Ray Won’t Go Away

UPDATE: Ray Rice has been released by the Baltimore Ravens, approximately 18 seconds after I published this post. Maybe I can predict the future after all. 

Disturbing new footage of the Ray Rice incident was released on Monday; deflecting attention away from the fanfare of NFL’s opening weekend. Commissioner Roger Goodell faced immediate criticism as Rice was suspended only two games for the brutality and thus he has since revamped the league’s domestic violence policies. Rice is scheduled to return to action on Friday, following Baltimore’s Thursday night game, though his left hook begs to differ. 

It’s ludicrous that the likes of Wes Welker and Matt Prater are doubly punished for ingesting illegal substances. No, the NFL should not condone those practices either, but they are on a different stratosphere than endangering the life of another. It’s clear that not only fans feel this way, as players including Terrance Knighton have taken to Twitter to express their beliefs. It’s difficult to recall another NFL punishment associated with as much controversy. Though Rice likely won’t be the last display of domestic violence in professional sports, he can be the last to face such lenient punishment. 

While Goodell’s admittedly delusional decision appears irrevocable, the Baltimore Ravens are prompted with an opportunity to make a change. If owner Steve Bisciotti wants to prevent a season-long circus from distracting his team, he’ll take action. Lengthen Rice’s suspension. Hell, release him from the organization. Any action is better than none, and I guarantee the flurry of praise the Ravens would receive would far surpass the myriad of contempt faced by Goodell. 

The Ravens travel to Cleveland in week 3. Hopefully, Ray Rice will not. 

 

 

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NFL Preview

Sundays are for football. As the summer comes to close, the nation is one step closer to enjoying its weekly dose of America’s most popular sport. Nothing compares to the seventeen week journey that already has many of us analyzing, contemplating, and salivating over its endless possibilities. So without further ado, I will take a stab at predicting what is to come. 

AFC East:

1. New England Patriots (12-4)*: It’s difficult to find any reason why Bill Belichick and company won’t go on to win their 14th division title in the last 16 years. They’ve reinforced the secondary with signings of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Future Hall of Famer Tom Brady is still more than capable to lead the offense to a successful season. It should come as no surprise that the Pats will be playoff bound again.

2. New York Jets (9-7)*: The Jets didn’t receive any help from the schedule makers, they enter 2014 with 9th toughest strength of schedule. That being said, Gang Green is capable of producing a winning season. Geno Smith looks to improve, especially with new target Eric Decker joining the squad. Led by young stars Muhammed Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, the defense is sure to be at the top of the pack. The torn ACL suffered by rookie Dexter McDougle will hurt the secondary, but look for Rex Ryan’s team to be a pleasant surprise.

3. Miami Dolphins (7-9): It appears as though Miami will fall just short. They’ll open up against two division rivals, the Patriots at home in week one and the Bills on the road in week two. Ryan Tannehill will look to silence the critics, but I wouldn’t count on it. Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno will split carries at least until one emerges as a clear favorite. The defense was shaky at best in 2013 and there doesn’t appear to be any sign on improvement.

4. Buffalo Bills (5-11): Buffalo has amassed an intriguing group of young talent, but they’ll still have to wait their turn. EJ Manuel looks to stay healthy and improve on last year’s campaign, if he can develop a connection with rookie Sammy Watkins then they may pull out an extra win or two. Former Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz takes over as the defensive coordinator and will switch the system back to a 4-3. An interesting move considering their success with the 3-4 just a year ago.

AFC North:

1. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)*: Having signed Andy Dalton to a major extension, the front office seems confident he is their franchise quarterback despite playoff inconsistency. A.J. Green will remain a lethal weapon for Dalton and Gio Bernard could have breakout season in the backfield. The offense will be supported by a top-notch defense, with the notable return of Geno Atkins on the line. Strength of schedule is in their favor. Look for the Bengals to return to the playoffs in search of win for the first time since 1990. 

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)*: Pittsburgh will give the Bengals a run for the money in the division. Roethlisberger will have a new set of weapons as the departure of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery has brought Darrius Heyward-Bey and Lance Moore to the Steel City. Le’Veon Bell is another breakout candidate in the backfield, while the addition of LeGarrett Blount could lead to a two-headed rushing attack. The defense is middle of the pack, but shouldn’t be much of a detriment. 

3. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): Though the schedule makers were favorable to Baltimore, their strength of schedule is 28, I’m unsure they will muster up more than a .500 season. Of course the big news is Ray Rice’s suspension and who is to say he will even be the same when he gets back. Joe Flacco better hope new target Steve Smith still has some left in the tank, as he looks to rebound from a sub-par season. The defense is aging and incomplete, far from the glory days of Ray Rice and Ed Reed. The Ravens will simply be average. 

4. Cleveland Browns (5-11): Uncertainty surrounds Cleveland for the time being. Will Josh Gordon be suspended, and if so for how long? Will incumbent Brian Hoyer remain the starter or will rookie sensation Johnny Manziel take control? Will it really matter who is throwing the passes if Gordon is out for an extended period of time? Who knows. There is plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball if the offensive decides to show up, only time will tell. One thing that is for certain, if you don’t like Johnny Football you don’t like fun. 

AFC South: 

1. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)*: This is the year of Andrew Luck. He’s already shown signs of brilliance in his young career and I truly believe he has a chance to jump up into the elite echelon this season. They will lose Robert Mathis and his 19 sacks from a year ago to a four game suspension to start the year. Upon his return Mathis will have to energize a defense that needs to prove itself if Indy wants to make a deep playoff push. The division is their’s to lose. 

2. Tennessee Titans (5-11): Though the defense was solid last season, and has the talent to remain that way. After that there isn’t much to write home about. It appears as though Tennessee still believes Jake Locker will be a capable starting NFL quarterback. Everyone outside of Tennessee likely feels otherwise. The loss of Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt will be felt. Rookie halfback Bishop Sankey may be a star one day, but it looks like Shonn Greene will see the majority of carries right now. Titans fans will have to wait at least another year.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): Rebuilding is the theme here. The Jaguars have accumulated a wealth of young talent including rookies Blake Bortles and Marquise Lee, as well as MJD’s replacement Toby Gerhart. The D-Line will be reinforced by Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, but the defense as whole has to prove themselves after a miserable year in 2013. There will be growing pains, but the future has the potential to be bright. 

4. Houston Texans (3-13): The Texans are not a very good football team. Yes, Jadeveon Clowney is a once in a generation talent. Yes, it will be entertaining to watch him perform alongside J.J. Watt. If the defense remains healthy they could surprise some. The offense is putrid. An aging Andre Johnson and back surgery returnee Arian Foster will have to return to their prime to provide any hope. Ryan Fitzpatrick appears to be the starting quarterback, so there’s that. First year coach Bill O’Brien will have his work cut out for him. 

AFC West

1. Denver Broncos (12-4)*: After an utter collapse in Super Bowl XLVIII, Denver is poised to rebound well. Peyton Manning will not replicate last year’s record setting performance, but he may come closer than you think. Montee Ball has the potential to shine with the departure of Knowshon Moreno. An already strong defense is bolstered by the additions like Aqib Talib and DeMArcus Ware. A devastating knee injury to Danny Trevathan won’t go unnoticed, but he should bounce back as there is no ligament damage. The Broncos will see the playoffs yet again. 

2. Kansas City Chiefs (8-8): The Chiefs will come back down to Earth in Andy Reid’s second season at the helm. Jamaal Charles is one of the biggest offensive threats in the game, but unless he gets some help it will soon be come all too predictable. Dwayne Bowe has been surrounded by controversy; recent news of a finger injury was followed up by a one game suspension. Led by Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, maybe the best linebacker duo in the game, the defense remains one of the league’s best. Facing seventh toughest schedule the Chiefs are in for a bumpy road. 

3. San Diego Chargers (7-9): Philip Rivers woke up last year, found new a weapon in Kennan Allen, and led San Diego to playoff berth. Don’t expect it to happen again. They play in a difficult division and they face one of the toughest schedules according to pre-season listings. The defense is questionable at best and will have to outperform expectations for San Diego to expect to compete in the AFC. 

4. Oakland Raiders (6-10): Oakland signed Matt Schaub in hopes he’ll return to his success a couple of years ago, but rookie Derek Carr may actually give the Raiders a better chance to win. They signed Maurice Jones-Drew to fortify the running game, another washed up star who will have to prove he has anything left in the tank. They made some moves to improve the defense by drafting Khalil Mack and signing the likes of Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley among others. If all the veterans find the fountain of youth and return to their glory days I may be proven wrong. Right now, the Raiders are facing another tough season. 

NFC East: 

1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)*: Year two of the Chip Kelly era promises to be entertaining. Nick Foles won’t put up a 27/2 TD/INT ratio again, but he may not have to. A healthy Jeremy Maclin will help fill the void of DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy is arguably the best running back in the game. No one is questioning the offense. Its the defense that will have to improve for the Eagles to make the jump from “very good” to “elite”. A lenient schedule should help them take the division title. I wouldn’t expect a deep playoff run, though. 

2. Washington Redskins (9-7): Jay Gruden takes over head coaching duties and should vastly improve on last year’s 3-13 performance. A healthy RGIII has a new toy in DeSean Jackson, a nice complement to Pierre Garçon. Alfred Morris has developed into a solid threat for the running game. Meanwhile, Brian Orakpo remains the only bright spot on a weak defense that will prevent them from being anything other than above-average. 

3. New York Giants (6-10): Eli Manning won’t lead the league in interceptions again, but he will need to bounce back in outstanding fashion for the G-Men to really make an impact in 2014. Not to mention he has to learn a new system. Key losses include Justin Tuck, Hakeem Nicks, Chris Snee, and Andrew Brown among others. One can’t forget the devastating career-ending injury for David Wilson that is going to hurt more than just their hearts. In what appears to be an NFC East theme, the defense simply will not be able to compete with high-level offenses. Who knows what happened to Jason Pierre-Paul last year, he will have to really step up now without Tuck on the line. It’ll be a difficult road for this team from MetLife Stadium.

4. Dallas Cowboys (4-12): The Dallas Cowboys’ defense was one of the worst in history last season and it has only gotten worse. Orlando Scandrick must have listened to Tyga one too many times, he’ll serve a four game suspension for ingesting Molly. Sean Lee is out for the season. DeMarcus Ware no longer dons a Cowboys’ uniform. The list goes on and on. The offense will lean on back surgery returnee Tony Romo. If he goes down again Dez Bryant will be catching passes from either Brandon Weeden or Caleb Hanie…yikes. It simply isn’t in the cards for Dallas this year. Jason Garrett may be looking for a job sooner rather than later. 

NFC NORTH: 

1. Green Bay Packers (11-5)*: A healthy Aaron Rodgers is back to lead an offense that will also benefit from Randall Cobb’s return. Eddie Lacy appears to be a franchise tailback and will complement Rodgers nicely. Defensively, they need to be consistent. Clay Matthews has got to stay healthy, new arrival Julius Peppers has to turn back the clock, and rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix must prove himself. An easier schedule than most will aid their success. Green Bay will take home their fourth consecutive division title. 

2. Detroit Lions (9-7): The addition of Golden Tate will help Matt Stafford tremendously and will draw some of the attention away from All-Universe wideout Calvin Johnson. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell remain a dynamic duo in the backfield, thus the offense is going to score and score a lot. Ndamukong Suh leads a defense made of big names and little success. To make a playoff push the defense will have to largely improve on their 2013 effort. 

3. Chicago Bears (9-7): I love the Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery trio. Matt Forte is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield, as he is a threat to catch some passes in addition to carving up defenses with his legs. The Santonio Holmes signing would have had a bigger impact years ago, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he still had some big plays left in him. An average schedule makes the defense the only question mark. Chicago addressed their needs on D with some key free agent signings, including Jared Allen, yet they still have something to prove. Come January, the Bears will be left on the outside looking in. 

4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10): Young and full of potential, the Vikings simply aren’t quite there yet. New head coach Mike Zimmer will help shift focus to a defense that gave up a lot of points a year ago. While the defense needs work, the offensive may be able to score given everything pans out. Adrian Peterson is still Adrian Peterson. Cordarrelle Patterson could have a breakout season, while the Greg Jennings of old could make a comeback. A quarterback battle is likely to give Matt Cassel the reigns for the beginning of the season. Rookie Teddy Bridgewater has tons of upside and appears to be more ready than many believe. I say let the kid start. 

NFC South: 

1. New Orleans Saints (11-5)*: The Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham duo will continue to be a problem for most defenses. Rookie Brandin Cooks has impressed thus far and will provide some speed to the offense. It appears they’ll trot out some combination of Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, and Khiry Robinson in the backfield, where they’ll miss Darren Sproles. The addition of Jairus Byrd in the secondary will aid a defense that likely outperformed their talent last year. If Rob Ryan can keep the defensive magic going in 2014, the Saints will be a threat to do some playoff damage. 

2. Carolina Panthers (8-8): Led by an elite front seven, Carolina’s strength is defense. The Panthers also benefit from a favorable schedule, leaving the offense as a major question mark. There is little doubt surrounding the capabilities of franchise quarterback Cam Newton, he just doesn’t appear to have enough of a supporting cast to flourish. They’ve essentially brought in an entire new wide receiving corps after Steve Smith and company jumped ship. A weak offensive line couple with the DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart tandem in the backfield won’t be enough to support Cam either. 

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9): The Bucs have an intriguing amount of talent, but I fear they’ll be unable to put it all together. The Josh McCown signing will only pay off if he emulates last year’s career best performance, while Doug Martin is going to have to prove himself again post-injury. Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David are two guys any defense would be happy to have, if their supporting cast steps up the defense will be very good. The schedule is only slightly on the easier side, we’ll have to see if they take advantage. 

4. Atlanta Falcons (7-9): Defensively, they still need work. They’ll open the season against New Orleans and the schedule doesn’t get much easier from there. The return of Julio Jones is huge for Matt Ryan as he’ll now have another top weapon to pair with a healthy Roddy White. Steven Jackson will try to prove he still has something left in the tank out of the backfield. Atlanta will be better than last year, but that’s just about it. 

NFC West: 

1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)*: The defending champions are locked and loaded for 2014. Headed by the Legion on Boom, expect the defense to remain the best in the league. Percy Harvin is healthy which will be a valuable target for Russell Wilson. Marshawn Lynch and his Skittles are back after a brief holdout. They’ll have to navigate a difficult schedule and emerge from the toughest division, but I think they’ll get it done again. The only question is, is this a dynasty in the making? 

2. San Francisco 49ers (11-5)*: San Francisco may very well be the second best team in the league. Unfortunately, they’re stuck behind those pesky Seahawks. Like Seattle, their defense is exceptional. NaVarro Bowman won’t return from injury until well into the season, but they have plenty of depth to make up for that. Colin Kaepernick has potential to be even better than he already is, so does Michael Crabtree. Frank Gore remains reliable out of the backfield. Don’t be surprised of the 49ers take down the reigning champs come January. 

3. Arizona Cardinals (9-7)*: Continuing the division the theme, the defense is top-notch. Carson Palmer has the weapons in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and acquisition Ted Ginn Jr. among others. He’ll have to play especially well to put up points against the division rivals. The strongest division and a difficult schedule appear to be the two biggest factors holding Arizona back. It should still be an entertaining season in the desert. 

4. St. Louis Rams (8-8): It would be fun to see St. Louis in another division, but they’re stuck in the brutal NFC West. Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and the gang are a force to reckoned with on the defensive side of the ball. Rookie Tre Mason will create a two-headed rushing attack with Zac Stacy. I just fear Sam Bradford won’t be able to take this team from good to great. The Rams are good and could sneak into the playoffs with a few good breaks. 

Playoffs:

AFC: Colts, Broncos, Patriots, Bengals, Steelers, Jets

NFC: Seahawks, Packers, Saints, Eagles, 49ers, Cardinals

Super Bowl: Colts vs. Seahawks, Seahawks win it again. 

 

Second Half Scoop

In his All-Star sendoff Derek Jeter led off with a double, superstar Mike Trout was named MVP, and the hometown kid Glen Perkins notched the save as the American League notched a 5-3 victory at the 85th Midsummer Classic in Minneapolis. While the players are resting until games resume on Friday, baseball enthusiasts like myself are pondering what’s to come in the second half. Without further ado, here are my playoff and award predictions. We’ll start with the American League.

AL East: 

It’s been a down year for a traditionally dominant division. The 2012 wild-card Baltimore Orioles are in first, while the reigning champion Red Sox find themselves in last place at the break. Tampa Bay has struggled all season and may deal their ace, David Price, before the trade deadline. Toronto’s offense is tremendous, but its yet to be seen if they can put it all together.  The Captain will enjoy his swan song regardless, though it looks as if his injury riddled Yankees will fall short of the playoffs for the second straight year. With no team emerging as dominant, this race is sure to come down to the wire.

Winner: Toronto Blue Jays. When their offensive is clicking on all cylinders they are nearly unbeatable. If Mark Buehrle can lead their staff to a impressive second half, Toronto will see playoff baseball for the first time since 1993.

AL Central:

Breakout stars Jose Abreu and Michael Brantley, among others, have provided plenty of entertainment out of the central division. The Tigers appear to have a firm grasp at the top as of now. Despite a slow start, Kansas City sits in second after a scorching hot month of June. Brantley’s Indians are in third with a .500 record. Abreu’s White Sox are in fourth, closely followed by the All-Star host Minnesota Twins. It’ll be fun to watch the youngsters try to chase down Detroit.

Winner: Detroit Tigers. Experience plays a key factor here, as Detroit is poised to take its fourth consecutive division title. Two-time defending MVP Miguel Cabrera has received plenty of help on offense from the likes of Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Ian Kinsler. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are capable of leading the rotation if Verlander’s down year continues.

AL West:

My favorite division in baseball at the moment. The best team in baseball is the Oakland Athletics. Arguably, the Los Angeles Angels are the second best team in the game. The Angels are only 1.5 games behind the A’s for the division lead. Led by their new star Robinson Cano and All-Star starter Felix Hernandez, the Seattle Mariners are in third. A young Houston team is in fourth, followed by a disappointing last place status for the Texas Rangers.

Winner: Oakland Athletics. They’re fun to watch, for Derek Norris and Sean Doolittle’s beards if nothing else. Josh Donaldson will find himself in the MVP chats yet again, Brandon Moss’ power is no joke, and Yoenis Cespedes will look to parlay his Home Run Derby victory into the second half. The resurgent Scott Kazmir and the youngster Sonny Gray lead a staff with the top ERA in the American League.

AL Wild Cards:

Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners

That’s right, the AL West will send three teams to the playoffs.

AL MVP: 

Mike Trout. He’ll finally dethrone Miguel Cabrera. Trout’s overall game has been superior to that of Cabrera’s and it appears his bat has made the jump past Detroit’s superstar too. He’ll deserve what his first of many these to come.

AL Cy Young:

Felix Hernandez. The King will take his crown. He’s currently top 3 in the American League in wins, strikeouts, and ERA with no signs of slowing down.

AL Rookie of the Year:

Jose Abreu. This was a two man race until Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow injury essentially locked up the award for Abreu. The man missed two weeks and still leads the majors in home runs. Cuba’s latest star has been a joy to watch. That’s a wrap for the AL, onto the National League.

NL East:

This pennant race will likely last through the final days of the season. Washington and Atlanta are currently tied atop the standings and are they only teams above .500. The Mets sit in third, led by All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy. The Marlins got off to a surprisingly hot start, but currently find themselves in fourth. The loss of ace Jose Fernandez was a huge blow for a team with a ton of young talent. Despite the resurgence of Chase Utley, Philadelphia is in last.

Winner: Washington Nationals. Bryce Harper will bolster the offense once back to full strength and they’re pitching currently has the best ERA in the majors. Atlanta will fight until the end, but I believe the Nats will prevail.

NL Central: 

Wow. This is the strongest division in baseball, only the last place Cubs are truly out of contention. The Pirates are only 3.5 games out and they’re in fourth! The Cardinals are only 1.5 games out in third, but the Yadier Molina injury will be difficult to overcome. Cincinnati is a game out in second and the Milwaukee Brewers are first. If someone would have told me before the season that Milwaukee would be in first at the All-Star break I would have rolled my eyes and laughed. We’re in for a treat as this one unfolds.

Winner: Pittsburgh Pirates. This will be close, but I’m taking McCutchen and the gang. Nothing I can say will completely justify this pick, so we’ll leave it at that.

NL West:

The west will come to down to a battle of two Californian juggernauts. The Dodgers are one game ahead of the Giants and no one else is even close. The Padres are in third with the worst offense I’ve ever seen. Colorado is in fourth and while the return of Carlos Gonzalez will help, their sights must be set on 2015. Arizona brings up the rear and will likely remain there for the remainder of the season.

Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers. They’ve been a World Series favorite of mine, and many others, since before the season and I’m sticking with them now. Yasiel Puig has silenced the critics in his sophomore campaign and Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. Enough said.

NL Wild Cards:

San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers

The Giants are the easier pick here, though I believe Milwaukee will squeak into the playoffs.

NL MVP:

Troy Tulowitzki. If he can continue to stay healthy this is a no brainer. He is the best shortstop in the game and one of the best players overall. He leads all of baseball in AVG, OBP, OPS, and runs at the break. His glove isn’t too shabby either.

NL Cy Young:

Clayton Kershaw. He is the best pitcher in baseball, though some would argue this award should go to Adam Wainwright. Kershaw has missed a month due to injury, but he’s provided one of the best stretches of success I’ve ever seen. When you toss a no-hitter AND rattle off 41 straight scoreless innings in the same season, it’s your award to lose Clayton.

NL Rookie of the Year:

Billy Hamilton. He’s been a thrill to watch. The kid is FAST. He turns ordinary singles into doubles, outs into hits, and disrupts the defense just by being on the field. You’ll never know what’ll happen when he’s on base, but don’t blink because you might miss it.

So there you have it. All eight playoff teams and six major award winners courtesy of yours truly. Knowing my luck I’ll be happy to see half of this come true, but hey, that’s the fun of predictions.

Homecoming King

He’s traded a bizarre, distasteful television special on ESPN for a genuine, heartfelt letter in Sports Illustrated. He’s traded South Beach for his hometown. He is LeBron James. He is, once again, a Cleveland Cavalier.

LeBron James going to the Cavaliers is the best thing to happen to Cleveland sports since, well, LeBron James went to the Cavaliers eleven years ago. It’s a complete role-reversal from LeBron’s first test of NBA free agency. A debacle that left the Cavs in turmoil and the entire of city of Cleveland in an uproar. Though 2014 Miami does not have the same emotional ties to James as 2010 Cleveland did, they are deservedly upset. The Josh McRoberts signing simply will not be enough to help an aging Dwayne Wade reach the Finals ever again, even if they do retain Chris Bosh. If Bosh goes to Houston? Forget it.

His four year Miami sabbatical will always be considered a success. After the initial falter in the 2011 NBA Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks, LeBron’s Miami Heat went on to claim back-to-back NBA championships. James himself won two MVP awards and returned to being beloved after a year of nearly universal disdain. His final season with Miami did not go exactly as planned, but no one expected the San Antonio Spurs to play some of the best team basketball in league history. In his time with the Heat they never failed to appear in the Finals and they won twice. Miami has nothing to complain about.

Now all eyes are on Cleveland. A city that hasn’t won a championship in any sport in 50 years. LeBron himself admits it won’t come easily, but there is no doubt the Cavaliers are now among the contenders. If no other moves are to be made, James is surrounded by a young, high-energy supporting cast. Kyrie Irving is one the league’s better point guards, Andrew Wiggins has all of the upside, and Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters are improving. However, the best may be yet to come for LeBron and his Cavaliers. Speculation is that Wiggins and possibly Anthony Bennett will be traded to Minnesota for All-Star forward Kevin Love. Reports state the Love would commit long-term to Cleveland. If Love does end up signing with the Cavs, all of the sudden a new big three is quietly assembled.

We’ll have to wait for the rest of free agency to unfold to get our first glimpse of exactly where the Cavaliers stand amongst the Eastern Conference superpowers. No matter what happens next the NBA’s best player has made his way back to where he belongs. This time around he is more prepared than ever to deliver a championship. When he does it will be the most rewarding one yet.

Welcome home King James, your throne awaits.

 

Tanaka Time on Pause

Yesterday evening the New York Yankees placed their Japanese rookie sensation Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list. In a year marred by a stumbling offense and crippled starting rotation, Tanaka has been a lone bright spot. His absence will undeniably hinder New York’s playoff hopes.

Tuesday’s outing was the worst of Tanaka’s young Major League Baseball career. He surrendered 10 hits, 2 home runs, and 5 earned runs en route to his fourth loss of the season. The performance left both experts and fans questioning whether something was wrong or it was simply a fluke for the 25-year-old rookie. On Wednesday we all received the last answer we wanted to hear. Tanaka to the DL with elbow inflammation. Elbow inflammation is often a sign of an ulnar collateral ligament tear or, in layman’s terms, an indication of Tommy John surgery. The team would not speculate on the severity of the injury until after the right-hander meets with team physician, Dr. Christopher Ahmad.

If in fact Tanaka’s elbow requires surgery, the Yankees find themselves in danger of missing the playoffs for the second year in a row. The rookie has recorded 12 wins, tying him with Cincinnati’s Alfredo Simon for the Major League lead. His 2.51 ERA and 135 strikeouts are good enough for third and sixth, respectively, in the American League. New York is a below .500 team when Masahiro Tanaka is not on the mound.

Missing the playoffs in the Bronx is a travesty. Missing the playoffs two years in a row is almost unheard of. The last time that happened was in the early 90’s. The addition of a second wild card team will keep them in contention for the time being, but a long-term future without Tanaka looks grim. After failing to reach the playoffs in Mariano Rivera’s final season, it looks Derek Jeter may exit baseball without even a sniff of October as well. Two Yankee legends, two proven winners leaving the game they love on mediocre teams.

Of course, this is all worst case scenario. We hope all examinations indicate nothing more than inflammation for Tanaka. If so, he’ll be back in the minimum 15 days. If not, we wish him a speedy recovery and set our sights on 2015.

For now, the men in pinstripes are resting on pins and needles.

Josh in Jeopardy

In 2012 Josh Gordon’s life was forever changed by the three letters that thousands of young men dream of: N-F-L. After a college career of both on-field success and off-field controversy, the National Football League provided the young wide receiver an outlet to showcase his talents.  Nearly two years later Gordon’s career hinges on three letters directly out of a nightmare: D-W-I.

On July 5th the Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver was arrested and charged with driving while impaired after being caught speeding down a road in Raleigh, North Carolina. The incident occurred at approximately 3 a.m.

Unfortunately the arrest is merely the most recent page in Gordon’s history book of questionable behavior. He was first arrested during his sophomore season at Baylor on drug possession charges. This arrest also led to his first suspension. Gordon was then suspended indefinitely from Baylor after testing positive for marijuana the following year. Forcing himself out of Baylor led to a transfer to Utah. He never played a down for the Utes and was taken by Cleveland in the 2012 Supplementary Draft.

Success was immediate for Josh Gordon, NFL wide receiver. So too was trouble. Following his rookie season, in which Gordon topped 800 yards receiving, the league announced he would begin the 2013 campaign on a two-game suspension. Another failed drug test. Despite a shortened season Gordon took his game to another level. He accumulated a league-leading 1,646 receiving yards on 87 catches, including 9 touchdowns. He made NFL history by becoming the first player ever with back-to-back 200 yard receiving efforts. He earned All-Pro honors for the first time.

The Browns had found their superstar. Defenses had found their new nemesis. Fantasy football players had found their money maker. But not for long. In May it was announced that Gordon had failed a second drug test. An offense that, barring a successful appeal, will banish him from football for an entire season. An appeal almost certainly will not be granted upon hearing news of Gordon’s recent run-in with the law. A late night DWI may lead to an early end of a promising career.

It is doubtful that Josh Gordon will play football in 2014. If the year off results in any further controversy, he may never play football again. The Cleveland Browns are now faced with a tough decision. They can release him and rid themselves of another distraction or they can provide him the assistance he so desperately needs. For his sake and ours, I hope its the latter. If anything is clear regarding the current situation, its that Josh Gordon needs help. I’d be remiss to witness another talent and another dream go to waste.

If he can turn it all around, Gordon has the potential to be defined by yet another three letters: H-O-F.

Yes Alex, You May Take Steroids

Suspended for the entirety of the 2014 season, Major League Baseball had eradicated its plague: Alex Rodriguez. Or so we thought. Blood Sport: Alex Rodriguez, Biogenesis and the Quest to End Baseball’s Steroid Era by Tim Elfrink and Gus Garcia-Roberts hits the shelves on July 8th. In it readers will find a shocking revelation. Alex Rodriguez was granted permission to use performance-enhancing drugs by none other than Major League Baseball itself.  A sport more tainted than Lindsay Lohan’s reputation may have put the nail in its own coffin.

Testosterone has been banned by the MLB since 2003. However, the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy allows players to apply for a therapeutic use extension (TUE) prior to the season. According to an excerpt from the book, statistics were gathered by Massachusetts congressman John Tierney in regards to the rarity of exemptions in the year 2007. Of the 1,354 tested only 111 were granted a TUE. The book states that only 2 of these exemptions, one being Rodriguez, fell in the testosterone related category. Primarily exemptions were issued for attention deficit disorder, or things like baldness and hypertension. 2007: the year Major Leagues Baseball handed Alex Rodriguez the MVP by granting him the permission to use steroids.

Sure, if this is the case A-Rod did not technically break any rules. Its the league that will and should suffer the scrutiny. I cannot possibly be the only fan out there that thinks this whole operation was a bit shady. Publicly condemning the use of performance-enhancing drugs means nothing when league officials are privately encouraging its biggest star to do exactly the opposite. Rodriguez had all the physical qualities and the accolades to indicate he could have done without any extra assistance. Perhaps the MLB saw an opportunity with this loophole they had once created. The sport’s rapidly declining popularity would seemingly have nothing to lose in bulking up its brightest star.

Seven years later the sport has nothing to gain. According to the book, Rodriguez was granted another exemption a year later prior to the 2008 season. This time it was for Clomid, a women’s fertility drug that also increases testosterone in males. Strike two, MLB. There are far too many questions to be answered before we will know what exactly these allegations mean for the league. Bud Selig and Co. better hope that this doesn’t open the floodgates on the steroid era once again.

For years, I’ve been defending America’s pastime. I appreciate its history and its nuances while most of the country questions its integrity and ridicules its pace of play. Needless to say I’m deeply frustrated in hearing the latest piece of the Alex Rodriguez saga. Just as the Biogenesis scandal was finally behind us, it appears the MLB will yet again find itself in hot water. I hope the exemptions are justified and there were no ulterior motives. Reasonably though, I have my doubts.