Anything can happen in the next half hour: The NBA, Like Thunderbirds, But Better.

August 31, 2009

pauby Jack Maidment

Form is something that any gambler swears upon. When betting upon sports, whether it be horse racing, football, baseball or basketball, knowledge of what has gone before and previously is ultimately the only way of making an informed decision on how best to spend/lose/win money.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for the ‘I have a feeling’ notions that make up such a large percentage of bets: there are countless people who have won the lottery after picking numbers which came to them when they were in the shower or eating ice cream.

But for anyone who takes their betting even a little bit seriously, putting money on a team because you’ve supported them all your life is not going to cut it and it is because of this that sports are so intriguing when taken in the same breath as gambling. To plan a bet is to try to take into account any number of things that could happen or go wrong; a complete impossibility.

You could watch a team like the Lakers play for the whole season. You could be confident that their roster is the greatest the NBA has to offer. You believe that Kobe is the best player in the L and that he is the edge that allows LA to beat teams when it gets a little tight. You see the front court rotation of Artest, Bynum, Gasol and Odom as one of the most versatile and dominating in both conferences. You see them win all their homes and you start thinking: that’s some easy money right there. Even with short odds on a Laker win, a large bet will see a large return. And what could be safer than the League’s undefeated team?

And so the Milwaukee Bucks or the Memphis Grizzlies roll into the Staples Centre and you are forced to watch as the Lakers are undone by a team that form suggests should have a shot in a thousand of winning.

Gambler or not, it is the unpredictability of most sports that keeps us coming back for more. The knowledge that anything could happen and that nothing can be or should be banked upon.

For example, the Celtics were many people’s favourites heading into last season but an injury to their anchor Kevin Garnett reduced them to commendable also-rans. An injury here, a suspension there. A cheeky trade.

Imagine that Pau Gasol bitch slaps Kobe and is swiftly shipped out of Lakerland or failing that is confined to the bench for the season. Or how about the entire Orlando Magic roster complains about Dwight Howard to the extent that they refuse to play with the All Star?

Fantastical? Yes. But the point is that weird stuff happens in sports and that is about the only thing that you can take to the bank.


Phoenix: Where Utter Madness and Warped Reasoning Happen.

August 27, 2009

Steve nashby Jack Maidment

“I think that move was looked at as a white flag of surrender. We didn’t get anything back in that trade in terms of bodies, of players that we intended to keep. But the truth is that move gave us the financial flexibility to move forward and improve in a subtle way.”

The immortal words of Steve Kerr, the Phoenix Sun’s General Manager, when asked to illuminate the benefits of the deal that sent Shaquille O’Neal to the Cleveland Cavaliers in return for a pack of skittles and some squeezy cheese.

Any time that a GM uses phrases like improving in a ‘subtle way’ after trading one of the League’s best ever succeeds in doing only one thing: providing a growing list of detractors and haters who would happily wave goodbye to Kerr’s entirely controversial tenure in Arizona with even more reason to doubt the direction that the Sun’s are headed.

In the NBA, the words ‘financial flexibility’ are acknowledged as code for ‘save lots of money’, but the fact that such a message is emanating from one of the A’s more successful franchises is cause for bemusement.

It isn’t like watching the Memphis Grizzlies go after Allen Iverson strictly for ticket sales purposes regardless of how he wont fit with the team itself. Financial motives are supposed to be restricted to the lower echelons, not the Suns.

That’s why the situation in Phoenix is weird rather than sad. The vision of the team that was so solid two years ago has officially gone missing. It’s like the compass has been smashed and they have been left rudderless, unsure as to what direction they should head.

Clearing cap room by moving O’Neal would suggest the Sun’s are keen to rebuild rather than re-tool immediately otherwise they would have pursued a deal in which they received something of use for Shaq: there must be faith in Robin Lopez to grow with no other center on the horizon.

Yet re-upping Steve Nash for 2 years and oodles of noodles is hardly the move of a team looking to the future. For Nash, the winning has to start now, but the situation in Phoenix hardly looks conducive to producing the Canadian the rings that he deserves.

This contradiction doesn’t even take into account Amare Stoudamire’s belief that his chances of staying in the Valley of the Sun are 50/50.

What it is to be a Sun’s fan.


Gilbert Arenas: Don’t Call It A Come Back.

August 17, 2009

gilby Jack Maidment

The dreaded knee. Is there a piece of the human anatomy that strikes fear into the hearts of fans and franchises alike more than the K word? How many times have we seen a player seemingly destined for stardom or more brought crashing down to the earth by a knee injury.

Kenyon Martin. Joined the League with some of the scariest hops and most ferocious game ever seen but micro fracture surgery later and K-Mart’s future instantly became less stellar.

Shaun Livingston. Most hyped point guard, the next Magic, humbled and struggling for a roster spot in Oklahoma by a devastating knee blow out.

The list is long and the story is always a damn shame. Robbed of greatness by an innocuous jump or step.

There is no other stigma more damaging than a guy who has come back from, or is on the way back from knee surgery and rehabilitation. The cloud of doubt remains over their future, forever labelled with a question mark and the accompanying fear that what has happened previously might rear its ugly head for seconds.

It is with a mix of trepidation and excitement then that Gilbert Arenas is ‘back’ and, according to his coach, ‘better than ever’ after having his knee fixed up a number of times in the past 2 years.

Don’t call it a come back, but Agent Zero, one of the League’s absolute premier assassins, is playing ball again and his appearance at pro-am games suggests that there is no doubt in his own mind of his fitness. He is ready. Otherwise he wouldn’t be allowed within 10 miles of an outdoor asphalt court and a gang of amateurs gunning for the Hibachi.

Apart from the 2 games he came back for last year which were essentially non events due to his conditioning, Arenas has been confined to street clothes for what seems an eternity and the Washington Wizards faithful will be praying that there is substance to the sunshine coming from the mouths of Gil’s people.

Hell, its not just the Wizz who should be getting Holy right now: every fan in basketball should be offering up to the higher power of their choice for the return of Arenas, all fixed up, because the truth is we miss him.

We miss his buzzer beaters, his end of quarter heroics, his wit. Quite simply, we miss the man.

Welcome back Gilbert Arenas. May your stay be long.


Usain Bolt: The Greatest Show on Earth, Vick signs for Eagles, NBA Peaceful

August 17, 2009

bolt

by Jack Maidment

It has been a pretty crazy past few days if you are a person with any love for sports. There are people who are entirely devoted to one sport; that’s their thing, their only thing. Not me. Heaven is indeed a playground so any sort of game where drama and amazement can be conjured is always getting my attention.

Firstly, Michael Vick returns to the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles on a 2 year contract. Whatever your view on Vick, one thing is unavoidable: dude was the most exciting quarterback in American football. Other guys were more accurate, threw for more yards and touchdowns, wopn more rings, but given the choice of watching any QB do his thing, Vick would be my choice every time without question.

Should he be playing? He did something stupid and he was punished in accordance with the law. As far as I’m concerned, he deserves a second chance. Let us hope that his forced absence has focused Vick to hit even higher heights when he returns to his privileged position on the field.

Secondly, Usain Bolt became the fastest man in the history of the world. I know you could pick holes in that statement, but his race was that damn good that I challenge anyone to contradict.

The 100 metre final at the World Championships in Berlin was quite simply one of the greatest sporting spectacles that I have ever been privileged enough to witness. I was far from existence when Wilt Chamberlain dropped 100 points or when Ali fought any of his finest bouts, but I was watching when Bolt delivered the single greatest episode of speed in the history of mankind.

9.58 over 100 metres is quite frankly obscene; he is anatomically far beyond anyone else that competes in his event. But the race wouldn’t have been as special without the performances of the other 7 competitors, 3 of whom also went under 10 seconds, the first time in history that that has happened. 

Commiserations to Tyson Gay who ran the 3rd best race of all time and yet finished second. If it weren’t for Bolt, Gay’s national record time of 9.71 would be heralded as the fastest ever, but as occurs in many sports the best are often thwarted by the slightly better.

Think Jordan denying Malone, Stockton, Barkley, Ewing, Thomas etc.

As for the NBA, apart from the Rashard Lewis suspension, relatively little is actually going on. Ever since the league got its house in order, the prospect of off season excitement has been dramatically lessened.

Joe Smith has signed for the veteran’s minimum with the Atlanta Hawks and Quentin Richardson has been traded for the fourth time in one off season. Meanwhile Dwyane Wade’s acquisition of a large house in his home town of Chicago has led every reporter in America to speculate over the future of the League’s third best player. Oh yeah. I said it.

Come on NBA. Do something.


Nobody in the NBA has more to prove than Luol Deng

August 11, 2009

Luolby Jack Maidment

Imagine for a second that you are a Chicago Bulls fan, fresh off of the series defeat to the Boston Celtics in round one of this years playoffs. You are happy and content despite defeat, safe in the knowledge that your team has just taken the defending NBA Champions as close as possible in professional basketball to defeat in a series that will go down in history as one of the finest of all time. A series worthy of more spoils than a mere second round birth.

If defeat can be anything other than heartbreaking, this was the time. A young Chicago team had done themselves proud. They could hold their heads high when glancing at the banners Jordan had provided, believing that their performance allows them hope of adding to the fabric hanging high above the floor.

By taking Derrick Rose with the first overall pick in the 2008 draft the Bulls had acquired the kind of player that only comes along every so often. Given his rookie season and his astounding play against Boston the Bulls have every right to think that Rose will become the League’s most dominant point guard for the next 10 years.

Couple Rose with the youthful exuberance, length and athleticism of Tyrus Thomas, who could be ‘the best running big man in the league’ according to Jeff Van Gundy, and the wild competitiveness of Joakim Noah and the Bulls are in a fine position to move forward with confidence and belief in their future.

That is not to forget the present though with many believing the Bulls will only improve on last year’s playoff run next season. Veterans like John Salmons, Brad Miller and Kirk Heinrich give Chicago one of the best benches in the East and in Vinny del Negro they possess a coach undaunted by one of the biggest jobs in basketball who acquitted themselves with aplomb since his arrival halfway through last year.

Which leaves us with the Luol Deng, the man charged with sparking the major resurgence of the Bulls: you don’t hand a player $71 million over 6 years for mediocrity and role playing.

The departure of Ben Gordon has left a 20/30/40 points a night space in the Bulls line-up which Deng will be required to fill. Coming off of a lengthy injury, Deng will have to hit the floor running to begin justifying the huge amount of faith (money) placed in him by the Bulls. The fact is, Deng has been in the NBA long enough for fans and GM’s alike to demand results. He can be ‘a project’ no longer.

$12 million a year is All-Star money and Chicago need a guy who Rose can at least half the pressure that accompanies playing for one of the biggest teams in sports. It has to be this season for Deng.


The Obvious: Western Conference

August 1, 2009

carmeol

by Jack Maidment

The Laker’s remain the strongest team in the League and adding Artest improves their ability to defend the re-jigged Orlando Magic, shut down Paul Pierce and flexibility when matching up against LeBron James.

Anyone coming out of the East must fear the Los Angeles Lakers.

Richard Jefferson automatically reinvigorates the Spurs who will return to challenger status and the second step below LA. Old? Yes. Dangerous? Absolutely.

Antonio McDyess and George Hill will lead one of the best benches in the West: a potent combination of veteran know how and youthful exuberance with Dejuan Blair fulfilling his billing as the biggest steal of the 2009 Draft.

Barring a sudden explosion of improvement from Greg Oden, the Portland Trailblazers will remain 3rd or 4th favourite in a ‘still better than the East’ conference.

Andre Miller will prove himself solid, but far from the impactful veteran that the Blazer’s targeted this free agency.

Utah will once again highlight the restrictions of careful ownership when Carlos Boozer leaves and they are eliminated in the first round. Again.

The Dallas Mavericks will hope that Old Father Time has forgotten the location of Texas with their starting line up featuring more combined years than a redwood.

Carmelo Anthony will continue his rightful rise toward equal status with Kobe, LeBron and Mr Wade while his Nuggets will have to work extremely hard to recreate the magic of last years’ playoff run.

The Oklahoma City Thunder will be the team to take advantage of the Phoenix Suns demise, pipping a close run thing to 8th spot built on Kevin Durant’s surge toward best player in the world conversations.

Meanwhile the Clippers will be the Clippers, reminding everybody that it takes more than talent to win games. Unless they are sold or head coaches are changed Blake Griffin’s impressive Rookie of the Year Award will do nothing but propel the team back to the lottery.