Caldwell’s Revival In Detroit

Jim Caldwell

The Detroit Lions lost their final four games in 2013 to finish with a record of 7-9 which led to the dismissal of their head coach Jim Schwartz. Schwartz would be replaced as the Lions head coach by Jim Caldwell. In three seasons as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Caldwell’s record was 26-22. In his first season with the Colts, Caldwell guided the team to a Super Bowl appearance, but he bottomed out in 2011 when Indy went 2-14 without quarterback Peyton Manning who missed the entire year. Caldwell landed on his feet in 2012 when he was hired to be the quarterbacks coach of the Baltimore Ravens. Late in the 2012 National Football League season, the Ravens fired Cam Cameron as their offensive coordinator and promoted Caldwell. The move paid off for the Ravens as they would win their second Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. Caldwell wasn’t hired by the Lions to be an innovator, but he was brought to Detroit to instill some discipline.

Under Schwartz, the Lions were one of the most talented teams in the NFL, but they were also one of the most undisciplined teams on and off the football field. The past few seasons have seen the Lions become one of the most penalized teams in the NFL while some players on the team were finding themselves on the wrong side of the law too often. Prior to becoming the head coach of the Colts, Caldwell was an assistant coach under former NFL head coach Tony Dungy. Caldwell brings that same firm, but calm demeanor like Dungy and so far it is working for him with the Lions as he has brought character and perseverance to this team.

In Week 3, the Lions made their presence known as they knocked off the Green Bay Packers 19-7 and in the process they limited the potent Green Bay offense to just 223 yards. In consecutive weeks versus the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons, the Lions were trailing in the second half, but they were able to find a way to win on both occasions. In Week 7 against the Saints, the Lions scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes of regulation to win 24-23. The following week versus the Falcons, the Lions rallied from a 21-0 halftime deficit to win 22-21. After losing consecutive road games versus the Arizona Cardinals and the New England Patriots respectively, the Lions were 7-4 and most people in the Motor City were waiting for another implosion from their team. But the Lions have gone out and taken care of their business in the past three games to beat the Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Minnesota Vikings to boost their record this season to 10-4. With two games left in the regular season not only do the Lions appear to be a lock for the postseason, but they have a shot at their first division title since 1993 when they played in the NFC Central.

The Lions were without a healthy Calvin Johnson at wide receiver for the majority of the first half of the season as he was battling a knee injury. Thus the Lions turned to wide receiver Golden Tate to pick up the slack and he has done that. Tate has 91 receptions so far this season and he can become the first Lions wide receiver not named Calvin Johnson to have 100 receptions in a season since Herman Moore in 1997. Tate was signed by the Lions last off-season after helping the Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl last season and he has also brought a toughness and swagger with him from the Pacific Northwest as well. Tate’s 1,224 receiving yards this season are also seventh best in the National Football League.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is only 26-years of age and he has 5,000-yard passing season under his belt, but Caldwell has gotten the gunslinger to be a better team player in 2014. Stafford was coming off of a season where he threw 19 interceptions and he only had a completion percentage of 58.5. But so far this season Stafford’s completion percentage is 61.5 and he has only thrown 10 picks while being error free in the Lions last three games. In the past Stafford has focused solely on Johnson in the passing game. But with Johnson limited earlier this season it made Stafford look for other receivers like Tate more which will only help the overall effectiveness of the Lions offense.

But the Lions butter is being breaded on the defensive side of the football. Led by menacing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the Lions have the second best defense going in football. This season only four Lions opponents have scored more than 20 points as their defense in Detroit is reminding people of the days when Alex Karras, Dick Labeau, and Lem Barney made life tough for visitors that would venture to Tiger Stadium.

For the Lions and Caldwell it is simple. A road victory this Sunday over the Chicago Bears followed by another road victory the following Sunday versus the Packers will make the Lions the champs of the NFC North. A victory this Sunday by the Lions coupled with a loss by the Philadelphia Eagles will send Detroit to the postseason. The Lions defense will keep them in games and if their offense that is led by Stafford and Johnson can score consistently, Detroit could be finally ready to remove themselves from the shadows of the infamous “curse of Bobby Layne” and win their first NFL Championship since 1957. Not bad for a team in the Lions that have been labeled as underachievers and a head coach in Caldwell that has resurrected himself following his last forgettable season with the Colts. But that is how the pigskin bounces in the National Football League.


2014 Week 15 NFL Picks

A victory by the New England Patriots will give them yet another AFC East Title.

Losing Is Taking A Toll On Kobe Bryant years the Los Angeles Lakers have been one of the top organizations in all of professional sports as they have won 16 NBA Championships. In 1996, an NBA Draft night trade saw the Lakers acquire the rights to shooting guard Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets. During his time with the Lakers, Bryant has gone on to win five NBA Championships and not only becoming one of the greatest players in franchise history, but also one the greatest players in league history. But at 36-years of age Bryant is faced with something that he is unaccustomed to which is losing.

The Lakers are currently 7-16 this season and with victories few and far between, the purple and gold are staring at consecutive losing years for the first time since the late 1950′s when they still called Minneapolis home. Bryant’s frustration erupted this week at Lakers practice when he ripped his teammates in a profanity laced tirade. During his tantrum Bryant also referred to his Laker teammates as “soft”. Bryant is not the first superstar in any sport to chastise his teammates and he won’t be the last. But in the new NBA, what we’re seeing is the current reality for the Lakers.

When the new collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners went into effect in 2011, it was primarily setup to put the kibosh on long-term dynasties. And unless superstar players like Bryant were willing to take less money in the effort for their respective team to land other top-level talent, the chances of them winning would become tougher. This season Bryant is earning $23.5 million of the estimated $70 million in payroll that the Lakers are shelling out. The Lakers financial status is evident in their team’s play this season as Bryant is leading the team in scoring at 25.5 points per game while the second closest player on the team in small forward Nick Young at 14.6 per contest. his NBA career Bryant has been ultra-competitive while focusing on winning a title every season, but he always has not been the best teammate or the easiest person to get along with. Bryant consistently clashed with former Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal which led to several physical altercations between them. Bryant is all basketball, all the time while O’Neal was about his business, but not to the level of Bryant’s liking. In his prime O’Neal was arguably the most dominant center that the NBA has ever bared witnessed to and Bryant wasn’t willing to play second banana to him. The Lakers would eventually trade O’Neal to the Miami Heat in 2004. Jerry West had spent over 40 years affiliated with the Lakers as a player, coach, and then as a general manager. But in 2002, West had grown tired of the in fighting between Bryant and O’Neal as he would leave the Lakers to become the general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies. In his book that was released in 2004 entitled “The Last Season”, former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson was critical of Bryant as he deemed the phenom very difficult to get along with. Jackson would leave the Lakers in 2004 before being lured back to the team in 2005. In 2005, new Lakers reserve guard Smush Parker went to introduce himself to Bryant in the team’s locker room and he was rebuffed as if he were a parking attendant at the Staples Center. In spite of winning two NBA Championships with power forward Pau Gasol, Bryant never got along with him and Gasol is currently in the midst of a revival with the Chicago Bulls. In 2012, the Lakers acquired center Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic with an eye towards locking him up to a long-term deal. But Bryant and Howard clashed that entire season before Howard left Los Angeles in 2013 as a free agent to sign with the Houston Rockets.

Jeanie Buss

Bryant has never gotten along with star big men on the Lakers as they all were ready to leave town on the first thing smoking. For all intense purposes O’Neal and Gasol should have retired with the Lakers, but team chemistry is more important than what players are able to do on the court and Bryant could be categorized as a mad scientist. Bryant and Laker owners Jeannie and Jim Buss may not want to recognize it, but their aging superstar has alienated himself from the rest of the top talent in the NBA. Jeanie Buss can refer to players unwilling to play with Bryant as “losers” all that she wants to, but she needs to face reality which is that she won’t sign another All-Star caliber player in Los Angeles until Bryant retires. Bryant is a five-time NBA Champion, but it isn’t like he did it by himself. Bryant and O’Neal won three NBA Titles together and in those three seasons O’Neal never averaged less than 27 points per game as he was in the prime of his career. After losing to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals, the Lakers wouldn’t return there until 2008 when they acquired Gasol from the Grizzlies. In spite of what people may think, the game of basketball is still an inside-out game which is illustrated by the fact that there have been very few teams that have claimed an NBA Championship without having a dominant post player.

During the 1980′s when the Lakers won five NBA Championships, they were led by center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and point guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson never let their egos affect the team in a negative way as Abdul-Jabbar was the elder statesman of the team and everyone fell in line behind him. Jackson has coached two of the greatest shooting guards in NBA history in Bryant and Michael Jordan. Like Bryant, Jordan was not always the best teammate. Before Jackson became the head coach of the Bulls, Jordan alienated his teammates in Chicago which was highlighted by his third season in the NBA when he led the league in scoring at 37.1 per game. Jordan was scoring at will and he became a household name, but he wasn’t winning. Jackson became the Bulls head coach in 1989 and he made Jordan trust his teammates. Due to Jackson’s touch, by 1991, the Bulls were NBA Champions. Jordan bought in to Jackson’s system and he would go on to win six NBA Championships. Jordan would still push the envelope with his teammates, but never to the point where players were ready to leave Chicago in the fashion that players flee from the Lakers and Bryant. Bryant must accept the reality of the present day Lakers as he must rely on players such as center Jordan Hill, point guard Jeremy Lin, and small forward Wesley Johnson. These players may never be NBA All-Stars, but Bryant must find a way to build them up instead of putting them down. Some may call it tough love from Bryant, but these players have been beaten up enough and they need a teacher and a leader: two things that Bryant isn’t good at. Bryant should take a look at the adjustments that San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan has made throughout his NBA career. Duncan was the focal point of the Spurs offense, but in the mid-2000′s he would take a backseat to point guard Tony Parker. Duncan bought in to what Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was selling and the results is that he is a five-time NBA Champion with the potential for more rings. Bryant will more than likely finish his NBA career with five titles, but it could have been alot better if he had simply been a better team player and he may have gained the moniker that he has always wanted which is to be the best to ever play in the NBA.


Money Cannot Buy A Title

Mikhail Prokhorov

Former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase lived and died by his famous catchphrase that “everyone has a price” as he felt that he could buy whatever he wanted including the WWE Championship. For Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhrov the same can be said for him. Prokhrov purchased the Nets in 2010 and he immediately vowed to build a winner. At the time of Prokhrov’s purchase of the Nets, the team still called the State of New Jersey home with an eye on relocating to Brooklyn in 2012. Prokhrov immediately began a turf war with the New York Knicks as far as who would be the Big Apple’s basketball team. Prokhrov put up a billboard near Madison Square Garden in Manhattan while Knicks owner James Dolan would counter with one near the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn. Prokhrov was showing that he wasn’t going to stay away from controversy and that he was also eager to spend money.

After missing out on the floor LeBron James sweepstakes in 2010, the Nets sought to acquire small forward Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets in 2011. But Anthony chose the Knicks over the Nets. Undaunted by this, the Nets were determined to put the name of an All-Star caliber player on the marquee and they would acquire point guard Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz. The Nets wanted to build their team around Williams and in the summer of 2012 they re-signed him to a five-year, $98 million deal. The Nets were not done wheeling and dealing as they would acquire shooting guard Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks. Johnson would join Williams and center Brook Lopez to give Prokhrov what he believed would be his championship core with the Nets.

Deron Williams

But in the Nets first season in Brooklyn, Williams began to show his true colors. After the Nets paid Williams, all of a sudden he wasn’t a fan of the system the head coach Avery Johnson was running in spite of the fact that this style of play had been in place ever since he joined the team. And after a 14-14 start to the season, Johnson was fired. The Nets would win 49 games that season but they would be eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

Billy King

In the summer of 2013, Nets general manager Billy King would be “Trader Joe” once more as he acquired power forward Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and shooting guard Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics. The Nets were also in search of a new head coach and they turned to former NBA point guard Jason Kidd who as a player led the team to their only two appearances in the NBA Finals. The Nets would advance to the second round of the playoffs last season, but they did it with an aging team.

The Nets would lose Pierce to free agency as he signed with the Washington Wizards while Kidd surprised many people when he left Brooklyn to become the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. Kidd was replaced by former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins and the Nets have stumbled out of the gate this season with a record of 8-12. Now reports are surfacing that the Nets are shopping Williams, Lopez, and Johnson.

Since the Nets came to Brooklyn they have become one of the biggest spenders in the NBA. Last season the Nets payroll of $102 million meant that Prokhrov had to fork over nearly $80 in luxury tax to the league. That is an enormous number for a team that didn’t win a championship. This season the Nets have a payroll of $93 million and once again Prokhrov will be forking over luxury tax money to the NBA.

You must give credit where it is due as Prokhrov is willing to spend money as he gave maximum deals to Lopez and Williams while taking on the large contracts of players such as Johnson, Pierce, and Garnett. But when teams sign players to maxiumum deals regardless if they are big market teams or not, they must first determine whether or not the player is truly worth the deal as contracts such as these can put a bind on a team in the future. Lopez, and Williams were paid like superstars, but neither player is that. Since joining the Nets, Williams’ points per game have increased, but his assists totals have decreased along with his ability to remain healthy. The Nets selected Lopez tenth overall in the first round of the NBA Draft in 2008 and like Williams, he has been unable to stay healthy.

What the Nets must do now is what they should have done in the first place which is to show patience and attempt to build a team through the NBA Draft instead of opting for the quick fix. After selecting Lopez in 2008, former Nets general manager Rod Thorn missed an opportunity to select any one of a quartet of point guards that were available during the 2009 NBA Draft in Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, or Darren Collison. Instead Thorn and the Nets opted for swingman Terrence Williams who is no longer in the NBA while Holiday, Lawson, Teague, and Collison are all currently on NBA rosters. In 2010, the Nets had the third overall pick of the NBA Draft which they used on power forward Derrick Favors while passing on power forward DeMarcus Cousins along with small forward Gordon Hayward and Paul George. Favors would go on to be part of the trade that brought Williams to the Nets. In 2012, the Nets would acquire small forward Gerald Wallace from the Portland Trailblazers in exchange for their first-round pick that year. The pick would be the sixth overall pick of that draft which the Blazers would use on point guard Damian Lillard who would be the NBA’s Rookie of the Year the following season. Sandwiched in between these misses at the NBA Draft by the Nets, there was also the signing of swing man Anthony Morrow in 2010 by the team to a five-year, $35 million deal. And in his two seasons with the Nets, Morrow only averaged 12.6 points per game.

The Nets wanted to be a breath of fresh air to basketball fans in New York City that had grown tired of the Knicks act. But instead the Nets have fallen into the same “get rich quick scheme” that has befelled the Knicks for many seasons. Prokhrov has stayed out of King’s way and just let him spend his money. Prokhrov felt that spending money alone would lead to a championship, but what he failed to realize is that team chemistry is tough to build and once you spend the almighty dollar, the expecatation level for your team increases and unless you’re making a move to acquire a player the caliber of James (ala the Miami Heat in 2010), it doesn’t work. It won’t be easy for King, but the if the Nets are able to trade at least one of the bad contracts belonging to Williams, Lopez, and Johnson it would be a shot in the arm for them. It is always better to pay peanuts for a losing team as opposed to breaking the bank for a team that is nowhere near ready to claim a championship.


Dysfunction Has Hamstrung The Niners

Eddie DeBartolo

The golden era of the San Francisco 49ers occurred from 1981-1994 as the team was able to capture five Super Bowl Championships over that span. During that time, then 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo referred to his team as “Camelot”, but all wasn’t  peaceful in San Francisco as he had a fractured relationship with former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh. The constant pressure of DeBartolo forced Walsh to retire following the 1988 National Football League season in spite of him leading the Niners to the Super Bowl Title that season. With the present day 49ers, Jim Harbaugh took over as the head coach in San Francisco in 2011 and in each season there he has led the team to an appearance in the NFC Championship Game. Life should be good for Harbaugh and the Niners, but that is far from the case.

After last season rumors began to swirl that there were problems between Harbuagh and 49ers general manager Trent Baalke. The rumors gained traction when the 49ers were on the verge of trading Harbaugh to the Cleveland Browns last off-season. Cooler heads appeared to somewhat prevail and Harbaugh remained with the 49ers. But Harbaugh is currently in the last year of his contract with the Niners and generally teams try to avoid having a “lame duck” head coach. Harbaugh isn’t the easiest person to get along with as he and Baalke are not on the same page and their rift is having a ripple effect on the field in San Francisco. with opening up Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the 49ers entered this season once again expected to contend for the Super Bowl. Things didn’t get started on the right foot for the 49ers as after eight games they were 4-4. The Niners would win their next three games which set up a crucial Thanksgiving Night showdown at home versus the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks. The Niners were dominated by the Seahawks 19-3 in that game, but they were expected to get back on track this past Sunday as they were taking on the 1-11 Oakland Raiders. But after taking a 7-3 lead in the first quarter, the 49ers were dominated by the Raiders in every facet of the game as they lost 24-13. Now the Niners are 7-6 and with three games left in the regular season things are not looking good in San Francisco.

Due to the horrible records of the teams in the NFC South this season, it has put a stronger emphasis on teams from the other three divisions in the NFC to win their respective divisions in order to gain entry into the postseason. But with three games to go, the 49ers are two games behind the Seahawks and three behind the Arizona Cardinals who are currently the top dog in the NFC West. San Francisco has already lost once to both the Cards and Seahawks this season while they still have one game with each team.

The Niners struggles this season go back to last year’s NFC Championship Game. In the loss to the Seahawks, the 49ers lost inside linebacker Navarro Bowman to a knee injury that has kept him out of action so far this season. Bowman’s counterpart at inside linebacker in Patrick Willis was placed on season-ending injured-reserve in after Week 6 with a toe injury. Niners outside linebacker Aldon Smith was suspended by the NFL for the first nine games this season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Niners defensive end Ray McDonald was being investigating for his part in a domestic violence issue until he was cleared of any wrongdoing last month. Then there is the case of Niners starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Colin Kaepernick

Kaepernick was drafted in the second round of the 2011 National Football League Draft by Harbaugh and Baalke to be the quarterback of the future for the 49ers. Midway through the 2012 NFL season, Kaepernick took over for an injured Alex Smith at quarterback and guided the Niners to a Super Bowl appearance. Kaepernick had the Niners on the verge of another Super Bowl berth last season until the big hand of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said otherwise. This season Kaepernicks has passed for 2,910 to go along with 16 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, a 60.6 completion percentage, and a quarterback rating of 85.1 as he has struggled at times. In his last three games Kaepernick has thrown two touchdown passes to five interceptions.

Kaepernick is an athlete at the quarterback position that possesses many good talents. But what Kaepernick is not is a pure pocket passer. Kaepernick is at his best when he makes things happen with his legs. However when Kaepernick is asked to remain in the pocket he is simply not the same player. In last season’s NFC Championship Game, Kaepernick made plays happen with his legs in the first half and thus the Niners had a 10-3 lead at halftime. But in the second half the Seahawks were able to contain Kaepernick inside of the pocket and he wasn’t the same player as he threw multiple interceptions. That recipe has been carried over to this season in order to stop Kaepernick and the Niners must decide if they are going to make their quarterback a pure pocket passer or will they simply allow him to be an athlete. It isn’t helping Kaepernick’s development as a quarterback that the storm clouds are hanging over the head of his head coach in Harbaugh and you have to wonder that if a new regime comes in to San Francisco next season whether or not that Kaepernick will still be the starting quarterback there?

This past June, the 49ers did sign Kaepernick to a six-year extension that has the potential to be worth $126 million, but only $13 million of it is guaranteed so San Francisco has plenty of wiggle room if they would be interesting in a new signal caller in 2015.

This season the 49ers offense simply lacks explosion as they are 24th in total offense and 27th in passing offense. Niners wide receiver Anquan Boldin is as physical as they come at the position, but he is a possession receiver as San Francisco simply lacks a home-run hitter that can stretch opposing defenses.

In spite of the deficiencies on offense, the 49ers have the third ranked defense in the NFL which is keeping them in contests, but for the first time since 2010, the 49ers could be left out in the cold come January as they are fighting an uphill battle in the final three weeks of the regular season.

All signs point to a divorce between Harbaugh and the 49ers as he is not on the same page with Baalke. If the Niners front office was truly interested in re-signing Harbaugh and if he wanted to be there, a deal would have been hammered out a long time ago. At this point Dr. Phil would be unable to help Harbaugh and Baalke while MTV’s “Celebrity Deathmatch” is a thing of the past so this fractured relationship cannot be healed.



The Tale Of Two NBA Franchises

A year ago the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers were being accused of “tanking” by many people in order to improve their chances of getting a higher pick at last spring’s NBA Draft. The Bucks would go on to record a 15-67 record while the Sixers were right behind them as they finished with a record of 19-63. But since then both the Bucks and Sixers have gone in opposite directions. The Bucks are arguably the most improved team in the NBA this season while some basketball pundits are pondering as to whether or not that the Sixers would be able to defeat the current University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team.*412/b99251170z.1_20140419203156_000_gj25r3a5.1-1.jpg

Wesley Edens, Marc Lasry

After last season wholesale changes were made within the Bucks organization. Longtime Bucks owner Herb Kohl sold the franchise to Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry for $550 million. The Bucks had the second overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft which the team would use on small forward Jabari Parker. And less than a week after selecting Parker, the Bucks acquired head coach Jason Kidd from the Brooklyn Nets. In his rookie season, Parker is second on the Bucks in scoring at 12.4 per game while Milwaukee is 11-11 this season and they could be on the verge of eclipsing their win total for all of last season by the end of this month.

The Sixers on the other hand have found a way to actually become worse this season than their 2013-2014 campaign. The 76ers lost their first 17 games this season before they were able to secure a victory last Wednesday over the Minnesota TImberwolves. The 76ers record is currently 2-18 and they could flirt with becoming the first NBA team since the 1972-1973 Sixers to fail to win 10 games in a full 82-game regular season.

Right now the difference between the Bucks and Sixers is night and day as one team has a plan of improvement while the other doesn’t and it is very clear as far as which team is on the track for success.*462/AP_Pacers_Nets_Basketball.jpg

Jason Kidd

Generally when a new ownership group takes over a losing sports franchise they look to change the culture which is exactly what Lasry and Edens are doing with the Bucks. Kidd won an NBA Championship in 2011 as a player with the Dallas Mavericks and in his one season as the head coach of the Nets, he led the club to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2007 which was also the last full season that he played for the team. From his first day on the job with the Bucks, Kidd has been executing his game plan which is to make his team competitive and for them to also expect to win on a nightly basis. The Bucks have been beating up on the also-rans in the NBA so far this season with only one victory over a team that currently has a winning record when they defeated the Memphis Grizzlies back in early November. But the Bucks appear to have the centerpiece of their franchise in Parker who has the potential to become a very versatile small forward with his ability to handle the basketball and rebound as it will just be a matter of time before he is able to put it altogether.

The Sixers on the other hand have seen their plans for success blow up right in their faces. The 76ers made the NBA Playoffs in 2012, and they appeared to be building something. But after the season the 76ers traded longtime swingman Andre Iguodala as part of a four-team trade and in return they received center Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers. Unfortunately a knee injury never allowed Bynum to suit up for the Sixers and he is currently not even in the NBA. In 2013, Sam Hinkie was named as the general manager of the 76ers as he became the third man to hold that position in Philly since Josh Harris purchased the team in 2011. And under Hinkie, 76ers have made a ton of questionable personnel moves.

Sam Hinkie

In 2013, Hinkie traded point guard Jrue Holiday who was coming off of an All-Star season to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for the draft rights to center Nerlens Noel. Noel would miss all of the 2013-2014 NBA season after he suffered a torn ACL in his one year of playing college ball at Kentucky. This season Noel has participated in 17 games and he has averaged 8.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest. The 76ers had the third overall pick in last spring’s NBA Draft which they used on Kansas center Joel Embiid who is expected to miss the entire season as he is recovering from back and foot injuries. Hinkie hired former San Antonip Spurs assistant coach Brett Brown to be the head coach of the 76ers and under him Philadelphia is 21-81.

Hinkie has bet on a pair of big men in Noel and Embiid that cannot stay healthy which is not good for business as you can’t afford to consistently miss on lottery picks in the NBA Draft. However Hinkie did get it right in selecting point guard Michael Carter-Williams in the 2013 NBA Draft. Carter-Williams is the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year as he averaged 16.7 points, 6.3 assists, and 6.2 rebounds last season. Carter-Williams has improved off of those numbers as he is currently averaging 16.3 points, 7.4 assists, and 7.1 rebounds this season which was highlighted by a triple-double on November 29 against the Mavs. Carter-Williams’ numbers could actually be better if he had a better team around him as he cannot do it all by himself.

The Sixers currently only have two players on their team that are more than 25-years of age in shooting guard Jason Richardson and power forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute who are both non-factors on this club as this team needs veteran leadership on the floor. The Bucks on the other hand have balance of up and down their lineup as they are being led by point guard Brandon Knight who is averaging 17.6 points and a career-high 5.8 assists. Second-year shooting guard Giannis Antetokounmpo has improved off of his rookie campaign as he’s averaging 12 points per game along with connecting on nearly half of his field-goal attempts. Kidd will look to make Knight his protege at the point guard position and he is someone that can grow alongside Parker and Antetokounmpo.

Bradley Center

Unlike the 76ers, the Bucks play in one of the smaller media markets in the NBA which makes it extremely necessary for them to effectively hit on their draft picks paramount. The Bucks also are in the process of attempting to secure a new basketball arena in Milwaukee as the Bradley Center is outdated and a new facility could mean more potential revenue for them. The Sixers play in a big media market, but under Hinkie they have operated like a small-market team that is pinning their hopes on questionable lottery picks. Hinkie came to the 76ers with a background in basketball analytics, but the sports fans in Philadelphia are only interested in wins and losses along with basketball players that will put the ball in the hoop while preventing their opponent from doing so. The Sixers are the worst scoring team in the NBA as they are only scoring 92 points per game while they are minus-12 in points differential which is also the worst in the league.

The 76ers appear to be a few years away from becoming relevant while the Bucks are in the mix for a postseason spot right now in the weak Eastern Conference. At this point last season both the Bucks and 76ers were laughing stocks. But now it is the Bucks that are doing the laughing while the 76ers are still scratching their heads.


Tough Times For RG3

Robert Griffin III

In 2012, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was the life of the party. Griffin burst onto the scene by throwing 20 touchdowns passes to just five interceptions as he helped the Redskins win their first division title since 1999. Griffin’s exploits earned him the 2012 National Football League Rookie of the Year Award as the ‘Skins appeared poised to finally have themselves a franchise quarterback. But towards the end of the 2012 regular season, Griffin suffered a knee injury that should have kept him sidelined. Then Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan had Griffin play in Washington’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks and it was evident that his knee could not support him. Griffin would undergo off-season knee surgery with a eye on being healthy in 2013. Griffin was named as the Redskins starting quarterback for 2013 while missing the entire preseason. Griffin’s lack of effectiveness was on display as the Redskins were 3-10 with him as their starting quarterback last season which led to Shanahan being fired.

Jay Gruden

Former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was hired to be the Redskins new head coach this season with his focus being on working with Griffin. In the first game of the regular season, Griffin was 29-of-37 passing for 267 yards as the Redskins fell to the Houston Texans 17-6. In the second game of the season, Griffin suffered a fractured ankle that sidelined him for six weeks. Griffin returned to the Redskins starting lineup in Week 9, but Washington would go on to lose their next three games. Amid speculation Gruden has now benched Griffin in favor of Colt McCoy and by the looks of things the relationship between Griffin and Gruden has been broken. Gruden is in his first year as Redskins head coach and it will be interesting to see that in a region strong on political power whether or not that it will be Griffin or Gruden that will win out on the favorite ballot of Redskins owner Dan Snyder.

After the Redskins Week 11 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gruden wasn’t pleased with Griffin’s post game press conference as he felt that his young quarterback “should worry about himself” instead of his teammates, and because of that the coach’s patience appears to have all but evaporated.

In 2012, we saw RGIII the athlete captivate us. But now the ‘Skins need RGIII the quarterback if they are going to continue to employ him in D.C. Since Griffin’s rookie season, teams around the NFL have gained game film on how to defend him which is making life for him a bit tougher as he has yet to adjust. As a rookie if Griffin didn’t see his first passing option open, he would simply take off and make something happen with his legs. Under Shanahan, the Redskins also ran a good portion of the read-option offense which Griffin was comfortable with from his college days at Baylor. But to be a successful quarterback in the NFL, signal callers must have the ability to dissect defenses in order to find other throwing options which is something that Griffin is currently lacking. Griffin is playing tentative in the pocket as opposed to just letting things come natural which is the sign of a quarterback that is thinking too much instead of reacting.

Gruden took the Redskins head coaching job knowing that Griffin was going to be a project. But unlike Shanahan, Gruden isn’t attached at the hip with Griffin and he will look to use his get out of jail free card with him which falls at the feet of Snyder.

Dan Snyder

Since Snyder became the Redskins owner, the team has had more changes at the quarterback position than that of a bus schedule. Griffin was supposed to be the guy that changed all of that, but he appears to have fallen into the Bermuda Triangle there just like everyone else before him. Griffin’s relationship with Snyder has previously drawn the ire of some of his Redskins teammates as they feel that the quarterback has been coddled by the owner and treated differently. However if Gruden is able to convince Snyder along with Redskins general manager Bruce Allen that Griffin isn’t the answer in Washington, then the 24-year old quarterback could be bidding farewell to the Beltway. 2015 will be the last year on Griffin’s rookie contract and the Redskins will soon need to decide if they are ready to ship him out of FedEx Field. The only way that I could see the Redskins releasing Griffin is if they are unable to facilitate a trade. Griffin is a young quarterback with potential and I am sure that there will be a team in the National Football League willing to give him a shot if the Redskins are ready to move on from him.

Regardless of where Griffin plays next season he must learn to become a better student of the game while also being a better leader as in three years he hasn’t fully been able to win over the Redskins locker room. There is a reason why there are not that many people that can refer to themselves as a starting NFL quarterback as it is one of the toughest positions to master in all of sports. It also has not helped Griffin that the Redskins have been one of the most dysfunctional franchises in sports under Snyder’s watch as there has been a revolving door at head coach and general manager along with at quarterback. Athletes like Griffin don’t come around that often, but a fresh start with a new NFL team after the humongous slice of humble pie that Gruden is serving up for him right now could be just what he and his ego need in order to get back on track.