In case you were busy blowing $100k on trying to bump into a professional football player, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Roy Williams improved to 7-0 against Tom Izzo since taking the helm at North Carolina as the Tar Heels upset the top-ranked Michigan State Spartans 79-65 on the road. When told of his dominant run against Izzo, Williams shrugged and replied, "Who's Tom Izzo?" When told that Izzo has been the head coach at Michigan State for almost 20 years, Williams looked concerned and replied, "Man, you really think I would have heard of that guy. But I'll be honest, I had no idea there even was a Michigan State. Michigan, sure, but Michigan State? No idea." When told that Michigan State was the team he had just played, and that there was no need to continue with the head games as his team had already won, Williams said, "Head games, what are those? Who has even heard of head games? Unless you're referring to the song 'Head Games' by Foreigner. I've heard of that." Williams then winked and added, "I bet that Izzo guy you were talking about is a real big Foreigner fan, if you know what I mean."
Portland snapped Oklahoma City's eight-game win streak with a 111-104 win over the Thunder. Despite the win, a lackluster shooting night for Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews knocked him out of the league's top spot in True Shooting Percentage. Heading into the game, the top five in that category were Matthews, Kyle Korver, LeBron James, Ryan Anderson, and Samuel Dalembert, notable for all being professional basketball players who shoot more accurately than you might expect, and having literally nothing else in common.
In case you were busy telling one of your employees to hit another one of your employees to settle an interpersonal workplace dispute, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
A fourth-quarter surge from the Pacers' reserves turned a close game between division rivals into a blowout, as Indiana ran away from the Bulls in a 97-80 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team is now a disappointing 1-3, said after the game, "I'm panicking! Of course I'm panicking! We've played four games! Derrick Rose is not playing like an MVP! We're all panicking!" Thibodeau then added, "Fire! Fire! I don't know what to do! What am I supposed to say? 'Just play your game, and things will turn around?' No! No one will believe me! Must make everything clean! Must make everything clean!" Thibodeau then pulled out a canister of gasoline and poured it over the team's jersey hamper as the media ran from the locker room.
Philadelphia lost its second consecutive game after opening the season a surprising 3-0, falling to the Washington Wizards 116-102. "I think we've got this all straightened out," said 76ers GM Sam Hinkie after the game. "Me and the boys had to come to a bit of an arrangement, see. Turns out just bringing in bad apples ain't enough. You have to make them want to play bad, you hear? But the problem is, shooting baskets is real fun. Almost too fun." Hinkie then smiled and said, "But defense? No one likes playing defense. Dames don't go in for defense. So I say, no defense, and they can keep their precious offense. Pretty clever, eh?"
Last week, we introduced the NBA Regular-Season Championship Belt — a season-long King of the Hill competition to make seemingly inconsequential matchups very friggin' consequential. The idea came from this awesome thread on the /r/NBA board over on Reddit. Miami came into the regular season holding the belt, but lost it to the Sixers in a huge upset. The Sixers — criminally undercovered on Grantland, if you ask me — bravely defended their title against the Bulls. They were the kings of the mountain. To see Brett Brown in his offices at Wells Fargo, one had to bring offerings like cattle or emeralds.
In case you were busy backing up your asshole son by trolling online forums incognito, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Josh McCown led the Bears to a 27-20 win over an injury-depleted Green Bay Packers squad at Lambeau Field, creating a three-team logjam at the top of the NFC North at the midway point of the season. "There's only gonna be one way to settle this," said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy after the game. "We'll have to play the rest of our schedules." McCarthy then looked down at a laminated sheet of paper that said "Trust your gut, big guy," looked back up, smiled, and said, Yep, I'm almost positive we'll just have to play the rest of the games to determine who wins."
Looked at a certain way, NBA players are men playing a kid’s game. But shift the angle slightly and they — especially the younger ones — can look like kids playing a man’s game. Any rookie, any sophomore — hell, any player who’s been in the league for fewer than five seasons — has a list of things he's good at and a list of things he needs to work on or compensate for, and every season brings questions about whether the current batch of energetic youngsters can become veterans with a fuller understanding of the game.
Yesterday, we kicked off the Triangle NBA All-Stars, celebrating the players we love way too much. The first two members were John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Today we welcome Andre Drummond and Ricky Rubio to the team. Squad up!
Why We Love Him: Nobody has any idea what to make of Andre Drummond. He played only 20 minutes per game for Detroit last year, but the Drummond glimpses we saw were kind of unbelievable. His per-48 numbers: 18.4 points, 17.6 rebounds, 3.7 blocks, .608 shooting. If you stare at those numbers long enough, he starts to look like the next Kevin Garnett. On the other hand ... Anthony Randolph once built years of hype on the strength of per-48 numbers, so, you know. You never know.
"The past is never dead. It’s not even past." —William Faulkner
Kevin Love has a bone to pick with Faulkner. For almost his whole career, Love has thrived on proving people wrong, whether it was Kurt Rambis telling him not to shoot 3-pointers or anyone who doubted he could be a go-to scorer or questioned whether he was “athletic” enough for the NBA. His 2011-12 season was a garlanded rebuttal to those questions about his playing ability: He finished in the top five for points and rebounds per game, PER, rebounding percentage, and win shares, plus made his second All-Star Game appearance and won the 3-point shooting contest there.
I’m normally not a big “gut feeling” guy, but I randomly mentioned to the Grantland bosses last week in L.A. that the Thunder just “felt due” for some unexpected move. They didn’t have enough financial flexibility to add even one meaningful NBA player in free agency, perhaps leaving them (and their rivals) to wonder whom they might have lured had the league kept Kevin Durant’s max salary at its original level. They’ve watched the Western Conference get stronger around them. The Spurs are the Spurs, the Grizzlies tweaked around the edges (including signing Mike Miller, one of several wing shooters the Thunder could have used), the Clippers reinvented themselves, the Warriors are good and young, and the Rockets annual candy budget is probably near the $185,000 or so Andre Roberson lost when the Thunder hardballed him.
But this wasn’t, and still isn’t, a sob story. The Thunder are contenders, even with Kevin Martin gone and no veteran in his place. And that’s sort of the point: The window is still open, even with the rocky offseason, only there are more Western Conference teams strong enough to shove it closed. A team in that position — a contender, but a wounded one with hunters stalking it — cannot afford to stand still, or to wait for next July.
That portrait gets more interesting now that Russell Westbrook will miss something like 20 games after doctors discovered complications from an earlier surgery to repair his torn meniscus. The obvious way to jolt a franchise is via trade, but the Thunder’s salary structure makes a game-changing deal difficult. Kendrick Perkins is the only highly paid player the Thunder might be willing to move unless they find a blockbuster involving Serge Ibaka, and the rest of the trade chips earn so little money as to make salary-matching a challenge in a big-time deal. There are interesting trade options at lower prices, and the Thunder could sign a minimum-salaried ball handler — Roddy Beaubois, Daniel Gibson, Chris Duhon, et al. — without going into the luxury tax, provided they waive one of the Hasheem Thabeet/Daniel Orton/Ryan Gomes trio. The Thunder have some interesting young pieces, a few appealing international guys, and a Mavs pick that could become unprotected in 2018. You could make a deal for a semi-unwanted mid-priced wing — Lou Williams? John Salmons? Courtney Lee? Evan Turner? — with that kind of treasure chest. (The Thunder have two significant trade exceptions, including a $6.5 million bad boy leftover from the Kevin Martin sign-and-trade, but using either would take them over the tax line.)
In case you were busy brainwashing your current star quarterback so he won't talk with your former star quarterback lest things get awkward, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Los Angeles Dodgers continued their stunning run, pairing an Andre Ethier game-tying ninth-inning home run with 12th-inning heroics from Yasiel Puig to top the New York Mets 5-4. "We're unstoppable," yelled veteran second baseman Mark Ellis as he walked home from the stadium after the game with three of his teammates. Just then, in the distance, he heard the sound of a train whistle. Ellis ran onto the tracks. "Come on, Marky," A.J. Ellis called to his teammate from the safety of the road, but Mark said back to him, "No, uh-uh. I'm gonna dodge it." A.J. called again to his teammate, "Come on, get off the tracks, you're crazy," but Mark stood his ground and said, "Train dodger. Dig it." Suddenly the locomotive came into view, and A.J. yelled, "Get off the tracks, you want to get yourself killed?" as an increasingly uncomfortable Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu stood silently by him. Mark then mimed swinging a bat at the train, but as it barreled closer A.J. grabbed him firm and dragged him out of danger. A.J. screamed at his namesake "You want to kill yourself? Is that what you want, goddamnit?" But Mark stared him straight in the eye and said, "The way we're playing, we could have dodged it." This would be only one incident in the most meaningful summer of these young men's lives. Teammates come in and out of your life, but you never have any friends like the ones you do when you're in a pennant race. Jesus, does anyone?
Despite the seemingly endless string of heroics taking place at Chavez Ravine, the Arizona Diamondbacks are doing their best to keep the NL West division race alive, walking off for the third consecutive night behind two key hits from Aaron Hill in a 5-4 14-inning win over the Baltimore Orioles. "We've found a winning formula, we just have to hit walk-offs every night where we otherwise wouldn't win," Hill said after the game. "Think about it: If we can't lose when we're losing, and we can't lose when we're winning, we can't lose. Which means we can't lose. Think about it. It's so simple."
In case you were busy declaring that your rap career is one and done, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Matt Harvey dominated the Rockies, throwing a four-hit shutout as the Mets took down Colorado, 5-0. Harvey entered the postgame press conference wearing a fedora, sitting with confidence at the microphone to tell the following anecdote: "In all his years on the road, Mets scout Bryan Lambe had never seen an arm like the one he was watching that night. The comparisons were obvious but insufficient: A young Justin Verlander sprang to mind, but who would believe that this boy throwing in North Carolina's powder blue could manage the success the Tigers starter had? Sure enough, though, the thought was unshakable; this kid could be a star if he was taken care of. But that was the rub. The boy he was watching was on his 150th pitch. Was he some sort of magician with a rubber arm, or a ticking time bomb destined for the surgery table? Well, I think we have our answer. Because that young boy was Matt Harvey. And now you know, the rest of the story."
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. Here, you'll find takes on all the big free-agency transactions of the last few days, along with some of the not-so-big ones.
“It was on the Fourth of July,” Howard said. “That’s when I felt it was Houston. I was in Colorado. It seemed like every person that I met was from Houston. It was just so ironic. I’d walk around. Someone would ask for a picture. They’d give me a business card and it would say Houston on it. I was like, ‘Is everybody in Colorado from Houston right now?’ It was unbelievable. … I was like, ‘You know what, this has to be from God.’ You pray for things to happen. You pray for signs, for God to show you things. It just seemed like, this was it.”
So this whole thing, this whole will-he-or-won't-he, and if and when he does, where-will-he … all of this got settled by one chance encounter, like something ripped from an unreleased Frank Capra movie about a giant moron who goes up a mountain to decide what to do with his life, and finds a moment of clarity with a complete stranger. Word is he had an eye patch, wore himself salty sea dog facial hair, and spoke with a lot of "ARGGHS" added to the end of his sentences. But, man, isn't it weird that there happened to be a guy walking around the streets of Aspen, just as Dwight Howard was taking his Independence Day constitutional, and these two wayward souls bumped into each other and found common ground?
"You're thinking about going to Houston? Aye! Arggh! I be from Houston, matey."
Back from a glorious international wedding, I'm ready to give my jet-laggy thoughts on a whirlwind second day of free agency — a day refreshingly free of the tanking taint. Most of the teams who made moves Tuesday did so in an attempt to actually get better at NBA basketball next season. We saw borderline playoff teams (Minnesota, Washington) stock up on players they like, and the incumbent Western Conference finalists reupped with key present and future cogs at fair-market deals. Heck, even Phoenix, which probably should be tanking, helped its 2013-14 cause by swapping Jared Dudley for a roughly equivalent player (Caron Butler) and a prized young asset in Eric Bledsoe. Only the Bucks took a clear step back in completing the epic transformation of Tobias Harris into J.J. Redick and then into zero human beings who will play for the Bucks next season.
Some quick-hitting thoughts on those moves:
The Clippers, Suns, and Bucks strike a three-team trade centered on Eric Bledsoe and a signed-and-traded J.J. Redick
A very solid deal for the Clips, who have known for a long time — at least a year — that they would have to trade Bledsoe in the event the NBA’s resident slumlord owner somehow convinced Chris Paul to ink a long-term deal. The Clips have acquired two very nice role players at fair prices — contracts that are easy to move in case it ever becomes necessary. They’ve got only seven players under contract now (including Reggie Bullock, their first-round pick), but those seven players alone have enough to form a top-three offense. The Clips already had a top-five outfit on that end, but it was uncreative and faced occasional spacing issues — little flaws that don’t show up in the big regular-season picture, but can become fatal against an elite playoff defense geared toward stopping a single opponent.
When Paul George was drafted out of Fresno State in 2010, he came to the NBA as an underachieving 3-point gunner with loads of raw talent but a tendency to float through games. It’s rare that a player is so talented and so singularly motivated that where he lands on draft night plays little to no role in his development. It’s hard to imagine a situation in which Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant wouldn’t have thrived, but most players are like George, players with certain abilities that might only be unlocked based on the infrastructure and influences of the organization around them.
Instead of being drafted early in the lottery to massive expectations by a franchise with no semblance of veteran leadership and no hope of playing in meaningful games, George landed with an Indiana team on the upswing. Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert were already on the roster when George was selected in 2010. Frank Vogel, fast becoming one of the game’s better head coaches, replaced the underwhelming Jim O’Brien during George’s rookie year and guided the team to the playoffs, exposing George to a level of competitiveness, intensity, and skill he had never seen before. The following year the Pacers added a consistently productive and highly respected veteran leader in David West. The team finished with a winning percentage of .636 in a lockout-shortened season and made the Eastern Conference semifinals. This year, the team finished one game short of the NBA Finals.
In just three seasons, George was baptized into a culture of winning, one where effort, preparation, and attention to detail were non-negotiable requirements. George grew up in a locker room with respected personalities and quality players, worked with a sharp head coach, and developed out of a harsh spotlight. Had George started his career in Sacramento — where the troubled but supremely talented DeMarcus Cousins, drafted fifth in 2010, has enjoyed just 74 career wins — would he be the same rising star the Pacers forward is today?
After being instantly dismissed from the national consciousness following a dreadful 4-28 start, few people noticed when the Washington Wizards quietly showed signs of a promising future during the second half of this past season. The Wizards’ improved play coincided with the return of John Wall, whose knee injury had kept him in street clothes through early January. With their promising young point guard back in the fold, the team morphed from disaster to, dare I say it, playoff-caliber force almost overnight.
Washington finished out the season at a .500 clip upon Wall’s return, which hardly screams “elite.” But the 25 games featuring a healthy core of Wall, rookie guard Bradley Beal, and veteran wing Martell Webster (whom the team intends to bring back despite his free-agent status) certainly do. No matter what roles Wall or Beal played (both came off the bench for a few games), the Wizards posted a point differential of plus-4.84, the equivalent of a 55-win team over a full season. And though a 25-game stretch isn’t something Washington can hang its hat on, it’s certainly an encouraging sign. That trio, combined with Nene and Emeka Okafor, also combined to form the league's most effective five-man unit that played at least 140 minutes together, per NBA.com. That amount of playing time isn’t enough to produce ironclad proof that the Wizards are set to the rule the basketball world, but it certainly is enough time to suggest that’s a lineup that can be quite effective.
For a franchise that’s been toiling in mediocrity for decades, there are enough bright spots from last year to suggest Washington is poised to make some serious noise in the Eastern Conference if it can inject one more talented piece into its core (and stay relatively healthy), a real possibility thanks to some incredible lottery luck. By selecting the right player with the third overall pick, the Wizards can become a legitimate contender in the East as early as next year, something no one could have predicted six months ago. Unlike some of the more desperate teams, Washington doesn’t necessarily need to hit a home run at the top of the draft, but to break through from mid-standings irrelevance, the Wizards probably have to avoid coming up empty. If the team can get an impact player with the third pick while also finding a competent backup point guard with one of its second-round picks, the Wizards have the opportunity to completely change the course of their franchise. No pressure, right?
If you truly want to know what it feels like to root for the Minnesota Timberwolves, all you have to do is watch the NBA draft lottery. The lottery plays out the exact same way every year. The night starts off with a feeling of dread, as you recall the disappointing season that's led to this moment: all the errant passes, the fluke injuries, the missed dunks. Then the ceremony begins — those stupid ping-pong balls start bouncing around in that dumb plastic bin — and no matter how hard you try to fight it, you can't help but fantasize a little bit. You start to think maybe this is the year the Timberwolves' luck changes. Maybe this is the year they jump up in the draft and get that missing piece they need. Maybe this is the year they reach their true potential. Then suddenly all those stupid ping-pong balls are taken out of that dumb bin, Cleveland is handed the no. 1 pick, Minnesota hasn't moved up in the draft at all, and we're back to feeling that familiar sense of dread.
It's the five stages of lottery-related grief. Welcome to Minnesota.