After a Year, We’re Back for More Magic at Sawgrass

The 2015 season in golf was truly remarkable. From the manner in which Jordan Speith dominated the field and the course at Augusta to Dustin Johnson’s utter collapse on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay to Speith nearly winning the remaining two majors to Jason Day overpowering the links course at Whistling Straits, it was a great year to be a golf fan. And all that excitement brought with it anticipation as everyone waited for the 2016 season to open (particularly the “Majors Season”) so we could see what would happen next. If last month’s Masters is any indication of the type of season that is upon us, we might not even remember the fun we had in 2015. We’re all looking forward to seeing how the game’s greatest hold up at the historic Oakmont at the U.S. Open in June. We’re all wondering, can Jordan add a couple more majors to his bag at such a young age? Will Jason Day capitalize on his PGA Championship and world number 1 ranking? Can Rory recapture the magic in a major that has seemed to allude him as of late? Will another young star emerge on one of the game’s greatest stages? And what will Olympic golf in Rio look like this Summer?

 

So many questions. But the one I’ve been waiting to have answered for 12 months is here this week: what is the sequel to the 2015 Players Championship?

 

Rickie Fowler’s play at the TPC at Sawgrass last year was nothing short of incredible – more specifically, his play at the 17th was mind-boggling. He didn’t run away with the tournament (heck, he had to go through 2 other guys in 4 playoff holes to finally secure the title), but he didn’t need to run and hide. He didn’t need to set a scoring record in route to winning what’s deemed the sport’s “5th Major”. The way he won it was perfect just the way it unfolded.

 

Fowler shot 6-under in his final 6 holes Sunday afternoon; and when he took the tee box at the Par 3 17th, he stuck his wedge within 7 feet of the pin, as the Stadium Course crowds went wild. But that was really only the beginning of Rickie’s magical afternoon. The playoff he fought to be a part of with Kevin Kisner and Sergio Garcia would force the threesome to return to the 17th as part of the 3-hole aggregate playoff format. And again, Fowler dropped his tee shot within 6-feet. Two times in the matter of 90 minutes, Fowler struck 2 tee shots that few would be able to hit once in their lifetime. But because Kisner and Fowler remained tied after the 3-hole playoff, the two made the trek back to the island hole for the climax to the drama. He couldn’t possibly hit a better shot than what he’d already hit TWICE earlier, right? RIGHT???

 

Wrong.

 

He did.

 

I don’t expect the same magical performance from Fowler this weekend, but not because he’s incapable of playing well and even successfully defending his title – rather expecting a result in the way it happened last year would be unfair. But Sawgrass brings out the magic. It’s a special course. The crowds, the island hole, the purse. Let’s not be remiss – The Players is called the “5th Major” and it pays like it too. Someone will piece together their own bit of magic this weekend – we can only hope it comes any where close to last year’s ride. Here’s a few players to watch:

 

RORY

(Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy

You can’t help but wonder how Rory will respond after missing his most recent chance to complete the career Grand Slam last month at Augusta. It’s not like his game was looking all that great heading into the Masters, but now after a Saturday 77 put him out of contention what is his mental makeup moving forward? That’s probably a silly question considering Rory has long been considered one of the most mentally-tough players on tour. He finished tied for fourth at Quail Hollow last week and is still ranked inside the top 10 in driving distance. Bottom line – Rory’s too good to not be in contention this weekend. And he loves the limelight and certainly has a flare for the dramatics. What better stage than the Stadium Course.

 

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(Halleran/Getty Images)

Sergio Garcia

I typically don’t get in the habit of picking Sergio Garcia to win very often. Admittedly, there’s not much rationale behind it – maybe it stems from him not being able to hang on to the lead in the majors he’s contended in, maybe it’s his demeanor that irks me, or maybe he just flies under my radar most weeks. Not this week though. If anyone has a better resume at Sawgrass, please bring them to me at once! Besides winning The Players in 2008, Sergio has finished runner-up twice (including last year in the playoff), placed third in 2014, holds 6 top tens here, and is the all-time earnings leader at this tournament. Tiger Woods would always say a course “fits his eye” when explaining the successes he had at certain venues. Sawgrass fits Sergio’s eye without question. For a course that forces top-notch iron play, Sergio has it covered. Length off the tee is not a prerequisite for winning at the Stadium Course. Sergio’s accuracy and his ability to reach greens in regulation will give him a really good shot at holding the trophy, again, on Sunday.

 

UNIVERSITY PLACE, WA - JUNE 18: Henrik Stenson of Sweden smiles on the fifth hole during the first round of the 115th U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay on June 18, 2015 in University Place, Washington. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Henrik Stenson

Stenson is a guy who I keep waiting to see holding the Claret Jug or donning a Green Jacket. The former FedEx Cup winner has the game to win a major championship. Stenson won at Sawgrass in ’09 and came close in 2013. He hits the ball straight off the tee and that’s what you need to be able to do. What will play to Stenson’s game is the fact he can put the driver in the bag and not be punished. The question will be his putting. How he handles the flat stick seems to be the recurring issue for the Swede.

 

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(Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports)

Patrick Reed

How do 8 top ten finishes sound? How do you like someone ranked 3rd on the PGA Tour in Scrambling? Pretty good, huh? The catch with Patrick Reed, however, is you can’t take the good without the bad. Two of the American’s last 3 starts found him finishing 49th and 28th, respectively, on Sunday. But his ability to recover and not compound mistakes with more mistakes is a great asset, especially on a course like Sawgrass. Playing mistake-free is not an option for any player this weekend – can Reed make enough shots to be at top after 72 holes?

 

Zach Johnson of the United States tees off on first hole during the third round of the 111th US Open at Congressional Country Club on June 18, 2011, in Bethesda, Maryland. AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Zach Johnson

No one’s game has ever been more simple, more accurate, or less exciting than Zach Johnson!! Similar to Jim Furyk’s game in that his accuracy always keeps him in contention, Zach Johnson’s bugaboo can be his lack of length off the tee. But Sawgrass puts little emphasis on length. His ball-striking will be on full display this weekend and Johnson’s nerves of steel will make him one to watch on Sunday afternoon.

 

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(Meyer/Getty Images)

John Senden

Maybe a guy off the beaten path who comes up this weekend and snatches a career-changing title is John Senden.  The 45-year old Australian has put together 4 top 25 finishes this season, including a T17 at Quail Hollow last weekend. His game is very unassuming and he is not likely to take many risks at Sawgrass. If he can limit the errors and scramble in the top 10 for the week, Senden’s play on the greens is good enough to put him near the top of the leaderboard Sunday.

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No Steph, No Problem: Klay Thompson Proving Curry’s Not the Only Superstar Guard in Golden State

Great teams find ways to win – even when they shouldn’t. Even when the odds are stacked against them and unforeseen circumstances occur that put them up against the wall. Let’s face it — what I’m describing is not quite what the Golden State Warriors are facing; however, they do have to deal with a certain amount of adversity as their MVP guard and superstar, Stephen Curry, recovers from a sprained knee. Despite the record-setting 73-win regular season, the Warriors still had to maneuver through the difficult Western Conference playoffs – with a looming battle with the almost-equally great San Antonio Spurs. When Curry went down, that difficult journey became much more treacherous – some may even consider the Spurs the favorite if Curry isn’t close to 100-percent healthy. But before we start talking like the Warriors title chances are doomed, maybe we should take notice of a star who’s shining brighter than ever in the absence of his fellow Splash Brother.

 

Klay Thompson hasn’t exactly just been going through the motions and catching a free ride on a championship team. Let’s not forget, this is the same player who went for a record 37 points in a single quarter in an NBA game last season. Thompson’s 3-point shooting prowess is only bested by teammate Curry – in the HISTORY of the NBA!! This season, Thompson shot over 42% from long range and hit 276 total three balls – a mark that only trails Curry in NBA history. But something has elevated him to another stratosphere this playoff run. And one can’t help but wonder that with Curry sidelined, Thompson has embraced the role of a superstar.

 

Through Games 4 and 5 against Houston and Game 1 against Portland, Thompson drained 7 three-pointers in each – an NBA postseason record. What’s most impressive is that he did that with Curry, for the most part, on the bench injured. Thompson has increased his points per game from the regular season to the playoffs as well – 22 ppg up to nearly 26 ppg. No one will argue that Klay needs to be a banger inside and grab many boards, but even his rebounds per game have slightly increased from the regular season; and his assists have gone up 1.5 per game in the postseason.

 

Now, of course, it’s only logical that Thompson’s production and opportunities would increase with Curry out. And the 2015-16 NBA Playoffs are only 7 games old for the Warriors so it’s hardly a wealthy sample size to make sweeping proclamations. But what Thompson has stepped into when his team needed it was a role that he may not relinquish all that quickly – with Curry back or not. Don’t misconstrue what I’m saying – there will NOT be a battle between the guards to see who the star of the team is (heck if there’s a battle for that, I’m not so sure Draymond Green wouldn’t beat the both of them). What may happen is the birth of a second star, who will fill the role his team needs him to fill but has all the ability in the world to step up and do much more when called upon to do so. That’s the trick that NBA teams and players can’t quite seem to figure out – LeBron and D-Wade couldn’t figure that out in Miami or else they would have collected more than 2 titles. The feeling around the league is you gather as much talent as possible and throw multiple stars together and the winning will just happen – that’s why rumors still persist about LeBron uniting with BFFs Chris Paul, Carmelo, and, again, with Wade. Superstars = Rings. But that’s proven to not always be the best formula to follow. And while these Warriors have supremely talented players, they all fit roles that they accept and thrive in. No question that Steph is a superstar (and face of the NBA), Klay is stating his case, and Draymond Green has established himself as one of the most well-rounded players in all of basketball. But these guys know what their team needs to be successful. That’s why they won last year against King James in the Finals. That’s why they bumped Michael and the Bulls from the top of the mountain and went 73-9. And that’s why – Steph or no Steph — no one should overlook them right now.

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Oh, Bob Quinn, Why Must You Tease Lions Fans?

When Bob Quinn arrived in town to take charge of the Detroit Lions franchise, fans in the Metro-Detroit area hoped he could replicate what few Bill Belichick disciplines have been able to do. Moving the Foxboro philosophy to other NFL cities hasn’t exactly panned out for those who have attempted the feat — Scott Pioli struggled in Kansas City; the Josh McDaniels coaching experience in Denver was disastrous; even Belichick Originals Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis couldn’t make head coaching gigs last in the NFL. But if one organization’s fan base deserves something to be hopeful for, it’s got to be the Lions. And when Martha Firestone Ford chose Bob Quinn to become the Lions new General Manager, fans could envision the Patriot Way settling in, nice and comfortably, in Allen Park.

 

In filling the many holes on the Lions’ roster, Quinn certainly went about his re-build with his old employer in mind. He pulled guys who had a history in New England –Tavon Wilson, Stevan Ridley, and Tim Wright. He added another tight end in Matthew Mulligan – the Patriots have been known for years for having a propensity for running multiple tight end packages. He took a flyer on former Giant Geoff Schwartz to add depth to the offensive line. And he even spent money signing a former Cleveland Brown cornerback, Johnson Bademosi, much in part to his skill set on Special Teams – very “Belichickian”. So Lions fan were happy, the future seemed brighter and the franchise appeared to behaving like an actual NFL franchise that wanted and was trying to win.

 

Then the draft came and more reason for optimism in the Motor City. Quinn went safe with his first pick as Lions GM and took Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker. He followed that up with a second round pick that many projected as a first rounder in A’Shawn Robinson – defensive tackle out of Alabama. Quinn, then, added a center, a hard-hitting safety, and a few picks to add depth to the defensive line, guard position, and linebacker. He even scooped up a Long Snapper. The only other team known to draft long snappers is, well, you know. Everything was moving nice and steadily in the right direction it seemed. Slowly and methodically build the team, keeping in mind the Belichick blueprint. And then came the 6th round…

 

With his 6th round pick, Bob Quinn undid all the good he had done. He gained the trust of the Lion fan base. He nurtured them along free agency – being smart and judicial. He went through 5 rounds of the NFL Draft, picking players who fit the roles he was looking for. Then, he, unwittingly, threw the Detroit Lions fans into a delusional fit. His sixth round selection made the Lions fans think of another Patriot move that forever changed that franchise. University of Michigan quarterback selected in the sixth round? Have we heard that before? Anybody? Anybody?

 

Heading into the draft, the quarterback position was a need. The talk around Detroit (and the league) was that Matthew Stafford needed someone backing him up that would push him in practice and light a bit of a flame under him. In order to get the most out of your franchise quarterback, you need to make him feel a little pressure from within – that was the thought. Some thought Dak Prescott from Mississippi State or Kevin Hogan from Stanford with a mid to late round selection was where the Lions were headed. Some even thought Connor Cook’s free fall would end with the Lions in the 3rd or 4th round. Nope. The Lions stuck to the theme that Bob Quinn brought to Detroit – the Patriot Way. And what is more “Patriot” than grabbing a 6’3” U-M quarterback who completed over 60% of his passes and held a 2 to 1 touchdown to interception ration in his career in Ann Arbor? Am I talking about Jake Rudock or Tom Brady? Ha, it’s a trick – those stats describe them both! (I kid. I joke. It’s funny.) But to Lions fans, this is not a joke. It’s not funny. It’s real and it’s possible that Jake Rudock will do for the Lions organization what Tom Brady has done for New England’s. Crazy? Yes, of course. High unlikely that will actually happen? Agreed, 100 percent. But tell that to Lions fans. Jake Rudock may as well throw on a number 12 jersey, start dating supermodels, and pick up cliff-diving in the offseason.

 

Poor Lions fans have been through so much – Barry Sanders leaving them high and dry on the eve of training camp, Matt Millen singlehandedly setting the franchise back 10 years by trying to field a team made up of only first round wide receivers, Calvin Johnson retiring early. The list goes on. And now, just when Bob Quinn has steadily and cautiously convinced fans that by rationally operating the front office the organization could be headed down the winning path, he goes ahead and let’s the crazy back in.

 

Good luck, JR15. (In 15 years, remember this was all a joke – I really did believe you would turn out to be like TB12.)

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Spurs – Thunder: Act 3

One has 5 NBA Championships since 1999; three presumptive Hall of Famers; one of the greatest professional coaches in all of sports; and a known pedigree for winning. The other has 2 of the NBA’s top 5 players; a 6-year run of hanging around the top of the Western Conference and contending for an NBA Championship; and an ability to any given time to look like the best team in the league. Welcome to Spurs-Thunder III.

For the third time in six seasons, these two perennial Western Conference powers will meet – this time for the right to play the defending champion Golden State Warriors (assuming all goes according to plan on that end of the bracket). The previous two series were in the Western Conference Finals, with the winner moving on to represent the conference in the NBA Finals. But make no mistake – that should not make this series any less important or less exciting. In fact, this series may just carry with it more intrigue than either of the previous two meetings.

With Steph Curry’s sprained knee sidelining him for up to 2 weeks and the uncertainty surrounding how healthy he will be once he does return, this series takes on a bit of a Western Conference Finals feel. The winner of this series will certainly be feeling more confident than they would have felt 2 weeks ago before the reigning MVP went down in Game 5 against Houston. Couple that with Kevin Durant’s impending free agency and the aging players on the Spurs side — like Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker — and this may be the last time we have a playoff meeting with these same stars. There’s a lot to look forward to as these two heavyweights prepare to match up.

  1. Russell Westbrook. OKC has the perfect situation when they take the floor against most teams. They roll out Westbrook (a triple double machine) and Durant (a physical freak of nature) and let the opponent pick their poison – because you can’t stop them both. And that very simple formula is more often than not good enough to put the Thunder in the win column most nights. But I did say MOST teams. The Spurs are not most teams, of course. And Kawhi Leonard is not your typical NBA defender. Leonard will be tasked with the challenge of guarding Durant during the series. And that matchup has yielded very positive results for Gregg Popovich’s team this year – Durant shot 26% from the field with Leonard guarding him and still below 40% with Leonard just being on the floor at the same time as the former MVP. So it seems Pop has the right idea when it comes to limiting KD’s production and efficiency. But Westbrook is another story. With Tony Parker and Danny Green taking turns checking the high-energy guard, Westbrook shot 67% from the field in the four games the two teams played this season. Will Westbrook’s production, alone, be enough to give the Thunder the edge?
  1. OKC’s Bigs v. LaMarcus Aldridge. The Thunder have the athleticism to make this a series and even win the thing. But they don’t have the skilled big men to bang with the Spurs in a 7-game series. Billy Donovan will have to be very strategic with Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, and Enes Kantor – who they will match up with and how to keep them out of foul trouble. LaMarcus Aldridge is not a poor rebounder by any means, but if you’re going to find a weak spot – rebounding is it. And Matthew Bonner and Boris Diaw are also flawed in the paint when it comes to grabbing boards. So the opening is there for the Thunder to take advantage, if they play their cards right. If Kantor and Adams can be a force to some degree on the offensive glass and get easy put-backs or create second chance opportunities for Durant and Westbrook, that will be a success. And let’s not forget about the Hall of Fame man in the middle that Popovich has gone with for nearly 2 full decades. Tim Duncan will not let this series come and go with being heard from. Being a presence in the paint and putting up 12 and 8 might be all the Spurs need.
  1. The San Antonio Bench. You will have a hard time finding a deeper bench in the entire NBA than what Gregg Popovich has at his disposal. This will allow Pop to run hard defensive schemes at OKC’s dynamic duo and not worry too much about foul trouble with his starters. San Antonio has done it all year with the league’s nastiness defense and the ability to rest key players for longer stretches during games and not miss a beat. The Pop’s 2nd and 3rd teamers stand on their own at times while facing the oncoming rush of Westbrook and KD?
  1. The Tale of Two Styles. Billy Donovan would love to run up and down the floor all day long with his potent superstars slashing and gunning; but that’s a tall order against any lineup the Spurs send out. He has far better athletes and far more firepower. But the Thunder lack a defensive prowess. Popovich will try to muck up the game on the defensive end, stall the Thunder attack, and play with obscene offensive efficiency on the other end of the floor.

This Spurs team may be the deepest that Gregg Popovich has had during this historic stretch of dominance. He now has a new core of players – LMA and Kawhi have slid in for Ginobili and Duncan. But the same blueprint for winning exits – staunch defense, efficient offense, role players who do what is asked of them (and do it very well), and protect homecourt.

The Thunder must feel a sense of urgency – the looming free agency of their superstar forward and the sense that they have fallen short of expectations for years now. They run into, quite possibly, the strongest of the Spurs teams they have had to face over the last 6 years with, remarkably one of their weakest teams during this stretch. Their bench can’t match San Antonio’s, Donovan’s defense is not of the same world as Pop’s, and they have struggled all season to hold 4th quarter leads. But they have the athleticism to keep them in games, and they have a history with the Spurs. They won’t be afraid and they won’t back away.

This may be the final time these players all meet in the playoffs wearing these uniforms. Sit back and enjoy it. This is what NBA Playoff basketball should be.

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Are the Tigers Trending Down an Undesirable Path?

There’s nothing worse than making baseball predictions in the Spring. Granted, it’s fun to pick the Cy Young Award winners before anyone’s thrown a single ball or strike. It’s exciting to guess each league’s Most Valuable Players and compare your picks with the experts’ picks – because, yes, they do it too. In this “bracket obsessed” sports world we live in, who doesn’t play Nostradamus and predict the playoff teams and the matchups on the road to the World Series? It’s great. It’s fun. It’s what sports fans do. (We’re also often wrong – which again, is what we sports fans do.) But trying to characterize a team or player this early is usually unfounded, knee-jerk, and ultimately ends up being incorrect and making us look and feel a little sheepish. For instance, how many times do teams stumble out of the blocks in the cold Spring months only to heat up when the Summer temps start cooking? How many times does a pitcher get off to a 2-2 lackluster start, but then put his team on his back in August and September in a march to the postseason? So I tread with caution with what I’m about to say and understand that this is only partially-based on the little we have seen this season — there is a history, here, with this bunch: The 2016 Detroit Tigers are fast becoming an unlikeable team.

Let’s play a game — Detroit is “Hockey Town”. The Stanley Cups line Woodward Avenue. The city loves its Red Wings.

The Lions are one of the most pathetic franchises the NFL has, but fans still fill up Ford Field every Sunday. The city loves its Lions.

The Pistons have been pretty nonexistent for the last half a decade or so. But there is still hope and desire to move the team downtown so it can be in the mix with the other teams in the city. Now say it with me: The city loves its Pistons.

But when it’s June, July, and August here, there is arguably nothing better than sitting outside and turning on an afternoon Tiger radio broadcast or watching a night game in 70-degree weather down at Comerica Park. The city loves all its teams (some I’m still not quite sure why), but it loves its baseball team. And that’s why what is happening with this ball club is so unfortunate.

Some will think this blog was set in motion by the acts (or the one single act) of Tyler Collins on Monday night. But that’s not the case. Collins’ one finger salute to the home crowd is barely a blip on the radar with this team – but it is a small example of how this team and its players have been distancing themselves from a fan base that adores them.

The Tigers sit at 9-10 through the first 19 games of the young season. That’s not in and of itself the problem – neither is the fact they have dropped 7 of their last 10, neither is the fact that their highly-touted offense seems to go into hiding too often. A team’s “love-ability” factor, if you will, is not directly tied to wins and losses. Heck, the Chicago Cubs have embraced the nickname “The Lovable Losers” for practically a century!! They’ve marketed it and made money off of it!!! Made money – off of LOSING!! Fans can see beyond losing. In fact, sometimes the losing is what brings the fans together. So don’t think this is all about the team’s record – especially their record before the month of May even begins. It’s not. It’s more.

What’s disappointing is the losing that derailed a hopeful 2015 campaign was accompanied by blame, finger-pointing, in-game rifts (and borderline fights), unexplainable managerial decisions (mixed with a sort of dismissive tenor to his tone), a release of a General Manager, and flat-out unaccountability from everyone from the Manager to the players. Happy-go-lucky Miguel Cabrera all of a sudden grew sensitive to reporters’ questions last summer. Two of the young, talented core, Jose Iglesias and James McCann, went at it in the middle of a game last season. Brad Ausmus repeatedly made questionable after questionable decision from the dugout – while never really endearing himself to the media or the fans. And then, Victor Martinez made the egregious mistake no athlete in the public eye should ever make: he called out the fans. Oh, Victor.

When you add up the losing and the underachieving and the fact that this collection of core players has not been able to seal the deal with a World Series ring, it’s one thing. But when you couple all that with the drama, the lack of connection, and the feeling that the players are letting their own frustrations take shape on the field and in the clubhouse – that’s a whole different story.

Maybe this is what happens with teams that don’t quite achieve to their potential and know themselves that they failed to do so. Take another recent Detroit sports team: The “Going to Work Era” Pistons. That team won a championship, reached the mountaintop, and even hung around the top for many years despite failing to win another crown. That team was great and beloved. But what was love for many years turned quickly to down right disdain after it set in that there were no more titles to be had – the one would have to suffice. Eastern Conference Championships were not going to cut it. The fans felt this way – but so did the players. While the fans griped and contended that team should have won at least 2 NBA Championships in that era, the players knew they let some glory slip by as well. And knowing that led to frustration on the court and with the media – and frustration led to what was a sad, quick demise where the fans no longer could even stand listening to interviews with the players. It was over. The winning. And the love. It sure seems like the same song and dance with these Tigers. Let’s hope not.

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Drummond’s Impending Max Deal Should Come with Some Concern

The problem isn’t that the Pistons 2015-16 season ended in a sweep to presumptive Eastern Conference Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. While many of us thought Stan Van’s crew could take one from the Cavs, some (me included) thought this series could go 6. The feeling at the start was that Cleveland had no answer for Andre Drummond, the Pistons do not fear the Cavs or LeBron, and Stan Van Gundy is a playoff-tested head coach who has a history of getting the best out of his players. The Pistons, surely, were not more talented than the Cavs, but you don’t need to be more talented to steal a couple playoff games.

 

Stan seemed to motivate and have the team ready. The Pistons played a fantastic opening 3 quarters of Game 1, until LeBron & Company did what talented players do. No one expected a Detroit victory in Game 2 – the Cavs would not play poorly or get outplayed in both home games. The trouble came in Game 3 – more specifically, the trouble manifested itself in the Pistons 7’ center and league’s leading rebounder. Andre Drummond pulled down 4 boards in Game 2 and followed it up with only 8 in Game 3 at home. To put this in perspective, Tristan Thompson (the guy who could not possibly counterpunch Drummond) hauled in 8 offensive rebounds in Game 3. Thompson didn’t need to counterpunch – he was initiating the fight – and the Pistons’ big man failed to respond.

 

The problem all year – and for his short career – is his record-breakingly poor free throwing shooting. It’s gotten so bad this year that Van Gundy has pulled his best player down the stretch in many games (including games in this series) to avoid the “Hack-a-Drummond strategy that puts the Center at the line. But with big men, you often get poor FT shooting; albeit, Drummond’s is beyond poor – but you tend to take the good with the bad. Poor shooting from the stripe, but you know he’s giving you 15 to 20 nightly. What is most troubling, though, is Andre is giving much more than that. Don’t be fooled by the double-doubles he puts in the stat sheet – alley-oops and offensive rebound put backs count just the same as any other bucket, but they can’t be all you rely on. And therein lies Drummond’s most egregious flaw: his inability to have developed any sort of post presence on the offensive end. If he’s pulling down double digit boards a game and is a force inside the offensive paint, then you REALLY can look the other way with his missing 7 out of every 10 free throws. But he’s not, so we can’t. And thus, the Pistons need to seriously reflect on what the future holds here for the 7 footer.

 

Owner Tom Gores loves Andre. And a big man his size that does what he does doesn’t come around too often in this league anymore – it seems like centers who hunker down in the paint have disappeared since Shaq and Yao left. We know 2 things – (1) Gores will give Andre the max deal he wants this summer. People can talk about Miami and Boston and Atlanta as possible landing spots for the star, but the Pistons will not get outbid for his services. The second thing we know is that Stan Van Gundy knows the type of team he wants and knows the types of players that will comprise that team. His rocky relationship with Dwight Howard while in Orlando is one example of Stan’s indifference towards the star player if he doesn’t think that star player fits into what he wants in his team. I’m not sure I would have thought this before this series with Cleveland took place, but Stan’s comments after games 2 and 3 were not of the “politically correct” variety. He swung at Drummond and landed the right hook square on the big man’s jaw.

 

What this comes down to is does Stan see this all as part of Andre Drummond’s learning process. On the road to becoming a star center in this league and the cornerstone of your rebuilt franchise, is this all necessary? Did Andre have to go through this? Did Stan have to bluntly lash out about Drummond to the media? Is this all just part of what happens on the way to improving and re-dedicating yourself to the aspects of your game that require attention? If that’s the case, then great – Drummond will remain a Piston and will enjoy a max contract. And in turn, will grow from this experience and turn into a force both on the defensive and offensive ends of the court.

 

But. But, if this is more. If Stan Van Gundy looks at the last 3 months of the season and looks at this incredibly underwhelming playoff series, he may re-think whether Andre Drummond is the guy he can have here, making the kind of money he is certainly about to demand. Stan Van will not be hustled. He will not be swindled. This head coach knows what he wants and expects nothing less. You can believe that the team Stan Van Gundy puts on the floor next Fall will be the best collection of players who fit his vision, can make a move up the Eastern Conference standings, build upon this playoff appearance. We soon will know exactly what Stan Van Gundy thinks of Andre Drummond.

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2016 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

So I’m adding yet another meaningless Mock Draft to the Internet. Let me be clear about one thing right out of the box – my mock, which I started playing around with two or three weeks ago, never looked great. I don’t claim to have any “insider information” or sources other than my own eyes and ears. I don’t have “league people” – as some in the Metro-Detroit Area do (@971theticketxyt listeners hopefully got a chuckle there). What I’m saying is simply what I think teams should do next Thursday based on team needs. Mix that up with each team’s past draft resumes and take into account the expert, guru, football geniuses that run each team – and VIOLA: My Mock Draft 1.0!!!

Rams

  1. Goff or Wentz? Wentz or Goff? Seems like a strange year (or strange draft class at least) to have TWO teams trade away the farm to move themselves into position for these two quarterbacks. Now, both may be fine and work out nicely. But questions are certainly there and skepticism is high. Let’s look at this – a Pac-12 QB who has the size and the skills to succeed at the next level. But is he more in the mold of other Pac-12 QBs– John Elway, Troy Aikman – or is he more a Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf Pac-12 QB? And before you kill me for trying to compare these two players to two of the all-time greats in Elway and Aikman, understand that being picked at the very top of the NFL Draft means in fact that you DO get compared to the all-timers. Jeff Fisher will have a huge say in this pick, you have to assume; and you could argue his past points to either one – Pac-12/USC guy himself might feel a greater connection to the young man from Berkley. But don’t forget Fisher’s choice of Steve McNair out of Alcorn St – maybe that confidence in having plucked a QB from a tiny, non-D-1 school will make the North Dakota State kid the Rams’ pick? Whoever the pick is, there is high potential for this young man.

THE PICK: Jared Goff, Cal QB – Their trust in his skill set, size, and experience in bigger games than Wentz will be deciding factors.

Eagles

  1. The funniest, weirdest, non-sensible thing about Philly trading so much to the Browns to be in this position is that the Rams are in fact making Philly’s pick. That’s a heck of a lot of trust.

THE PICK: Carson Wentz, NDSU QB

Chargers

  1. Now to where some excitement really kicks in. The question that keeps coming back to me is do you try and give some help (in the form of blocking) to Phillip Rivers or do you add a playmaker to your atrocious defense that ranked 27th against the rush in 2015. Laremy Tunsil is good enough to be the number 1 overall pick in this draft – talent level is there and the position he plays is critical to a team’s success. Tunsil should really be the pick, but he won’t be. And another team will be extremely fortunate at the expense of others’ choices.

THE PICK: DeForest Buckner, Oregon DE/DL

Cowboys

  1. The last time the Cowboys picked inside the top 5 of the draft was 13 years ago when they selected Terrance Newman in 2003. Newman averaged over 13 games a season with “America’s Team” until he was released in 2012. Add Troy Aikman and Ed “Too Tall” Jones to that history of players selected in the top 5 and it looks promising for Jerry’s Boys. There’s been talk of a QB to backup the injury-riddled Tony Romo, and a CB (like the Newman selection) to bolster that back-end of the defense. But this pick is between Jerry Jones’ head and his heart. He wanted Johnny Manziel and instead took Zack Martin – went head over heart (and thank goodness for him and his franchise that he did). But this time his heart says Zeke Elliott and his head partially says the same thing. Dallas struggled to find ways to replace DeMarco Murray’s production last season. Their line is set up front and Romo is good enough. He has weapons around him, like Dez. But a running back who can carry the load makes everyone’s job easier. Look no further than when the Rams nabbed Todd Gurley unexpectedly in last year’s draft. That worked out, huh? Joey Bosa would surely add some nastiness to Rod Marinelli’s defensive line; but it’s another Buckeye that Jerry wants.

THE PICK: Ezekiel Elliott, RB Ohio St.

Jags

  1. The defensive side of the ball is where Gus Bradley will focus and it makes sense. He’s trying to build this team in the same mold as Seattle’s. And players want to go there now. The London Jaguars, as I’ve affectionately called them, may actually be ready to make a move to relevancy – hey the Raiders are doing it, why can’t the Jags? Go get your defensive playmaker – two are there. One is healthy, one is coming off injury.

THE PICK: Joey Bosa, DE Ohio St.

Ravens

  1. And Ozzie Newsome walks in to the pick of the draft. As if Ozzie needs any help. Here’s a guy who has a Super Bowl, knows how to win, and has the respect of the league. Now you get the player many say is the number 1 pick of the draft. Congrats, Oz.

THE PICK: Laremy Tunsil, LT Ole Miss

49ers

  1. So Chip Kelly wants a QB? So Chip Kelly wants to prove his smarts and his QB guru skills by starting Blaine Gabbert? So Chip Kelly will trade down to a team who wants to reach on a QB at 7, allowing the Niners to select a QB later in the round? If you know any of these answers, please get ahold of me — @brian22goodwin on Twitter. As it stands though, Myles Jack sits there, but we do know Chip likes his offensive players. You add a WR here to WHOEVER is playing QB and you at least you are offering that guy a weapon. We got a weapon for you.

THE PICK: Laquon Treadwell, WR Ole Miss

Browns

  1. How about the Browns??!!! Trading down out of the 2 spot, acquiring a boat load of picks this year and for the next couple? Who IS this team??? The next question is can they parlay all this good fortune into a good pick at 8?

THE PICK: Ronnie Stanley, OT Notre Dame

Bucs

  1. Tampa Bay needs guys who can get to the passers in their division. Much like how Houston devoted many many picks to defensive athletes who could edge-rush and get after QBs in the AFC South – namely Peyton Manning then Andrew Luck – the Bucs will do the same, as they have to pressure Cam, Matty Ice, and Drew Brees. Lucky for them, this draft has plenty.

THE PICK: Leonard Floyd, Georgia DE/OLB

NYG

  1. Although offensive line would certainly sure up Eli’s protection with this pick, the Giants may not be in a position to make that happen financially – check out Jordan Ranaan’s article last month at nj.com.

THE PICK: Jalen Ramsey, S/CB Florida St.

CHI Bears

  1. There are a few players who should be available that the Bears like in positions that they need help at. Offensive line help could be addressed, pass rusher off the edge should be here, or help at the corner.

THE PICK: Vernon Hargreaves, CB Florida

Saints

  1. Wouldn’t be shocked to see the Saints attempt to build either line with this pick. Anything else has to come under some heavy scrutiny. This team is definitely on the down swing after a decade ride as one of the NFC’s prominent contenders. Gotta start rebuilding some spots – you do it inside-out.

THE PICK: Sheldon Rankins, Louisville DT

Fins

  1. I’m torn between three players here who would all fit into what the Dolphins need and should be able to make pretty immediate impact. Like discussed earlier with Tampa Bay needing to get after the divisional rival QBs with pass rushers, you’d have to imagine the Patriots and Tom Brady are on the minds of the Dolphins’ top brass.

THE PICK: Eli Apple, CB Ohio St.

Raiders

  1. Like I wrote earlier about the Ravens watching Laremy Tunsil drop into their laps, the Oakland Raiders might be just as thrilled if this all plays out like this.

THE PICK: Shaq Lawson, DE Clemson

Titans

  1. I think Tennessee wanted O-Line protection for their prized QB, Marcus Mariota from the get-go. While Tunsil could have provided that protection, the Titans still get a guy to protect the QB and they stole all the Rams’ picks while they were at it. Nicely done.

THE PICK: Jack Conklin, OL/G Michigan St.

Lions

  1. Lots of talk about the direction Bob Quinn will go as he steps out of Bill Belichick’s shadow and attempts to bring some sense of stability to a franchise that has been inept at most things for decades. Probably targeting a big boy on one of the lines here.

THE PICK: Taylor Decker, OT Ohio St.

Falcons

  1. Although the Atlanta offense is in the aging process, the defense is where this franchise needs to build.

THE PICK: Myles Jack, LB UCLA

Colts

  1. Coming off the most disappointing season in Indianapolis, the Colts look to put that in the rearview mirror quickly. And one thing they learned in the Hoosier State: keep your signal caller healthy.

THE PICK: Ryan Kelly, C Alabama

Buff

  1. Maybe Rex asks The Donald to come out and announce this selection. Who ever makes it, it will be defense. I think. Honestly, I don’t have a clue. This is the toughest pick to mock for me.

THE PICK: Darron Lee, OLB Ohio St.

NYJ

  1. Would the Jets dare take a quarterback here? Todd Bowles doesn’t seem like the type – rather wait and grab a guy in the 3rd or 4th There’s certainly some safer picks – and much more sensible ones. But what fun is that? “J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS!!”

THE PICK: Paxton Lynch, Quarterback Memphis

Skins

  1. The Josh Norman signing eliminates the selection of a DB here. Many other areas to focus on for Daniel Snyder and Jay Gruden, luckily.

THE PICK: Reggie Ragland, ILB Alabama

Texans

  1. While I think Houston would love to add more depth at the D-Line and eventually give JJ Watt some help (and ultimately be a replacement), Bill O’Brien knows Brock Osweiler will only be as good as the weapons he has around him. He has DeAndre Hopkins – and that’s one of the most explosive weapons a QB could ask for. But he needs complementary pieces too. They lost Nate Washington and he was a nice complement.

THE PICK: William Fuller, WR Notre Dame

Vikings

  1. Mike Zimmer deserves a ton of credit for what he has done in changing the attitude of this franchise. With all that surrounded the Vikings with Adrian Peterson, Zimmer imposed his will and mindset on his players and turned them into a playoff team – and one that could have won their Wild Card Round game. Zimmer is a defensive coach, but he also is smart enough to know what his quarterback needs to be successful – and how’s the phrase go? Happy quarterback, happy life? Something like that, anyway.

THE PICK: Josh Doctson, WR Texas Christian

Bengals

  1. For as good as the Bengals were last season, this team has quite a few holes to fill. WR would be nice, but Marvin Lewis sees the holes in his D-Line, too.

THE PICK: Jarran Reed, DT Alabama

Steelers

  1. Why is it that good organizations always seem to have the Draft Day chips fall their way too? Steelers are one of these franchises – and it happens this Draft Day as well. They will have their pick of the litter with Nose Tackles.

THE PICK: Andrew Billings, DT/NT Baylor

Seahawks

  1. At this stage of the round, it’s always tricky – as if to say the previous 25 selections were clear-cut. Right. Teams down here can play around a little, take some chances because their needs are usually not terribly great. Pass rush here? Okung’s replacement at LT? Seattle can go in a few different directions, if they choose.

THE PICK: Vernon Butler, DT Louisiana Tech

Packers

  1. I say this with complete confidence – I have no idea what Ted Thompson will do here. I also say this with even more confidence – Whatever he does, will work out just fine for the Pack.

THE PICK: Jonathan Bullard, DT Florida

KC

  1. Chiefs lost back-up QB Chase Daniel to the Eagles. Couple that with the question of how much longer can the franchise ride Alex Smith, sure looks like the Chiefs would love to add a quarterback at 28. That likely means Connor Cook or Christian Hackenberg. Or does Andy Reid wait for his signal caller in a later round?

THE PICK: William Jackson, CB Houston

AZ

  1. You better believe this pick is important for Bruce Arians’ club. This franchise doesn’t have a ton of glaring needs, but when you’re so close to a championship (and this team is) it puts a premium on making the little decisions.

THE PICK: Robert Nkemdiche, DE/DT Ole Miss

Panthers

  1. Protect Cam!!! That’s what must be on the minds of the decision-makers in the Carolina War Room.

THE PICK: Jason Spriggs, OT Indiana

Broncos

  1. The Broncos lost some key pieces from the Super Bowl-winning defense. They will certainly look to replace them. Unless they are intrigued by a quarterback

THE PICK: Chris Jones, DT Mississippi St.

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Rams Back in LA and the Golden Ticket That Awaits Their First Selection

Nothing says Spring like the flowers blooming, snow flurries turning to rain showers (here in the Midwest at least), sunshine lasting until almost 8pm, and……..the NFL Draft. I’m almost ashamed to admit how much the National Football League grabs ahold of me and doesn’t let go. Ever. Not a week after the Super Bowl, not a month after, and not what has now been nearly 3 months after when all of us sports fans should be in the throes of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey and the NBA Playoffs. But let’s face it – the NFL has surpassed all other sports in America and Roger Goodell isn’t taking his foot off the gas anytime soon. (Not to mention, the NHL lost me years ago after a work stoppage made me realize I didn’t need to spend time following a league that seemed less and less interesting every time I caught a glimpse of Olympic Hockey. Oh, and the NBA Playoffs appear to be just the lead-up to a Finals rematch between Golden State and LeBron’s Cavs. And baseball? Yeah, call me when games aren’t being postponed because of cold temperatures or snow.) So that leaves the NFL. And without any games to focus on – and do not tell me about the 2016 NFL Schedule Release Party you and your friends had — we sit reading mock draft site after mock draft site while listening to Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay and Mike Mayock tell us about how this quarterback has small hands but a quick release and how that center ran the fastest 40-yard dash and has a high Football IQ. We listen, we read, we pay attention – more than we should. Even when we know it and admit it, we can’t stop. I admit it – I’m ashamed. But it won’t stop me from mocking my own draft and listening to all the talking heads explain Wunderlik Scores and escapability.

This year’s draft, like them all, promises to surprise and shock us and some teams will leave us shaking our heads – Cowboys, Browns I’m looking directly at you. The first of the shocks and surprises and head shaking came pre-draft day this year, when the brand new, back-again Los Angeles Rams traded up with Tennessee to get the number one overall selection. Who didn’t think the Rams would do something to grab everyone’s attention? Rumors surfaced not long after the Broncos’ Super Bowl victory that Peyton Manning was considering transplanting himself in La-La Land to end his career. Of course that was unfounded; but it did remind people that an NFL team in Los Angeles was not like any other city earning a franchise. It’s LA for God’s sake!!! The City of Plastic, the City of Stars, Hollywood. You think that Sam Kroenke and the Rams were just going to quietly hang out in LA and just be??? Hardly. The city forced the Rams to do something big. The Rams had no choice but to make a splash – sorry Case Keenum, I said splash not a squirt. Think of the competition the Rams were feeling (I’m not talking about other NFL teams either). The Clippers are a soap opera – and if they’re the soap opera in LA then what do we call what’s happened with the Lakers??? The Rams aren’t the only show in town, but they have a shot at being the most relevant team and the franchise that people can take the most seriously. And while LA hasn’t been completely devoid of football, college football in LA hasn’t exactly captivated fans’ interest since Pete Carroll exited stage right for Seattle – USC can’t get a coach straight and UCLA has not lived up to all the expectations placed on the Bruins when Jim Mora took the reigns.

The time appears to be right for this move. A SoCal guy at the helm in Jeff Fisher, who is likable, honest, blunt, and a long-established “football guy”. He understands the league and he understands what this relocation means to the city and what it means to the NFL. The Los Angeles media will not be bored at his pressers. As for the on-field talent, look no further than the star running back. Todd Gurley represents a position in the league that has been on life support – not the RB position itself but the idea that one guy can own the position for a team. Gurley is not part of a running back by committee. He IS the committee. He was the steal of the 2015 NFL Draft and now he is the face of the Rams and, more importantly, the face of the NFL in LA. In addition, Aaron Donald is a monster on the defensive line and is a guy who can alter an opposing team’s gameplan – he’s that impactful of a player. So what’s left that the Rams could possibly need? Oh, that’s right – a quarterback!! Let’s face it – no disrespect to Case Keenum or Nick Foles – if you’re doing this whole LA thing, you better get yourself your franchise QB. And the Rams have positioned themselves to get him. Like the trade or not, agree or disagree with the cost – but if you need a guy, you better put yourself in position to get the guy. And no one can say the Rams haven’t positioned themselves to do just that. Had they stood pat at 15, who knows who is there for them – not likely Jared Goff or Carson Wentz – but possibly Paxton Lynch, probably Connor Cook, and most certainly Christian Hackenburg (I think). But if they see one of those top 2 QBs being a franchise player, a QB who can lead them to a championship, then you have to make the move. And when they do settle on one (they say they don’t know who they prefer yet – believe that or don’t, I don’t), their choice will instantly reach celebrity status. You’re quarterbacking the NFL team in Los Angeles with a coach who’s been to the Super Bowl and lost by a single yard, a running back who is the best young RB in the game, and a defensive player who is a game changer. This young signal caller will be put in a position to win, and if he does, the fame and stardom could be nothing like we’ve ever seen.

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