The Wide World Of D’Antoni

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Mike D’Antoni

As Mike D’Antoni is set to become the new head coach of the Houston Rockets, it marks his fifth head coaching gig in the NBA. In parts of 12 NBA seasons, D’Antoni has had an up and down career which is evident by his career record of 455-426. The highlight of D’Antoni’s coaching career was when he led the Phoenix Suns to consecutive trips to the Western Conference Finals in 2005 and 2006. But the downside to D’Antoni’s time in the NBA has included a pair of 50-loss seasons with the New York Knicks, while also going 27-55 as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2013-2014 NBA season. D’Antoni has most recently worked as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers as he was seeking another opportunity to be a head coach in the NBA which he now has with the Rockets and it will be interesting to say the least.

D’Antoni has built a reputation in NBA circles for his innovation on offense. D’Antoni’s teams are typically amongst the leaders in the league as far as points per game, and three-point attempts. However defensive basketball is not one of D’Antoni’s specialties which tends to show up during the postseason, while in his last season with the Lakers, his team gave up 120 points or more in a game on 16 occasions. This past season the Rockets were 26th the NBA in points allowed at 106.5 points per contest, and once you factor in D’Antoni’s overall dismissal of defensive basketball, there won’t be that much optimism as far as the Rockets and winning basketball next season.

James Harden

Looking at the Rockets roster, they do have a bona fide star in shooting guard James Harden. This past season Harden was second in the NBA in scoring at 29 per game. However Harden’s game is very one-dimensional as he is mainly an isolation player on offense. Harden should see more opportunities to score under D’Antoni, but it won’t result in winning basketball for the Rockets as this is an organization that is in dire need of structure, instead of the wide open theatrics that will come with his brand of basketball.

This past season saw the Rockets as a team of dysfunction. After leading Houston to the Western Conference Finals last year, Kevin McHale was fired as the Rockets head coach 11 games into this season. J.B. Bickerstaff served as the Rockets interim head coach and guided them to the postseason where they were swept by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. But Bickerstaff was fighting an uphill battle all season long due to the team that was constructed by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey relies on analytics and sabermetrics instead on relying on the eye test as to whether or not that the guys that he brought in could actually play together. And with the Rockets roster in the state that it currently is, don’t expect any improvement next season from them.

Three years ago center Dwight Howard was a highly sought after free agent as he decided to sign with the Rockets to play alongside Harden. Howard and the Rockets agreed on a four-year contract that is worth $88 million. But Howard’s numbers have decreased in each of his three years with the Rockets as this past season he averaged 13.7 points and 11.8 rebounds which is his worst statistical season since his rookie campaign during the 2004-2005 NBA season. Howard can be disinterested at times as the Rockets offense doesn’t go through him, while he hasn’t played with a top-tier point guard. With one year remaining on Howard’s contract, he can opt out of his deal this summer. And I highly doubt that you’ll see Howard in a Rockets uniform next season as D’Antoni’s “run and gun” offense doesn’t fit his playing style which was highlighted in their one season of working together with the Lakers.

Dwight Howard

If Howard were to leave Houston, it would open up more than $23 million of cap space for the Rockets for next season as they will look to lure other players Houston that could compliment Harden. But it isn’t that cut and dry due to D’Antoni’s track record as he doesn’t rely in stars players as much as he does his system. With the Suns, D’Antoni made point guard Steve Nash a household name. But with the Knicks, D’Antoni’s system never fit the skill set of small forward Carmelo Anthony, and it wasn’t conducive to shooting guard Kobe Bryant with the Lakers either. Scoring wise Harden should be comfortable playing for D’Antoni, but there will plenty of losses associated with it.

The NBA isn’t any different from any other sport in the sense that offense wins games and sells tickets, but at some point teams must clamp down on the defensive end in order to be assured of a win. D’Antoni has yet to figure this out yet, and neither have the Rockets if they believe that his coaching style can produce an NBA Championship.

Source: Basketball-reference.com

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Swing At Your Own Risk

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There is no doubt that Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw is one of Major League Baseball’s brightest stars. Kershaw was the seventh overall pick of the 2006 MLB Draft by the Dodgers, and by 2008, he was ready for his debut. As a rookie, Kershaw would go 5-5 with an earned run average of 4.26. And by 2011, Kershaw would make his first All-Star Game appearance as he struck out 212 batters that year. The following year Kershaw would take his game to another level as he went 21-5 with a 2.28 earned run average en route to winning his first National League Cy Young Award. Overall Kershaw has won four NL Cy Young Awards while he has also led the Senior Circuit in earned run average four times. Aside from Kershaw’s rookie year, he has never had an earned run average above 2.91. Kershaw is one of the true aces in baseball, which includes him putting fear into batters via the strikeout.

Whereas the 300-game winner might be a lost art in Major League Baseball, Kershaw is reviving the notion of the 3,000-strikeout pitcher. In each of the last six seasons, Kershaw has struck out at least 212 batters, while last year he became the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2001 to strike out at least 300 batters in a season as he fanned 301. For Kershaw’s career he has struck out 1,841 batters which is already fifth on the Dodgers all-time list with 95 of those coming here in 2016. Of Kershaw’s 95 strikeouts this year, he has struck out at least 10 batters in a game on six occasions with a season-high 14 coming on May 1 against the San Diego Padres. Kershaw is 28-years of age, and barring any potential setbacks from elbow or shoulder issues, he is a guy that could become MLB’s first pitcher to record 3,000 career strikeouts since John Smoltz in 2008.

At 6’4″, 225 lbs., Kershaw is a menacing figure on the mound. Kershaw’s delivery to home plate is a quirky one as he moves both of his arms while the baseball is still in his glove. Kershaw then waits to the very last moment before he unleashes the baseball towards the plate. And all of the torque that has been generated from his big body results in most hitters being unable to catch up to his powerful fastball. But if Kershaw’s fastball isn’t tough enough to deal with, he has a 12-6 curve ball, along with a change-up that can keep batters off balance as he has them eating out of the palm of his hand.

For Kershaw’s career, opponents have a .205 batting average against him with the number dipping in each of the last five years with hitters only managing a .171 average against him this year as they are privileged just to make contact with the baseball.

But Kershaw isn’t just another pretty face and a smile as he is living up to his massive contract. Two years ago the Dodgers and Kershaw agreed on a seven-year contract extension that is worth $215 and just like any Hollywood box office sensation, he is truly worth the price of admission and then some. Right now the Dodgers don’t have that much protection behind Kershaw in the starting rotation; however he is holding his own with three complete games, and he has given Los Angeles at least 7 innings in each of his outings this year. Every fifth day that Kershaw takes the mound he gives his team a chance to win while doing what as ace is expected to do which is to dominate, save the bullpen, and put an end to a potential losing streak, or start a winning streak.

The National League Cy Young Award race this year should be a dandy between Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, and Kershaw. And throughout the history of the Dodgers organization, there have been legendary pitchers such as Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Orel Hershiser, with Kershaw stacking up right with them. But only time will tell how great that Kershaw will truly be.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Teetering On The Brink

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If the Golden State Warriors cannot figure out how to stop Russell Westbrook, the off-season will begin earlier than expected.

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Nine Lives

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Chien-Ming Wang

In 2005, Chien-Ming Wang made his Major League Baseball debut as a starting pitcher with the New York Yankees, and it appeared to be the beginning of a very promising career. As a rookie, Wang went 8-5 with a 4.02 earned run average in 116.1 innings pitched. In 2006, Wang would go 19-6 with a 3.63 earned run average as he finished second in the American League Cy Young Award voting. In Wang’s first three years with the Yankees, he had compiled a record of 46-18 as the Taiwanese-born pitcher appeared to be destined for stardom.

Wang began the 2008 MLB season with a record of 8-2, until his career suddenly spiraled downward. On June 15, Wang suffered a foot injury while running the bases against the Houston Astros. Wang would be diagnosed with a Lisfranc injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the year. Wang would return to the Yankees starting rotation in 2009, but he was still hampered by the foot injury as he went 1-6 with an earned run average of 9.64. Wang would never play for the Yankees again, and after watching his teammates win the World Series that October, he would become a free agent.

Wang would sign with the Washington Nationals, but he would sit out the entire 2010 Major League Baseball season as he rehabbed his injury. In 2011, Wang would make 11 starts for the Nationals as he compiled a record of 4-3 with an earned run average of 4.04. Wang would split time in 2012 between the Nats starting rotation and the bullpen as he struggled mightily with a mark of 2-3, while his earned run average was a paltry 6.68. In 2013, Wang did sign a minor-league contract with the Yankees seeking to rekindle the magic from 2006-2008, but he didn’t make the team out of spring training which resulted in him opting out of his deal that June. Wang would sign on with the Toronto Blue Jays, and in six starts, he would go 1-2 with an earned run average of 7.67. Wang was 33-years of age, and it appeared that he was all but through in Major League Baseball.

But Wang wasn’t ready to give up on his dream as he spent 2014 and 2015 bouncing around in the minor-league systems of the Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves, and Seattle Mariners seeking one more shot. After being unable to crack the 40-man roster on any of those clubs, Wang signed a minor-league contract this past January with the Kansas City Royals. Wang would make a strong account for himself in spring training, and he made the Royals Opening Day roster as he’s making the most out of his opportunity.

Wang has been extremely effective as a setup man to relief pitcher Wade Davis in the Royals bullpen as in 13 appearances this season, he has a record of 2-0 with an earned run average of 2.87 which includes only surrendering one hit in his last three outings.

Wang has never been a power pitcher as he prefers to due his damage in the lower part of the strike zone as a sinker ball pitchers which typically results in more ground balls. Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City is not a hitter’s park which is to Wang’s benefit while he has the luxury of being supported by one of the better defensive teams in baseball behind him when he is on the mound. And with what Wang has done so far in 2016, it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities to see him selected to his first All-Star team this summer, or to be named as the American League’s Comeback Player of the Year.

But what Wang’s story displays is how important that not giving up and perseverance truly are. After that unfortunate afternoon in Houston, it would have been extremely easy for Wang to pack it in at every setback that he has endured along the way. However that has not been the case for Wang who has instead decided to embrace it which is why he is still around. Wang may have found a home with the Royals as they consider themselves a team of underdogs. There’s absolutely nothing flashy about the Royals as they simply play fundamentally sound baseball which is a big reason why they are the defending World Series Champions, and they have an organization full of leaders that has embraced Wang who has truly become a feel good story for us all.

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Upton Funk

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The first seven weeks of the 2016 Major League Baseball season have been a struggle for Detroit Tigers outfielder Justin Upton. In the off-season, Upton was a highly sought after free agent and the Tigers would sign him to a six-year, $132.75 million deal. Upton was expected to add to an already potent Tigers lineup as for his MLB career, he has averaged 25 home runs and 83 runs batted in per season during his nine-year career. But 2016 has been a struggle for Upton as he is batting .223 with a pair of home runs, and 10 runs batted in, while striking out 66 times which is currently tops in the American League. Upton’s slugging percentage of .319 is the lowest of his career as he doesn’t appear to be the same player that hit 26 home runs last season as a member of the San Diego Padres.

Justin Upton

Unlike Upton’s other stops in Major League Baseball, he has yet to get comfortable in Detroit. This is Upton’s first venture into the American League as his first nine seasons were spent with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, and Padres, which also happened to be warm weather cities (albeit that the Diamondbacks play under a retractable roof). But Upton who has been prone to striking out simply appears to be off at the plate as he has yet to get into a rhythm. The calendar has yet to shift to June, but already Upton has 19 games in which he has struck out at least twice as the “golden sombrero” of striking out four times in a game can’t be that far around the corner.

Upton’s struggles were magnified earlier this month when the Tigers had a stretch where they lost 11 of 12 games. And during that stretch, Upton saw his batting average dip 44 points from .252 to .208. The Tigers have won six of their last seven games as they are currently 21-22 which finds them in fourth place in the American League Central, but they are just 4.5 games behind the first place Chicago White Sox. And if the Tigers are going to be a playoff team in 2016, Upton and his bat are going to need to be a big part of it.

If Upton is pressing to live up to his massive contract, he should take step back and look at the talent that he is surrounded by in Detroit. The Tigers lineup features the likes of first baseman Miguel Cabrera, outfielder J.D Martinez, second baseman Ian Kinsler, and designated hitter Victor Martinez as it is hands down the most talent that has ever been surrounded by. All of these players are quality hitters with Cabrera being a future Hall of Famer. Upton doesn’t have to do it all by himself as there is a wealth of talent that is around him in Motown, and once he realizes that, it will be terrific for both him and the Tigers.

The weather is beginning to get warmer and hopefully for Upton’s sake and that of the Tigers as well, he can get it going. Upton has never been a .300 hitter, and at this point of his career, you can’t expect that aspect of his game to change. But what Upton can do is to seek more quality at-bats which will only add to the depth of the Tigers lineup. Last week Upton did have a five-game winning streak, while Tigers manager Brad Ausmus gave him the day off yesterday. Upton did come off of the bench as a pinch-hitter in the Tigers 9-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays to draw a walk as he appears to be seeing the ball better at the plate. However this version of Justin Upton through the first two months of the 2016 Major League Baseball season isn’t the version of the player that we’ve seen to nearly the past decade, and you just have to wonder when he’ll truly reappear.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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At The Crossroads

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After missing the NBA Playoffs last year for just the second time since 2004, the Miami Heat rebounded this season to win the Southeast Division. The Heat would advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals where they were eliminated by the Toronto Raptors in a fierce seven-game series. But by the time that the Heat were finished off by the Raptors, they had been depleted by injuries. Heat team president Pat Riley has made it his business to keep Miami in title contention as they’ve won the NBA Championship three times since 2006. And even though that Riley has one of the best basketball minds in the business, he’ll have his hands full this summer as far as keeping the Heat as one of the top teams in the NBA.

Chris Bosh

As of right now the Heat have nearly $50 million committed to player salaries for next season, but that could be changing. Power forward Chris Bosh has missed 67 games over the last two NBA seasons due to complications from blood clots. Bosh did not appear in the playoffs for the Heat, and there is a possibility that he might be forced to retire. In the summer of 2014, Bosh re-signed with the Heat for $118 million over five years. However if Bosh does retire, nearly $24 million would come off of the books towards next year’s payroll. But what the Heat would lose from not having Bosh on their roster is his leadership on the court, and in the locker room as he was a vital member of their championship teams in 2012 and 2013.

Like Bosh, shooting guard Dwyane Wade has been a part of much of the Heat’s success recently. Wade was the fifth overall pick of the 2003 NBA Draft by the Heat and he has gone on to become the best player in franchise history. Wade has been a member of each of the Heat’s championship teams which included him being the NBA Finals MVP in 2006. Wade is the Heat’s all-time leader in points (20,221), assists (4,944), and steals (1,414). But at the age of 34, injuries have really caught up to Wade as he has never played a full season in the NBA.

Dwyane Wade

Last summer, Wade was seeking a long-term contract from the Heat which he didn’t receive as Riley wasn’t ready to commit to that on an aging player. The Heat and Wade would agree on a one-year deal for $20 million. Wade averaged 19 points per game in the regular season. But in the NBA Playoffs, Wade was showing signs of once again being “Flash” as he averaged 21.4 points per game as he attempted to will the Heat to victories which should make for a very interesting round of negotiating this summer between him and Riley.

After being a basketball nomad, center Hassan Whiteside has emerged as one of the best shot blockers and rebounders in the NBA. Whiteside was a second-round pick of the Sacramento Kings in 2010, but he spent more time in the NBA’s Development League than anything else. ┬áIn 2014, the Heat would pick Whiteside up off of the scrap heap and in 48 games with the team, he would average 11.8 points and 10 rebounds. Last summer Whiteside signed a one-year deal with the Heat for 981k and he easily outperformed that by averaging 14.2 points and 11.8 rebounds while leading the NBA in blocks with 3.7 per game.

Hassan Whiteside

Whiteside has tremendous athleticism, but there have been maturity issues for him which has seen him draw the ire of Riley, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, and veteran players such as Bosh. Whiteside did suffer a knee injury in the playoffs against the Raptors which could give the Heat leverage in their contract negotiations with the 26-year old this summer.

As of right now the biggest impact players that the Heat can count on for next season are point guard Goran Dragic and small forward Justise Winslow. The Heat acquired Dragic from the Phoenix Suns during the 2014-2015 NBA season, but he hasn’t had the kind of impact that the Heat were hoping for as he wasn’t the focal point of the offense with Wade and Bosh on the roster. However that could potentially change next season. Last summer, the Heat used the 10th overall pick of the NBA Draft on Winslow. Winslow appeared in 78 games during the regular season for the Heat, but he only made 8 starts. As a rookie, Winslow averaged 6.4 points and 5.2 rebounds as a role player, but you can see the potential there for him to develop a more important role on both offense and defense for Miami.

The Heat should be active players in free agency this summer, and with Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in July, you can expect Miami to put on the full-court press as far as attempting to persuade him to come to South Beach. However it will be more difficult as I don’t see Durant leaving the Thunder with their deep run into the playoffs that currently has them three victories away from their second trip to the NBA Finals with him on the roster.

Pat Riley

Riley knows a thing or two about building a contender as he has only been a part of four losing seasons either as a head ocach of team executive. Riley got creative in putting Bosh, Wade, and LeBron James together in the summer of 2010, and there’s no telling what he has up his sleeve this summer for the Heat. But one thing for sure is that Riley will find a way to put a quality roster together.

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A Ticking Time Bomb

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Doug Pederson

The start of the 2016 National Football League season is nearly four months away, but the Philadelphia Eagles have a storm cloud that is hanging over their organization. This past January, Doug Pederson was named as the new head coach of the Eagles. And being that it is customary for a new head coach to immediately draft a quarterback, Pederson traded up to the second overall pick in last month’s NFL Draft to select quarterback Carson Wentz. But the Eagles already had a high priced quarterback on their roster in Sam Bradford.

Philadelphia had acquired Bradford from the St. Louis Rams last year, but that was when Chip Kelly was the Eagles head coach. However Bradford saw the writing on the wall with Wentz coming to town, and he wants out of dodge which won’t be easy.

Sam Bradford

It isn’t set in stone that Wentz will be the Eagles starting quarterback when Week 1 rolls around, but Bradford is not interested in keeping the seat warm for him as the starting quarterback in Philadelphia. However the Eagles didn’t do themselves any favor when they signed Bradford to a two-year extension that is worth $36 million on March 1. The Eagles gave Bradford the impression that he was their guy at starting quarterback, only to turn around and draft a quarterback seven weeks later which isn’t fair to either him or Wentz. It will be tough for the Eagles to simply release Bradford as he counts for $12.5 million towards their team payroll for the upcoming season, while teams aren’t lining to take on the salary of a player such as him that has had an injury prone career.

After the Rams made Bradford the first overall pick of the 2010 National Football League Draft, he has only had two seasons in which he made all 16 starts while he only has a record of 25-37-1 without any postseason appearances. Bradford originally intended to not show up to the Eagles organized team actvities (OTA’s), but he had a change of heart after conferring with his agent Tom Condon. But this twist in the whole scenario is ironic since Bradford claims that Condon was the person who steered him the direction of seeking a trade from the Eagles as it appears time to simply play the blame game.

Carson Wentz

So now with the deck stacked against Bradford in Philadelphia, the only things left for him to do are to beat out Wentz to become the Eagles starting quarterback, remain healthy, and play good enough to get Philadelphia to the postseason for the first time since 2013. And even if Bradford’s long-term future isn’t in Philadelphia, a solid 2016 on his part could catch the eye of another team around the league. But at this point we just have to sit back and see how this situation will play out. However the writing on the wall doesn’t make for a happy ending in Philadelphia.

Sources: Pro-football-reference.com, Sportrac.com

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