Will Isaiah Thomas have enough to lead the Boston Celtics past the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James?
It’s hard to overlook the talent of Washington Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin. Since Ovechkin was the first overall pick of the 2004 National Hockey League Draft, he has been the face of the Capitals franchise and one of the top players in the league. Ovechkin is one of the top goal scorers in NHL history as he has scored at least 50 goals in a season seven times which has led to him being an eight-time All-Star and a three-time league MVP. Ovechkin’s 558 career goals are 16th all-time in NHL history and when his playing career comes to an end he will undoubtedly be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But as good as Ovechkin’s resume has been, there is still one thing that eludes him.
For the second consecutive year the Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the National Hockey League. And for the second consecutive year the Caps were eliminated in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Overall the Capitals are 1-9 in the postseason versus the Penguins, while Ovechkin is 0-3. And what makes matter worse is that Ovechkin’s losses have come at the hands of Penguins center Sidney Crosby who has been his chief rival as far as being the best player in the NHL.
So now as Ovechkin who will be 32-years of age by the time that beginning of the 2017-2018 National Hockey League season rolls around, fairly or unfairly he is now being labeled as a tremendous scorer who is unable to lead his team to a championship. The Caps have never gotten past the second round with Ovechkin and you have to wonder if they ever will.
We’re in the midst of watching the Penguins dynasty in the Eastern Conference as their depth has been to much for Washington to overcome. And if trying to get past the Pens isn’t enough, the Caps also have to contend with the likes of the New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, and the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs just to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan has done a solid job of putting talent around Ovechkin which includes the likes of goalie Braden Holtby, center Nicklas Backstrom, and right winger T.J. Oshie, along with bringing in a veteran head coach in Barry Trotz. But Ovechkin still has to find a way to elevate his game when it matters the most. In the series loss to Pittsburgh, Ovechkin was limited to just a pair of goals, while he and his Capitals teammates were shutout completely in Game 7.
And as Ovechkin and his teammates continue to dominate in the regular season, but fall short in the playoffs, he’ll be labeled as the superstar who cannot get it done when it matters the most, while the Capitals will simply be “next year’s champs”.
LaVar Ball constantly finds himself in the news, but is it for the right or wrong reasons? Ball’s son Lonzo has the potential to be the first overall pick of the upcoming NBA Draft after he averaged 14.6 points and 7.6 assists during this past men’s college basketball season for the UCLA Bruins. However teams could shy away from drafting the young Ball due to his outspoken father.
The elder Ball has claimed that he could have beaten Basketball Hall of Famers Michael Jordan or Charles Barkley in a one-on-one basketball game when he was younger. Ball said this in spite of the fact that he was only able to average 2.2 points per game during his time collegiately with the Washington State Cougars. Ball also claims that his son Lonzo is already better than Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry who is a two-time NBA MVP, a one-time NBA Champion, and one of the best three-point shooters in league history. Ball has also gone on to claim that his sons don’t have the same pressure on them on the basketball court as those of Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James. James responded by letting Ball know to keep his family out of his mouth.
The outspoken Ball was seeking a $1 billion deal from a sneaker company for his Baller Brand, with shoe deals for Lonzo and his younger sons LiAngelo and LaMelo who are both still in high school. But when Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas all said no to the Ball Family, papa LaVar decided to create his own shoe.
Recently Baller Brand introduced the ZO2 which are retailing at $495. The design of the sneaker, along with the price have raised some eyebrows as the asking price of the sneakers is more than double what the price for James’ and Jordan’s sneakers each are. Ball wants to make his brand exclusive, but what if his son is unable to live up to the self-indulged hype?
Ball is one of the best players in this year’s draft, but his father has already put him under the microscope. Ball had a target on his back last season at UCLA as people were gunning for him. And when the Bruins were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet 16, Ball was limited to just 10 points and 8 assists, while Kentucky freshman guard De’Aaron Fox took him to school to the tune of 39 points as he made it look very easy. But what Ball got from Fox that night could only be the tip of the iceberg for him.
With Ball’s NBA career set to begin in a few months, point guards around the league are going to be gunning for him due to his outspoken father. Throughout Curry’s career he has been a cerebral assassin as he lets his play do the talking. But that is not the case for Curry’s teammate with the Warriors in power forward Draymond Green who is very outspoken and won’t shy away from talking smack to Ball.
The NBA is littered with quality point guards such as Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, and Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving as the young Ball will be given a lesson on a nightly basis.
LaVar Ball wanted to make a name for himself and his family, but he has prostituted himself in the process as we unfortunately live in a society that rewards ignorance if it is masked as creativity. Ball is attempting to do something different, but he is trying to step on a ton of toes in the process. Ball is attempting to change the NBA by seeking more money for his son than the standard rookie deal which has been agreed upon by the players and owners in the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Ball is also attempting to change the apparel game, but none of the big sneaker companies were willing to meet his demands as it’s tough to gauge how the career of his son is going to pan out. Lonzo Ball has solid passing skills, but how is his awkward shooting motion going to cut it in the NBA?
When Jordan made his NBA debut in 1984, the league and the apparel business were totally different. But Jordan’s ability on the basketball court, along with his partnership with Nike helped to make each of them global icons. When James came into the NBA straight out of high school in 2003, he was a phenom’s phenom as he was a man among boys in high school which included having his high-school games regularly televised on national TV. And when James turned pro, it was a no-brainer for Nike to offer him nearly $100 million as the rest is history.
Ball isn’t a phenom which means that he wouldn’t even get the standard sneaker deal for a young player. And as LaVar Ball is attempting to change the game, those who are already there have the potential to stack the deck against to the point that things could not only blow up in his face, but to anyone else who would of attempting to challenge the authority of the shoe giants and the NBA alike would be discouraged.
In this world the best way to get ahead is to be different. However the elder Ball would have been better served simply staying back in the cut and letting his son live his life as it appears that he is trying to live vicariously through him.
For Curry and his younger brother Seth who is a point guard for the Dallas Mavericks, they have a father of played in the NBA. Dell Curry was one of the better long range shooters of his era, and instead of him attempting to be outspoken about his boys, he only worked with them to make them better than he was. The same can be said about Joe “Jellybean” Bryant whose son Kobe went on to have one the best NBA careers of all-time and countless other dads who have seen their son follow in their footsteps to the league.
Ball opened his mouth about James and his sons. But even though that James’ sons LeBron James Jr., and Bryce are having success at their respective age levels in youth basketball, they don’t need to play the sport to be successful. According to Forbes.com, James’ net worth last year reached $275 million which can traced to the fact that he has always surrounded himself with smart business people. And because of that James now has the ability to teach his sons how to purchase an NBA franchise as opposed to needing to play for one, whereas the Ball Family needs the blood, sweat, and tears of the sport in order to be successful.
So as teams are evaluating the young Ball ahead of the NBA Draft, they must also assess whether or not having to deal with the elder Ball will be worth the risk. Ball has publicly criticized coaches of his sons in the past, and that won’t fly in the NBA if he is attempting to criticize his son’s head coach or front office personnel. It is either going to be feast or famine for the Ball Family in the NBA, and only time will tell what the outcome will be.
From 1996-2009, the New York Yankees were at the top of the mountain in Major League Baseball. The Yankees won five World Series Championships which was more than any other club over that stretch. And when it was all said and done, the Yankees had 27 World Series Titles which is more than any other MLB club. But since then the Yankees have a taken a step back which includes missing the playoffs in three of the last four years. However in the early stage of the 2017 MLB season, the Yanks are showing that they are once again a force to be reckoned with.
The Yankees record of 21-11 is good enough to lead most divisions in Major League Baseball, but not the American League East as they are 1.5-games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the top spot and they have the second best winning percentage in baseball. After beginning the season with a record of 1-4, New York has gone on to win seven of their last nine series which included sweeps of the Tampa Bay Rays, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs. The sweep of the Cubs put the rest of MLB on notice in regards to the Yankees as the Cubbies are the defending World Series Champions, and this occurred at their home ballpark of Wrigley Field. And although that it is only May, the folks in New York City are beginning to envision seeing this team make it to October.
At the request of Yankees owners Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, team general manager Brian Cashman has not been as active in free agency over the past few winters as New York has begun to focus on trading veteran players for prospects, while developing them in their system along with the ones whom they drafted.
We’ve begun to see these youngsters take flight for the Yankees and it began late last season with the emergence of catcher Gary Sanchez. Last year in just 53 games, Sanchez batted .299 with 20 home runs and 42 runs batted in to finish second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. This season injuries have limited Sanchez to just 11 games, but he is expected to once again be a force to be reckoned with. Outfielder Aaron Judge made his Major League Baseball debut last year as he was only able to bat .179 in 27 games. However this season Judge has also been the jury and execution for New York as his 13 home runs lead the American League and he is a solid candidate to be named A.L. MVP.
The Yankees also have a surplus of talent in their minor league system that could soon be ready to help the big club. Pitcher Ben Heller outfielder Clint Frazier were a part of the Yankees compensation that they received for sending relief pitcher Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians last year. And like Sanchez and Judge, Frazier and Heller have the potential to be future building blocks for the Yankees. But aside from the youngsters, the Yankees are getting solid contributions from the veterans in their lineup.
After the Yankees signed outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury from the rival Red Sox, they have not gotten their money’s worth. Ellsbury helped Boston win the World Series in 2013, and he cashed in when he joined the Yanks to the tune of $153 million over seven years immediately following that. Ellsbury was supposed to be a table setter for the Yankees, but his first three years in New York saw him have a batting average of only .265, with an on-base percentage of .328. And this was on the heels of Ellsbury swiping 52 bases in 2013 which led the American League.
However this season Ellsbury is batting .280 to go along with an on-base percentage of .368 which is his best while wearing Yankee pinstripes and he has been a spark for them in their lineup.
Last year the Yankees acquired second baseman Starlin Castro from the Cubs. Castro enjoyed a solid first season with the Yankees as he batted .270 with 21 homers and 70 runs batted in. But here in 2017, Castro is off to a blazing start as his .351 batting average is second in the American League and his presence at the plate has given New York more depth.
Overall the offense of the Yankees is fierce as they are leading the American League in home runs (52), runs (182), and on-base percentage (.356). Cashman has put together a solid offense together, and even though that he wasn’t very active in free agency, he did make a key signing in picking up veteran outfielder Matt Holliday.
Holliday has always been a solid player which has seen him be a seven-time All-Star, while also helping the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series in 2011. Holliday is 37-years of age, but he is off to a solid start at the plate as he is batting .286 with 6 home runs and 19 runs batted in. I expect Yankees manager Joe Girardi to give Holliday some time at designated hitter throughout the season in order to keep him fresh as having a veteran like him in the lineup as much as possible will be very beneficial to the club.
Coming into the 2017 Major League Baseball season I expected the Yankees pitching to be either feast of famine, and so far they have feasted. The Yankees team earned run average of 3.56 is third in the American League as they are receiving solid starting pitching.
Starting pitcher Michael Pineda has been the ultimate wild card for the Yankees throughout his career with them. But with Pineda scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season, he has been dialed in on the mound. Pineda is 3-2 this season with an earned run average of 3.27, while striking out 50 batters. The same can be said for starting pitcher Luis Severino who is 2-2 this season with an earned run average of 3.40. This past Sunday, Severino got a no-decision against the Cubs, but he was still able to limit their potent lineup to just a single run over seven innings, while striking out nine batters.
At 36-yeas of age, veteran starting pitcher CC Sabathia might not be in the running to win the American League’s Cy Young Award like he was earlier in his career, but he knows how to pitch. Sabathia is 2-2 this season with an earned run average of 5.77. And whatever that Sabathia can’t do when he takes the mound every fifth day for the Yanks, he can pass on his knowledge of the game to the youngsters.
Arm issues along with Major League Baseball hitters getting adjusted to starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka have meant that he has had to change his approach on the mound. Tanaka does have 5 victories so far this season, be he has benefited from the strong Yankees lineup as he is sporting an earned run average of 4.31.
Prior to trading relief pitchers Miller and Aroldis Chapman last year, the Yankees had the best bullpen in baseball. But after the trade that sent Miller to the Indians, along with the deal which sent Chapman to the Cubs, New York’s bullpen struggled as relief pitcher Dellin Betances was unable to shoulder the load. However with the Yankees bringing Chapman back in free agency, he is once again locking down the ninth inning as Betances is setting things up for him in the eighth. Chapman already has 7 saves this season, while Betances has 6 holds, and this combo will be vital in order for the Yankees to keep doing damage this season.
The Yankees are going to continue to hit this season as they have one of the best lineups in baseball. However it will come down to pitching in order for the Yankees to get back to the postseason. During the off-season Cashman avoided the temptation of giving up prospects to obtain the services of starting pitcher Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox as he eventually was traded to the Red Sox. But regardless of whether or not that the Yankees current starting rotation which has had issues in recent years as far as staying healthy and pitching deep into games will be able to hold up, New York is going to need another frontline starter in order to be legitimate contenders for the World Series.
The American League East will once again be fierce as the Yankees are currently battling for the top spot in the division with the Orioles, while the Red Sox are laying in the weeds. The Rays might not have a playoff caliber team on paper, but they always play their divisional foes tough. And although that the Toronto Blue Jays have gotten off to a slow start, they are not out of the mix, while they can also play spoiler.
Coming into this Major League Baseball season, all of the talk in the Big Apple was focused on the New York Mets who have the sizzle, but through nearly six weeks it has been the Yankees who’ve been taking care of business. And although that the youngsters such as Judge and Sanchez are still wet behind the ears, it hasn’t prevented them from becoming household names in New York City as 2017 is setting up to be a very promising year for them and their teammates with the Yankees.
First-Round Pick: (N/A)
Best Pick: Round Two-Malik McDowell-Defensive Tackle-Michigan State
In six of the seven years that general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll have been running the show for the Seattle Seahawks, they’ve made the playoffs which can traced back to their strategy at the National Football League Draft. The Seahawks have focused on having depth which has also spawned competition at multiple positions on the team which has kept Seattle on top of their game.
At this year’s draft the Seahawks traded out of the first round after making deals with both the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers. The Seahawks would not make a selection until the third pick of the second round as they tabbed Michigan State Spartans defensive tackle Malik McDowell.
Although that nothing stood out about McDowell’s game during his time in college, he had the potential of being a first-round pick. But when McDowell fell to the second round, it gave him an opportunity to go to one of the best possible situations for him in the National Football League. McDowell joins a solid defensive line and he doesn’t have to be the guy as he can simply fall in line as he plays alongside the likes of defensive end Michael Bennett.
Throughout the draft the Seahawks continued to add depth and athleticism which included them selecting North Carolina Tar Heels defensive tackle Nazair Jones in the third round and Cincinnati Bearcats safety Mike Tyson in the sixth round.
Carroll has been one of the best as far as developing his players and within the next two years we should see players from this draft class have a positive impact for the Seahawks.
First-Round Pick: Haason Reddick-Outside Linebacker-Temple
Best Pick: Round Two-Budda Baker-Safety-Washington
2016 saw the Arizona Cardinals take a huge step back in the standings and head coach Bruce Arians doesn’t intend on making their 7-8-1 campaign from last season become a habit which meant him seeking to improve his team at the 2017 National Football League Draft.
In the first round the Cardinals selected Temple Owls outside linebacker Haason Reddick. Last year Reddick led Temple in sacks with 10.5 and now he joins a team in Arizona that tallied 48 sacks last season as Arians knows that the way for his team to get back to the postseason is by putting a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The second round saw the Cards get a steal when they added to their already deep secondary when they selected Washington Huskies safety Budda Baker. Baker was an All-American last year at Washington which included him leading the team in tackles with 71. Baker has tremendous range and he isn’t afraid to mixing it up in the run game, while he could form one of the best safety combos in the National Football League with Tyrann Mathieu.
But for as good as Reddick and Baker can potentially be for Arizona’s defense, the team didn’t properly address their issues in the passing game. Last the Cardinals second leading receiver was running back David Johnson with 879 yards. And with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald set to turn 34 in August, it’s time for the Cardinals to find his heir apparent. Arizona did select Grambling State Tigers wide receiver Chad Williams in the third, but I don’t see him coming to have an immediate impact for the Cards.
However even with the Cardinals failing to properly address their issues on offense, they should be a tough team to score against during the upcoming season.
Los Angeles Rams
First-Round Pick: (N/A)
Best Pick: Round Four-Josh Reynolds-Wide Receiver-Texas A&M
Without a first-round pick in the 2017 National Football League Draft, the Los Angeles Rams had to wait until the second round before they could get active. But even when the Rams began the process of filling out draft cards, it didn’t matter as their draft class for 2017 overall has the makings of being below average. The Rams need more play makers on offense which saw them use three of their first four picks on that side of the football, but will they be able to contribute?
The second round saw the Rams select South Alabama Jaguars tight end Gerald Everett. Last year at South Alabama, Everett had 49 receptions for 727 yards and 4 touchdowns and the Rams will now need him to quickly develop into a security blanket for quarterback Jared Goff.
The fourth round saw the Rams selected Texas A&M Aggies wide receiver Josh Reynolds. Reynolds had 61 receptions last year at Texas A&M, while he led the team in receiving yards (1,039), and receiving touchdowns (12). At 6’3″, Reynolds does give Los Angeles size at the wide receiver position. And like Everett, it will be interesting to see how quickly that he’ll be able to get on the same page with Goff.
It the Rams are patient and take their time to properly develop both Everett and Reynolds, they could each turn into solid players within the next two years.
San Francisco 49ers
First-Round Pick: Solomon Thomas-Defensive End-Stanford, Reuben Foster-Inside Linebacker-Alabama
Best Pick: Solomon Thomas
The San Francisco 49ers may have only been victorious in two contests last season, but that didn’t prevent them from being big winners at the 2017 National Football League Draft. John Lynch is only in his first year as the general manager of the 49ers, but he approached the draft in the fashion of someone who has been around the block before.
The Niners entered the draft with the second overall pick, but with the Chicago Bears eager to swap places with San Francisco in order to draft North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky, Lynch used their desperation to his benefit. The Niners were able to secure extra picks this year as well as for 2018, while they were still able to get the players that they wanted.
With the third overall selection, the 49ers selected Stanford Cardinal defensive end Solomon Thomas. Thomas was one the best pass rushers available in the draft and he is going to be the first piece of the rebuilding process on defense in San Francisco.
Lynch would then trade back into the first round as he struck a deal with the Atlanta Falcons for the 31st overall pick. The Niners would select Alabama Crimson Tide middle linebacker Reuben Foster. The Niners already have NaVorro Bowman at middle linebacker, but as they are attempting to build a strong defense in the mode that they had earlier in this decade, Foster could play the role that former middle linebacker Patrick Willis played for them.
The 49ers continued to upgrade their defense as they drafted Colorado Buffaloes cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon in the third round, while their first offensive pick of the draft was on Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback C.J Beathard in the fourth round.
Beathard more than likely won’t become a franchise quarterback, but it is a credit to Lynch for not reaching for a signal caller as he understands that the 49ers had other pressing needs.
The 49ers still have some work ahead of them in order to become a contender, but players such as Thomas and Foster could be building blocks for them.