Tuesday, July 29, 2014

“Of course, I’m 21 years old…”

            “I was a kid who made some goofball decisions… Maybe it’s part of the whole Johnny Football deal that I’m trying to get away from. I’m trying to show people I’ve grown up and I’ve learned from my experiences. I feel like you’re a stupid person if you continue to make the same wrong decisions…” These very words left the mouth of Johnny Manziel when interviewed by Houston and Fort Worth reporters five months ago. Since that point in time, Manziel was drafted 22nd overall by the Cleveland Browns in the draft. And since that point in time, Manziel has continued “to make the same wrong decisions” and has only further ignited his status as “Johnny Football.”

            “He made some mistakes. We expect better,” said Browns owner Jimmy Haslam in regards to Manziel’s offseason activity. The 2012 Heisman Trophy award winner has been a social-media mogul this offseason. Photos of Manziel drinking alcohol and excessively partying with celebrities (Drake, Justin Bieber, Floyd Mayweather just to name a few) have spread like wildfire throughout social media outlets.

            Haslam added, “The great athletes make headlines on the field, not off the field.” He went on to list several superstars who maintain a positive public image while competing at a high level, such as LeBron James and Peyton Manning.

            “My dream came true and I finally got to have some downtime and to celebrate with my family and my friends… So will I continue to get better about being a professional and learn lessons about life? Of course, I’m 21 years old. Age is not an excuse but I need to mature and I’ve done some immature things…” said Manziel in response to his owner’s comments.

            Manziel is certainly correct in stating that he needs to mature and learn from his immature antics. As the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” This is certainly not the first time Manziel has claimed he needs to learn from his “goofball decisions” and Cleveland’s front office seems to fear it won’t be the last.

            When you walk across that stage on draft day and sign the dotted line on your contract, you instantly undertake responsibility as a representative of the fraternity that is the National Football League. As Aunt May told Peter Parker in the Spider-man series, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Though there is no “professionalism”-clause in an NFL contract, there is automatic understanding that responsible conduct is required, not optional.

            Let’s remind Manziel that “fun” does not always have to end up on the New York Times’ back page simply because you are a major sports figure. I’m sure Mike Trout (a 22 year old) manages to have fun in his personal life, yet Major League Baseball has never received a complaint about Trout’s conduct.

Take a look at the ultimate example of a ‘class act’ in Derek Jeter. The New York Yankees captain has been in the eye of the ruthless New York media for twenty years and has yet to harm his or the Yankees’ image with an off the field disturbance. Sources have even reported that Jeter will always, no-exceptions, call for a cab after drinking just a single alcoholic beverage. Talk about taking precautions to maintain professionalism and protect the image of Yankees baseball.

Manziel is on the money in stating that age is not an excuse. Johnny Football knew what he was getting into when he skipped out on his final two seasons of college football to enter the draft. These two seasons could have served as a time for Manziel to grow and mature as an individual.

After a brilliant run as the Texas A&M quarterback, nobody is doubting Manziel’s ability to be a playmaker on the field. However his triumphs on the field can certainly be hindered by the circus show he provides off of it. Ultimately the decision to conduct himself in a certain, professional manner lies with Manziel solely.

Read the playbook or hangout poolside? Sips of alcohol or sit and analyze game-tape? Attend parties or maintain a professional image? Johnny Football, the ball is in your hands and you are center-stage… as if you’d like it any other way.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Is Scott the solution?

            On Friday reports broke that the Los Angeles Lakers offered Byron Scott the team’s head coaching position. Ever since former Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni resigned in April, Scott has been the frontrunner for the position. The Lakers held three interviews with Scott during the evaluation process and are now offering the head coaching position to him.
            Not only does Los Angeles feel this is a step in the right direction for the franchise, their superstar guard Kobe Bryant would be delighted to play under Scott. Scott played for the Lakers and was Bryant’s teammate during his rookie season in ‘96. Since their time as teammates, Scott and Bryant have kept close relations and formed a strong bond. This superstar-coach chemistry could be beneficial to LA’s successes this upcoming season.
            The head coaching position has been anything but stable for Los Angeles since Phil Jackson’s retirement after the ‘11 season.
The ‘12-‘13 regular season saw the Lakers fire, then head coach, Mike Brown after an 0-8 preseason and 1-4 start to the regular season.
After Brown’s bizarrely short tenure at the helm, LA signed former Phoenix and New York head coach Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni, a former Coach of the Year with Phoenix, managed to get the Lakers into the postseason with a 40-32 regular season record (shortened season due to lockout), however the team was dominated in the first round by San Antonio and eliminated via a series sweep. The following season did not fare much better for D’Antoni as the Lakers put up a very uncharacteristic 27-55 regular season record. D’Antoni resigned as Lakers head coach at season’s end, much to the delight of Lakers fans across the nation.
            Byron Scott was a three-time NBA Champion (’85,’87,’88) as a player for the Lakers. Over his thirteen seasons as an NBA coach, Scott has compiled a 416-521 overall regular season record.
Scott started off his head coaching career in New Jersey. Scott would lead the Nets to the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons (’02-’03).
Scott then transitioned to a head coaching position in New Orleans. After his first winning season in New Orleans, Scott was named the ‘07-’08 NBA Coach of the Year.
After finishing his sixth season with the Hornets, Scott was hired as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Scott had a short and brutal tenure as the head coach of Cleveland, sporting a .281 winning percentage and missing the postseason in all three of his seasons at the helm.
            While Bryant and the Lakers front office have exhibited great faith in Scott, it is still very uncertain to say that a head coach with a career winning percentage of .444, who has not won a playoff series since ’08 will be the savior of Lakers basketball.
            The Lakers and their fans certainly hope that a change of leadership with Scott can be a factor in returning Los Angeles back to the elite tier of teams in the NBA, especially after a historic collapse in ‘14.


Friday, July 25, 2014

The 'Gronk' Factor

            On Thursday New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick announced to the media that Pro-bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski was medically cleared to return to football-related activities. Gronkowski participated in the team’s individual workouts but did not participate in the 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 team drills.
            After injuries have caused Gronkowski to miss fourteen games over the past two regular seasons, the tight end’s participation in offseason activities is a positive omen for fans in Foxborough.  
During Week 11 of the 2012 season, Gronkowski broke his left forearm against rival Indianapolis. Gronkowski attempted to come back six weeks later but ended up re-injuring the same arm in a Week 17 matchup against Miami, preventing him from participating in the playoffs.
The following season Gronkowski was also stung by the injury bug. He tore his ACL and MCL in a Week 13 matchup against the Cleveland Browns, ending his 2013 campaign prematurely.
Despite Gronkowski’s misfortune with injuries, the 25-year-old is still regarded as one of, if not the most, dominant tight ends in the game today. Through four seasons (49 games played), ‘Gronk’ has reeled in 42 touchdown grabs and racked up 3,255 receiving yards.
‘Gronk’ has already made his impact on the NFL record books at such a young age. In 2011, Gronkowski set the NFL record for most touchdown receptions (17) and receiving yards (1,327) in a season by a tight end. In a 2010 Sunday Night Football match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Gronkowski became the youngest player with three touchdown receptions in a game (21 years, 214 days).
From 2010-2012, Gronkowski and former New England tight end Aaron Hernandez formed the most dynamic tight end duo in the league. In 2013, with Gronkowski sidelined and Hernandez jailed, the Patriots tight end corp. suffered mightily. This past season, New England tight ends ranked 23rd or worse in the major receiving categories for the position.
The ‘Gronk’ Factor will be beneficial to New England’s successes this upcoming season, considering he stays healthy. Gronkowski provides a big target for quarterback Tom Brady in the passing game and is a matchup nightmare for defensive secondaries. Gronkowski is also vital to New England’s ground game. The six-foot-six, 265-pound tight end is one of the most physical run blockers in the NFL today and is almost automatic in opening up gaps for running backs.
New England players and fans are eagerly awaiting a healthful season from Gronkowski in 2014. The Patriots hope that the two-time Pro-bowler can return to his 2010-2011 form, in which he scored a total of 28 touchdowns over his first two seasons. Football historians and analysts alike can agree that when healthy, Gronkowski possesses legendary potential and upside for the remainder of his playing career.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cavs feeling the Love

            On July 11 LeBron James not only caught the attention of the entire basketball world with his decision to return to Cleveland, he also caught the attention of Minnesota Timberwolves’ power forward Kevin Love. Almost instantaneously after James made his decision, Love made it known that he would be open to a trade to Cleveland and was prepared to commit to the Cavs long-term.
            After acquiring James, Cleveland almost instantly entered among the favorites to win next year’s NBA championship. It makes sense that a player in Love’s situation with Minnesota, a team which has not made the playoffs since 2004, would be intrigued by the prospect of becoming a Cavalier.
            Cleveland management has also shown signs of interest in a trade for Love. The Cavs have considered making a trade for Love which would send forward Anthony Bennett and this year’s first overall pick in the NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins, to Minnesota. Wiggins, however, plans to sign with Cleveland later this week which will prevent him being traded away from the Cavs for the next thirty days.
            Reports also broke Tuesday that the Chicago Bulls are the biggest threat to Cleveland in this quest for Love’s services. Chicago has reportedly shown a new interest in trading forward Taj Gibson, guard Jimmy Butler and other pieces for Love. However, Cleveland allegedly has a ‘firm lead’ on all other suitors for the three time all-star.
            Love certainly boosted his appeal to other clubs with a stellar 2013-2014 regular season. Love averaged 26.1 PPG (Fourth in the NBA), 12.5 RPG (Third in the NBA) and dished out 4.4 APG. Love was selected to his third all-star team and became the first player in NBA history to score 2000 points, snag 900 rebounds and drain 100 3-point field goals in a single season.
            Since being taken fifth overall in the 2008 NBA Draft, Love has been a benchmark for consistency as a big man, averaging 19.2 PPG and 12.2 RPG. Should Love leave the T-Wolves, Cleveland currently stands as the favorite for acquiring Love’s services. An intimidating thought for Eastern Conference contenders who may have to face a Cavs lineup including Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love in the coming postseasons.


Friday, July 18, 2014

What to expect from Carlos Boozer?

            On Thursday July 17 the Los Angeles Lakers claimed Carlos Boozer off waivers from the Chicago Bulls, who used the amnesty clause on the veteran power forward. Nine teams entered a “blind bid” for Boozer’s services. Los Angeles was the winner with a bid of $3.25 million dollars. After paying the bid, Los Angeles also undertakes the remains of Boozer’s $16.8 million dollar contract with Chicago.
            Members of the Los Angeles front office, according to ESPN, have recognized Boozer as “an established veteran and a proven All-Star who will be a welcome addition to our team.” The two-time All-Star has played for Cleveland, Utah and most recently Chicago over his twelve seasons in the NBA. Boozer, an NCAA champion with Duke back in 2001, was also a part of the 2008 Gold Medal USA Olympic Men’s Basketball Team. Since his rookie season back in 02’-03’, Boozer has been a top ten player in field goal percentage seven times. Boozer has also found himself in the top ten for rebounding five times since his rookie campaign.
            Los Angeles very well may have signed Boozer as an attempt to fill in the void left behind by forward Pau Gasol. Gasol, a two-time NBA Champion with the Lakers, signed with the Chicago Bulls during this free agency period. The Lakers also seek help down low from Boozer. Boozer, who has always been praised for his strong post game, looks to help LA improve on the boards. Los Angeles ranked 25th in the NBA in rebounds per game (41.0 RPG). In this year’s NBA Draft, the Lakers signed Kentucky forward Julius Randle with the seventh overall pick. Boozer can also serve as a mentor to the young big man and help him along in his development as an everyday starter.
            So what can Los Angeles fans expect from Boozer in the upcoming season? Entering his thirteenth season in the NBA, Boozer is in the latter years of his career and his explosiveness and ability will serve as a question mark for the Lakers personnel. Boozer also did not end his career in Chicago on the highest note, posting some of his career-lows statistically last season. Boozer had the lowest point per game and rebound per game averages since his rookie season (13.7 PPG / 8.3 RPG). Boozer also hit a career-low in field goal percentage last season (45.6%).
            Lakers fans can only hope that Boozer makes a turnaround this season and helps contribute to a roster full of new faces looking to bounce back from a nightmarish 2013-2014 season in which they went 27-55.        

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

'The Captain' stars in his final Mid-summer Classic

                The 85th annual MLB All-Star Game was held Tuesday night at Target Field in Minneapolis, home of the Minnesota Twins.
                The game featured New York Yankees starting shortstop and captain, Derek Jeter, who was playing in the final All-Star Game of his illustrious 20-year career. Jeter went 2-for-2 on the night, which included a lead-off double off of St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright to start the game. Jeter also flashed the leather making a diving play and nearly throwing out Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen on a ball which should have ended up in the outfield grass.
                In the top of the fourth inning Jeter was taken out of the game and replaced by Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez. On his way to the dugout Jeter received quite the standing ovation and spent several minutes embracing his American League teammates and giving curtain calls to the audience.
                Over his career, Jeter has certainly been no stranger to participating in the Mid-summer Classic. Jeter has been named an AL All-Star fourteen times, starting at shortstop on nine of those occasions. Jeter’s All-Star Game debut was at the 1998 Mid-summer classic, held at Coors Field in Colorado. Over his fourteen games as an All-Star ‘The Captain’ has gone an incredible 13-for-27 (a .481 average).
                Entering the second half of his final season, Jeter finds himself in the legendary ranks of baseball history. Jeter, the Yankees all-time hit leader, is eighth on the all-time hit-list with 3,408 hits. It is very realistic to expect Jeter to make his way up to sixth on the hit-list, having to only pass legends such as Carl Yastrzemski (3,419) and Honus Wagner (3,430) to do so. Jeter also holds the Yankees’ records for doubles (534) and stolen bases (354). He ranks 9th on the Yankees’ all-time home run list (258) and 6th on the Yanks’ RBI list (1286).
                In an interview with former teammate and ESPN correspondent Aaron Boone, Jeter stated that his biggest strength as a player was “consistency”. “I’d like to think that the Yankees know what they’re getting when they put my name in the lineup,” said Jeter.
                A career .311 hitter, AL Rookie of the Year, five-time World Series Champion and a five-time recipient of the Golden Glove award, Jeter has been the benchmark for consistency day-in and day-out since making his major league debut back in 1995. Jeter’s consistency, competitiveness and confidence have lifted his game to an elite level and propelled him into the Mt. Rushmore of baseball’s historic icons.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What's next for Rousey?

                Going into her UFC 175 title bout against Alexis Davis (16-6), Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey (10-0) was undefeated in nine professional fights. Throughout her career Rousey has never depended on the judges’ scorecard for a victory, finishing 8 of her 9 opponents in the first round. In her defense of the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship at UFC 170, Rousey scored her first TKO victory (knees to body) over Sara McMann (7-1). McMann was considered Rousey’s greatest challenge up to that point in her career; it took 66 seconds for the champion to defeat the challenger.
                During her most recent defense of the belt, Rousey finished the challenger, Davis, in only 16 seconds (punches). In the blink of an eye, Rousey found herself “grounding and pounding” her opponent to a victory after a slick head and arm toss from the champion. Before the fight Rousey addressed Davis, a winner of 8 of her last 9 bouts, as the “most balanced fighter” she had ever faced in her career. 16 seconds, what a strenuous battle right?
                Immediately after her title defense Rousey was interviewed by UFC ringside commentator Joe Rogan. Rogan asked Rousey about possibly fighting on short notice Aug. 2 at UFC 176. While Rousey claimed that she would take the fight, she noted that she may need some time to heal up from a nagging knee injury which will require surgery before she reenters the octagon. Reports from several MMA news outlets also released that Rousey broke her right hand in the UFC 175 co-main event, so fans can expect a lengthy rest period from Rousey before she defends her throne again.
                In the mean time, speculation among UFC followers concerning Rousey’s next challenger have risen.
                Fans across the MMA stratosphere have been waiting for a dream matchup between Rousey and Cristiane “Cyborg” Justiano (12-1). This fight could be all but a reality as UFC Commissioner Dana White has displayed disinterest in signing Justiano due to her previous failed drug test. Also, the likelihood of “Cyborg” making a cut to the bantamweight division would be a long shot, considering the 29-year-old already undergoes a severe weight cut to make the 145 lb. division. A catch-weight bout between the two is also very unlikely, as Rousey is not too delighted at the idea of gaining weight that she will eventually have to lose to defend her title.
                Perhaps the most deserving candidate to challenge Rousey next for the belt is Cat Zingano (8-0). Zingano has been the number one contender for the Bantamweight belt since she defeated Meisha “Cupcake” Tate (14-5) in The Ultimate Fighter season 17 finale. Zingano was already scheduled to square off with Rousey as an opposing head coach in season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter, but forfeited her spot due to an ACL injury which left her sidelined in need of surgery.
                As of now, Zingano is back training in the octagon and has returned to MMA activities since her recovery. Zingano is scheduled to fight Amanda Nunes (9-3) at UFC 178 in order to lock up a title shot against Rousey in the future.
                With the champion expected to be on the sideline for the next several months, the women’s Bantamweight division is full of contenders ready to battle it out for the right to challenge Rousey.

                However, dethroning Rousey will be a tall task to expect of any female fighter at this point. Consider this, in her last 1:22 of time in the octagon, Rousey has finished two opponents. Challengers should focus on making it out of the first thirty seconds against Rousey, let alone the first round.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tanaka takes the Majors by storm with monster first half

                On January 23, the New York Yankees signed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to a blockbuster deal worth $155 million dollars over seven years. The 25-year-old was certainly deserving of all the hype surrounding his name this past offseason. Over four seasons pitching in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league in Japan, Tanaka garnered some unearthly statistics. He amounted a 99-35 record while maintaining a 2.30 ERA over that span. The Japanese ace had his most impressive campaign in the NPB last season.  He concluded the season with a 24-0 record and a 1.27 ERA.
                Since his Major League debut on April 4 against Toronto, in which he fired seven innings of two-run ball for a victory, Tanaka has put any thoughts of a delayed overseas transition to rest.  Through July 7, Tanaka’s stat line includes a 12-3 record, a 2.27 ERA, and 130 strikeouts over 122 1/3 innings pitched halfway through the season. Tanaka is certainly considered a threat for the pitching Triple Crown in the American League as he ranks: First in strikeouts, second in ERA, and sixth in strikeouts. With this resume, Tanaka has established himself as a prime candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. The 6-foot-2 starting pitcher was also selected to his first career All-Star Game this past Sunday and seems to be the front runner to start the ‘mid-summer classic’ for the AL squad. Tanaka has also been a workhorse for Joe Girardi’s club this season. The Yanks’ starter has three complete games on the season (1st in the AL). One of these performances included a four-hit, shutout victory over the New York Mets on May 14.
                From World Series champion closer Koji Uehara, to All-Star pitcher Yu Darvish, to 1995 Rookie of the Year Hideo Nomo, the “Land of the Rising Sun” has produced some marvelous talent on the mound which has migrated to the Major Leagues in recent decades.

                Tanaka has certainly not skipped a beat in his transition from Japanese competition to the US. He has embraced the pinstripes and now finds himself atop an elite tier of Major League hurlers through this point in the season. Look for the Japanese prodigy to make a solid run towards the Cy Young Award and possibly the pitching Triple Crown in the American League. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Let the LeBron James Lottery begin

                “Not one… not two… not three… not four… not eight” by now we have all heard LeBron James’ declaration to Miami Heat fans, made four years ago shortly after the ‘Big Three’ assembled in South Beach. Unfortunately for LeBron and company, the Big Three have only garnered two NBA Titles in their four seasons together. With all members of the superstar trio opting out of their contracts this summer, there is no telling whether the Big Three will ever fulfill the championship-winning prophecy which James laid out four years earlier.
                On June 24, James’ agent, Rich Paul, announced that the 29-year-old would be opting out of his contract with Miami. Since shaking the whole orbit of this year’s free agency market with his decision, James has not been shy to discuss financial desires for his future services. James has made it known that he wants a maximum-payday for the 2014-2015 season, this would approximate at a value around $20.7 million for the upcoming season.
                The Miami Heat possess a massive salary cap space of $55-million dollars entering this free agency period. Considering that Pat Riley and his organization decide to resign all members of the Big Three this summer, their cap space would be diminished and the club would have hardly, if any, leftover dollars to spend on adding beneficial pieces to their roster. The prospect of Miami keeping all three of their superstars is beginning to seem more and more faint by the day, sources report that after holding a private meeting amongst themselves, the Big Three are still not certain about their futures together.
                Several other clubs are already salivating over the prospect of claiming James, the gem of this free agency period, and making him the cornerstone of their franchise.
The Lakers have reportedly contacted James’ agent about acquiring LeBron’s services. If it came down to dollars, a big market franchise such as the Lakers would have no struggle in providing the money to James.
The Los Angeles Clippers have also shown interest in signing James. The Clippers acquiring James would not be so unrealistic, considering that point guard Chris Paul and James are very close friends on and off of the court. Just imagine a player of LeBron’s caliber joining forces with an electric, dynamic roster, like Los Angeles’.
Houston is also looking to make a blockbuster deal for the 10-time All-Star. The Rockets already possess a pair of franchise cornerstones in James Harden and Dwight Howard. Considering that rings are what LeBron desires, he has an excellent opportunity to form another Big Three in the Lone Star state.
The prospect of packaging a deal uniting James and fellow superstar free agent Carmelo Anthony is also on the wish list of several NBA franchises.
Cleveland and Atlanta are among the teams hoping to construct a deal which will land both superstars on their rosters this upcoming season.
Cleveland, oh Cleveland, how could we forget about you? James’ return to Ohio could be a reality and the Cavs have certainly shown interest in getting their icon back. With point guard Kyrie Irving signing an extension this offseason, Cleveland could be signaling to LeBron that they are title-contenders and finally have supplied the supporting cast he so desperately desired as a Cavalier.
            With his opting out, James has once again put himself in the eye of the NBA free agency storm. Will he decide to keep loyal to his Big Three in South Beach, or will the four-time MVP “take his talents” elsewhere on the NBA map in pursuit of Finals hardware? Stay tuned folks, ‘The Decision’ … Part Two. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Dodgers take charge in the West

            With a 1-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians (39-43) on Monday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers (48-37) took sole possession of first place in the National League Western division. Dodgers’ pitcher Dan Haren fired seven shutout innings as LA took a half-game lead on the San Francisco Giants in the west. Dodgers’ rookie first baseman Clint Robinson got his first career Major League hit which drove in LA’s only and ultimately winning run on the night.
            The Dodgers’ path to a division lead has been all but on a smoothly paved road. The last time Don Mattingly and his club found themselves in first place was on April 24, over two months ago. On June 8 Los Angeles was a hefty 9.5 games behind, then, division-leading San Francisco. Since then LA has gone 15-4, picking up 10 games within the division.
            The ‘men of the mound’ for LA have contributed massively in the Dodgers recent hot streak. During the month of June, LA pitchers accumulated a 2.53 ERA. In June, opposing batters hit only .223 against the Dodgers hurlers, who also racked up 232 strikeouts as a staff over the month.

Dodgers’ pitching this season has been packed with valiant efforts from individuals within the staff. Clayton Kershaw put together a historic month of June, going 6-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 61 strikeouts. Kershaw also just happened to throw a no-hitter on June 18 against the Colorado Rockies. Zack Grienke also picked up two wins during June, giving him a 10-4 record to this point in the season. Grienke is tied for the National League lead in wins by a starting pitcher. Josh Beckett was dynamite for LA, sporting a minuscule 1.36 ERA this past month.

Currently standing at 48-37 on the season, the Dodgers hold the third best record in all of Major League Baseball. The Dodgers are certainly alive and well in their quest for back-to-back NL West division crowns. Favored by many as the World Series favorites in the preseason, the Dodgers have had their bar of expectation raised to a whole other tier by a fan base which has not hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy since 1988.