Saturday, May 23, 2009

Six NBA Teams that DESPERATELY need to be renamed

1) Utah Jazz- The Utah Jazz kick off this list with an unfortunate trend present across sports but particularly evident in the NBA. I refer of course to the fact that the Jazz were once based in New Orleans, where jazz is a quite distinct aspect of their society, then kept their nickname after being moved to a place where the nickname no longer carried any meaning. Anyways, with the team apparently losing money in New Orleans the owner, Sam Battistone, understandably chose to move the team to a much better market for a professional basketball team. I’m not quite sure what made him think that Salt Lake City Utah was that market, but the team was moved to the Mormon capitol of the world. Battistone apparently was too lazy to rename the team, despite the fact that Utah and Jazz go together about as well as Compton and Bluegrass. Honestly, would it have been that hard to name the team the Avalanche, the Blizzard, or the Polygamists? The organization now even seems to be taunting us, as in 1996 the Jazz changed their logo from a music note to the word Jazz superimposed over snow-covered peaks. All that said, it’s hard to be too critical of the people of Utah for having such an inappropriately named basketball team, as they don’t exactly have a penchant for original choices in naming. Verily, these are the same people who built a city next to a giant lake distinguished by its high concentration of salt and named it Salt Lake City.

2) New Orleans Hornets- In a twist of poetic irony, basketball returned to the Big Easy as a result of George Shinn (one of the biggest jerk owners ever) moving his Charlotte Hornets franchise to New Orleans. For those not well-versed in the history of Charlotte (shame on you), Charlotte was once referred to as “a veritable nest of Hornets” by British general Charles Cornwallis during the Revolutionary war. However just to slap the city in the face as he was making the way out the door (one of his many admirable qualities along with being accused of raping a woman), Shinn decided to keep the name in New Orleans despite a plethora of possibilities (one suggestion I really like is the Crawfish, which is definitely relative to New Orleans culture, and would result in some pretty amazingly hideous uniforms, credit to the ESPN board on that one). Now the team is named the Hornets, and since there is no longer any historical significance to the name, they basically are named after an annoying insect whose biggest threat are a few stings and can be anhilliated with a can of Raid. Although to be fair, the results could have been a lot worse if he had chosen to move the Carolina hockey franchise to New Orleans.

3) Oklahoma City Thunder- I don’t have a huge problem with the choice of the “Thunder” nickname for Oklahoma city per se, rather I just am angry they did not choose a to name the franchise the Oklahoma City Bandits instead. While “Bandits” may not at first seem to be that amazing of a nickname, allow for some brief explanation of why it is by far the most appropriate for the franchise. First, and less importantly, Oklahoma was part of the western frontier where the thieving ways of the cowboys was present. More important however, is the circumstances under which the franchise was moved. In 2006, a group of investors bought the Seattle Supersonics. Despite a huge public outcry of loyal Sonics fans, the investors mercilessly yanked the team from Seattle and relocated it to Oklahoma City. Given these circumstances I feel it is a sin not to name the team the Bandits. I mean come on people, it’s not that friggin hard.

4) Toronto Raptors- After conducting extensive research (aka Wikipedia) concerning the origin of the Toronto Raptors nickname, I discovered that the main influence for the choice of the name Raptors was the movie Jurassic Park. While Jurassic Park is a great film, I have a hard time respecting the people who figured naming the team after a dinosaur that was misrepresented in Jurassic Park (the real velociraptor was less than 2 ft tall). What is even more hilarious is the list of the top ten other nickname options alongside Raptors: Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Raptors, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers. I really don’t know where to start with that list. Apparently, the franchise really wanted to compensate for the fact than an NBA team had no business in Canada by choosing what they must have felt were intimidating mascots; Scorpions, Tarantulas, and my personal favorite T-Rex (apparently only one, because multiple T-Rexes would just be too intimidating). While many Canada-related nicknames would have been better choices, I really just can’t get away from what I feel is the best nickname on the list, the Toronto Terriers. The diminutive stature and relative harmfulness of these small dogs would have been an excellent metaphor for a team that has contributed basically nothing to the league since their inception, eh?

5) Charlotte Bobcats- The Bobcats mascot in and of itself is pretty standard really. However, there is a fairly well-founded suspicion that the team is named after owner Bob Johnson, which, if true, would put Johnson somewhere between Paris Hilton and T.O. on the oversized ego scale. Think of it this way, assuming that the Bobcats name was intentional, Johnson basically decreed that all of his players had to wear his name on their jerseys. Regardless, this attitude, along with the choice to draft Adam Morrison, has understandably led to a less than enthusiatic response from the city. However, the Bobcats did show some promise late this season and perhaps a new nickname (and good draft) would help push them over the edge. While recent news has suggested that Johnson is looking to sell the team (making the name-insertion point moot), I still think the best course would be to just rename the team the Charlotte Hornets and just pretend that the whole thing never happened.

6) Washington Wizards- The Wizards are unique among this list in that they experienced a name change without actually moving (though they were not originally located in Washington). As some of you may remember, the Wizards were originally named the Bullets, but in 1995 the team was renamed the Wizards because of the "violent overtones" of the Bullets name. While not entirely surprising in this age of overzealous (to the point of absurtity) political correctness, I feel this name change was amazingly asanine. If the team had been named the Uzis, Armor-Piercing Rounds, or Rocket-Propelled Grenades, then I could see where a change would be necessary. But I think most competent sports fans would understand that name Bullets was meant more to refer to speediness on the basketball courts, rather than an endorsement of voluntary manslaughter. Furthermore, as far as overtones go, "Wizards" isn't exactly the epitome of innocence. For those of you who don't know (and I only do thanks to high school history), "Wizard" is a high rank in the Ku Klux Klan. So congratulations Washington you went from murder to racism, that's not exactly a big step in the right direction. The Wizards really haven't won anything since the name change so I think a name change is once again in order. I understand if the "Bullets" nickname is not a prime choice, so I think the Washington Generals might be a nice name (after all, Washington was a much better General than he was a president).

So there you go. There are plenty of other less than stellar team names in the NBA, but to me, the aforementioned six were the ones who most needed a change. If you have some passionate feelings about another team either comment on the post or contact me via the Facebook Group, and I may add it to the post. A quick note: I know the Lakers name makes no sense (the team moved from Minneapolis, which is close to the Great Lakes, to Los Angeles which is close to the Pacific), however, given their legacy of success (9 since moving to the city of angels) and the nice alliteration, I think they have earned the right to keep a meaningless name.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Seperated at Birth?

Sorry, but after that shot, I just had to do this one. Disclaimer to all religious fundamentalists who follow this blog: I am not implying that LeBron James is as divine as Jesus. He is obviously much moreso ;-).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

NHL Conference Finals Preview

So after a flurry of wonderful game sevens on the ice (okay the Pens-Caps game was a blowout, but as a Pens fan it was pretty amazing), the final four in hockey is set. I didn't watch the Ducks and Red Wings game seven but only caught the highlights. Due to crappy programming on the part of Versus, I only caught the OT of the Canes and Bruins game. I was happy to see the Canes win for my own selfish reasons as I thought it would be an easier draw for Pittsburgh and because, hell, they are from North Carolina. That said, a matchup of the Pens-Bruins to go along with the Wings-Hawks would have made for a classic matchup of hockey's long standing pillars. Also, if you check out part one of Sports Guy Bill Simmons' podcast with Dave Dameshek (check it out at the Sports Guy's homepage on ESPN), he elaborates on the idea I mentioned a few posts back of moving teams from the south to Canada. As usual Simmons and Dameshek share some great ideas. I wish I could somehow get on his podcast and talk sports (probably NFL or NCAA basketball with Simmons). If you're reading this Mr. Simmons that was a hint.

Anyways, depending on when you read this, the puck may have already been dropped in game one between the Blackhawks and the Red Wings, and the Pens and Canes face off Monday night. I wanted to post this a day or two ago but apparently you're supposed to study for the MCAT. Anyways here is my breakdown of the two conference final series .

Detroit Red Wings vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Look, I'll be straight with you all, I know very little about this series. Most of what I know about the Red Wings comes from last year's final. In that final they methodically took apart the Penguins. Detroit has respectable talent, but really what makes them so formidable is how smooth they look on the ice. They certainly can get physical (just look at their series vs. the Ducks) but they move the puck so much better than most other teams. They have a talented netminder in Osgood and the pickup of Benedict Hossa (he claimed he left the Penguins for the wings to win a Stanley Cup) this season has provided them with potent offense. All I know about Chicago is that they haven't won a Cup in over 40 years (perhaps its because the logo has a complacent smile, put on your game face somewhat offensive logo!). On the plus side no one in chicago notices as that is to Cubs streak as Muggsy Bouges is to Shaq (yeah I just referenced Muggsy). The Blackhawks finished their series much faster than the Wings so they may be a little more fresh. I think due to determination and fresher legs they jump out to a 2-1 series lead before falling to the Wings. Red Wings in Six

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Carolina Hurricanes
I will be wearing my Penguins shirt all week here in Chapel Hill, where we actually have a decent amount of Hurricanes fans. While the fact that the Hurricanes are the best professional franchise in North Carolina is depressing on multiple levels, I have to give the people up here in the triangle area props. While most of them may have never played hockey, the Canes have developed a following perhaps more loyal than any sports team in North Carolina since the Hornets (I'm flicking you off right now George Shinn). I will fully admit I just jumped back on the hockey bandwagon two years ago when the Penguins first made the playoffs with Sidney Crosby, but I actually did cheer for the Penguins back in the mid 90's when they were led by Super Mario Lemuix, and perhaps my favorite athlete ever to wear a mullet, Jaromir Jagr. Anyways, the NHL has slowly been creeping back into national attention and the amazing series between Ovechkin and Crosby certainly helped (game seven was a dud but game 6 was one of the best I have ever seen, I was in the midst of a poker game and losing chips like crazy, as I was mainly just paying attention to the TV).

As far as this series, the Pens still could use a little more fluid puck movement, but with Crosby, Malkin, and Staal the Penguins have the most talented group of centers in the game. Fleury did a great job in goal in game seven, but still can be shaky from time to time. The Canes have less starpower and less offensive prowess but have gritty defense and a very good goalie in Cam Ward. Many players on the canes were with the team when they won the Cup in 2006, so they won't be overwhelmed by the stage. Ultimately this series will go the distance but I wouldn't bet against number 87 for the Penguins, who has a fire in his eyes that is not too unlike that of a certain Mr. James in the NBA playoffs.
Penguins in Seven

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Game Seven

Let me start out by saying I almost always prefer watching single elimination tournaments to playoff series. I feel making teams play multiple times kills the chance for amazing upsets and historic victories. George Mason would never have made it to the 2006 final four had they had to play a five or seven game series with Uconn or even UNC. The Arizona Cardinals probably would not have even had a chance to participate in one of the top 5 Super Bowls ever had they been required to beat the Eagles or Falcons in a series (I'm intentionally not including the Panthers as they were led by Jake Delhomme). Federer-Nadal at Wimbledon was amazing last year (the best match I have ever seen, followed by the 4-set Agassi-Sampras Showdown in 2001) and much of that was because of the fact that it all was on the line in one match.

While some would argue that not playing a series allows less talented teams to get lucky, preventing the best teams of the season from meeting in the championship, I respectfully disagree. True champion performers will step up in a big game. Sure, there are always some flukes, but many times those flukes looks less "flukey" in retrospect. For instance, the 2001 Patriots quarterbacked by a relative unknown QB named Tom Brady were assumed to be a one hit wonder and were not favored to win another Super Bowl any time soon. Eight years later that team is now considered by most the team of the century. I think single elimination seperates the true champions who will step up and lead a team to win the big game from talented athletes who just don't have what it takes to win the big one. Think of Peyton Manning. The guy was not able to win it all even when he had some of the best teams in the NFL. It wasn't until he finally was able to put the team on his back to come back and beat the Patriots in 2006 that he got his ring. Single elimination tournaments simulataneously allow for exciting underdog victories and illuminate the true clutch players.

All this said a seven game series does tend to work better with some sports. Baseball stands out, as players can quickly recover (except pitchers) in a 24 hour period to be ready for another game. In general baseball is such an erratic sport (given that each team has a multitude of pitchers) that playing a seven game series is almost a necessity. While sweeps are far from a rare occurance, the up and down nature of baseball leads to many games sixs and sevens that captivate the fans. The NBA and NHL are slightly different. On one hand athletes can recover quickly enough to play a seven game series in about two weeks. On the other hand, the lineup is going to be about the same for each game, and the seven game series make the playoffs seem like a seperate season onto itself, spanning from late April to mid June. While I know we just witnessed an amazing seven game first round series between the Bulls and Celtics (see my previous post for more thoughts on that epic), I feel both the NHL and NBA would be better served to change the first two rounds to 5-game series and reserve the 7-game series for the conference finals.

Despite this exhaustive prologue, Game Seven remains one of the best occurances in sports. It has all the positive qualities mentioned concerning single elimination tournaments, yet has an added intrigue of the teams already having traded blows and thus having become familiar with each other's styles. While players may have become wearied by the time game seven goes around, the true star will almost always rise to the challenge. In the exciting year of sports we have already seen one very good game seven with the celtics-bulls. The NBA may have several more up its sleeve (and hopefully one involving the Lakers and Cavs in the finals), but now the attention has turned to hockey. The hurricanes pulled off a miraculous game seven victory against the New Jersey Devils scoring two goals in the last 1:20 to take the series. The Canes-Bruins series and Ducks-Wings series were both pushed to seven last night, but by far the most intruiguing game seven will occur tonight when Ovechkin and Crosby meet again in what is to hockey as a LeBron-Kobe matchup would (and hopefully will) be to basketball. Game six was a stunner with all the stars coming out in force, and game seven in Washington is set up to be just as good. I am only angry as the final period may coincide with the LOST finale (I'm betting Juliet dies and the Incident somehow restores the 815 crew to the present). Either way, thank the sports gods for gracing us with the wonderful thing that is GAME SEVEN.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

MASSIVE post, Part 2

NHL Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals
Admittedly the first part of the massive post was not entirely enormous and was limited in scope to only the NBA. However given the epic Bulls-Celtics series (which ended with a good game that did not quite live up to what the series had built up), I felt that topic deserved a full post by itself. Anyways here is the rest of the massive post I promised

With regards to the NHL playoffs, the Canes-Bruins, Wings-Ducks, and Canucks-Blackhawks series are all even at a game a piece. For the record I think the Canes, Wings, and Hawks will emerge as victors. While I guess I "support" the Hurricanes and appriciate the fact they chose a meaningful nickname (again, I'm looking at you Bobcats), i have always kind of found it funny that the only top level professional team from North Carolina to win a championship is a hockey team. I'm really not sure if even 10% of NC citizens have ever played ice hockey. It is good that the Canes get people here more interested in hockey, but I would not at all be opposed to banning the NHL from establishing franchises below the Mason-Dixon line. It may not be a bad idea to rearrange the NHL so that instead of a western and eastern conference you have a American and Canadian conference (I'm yanking a bit of this idea from Bill Simmons). Canada may not excell at too many sports (think CFL or the Toronto Blue Jays), but they have hockey down. So I say keep the american teams in cities that actually get snow and play hockey (Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Colorado, etc...) and move the rest to Canadian cities. That way the Stanley Cup would have a USA vs. Canada subplot every year and get more fans interested.

With regards to the much-hyped Crosby-Ovechkin showdown, it is absolutely living up to the billing. The Caps won the first two games in Washington putting the pressure on Crosby and co. to pull out victories in Pittsburgh. As far as the two players, they have both been superb. The first game saw each net a goal, however it moved to another level last night as both players completed hat tricks. To put that into perspective that would be like if LeBron and Kobe ended up meeting (as seems inevitable) in the NBA finals and both put up 40 points and a triple double. Notably absent in the series has been Evgeni Malkin who will need to really step up if the Pens hope to advance. Regardless this matchup has just added to an already great sports year which has seen one of the top 5 super bowls ever, a 6OT game in college, and the greatest first round series in NBA history.

Shifting focus to the NFL, I think evaluating a draft class before any of them ever hit the field is ridiculous, so I won't attempt to grade any teams on how they drafted. I did, however, have a coulple of impressions after draft day was said and done. First and foremost, if I was a Raiders fan I would really be contemplating trying to knock off Al Davis at this point. Who knows how his picks will turn out, but putting it very kindly choosing a wideout with poor route-running skills and only moderate production in college over Michael Crabtree with the 7th pick was debatable. Then, in order to make sure the attention was still on him, the animated corpse of what used to be Al Davis, selected a safety Mel Kiper Jr., a man who spends his life evaluating college prospects, knew next to nothing about in the 2nd round. So to everyone who told me I was insane for having Davis reach for Michael Johnson in my mock draft, I admit the pick was wrong but I feel validated in the Davis did something even more ridiculous in his first couple picks. The Bengals were entertaining as well, picking a players with character issues (Andre Smith, Michael Johnson) early on. I think their owner may have just watched the Longest Yard (and probably the crappy Adam Sandler version) one too many times.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I felt the Ravens, Giants, Steelers and Patriots all did well once again in making their selections. The steelers tend to pick players who won't contibute much in their first year, but end up becoming stars after a few years of learining the game (LaMarr Woodley, Troy Polamalu). For the Giants, Nicks should be able to step in quickly and give Eli a big target with reliable hands (unlike Domenic Hixon). I think Tate will end up being a steal for the Pats a year or two down the road once he is fully healthy. Bellicek and Co. just seem to know how to take advantage of a player's skills and Tate has plenty. One of my favorite selections was the Dolphins pick of Pat White. White will be the next evolution of the Wildcat and may be even better in the "slash" role than Kordell Stewart (who was ruined by being turned into a full-time QB) or Randle El.

NCAA Basketball
In college basketball, the deadline for the NBA draft has passed and we will have to wave goodbye to talented underclassmen such as Lawson, Curry, Griffin, and B.J. Mullens? (honestly what is that kid doing in the draft). While some important decisions have yet to be made (where will John Wall go, will talented players such as Meeks and Teague return after "testing the water", and how will John Wall attempt to emulate the career of Maurice Clarett next). Assuming that all the players without agents decide to return, here is my preseason VFSS elite eight right now.

1) Kansas- The addition of Xavier Henry along with the return of Aldrich and Collins should make the Jayhawks preseason favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis next year.

2) Kentucky- Given how the John Wall saga has progressed, I think he ultimately ends up in Lexington playing for Calipari. Since these rankings assume that Patterson and Meeks will be back, Kentucky could potentially be loaded. Conversely, if those two stay in the draft and Wall goes elseware, the wildcats could be Not Invited Tournament bound again.

3) Michigan State- Michigan State brings back a talented group of fresheman along with a couple other upperclassmen like talented guard Kalin Lucas after losing Suton. The Spartans should have a great chance to make another final four run next year.

4) North Carolina- UNC brings in the number 1 recruiting class in the nation (for now at least) and returns Ed Davis and Marcus Ginyard making their potential starting lineup very respectable after losing their top four scorers. Even though I have them pegged at four I feel like they will not make it past the elite eight due to inexperiance in the backcourt that the monster froncourt (Davis, Thompson, Zeller, Henson, and Wear Twins) may not be able to compensate for. Then again if Larry Drew steps up this team could be a threat to repeat.

5)Texas- Texas has a stellar recruiting class highlighted by Avery Bradley and other freshmen stars. Some have them ranked in the top three but I think their inexperience and the strength of the Big 12 will hold them back for the first portion of the year. Expect the Longhorns to emerge as a Final Four threat in March.

6) Villanova- The Big East should be set for a down year after last year's dominance. The wildcats will look to return to the final four with the help of a couple talented freshmen in the frontcourt. I originally had them at 8 but since this projection has Reynolds coming back and Duke got smashed by Nova in the sweet sixteen I gave them a bump.

7)Duke- Given this projection has Gerald Henderson returning for the Blue Devils, I at first had them above carolina in the rankings. I think the Dookies split with carolina this year, winning the first matchup. That said, even with Plumlee coming in the Devils can't match the Tar Heels frontcourt, which may end up better than last year's. If Henderson comes back or if Wall commits to Duke, then the Devils may finally break back into the Final Four.

8) Purdue- The Boilermakers reutrn most of a talented team that includes Jajuan (which translates into JaJohn in English) Johnson and should push the Spartans for the top spot in the big 10.

NBA Picks
To conclude here are my NBA second round picks:

over Celtics (in 6)- the celtics are injured and drained
LeBrons over Hawks (in 5)- the LeBrons are playing too good to struggle with an inconsistent Hawks team
Nuggets over Mavs (in 6)- As i mentioned before, watch out for the Nuggets
Rockets over Lakers (in 7)- I dunno, just a hunch

Saturday, May 2, 2009

MASSIVE post, Part 1

So after being sufficiently screwed by my physics final this morning, I'm finally done with exams and now have time to work on this blog.

I was going to start with my thoughts on the draft, but its hard to start off with anything other than the Bulls-Celtics with game seven of one of the best NBA playoff series ever. While the rest of the NBA playoffs have been less than exciting as a whole (as one would expect from the first round), the Chicago-Boston matchup had the potential from the beginning to be something special. Chicago is loaded with young, scrappy talent and Boston is a wounded bear that still wishes to defend their title. Derrick Rose looks nothing like a rookie, Ray Allen and Ben Gordon have put on shooting clinics, and Paul Pierce has hit clutch shots in the final seconds. Combined with the fact that several games have gone to one or more overtimes (culminating in the 3OT epic thursday night).

Another, slightly more underlooked factor that has made this series great is presence of two eminently dislikable players on each side of the court. Joakim Noah has been an easy target for hate ever since his Florida days. From his appearance, which is somewhere between Predator and Sanjaya (I'm really not sure which is more insulting). On the other side, Rajon Rondo has emerged both as one of the best guards in the league and one of the dirtiest players. From his "questionably" flagrant foul against Miller in game 5 to his assault on Kirk Henrich, Rondo has quickly become public enemy #1 for all fanbases but the celtics.

This series has been great for pro basketball as it is starting to make a comeback into the attention of general sports fans. The past ten years have been tough on the NBA with the strike, the Palace Brawl, franchises moving, and players who gave the league a poor image. Now with LeBron rising to Jordan-esque prominance, players getting in less trouble, and this playoffs, the NBA can finally win back the fans it lost over the past ten years.

One quick aside, the moving of franchises has to be one of the worst parts of any sports but the NBA has been a horrible offender. Even worse the teams that move have kept suddenly inappropriate team names. The Lakers name refers to the Great Lakes, Utah is one of the last places you would find jazz, and New Orleans was not the Hornets nest of the south. With regards to the Lakers, they can keep the name due to the tradition. Utah should change its name to something more appropriate (the polygamists?, or maybe the Avalanche as it is known for skiing), New Orleans should get back the Jazz nickname, and for god's sake lets change Charlotte back to the Hornets as opposed to not so slyly naming the team the Bobcats after owner Bob Johnson. While I think it was a horrible decesion to steal the Sonics, at least Oklahoma changed their team name (however they should absolutely be called the bandits, both referring to Oklahoma's part in the wild west and their theivery of Seattle's basketball team).

Anyways, with regards to the game tonight I think Chicago will be less fatigued coming in and will have a real chance to win. That said its hard to bet against a tough, experienced former champion at home. I think the Bulls will jump to the early lead but Pierce and Allen will make clutch shots down the stretch to give the celtics the win. Honestly which ever team win the series is going to be winded against the Magic, and will almost certainly fall to the the Cleveland LeBrons. Speaking of the LeBrons, while I still maintain Jordan's superiority, James is working with a significantly worse cast than Pippen and Co. that accompanied Jordan. What truely amazes me about James is how he can come out before a game completely loose, then turn on the intensity when he hits the court. The potential matchup with Kobe and the Lakers would be great in the finals (though don't be surprised if he runs into Carmello and the Nuggets instead.

NOTE: Due to timing and cohesiveness I'll update the rest of the Massive post tomorrow. Enjoy the basketball tonight.