Philadelphia’s New Favorite Ben

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For quite some time now it was a formality that forward Ben Simmons would be the first overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft; it was just merely a matter of what team would get the opportunity to obtain his services. After only managing to win 10 games this past season, it wasn’t a guarantee that the Philadelphia 76ers would get win the NBA’s Draft Lottery. But the ping-pong balls bounced in the favor of the Sixers and unless you were stuck in a cave, you knew which direction that they were intended to go in with their selection.

Days prior to the NBA Draft, the 76ers made their intentions public when they formally announced that they would use the first overall pick on Simmons. Simmons who is a native of Australia, became a prep-school sensation as he began to be compared to Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James due to his passing skills, rebounding, and floor vision. Simmons was the top prospect coming out of high school and he ultimately decided on playing collegiately for the LSU Tigers.

Simmons was a one-man show at LSU as he averaged 19.2, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists en route to becoming the Southeastern Conference’s Freshman of the Year. At LSU, Simmons gave LSU star power which included him having 21 double-doubles. And at 6’10″, those rebounding and passing skills were what had NBA scouts drooling about Simmons, while the 76ers are hopeful that they have found their savior.

To call the last three years for the Sixers pathetic would be a compliment. In that span Philadelphia has managed to win just 47 games, while 10 NBA teams managed to win more contests than that this past season alone. Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie would always tell the fans and media alike in Philadelphia to “trust the process” as he was notorious for spending high picks on injured players, and trading players for more draft picks. This philosophy didn’t make Hinkie a very popular man on Broad Street, and when he resigned this past April, the Bronx cheer went up in the City of Brotherly Love.

Bryan Colangelo

Former Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo was brought in to be an advisor for the 76ers and you knew that he would be restoring law and order due to his past track record of building franchises. Colangelo would bring in his son Bryan in to be the Sixers new president of basketball operations after he has spent time as the general manager of both the Suns and Toronto Raptors. And once the Colangelos were awarded the first overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, they were off to the races.

Now the Sixers have the chance to have one of the biggest front courts in the NBA with each player having a different skills. Center Jahlil Okafor provides the 76ers with a scoring presence from the low-post as he averaged 17.5 points and 7 rebounds this past season as a rookie. Power forward Nerlens Noel is a shot blocker that can run the floor while also grabbing rebounds. And once you put that with the skills of Simmons, Philadelphia is big up front, and they have the potential to defeat you in different ways.

The 76ers did shop both Okafor and Noel leading up to the NBA Draft to see if there were teams interested in their services. But with teams balking at the Sixers asking price, Noel and Okafor will remain in Philadelphia to form a nucleus with Simmons. And once you factor in center Joel Embiid who was the third overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft by the 76ers, but yet to play due to injuries, there is size galore in Philadelphia if everyone can remain healthy.

Brett Brown

For 76ers head coach Brett Brown, the arrival of the Colangelos and Simmons has to be a sigh of relief. Brown has been the Sixers head coach for the last three years, but he has been given a reprieve due to the fact of how Hinkie was running the team. And for the first time as an NBA head coach, Brown now has talent to work with.

Simmons represents the Sixers first, top pick in the draft since Allen Iverson in 1996 and that turned out pretty well for Philadelphia. Iverson led the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 2001 which was also his MVP year, while he led the league in scoring on four occasions during his time in Philadelphia. Simmons might not publicly display the swagger of Iverson, but make no mistake about it that he is a star in the making, while he should also clean up on endorsement deals in the Philadelphia area.

Simmons doesn’t come to the NBA completely polished as he must work on his perimeter shooting as he only attempted 3 shots from behind the three-point arc at LSU, but it is a part of his game that he will work on.

As Simmons is set to embark on his professional career, the most important thing that he must do is to not pay attention to the white noise in Philadelphia. The fan base in Philadelphia is desperate to see the Sixers turn things around as they haven’t made the playoffs in four years, while they haven’t won the NBA Championship since 1983. And this fan base will expect an overnight miracle which isn’t fair to Simmons. But one thing for sure is that the arrival of Simmons will end the 76ers run of picking in the top-five of the NBA Draft as this team has already improved from the end of last season without one practice together.

 

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Canadian Muscle

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The Toronto Blue Jays have been a Major League Baseball franchise for 40 years and they have had their fare share of feared sluggers that have suited up for them. The Blue Jays rose to prominence in the 1980′s with the power bats of Jesse Barfield and George Bell being a big part of it. The Blue Jays would win consecutive World Series Championships in 1992 and 1993 with Joe Carter providing the pop in the middle of their lineup. Since then the Blue Jays have had sluggers such as Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado who is the franchise’s all-time leader in home runs with 336, but none of these solid power hitters were able to do what is currently going on north of the border.

Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista

The Jays have one of the most feared lineups in Major League Baseball as it is the modern day murderers row for power hitters. For years the Blue Jays lineup was paced by outfielder Jose Baustista and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion as they have been regular participants at MLB’s All-Star Game. But to duo of Encarnacion and Bautista wasn’t enough to get the Jays to the postseason.

Josh Donaldson

Prior to the start of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, former Blue Jays general Alex Anthopoulos executed a trade that saw Toronto acquire All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson from the Oakland Athletics. And in the Donaldson’s first year in Toronto, he became a household name along with becoming one of the most popular athletes in Canada as he became the first Blue Jays player since Bell in 1987 to be named as the American League MVP by hitting 41 homers while driving in 123 runs.

With Donaldson in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup with Bautista and Encarnacion, they were more potent as they began to get into contention. And the cherry on top for the Blue Jays was just prior to the Major League Baseball trade deadline last year when they acquired shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from the Colorado Rockies. With the Rockies, Tulowitzki was a five-time All-Star, along with hitting at least 20 home runs in a season six times and he fit right into the Toronto lineup.

The Blue Jays would hit 232 home runs which was tops in the American League in 2015 with Encarnacion, Bautista, and Donaldson all hitting at least 39 home runs which was a big part of Toronto winning the A.L. East for the first time since 1993. And after falling short of the World Series last October by two games, the Blue Jays have picked up right where they left off in the power department here in 2016.

Bautista and Donaldson are each on the verge of reaching the 20-homer plateau and the calendar has yet to hit July. And as Bautista and Tulowitzki have yet to get it going like they have in year’s past, there’s is a new power bat that is emerging for Toronto.

Michael Saunders

As outfielder Michael Saunders is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, he is enjoying the finest year of his Major League Baseball career. So far this year Saunders has hit 15 home runs to go along with 32 runs batted in which has been highlighted by hitting 3 homers while driving in 8 runs last Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles. And Saunders has joined the law firm of Donaldson, Encarnacion, Bautista, and Tulowitzki which has kept the Blue Jays afloat in playoff contention in the American League.

After a 5-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox on May 29, the Blue Jays found themselves with a record of 26-26. But since then Toronto is 14-8 with series wins over the Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, and New York Yankees who happen to be their primary competition in the American League East. The bats have led the way here in June for the Blue Jays as they have seven games in which they’ve scored at least 7 runs, while they are third in the A.L. in home runs (107), and fifth in slugging percentage (.435)

The Blue Jays record of 40-34 currently has them in third place in the American League East behind the Orioles and Red Sox, but they are just 2.5 games out of first place while also possessing the second wild card spot in the A.L. And with a potent offense like Toronto has, it gives Blue Jays president of baseball operations Mark Shapiro more flexibility in seeking to make a trade to boost the team’s postseason chances as they are not lacking in the power category.

It’s nearly two hours that separates Toronto from Niagara Falls. But you wouldn’t know that when you see the Blue Jays offense clicking on all cylinders as they could be the Ontario Power Generation since they provide the electricity that can light up the city’s skyline.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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2016 MLB Trade Candidates

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Sonny Gray-Starting Pitcher-Oakland Athletics

I would be extremely surprised to see starting pitcher Sonny Gray finish the 2016 Major League Baseball in an Oakland Athletics uniform. Gray was a first-round pick of the Athletics in 2011, and he has gone on to post a career record of 36-26 to go along with an earned run average of 3.18. The A’s currently find themselves with a record of 29-41 as they are 16 games behind the Texas Rangers for first place in the American League West which finds them in the basement of the division. Oakland is one of the smallest media markets in MLB and Athletics general manager Billy Beane is never one to shy away from making a trade that will restock the team’s minor league system.

Although that Gray is only 26-years of age, he is not scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent until 2020 which means that parting with him would give Beane the opportunity to load up on prospects.

Jay Bruce-Outfielder-Cincinnati Reds

With the Cincinnati Reds well on their way to a second consecutive 90-loss season, it is time for the team’s president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty to finish the fire sale that he began over the winter.

Jay Bruce has been a lifer with the Reds as he was the team’s first-round pick in 2005 which was the prelude to him finishing in the top five of the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2008. Bruce is a three-time N.L. All-Star who would provide depth to any potential team that he is traded to, while he is also under contract through next season as he wouldn’t be a rental.

Rich Hill-Starting Pitcher-Oakland Athletics

Rich Hill is a 12-year Major League Baseball veteran that is on pace for the best season of his career. In 11 starts for the Oakland Athletics this year, Hill is 8-3 with an earned run average of 2.25 and 74 strikeouts. The A’s are Hill’s seventh MLB club, and there is a very good possibility that his bags will be packed soon as he is playing for a last place team, but more importantly he is a left-handed pitcher which is something that is always coveted at trade time. Hill only signed a one-year with the Athletics in the off-season which means that a trade for him wouldn’t see Oakland net that much in return as he would merely be a rental. Hill is currently on the disabled list with a groin injury; however as soon as he is healthy, expect the trade rumors around him to heat up.

Andrew Miller-Relief Pitcher-New York Yankees

With a record of 35-36, the New York Yankees will soon need to decide if they want to make a push for their 18th playoff appearance in the last 21 years, or do they want to become sellers before Major League Baseball’s trade deadline. And if the Yankees do decide to become sellers, relief pitcher Andrew Miller will draw a ton of interest.

Last year in Miller’s first season with the Yankees, he saved 36 games for the team. But this year Miller has been used in more of a setup role to relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman, however he has still be extremely effect with his earned run average of 1.21. At 6’7″, Miller has an intimidating presence on the mound, while his delivery as a left-handed pitcher can throw opposing batters off of their game.

Miller’s ability to be a setup guy and a closer, along with the fact that he’s under contract through 2018 would net the Yankees something in a trade, but I doubt that Miller would get shipped out of New York since the team relies on their bullpen more than other clubs.

Ryan Madson-Relief Pitcher-Oakland Athletics

After being out of baseball for three years, relief pitcher Ryan Madson was able to rediscover his groove last year in helping the Kansas City Royals win the World Series. With the Royals, Madson was primarily used as a setup man to closer Wade Davis. But when Madson signed with the Oakland Athletics over the off-season, he went back to being a closer.

Madson hasn’t had that many chances to close games this year for the Athletics as he only has 13 saves, but throughout his Major League Baseball career he has shown the ability to be both a closer and a setup man which increases his value on the trade market. And with the A’s out of playoff contention, along with the fact that Madson is under contract through 2018, there should be contenders that will be lining up to take him.

Alex Colome-Relief Pitcher-Tampa Bay Rays

Alex Colome

Relief pitcher Alex Colome is in his fourth season with the Tampa Bay Rays, and after spending his first three seasons between the starting rotation and middle relief, he is now getting his crack at closing out games for the team. Colome is making the most out of his opportunity with the Rays as he is a perfect 19-for-19 in save chances this year. And as players in the Rays organization know that they won’t be there for the long haul, Colome is simply auditioning for his next big league employer.

Ryan Braun-Outfielder-Milwaukee Brewers

For all of the performance-enhancing drugs issues that have clouded the Major League Baseball career of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, he is still managing to put up solid numbers. Braun finds himself in the midst of one of his best all around years at the plate as he is batting .319 with 12 home runs and 38 runs batted in. The Brewers currently have a record of 31-40 which finds them way out of contention in the National League, and Braun could provide a contending team with a quality bat coming down the stretch.

Aroldis Chapman-Relief Pitcher-New York Yankees

There a flamethrowers and then there is New York Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman. After defecting from his native Cuba in 2009, Chapman signed with the Cincinnati Reds. And in six years with the Reds, Chapman saved 146 games. Over the off-season Chapman was traded to the New York Yankees where he has saved 13 games in 14 opportunities. Chapman can regularly hit 100 mph on the radar gun as his fastball at times is unhittable.

Chapman is in the last year of his contract, and with the Yankees currently possessing a losing record, it would be prudent for them to move him.

Yunel Escobaer-Third Baseman-Los Angeles Angels

After defecting from Cuba in 2004, third baseman Yunel Escobar found his way to Major League Baseball. Escobar was drafted by the Braves in 2005 and he has been a career journeyman. Escobar is currently playing for his fifth MLB team as he is a member of the Los Angeles Angels. Escobar is currently batting .309 with 17 doubles, while he can also provide a contending team with a quality glove at third base.

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2016 NBA Mock Draft 2.0

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Ben Simmons

1. Philadelphia 76ers-Ben Simmons-Small Forward-LSU

Maybe this is the year that the Philadelphia 76ers finally get it right at the NBA Draft.

2. Los Angeles Lakers-Brandon Ingram-Small Forward-Duke

With selecting Ben Simmons out of the equation, look for the Los Angeles Lakers to select the second best small forward in this year’s draft.

3. Boston Celtics-Dragan Bender-Power Forward-Israel

If the Boston Celtics are right on with this selection, it could be the start of something special in Beantown.

 

 

4. Phoenix Suns-Ivica Zubac-Center-Croatia

If you watched the Phoenix Suns that much during this past NBA season, you could see the glaring weakness that they had in their front court.

Buddy Hield

5. Minnesota Timberwolves-Buddy Hield-Shooting Guard-Oklahoma

If the Minnesota Timberwolves don’t trade this selection, they could find instant offense at the shooting guard position in Buddy Hield.

6. New Orleans Pelicans-Jaylen Brown-Shooting Guard-California

In watching the New Orleans Pelicans play this past NBA season, it became quite apparent that they need more play makers around center Anthony Davis.

7.Denver Nuggets-Jamal Murray-Shooting Guard-Kentucky

The Denver Nuggets appear to have their franchise point guard in Emanuel Mudiay, now they need a running mate for him in the back court.

8.Sacramento Kings-Kris Dunn-Point Guard-Providence

I expect the Sacramento Kings to allow point guard Rajon Rondo to leave in free agency which opens the door for the arrival of Kris Dunn.

Jakob Poeltl

9. Toronto Raptors-Jakob Poeltl-Power Forward-Utah

The Toronto Raptors have proven that they can make a run in the NBA Playoffs with their strong back court of point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. But if the Raptors want to be serious as far as winning an NBA Championship, they are going to need more scoring up front.

10. Milwaukee Bucks-Deyonta Davis-Power Forward-Michigan State

At this point of the draft Deyonta Daivs is the best player available, while I also expect the Milwaukee Bucks to do some wheeling and dealing on Thursday night.

11. Orlando Magic-Timothe Luwawu-Shooting Guard-France

With a new head coach in Frank Vogel taking over, expect the Orlando Magic to be a more productive team.

Denzel Valentine

12. Utah Jazz-Denzel Valentine-Shooting Guard-Michigan State

Denzel Valentine heads into this NBA Draft as arguably to most pro ready prospect.

13. Phoenix Suns-Domantas Sabonis-Power Forward-Gonzaga

The upgrade of the front court continues for the Phoenix Suns with the addition of the son of a former NBA big man.

14. Chicago Bulls-Tyler Ulis-Point Guard-Kentucky

The end of the Derrick Rose era with the Chicago Bulls could be coming to an end.

15. Denver Nuggets-Henry Ellenson-Center-Marquette

Henry Ellenson has top-ten talent, but if he falls here to the Denver Nuggets, he could be the steal of the draft.

16. Boston Celtics-Skal Labissierre-Power Forward-Kentucky

Size, size, and more size is the name of the game for the Boston Celtics this year at the NBA Draft.

17. Memphis Grizzlies-Marquese Chriss-Power Forward-Washington

There are several directions in which the Memphis Grizzlies can go with this selection, but they definitely need to get younger and more athletic in the front court.

18. Detroit Pistons-Brice Johnson-Power Forward-North Carolina

Rebounding and defense are vital for any Stan Van Gundy coached team which makes Brice Johnson a no-brainer here for the Detroit Pistons.

19. Denver Nuggets-Ante Zizic-Center-Croatia

The Denver Nuggets could be bulking up for a possible run to the postseason next year in the Western Conference.

Malachi Richardson

20. Indiana Pacers-Malachi Richardson-Shooting Guard-Syracuse

If the Indiana Pacers want “small ball” to work for them, they are going to need more perimeter scorers that can compliment small forward Paul George.

21. Atlanta Hawks-Thon Maker-Center-Australia

The Atlanta Hawks could be rolling dice here, but if it works then they will look like geniuses.

Wade Baldwin IV

22. Charlotte Hornets-Wade Baldwin IV-Shooting Guard-Vanderbilt

In losing in the first round of the NBA Playoffs this year, the Charlotte Hornets proved that they need more perimeter scoring.

 

 

 

23. Boston Celtics-Taurean Prince-Small Forward-Baylor

When the NBA season rolls around, the Boston Celtics could have one of the most athletic teams in the Eastern Conference.

24. Philadelphia 76ers-Furkan Korkmaz-Shooting Guard-Turkey

The Philadelphia 76ers are still going to be a work in progress, but under president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo, they finally appear to be headed in the right direction.

25. Los Angeles Clippers-DeAndre’ Bembry-Small Forward-Saint Joseph’s

DeAndre’ Bembry is a tough minded player that fits the mode of what Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers wants with his team.

26. Philadelphia 76ers-Demetrius Jackson-Point Guard-Notre Dame

Of all that the things that have held the Philadelphia 76ers back over the past few years, one of the biggest issues is that they’ve lacked a quality floor general which they can get here with Demetrius Jackson.

27. Toronto Raptors-Malik Beasley-Shooting Guard-Florida State

The arrival of Malik Beasley to the Toronto Raptors could allow head coach Dwane Casey to use DeMar DeRozan more at small forward.

28. Phoenix Suns-Paul Zipser-Small Forward-Germany

The front court transformation for the Phoenix Suns continues.

29. San Antonio Spurs-Ben Bentil-Power Forward-Providence

With power forward Tim Duncan hanging on by a thread, the San Antonio Spurs must get younger in the front court if they want to maintain their status as one of the top teams in the NBA.

30. Golden State Warriors-Damian Jones-Power Forward-Vanderbilt

Losing the NBA Finals this week showed that the Golden State Warriors must get better in the front court.

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73 Wins And No Title

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After winning their first NBA Championship in 40 years last spring, the Golden State Warriors came into this season looking to do it again. The Warriors won 67 games en route to winning an NBA Title, and they somehow found a way to top that this year by setting a single-season NBA record by winning 73 games. As a result of this, the Warriors found themselves compared to the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls who have been viewed by many as the greatest team in NBA history. But unlike the Bulls who won 72 games en route to winning the NBA Title, these Warriors didn’t and in the process missed the opportunity to see themselves alongside the greatest teams in sports history.

The regular season was a breeze for the Warriors as they won their first 24 games. It didn’t stop there for Golden State as many of their wins came in blowout fashion. And as the win total increased, so did the comparison to the Bulls as this team never lost consecutive games all season long. Warriors point guard Steph Curry would be named the NBA’s MVP for the second consecutive year, and he became the first player in the NBA history to win the award unanimously.

The first two rounds of the NBA Playoffs would be cakewalk for the Warriors as they made short work of both the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers. But in the Western Conference Finals, Golden State got all that they could handle from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder’s duo of point guard Russell Westbrook and small forward Kevin Durant kept the Warriors on their toes while role players such as center Steven Adams and shooting guard Andre Roberson made their presence felt on the defensive end of the floor. The Warriors would lose three of the first four games in the series before rallying to win the last three and advance to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year.

In the NBA Finals, the Warriors would find themselves taking on a familiar foe in the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last June these two teams met in the NBA Finals with Golden State triumphing in six games. And even though that it was expected to be a very intense series, the Warriors were still favored to be NBA Champions for a second consecutive year.

It was all Warriors to begin the series as they won the first two games at home easily and had another NBA Title to be within their reach. The series would then shift to Cleveland were the two teams would split Games 3 and 4 with Golden State returning to Oakland for Game 5 with a commanding 3-1 series lead. Everything was in the Warriors favor as no team in NBA history had ever lost the finals after possessing a 3-1 series lead as they were 82-0. Two of the final three games would be played at the Oracle Arena in Oakland where the Warriors had only lost twice during the regular season while they had never lost three games in a row all season long.

But the series shifted in Game 4 during an exchange between Cavs small forward LeBron James and Warriors power forward Draymond Green. During Green’s brief NBA career, he has developed the reputation of being an agitator as he talks smack and loves to get into the heads of opponents. Words were exchanged between Green and James where Green proceeded to call James “a b—h”. James took extreme offense to this which led to the two players getting tangled up later in the game. James and Green would go to the floor, and when James stood up, he stepped over Green which led to Green kicking James. James would be assessed with a technical foul, while Green would be assessed with a flagrant foul. And due to the fact that Green had already been assessed several flagrant foul in the playoffs, he was suspended by the NBA for Game 5.

The Warriors would lose Game 5 at home by 15 points with James and Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving each going for 41 points. The series would return to Cleveland for Game 6, but once again the Warriors could not stop James who had once again scored 41 points. Game 7 would be a battle of wills as Green put the Warriors on his back to the tune of 32 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 assists, while James chimed in with 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. And in crunch time it was James the stepped to the forefront to lead the Cavs to their first NBA Title in franchise history.

So as the Warriors let a chance at history slip through their grasp, what they were able to do in the regular season was taken away from them in the NBA Finals as “small ball” couldn’t cut it.

Steph Curry, Klay Thompson

All season long it was the Splash Brothers of Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson that would put on shooting displays with their long three-point shots. And as people wanted to dub Curry as the best shooter that the game of basketball has ever seen, you could see that the majority of the shots that he was attempting during the regular season weren’t even contested.

But in the Warriors March 19th loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the blueprint was laid out as far as neutralizing Curry. Defensively the Spurs kept a hand in his face, while he was never able to get free as he came off of screens. The Spurs also chipped him and disrupted his timing. The Spurs would defeat the Warriors that night 87-79 and Curry was limited to just 14 points.

 

And whereas that the Thunder simply tried to outscore the Warriors, the Cavaliers were focused on making the Warriors have to work on the offensive end, while also making Curry who is not a great defender, have to work as far as guarding Irving. For the NBA Finals, Curry only averaged 22.6 points per game, while in Game 7, he was held to just 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting as his and the Warriors season ended just one victory shy of their ultimate goal.

The Warriors inability to win it all illustrates once more how difficult that winning a title is, and it also shows why people should think twice when it comes to attaching the term “greatest of all-time” to a team, or an individual athlete. This Warriors team that only lost 9 games all season long ironically would lose 9 games in just four rounds of the playoffs.

What made the 1995-1995 Bulls unique was that they had one of the greatest head coaches in NBA history in Phil Jackson running things. The Bulls also had arguably the greatest player of all-time in shooting guard Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest sidekick in NBA history in small forward Scottie Pippen, and arguably the greatest rebounder in NBA history in forward Dennis Rodman while each player was also known for his defensive prowess. Jackson was a tremendous philosopher who knew how to motivate each of his players to maximize their ability, while he also put his team in the best spot to win. And even with all of that, the will of Jordan to be the greatest would not allow the Bulls to lose sight of the NBA Championship once the playoffs rolled around.

That same will was on display in these NBA Finals, but it was possessed by James who was able to lead his team to the promised land as he denied the Warriors of a title. The Warriors began this NBA season seeking to make history, and although that they made history in the NBA Finals, it’s not the kind that they wanted as they are now simply thrown back into the pile with the other 29 teams that didn’t win a title this season..

 

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A Bronx Renaissance

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After 19 years as a Major League Baseball player, 2016 could be the swan song for New York Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran. Beltran made his MLB debut in 1998 as a member of the Kansas City Royals, and he would go on to be named as the American League Rookie of the Year in 1999 by batting .293 with 22 home runs, 108 runs batted in, and 27 stolen bases. Beltran would continue to put up solid numbers on bad Royals teams until he was traded to the Houston Astros in 2004. In 90 games with the Astros that year, Beltran would hit 23 home runs as he was vital to the team’s first trip to the National League Championship Series since 1986.

After tying a single-season postseason record by hitting 8 home runs, Beltran embarked on free agency where the New York Mets came calling. The Mets and Beltran would come to an agreement on a seven-year deal that was worth $119 million. Beltran’s best season with the Mets came in 2006 when he batted .275 with 116 runs batted in, while also tying a single-season franchise record for home runs with 41 as he helped New York win the National League East for the first time in 18 years. But unfortunately for Beltran, his 2006 Major League Baseball season will always be remembered for his striking out with the bases loaded to end the NLCS as the Mets fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

Since Beltran’s time with the Mets, he has also played for the San Francisco Giants and Cardinals with his only trip to the World Series coming in 2013 with St. Louis. By the end of 2013, Beltran’s contract with the Cards was up. And at the age of 36 with diminishing defensive skills along with bad knees, Beltran’s wanted to still play, but he was better suited for the American League where he could be used sometimes as a designated hitter.

Beltran would return to the Big Apple, but this time as a member of the New York Yankees on a three-year deal that was worth $45 million. The move brought out the skeptics as it appeared that the Yankees were simply bringing in another aging player to one of the oldest teams in baseball. Beltran didn’t do his part to quiet those skeptics as in his first two years with the Yankees, he only managed to bat .255 with 34 homers. However with 2016 being the final year of Beltran’s contract, along with it possibly being his last go round in Major League Baseball, we are seeing a different player. Through 69 games this year the Yankees are 34-35, but the bigger question is where would this team would be without the contributions of Beltran?

Beltran is leading the Yankees in batting average (.283), home runs (18), and runs batted in (48), while also being a logical candidate to make an All-Star Game appearance for the ninth time in his career. And as the weather has warmed up, so has Beltran.

In May, Beltran batted .276 with 8 home runs and 22 runs batted in, and he isn’t cooling off here in June where he is batting .364 with 6 homers and 17 runs batted in. Earlier this month in a four-game sweep by the Yanks over the Los Angeles Angels, Beltran launched 3 homers while also driving in 8 runs. And as the Yankees won the series this weekend against the Minnesota Twins, it was Beltran once again at the forefront as he hit a home run while driving in a pair of runs in each of the victories for New York.

But with a record of 34-35, it isn’t a guarantee that Beltran will finish the year in Yankee pinstripes. If Yankees general manager Brian Cashman feels that this team isn’t a legitimate contender, he could then wave the white flag and put Beltran on the trade market where there would be plenty of suitors.

If Beltran were to be made available, there could be a reunion with the Royals who are in the market for help in right field as they are looking to repeat as World Series Champions. The Seattle Mariners have not made the playoffs since 2001 which is currently the longest active streak in Major League Baseball, and they could use another bat in the lineup to provide protection for second baseman Robinson Cano and designated hitter Nelson Cruz. The Cleveland Indians are currently in first place in the American League Central, and after losing outfielder Marlon Byrd for 162 games due to testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, the Tribe needs another bat if they want to be serious contenders. And although that Beltran would more than likely merely be a rental through a trade, Cashman could be able to pry away some prospects “if” he is able to get multiple teams interested in his services.

With a lifetime batting average of .281, 410 career home runs, and three Gold Glove Awards, Beltran might not even be up for consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame as he is more of player that belongs in the hall of very good. And there isn’t a problem with that as Beltran has given it all that he has for 19 years which is something that most Major League Baseball players are unable to say. We should be Beltran get one more crack at a World Series ring this October. It’s just a matter of what uniform that he’ll be wearing when October rolls around.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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“Buck” Ball At It’s Best

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Buck Showalter

Buck Showalter has been the manager of the Baltimore Orioles since 2010, and he has definitely changed the culture around the team. Prior to Showalter’s arrival in 2010, the Orioles has 12 straight losing seasons. But since 2012, the O’s have never finished with a losing record, while they have two postseason appearances to their credit along with winning the American League East Title in 2014. After missing the playoffs last year by five games, the Orioles have started off strong here in 2016 as through 67 games, their record of 39-28 has them in first place in the tough A.L. East.

The Orioles got off to a fast start by winning their first seven games of the year and they’ve never looked back. Baltimore has never been under .500 in 2016, while here in the month of June, they are 11-6. To the Orioles credit, they completed a four-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals who are the defending World Series Champions. And after getting swept on the road by the Toronto Blue Jays last weekend, the O’s were able to rebound by taking two out of three games from the Boston Red Sox this week at Fenway Park to maintain their spot in first place in the American League East. The O’s who are now in the midst of a series against the Blue Jays where they’ve split the first two games, have proven that they can compete and make the playoffs under Showalter, but this year’s squad has the look of a team that could win it all.

Manny Machado

So far this year the offense has really clicked for the Orioles as they are near the top of most major offensive categories in the American League. After being the third overall pick in the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado is really coming into his own. Machado hit 35 home runs last last year which was 10th in the American League, and he has picked up right where he left off from as he is batting .317 with 17 home runs and 42 runs batted in. Machado is becoming one of the best third basemen in baseball, and he now finds himself in the A.L. MVP conversation. After leading the A.L. in home runs in last year with 47, Orioles designated hitter Chris Davis is picking up right where he left off from as he has 16 home runs to go along with 40 runs batted in. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop continues to come into his own as he is on pace for the best season of his brief four-year career. And as the O’s are waiting for outfielder Adam Jones to get it going at the plate, they have to be pleased with the season that right fielder Mark Trumbo is having.

After hitting 95 home runs in three years with the Los Angeles Angels, Trumbo was never able to replicate that success during his time with the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Seattle Mariners. But as Trumbo is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, the O’s are benefiting. Trumbo’s 20 home runs this year are tops in the American League as he is on pace for his best season at the plate, while he is also in line for the second All-Star Game nod of his career.

But all isn’t well with Showalter’s Orioles in 2016 as their starting pitching leaves something to be desired. The Orioles pitching staff this year has an earned run average of 4.23 and quality starts (27) are each is 10th in the American League. Outside of starting pitcher Chris Tillman who is 9-1, Baltimore starting pitchers have a combined record of 13-21 with the worst of the bunch being Ubaldo Jimenez who checks in with a record of 3-7 and his earned run average of 7.34. Jimenez has only lasted past the sixth inning twice this year, and he was roughed up last night against the Blue Jays as he surrendered 5 runs in 2.1 innings which brought out the boo birds at Camden Yards.

Zach Britton

The O’s do have a solid bullpen which is led by relief pitcher Zach Britton who has 21 saves which is tops in the American League, but for this team to go where they ultimately want to go which is to the World Series, they are going to need to get at least one more starting pitcher via the trade market.

After dealing with several quality teams over the last month such as the Red Sox, Mariners, Blue Jays, Royals, and Cleveland Indians, the O’s are set to have a bit of a lull where they can potentially tack on some wins. After a makeup game with the Texas Rangers this Monday who are currently the top team in the American League West, the Orioles will host the San Diego Padres for a pair of games before beginning a four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays next weekend. But it goes right back to the difficult side of the ledger for the Orioles as just before the All-Star break, they will have a seven-game West Coast trip which will see them meet the Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers. And whereas this doesn’t sound easy, it is  just right for the Orioles as a Showalter led team wouldn’t like it any other way than to be battle tested for the stretch run of the regular season which could once again propel them to the postseason.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Pay Me

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Von Miller

It’s that time of year where teams in the National Football League are attempting to work out long-term deals with players that they previously slapped the franchise tag on as they didn’t want those players to hit free agency. And the franchise tag player that has the most intrigue around him this off-season is Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller. The Broncos made Miller the second overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft and he has been a menace since his first day in Denver. In 2011, Miller accumulated 11.5 sacks to be named as the NFL’s Rookie of the Year as he helped the Broncos win the AFC West for the first time in six years. In 2012, Miller set a Broncos single-season sack record with 18.5 as he helped Denver finish with the best record in the AFC. Miller suffered a torn ACL during the 2013 NFL season and he missed the Broncos run to an appearance in Super Bowl 48, but he would return in 2014 to tally 14 sacks.

After the Broncos were upset by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2014-2015 AFC Divisional Playoffs, there were wholesale changes made when the team’s executive vice president of football operations John Elway fired John Fox as the team’s head coach. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio had already agreed to become the head coach of the Oakland Raiders which left a void there as well. Elway would hire his friend and former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak to be the Broncos new head coach, while Wade Phillips would be hired as the team’s new defensive coordinator.

Last season would see Phillips oversee a Broncos defense that joined the 1975 Minnesota Vikings and 1991 Philadelphia Eagles as the only teams in National Football League history to be the top-ranked defense while also being first in yards allowed via the pass and run. Miller was the centerpiece of this stingy defense as he had 11 sacks. And unlike the Vikings and Eagles, the Broncos were able to advance to the Super Bowl and win it.

Miller had a game for the ages in Super Bowl 50 and he set the tone in the first quarter when he recorded a sack and forced a fumble on Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton that was recovered in the end zone by Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson for the game’s first touchdown. The Broncos never trailed in the game, while Miller was front and center for a defense that pressured, bullied, and harassed the National Football League’s MVP in Newton for 60 minutes. Miller would finish the game with 2.5 sacks and it was only fitting that he would be named as Super Bowl MVP.

Miller was Elway’s first draft pick with the Broncos, and he is already fifth on the franchise’s all-time sack list with 60. Miller helped to bring the Broncos defense close to the level that fans remember from the famed “Orange Crush” unit during the late 1970′s which catapulted Denver to their first Super Bowl appearance to culminate the 1977 National Football League season. Miller is a pass rusher in the mode of great edge rushers such as Lawrence Taylor and Julius Peppers that can interrupt the game plan of an opposing offense, while also setting his teammates up to make plays due to the constant double and triple-teams that he faces; so why haven’t he and the Broncos worked out a long-term deal?

John Elway

Elway has a history of keeping a hard line stance in contract negotiations with his players which is evident by all of the defections this off-season from Denver. I can understand allowing players such as Jackson who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and quarterback Brock Osweiler who came to an agreement with the Texans to leave Denver as they were bit players, but Miller is a superstar and you need stars to win in the National Football League regardless of what some people may think.

This off-season has seen the Broncos offer Miller a six-year deal that is worth $114 million with nearly $39 million in guaranteed money. But Miller has seen the money that defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh got from the Miami Dolphins last year and that defensive tackle Fletcher Cox recently received from the Philadelphia Eagles. Neither Suh or Cox has helped their respective team make the second round of the playoffs more less win a Super Bowl, but they are cashing in more than Miller would if he had agreed to the Broncos offer as each player is more than $50 million in guaranteed money. If Miller had agreed to that deal, he would have also been taking less guaranteed money than Jackson who received $42 million in guaranteed money from the Jaguars, and his success was built off of the work of Miller.

The Broncos and Miller have until July 15 to work out a new contract, but he has already let it be known that he doesn’t intend to play in 2016 unless he receives the new deal that he is seeking. Miller’s absence would be a huge blow to a Broncos defense that has already lost starters in Jackson to the Jaguars and linebacker Danny Trevathan to the Chicago Bears, while cornerback Aqib Talib is recovering from a gunshot wound that he recently suffered at a Dallas nightclub. And more than ever Miller’s presence is needed; especially since the Broncos will have a new starting quarterback this season; whether it is Mark Sanchez, or the team’s first-round pick in Paxton Lynch which means that Denver will once again rely on their defense to win games.

Stubbornness is what has gotten the Broncos into this bind, and at some point humility is what Elway is going to have to rely on as players such as Miller cannot be replaced that quickly or easily. I’m sure that between now and the start of the new season that we’ll see Miller and the Broncos reach a new deal. But after Miller has meant so much to the Broncos which includes assisting to add another Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl Champions to the mantle in Denver, it should not have had to come to this. However this is the underbelly of the business that is the National Football League as most teams are always looking to cut corners in contract negotiations in spite of how important that an individual player might be.

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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Time To Take The Next Step

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With organized team activities underway around the National Football League, there are several teams that will be under the microscope. One of those teams will be the Jacksonville Jaguars. 2007 was the last time that the Jaguars finished with a winning record, and it was also the last time that they made the postseason. Since then it has been a steady decline for the Jaguars with them posting a record of 14-50 over the last four years. The struggles of Jacksonville has seen them pick very early on in the NFL Draft. But what has hurt the Jags more than anything have been their misses with those selections such as wide receiver Justin Blackmon and quarterback Blaine Gabbert as neither player is still with the team. In spite of going 12-36 in three years as the head coach of the Jaguars, Gus Bradley has been given a fourth year by team owner Shahid Khan to get things turned around. And as the AFC South could be the worst division in football for the second consecutive year, the time is now for the Jaguars to take that next step and contend for a postseason spot.

Gus Bradley

One reason why Bradley was able to get another year to turn things around is that he is building a team in the mode of his former employer. Prior to becoming the Jaguars head coach, Bradley was the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks. And in recent years the Seahawks have developed the blueprint as far as having depth on a roster which Bradley is now attempting to do in Jacksonville.

 

After being the third overall pick of the 2014 National Football League Draft, quarterback Blake Bortles has begun to provide some stability for a team that needs it. Prior to drafting Bortles, the Jags had seven different starting quarterbacks in the previous six years. In two years in Jacksonville, Bortles has made 29 starts, while he set a single-season franchise record for passing yards last season with 4,428 yards. Bradley and the Jags took some heat for taking Bortles that early in the draft, but he is continuing to develop and they are hopeful that he is their franchise guy. And as the the Jaguars want Bortles to be “the guy”, they are putting the play makers around him.

In 2013, Bradley made offensive tackle Luke Joeckel the first player that he selected as Jaguars head coach. And after only appearing in five games as a rookie, Joeckel has made 30 starts for the Jags over the last two years as the team sees him as the anchor of their offensive line for some time.

Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns

Aside from the offensive line, the Jags are also giving Bortles quality wide receivers to get the football to. Last year saw wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson become the first Jaguars duo to each gain 1,000 yards receiving in the same season since 2001 as the duo combined for 2,431 yards. This off-season saw the Jaguars give Hurns an extension that will be worth $40 million over the next four years and he is developing into a go-to-guy for Bortles.

The last two years has seen the Jags spend early picks in the National Football League Draft on potential impact players on defense; however they have yet to get any bang for their buck. Last year the Jaguars used the third overall pick of the draft on defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. But in Fowler’s first practice with the Jags, he suffered a torn ACL which forced him to miss the entire 2015 NFL season. Fowler has been rehabbing and he is back on the field as Jacksonville is hopeful that he can be an impact player for them in their front seven. This past April, the Jaguars used the fifth overall pick on cornerback Jalen Ramsey. And unfortunately for the Jags, Ramsey has been sidelined so far after undergoing knee surgery. The Jaguars second-round selection was used on linebacker Myles Jack who himself missed the majority of his final collegiate season at UCLA after undergoing knee surgery. But like Fowler and Ramsey, the Jaguars are optimistic that Jack will be healthy and ready to go when the season starts.

However the biggest issue that Bradley faces is getting his young Jaguars to take the field each Sunday expecting to win. 2013 saw Jacksonville lose their first eight games, while they began 2014 with a record of 1-10. Through 13 games last year the Jaguars had a record of 5-8 as they were still alive in the AFC South. But unfortunately for Jacksonville, they would lose their final three games of the season.

So now the biggest hurdle that the Jaguars face is winning in the National Football League as they have proven that they can compete, but they need to that next step which includes extending drives on offense, getting turnovers on defense to give the football to the offense which needs to take advantage by putting points on the board, and learning how to play with a lead. Too often over the past few years we’ve seen the Jaguars fall behind early by multiple scores which can completely change the game plan of a head coach and an offensive coordinator. But there is no time like the present and it is time for the young Jags to take off the training wheels which starts with Bortles who must continue to improve his pocket presence as he has been sacked 106 times in two seasons.

Shahid Khan

Since becoming the Jaguars owner in 2011, Shahid Khan has dedicated himself to the Jags and the City of Jacksonville. And a part of that dedication has been patience with his football team. Khan knew that fixing the Jaguars wouldn’t be an easy process which is why he has stayed with Bradley as the team’s head coach. Typically when a National Football League franchise is constantly making changes at the head coach position, their win-loss column isn’t that impressive. The Jaguars are young, and just like a collegiate head football coach that needs time to develop his recruits, the same can be said in the NFL.

Although that the start of the 2016 National Football is still nearly three months away, there isn’t a clear cut favorite to win the AFC South. The Indianapolis Colts need to make sure that their starting quarterback Andrew Luck is healthy, while the Houston Texans still have questions at quarterback even after signing Brock Osweiler this off-season. And as the Jaguars have recently been one of the worst teams in the National Football League, they’ve had competion from within their division in the form of the Tennessee Titans who are also bottom feeders that are looking to turn things around.

The groundwork is in place for the Jaguars; now it is just a matter of them seizing the opportunity that is in front of them.

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

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