So, no luck for Newton this time. You know what would be wild? Doing one of those plays to start a game. Nobody would EVER expect that.

-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-

Tags: , , , , refresher, technique,
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That’s why they’re the Cleveland Browns: Josh Gordon drops a potential game-winning TD (VIDEO)

21 Oct

The Cleveland Browns are bad. They have been since 1999, when they came back into the league. It's a sick joke on the people of Cleveland, as if the Indians and Cavaliers weren't enough.

If it's possible to sum up Cleveland's woes with a play, it happened with just under seven minutes left and Brandon Weeden's perfect deep pass hitting Josh Gordon in the hands.

Gordon is emerging as a very nice player for the Browns, a good find in the supplemental draft this year. He was supposed to be raw coming out of Baylor, but is already the Browns' best receiver. He caught a touchdown early against the Colts, his fourth in three games.

So who better to have camping under a perfectly thrown ball with a chance to give the Browns the lead than Gordon? He beat his defender and was in perfect position to put Cleveland ahead.

Gordon dropped it. Of course he did. Cleveland fans did a collective face palm, something they've had practice at.

Browns coach Pat Shurmur then kicked Browns fans during their misery by making the inexcusably bad decision to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Colts' 41-yard line. Making a horrendous decision even worse, Shurmur punted after wasting a timeout. Yikes.

The Browns lost, 17-13, failing to capitalize on the momentum gained from last week's first win of the season against Cincinnati. Oh, and prized rookie Trent Richardson was out in the second half because he was ineffective trying to play through a rib injury.

We're sorry, Browns fans.

Tags: , , , Browns fans, , , Cleveland fans, , , , , , the Browns
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Jonathan Vilma makes big play early in first game of 2012 season

21 Oct
by Maggie Hendricks in Fantasy Football, General

Jonathan Vilma made an immediate impact in his first game this season. Vilma, who was both rehabbing a knee injury and appealing a suspension because of his alleged involvement in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal, was moved from the physically-unable-to-play list to the Saints' 53-man roster on Wednesday.

Though he didn't start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Vilma made a big play early. He hit Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman, forcing an incomplete pass.

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Terrell Suggs picks up a sack in first game back from Achilles injury

21 Oct

Reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs defied the odds when he was added to the 53-man roster on Saturday, less than six months removed from a partially torn Achilles tendon that was surgically repaired in early May -- and just three days after returning to the practice field after spending training camp and the first six weeks of the regular season on the "Reserve/Non-Football Injury" list.

Suggs' amazing recovery continued when he not only dressed for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans, but began earning his $4.9 million base salary by picking up his first sack of the season and No. 83.5 of his 10-year career, which now has him tied for 46th place with Leonard Marshall and La'Roi Glover.

Though he was expected to play a backup/situational role until he works himself back into game shape — Suggs was compared to an offensive tackle by Pete Prisco of before Sunday's game — Suggs started the game and his sack came on his seventh play of the game, and the Texans' ninth play from scrimmage.

Suggs beat Texans right tackle Derek Newton on an inside stunt and dropped Matt Schaub for a seven-yard loss on a 1st-and-10 play midway through the first quarter. Including the sack, Suggs had three tackles, including one on Arian Foster after an eight-yard run on 3rd-and-18 two plays after his sack, and got another hit on Schaub later in the first quarter.

It may be awhile before "T-Sizzle" is 100 percent and back in a full-time role, but even an out-of-shape Suggs gives the Ravens a pass-rushing presence they otherwise lacked, and his return fills an on-field leadership void created with last Sunday's season-ending to Ray Lewis.

Tags: Achilles, , , , , tendon
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Giants defense makes big plays all night long

20 Oct
by David Brown in Fantasy Baseball, General

ST. LOUIS — Barry Zito briefly considered it, but he wouldn't rank the great defensive plays his teammates on the San Francisco Giants made Friday night. It would be like picking favorites with your children. But he did name a few that he really appreciated.

The Giants defense definitely made its presence felt in a 5-0 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLCS, one that extended San Francisco's season at least one more plane flight West. Zito tossed 7 2/3 innings, allowing six hits and one intentional walk — perhaps the best performance of his career, given the stakes. But his line wouldn't have been nearly as clean without the likes of Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan in the outfield, along with Pablo Sandoval and Marco Scutaro in the infield.

The first play Zito mentioned was Pence making a basket catch on Pete Kozma in the fifth inning. But what perhaps Zito didn't realize: Pence made a basket catch without the basket. The ball nicked his bare hand and fell between it and his left wrist. His glove had nothing to do with it. There's really no reason he should have caught the ball. But he did:

[Jeff Passan: Barry Zito enjoyed Giant resurrection in Game 5]

Zito: "Just a testament to his athletic ability. Incredible."

And he also replaced his divot. Good etiquette.

* * *

Zito also praised a diving catch of a line drive down the third-base line by Pablo Sandoval. Very Kung Fu Panda of him. Appropriate, given that Zito gave him the nickname.

Zito: "Panda making that diving catch on the cutter to Allen Craig was awesome."

It would have been a foul ball, but Craig broke his bat on the play — so who knows what happens if he gets another swing with a fresh piece of wood in his hands and a runner at second base?

* * *

Scutaro ranged deep into the hole on the right side and slid into the outfield in order to grab a sharp grounder by Shane Robinson in the fifth inning. Just as impressively, Scutaro reached his feet, pivoted and threw him out at first.

Scutaro was so jazzed about his play, he pumped his right arm like Tiger Woods.

Said Scutaro: "I thought I had a chance. And when I caught it, the hardest thing was to get rid of the ball. I did, and it pumped me up. These guys are doing it. Now it's my turn."

Teammate Brandon Crawford, probably the best defensive player on the roster, added: "I was giving him a little golf clap."

* * *

Finally, Pagan continued to dazzle, ending the sixth inning with a sliding catch of Allen Craig's sinking liner to center.

Zito: "And Pagan, who we tend to be spoiled by his defense because he's making diving plays out there like that once every two or three games.

"They were all huge."

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LeBron James dismisses talk of Lakers’ potential 2014 interest, which makes sense, since it’s 2012

19 Oct

Less than two weeks away from beginning the defense of his first NBA championship in a marquee season-opening matchup with the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat forward LeBron James is answering questions about where he might theoretically play in two years, because Internet.'s Brian Windhorst — a reporter who has covered James since his time at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School — wrote a story published Thursday in which he quoted several anonymous league executives who say the feeling around the NBA is that the Los Angeles Lakers, fresh off reloading with center Dwight Howard and point guard Steve Nash in an effort to compete with James' champion Heat (provided, of course, they can get past the Oklahoma City Thunder), are lining things up with an eye toward eventually draping the King in forum blue and gold. The quick-and-dirty of it: LeBron can opt out of his contract after the 2013-14 season; the contracts of every Laker not named Nash (and, presumably, an extended Howard) expire after the 2013-14 season; the Lakers, loving stars and having money, would then pitch LeBron on coming to Hollywood.

[Fantasy Basketball '12: Play the official game of]

There are problems with this, as BDL editor Kelly Dwyer detailed Thursday, including the fact that the Lakers would have to totally sever ties with Bryant to shed his $30 million cap hold. Still, though, it's possible in theory and would be sensible in practice, and someone wrote about it, so it becomes a topic of conversation.'s Michael Wallace conversed with LeBron about it, and James — shockingly! — dismissed the idle chatter as just that:

Responding to an report on Thursday that teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers already are plotting for the next time he potentially can become a free agent, James said his only focus is on helping the Heat defend their title.

"I'm here, and this is what it's all about," James said after the Heat's 105-78 preseason win over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday. "I'm preparing for this season, preparing to defend our title and that's it. This is where ... I'm here now." [...]

"That story, I don't know where it came from, but I understand why it came up because of who I am — it's going to happen," James told reporters after Miami's first preseason home game. "But I'm not going to worry about it. I've got to continue to stay focused with these guys and make sure we're ready for any challenges that come." [...]

"It's not frustrating," James said. "Guys are making stories every day. It doesn't matter to me. I'm true to my teammates. I'm here and this is what it's all about — us building and trying to get better as a team. Anyone can write a story. If you have ESPN, then it becomes credible. So do what you've got to do."

In the interest of fairness, I'd like to point out, as KD did in his analysis of the suggestion, that the guy who wrote this particular story isn't just "anyone" — it's Windhorst, a plugged-in reporter in his 10th year on the NBA beat with league-wide sources and connections, which is a bit different than the ever-popular (though now, thankfully, less so) straw man of "some dude in his mom's basement" just throwing something ridiculous against the wall to see if it sticks and if it'll generate attention. The end result, of course, is about the same — the conjuring of a hypothetical, theoretical story that bounces around like a speedball, evoking reaction and commentary and rending of garments, whether you take it seriously or not — but the generating point isn't. Rather than just a rabid fan's "NBA 2K13" roster machinations or fantasy lineup maneuverings, there are, presumably, actual people on the other side of those anonymous quotes.

That said, as Mike Prada noted at SB Nation on Thursday, those anonymous sources whom Windhorst quotes work for "opposing teams that are making their own long-range free agency plans," so it's not like we're getting a from-the-horse's-mouth scoop here (or even a "source with knowledge of the Lakers' thinking," or any of the other myriad ways of couching something an agent says). The grand takeaway is little more than, "Other teams think the Lakers plan ahead and try to get really good players," which I guess, if nothing else, shows that other teams have been paying attention these past few decades.

Also, as Prada and Dwyer and a bunch of other folks pointed out, the underlying thesis behind this discussion — the suggestion that a team would have interest in signing the best player in a free-agent class during an offseason in which they have salary cap space — constitutes roughly this level of news bulletin:

So, yeah, maybe we can just put a pin in this whole thing for two years. Until, y'know, we actually have a sense of what the Lakers' salary cap structure looks like, which other teams' rosters make them interesting enough to be in play and if LeBron coming off a run of three straight titles is still pretty OK with hanging out in South Beach for a few more years. Dwyane Wade would like that, anyway, according to Wallace:

"They [media] can leave my teammate alone, man," Wade said. "Get on with that. He's going to be here. We're straight. So they can go and mess with somebody else."

On the plus side, we now know have it on the record that LeBron is "here, and that's what it's all about," and that the Heat are "straight." Glad we could establish that.

Tags: cap, course, , , , , sense
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Ngata: Lewis ‘vows’ to play 18th NFL season – Ray Lewis | BAL

18 Oct
According to teammate Haloti Ngata, Ravens LB Ray Lewis (triceps surgery) has "vowed" to return for an 18th season in 2013.
Tags: , , Ngata, , , ,
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Breakfast Table: Hatfields and McCoys; Antonio Cromartie and Cam Newton

18 Oct
by in General

For the last decade or so, Michael Salfino and Scott Pianowski have been putting together an email exchange centered around (but not limited to) the NFL. You might enjoy listening to them haggle. You might prefer a swift kick into the stomach. The Table isn't for everyone; we hope some of you enjoy it.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 8:49 AM
Subject: rivalry breakfast
To: Michael Salfino

Even with six teams on holiday in Week 7, we've got a lot to chew on. The Niners-Seahawks play an important Thursday game, the Giants-Redskins meet up on Sunday, Houston-Baltimore collide for the AFC yellow jersey, and the Hatfield-McCoy feud (Pats-Jets) fires up again. We even have Salfino-Pianow squaring off in the Stopa Law Firm League (I've added New England's defense as a thematic play; I demand you start one of the Jets).

The Thursday additions are starting to annoy me. I like having an additional stand-alone game for viewing and scouting purposes, but it stinks to have teams playing it on an absurd three days of rest; every game has been sloppy and I don't think it's a coincidence. Three days can't be enough time for teams to rest and plan for another game. When I am appointed NFL Czar, every team will get two bye weeks per season, with one of the byes earmarked to precede any Thursday match. Season goes longer, the competition is more legitimate, everyone wins.

Seattle's home/road splits are at play again, as we'd expect. Russell Wilson's QB rating, small sample and all, crashes 56 points on the road. Do the Seahawks deserve more than the usual tax for any road game? Does the short turn around favor one team between the Niners and Seahawks? Seattle has to travel (albeit a modest trip), but the schemes of Jim Harbaurgh are blunted when there's no time to implement a game plan.

There's been some "sky is falling" talk with the Patriots, which I don't buy. Their three losses all came with flukes attached - and against teams that are collectively 13-5. New England's going to right the ship and win the division easily, right? The Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis injuries are convenient excuses to distrust the Ravens, but I disliked their defense even before last week. The Ravens and Texans will compare overrated name brands on Sunday - Baltimore's defense against Houston's offense line (the Pro Football Focus spreadsheet tells the story there).

You get the first extended reply; work off my order or go off the menu if needed. Last week's Chargers-Broncos game might be worth a word. I'd love to hear your AFC power rankings. Have the Dodgers made a bid on Alex Rodriguez yet?

Week 7 Breakfast is served.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 5:02 PM
Subject: Re: rivalry breakfast
To: scott pianowski

I think the Patriots have screwed themselves by trying to emphasize the run so much in the offseason and in the early part of 2012. Their passing game does not seem sharp, especially where it matters most - in the red zone. They've gone from fourth to 14th in red zone TD percentage. The Jets are 16th. This is killing them in losing close games.

This year, GB, Denver and NO are 1, 2 and 3. Last year, Detroit, GB and NE were in the top four. It used to be that running well was the key in the red zone. Now I think it's passing well, especially given how teams try to run it down there, by lining up with big personnel in tight formations. The Patriots lead the league in red zone scoring attempts per game (4.8). So you figure with their rate down abut 10 percentage points, they are leaving about 3.4 points on the field. Those 3.4 points would have come in handy last week. And what's with NE kicking field goals on fourth and 1 in close? Come on, man. We know the sabermetric play is to go for it there, and so does Bill Belichick.

The one thing the Jets are doing well now is pass defense. The last three games, they have a 62.9 passer rating allowed. That's better than their 69.6 rating allowed last year. Only Chicago is better than 62.6 this year, too. And the Jets haven't done it against passing chumps -- the Niners, Texans and Colts. All the games were at home though.

Now, the ultimate test if the Patriots crank it up. But will they try to run it on the Jets? Gang Green fans hope so. And I think we've settled whether Antonio Cromartie is a shutdown corner. He's been on the island the last three weeks on most snaps and he's allowed a 34.3 passer rating -- and that includes a touchdown allowed to the Texans that I'm convinced in watching the game tape wasn't his responsibility. He released him to LeRon Landry, who completely bit on the play fake. That was zone, to my eye. But still, even with that, 34.3 in three games mostly covering Michael Crabtree, Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne is impressive.

I think Wilson is too inexperienced to look at home/road splits. He can learn very quickly at this point. It's possible last week was a breakthrough game for him. But this isn't really the week to be looking at home/road anyway because the Niners are tough everywhere. As for Harbaugh's scheming, he better figure out a way to get his best player, Vernon Davis, the ball when they are behind and need to score. You can't just keep lining him up with his hand on the ground and force him to fight through the scrimmage scrum. I'm more worried if I'm a Niners fan about Alex Smith against the Seahawks defense after last week's disaster than I am about Russell Wilson against the Niners. But maybe I'm overreacting to one terrible, 10th-percentile game.

Houston is much better than the Ravens, and the Houston offensive line much better than Baltimore's front seven, too. But Houston has got to get the passing game and Andre Johnson going. They are not much of a threat to come back if you get up on them like the Packers did last week.

The Broncos are good because Peyton Manning is still great. He's on pace for 600 attempts and about 4,900 yards with 37 TDs and just 11 picks. So the Broncos clearly knew what they were doing, medically, as did Peyton in deciding not to retire. This is no farewell tour. He's at the top of his game.

There is no favorite right now in the AFC. That's pretty much the point of the first six weeks. One of the two teams with a winning record (the Ravens) isn't even good.

This is a fine day to be a Mets fan, with the Yankees facing elimination and having the $100 million A-Rod problem to deal with either this offseason or for the next five years. This is a now team, and now ain't happening this year.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 10:09 AM
Subject: A.J. Sparano
To: Michael Salfino

I'm not worried about the Patriots at all. They're the second-best team in the AFC, after Houston (peeps who disagree, we can discuss backstage). New England dominated the important stats in the Arizona loss and the Pats left so many points on the field last week, the city of Seattle issued a littering citation. Look at the win expectancy chart from last week. Fluke losses can't be taken that seriously. (I refuse to discuss the zebra game in Baltimore).

The matchup against the Jets comes at a perfect time. The Jets have the personnel to stop a team with 1-2 decent receiving options, a Houston or an Indianapolis (who cares about the Niners game, a 34-0 loss). The Patriots have four problem guys: Gronkowski, Welker, Hernandez, Lloyd. Cromartie can't cover everyone. Someone's getting a juicy matchup. And this Patriots team can also run the ball down your throat if you load up on defensive backs - consider the trampling of the Bills.

New England's biggest weakness is the secondary, specifically on the deep ball. This is one area where the Jets simply don't have the players to hurt the Patriots. Maybe Mark Sanchez could thrive in this situation a few years ago, but he's in an offense largely devoid of playmakers and the team has done all it can to strip him of confidence. You can't have some players looking over their shoulder in sports: the goalie, the quarterback, the point guard. You need to empower those guys, build them up. Sanchez is the only quarterback in the league who has to look to the sidelines after every play.

I'll say this for Rex Ryan: he seems to understand underdog game theory. His theoretical decisions in the Houston game were wise: fake punt here, surprise onside kick there. That's what you do when the other guys have the talent edge. Don't try to soft shoe through the game; instead, take a swing at the bully. The Jets will do the same thing this week but too many matchups favor the Pats, and Brady/Belichick have insane numbers in the bounce-back spot. New England by 17.

Shutting down Andre Johnson, by the way, isn't a big deal anymore. He had 16 broken or missed tackles in 2008-2009, per Pro Football Focus. From 2010 to today, he has a whopping two. I'm not saying he's a stiff or someone the Texans should kick to the curb, but he's no longer even remotely close to the "best receiver in football" discussion. There's a new dominant A.J. in the world - A.J. Green. (Who I might take over Calvin Johnson right now, given the option.)

How do we explain Peyton Manning's splits, first half and second half? His rating jumps from 85.2 to 124.0 in the second half. His YPA spikes by half a yard. The TD/pick ratio is 3/4 before intermission, 11/0 afterwards. Do some quarterbacks start games too conservatively, then play better when they take the training wheels off? I feel that way about Matthew Stafford sometimes - he needs a hypnotist to convince him that it's always the fourth quarter and the Lions are down two scores.

Heck, some writers can't do their best work until the deadline waves a (theoretical) gun in their face.

This feels like a week where the Giants let everyone down: big upset win on the road, then come home and lay an egg. The six points look like a gift for the Redskins; I think they have a legitimate chance to win outright. And keep in mind Mike Shanahan somehow swept this matchup last year, despite his quarterback problem.

Cam Newton will be a key to our fantasy matchup (where you are the heavy favorite, per the stat projections). Where are you on Newton these days? I watched all of his snaps from the Seattle game and saw someone confused and inaccurate, and there are so many things I don't like about that Panthers offense. Steve Smith certainly isn't done but you'd like your best receiver to be younger than 33. Brandon LaFell deserves more looks but they ignore him for extended stretches.

The Panthers have all that talent in the backfield and no idea what to do with it. I also don't like too much read option; sometimes it results in late pitches the backs aren't used to or prepared for (this led to the DeAngelo Williams fumble in Week 5). Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil is done for the year.

Newton's 23rd in quarterback rating, which underscores how he's struggling this year. And yet, he's first in YPA. Talk about a crazy split. Dallas-Carolina feels like an elimination game; I selected the Panthers in the Rotowire Picks (subscription required) but only because the number (Dallas favored on the road?) pushed me there.

Niners by six. Panthers by three. Redskins upset the Giants. Texans get past the Ravens. Salfino edges Pianow.

And A-Rod's in the National league next year, maybe the Marlins or the Dodgers. I can't see how the Yankees bring him back now.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Thu, Oct 18, 2012 at 11:06 AM
Subject: Re: A.J. Sparano
To: scott pianowski

The Patriots defense is not good again so they can be beaten if they are not sharp with their offense, as they haven't been in key moments in their losses, mainly by failing to execute in the red zone.

What's so scary about Gronkowski and Lloyd? The former is 8.3 yards per target and the latter is 7.0. That's 40th and 63rd among receivers. Andre Johnson, who you may be right about, is 35th (8.5). And I do think Jeremy Kerley is a downfield threat (10.9 per target), plus Stephen Hill is healthy and has the physical skills to overmatch most corners if he can catch the ball. Welker is dangerous still and I do agree with Hernandez, if he's 100 percent. But the Jets will put Cro on Hernandez and hope Kyle Wilson, who has performed well this year, can somehow contain Welker. I think the game will be contested. Call it 30-21 Patriots.

It seems odd to judge wide receivers by broken tackles. If they're working outside the numbers, they're going to go out of bounds on a lot of catches. Maybe there's something to it but even the 16 missed tackles those two years you cite don't seem that impressive.

The passer rating with Manning in the first half is gummed up by those three early picks in Atlanta. I'm not a fan of breaking down bigger numbers into smaller ones, ever. To me, that's just looking to find what you want to find. But a little bit of a problem in Denver is that they don't want to throw early in games, running about 64% of the time on first and 10 in the first quarters. I think they should be about 60% pass early, get on top of teams, and then reverse those splits in the fourth quarter. If John Fox made such a point about what his record would be if he got those 26.1 points per game Manning averaged in Indy, then you have to let Manning get those points the way he produced them - by attacking early and often via the passing game.

Stafford's problem is that he's just an average quarterback. It's a joke to be 24th in YPA when you have Calvin Johnson on your team. Speaking of which, I think we can end the "who is the best rookie QB?" debate. Luck's YPA of 6.7 is 26th. Griffin's 8.3 is second. Only first-year starters in league history to beat that YPA in the 160-plus attempts that RGIII already has: Otto Graham, Greg Cook, Bob Waterfield, Ben Roethlisberger, Y.A. Tittle and Marc Bulger. But only Roethlisberger and Tittle were 22 that rookie year, like Griffin. The others were 1-3 years older.

There are off-field issues with Newton, who appears to need a really good sports psychologist. But his 8.5 YPA does lead the NFL as you say, so it's hard to find too much fault with his overall performance. I'll take YPA over passer rating when judging a QB because rating is heavily influenced by TD and INT rates, which are so volatile. He's averaging 14.4 yards per completion, which is a very big number though nowhere near the mid-17s by Cook and later Namath (1972). But for this era, it's pretty incredible. Dallas's secondary can be very tough though. But Newton is difficult to project because you do not know how his running ability is going to impact coverages, so I don't think Dallas's general stoutness versus the pass matters as much here.

I like the Seahawks outright and the numbers support the Redskins pick. I want to pick the Cowboys but they make it so hard given the creative ways they consistently find to lose.

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