I was one of eight or 10 media members who got to watch the lottery last night from inside the television studio where the NBA draft order is filmed. It’s not quite as cool as being in the secret locked-down room where the lottery actually happens, but it’s an experience — a bizarre event filled with odd moments, awkward silences, uncomfortable people, team representatives wearing ridiculous amounts of makeup, endless commercial breaks where everyone on the dais just sort of sits there, Jay Bilas, and other strangeness. Some quick observations from TV land:
• The Cleveland Cavaliers contingent at these things is just very weird. They make a party of the lottery, and the party treads the line between quirky and unseemly. They bring at least a dozen people every year, and there is always a local celebrity or two among them; Bernie Kosar came last year, and he was on the list again this year. He didn’t show, but a rapper named Machine Gun Kelly, who does not know how to tie a tie, filled the celebrity void.
In case you were even busier not making up with Sergio Garcia, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Despite an epic comeback to force overtime, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker proved to be too much for the Memphis Grizzlies, who fell into a 2-0 hole in the Western Conference finals after falling, 93-89, to the San Antonio Spurs. "All praise to Tim for this win," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. "He spends his offseasons as a scoutmaster, so bear traps are kind of his thing. And in this case he set a really good one made out of leafy foliage and letting Jerryd Bayless try to beat us. I was nervous it wasn't going to hold, but Tim's such a calm presence that we stuck with it and came out of there with another trophy for our mantle." Popovich then laughed nervously and added, "figuratively."
Joe Thornton led the San Jose Sharks to a hard-fought 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings to even up their series at two games apiece. When asked if Thornton was a thorn in his team's side, Kings coach Darryl Sutter said, "No. He's a Thornton on their side." When asked again, Sutter angrily replied, "You want your headline? Here's your headline: Sharks Swim Over Deposed Kings as Thornton Proves a Thorn in the Too Slow Quick's Side." Sutter then yelled angrily, "You monsters! Look what's become of you. Making me, Daryl Sutter, utter those words in that order! Look what's become of me!"
Coaching news has rudely interrupted the endless stream of first-round playoff games, as both Charlotte and Cleveland came to major decisions about their head-coaching positions on Tuesday. The Bobcats’ semi-surprising decision to fire Mike Dunlap with one season left on his contract marked the fourth departure of a head coach since the end of the NBA regular season, which happened just one week ago. That round of firings followed four in-season dismissals, and three of the teams that made in-season changes — Milwaukee, Phoenix, and the Nets — are at the very least going to think very hard about making new hires in the next month or two.
The NBA playoffs are upon us, with 16 teams competing for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. But what about the other guys? What about the teams we wish were in the playoffs? We may know, in our heads, that they didn't do enough to get into the postseason, but that doesn't change how we feel in our hearts. We'd like to see these teams competing in Bill Simmons's Entertaining as Hell Tournament, but until that day, we'll just have to write longingly about why we wish they had made it to the promised land.
Portland Trail Blazers
Sean Fennessey: This isn't exactly a song for the Blazers because the Blazers were hard to watch this year. Nic Batum was long and lean and aggressively French, J.J. Hickson played like an exploding can of soda, and Weber State's Damian Lillard was a revelation to those who enjoy tiny-man dunks but don't much care for consistency. (He is only the Rookie of the Year because Anthony Davis hasn't totally figured out how to play basketball yet. He will.) I won't miss those Blazers and I certainly won't miss their bench, mostly because their bench doesn't exist beyond the many terrified faces of Meyers Leonard.
In case you were out avoiding any Coachella spoilers before the second weekend of the music festival, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
The NFL schedule was released on Thursday, and wow, WOW, wow, what a schedule it is! Not only will every team currently in the NFL play 16 games, but each of these teams will have a strategically placed bye added to their schedule. Additionally, some teams will be playing one or more games on non-Sunday days such as Mondays and Thursdays. Interestingly, no games this year are scheduled for Tuesdays. Marquee matchups include games between last year's division winners, last year's Super Bowl participants, teams that have quarterbacks people have heard of, and members of the NFC East. Early analysis suggests that the NFL schedule favors those teams that play mostly inferior teams, with the caveat that those favored teams might themselves prove inferior in the future. More NFL schedule–related analysis later in About Last Night, including a prediction you're not going to believe!
Eric Chavez got revenge on his former teammates with a three-run double to key the Arizona Diamondbacks' 12-inning 6-2 win over the New York Yankees. The Yankees also got more bad news on the injury front, as shortstop Derek Jeter has been ruled out until the All-Star break with complications related to his injured ankle. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said after the game, "Tonight's loss was tough, as was the news on Derek, but we'll persevere." Cashman then kept repeating the word persevere, as he stripped down to his underwear before asking the gathered media, "Does anyone have that Swedish House Mafia song on their phone? Cause I could really go for getting weird right now." Cashman then had assistant general manager Jean Afterman flick the lights in the room on and off while he danced arrhythmically before collapsing in a heap of tears.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
Chris Ryan: This is LeBron James's shot chart for this season, specifically his behind-the-arc shot chart. You see the area in the left-center, where James is 26-of-74? Isn't it weird that area isn't littered with skeletons and burned-out Cutlass Supremes and tattered American flags and crashed F-15s? I think it's weird, too. Because that's where LeBron is ending entire worlds, on a nightly basis. Statistically, it might not be his most effective shooting zone, but emotionally, narratively, this is where he likes to take opposing teams by the heart and squeeze the life out of them. It's the dramatic weight with which these shots go down that make them noticeable. There was the dagger in the Celtics the other night, and then, last night, in his homecoming game in Cleveland, he did this:
In case you were too busy lamenting the fate of your already busted NIT bracket, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
LeBron James had a triple double as the Miami Heat extended their winning streak to 24 games, overcoming a 27-point deficit to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 98-95. "We are legends," James said after the game, in which the reigning NBA champions beat a Cleveland team missing its two best players by three points. "This is a game for the history books, a true shining moment for Heat basketball," he said about a game in which he was dunked on repeatedly by Alonzo Gee. James concluded his postgame remarks by suggesting that a game in which the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference outscored his team by 21 points in the first half would cement his legacy as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed has left the Baltimore Ravens after 11 seasons, signing a three-year deal with the Houston Texans. Although Reed has yet to comment publicly on the move, confirmation has come from former teammate Ray Lewis, who was seen doing a flamboyant bird-like dance toward the east, before turning and performing a trio of bull-like dance moves toward the south.
The Chicago Bears have parted ways with star linebacker Brian Urlacher after the team failed to come to contractual terms with the former NFL defensive player of the year. While Urlacher has publicly stated that he's prepared to join another team, he's privately known to have spent much of the past 24 hours listening to Semisonic's "Closing Time" while looking wistfully at old pictures of former Bears quarterback Rex Grossman. Urlacher was later spotted alone in a bar mouthing "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here" to himself, as a single tear rolled down his cheek.
James Madison defeated the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, 68-55, in the preliminary round of the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, history, as it always does, found a way of repeating itself, as James Madison moves on to face the red jerseys of Indiana, who've already made clear that, win or lose, they intend to burn down the White House. "But I picked Indiana to win it all," complained President Barack Obama, as the first lady began packing their most valuable artwork into an old Dodge Caravan.
Thanks to Marc Gasol's game-winning tip-in with 0.8 seconds left, the Memphis Grizzlies beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in overtime, 90-89. Watching at home on TV, L.A. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak shouted "Tradebacks!" as Gasol's shot fell in. When told by assistant GM Glenn Carraro that "tradebacks" aren't a real thing, Kupchak protested, "But me want best center. Lakers get best center, yes? Lakers get best center always. Me want, me want, me want!"
Veteran winger Teemu Selanne scored the winning goal as the Anaheim Ducks came from behind to beat the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-2, in a battle of Western Conference powers. "I don't feel a day over 55," joked the 612-year-old Selanne, before asking teammate Corey Perry if he could "just borrow some blood for a while, you know, because that's a cool thing that friends do for other friends."
The San Jose Sharks staged a third-period rally before downing the Edmonton Oilers in a shootout, 4-3. Sharks center Logan Couture, who had two goals in regulation before scoring again in the shootout, dedicated his effort to "all the real sharks out there who keep losing their teeth. We don't talk about this problem enough, but it sucks. I feel your pain, great whites and tigers. You, too, nurses and whales. Stay hungry, my brothers."
Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Clint Dempsey was named the U.S. Men's National Team captain for its upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico. In unrelated news, Dempsey's erstwhile teammate Landon Donovan was named captain of his bowling league team, "The U.S. Men's Trashed-onal Team," where he's known as "Lane One" Donovan.
Robinson Cano 2B
Some Red Sox Guy 3B
Bernie Williams CF
Uh, can we also put Bernie Williams in left? LF
If we're cloning Bernie Williams once, we might as well put another Bernie Williams in right RF
A prospect who's overrated because he plays for the Yankees SS
Yogi Berrnie Williams C
A copy of a copy of Bernie Williams DH
Dan Johnson 1B
Amid the buzzer-beaters, heartbreak, and drama in the NCAA tournament, NBA teams are using college basketball’s biggest stage to fine-tune their evaluations of some of the league’s future stars. For someone like Ben McLemore of Kansas or Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, a brilliant stretch in March will allow them to stake their claim as the no. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. Regardless of where they are selected, both McLemore and Smart — should they declare — will move on from successful college programs to teams in the professional ranks that aren’t exactly synonymous with winning. During the past two seasons, no team has represented this perennial lottery dweller quite like the Charlotte Bobcats.
After a historically bad season that was partially obscured by a lockout-shortened schedule, the team has continued its futility again this year. In 11 of its past 13 games, Charlotte has been blown out by 14 or more points, an embarrassing stretch that has helped make the team owners of the league’s worst record. Or, in other words, things are going exactly as planned in Charlotte.
Welcome to life in the NBA, where every spring brings not only the excitement of the playoffs, but the unsavory notion of tanking. In a league that rewards losing and incompetence with valuable high draft picks, it pays to be bad. So with organizations like Charlotte, Orlando, and even Portland actively looking to avoid respectability, it’s time to restart the conversation about what tanking does to the competitive nature of the league.
In case you were busy singing John Philip Sousa tunes with your loved ones, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The New York Knicks overcame a 22-point deficit and a knee injury to Carmelo Anthony to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 102-97. Anthony, who's day-to-day with knee stiffness, said after the game, "I'm glad we won, but I'm really just glad Pablo Prigioni didn't put up a career night. I'm not at all ready for Prigloonacy."
There was a time, about a month ago, when the February 26 game at the United Center would have been appointment viewing. The Bulls were 24-16 and, somehow, without Derrick Rose, just a game and a half back of the second seed in the East. Rose’s return seemed imminent, and in a season where no clear challenger for Miami’s conference throne had emerged, Bulls fans held out hope that a retooling process that was supposed to take two years wouldn’t exist at all.
Along that road would be last night’s tilt against the Cavaliers, what would be the first clash of Rose and Kyrie Irving since the latter’s ascension to the fraternity of the league’s elite. That Rose didn’t end up playing comes as no surprise, given news of late. The Bulls have elected to bring him along slowly, and given what’s happened in the past few weeks, it’s hard to blame them. Chicago was 4-7 in February as of yesterday afternoon, with the average loss coming by almost 16 points.
Irving’s absence, on the other hand, wasn’t expected. He’d tweaked his right knee in practice last week but had managed to play in two games since. When the team announced yesterday morning that its star guard would be taking the night off, the month-long road from anticipated to unwatchable was complete. With the blessing of A Fate Worse Than Death architect Rafe Bartholomew, it was decided that there was no better time to resurrect Grantland’s dedication to the NBA hate-watch.
On February 13, the Spurs and Cavaliers were tied at 93 with about 15 seconds left in the game. Dion Waiters was dribbling near midcourt and about to make one of the biggest shots of his career. With just under 14 seconds left, Tristan Thompson set a screen on Kawhi Leonard near the top of the arc, enabling Waiters to advance the ball a little closer to the basket along the left side. As Waiters approached the left elbow, he lunged toward Tim Duncan, but quickly stepped back to create space for a long, off-balance 2-point shot. The ball left Waiters’s hand from about 20 feet out and went through the net with 9.5 seconds remaining. Despite not passing the ball once, the Cavs scored, the score was now 95-93, and Dion made this face:
In case you were busy winding down all of your Italian business interests, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Trevor Mbakwe and the Minnesota Golden Gophers upset top-ranked Indiana, 77-73 in Minneapolis. Mbakwe, who started his college career playing for Indiana head coach Tom Crean at Marquette, said, "Something about Crean brings out the best in me. Maybe it's his smile that says at once, 'I care,' and 'I know this isn't forever.' Maybe it's that 'come-hither' stare, in which worlds are created and destroyed in his irises every time he blinks behind his wire-framed glasses. Maybe it's his lyrical name, 'Tom Crean.' All I know is, when I see his face, I'm compelled to be at once my best and worst self."
In case you were busy celebrating your big Oscars win by drunk-dialing Matt Damon and yelling, "How ’bout dem apples!" here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Georgetown and Syracuse played their penultimate rivalry game as members of the Big East, with Georgetown getting the win at the Carrier Dome, 57-46. While they won't be members of the same conference much longer, the two schools both suggested the possibility of future games against each other. But let's get real; we all know how this ends up. For a month or two, they'll call each other every night. But slowly, Georgetown will find itself getting very close with Marquette, as they share a faith and a set of values. Syracuse, meanwhile, will plan to come down for a game in D.C., but they won't be able to make it due to a prior commitment in New York with Duke. And as things will get serious with Georgetown and Marquette (they had been saving themselves, after all), Syracuse will drunk-dial Georgetown and say things they don't mean about Allen Iverson, and Georgetown will throw the whole Gerry McNamara thing in Syracuse's face. The two schools won't be on speaking terms for years, as Syracuse, abandoned again, will wind up in a co-dependent and destructive relationship with UConn.
Let’s not mince words here — the Lakers are boring. Sure, they’re a flaming train wreck from which we can’t avert our eyes, but their actual on-court product (and even some of the drama off it) is far from enjoyable, in the traditional sense. If you stripped away the star power and franchise mystique, all you’d be left with is a basketball team that’s losing far more than it wins, and there’s not much fun about that. (Again, in the traditional sense.)
But given there isn’t any way to not talk about the Lakers, I went to the ESPN Trade Machine (at least in part) and tried to figure out a deal that, in an alternate reality, would make the team more palatable. The trade I came up with is both realistic (based on some real rumors I’ve heard/read and players’ fair market value in mind) and totally effing bananas (five-team, 15-player trades and unicorns tend have a lot in common). I’d still like to think at least some parts dabble in the vicinity of the plausible.
In the end, I came up with a Lakers team (as well as a Cleveland one) that I would actually enjoy watching on a nightly basis. Of course, it’s built along the lines of my own personal views — fit over star power and great offense over any type of defense — but I think it would make the struggling L.A. team, as well as a couple of the others involved, more interesting.
Either way, there’s enough in there to get people yelling at each other (or at me), which is easily the best part of fake trades anyway. So here ya go: