Archive for May, 2007

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As I prepare to actually have to cheer for a team from Cleveland since Deron Williams (as much as he tried) wasn’t able to derail the Western half of the impending national nightmare of another Pistons-Spurs NBA Finals, here are some links:

(1) Priceless! (Chicago Tribune) - When I was flying on JetBlue a couple of weeks ago, which has DirecTV at every seat, I came across a showing of “Happy Gilmore” and my wife had to restrain me from busting out of my seat in laughter during Bob Barker’s scenes even though I’ve seen them a million times.  There are also two programs I’ll always remember watching on TV during the days that I spent at my Grandma’s house when I was a kid: baseball on WGN and the “The Price is Right”.  As to the thought of Rosie O’Donnell or Mario Lopez as replacements for the legendary Barker, I only have one thing to say: the price is wrong, bitch!

(2) Lost Season 3 Finale Recap (The Lost Blog) - SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE “LOST” SEASON FINALE.  After a pretty disappointing “24″ season – CTU has been compromised more than [insert Lindsay Lohan joke here] – the “Lost” season finale more than made up for it with a simply mind-blowing turn with the flash forward.  I’m not quite convinced that the Losties are getting off of the island at the very beginning of next season; for once, I think Ben isn’t feeding a line of B.S. that the “rescuers” are going to do a lot more harm than good.  Anyway, I’m extremely glad that I didn’t encounter the numerous spoilers that were posted on the Internet prior to the show’s airing since the surprise twist had such a huge impact if you didn’t know it was coming.  I argued last year that “Lost” (and pretty much all television programs) ought to go to a “24″-type of schedule where all of the episodes run in succession without reruns, which ABC has decided to do.  Even though I still think that’s a good idea, that also means we’re going to have to wait until next February for new episodes, which is going to be an excruciating wait after such an incredible cliff hanger.

(3)  Thompson Begins Steps for 2008 Bid (Washington Post) - I personally like Fred Thompson and he was great on “Law & Order”, but with the likelihood of the two parties’ presidential nominees being decided within the first month of the primary season, the late start in the money race is going to be an albatross on the viability of his candidacy.

(4) Kobe Wants to be Traded… or Does He? (Los Angeles Times) - Don’t tease me with another NBA star allegedly on the market that would look pretty nice in a Bulls uniform.  As much as I’d like to see it happen, there’s no way Kobe Bryant is leaving Hollywood – this will blow over.

And finally…

(5)  50 Cent’s Investment Pays Off (AllHipHop.com) - Remember last year when 50 Cent starting selling grape drink?  Showing that sugar, water, and purple equals Fort Knox, Coca-Cola is buying the company that produces 50′s drink where his take is going to end up being around $400 million.  Something tells me that the “G” in G-Unit must stand for “grape”.

(Image from celebsarepeopletoo.com

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Well, all of you can finally get a reprieve with my nearly 2-year obsession with this year’s NBA Draft Lottery… after this monster superpost due the confluence of this event along with pent-up frustrations from the Bulls – Pistons series. With only a 1.9% chance of landing the #1 pick, I didn’t have very high hopes for the Chicago Bulls leaping into the top 2 to grab either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Still, like one of those schmucks that buy lottery tickets every week and spend all of their days dreaming of what they would do with all of that money if they ever won, the fact that the Bulls had even a small chance of ending up with Oden or Durant made this about as heart-pounding of an event that you could ever have in an office building in Secaucus, New Jersey. Nonetheless, the Bulls ended up right where they were projected to be at #9, while the Portland Trailblazers and Seattle Supersonics got the ultimate prizes of the top two franchise-altering picks. Here is the postmortem on the NBA Draft Lottery in general followed by my thoughts on the Bulls offseason:

  • With the Trailblazers effectively winning Greg Oden (I know some people think they might take Durant considering that they already have some size with LaMarcus Aldridge, but considering that every dynasty in NBA history that didn’t have a guy named Michael Jordan was anchored by a dominant center, I can’t see how Portland isn’t taking Oden), Brandon Roy, who was the team’s representative in lovely Secaucus, got a ton of airtime. This brings to mind the headline for my post the day before last year’s NBA Draft: “R-O-Y Spells Rookie of the Year for the Bulls” in an argument for the Bulls to pick Roy if they didn’t parlay the pick in a blockbuster trade for Kevin Garnett. Well, Roy certainly went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award but the Bulls ended up passing on him to grab Tyrus Thomas. I love Thomas’ defensive presence and freakish athleticism (I swear that he can jump up and grab the top of the backboard without a hitch), yet it’s pretty clear that Roy would have contributed a whole lot more pretty quickly, which would have been key for a club that (a) needs to make the most of its substantial financial investment in Ben Wallace as soon as possible and (b) could have done it in a year where you would have found better competition on an average night at Rucker Park than the Eastern Conference. Instead, the Bulls got bounced out of the playoffs again, while Roy is going to be paired up with Oden in what might very well become the next great NBA duo along the lines of Michael and Scottie, Shaq and Kobe (in happier times), and Magic and Kareem. I’m not saying that Roy would have propelled the Bulls over the Pistons, but they certainly would have had a better chance considering that he’s a go-to scorer and the team from the Chi shot around 35% from the field in each of their round 2 losses.
  • Speaking of the hapless Eastern Conference, it figures that the top two franchise players in years are going to both end up on the West Coast to further cement the inferiority of the collection of teams east of the Mississippi River. At least we’re not going to get many “David Stern frozen envelope” theories out of this draft – I can’t imagine that the NBA would have wanted the balance of power in the league to tip even further to the West.
  • I’ll have to say that the Blazers and Sonics fans are two constituencies that can argue that they truly deserve the next superstars of Oden and Durant. Even though they aren’t located in the marquee media markets of Chicago or Boston (more on them in a moment), at least basketball fans didn’t have to suffer through the indignity of one of these stars toiling away with franchises such as the Grizzlies or Hawks (who dodged a huge bullet since if they drew anything lower than the #3 pick, which they got, would have resulted in losing their first round choice to the Suns). Sure, the Sonics seem bent on leaving Seattle, but that’s because of the ludicrous transfer of ownership there as opposed to the lack of a fan base. I still don’t buy that they’re heading to Oklahoma City, even though that town showed great support for the Hornets. In a perfect world based purely on the viability of markets, the Sonics would stay in Seattle (too large and wealthy of a market for the NBA to leave) and then Las Vegas and Oklahoma City would respectively get the Grizzlies (Memphis just can’t sustain that franchise) and Hornets (politically incorrect to move them in the relative wake of Hurricane Katrina, but New Orleans wasn’t a good NBA market way before the levees ever broke). Hopefully, the star power of Kevin Durant is to spark a greater movement to keep the Supersonics where they belong in the Pacific Northwest.
  • While watching the Bulls get the expected #9 pick prompted an internal “Oh well, what can you do with those odds?” response from me, I audibly gasped with no one around me when I saw the Celtics come up at #5 – the worst possible position that they could have ended up with. Now, it’s hard to have much sympathy for the most successful franchise in NBA history – this would be akin to a lot of the intimations that UCLA is “due” on the college basketball side for not winning a national championship in (OMG!) over a decade. That being said, Bostonians are home to one of the few groups of fans from a particular city that I have great respect for (to me, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and Philadelphia are the standard-bearers for across-the-board fandom, as opposed to, say, the single sport obsessions of St. Louis with the Cardinals or Green Bay with the Packers), so while places such as Memphis will move on from this evening with nary a scratch, I feel a little tinge of sadness that the 2007 NBA Draft Lottery will be vividly remembered as yet another infamous event in Beantown sports history to be included with Len Bias, the Tim Duncan draft, Bill Buckner, Bucky Dent, etc. Of course, since the Red Sox are the best team in baseball and the Patriots look like a force again with the thought of Tom Brady tossing it deep to Randy Moss next season, no one should cry too much for New England.

So, this gets to the most prominent question on my mind: what should Bulls do this offseason? If you recall my thoughts during the Final Four, I stated the following: “Lord help me if Joakim Noah ends up in a Bulls uniform.” Well, the Bulls have the #9 pick and I probably don’t have to tell you who the authoritative NBADraft.net projects at that spot right now… just drop a piano weighted down by an anvil on my head if this happens.

All of the Chicago media prior to the lottery today had reports of Bulls general manager John Paxson’s comments that seemed to give the impression that he wasn’t interested in moving this year’s pick, even assuming that it would end up at the projected #9, or making many changes to the team. I really hope that this is just a display of Paxson coyly keeping his cards under wraps before making a monster move, but I really fear that the Bulls are just going to go through the motions of the draft and make a few changes around the edges without taking any risks for greater success. I have stated before that I enjoy the effort and hustle of the Bulls team as presently constructed, yet also made it clear that simply having great character guys isn’t good enough for me – I want more NBA championships. Therefore, if that means that we need to take a risk with a guy that might not necessarily fit into the team’s “culture” on paper, then so be it.The last thing we need is a solid-but-not-game-changing young player (i.e. Joakim Noah) – it’s time for a trade for a cornerstone guy that should have been executed a year ago. Of course, that’s a whole lot easier said than done. Kevin Garnett would obviously fix all of the Bulls’ problems, but the Timberwolves GM Kevin McHale seems to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from Paxson, where he’s so obsessed with keeping his star that he refuses to make changes that would get more wins overall. Pau Gasol’s name is constantly tossed around as being the next Bull and he would certainly provide the low-post scoring presence that the team sorely lacks, yet I just don’t get the heart-fluttering feeling from him. That is, does Gasol really scare anyone outside of the fear of getting caught in his nappy neckbeard? I don’t know if that’s the case. The Bulls are already filled with highly-skilled players that opponents might respect but don’t necessarily fear.

With all of this in mind and assuming that McHale continues with his stubborn refusal to move Garnett, the Bulls need to make a real move for Jermaine O’Neal of the Indiana Pacers. He’s not the prototypical Paxson type of guy, which is exactly what the Bulls need, meaning someone with a real edge. Granted, O’Neal needs some help on the mental front with his supposed desire to join Isiah Thomas and his cesspool Knicks franchise, but I think if he’s presented with the opportunity to latch onto a Bulls team that would probably become the best team in the Eastern Conference and a true championship contender next season with his presence, he’ll pass up Broadway for the Madhouse on Madison. He won’t come cheap, but if the Bulls offer Larry Bird and the Pacers Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, and the #9 pick in this year’s draft, I think (a) it would be enough of a return for the Pacers for this to be a justifiable trade and (b) the loss of an outside scorer in Gordon would be more than tempered by the prospect of giving Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich more freedom to roam the perimeter with O’Neal as a top-tier scoring option down low.

All in all, it turned out the NBA Draft Lottery wasn’t the instant solution for the Bulls. Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, not to mention LeBron James at a mere 22 years old, are going to be in the NBA for a very long time. As a result, John Paxson can’t be lulled into thinking the Bulls as they stand today are simply going to keep progressing in a linear fashion – I have serious reservations as to how much better this team can get. While Paxson made a bold move in signing Ben Wallace last summer, this offseason is going to require an even bigger splash in order for the Bulls to really be in contention for another ring.

UPDATE: For the record, Nick Collison is definitely not my idea of bold move by the Bulls.

(Image from Philly.com)

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Since the Bulls made a decent run in the NBA Playoffs (I’ll have some thoughts on the Bulls heading into the offseason after Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery), I haven’t had the opportunity to focus on baseball too much yet. Fortunately, I didn’t have much time to sulk over the Bulls’ ugly performance last Thursday to be closed off by the Pistons since Chicago’s city baseball series was rekindled on Friday. Needless to say, this past weekend’s crosstown series between the White Sox and Cubs at Wrigley Field was a display of how shaky both of the bullpens in Chicago are at this point. As your resident White Sox fan, witnessing A.J. Pierzynski deal the crushing blow to the Cubs with a grand slam on the one-year anniversary of Michael Barrett’s cheap shot on the South Side catcher was sweet justice. Of course, all of this was in the wake of Ozzie Guillen’s insane and profanity-laced phone call into the Mike North show on Friday in an argument over A.J.’s playing time. Other than Jim McMahon and Dennis Rodman, I can’t think of any other Chicago athlete that’s been involved in as many controversies as Pierzynski – it’s a serious constant here. Some other random thoughts from another wacky city series:

  • I was taken aback by the sight of Emperor Palpatine calling the game in the WGN broadcast booth on Sunday, but I then realized that it was Hawk Harrelson in a black hooded sweatshirt.
  • In the battle of the pitchers involved in the latest trade between the Sox and Cubs, those being David Aardsma and Neal Cotts, there were no winners but a lot of losers.
  • Good sign for White Sox fans: the team is batting an atrocious .223, with Paul Konerko hovering around the Mendoza line, yet this team is still a game over .500. The greatest strength for the Sox coming into the season was supposed to the offense and even though that hasn’t happened so far, Konerko is going to come around, particularly with Jim Thome getting back into the lineup. So, the fact that the Sox are keeping pace in spite of some absolutely horrendous offensive stats is a very good thing.
  • Bad sign for Cubs fans: Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis have a combined 9-3 record and ERAs under 2.80, yet the team is still a game under .500. As a consummate fantasy baseball player, I know all about the statistical histories of Lilly and Marquis – eventually, they will both royally suck. Therefore, the fact that the Cubs aren’t over .500 when their two shakiest pitchers have unexpectedly pitched out of this world is a very bad thing.
  • I’ll say something nice about Bud Selig for once: his push to start interleague play has been a fantastic development for baseball even though plenty of people criticized it when it was initially implemented.
  • Of course, I’ll quickly qualify the preceding statement with the following criticism: the two unchallenged marquee interleague matchups are the White Sox – Cubs and Yankees – Mets (no others come close in terms of intensity and interest), so why do these two series take place at the exact same time every year? The NFL and NBA do everything that they can to schedule their marquee games in a balanced manner so that there’s maximum national exposure for those matchups, yet Major League Baseball always schedules the Chicago and New York intra-city series on the same two weekends every season for no good reason. Maybe it’s just me, but I would think that the nationwide Fox and ESPN audiences would want the opportunity to watch both of these intense rivalries as opposed to only one of them or, say, some “exciting” Giants – Mets or Braves – Padres games (both national telecasts on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball in the next few weeks). This seems as simple as moving Opening Day to the first Sunday in April so that it doesn’t conflict with the NCAA Tournament Championship Game and the average fan can spend the whole day watching games without having to miss work or school, but common sense hasn’t ever been one of Bud Selig’s strongest attributes.

Anyway, this wasn’t the best weekend for Sox fans, yet it at least ended on an uptick. Fortunately, the White Sox get another shot at the Cubs at U.S. Cellular Field in a month.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

We’ll see if the Bulls can make things interesting by extending the season tonight.  Until then, here are some links:

(1) Girth and Nudity, a Pictorial Mission (New York Times) – There are some things that you can’t unsee.  Thanks, Spock.

(2) 1st-Class Star for Second City? (Chicago Tribune) - The rumors of A-Rod going to the Cubs or White Sox pop up about as often as those rumors of Kevin Garnett being traded to the Bulls (meaning that they’ve been in the Chicago papers on a weekly basis).  These deals really ought to happen, but the respective traders of the Yankees and Timberwolves can’t get over the thought of letting their superstars go even if it’s for the greater good of their teams.

(3) TV Just Got a Lot ‘Whiter’, Says a Canceled George Lopez (Los Angeles Times) - With Jim Belushi (worst Chicago “celebrity” ever) also axed by ABC, TV also just got a lot funnier through addition by subtraction.

(4) Brett Favre: ‘I Don’t Want to Be Traded… We Can Be Pretty Good (NFL FanHouse) - Your SportsCenter lineup for the next 5 months: (1) every Barry Bonds swing, (2) every Roger Clemens rehab pitch, (3) previews of the next and reviews of the last Yankees-Red Sox series, and (4) every Brett Favre utterance about retirement/non-retirement/trades/non-trades.  This will all lead up to the Duke/UNC basketball season.

And finally…

(5) MTV Developing Reality Series ‘Rapping With the Stars’ (AllHipHop.com) - I think America is ready for a half-Asian/half-Caucasian rap superstar named Frank the Tank.  Stop snitchin’, kids.

As you can tell, I have schizophrenic mood swings about the Bulls going from loving their tenacity one moment to despising the fact that they still need a low-post offensive presence and/or a go-to playmaker the next minute. This week, after two awful and despicable games against the Pistons in the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals, I’m finally resigned to the latter. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll continue to cheer for the Bulls like crazy until the bitter end and still think they can take a couple of games at the United Center, but I won’t be fooled again into thinking that this is a championship-caliber ball club. Some people might be content with a nice team with good character guys that play really hard every night. You can definitely count me out of that group – I was spoiled by growing up with the greatest player that ever lived in Michael Jordan and a dominant dynasty in the 1990s, so I want championships. Unless the Bulls are able to hit the NBA lottery jackpot with either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant or make a monster move for Kevin Garnett or someone of his caliber, this team is going to be competitive but come up short for the foreseeable future. Anyone who thinks that the Pistons “won without any superstars” seem to ignore that they have an entire starting lineup of players that have made the All-Star Game plus a sixth man in Antonio McDyess that has done so, as well. I think Luol Deng still has the goods to be a complete NBA player, but the Bulls still need a true star if they ever want to win it all again.

As I end this rant, here are some links:

(1) ABC Sets Spring 2010 as the End of ‘Lost’ (New York Times) - I won’t go into one of my pleads to watch this show a la “Friday Night Lights” since “Lost” is admittedly tough to get into unless you’ve watched it from the beginning, but I’m probably one of the few people that believe that the second half of this season has been very good and number of the episodes have been as gripping and well-written as anything else on television (and I’m not really a sci-fi guy outside of my childhood love for “Star Wars”).  Hopefully, the 2010 deadline will quell the constant calls for “answers” – I mean, there isn’t much point to “Lost” without the questions.

(2) You’re a Nobody Unless Your Name Googles Well (Wall Street Journal) (FYI – this Journal article was free at the time of this posting, so you don’t need a subscription to see it) – What those with common surnames (i.e. Smith) do to get some better Google search results for their names or even naming their kids to get maximum relevancy for them.

(3) Till Death (Or I Find Someone Else) Do Us Part (Chicagoist) – If you live in Chicago, you’ve probably heard about the, uh, expressive advertisement by one of my fellow members of the legal profession.  For those that haven’t yet, well that’s why I’m here to serve you.

(4) Illini’s Weber All Jazzed Up (Chicago Tribune) – If the Bulls don’t get past the Pistons this round (at this point, that’s a 95% likelihood), the Frank the Tank household is going to go Jazz crazy with Deron Williams (he’s guiding the Utah offense right now with the poise of how he led the 2005 Illini, which is amazing considering that he’s only a 2nd-year player – just an incredible leap from his long rookie season) and Dee Brown.

And finally…

(5) Retirement Good For Mayweather, Bad For Us (Fox Sports) – I didn’t end up springing the 60 bucks for the Oscar De La Hoya – Floyd Mayweather fight on Saturday, but it was the first urge that I’ve had to even consider watching boxing since the last Mike Tyson – Evander Holyfield match.  However, I did run across a showing of “When We Were Kings” on television a few days ago and took the opportunity to watch it again.  This is the fantastic Oscar-winning documentary about the Muhammad Ali - George Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle” fight in Africa with incredible footage of the weeks leading up to the fight (not to mention the fight itself) and significant commentary from Norman Mailer and the late George Plimpton.  It’s been a few years since I’ve seen the film, but it reminded me again of how this is a fascinating time capsule as it relates to today’s world.

First, there’s no greater tragic irony than the fact that Muhammad Ali, whose rapid-fire verbosity and off-the-cuff conversations are shown at full tilt in the film, now suffers from a degenerative disease that essentially prevents him from speaking.  Conceptually, you might understand how much Ali was a talker before along with the general effects of Parkinson’s Disease, but comparing the images of his non-stop personality from “When We Were Kings” to how he is today is stunning and awful.  Plus, his current image as being a diplomatic peacemaker is a 180-degree turn from the Rumble in the Jungle days – his politically militant attitude as a disciple of Malcolm X was on full display at the time.

Second, George Foreman had a transformation of a completely different nature.  Most people of my generation grew up with an image of the boxer as a somewhat lovable bear of a man that named all of his kids George Foreman and being the face of one of the most successful (if not the most successful) celebrity endorsements in history with his indoor grills.  Back in the 1970s, however, Foreman basically had a public reputation on the level of Ron Artest today only without the wacky personality.  It’s tough for me to think of any public figure that turned his image around in a more dramatic fashion.

Third, Don King, who essentially made his big-time debut as a promoter with the Rumble in the Jungle and gets a prominent amount of screen time in the film, is exactly the same.

Fourth, James Brown, who performed prior to the fight and also got a good amount of screen time, was as militant as Ali.

Finally, there is the bygone era of when championship boxing matches were paid attention to at the level of the Super Bowl today.  Boxing’s future isn’t going to hinge on whether Floyd Mayweather retires – the only real way that there will be a turnaround is if a big-time fight gets back onto the major networks where everyone can watch without having to shell out the equivalent of another month’s cable bill.  In the meantime, go watch “When We Were Kings” even if you’re not a boxing or sports fan if only because everyone needs to see a true lasting image of Muhammad Ali in his prime.