Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

Welcome to the new, hopefully, weekly segment on Painting the Black. It is my goal to start your work week off right with random thoughts, ideas, rants and ramblings from the week that was in the world of sports. Exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations…

April is Undoubtedly the Best Sports Month

I used to believe that April and October were essentially equal in the best sports month department. I have now officially changed my mind. There is simply no comparison to the month of April. While October features playoff baseball and the new beginnings of the NBA and NHL seasons, the month of April contains all those things flipped around, but so much more. The Masters start the real golf season off right as we saw one of the most exciting Master’s of all time with big Bubba gettin ‘er done. But on top of that, everyone’s favourite bullshit season, the NFL draft is arguably the best football day of the year.

Yeah, April trumps the competition.

Liberal Strike Zones

I’ll never understand why so many umpires choose to give such liberal strike zones. The plate is there for a reason yet umpires are always giving 2 or 3 inches off the edges. This isn’t anything new to baseball but it is something that should change. The MLB is having enough problems with teams inability to score runs and it doesn’t help that umpires continually call strikes that hitters simply can’t reach in this steroid-less, nasty off-speed, hard throwing age of baseball.

It always rubbed me the wrong way that star players in any sport get the benefit of the calls. They are already the best and do not deserve an even bigger advantage. Greg Maddux is the pitcher that immediately comes to mind whenever I see star pitchers get the benefit of the doubt on calls outside the zone. Expanding the strike zone beyond its predisposed limits makes great pitchers like Maddux virtually unhittable. All this ‘they have earned it’ stuff is really just a bunch of garbage

Why the MLB puts up with this is beyond me. Like the NHL, they are losing ground on the NFL and NBA and a simple fix for more runs would be to tell umpires to call strikes within the strike zone. Who is running this league? Gary Bettman?

I don’t get it.

Pujols Struggling

The choice to sign a player on the wrong side of 30 to a double-digit year contract doesn’t really ever strike me as the brightest idea.
Now, of course it would be moronic to deem Albert Pujols’ 10 year contract a failure after 21 homerless games but the decision making behind the signing was questionable prior to the signing. The fact that his age is still an unknown and that he already was on the decline last season, despite his great second half, were not good indicators for his success over the next decade.

Missing Colour in the NHL

The amount of high quality colour commentators in the world of professional sports is few and far between but each sport seems to have at least 1 or 2 guys that qualify as elite. Except for hockey that is. Watching the NHL playoffs this year has brought this to my attention again.

CBC’s lead guy, Craig Simpson, suffers from a severe case of lack of insightful analysis and appears to be ignorantly blissful to all the head shots, hooking, holding and other problems that are hurting the game of hockey. Although Pierre McGuire knows his stuff well for the most part, there is a sense of arrogance to his general lack of likeability from NBC’s new top colour man.

It’s frustrating that, out of all the former players and front office men, they can’t find one guy to be the voice of authority for the NHL. The game experience really becomes a lot less enjoyable without that dynamic tandem up in the booth.

Steve Nash to Miami?

I keep hearing about Steve Nash to Miami and how this is the ideal destination for the 2-time NBA Most Valuable Player to win a championship. Sure, Miami would give Nash arguably the best opportunity to finally get that elusive ring but that’s about all it will do for him. The ring isn’t everything for Steve Nash. There’s a reason why he hasn’t demanded a trade out of Phoenix. He likes it there. He likes playing in a system that he is comfortable with and, more importantly, where he is the focal point.

Nash dominates the ball but that wouldn’t be the case with Dwayne Wade and Lebron James. I can guarantee you that Steve Nash doesn’t want that. Miami and Steve Nash makes about as much sense as cheeseburgers on a pizza. What, Pizza Hut did that?

Welp, anything is possible I guess.

Classy Bruins Fans. Very Classy.

Not that you probably need it but here’s another reason to hate Boston sports fans and it’s not a good one. Following Washington Capitals African-Canadian forward Joel Ward’s game 7 overtime game winning goal, a barrage of racially filled hate flooded the twitterverse directed at Ward by the defeated Bruins fans. It’s a classless display. I realize that it is only a small portion of the Bruins fans and by no means represents their entire fan base, but the fact that there were enough people to use the dreaded N-word in this defamatory manner to make a story out of it is pathetic.

The double-edged sword nature of twitter rears its ugly head again as its lack of any sort of filter allows emotionally charged individuals to vent their frustrations before they have any chance to properly collect their thoughts. Twitter is fascinating in that regard because it shows people in their most uninhibited state, without the masks that they put on for society each and every day. It’s almost like alcohol in that your true persona and feelings come out whether you like it or not. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe this could not have happened to another city’s fan base but, at the same time, it is by no means a shocker that the city of Boston is the culprit.

Good on Joel Ward for playing the story down though and not making this out to be something more than it has to be.

Jose Bautista, ah, Struggling

Like Pujols, Bautista is mired in a prolonged slump, which seems to concern me a lot more than the rest of Blue Jays nation. Sure, Jose Bautista has hit the most home runs in the Majors in the past 2 seasons, had a slash line of .302/.447/.608 in 2011 and WAR’d an outstanding 8.5 last season. However, those inflated numbers were due in large part to his torrid April and May. Yeah, I know his OPS was still .896 after the all-star break last year but he hasn’t ever looked like the same player since last May. A lot of his walks were because of his inability to put the ball in play even as pitchers shied away from him less and less with the realization that he wasn’t Barry Bonds anymore.

Enter 2012, where Bautista is slashing a terrible .187/.337/.333. While it would be absurd to say that Jose Bautista cannot become close to a shadow of his former self, I think it’s starting to become evident that his post all-star break numbers are a better indication of what we’re going to see from him in the future. As a Blue Jays fan, I want to be wrong (kind of). I was wrong in the summer of 2010 when I told the Blue Jays not to re-sign Bautista. Being wrong doesn’t hurt nearly as much as seeing Bautista pop out or foul back good pitch after good pitch.

It doesn’t look as though it is merely a matter of finding his timing anymore. He still has the power but something is seriously wrong. Maybe this is a case of coming to a conclusion a little bit too quickly but this feeling has been churning in my stomach since last June and, as of right now, it isn’t going anywhere.

Don’t Turn Off the Game, Ever

I think I turned the Clippers-Grizzlies game when Memphis was up by 21 points with about a minute left in the 3rd quarter. Bad idea.

By now you probably know how the story turns out. Fairy tale for the Clippers, horror story for the Grizzlies and yada, yada, yada. Nevermind the awesomeness of the comeback in itself. This is just another one of those “if you put it in a movie you wouldn’t believe it” moments that play such a big part in making sports so fascinating to society. I realize I didn’t actually watch this comeback but these are the times when I feel sorry for people who don’t watch sports. Those guys are missing out.

Bonus (Shameless?) Contemplation!

I was thinking that you might want to check me out on twitter and then give me a follow @paintstheblack if you like what you’re seeing. Maybe before you do that, don’t leave the website and subscribe to the blog either through the email subscription in the right hand corner or with the RSS feed so you can have immediate access to the latest articles on Painting the Black. Sweet, I know.

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Hierarchy Established?

It may have taken 7 games but it looks as though Robin, in Oklahoma City’s very own Batman and Robin combination, has finally realized his place.

For some odd reason, the mentality of Kobe Bryant, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss have rolled into one man’s brain. Highlighted by a triple overtime win against the Grizzlies in game 4, it was apparent that Russell Westbrook’s ego had expanded as large as Jared before he got on Subway.

Even though the Thunder won game 4 and Westbrook scored 40, the alarm bells were ringing loud. Time after time, Westbrook felt it was his duty to play the isolation game while Batman played spectator. He took 33 shots compared to Durant’s 20, while Durant still poured in a very efficient 35 points.

Throughout the year, Westbrook has played as if he has the talent and burden Derrick Rose possesses. This has been a problem for Oklahoma but the bright lights of the NBA playoffs have magnified the situation. Westbrook had to change. Prior to game 7, Westbrook had taken 134 shots compared to Durant’s 105. That just ain’t right.

In game 7, Westbrook took 12 shots compared to Durant’s 25. Well that’s more like it.

Thunder fans better hope that this is a sign of things to come in the Western Conference Finals.

Westbrook is one of the most explosive players in the NBA but he is not one of the best. It baffles me that playing beside the league’s leading scorer hasn’t kept that massive ego from swelling. Obviously no one else in the Thunder organization has been able to keep his ego in check either and it almost cost them an early exit.

It doesn’t matter if Westbrook figured this one out on his own. All that matters is that he changed. He was able to resign himself to the fact that he is Robin and that Robin is the sidekick.

Kevin Durant showed us all that he has the heart of a champion but he couldn’t have done it without his sidekick doing his job. Westbrook had 14 assists and became one of only a select few NBA players to have put up a triple-double in a game 7.

Putting all of this on Westbrook might not completely fair because Durant has to be more assertive. Kevin Durant is the boss and Westbrook needs to know that.

Coming up as clutch as he did had to show Russell Westbrook whose team it really is.

Russell Westbrook is becoming one of the NBA’s premiere point guards but he will always be second fiddle as long as Kevin Durant is around.

Game 7 cannot be an anomaly for the Thunder. It has to become a recurring theme not only for the immediate prospects of the franchise but also for the future. It’s scary to think that Durant and Westbrook are both 22. However, the Thunder are not nearly as scary if Westbrook has any intentions of continuing his campaign to be top dog.

We all know that Batman and Robin can be a lethal team but if Robin wants to be Batman then the whole dynamic is thrown out the window. If the Oklahoma City Thunder want the future to be now, Russell Westbrook needs to decide which character he wants to play.

Hopefully he knows that there is only 1 choice.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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Memphis Still Needs Rudy

Rudy Gay nails a game winning shot right between the eyes of Lebron James

Despite the 93-87 loss in game 2 tonight against the Spurs, the good times should still be rolling in Memphis. Going back home with the series tied at one’s with arguably the league’s best regular season team should be quite an accomplishment for a team that has never won a playoff game in franchise history.

The Grizzlies hung tough once again with the Spurs last night. No one was surprised. In fact, people were picking this upset before the series started.

The casual fan must be wondering how anyone could fathom Memphis taking a game off the Spurs much less winning the series without their franchise player in Rudy Gay. They just signed him to that fat five-year $82 million contract this past off-season. How can you beat the Spurs without your best player?

The casual fan may be asking how they’re doing it without their star but Memphis fans and those who follow the NBA closely are now questioning Memphis’ need for Rudy Gay. Memphis went 15-10 down the stretch to secure a playoff spot without their star while playing some stiff competition. They even tanked the last two games to assure themselves a matchup with the Spurs.

It’s okay Grizzly fans, not to worry because you still need Rudy Gay and his flabby contract.

The numbers don’t always tell it all. I realize that Memphis’ winning percentage down the stretch without Rudy was .600, more than 50 points better than when Gay was in the line-up. Yes, Memphis was more efficient on the offensive end, outscoring their opponents by 3.6 points per 100 possessions as opposed to 2.0 per 100. Overall, they were better statistically without Rudy Gay.

Well you know what they say, don’t ya?

Stats are for losers.

Rudy Gay may have been playing the best ball of his career this season prior to his injury, averaging 19.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and shot almost 40 percent from beyond the arc. However, that’s not why the Grizzlies need him in order to take the next step as a team.

The Grizzlies need the scoring wing player who can give you your close, late game, isolation offence. They need it as badly as Ron Artest needs his psychiatrist and it couldn’t have been more apparent in game 2.

The recent recipient of a hefty contract extension, Zach Randolph is one of the toughest guys to guard in the league. Sports Illustrated Zach Lowe went as far to say that he is “one of the league’s truly unguardable offensive players.” Nevertheless, going to Z-Bo late in games is not the easiest offense when the defence collapses and the best guy spreading the floor for your team is Shane Battier.

Look at it this way. All the best teams have a go to scorer who can get their offence at will. Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Wade and Lebron, Kevin Durant, Manu Ginobli and the list can goes on. I guess I should throw in Michael Jordan just for kicks.

The Orlando Magic don’t have a scorer who can simply get his at will. It’s probably why the Magic won’t win building solely around Howard.

It would be a capital offence to put Rudy Gay in the same category as the guys mentioned above but at the same time he is not in another dimension as those players either.

Playoff defence is tight and when the best teams clamp down with five minutes left in the fourth quarter it is the weaker teams that have more trouble executing. It’s not a coincidence that only four number eight seeds have gotten out of the first round in NBA history. However, you run your late game offence through a dynamic player like Rudy Gay and suddenly things are looking a little brighter. Remember his game winner against the Heat earlier this year? If you’re not a Raptor or Grizzly fan you probably have no idea that he hit a virtually identical game winner in Toronto.

The current make-up of the Memphis Grizzlies presents a bright future but if you can sit there and tell me with a straight face that that roster has the ability to take the next step without Rudy Gay then you might also want to see Ron Artest’s psychiatrist.

Rudy Gay isn’t at the level that will take the Memphis Grizzlies to the Promised Land. At least not yet. The Grizzlies are growing as a team and Rudy Gay is growing as a player. If Memphis is ever going to make the jump from good to great they will need Rudy Gay to help get them there.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I am now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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Head-Scratching Deals Highlight NBA Trade Deadline

Baron Davis is on his way out of LA

Generally the trade deadline is a rather uneventful time of year in the NBA. I guess you can call this year an exception. In the last 72 hours, NBA GM’s were more active than Charlie Sheen at a brothel. With a final flurry prior to the 3pm eastern deadline and team’s desperately trying to piece together a winner, it was almost inevitable that we see some mind-boggling transactions.

In sifting through the plethora of deals here are my biggest head-scratchers from the NBA trade deadline.

Clipper Calamity. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a calamity but it definitely should fall under the category of a head-scratcher. The Clippers traded Baron Davis and their 2011 first round pick to the Cavaliers for former all-star Mo Williams. I’m actually very surprised at the amount of people who felt this deal was a positive for the Clippers. Sports Illustrated writer Zach Lowe is one man who feels this was a success for the Clippers. Supposedly, it will also allow their young point guard Eric Bledsoe to take the reins of the team while allowing more cap flexibility for the Clippers.

The problem that I have with the trade is that the Clippers are likely giving up a top 10 pick. I don’t care that this year is supposed to be a terrible draft class. Besides Blake Griffin, didn’t they also say the same thing about the 2009 class that produced Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson, Demar Derozan, Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison. Maybe you won’t find a franchise player but there is no reason that you shouldn’t be able to find some quality, impact players with that high of a pick. They need to be surrounding Blake Griffin and Co. with solid role players, not trying to save money.

Moreover, despite the fact that Baron Davis has proven himself to be a fat, lazy slob, it is evident that he has been a steadying influence on the Clipper team this season. They don’t need to win now, nor are they going to win with Baron Davis at the helm. However, a veteran guy like Davis is important on such a young team, and you can see it by how lost they are on the floor without him.

Sure, the Clippers gain flexibility to sign free agents in the off-season, especially if they are able to dump Mo Williams’ contract on someone. That’s not what they should be focused on though. Getting a quality player in the draft should be priority number one. The Clippers, in my opinion, have done it again. They had been in prime position to finally play the role of contender in 2-4 years, but yesterday they took a step backwards.

Boston Blow-Up. Kendrick Perkins is gone. Yeah, you’re probably thinking what we’re all thinking. Whaaa??? Perkins is well-known around NBA circles as an incredibly intricate cog to the Boston Celtics’ well-oiled machine. He represented the hardnosed, defensive force that is the Celtics. Not anymore. Perkins was traded alongside Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City in exchange for Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic.

Even this guy was perplexed by some of the NBA deadline deals

Obviously, there was an Orlando Magic-like need for a shakeup in Boston as they sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 41-14 record. Wait, I don’t think something is quite right about the last sentence.

With a team as thin at the center spot like the Boston Celtics are, you have to wonder what they are thinking giving up Perkins. They also traded rookie center Semih Erden to the Cavs, which leaves them with two old farts in Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal. Durability is such an issue surrounding those guys and even though Nenad Kristic will be added to the mix he doesn’t fit the Celtics mould of rough and tough. Of note today, Glen Davis started at center for the Celtics. Yup, Big Baby.

They did acquire a great piece in Jeff Green but where does he fit in? Does he take over the Marquis Daniels role? Is that why they felt that Perkins was expendable? Who knows?

For a team that has reached 2 finals with Kendrick Perkins and currently sits first in the Eastern Conference this deal is more peculiar than a dog riding a scooter.

Sun Setting. Steve Nash protégé Goran Dragic and a lottery protected first round pick was traded to the Rockets for soon to be restricted free agent Aaron Brooks. After being injured, Brooks lost his job as starting point guard to Kyle Lowry and like Goran Dragic he has regressed in his play since coming back from injury. I don’t see anywhere that Brooks fits into the short or long-term plans of the Suns. Nash is still under contract for 2 years and there is no way that Brooks and his undersized self can play alongside Nash at the 2 guard spot for the time being.

Obviously Goran Dragic is not the wave of the future but could someone please try and make some sense of this deal for me because I flat out don’t get it. I don’t see the Suns signing Brooks to be the long-term option, but hey, you never know.

Memphis Blues.
A sad trade for the Grizzlies that can only benefit this team in the short run as they hope to reach the playoffs in the ever weakening Western Conference. The Grizz traded former #2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet and a first round pick to the Houston Rockets for an expiring contract in Shane Battier and guard Ish Smith. This is a head-scratcher for me just because it seems odd that the Grizzlies felt that they had to give up a first round pick to unload Thabeet. Sure, this move might put them over the edge in their playoff run this year but giving up so early on such a high draft pick on top of sending away a likely mid-first round draft pick won’t make things any easier as they try to build a contending team in the future.

Raptor Riddle. For my finale I have to vent about the Toronto Raptors acquisition of James Johnson. More specifically, I have to point out another blunder from the city of Toronto’s equally confusing General Manger. Bryan Colangelo obtained James Johnson by giving up the first round pick Toronto acquired from Miami in the whole Bosh mess. Johnson was the 16th overall pick in the 2009 draft and apparently the Raptors would have drafted him had Demar Derozan not fallen to them, at least according to the Colangelo.

The Raptors, in desperate need of more wing players, got hold of the lengthy 6 foot 9 Johnson to play small forward. As much as they need more depth on the wings Johnson is not a guy that they should be looking for as he is yet another wing player for the Raps who is unable to shoot from beyond the arc.

I realize that I sound like a broken record, nevertheless I can’t stress enough the importance that bottom teams should place on their draft picks. Colangelo has done a terrible job managing draft picks for the Raptors and the first time in a long time the team has multiple first rounders he decides it’s a good idea to trade one of them away. Great. I’ll just put it out there that I have zero faith in Colangelo’s overrated self. He has done nothing for the Raptors organization and the only thing keeping him alive is the fact that he signed Steve Nash. Great.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. You can also follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favor.

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