Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Top 10 reasons to watch the NBA Draft

One of the greatest sports television occasions of the year is fast approaching and we here at Errant Balls (and by we I mean me, the one guy) couldn’t be more excited. Coverage of what is unquestionably one of sports’ most unintentionally hilarious yearly events begins on Thursday at 7pm EST on ESPN. That’s right, the 2008 NBA Draft is finally upon us. Year in and year out this event offers a multitude of uncomfortable and laughable moments, so we’ve taken the liberty of narrowing it down to the top 10 reasons for fans and casual viewers alike to tune in to the NBA Draft.

Betting on which prospect will arrive in the most embarrassingly tasteless suit
- Each year at least one player decides to show up to the most important day of his young life dressed like Bernie Mac. So have some extra fun at your draft party by making some friendly wagers on it (the smart money is on Kevin Love, he’s already got the name to go with that kind of gear).

The commentators tactful comparisons of white prospects only to former white players
- Why is it that when drawing comparisons of young players they can only be compared to those of the same race? Who knows? But you can bet that rather than pointing out that West Virginia forward Joe Alexander has a similar offensive game to Rashard Lewis or Tayshaun Prince, he’ll be referred to as “Tom Gugliotta with hops!”

Shots of O.J. Mayo’s posse
- Embattled USC prospect O.J. Mayo recently called the ESPN network to deny the allegations that he received illegal gifts while in school, and he was smart enough to make the call from a cell phone that ESPN’s investigation showed was illicitly provided. Now you have to wonder whether or not shots via satellite of O.J.’s crew watching back home will show them viewing the draft on a curiously familiar flatscreen television.

Explanations of Beasley’s dwindling height
- Highly regarded top prospect Michael Beasley has run into an odd road block on his way through draft camps, he seems to have shrunk. The forward was listed at 6’10” during his time at Kansas State but has showed up to pre-draft workouts a full 3 inches shorter. So how does an organization justify using their pick on a guy who could very well be 5’8” five years into his career? I guess we’ll see.

The Lopez brothers feature
- You can definitely expect to see a montage of the Lopez brothers at some point during the draft coverage. The twin brothers, Brook and Robin, coming out of Stanford are both projected as first round picks and because ESPN can’t possibly leave something like this alone we’ll most assuredly have to endure some feature about what it was like for them growing up and how competitive their backyard games were. The real question is, how long will mainstream media go on disregarding the third, and arguably just as famous from his American Idol days, brother?

Huge trade possibilities
- Almost every year the draft supplies us with one surprising trade that can really improve a team. And with the Minnesota Timberwolves sitting at the 3rd overall spot you have to wonder if GM Kevin McHale has another deal in the works. Not to say that McHale was favoring his former team when he gave the Celtics Kevin Garnett last year, but word on the street is he’s thinking of sending the T’Wolves pick to Boston for Eddie House and a case of Samuel Adams.

Jay Bilas’ unique player descriptions
- Normally relegated to the college basketball coverage on ESPN, analyst Jay Bilas serves as the bridge between the amateur and professional ranks and offers solid breakdowns of the prospects who are moving up. Sure it can get to be a little homoerotic when Bilas harps on who among the players has the most cut, toned, ripped, NBA-ready body, but that’s just quality analysis. Right?

Kobe’s world premiere rap video
- Since the NBA has taken no action or stand on the recent uncovering of Shaquille O’Neal’s Kobe-bashing ballad, it seems only fair that the draft serve as the medium for Kobe’s unavoidable retaliation. Don’t expect Kobe to stoop as low and ask Shaq how parts of him taste though; he’ll likely take the high road and focus on the fact that his YouTube Nike commercials have garnered more viewers than Kazaam and Steel combined.

Stephen A. Smith’s riveting player interviews
- Rather than featuring him as one of this year’s main commentators, ESPN has elected to make the always eloquent and enunciated Mr. Smith the first man to speak to the draftees after their selection. So look forward to reveling in the fact that while these young players have just pulled in more money than you’ll ever see, at least you’re not covered in Stephen A. saliva on national television.

David Stern’s inevitable name butchering
- Somehow the NBA commissioner always manages to horribly mispronounce the name of some young prospect who could be one of the future faces of his league. Is it wrong that this guy doesn’t even watch enough basketball coverage to familiarize himself with the players who fatten his pockets? You could argue that. But here’s to hoping the Knicks take Italian phenom Danilo Gallinari with their pick, so viewers can hear the raucous boos of the hometown Madison Square Garden crowd as Stern announces: “With the 6th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, the New York Knicks select… Daniela Calimari.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Baseball in the Big Crab Apple

This season has been a trying one thus far for Gotham’s baseball faithful. With the Mets and Yankees both floundering around the .500 mark the idea of a postseason sans New York has become a very real possibility. And the events of this past week, for the teams on both sides of town, have certainly left a sour taste in the mouths of those taking a bite out of Big Apple baseball.

The Mets Freed Willie

In the culmination of what started with last season’s epic late September collapse, the Mets have finally fired manager Willie Randolph. But was Willie really the problem? With any managerial firing this is a legitimate and often asked question, but the way the Mets handled this suggest their problems may go much deeper than the man running things from the bench.

In theory these Mets were supposed to win somewhere between 90-95 games. At least that’s what the experts said when you see them on paper. But what paper is this exactly? And do you have to be throwing back shots of Wild Turkey while munching shrooms to see these 90 wins? Sure they acquired Johan Santana, and yes David Wright is one of the best young players in the game, but take a good hard look at what Willie was working with overall. It may very well be true that Randolph could’ve done better with what he had, but how much? And why is Omar Minaya not on the unemployment line with Mr. Randolph?

Jose Reyes and Oliver Perez are two young guys that at times show a world of promise. However, at times they also prove to have the combined mental capacity and focus of a retarded puppy. After that, don’t the Amazins’ look curiously like a mix of players either too old or too mediocre to all be wearing the same uniform? Pedro Martinez has made about as many total starts in a Mets uniform as I have. Moises Alou was for some reason re-upped to hold down the fort in left field at the spry young age of 96. Carlos Delgado’s looks and versatility could literally help him pull off the role of the youngest guy on an Old Timer’s Day roster. And their bullpen squad of Heilman, Sosa, Mota and Wagner have been about as effective as Milton Bradley’s life coach. Is this a playoff team or a crew that has been sent out to pasture to let their careers/lives slowly wind down?

When it comes down to it, it is agreeable that Willie was the wrong fit for this team. But it is hard to say whether any manager will fare much better here. And a mid-season change rarely seems to help in baseball. It always feels more like giving up than making the necessary changes. So good luck to you Jerry Manuel, especially with a front office that has shown that when the chips are down they will happily toss their manager under, in front of, or through the bus.

The Yankees have a Limp Wang

The Yankees have hit their mid-season stride! The Yankees offense is taking off! The Yankees are 5 games above .500 and gaining speed! The Yankees lost another pitcher… and this time it’s their ace.

In a Sunday rout of the Astros that had fans wondering if the Yankees were finally headed in the right direction, they suffered what may be their worst set back of the year losing ace Chien-Ming Wang until at least September. Wang partially tore a tendon and sprained his right foot while running the bases in the Inter-league match up. This, of course, prompted a completely idiotic rant from the always ridiculous Hank Steinbrenner that blamed the National League for not having a modern enough way of playing the game and asked them to “join the 21st century.” But more importantly, it has prompted a bit of panic in Yankee land.

The Yanks headed into this season with one of the youngest and most inexperienced pitching rotations in all of Major League baseball, and they have seen the results many feared they would. Now we have to wonder who exactly will be replacing the reliable Mr. Wang? Thanks to a combination of injuries and overall ineffectiveness Joba Chamberlain and Darrell Rasner have already been moved into the rotation. Andy Pettite has had his ups and downs, and what happens if the unexpected consistency of Mike Mussina doesn’t last? Can the Yankees afford to hope for a gem amongst their young minor leaguers? Or must they think about making a trade?

Their severely thinned out pitching led to immediate rumors of possible trades, one being a swap of Robinson Cano to the Dodgers for Brad Penny. Cano has been widely considered one of the best young bats in the game, although he continues to start each year about as effective at the dish as Helen Keller. But does his streakiness really warrant offering him up for a pitcher with a 5.88 ERA and a 5-9 record who is currently on the DL? That looks eerily like one of those panic moves that could haunt a franchise for years to come.

But on the flip side, can the Yankee offense really weather the storm of losing their most dependable pitcher? Sure their bats have been on fire lately, but are they hitting their stride or just hitting a hot streak that will eventually sputter out? Even an offense anchored by Alex Rodriguez and a suddenly productive Jason Giambi (with due credit going to his Super Troopers moustache and his magical thong) can’t put up enough runs to win with no one on the mound (or with Ian Kennedy on the mound, for that matter).

So which of the choices will the Yankees front office make? Do they have the stones to gamble on a risky trade, or do they have the faith to believe they have enough to pull through? Either way, for Yankees fans it might just be time to just clasp your hands and pray.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The REAL answers to the week's most burning questions

In a week full of compelling sports stories, Errant Balls is here to give you the definitive inside scoop. After gaining exclusive access to press conferences with some of this week’s biggest names, I was able to ask the questions and get the REAL answers we’ve all been dying to hear.

NBA Commissioner, David Stern

Errant Balls: Mr. Stern, this whole Tim Donaghy fiasco is back at the forefront, and at what some may say is the worst possible time for the NBA. After what has been such a positive season for the league, what do you have to say in regards to the allegations that two past playoff series, including the ’02 Conference Finals between the Lakers and Kings, were fixed for ratings purposes?

Stern: Frankly, these egregious accusations have no base, so I am not worried. The NBA is in a great place and we refuse to let one bad apple spoil everything. Mr. Donaghy has proven himself to be unethical and is clearly just looking to have his impending sentence reduced.
I mean sure ’02 worked out for us. Yes, it was better for TV ratings to have the dynamic duo of Shaq and Kobe in the NBA Finals rather than having Vlade Divac and Hedo Turkoglu out there fugly-ing up the court. But that doesn’t mean we altered any results intentionally. That atrocious 4th quarter in game 6 was a result of horrendously poor officiating, not some supposed “fix”, thank you very much.

Cincinnati Reds Right Fielder, Ken Griffey Jr.

Errant Balls: On Monday night you joined the very exclusive 600 home run club, becoming only the sixth player in Major League history to reach that mark. After enduring a career that has been robbed of much of its potential due to injury, this milestone has to mean a lot. Now we are hearing the news out of Florida that the fan that caught this record ball isn’t sure whether he is willing to give it back to you, or if he wants to sell it. How does this make you feel?

Griffey: To be honest it’s really tough. I mean I see where the guy is coming from. Not everyone is as blessed as us athlete’s are, so it would be unfair for me to forget that this guy isn’t pulling in millions of dollars every year while I demand he give me a piece of memorabilia that I feel is “due” to me.
At the same time though, I have dealt with a lot and I would love to have that ball displayed proudly on my mantle. When I came into this league it was a foregone conclusion that the all-time home run record would one day be mine. But constant issues with injury have taken that chance away from me, and this could very well be the last home run milestone I reach. Who knows, I could get hurt tomorrow and have my career be over. I’m not as durable as I once was you know.
Oh… damn… that answer was way too long winded. Ouch… yeah, I’m pretty sure I just cracked a rib.

Professional Jockey and Rider of Big Brown, Kent Desormeaux

Errant Balls: Big Brown was a horse many thought to be the most likely to take the Triple Crown in quite some time. After dominating the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, Big Brown was a veritable no show in the Belmont Stakes, finishing dead last. Now some of the blame is being pushed your way. How do you explain the horse’s uncharacteristically poor showing?

Desormeaux: It’s never easy to explain something like this, because it’s impossible to say what the animal was thinking and feeling at the time. Any explanation that any of us give will likely be scrutinized because there is no right answer, it is all speculation.
However, I honestly think the horse held back on purpose, to spite his owners for the lackluster moniker they gave him. I have always felt that the horse resented having such an uncreative name. Race horses are normally given striking names like Casino Drive or Barbaro. The past 3 Triple Crown winners were Secretariat, Affirmed, and Seattle Slew… does "Big Brown" really fit in there? I mean what did they do just look at him and be like “yeah, Big Brown seems about right”? Wasn’t that the name of the bodyguard on MTV’s Rob & Big? We can’t be sure if this is the real reason, but I sure as hell would’ve resented my parents had they been as lazy and just named me Tiny Man.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Storylines sure to drop

It is as consistent as the moon and the tides, as reliable as the rising sun, as imminent as an athlete’s ill-advised rap album. It is the uber-coverage of the NBA Finals. You can always count on the good folks at ABC to overexpose and overanalyze the same stories they have already been shoving down your throat for the entirety of the seemingly endless postseason, and I promise it will be no different this year. So consider this article a bit of preparation, as the anesthetizing salt before the throat churning tequila. These are the “stories” you should be primed to hear over and over until every ounce of your being that loves watching basketball is stamped out and dead. Oh… and enjoy the finals!

Kobe Bryant: What a difference a season makes!

Did you know that at the beginning of this very same season Kobe Bryant wanted out of L.A.? Shocking isn’t it?

In an impending train wreck that started with one of the most hilariously abrasive cases of teammate bashing ever caught on tape, it looked likely the Lakers franchise was primed to suffer a rebuilding process when Kobe demanded a preseason trade. Only a few years after pushing to get Shaq out of town and make the Lakers his team, Bryant decided the organization had done far too little in giving him the help he needed to get his team back to elite status. He cried “get me out of L.A.” and his home crowd cried “boo” on opening day.

A few short months, the breakout of a once disparaged young center and a trade for a 7-footer later, and all is well in Laker land. Kobe is the MVP, and as far as the goldfish-like attention span of the L.A. faithful is concerned, Everybody Loves Mamba. He’s gone from insisting a change was needed to cheerfully suiting up in the gold and purple night in and night out. And his internet video popularity has shifted from irate ranting to jumping cars and pools of snakes (I hope my wire-fighting team is reeeaaady!). It’s a Hollywood miracle!

Kevin Garnett: What a competitor!

Did you know that first time finalist Kevin Garnett has an undying, inexorable, unquenchable, unfathomably relentless, burning desire to win?

In his first season out of the basketball exile that is Minnesota the basketball watching public has been absolutely inundated with everything Kevin Garnett. Sportscenter has supplied us with endless highlights of KG wide-eyed and pounding his chest while yelling and cursing like a trucker with Tourette’s syndrome. Gatorade has given us commercials that imply the Big Ticket has already led the Celtics to the winner’s circle. And the recent playoff coverage gave us the intimate two-part interview between Garnett and 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell… on winning.

Is it me, or has everyone forgotten that Kevin Garnett has never won anything? KG’s career has been a Barkley-esque perpetual series of disappointments (on the hardwood, not the Craps table). Granted, the best he ever had as a second option was La-Choke Sprewell, but that doesn’t change that he’s simply never come out on top, burning desire or not.

And isn’t there another Celtic that was labeled a franchise player whose career could be validated by a championship? I think he may have even been in Boston for more than one season… I want to say Paul something… eh, I forget. Google it.

Phil Jackson: The Zen Master!

Did you know that thanks to his laid back attitude and his genius-like understanding of basketball Phil Jackson has managed to somehow continue his winning ways?

Yes, that’s right kids; it’s another edition of “why Phil Jackson is the greatest coaching mind of our generation,” hosted by everyone with a damn microphone. Can someone please tell me how it goes almost entirely ignored that Phil Jackson has also had the most dominant player in the entire league on his team for the better part of 20 years?

Zen Master my ass… Phil clearly sold his soul to basketball Satan. In Chicago he gets Michael Jordan, without question the most singularly unstoppable scorer in league history, for a six-championship run. Once that’s over he casually strolls into L.A. and is handed Shaquille O’Neal, quite possible the most unstoppable force in league history, at the peak of his career along with a young player whose skill set strangely resembles that of His Airness, in Kobe Bryant. And this year, oh... we'll give you Pau Gasol for your best pig and a bushel of potatoes. How could you possibly not win with players like that throughout the years? So riddle me this, fans: basketball genius? Or unbelievable case of lucky, hapless son of a bitch? Something tells me that those teams would have done okay whether Phil was manning the clipboard or not.

Coaches or no coaches, with squads this talented it is unlikely the sideline match up will even matter much in these finals either. Then again, Jackson is facing off against Doc Rivers. And let’s be honest, you could replace him with Rock N’ Jock vet Bill Bellamy and the Celts wouldn’t suffer any.

Damn, I’ve got to get the ball rolling on my head coaching career…