Wednesday, May 26, 2010

CB More?

Ever since Lebron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all eschewed longer contracts and signed shorter three year extensions back in 2007, the basketball world has been anticipating the summer of 2010.

On July 1st that trio will hit free agency with numerous possible destinations thanks to the salary cap scrambling of several teams as they prepared for the big bonanza.

Chris Bosh tweeted his own wish-list last week, revealing that he was open to playing in any of Chicago, Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto next year, so let's examine the scenarios that could play out and the effect they would have on the Toronto Raptors.

Scenario A: Sign & Trade with Marcus Banks or Reggie Evans for Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson
In order to get back the one guy they actually want (Gibson), the Raptors would also have to take the Bulls two worst contracts, but they do get to relieve themselves of a bad contract of their own. Two major problems with this: 1) neither Deng nor Hinrich fit very well with the rest of the current roster; and 2) it's never a smart move to get rid of a one year $5 million contract for two, multiple year $10 million contracts.
Chances of it actually happening: 1%

Scenario B: Sign & Trade for Michael Beasley, Udonis Haslem, Free Agent X and two first round draft-picks
If this were to happen it might kill the NBA in Toronto. Unless someone hires Isiah Thomas to run their team we're stuck with Andrea Bargnani and Hedo Turkoglu for the next four years. Adding Michael Beasley to the mix, even if it were for only one year, would be too much. The number of lifeless jumpers and the amount of indifference on the defensive end would cause Jay Triano's replacement to resign. No, not re-sign. Resign as in quit.
Chances of it actually happening: 0.5%

Scenario C: Sign & Trade for David Lee
In this situation the Raptors would sign Bosh to a massive extension that may or may not be the maximum but would certainly be in the neighborhood of $17 million a year. The Knicks would sign Lee to a Hedo Turkoglu type of deal (say 5 years and $55 million) and include Sergio Rodriguez and Wilson Chandler to make the salaries work. With a starting five that included Bargnani, Lee, Turkoglu and Calderon, the Raps would have the potential to be the worst defensive team in the history of basketball.
Chances of it actually happening: 18%

Scenario D: Sign & Trade for Andrew Bynum (with the Lakers including Jordan Farmar)
Most people look at the Lakers and see a team that doesn't need to do anything...that wouldn't dream of doing anything. They're about to go to their third straight NBA finals and are on the verge of back-to-back championships. Why mess with a good thing, right? Well, first remember that they switched in Ron Artest for Trevor Ariza last year, and second, how many stories have you heard about Kobe mercilessly harping on Bynum for his injuries, immaturity, inconsistent play, bowling too much, being too big, whatever. The point is, Kobe has never been a big Bynum fan. In Toronto Bynum, who was never better than the third option in LA, would instantly become 1 or 1A on offence. The Raptors would get a 22 year-old seven foot center who has the talent and proven ability to replace the 20 and 10 that Bosh takes with him. Even with Bynum's significant injury history this deal makes the most sense.
Chances of it actually happening: 40%

Scenario E: Bosh leaves as a Free Agent
For the Raptors, this could be the most beneficial outcome to the entire Bosh saga. Seriously. Take another look at those options. I could live with Bynum, and everyone else listed certainly has his merits, but every one of them would be hard-pressed to live up to their contract. And Bosh wouldn't live up to his if he chose to re-sign and stay here either. He's not good enough to be the best player on a championship team and carrying his contract would have been a burden moving forward...just as carrying any of the contracts listed above would be a burden. The better option would be to let him walk and then sign a few lower tier free agents after the market settles. None of the above options are going to take this team to the next level, so why bother forcing something?
Chances of it actually happening: 41%

Scenario F: Bosh re-signs and stays
Not. Going. To. Happen.
Chances of it actually happening: 0%

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


In 1997 the Oakland A's named 35 year-old Billy Beane their new General Manager. Beane was a new-age thinker, a sabermetrician who identified under-valued skills and quickly exploited those inefficiencies in the baseball player market. In Oakland, Beane implemented a statistically-based shift in baseball philosophy and consistently produced contending teams with a payroll that was in the bottom-third of the league.

If you've read Moneyball you're saying 'yes, we know'. Well...I promise you I'm going somewhere with this, so stick with me.

Boston began following Oakland's principles in 2002 when the Red Sox made 28 year-old Theo Epstein the youngest GM in baseball history. Epstein ended 85 years of Red Sox frustration by making several astute pick-ups and delivering a championship in 2004. A year later both Texas (Jon Daniels, 28) and Arizona (Josh Byrnes, 35) got with the program and then Tampa Bay hired 30 year-old Andrew Friedman in 2007. Collectively they have learned from the OBP boom, are thriving in the WHIP era and fully understand that the VORP needs to be with you.

That year the NBA finally noticed what was happening in baseball that and soon the Houston Rockets made 34 year-old Daryl Morey their GM and Sam Presti (31) took over in Seattle/Oklahoma City. Morey and Presti have adopted new ways of valuing players and their output. They've helped usher some of the new basketball statistics (Offensive/Defensive Efficiency, True Shooting Percentage, and Player Efficiency Rating) into the mainstream but more importantly they've used it for their advantage. Morey paid 50 cents on the dollar in a trade for Kevin Martin in February and has Houston in excellent salary-cap position to add a big name next summer. It's only with a tiny bit of hyperbole that I say Oklahoma City resembles the 1981 Edmonton Oilers - at worst they're a poor man's version. (Durant is Gretzky, Westbrook is Messier, Green is Lowe, Presti is actually works pretty well, you know...assuming the Thunder now go out and win four championships in five years.)

All of the aforementioned GM's share several qualities, namely: 1) age (clearly)...very young by comparison to the rest of their colleagues; 2) it was the first GM job for each of them; 3) they all embraced non-traditional statistical information; and 4) none are former elite players or come from famous sporting families. Epstein went to Yale. Friedman was a securities analyst. Byrnes began as a 24 year-old intern for Cleveland. They're college educated and/or have made there way up the ladder with smarts and hard work. Oh, and every one of their teams have an enviable roster stocked with homegrown talent and free of any ridiculously long-term contracts that can kill you.

And then there is the NHL, where Florida just hired 59 year-old Dale Tallon and back in November, Pierre Gauthier (57) took over in Montreal. Of the 30 NHL GM's, an overwhelming majority are on their second opportunity. Or they're a former high-profile player. Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman, who will turn 37 in June, is the youngest manager in the NHL and one of only seven current GM's under the age of 50.

This is by no means meant to be an ageist attack, nor a judgment on the capability of Tallon or Gauthier to run NHL teams. But the fact is that owners, specifically NHL owners, continue to hire the same types of GM's despite mounting evidence in other professional sports that this updated model is indeed better. Who will be the team that first embraces the MoneyPuck philosophy, and why in the world is it taking so long?

Back in Major League Baseball, two more teams joined the new-age trend this past offseason when San Diego put Jed Hoyer (36) in charge and the Toronto Blue Jays handed the keys to Alex Anthopoulos (32).

Both teams are off to surprising starts.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Salt in the Wound

After the Cavs and Celts get things figured out (and judging by last night, they may already have) the NBA will be down to only four teams with the chance to win a championship, and I am genuinely terrified of one potential outcome.

Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the impending free agency of Chris Bosh, Lebron James or Dwyane Wade.

What literally scares the bejesus out of me is the possibility that a certain former face of the Raptor franchise, a guy who makes Spencer Pratt look likeable by comparison, could very well become an NBA champion. Thinking it makes me want to wash my mind out with soap. But I can't stop. The man Toronto fans have never forgiven or forgotten in the six years since he shamed himself out of town...could soon end up with a ring.

Vince Carter and the Orlando Magic just finished off their second straight playoff sweep and have won 14 games in a row. Actually, 'won' doesn't even come close to explaining what the Magic have been doing. Dwight Howard and company quietly led the league with a +7.5 point differential in the regular season and that number is up to a laughable +17.5 in the postseason. You know how sometimes you hear someone say so and so "destroyed that team"? Well, Orlando literally destroyed the Atlanta Hawks in the second round, beating them by 43, 14, 30 and 14 points in the four games while also (likely) getting coach Mike Woodson fired, and sending Joe Johnson into free agency with a $20 million haircut on his next contract.

The Magic, who also went to the NBA Finals last year, are shooting the lights out and have the best defensive player in the league. They could very well become the 2010 NBA Champions.

For Raptor fans who's only saving grace for most of the last six years has been the knowledge that no team with Vince Carter on it would ever contend for a title, this is a sobering thought. We thought we knew Vince could never be counted upon for an honest effort nor ever be trusted to play in any pain (and I mean any, like band-aid any) and this meant he would never get to the top. This was the guy who sabotaged our franchise by killing his own value with his transparent lack of effort right after demanding a trade. This was the player who became a sideshow with his ridiculous inflation of injury, who threatened to never dunk again, and fought his coach at halftime.

When Vince forced his way out of town the door could not have hit him quicker or harder on the way out...and we've never gotten over him. Carter was the guy who put the Raptors on the map, at first with his otherworldly dunks and then when he transformed them from expansion team to playoff team and very briefly, to playoff contender, before it all went horribly wrong.

Witnessing Vince Carter have the satisfaction and career achievement of being on a championship team is a real possibility. But I pray it doesn't happen. This wound is still open.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mailbag V1.0

You know how some writers get a free column every once in a while where instead of coming up with an intriguing angle or shedding light on a hidden subject, they simply answer questions in a mailbag format?

Well, I think you might know where I'm going with this. The only thing is that I didn't exactly have the option of selecting real questions from my readers (both are extremely busy) so I had to go ahead and make them up myself.

Here we go...

Q: Is the American baseball media really this dumb?

A: Over the weekend Roy Halladay stopped the Mets eight game winning streak and improved his own record to 5-1. He has three complete games (including two shutouts), a 39/4 strikeout to walk ratio, and a 1.47 ERA. Anyone who followed the Blue Jays over the last 10 years will tell you these stats are not surprising in the least, especially with Halladay now pitching in the inferior National League, and yet the American baseball media is acting like they're seeing Bigfoot.

Q: What was Chris Bosh thinking with his recent Twitter posts?

A: I could easily say that Bosh is just a technology junky, another of the new generation of famous people who embraces social media and thinks everyone else wants to know where he ate supper last night or how warm it is in Dallas...but that wouldn't be the real answer. Bosh tweeted the two questions about his upcoming free agency as a pre-emptive strike. He basically informed everyone in Toronto that he isn't coming back, and that's fine because Bosh is a 26 year-old power forward who can't score in crunch time and has plateaued as a player (Pts, Reb, Ass, FG% have all been the same since his 3rd year in the league). The guy always starts great and then wears down over the long regular season and ultimately cools off as the games become more important. Bosh is not worth a max contract in Toronto because he will never be the best player on a championship team. Am I excited about a Andrea Bargnani/Hedo Turkoglu led team in 2010-11? No. But this team has won zero playoff series since Bosh arrived. If this franchise is ever going to get to the next level, or even the second round of the playoffs, it won't be Bosh who leads it there.

Q: Which of the two Canadian teams remaining in the NHL playoffs will advance further?

A: This question is actually considerably more difficult than it appears on the surface. The Canucks were a far superior team than the Canadiens during the regular season and have the scoring depth that Montreal can only dream of. However, the West still has all of the best teams remaining making the road forward much more difficult. If Vancouver can get past the Blackhawks (112 regular season points), they'll still have to face either San Jose (113) or Detroit (102 and still not dead even though they're down 3 zip) in a monstrous semi-final. Montreal on the other hand, has the hottest goalie currently playing (although Tuuka Rask may still have something to say about that) and a far easier path to the finals. If the Habs knock out the Pens they won't be the underdog against either of Boston (91) or Philadelphia (88) in the next round and could very possibly end up playing for the Cup. Vancouver was my pre-playoff pick, so I'm sticking with them, but the table has definitely been set in Montreal's favour.

Q: Is it that big of a stretch to assume if you stick your glove in someones face and you get your fingers in their mouth you may get bit?

A: If Daniel Carcillo is the one who allegedly gets bit does anyone really care?

Q: Was Tiger Woods missing the cut last weekend the best thing that could have happened to him?

A: Two weeks ago I suggested Tiger go bad boy and last Friday at Quail Hollow he answered with a tremendously calculated move. What, you thought his game really was that bad? Not a chance. Firing a 7 over 79 was no accident. We're already hearing plenty of "Tiger will never be the same" arguments and reading "Has Tiger lost it?" articles. Just like that, Tiger has put himself in a sympathetic position. Well played Tiger.

Q: Are the Blue Jays actually better than we gave them credit for?

In a word: No. At 15-13 on the season, the Jays current record is absolutely better than expected...and it's because they're playing above their heads. Toronto has had what feels like more 9th inning comebacks and two out RBI's in the first five weeks than they've had in the last five years and other than Aaron Hill, they've been pretty much injury free. The Jays are 8-3 on the road, which means they should go about 25-45 away from the 'Dome the rest of the way.