Ray Allen Leaves The Celtics For The Heat

There is really two sides to this story right now.  The first is that Ray Allen is a consummate professional and one of the classiest athletes ever to play in Boston (no exaggeration).  The fact is he’s not Johnny Damon, who despite being fun-loving always liked to talk about himself above team, or Wade Boggs, who was kind of just a jerk in general.  The fact that he is going to put on the Celtics’ biggest current rival’s uniform sucks but it will be hard to hate Ray like some of these other guys who have moved on to the hated rival team.  I won’t go so far as to boo him but I won’t exactly be rooting for him either since any success he has will strengthen the C’s biggest rival.  But thanks Ray for 5 years of professionalism and good play and thanks for that championship you helped get us.

Ray Allen will leave Boston for rival Miami

Then there is all of this Rondo nonsense.  Has there ever been a bigger scapegoat in a situation like this than Rondo?  We knew before the Heat and C’s even played in the Eastern Conference finals that the Heat had interest in Allen.  He likely had interest in them as well all along.  The whole Rondo nonsense smacks of Ray trying to soften the blow of him leaving for their biggest rival.  Like “Hey it’s not my fault I am leaving the Celtics to go to the Heat, it’s all Rondo’s fault”.  Sorry, not buying it.  When you consider that Rondo is perhaps the best passing point guard in the league, which is a perfect complement for a dead-set shooter like Ray, and the Heat actually have no pure point guards on their entire roster then you wonder how you can really hate a guy who puts you in a position to succeed so often, so much.  Ray is a bench player now and Rondo has taken his place in the big 3.  I’d imagine that Allen going from big 3 status to 6th man has as much to do with him not wanting to come back as “Rondo’s a meanie”.  But whatever, Rondo is motivated by things like this so I kind of hope more reports about this come out between now and the season just to piss him off more.

As I said last week I really, really like this team as it’s currently constituted with or without Allen (assuming that the Jeff Green deal is imminent).  This team, at least on paper, looks even better than last year’s.  The issue here is really that the Heat are stronger now with Allen.  But we’ve got Avery Bradley to cover him.  There’s a good chance that the Heat and the C’s will be the two best teams in the East again next year so this just makes things more interesting.

Follow me on Twitter

Dear Red Sox Nation – Grow Up

There is a saying in TV when a TV show has become stale, uninteresting, and basically has become an unoriginal parody of itself that it has “jumped the shark”.  Today Red Sox Nation is up in arms about Clay Buchholz attending a charity event.  Let me repeat that – he attended a charity event where he helped raise money for a cause.  Congratulations Red Sox Nation, you have officially jumped the shark.

It’s used to be fun to be part of the Boston sports scene.  We had the reputation of being tough but fair and very knowledgeable.  Now I am beginning to see that it was all a facade, riding the coattails of Bill Belichick’s genius, Terry Francona’s ingenuity, and Doc Rivers’ leadership.  We hid behind strong and smart athletes like Kevin Garnett, Tom Brady, and even Josh Beckett.  Then when we were convinced by ratings hungry gutter journalists we decided to turn on them at the drop of a hat.  Tell me where the intelligence in that is?  John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino took the Red Sox franchise from a great big pile of obscurity and turned it into a 2-time World Championship winner and turned a once decrepit hole in the wall into once again America’s most beloved ballpark and they are now public enemies #1, 2 & 3 around here these days.

The problem wouldn’t be so apparent if most people could conjure up an original thought of their own.  Instead most people around here just take up the opinion of idiots like Michael Felger and Glenn Ordway and pass it off as their own.  Let me tell you something about these shock jocks that we tend to love so much around here.  They don’t care about you, they are not doing this for you, they are not being honest with you.  They make who they don’t like into public enemies no matter the reason and let the guys they like off the hook.  That means that you’re never really getting the entire story accurately.  These guys have one motive – making money and getting ratings.  It doesn’t matter if they have to create a few “bad guys” along the way or embellish some things to make a sexier story, as long as the ratings come in and no one’s the wiser anyway.  Here’s a novel idea – how about going by what you see on the field or on the court or on the ice and formulating an opinion of an athlete as a professional that way.  And here’s another concept that you might be wise to consider – you are likely never going to personally know these athletes and, unless they are on the beat, neither are the journalists so please don’t pretend that you know who these guys really are or what they are like off the field.  Because you don’t.  And you never will.  I can’t think of anything more ignorant than people thinking they do.

The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t matter what an athlete does in their off time, it’s nobodies business.  The beer and chicken in the locker room is one thing because that was during games but all of the other stuff is, as far as I’m concerned, off limits.  Let me ask you something Mr. Joe WEEI Caller.  If, the next time you call up to rant and rave the jockey asks you if you’ve ever had any homosexual thoughts or like to dress up like a school girl (I know, stolen from the movie Enemy Of The State but still proves the point) what would you say?  That it’s none of their business right?  Exactly.  So please explain to me when athlete’s personal lives suddenly became everyone’s business.  If you think that all pro athletes should be required to live their lives in solitude because everyone has a Twitter account and a camera on their cell phone these days then you are seriously narrow-minded.  Who in their right mind has the nerve to suggest that they should dictate what other human beings do with their lives in their free time?  Apparently a whole lot of Boston sports fans and mediots do and to be 100% honest it’s a little sickening.  And pathetic even.  Let me see if this sinks in – You don’t have the right…it’s none of your business…it doesn’t matter if you put your whole annual salary back into the Red Sox, it does not buy you the right to dictate what these guys do when they’re not on the field.

And for the people who think they are “owed something” for buying tickets and concessions at over-inflated prices please realize this – it doesn’t matter how much money you spend on tickets or beer – that doesn’t buy you wins.  I spent $11 for a beer once at American Airlines Arena, $10 at SkyDome.  Boston isn’t the only town where the amenities at sporting events are overpriced.  Hell, in some small markets they jack the ticket prices up as much as 50% when a good team comes into town.  Imagine you are a Royals fan and you want to take your family to see the Royals play one of the elite teams like the Red Sox or Yankees and you’ve got to pay double.  By this logic you have just bought yourself a world championship.  Congratulations Royals!  There are 4 major sports championships and if they simply gave each one to the fan base who thinks they spent the most money on their teams at the box office or the beer stand it would kind of take all of the fun out of it, would it not?

Is every Boston sports fan over-officious, overly arrogant, and extremely narrow-minded?  Of course not.  There are some die-hards who watch and understand the games because they like the sport.  Then there are those who get into it because it is “cool” at the time and can’t formulate their own opinions because they don’t understand enough so defer to the Felgers of the world to formulate thoughts for them.  Then, well let’s face it, there are just some ignorant narrow-minded people in the world and they act as such when it comes to their sports fandom.  So what makes us different from any other sports fan bases?  Nothing really, we can just be counted among the 5 or 6 cities in this country that have a heightened passion for our teams.  No more, no less.  Maybe it’s time to stop worrying about our athlete’s personal lives and start worrying more about our own.  Wins and losses are not as important as raising your children, fighting a fire or a crime, or finding a cure for a disease such as cancer (although coincidentally if you are an athlete and you want to help people who do you better check with the fan base first and see if it’s ok).  Sports were invented for people to sit back and enjoy so my advice would be to do just that.

Follow me on Twitter

Book Review: When The Game Was Ours

I did my first review back in January (A Song Of Fire And Ice) and I’m just getting around to my 2nd review of the Magic and Bird biography written by Jackie MacMullan which I finished a few weeks ago.

2nd book – When The Game Was Ours

Written by Jackie MacMullan

This is a must read for any Boston or LA sports fan, or even just a Magic and/or Larry fan in general.  I was born in 1981 and Bird was a broken down player by time I knew what I was watching as a basketball fan and obvious my most vivid recollection of Magic was “The Announcement” when I was 11 years old.  Also the Olympics which were recanted with some great stories in this book but I’ll get to that in a little bit.

When you start reading the book and it chronicles Bird and Magic playing together as back-ups on a college national team it hits you (at least if you weren’t around for the start of their rivalry) that these guys had been going at it since they were basically out of high school.  They were two kids recruited by some of the same schools, played against each other in the finals of the NCAA tournament and then were each drafted to long time rivals on either side of the United States and proceeded to help build simultaneous dynasties that faced each other in 3 championship series.  They also had their last hurrahs (save a forgettable 1996 Magic comeback) at the 1992 Olympics with the Dream Team in Barcelona.  They should have gone into the Hall of Fame together and the would have had Magic not come back to play for the Lakers in 1996.

As people probably know Magic and Larry didn’t have much of a relationship in their early days playing each other.  While Magic was easy going Bird was rigid and an intense competitor and Magic was put off by Bird’s attitude.  Bird didn’t want to know Magic, he didn’t want to be friends with him and Magic took that personal but it wasn’t personal to Larry, it was just they way he thought it should be.  The two didn’t become friends until they got together for a Converse commercial at Bird’s ranch in Indiana.  The commercial almost didn’t take place as the two players kept making outlandish requests in order to facilitate the deal.  Bird requested that the commercial be filmed at his place in Indiana convinced that Magic would reject.  Magic broke the stalemate by agreeing to do the commercial in Indiana, much to the surprise of Bird and the chagrin of the Lakers faithful and in particular his head coach Pat Riley.  While filming the commercial Bird and Magic spent quality time together and the rest, as they say, was history.

As a Celtics fan this book is especially enjoyable because of the stories that Bird shares about his time in Boston.  Bird wasn’t exactly a media sweetheart during his playing career so it was cool to hear him kick back and tells some stories about the good ole’ days.  Two stories stuck out the most, both of them occurring the night of two of Larry’s three championship wins.  The first was in 1984 after the Celtics had just beaten the Lakers.  Bird and fellow Celtic Quinn Buckner were in a van trying to get back to their cars at Hellenic College in Brookline to drive them back downtown for a post-game celebration at a bar called Chelsea’s in Faneuil Hall.  While they sat in gridlock traffic Bird decided that he was sick of waiting and they would get the cars later.  He and Buckner exited the van and started walking back towards downtown on Storrow Drive.  Some fans noticed them and stopped and yelled at Larry Legend.  He told them to keep quiet and asked for a ride back to Faneuil Hall.  The bewildered fans drove Bird and Buckner back downtown and the driver asked if they could join them in the bar.  “Sorry, champions only” was Bird’s response.  The second story is from 1986, after Bird’s 3rd championship.  His back had begun to act up by then and he was older and been through it before so he went home early after a short night of celebrating.  His teammate and one of his closest friends on the team, Bill Walton, showed up at Bird’s house to celebrate.  Larry told him he was going to sleep but Walton said that he didn’t care, that he just wanted to sit in Larry’s kitchen and listen to the Grateful Dead all night.  Sure enough Bird woke up the next morning and when he went downstairs he found Bill Walton, alone in his kitchen, listening to the Grateful Dead with an almost-empty bottle of Wild Turkey on the table in front of him.

The announcement section was an interesting part as well but that stuff has been re-hashed over and over again.  A few of the interesting facts that the book gives you from Bird’s perspective – Bird said he had never not wanted to play a game until the one after Magic’s announcement.  It was the only game in his career that his heart wasn’t in.  The other was that Bird said he was as devastated when he heard the news about Magic’s HIV as he was when he first found out that his father had committed suicide back when he was in high school.  That illustrates just how close they had become.

Another great part of the book is the chapter that chronicled the Olympics.  Magic soaked up the spotlight while Larry tried to stay out of it.  He would sneak out the side door of the hotel and travel incognito to go watch the Team USA baseball games.  They chronicled the intense debates of basketball supremacy between Bird, Magic, and Michael Jordan and how Bird would tell Charles Barkley and the others to shut up when they tried to interject because they’d never won a championship.  One other popular theory among basketball fans, particularly ones from Boston in the 80’s, that is basically validated by both Bird and Johnson in the book is that Isaiah Thomas was indeed one hell of an asshole.  It’s actually what cost him a shot at being on the Dream Team.

This book is really a must for everyone who was caught up in the rivalry between the C’s and the Lakers in the 80’s.  It gives you a behind the scenes look at two of the most iconic athletes of the era and outlines a relationship that you will likely never see again in sports.  If you a reader and you like sports go out of your way to get this one.

Follow me on Twitter


Random Sunday Sports Thoughts

Some random thoughts on the last Sunday in March…

  • I’m enjoying this March Madness more than I have for the last few years.  Maybe it’s because I paid a bit more attention during the season but there have also been a lot of great storyline.  Ohio University went on a hell of a run.  As much as I’ll never be a Rick Pitino fan you’ve got to give it to him and his Louisville team for its run to the final four.  There’s been a lot of stand out performances from both well-known and not-so-well-known players from around the country.  There is a 1, two 2s, and a 4 seed in the Final Four.  It is not as varied as the field was last year in the Final Four but I expect some really good basketball this weekend.  I originally had Michigan State beating Kansas in the finals.  Kentucky looks awful tough though, I say Kentucky over Kansas next Monday night.

    Louisville coach Rick Pitino is headed to another Final Four

  • Baseball season is a little over a week away (three days if you are a fans of the A’s or the Mariners).  I suppose there is a lot of unanswered questions on paper for the Sox.  I’m not sure about the reports of dissension between Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington.  It seems like Bobby V. is content with leaving Iglesias and Lavarnway in AAA for the start of the season and let the veterans, Aviles and Shoppach, play themselves out of their jobs if they must.  As for the rotation I am sure that Ben and Bobby both agree that the best two will fill out the rotation.  From what I’ve seen the only slam dunk is Felix Doubront, who has been very solid all spring,  but right now I have Bard, Cook, Aceves in that order heading into the final week for the 5th start.
  • I’m interested to see how the bullpen comes together in the final week of spring training.  The Sox avoided a potential big injury when Franklin Morales’ medical issues were cleared up in Boston.  He’s poised for a big season out of the Sox pen this year.
  • So Peyton is in Denver, Tebow is in New York, Luck is going to Indianapolis, and RG3 is headed to Washington.  In the long run we may be saying that the Broncos got the best of this exchange if they can cash in what’s left of Manning’s productivity into a few deep playoff runs and maybe a championship.  I think RG3 will be a hell of a pro player but until the Redskins show some structure they’ll have to prove to me they can build a contender around him.  I think Luck will be great but that organization is basically re-starting from scratch.  I’m not sure what the hell the Jets are doing to be honest.
  • Ochocinco says he has "unfinished business" but may have to do it from rather far down on the Pats' depth chart

    Ochocinco restructured his deal to remain with the Patriots for 2012 at a reduced $1 million salary.  With Welker and Branch back in the fold and Brandon Lloyd and Donte Stallworth joining them, it looks as though Ochocinco may be the most expensive cheerleader on the Patriots roster next season.

  • For those talking about the Bills becoming the Redskins or the Cowboys for giving out a monster contract to former #1 pick Mario Williams and a slightly above market contract to fellow DE Mark Anderson remember this – the NFL allowed teams to rollover salary cap from the previous year starting this off-season.  The Bills rolled over almost $20 million in room which they used to sign two guys at a position of great need (and a position that the Bills brass was less than thrilled at re-stocking with talent from this year’s NFL draft) as well as a plethora of their own guys.  The big market squads used to call out teams like the Bills for being cheap and sitting on revenue sharing money.  I see a very specific strategy in which the team built up its assets for three seasons to position themselves to supplement the core for the contending team almost all in one off-season.  It is very similar to what Danny Ainge did when he took over the Celtics.
  • I’m glad to see Celtics swingman Mickael Pietrus escaped from his scary injury on Friday night with apparently only a concussion.  Pietrus says that he hopes to be back playing soon.  He’ll wind up being an important player for the C’s during the stretch run and playoffs but I hope he makes sure he takes care of himself before thinking about basketball.

Next week I’ll have a big baseball preview and recap of the Final Four.

Follow me on Twitter

Random Sunday Sports Thoughts

Some random sport thoughts on a Sunday afternoon…

  • I think John Elway really showed his hand this week when he aggressively went after Peyton Manning. He clearly does not see Tim Tebow as the long term answer at quarterback and saw an opportunity to replace Tebow with the only guy he could replace him with without causing a fan revolt. Now the question is what happens if Peyton goes somewhere else?
  • Arizona is the next stop on the Peyton Manning tour. A lot of people talk about Miami but unlike Miami the Cardinals actually play indoors and while Brandon Marshall is a good player Larry Fitzgerald is one of the top two receivers in football
  • The Redskins gave up a lot to secure the 2nd pick in the draft and Robert Griffin III. Griffin will now be the guy who makes or breaks Mike Shanahan’s tenure in Washington. One thing that is for sure is that the twice a year Vick/RG3 match-ups should be fun to watch.
  • How much will Miami overpay for Matt Flynn if they lose out on Manning?
  • It was a great championship week in college basketball and I can’t wait for the tournament to begin this week. Always one of the more fun times in sports
  • I’m already bored with preseason baseball. Can we get the actual games going already?
  • It would be a tough break for the Yankees and Rays, respectively, if they lost David Robertson or David Price for any long period of time due to fluke injuries. Somebody needs to tell Price to quit putting the towel around his neck
  • The NBA season seems to be going by way too fast. It’s tough to stay interested. That’s what happens when you lose games to a stoppage
  • The NHL season will be coming to an end soon and then the three month run to the Cup begins.
  • That’s all for now. More Red Sox previews next week as well as a tournament preview


Follow me on Twitter

Random Sunday Sports Thoughts

Today is reporting day for pitchers and catchers for the Red Sox in Fort Myers.  Baseball season is on the horizon and we are getting for the stretch run in hockey and basketball.  Here are some (almost) mindless sports thoughts for a Sunday morning/afternoon.

  • Wakefield ended 17 great years in Boston on Friday

    Tim Wakefield was classy until the end.  Wakefield closed out his Red Sox, and baseball career on Friday evening with a press conference in which Wake carried himself the same way he did for 17 years in Boston.  Wakefield brought it for 17 years for the Red Sox and carved out his own little place in Boston baseball lore.  Thank you Tim.  I saw you pitch live at Fenway more than maybe I wanted to but you did a lot for the organization, including win 2 rings.  I’m not sure if you can think of a better successor to Mike Andrews as chairman of the Jimmy Fund than Wakefield.

  • Listening to Bobby Valentine talk this morning it sounds like this truly is an evaluation period for everyone on the roster.  It sounds like Jose Iglesias has a legitimate shot to be the Sox’ every day shortstop.  Things that happened last year will probably be addressed but it seems to me that Valentine will make his own impression on the players by what he sees himself in the clubhouse and on the field.
  • My bold prediction on the first day of Sox’ spring training – Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront round out the rotation to start the regular season.
  • If fans in L.A. start hearing about Angels camp being “Camp Tranquility” just an FYI, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
  • Miguel Cabrera's transition to third base will be one to watch

    Some of the more interesting storylines heading into camp outside of Boston – how will the defending champs fair with former catcher Mike Matheny replacing Tony LaRussa, one of the most decorated managers of all-time, as manager of the Cardinals?  He did retain some key guys such as Jose Oquendo and Mark McGwire from LaRussa’s staff.  Also will be interesting to watch Miguel Cabrera’s transition from first base to third in Detroit camp.  He was never a good defensive first baseman so third base could be an adventure.  It looks like there is a clown show coming to Athletics camp this week as well and his name is Manny Ramirez.

  • In non-baseball news, the Andrew Luck show, I mean the NFL Scouting Combine is this week in Indianapolis.  The guy with the least amount of pressure on him might be Robert Griffith III, the consensus #2 QB to be taken in the draft.  Although he can conceivably go anywhere from picks #2-#6 to at least 3 different teams the focus will squarely be on future Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck as he works out for scouts in what will become his home stadium next season.  RG3 can just go out there and do his thing.
  • Negotiations with pending free agents should kick into gear next week in Indy.  There’s a lot of talent out there unsigned.  Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Drew Brees, Vincent Jackson, Wes Welker, Jermichael Finley, Mario Williams, Cliff Avril, and Chris Carr just to name a few.  Negotiations between teams and free agents have been modest so far but teams and agents use the scouting combine to kick off serious talks.  The Buffalo Bills jumped ahead last week by exchanging numbers with the agent for WR Stevie Johnson and they hope to close the gap this week in Indy.
  • Is anyone else sick of Linsanity already?
  • Kevin Garnett and company are starting to show their age.

    The Celtics are looking their age already.  It’s tough to see them making a deep run into the playoffs this year.  They desperately need yo get younger next season.

  • I can’t believe that it’s time for bracketology already.  The bright side to that is it means that spring is right around the corner.
  • The Bruins are starting to get beat up.  They could use some reinforcements at the trading deadline but it seems like a situation like last year where they need to tinker rather than make a major move.  I still feel that this team can compete for another championship with their current core, they just need to add some guys in some tertiary moves.  They struck gold last year with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.
  • For years it seems they’ve been trying to make a TV show about professional sports that is enjoyed by both fans and players alike.  Sure there was Friday Night Lights but that was a show about high school sports.  ESPN tried the controversial “Playmakers” years back but players thought the portrayal of edgy behavior of athletes off the field, while maybe accurate, was the part of the game that wasn’t for fans to see.  Danny McBride, Jody Hill, and Will Ferrell had a great idea a few years ago – make a parody so over the top that both players and fans would get a kick out of it.  They created Kenny Powers, an ignorant, insensitive, and masochistic cariacture, who was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball before bottoming out.  Tonight starts the third and final season of Eastbound and Down.  It’s probably the best sports comedy ever on TV.  Check it out at 10:00 PM EST if you have HBO.  Here’s a little Kenny for you:


Follow me on Twitter

Random Sunday Sports Thoughts

Some mindless Sunday musings from the week that was and the week that’s to come…

  • Baseball activities have started in Fort Myers.  The Red Sox have a lot to prove after what happened last year whether they are sorry or not, as I wrote about on Friday.  Jon Lester has headed many of the team activities during the first unofficial week.  Apology or no apology he gets it.  He was joined by Andrew Miller, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Andrew Bailey, and injured pitchers Rich Hill and Daisuke Matsuzaka among others.  The fun begins today when new manager Bobby Valentine arrives in Fort Myers.  The official report date for pitchers and catchers is next weekend but you can expect more early arrivals during the course of the week.
  • Daisuke may be back in the Sox rotation sooner than later

    Speaking of Matsuzaka it now appears that he is still about a month ahead of schedule on his recovery from Tommy John surgery.  That would put his return to the Red Sox rotation sometime in May.  For all of the talk about a weak rotation Dice-K could be a wild card.  Perhaps the Red Sox are holding back when it comes to acquiring another starter in the hopes that one of the reclamation guys like Carlos Silva or Vicente Padilla can hold a spot until Dice-K is ready to re-join the rotation.  It will be also interesting to see the differences in how Valentine, a veteran of the Japanese baseball scene, differs in his approach in handling Dice-K from that of former manager Terry Francona.  Remember that Matsuzaka is in the final year of his contract and it could be an “all hands on deck” approach to his season when he is finally healthy.

  • It’s good to see Mass. native Rich Hill early and working hard to come back from Tommy John surgery himself.  He could be a useful member of the Sox bullpen when he is healthy.
  • I was sick of hearing about the Giants/Patriots Super Bowl match-up about a week into the prep and I am starting to get sick of the post coverage of the game as well.  Here’s the gist – Yes, Eli is elite, no, Brady’s legacy isn’t tarnished.  I’m not sure why so many pundits need something one way or the other.  Why can’t Tom Brady still be one of the best quarterbacks of all-time while we work Eli Manning into the conversation of upper echelon QB talents in the league?
  • Stanford Routt was the first of many Raider vets to be let go from their lucrative contracts

    Things should heat up in the next few weeks for the NFL off season with the combine and the cutting of veteran players.  Cornerback Stanford Routt, who was just signed to a 5-year, 51 million dollar extension before last season, was cut by the Raiders in what looks to be the first of many moves by the new Oakland management to overhaul the team.  Just because these guys are getting cut from their trademark crazy Al Davis-signed contracts doesn’t mean that they won’t be assets for other teams.  Routt has already received interest from at least 5 other teams and will be in Buffalo on Monday for a visit with the Bills.  New GM Reggie McKenzie will build the team his way which might flood an already full FA market full of vets from the silver and black.

  • The aggressiveness that the Bills have pursued Routt makes you wonder if GM Buddy Nix is changing his approach to the off season.  The Bills have shied away from an aggressive approach to free agency in Nix’s first two years on the job but you wonder if they think that they are close enough that a few big ticket guys and another draft away from getting over the hump.  That starts with keeping your own, an approach that Buddy Nix has stressed since he got the job, but Stevie Johnson and tight end Scott Chandler are big pieces of last year’s team that need to be addressed.  Still Nix has re-signed 3 starters (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyle Williams, and Erik Pears) and 2 key special teams players (kicker Rian Lindell and long snapper Garrison Sanborn).  If Nix can get Stevie and Chandler signed up it will be the first time in what seems like forever that the Bills will go into the off season not having to fill holes that opened up by letting their own players walk.  You could look around the league and put a playoff team full of free agents or traded players that the Bills have lost.  Guys like Marshawn Lynch, Jason Peters, Jabari Greer, Nate Clements, Donte Whitner, London Fletcher, the list goes on.
  • Linsanity is running wild in New York

    Linsanity is the talk of the NBA this week.  Jeremy Lin is a great story but spare me the comparisons to Tim Tebow.  Jeremy Lin wasn’t a blip on the radar when he played at Harvard.  He was waived by his first team, the Golden State Warriors, on the first day after the NBA lockout and barely stuck with the Knicks out of training camp.  Conversely Tim Tebow was one of the most celebrated athletes in college sports history, became a 1st round pick despite questions about how his talent would translate into the pros, and was a fan favorite from Day 1 in Denver, even as he was sitting on the bench.  It’s basically like comparing apples and oranges.  Lin is such a great story because he seemingly came from nowhere to star for the basketball team that plays in the biggest city in America.

  • The Celtics seem to be in a transitional phase right now.  The big 3 is still playing for a championship and there is not enough good teams in the Eastern Conference to push them out of contention.  They have many young players who are not quite ready to contribute but need the minutes to improve.  Avery Bradley and the two Purdue rookies, Etwaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, look like future contributors but how do you divide minutes while still trying to compete in the Eastern Conference?  They let the game against the Lakers slip away on Thursday night and then came out flat against the Raptors in Toronto the next night.  They are surely headed to the playoffs but they need another guy to step up and contribute.  Will it be Bradley, Moore, Johnson, or someone else?
  • Austin Rivers launches his buzzer beating shot against UNC

    This is probably the best college basketball season in a long time and nobody knows it.  I haven’t watched much myself but the big buzzer beating shot by Austin Rivers of Duke to defeat rivals North Carolina last week was a reminder of how great regular season college basketball can be.  Sure, everyone will be tuned in during Match Madness but the NCAA should find a way to market the regular season better.  The NCAA has opposite problems with football.  In football the fans love the regular season but they loathe the shoddy  and murky post-season bowl set-up.  In basketball all that anyone cares about is the playoff tournament.  Maybe both sides should get together and figure it all out.

  • The Bruins had a big win yesterday that can get you out of a slump.  Milan Lucic’s game-tying goal with less than two minutes remaining followed by a shoot out win is exactly the type of game ending scenario that can put this team on another run.  Still you get the feeling that this team will be no worse than a #3 seed by season’s end.  It’s all keeping healthy and in shape by time the run for a second straight cup begins in April.


Follow me on Twitter

The 5 best athletes of 2011

It’s December 31st and another year of sports is in the books.  I chronicled the best games of the year and the breakout stars of the year…I saved the best for last – the best athletes in sports in 2011:

Boston Bruins Goalie Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas, Goalie, Boston Bruins – Thomas had an M.V.P. performance in goal for the Bruins during the regular season.  His postseason was even better.  Thomas gave one of the most brilliant performances for a goalie in postseason history as the Bruins romped to their first Stanley Cup Championship since 1972.  He was coming off of an injury riddled 2009-2010 season and young goalie Tuuka Rask had emerged as a goalie with a bright future that year.  The roles were reversed in the 2010-2011 season when Rask couldn’t stay on the ice and Thomas was back healthy.  He started 57 games in goal for the B’s and had a record of 35-11-9.  His 35 wins were one off of his career high of 36 set back in the 2008-2009 season.  He had 9 shutouts, which shattered his previous career high of 5.  His .938 save percentage was also a career high.  In all he saved 1,811 shots on goal.  He was the best goalie in the regular season and won the Vezina Trophy for being the most outstanding goalie in the regular season.  When the postseason rolled around Thomas took his game to a whole nother level.  He started all 25 games that the Bruins played on their way to the cup posting a 16-9 record.  Thomas had 4 shutouts during the Stanley Cup finals including two in Game 7s.  He broke the record for most saves in a postseason (798) as well as most saves in the Stanley Cup finals (238).  After shutting out the Tampa Bay Lightning in an exciting 1-0 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals he brought out his best for the Stanley Cup finals.  Thomas only let in 8 shots compared to the 238 that he turned back against Vancouver.  His .967 save percentage in the finals broke a 66-year old record.  After he shut out the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 in Game 7 in Vancouver Thomas was named the Conn Smythe trophy winner for being the M.V.P. of the Stanley Cup playoffs.  At 37 years old he became the oldest player to ever win the Conn Smythe trophy.  If you could believe it, Thomas’ numbers at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season are even better.  He is 16-5-2 through 23 games with 4 shutouts.  His .940 save percentage thus far this season is even better than last year.  It’s a long road to a Stanley Cup repeat and it’s a tall order to repeat the historic performance of last year’s Stanley Cup finals.  If the beginning part of this year is any indication however it looks like Thomas may be up for the challenge.

Oklahoma City Thunder Forward Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant, Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder –  Durant had high hopes coming into the league after a year at the University of Texas.   He was drafted 2nd overall by the Seattle Supersonics in the 2007 NBA draft.  After a season in Seattle the Supersonics were sold and moved to Oklahoma City where they become the Thunder.  Durant was to be the centerpiece of the relocated franchise.  Durant was the rookie of the year for the 2007-2008 season and finished second behind Lebron James in the M.V.P. voting after the 2009-2010 season.  It was the 2010-2011 season, however, that Durant brought the Oklahoma City Thunder to new heights.  The Thunder won 50 games and earned the #8 seed in the playoffs a year prior.  In ’10-’11 the Thunder won 55 games and earned the #4 seed in the playoffs.  Durant was the centerpiece, as he was expected to be when they drafted him.  He lead the NBA in scoring for a second year in a row with a 27.7 points per game average.  He also had 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in the 78 games that he played for the Thunder.  He saved his best work for the playoffs.  After sneaking into the playoffs and losing in the first round to the Lakers in 6 games the season prior, Durant and the Thunder were primed for a deeper playoff run.  The Thunder beat the Denver Nuggets in 5 games in the first round of the playoffs.  The upstart #8 seed, the Memphis Grizzlies, took the Thunder to 7 games in the second round, including a triple overtime Thunder win in which Durant had 35 points and 13 rebounds.  The Thunder won that series but lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals in 5 games.  Durant bettered his numbers from the regular season during the playoffs, scoring 28.6 points per game with 8.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.  Despite falling three wins short of the NBA finals Durant had established himself as not only a regular season star but a postseason one as well.  He looks to have grown into the role of franchise player for a young team that looks to be on top of the Western Conference this year as well as years to come with a roster that features young players such as Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kendrick Perkins.  The Thunder are off to a quick start in 2011-2012 with a 4-0 record.  Durant has averaged 31.3 points in 7.3 rebounds in 4 games.  Kevin Durant is positioned as one of the few players ready to take the title of best player in the NBA from the aging Kobe Bryant.  A title in 2012 would go a long way in preserving that role.

Detroit Tigers Starting Pitcher Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander, Pitcher, Detroit Tigers – At just 28 years old Justin Verlander has become the most dominant pitcher in Major League Baseball.  Verlander threw his first career no-hitter when he was 25 years old back in 2007.  He was coming off of seasons in which he posted records of 19-9 and 18-9.  The Tigers ace saved his best performance for the 2011 season.  The numbers weer astounding.  He posted a 24-5 record in 34 games started.  He had a 2.40 career ERA, almost a full run less than his previous career low of 3.37 in 2010.  His 250 strikeouts led the American League and was better than all but his 269 strikeouts in the 2009 season.  He threw the 2nd no-hitter of his career on May 7 against the Toronto Blue Jays.  At 28 he became only the 13th pitcher in major league history to throw multiple no-hitters.  Verlander led the American League in wins, strikeouts, and ERA, earning him the pitcher’s triple crown.  Verlander was the unanimous winner of the American League Cy Young award after the season.  He was also voted as the American League M.V.P., the first pitcher to win it since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and the first starting pitcher to win it since Roger Clemens in 1986.  The M.V.P. award was well deserved, as the Tigers were only 70-58 in games that Verlander didn’t start.  The 25 wins in his starts brought the Tigers win total to 95.  He was by far the most important player on the Detroit Tigers AL Central winning team.  Verlander was not able to show his dominance in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees as he only pitched one inning before the game was suspended due to rain.  He came back and won Game 3 of the Series, going 8 innings and giving up 4 runs in a 5-4 Tigers victory.  The Tigers won the series in 5 and Verlander was to start Game 1 of the ALCS.  He only lasted 4 innings in the start, giving up three runs in the 3-2 Game 1 loss.  Verlander bounced back in a must-win Game 5 of the ALCS with a win over the Rangers.  He went 7 1/3 innings, giving up 4 runs on 8 hits in a 7-5 victory.  It was all for naught however as the Rangers won Game 6 and eliminated the Tigers.  Verlander’s dream season came up short but at 28 the tall right-hander looks to have many more opportunities at the World Series.

New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees

Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints – Coming into this year Peyton Manning and Tom Brady had dominated the NFL as quarterbacks “1A and 1B”.  Brees and Aaron Rodgers broke the glass ceiling with memorable 2011 seasons.  Manning was lost for the year before pre-season and Brady, well he was Brady but somehow  Brees and Rodgers were even better.  Brees and the Saints were coming off of a disappointing Super Bowl championship defense in which they lost the division to the Falcons and then lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle.  The 32-year old Brees came into 2011, the last of his current contract with the Saints, looking to get the Saints back into the title hunt.  The year started off with a 419 yard, 3 TD performance against Rodgers and the Packers in a loss against the defending Super Bowl Champions.  Brees and the Saints responded to the adversity, winning 12 of their next 14 games and leaving them one win away from the #2 seed in the NFC behind the Packers.  Brees has been nothing short of amazing.  His 5,087 yards through 15 games has already bested Dan Marino’s single season record set in 1984.  He’ll likely have to reclaim the record from Tom Brady tomorrow when the Saints face the Carolina Panthers.  On top of the 5,087 yards Brees has thrown for 41 TDs with only 13 INTs.  Brees also broke a record by throwing a TD pass in 37 consecutive games with his two TD performance in Week 10 against the Falcons.  That record now stands at 42 as Brees has thrown a TD pass in each of the remaining games.  Brees has always been right at the top of the next tier quarterbacks behind Brady and Manning but I think it’s fair to say that Brees joined those two guys in one certain classification this season – bonafide future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.  Brees will go down with one of the most prolific seasons for a quarterback ever and the days of 1A and 1 B have become 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D.  #1C Brees would love to start 2012 off with another championship ring but he will first have to get through 1D,

Green Bay Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers – Rodgers started 2011 off with a bang with a playoff run that included an NFC Championship victory against the Packers’ most bitter rivals, the Chicago Bears, and a Super Bowl victory over the AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.  After the NFL lockout ended Rodgers and the Packers prepared to defend their Super Bowl championship.  They started off with a bang, defeating the New Orleans Saints in a game that featured a 312 yard, 3 touchdown performance by Rodgers.  The Packers didn’t look back from the game 1 victory, winning their next 12 games before being upset by the Kansas City Chiefs.  They bounced back the next week on Christmas night against the Bears and hold a 14-1 record and the #1 seed in the NFC going into the final week of the regular season.  Rodgers has been as equally magnificent as Brees, throwing for 4,643 yards and 45 TDs against only 6 INTs in the first 15 games of the 2011 season.  The 28 year old Rodgers was a controversial figure in Green Bay in 2008 when the Packers traded away Brett Favre in favor of the young Cal product.  Rodgers has made it a distant memory for Packers fans by doing things that not even the great Favre accomplished playing quarterback for the Packers.  The Packers have assembled a great offense around Rodgers and Rodgers makes defenses pay by using all of the weapons at his disposal.  Rodgers started off the year by being the Super Bowl M.V.P. and his 2011 will likely culminate an a League M.V.P. award.  He’ll look to add even more to his resume at the outset of 2012 and do something that Brett Favre never did as a Packer, bring a 2nd Super Bowl Championship to Green Bay

Follow me on Twitter


Despite 0-2 start Celtics giving reasons to be optimistic

The Celtics have started off the 2011-2012 0-2 thanks to a grueling two game opening road trip to New York and Miami.  The Celts lost to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on opening day by a score of 106-104 and then traveled down to South Beach to face the Heat last night in a game they lost 115-107.  The bad news is that they are 0-2.  The good news is that they keep both games close without Paul Pierce and when Pierce comes back they look to be a deeper team than they were last year.  Here’s what I like and what I don’t like from the first two games:

Brandon Bass has been a versatile presence off the bench for the C's

What I like: Rajon Rondo is playing with a chip on his shoulder after the trade rumors involving him and Chris Paul.  He’s responded with a 31 point, 13 assist, 5 rebound opening game against the Knicks followed by a 22 point, 12 assist, 8 rebound game against the Heat.  He looks like one of the premiere point guards in the league and the bitter taste of the trade rumors aren’t going away anytime soon, so expect him to stay motivated.  Brandon Bass and Keyon Dooling have been great additions to the Celtics bench.  Bass had 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench on Christmas day against the Knicks and followed up with a 13 point, 5 rebound performance last night against the Heat.  Dooling was quiet on opening day with 4 points and 3 assists but made up for it last night with 18 points against the Heat, many of which were in the 4th quarter to fuel the Celtics’ comeback attempt.  When Paul Pierce and Mickael Pietrus are back in the lineup the C’s team suddenly looks a whole lot deeper with Pietrus, Bass, Dooling, Marquise Daniels and Chris Wilcox coming off the bench.

Jermaine O'Neal has done next to nothing for the C's in the first two games

What I don’t like:  Kevin Garnett needs to get more involved.  He had 15 points and 8 rebounds on opening day and followed up with a 12 point, 5 rebound performance against the Heat.  That’s not going to cut it.  He may be the one most affected by Pierce’s absence on the offensive side but his rebounding needs to be better for this team to succeed.  Sasha Pavlovic is not good.  He has more fouls (8) than points (5) in the first two games.  He also turned the ball over 4 times last night.  Pierce’s return can’t come soon enough so Pavlovic can go to the bench behind Marquise Daniels who should remain as the primary swing man on the bench.  And also Jermaine O’Neal, what is it exactly that you do out there?

The Celtics look to get their first win of the season tonight in New Orleans and then come home for opening night this Friday against the Pistons.  Hopefully Pierce is back healthy soon and the Celtics can rebound from the 0-2 start and begin their quest for their 18th NBA title.

Follow me on Twitter


11 athletes who broke out in 2011

Every year there is a group of athletes that have break-out performance.  Some were previous disappointments who found their way.  Some were no names who put themselves on the map.  You thought some of them were pretty good but it turned out they were really good.  Some just have a great story.  Here are 11 athletes who broke out in 2011:

Red Sox Center Fielder Jacoby Ellsbury

Jacoby Ellsbury, Center Fielder, Boston Red Sox – Ellsbury went from goat to hero in the span of two seasons.  After coming up from the minors and helping the Sox win a World Series in 2007 Red Sox fans have been patiently waiting for Ellsbury to become the star player he was expected to be.  It reached a breaking point in 2010 when he was moved from center to left field in favor of free agent pick-up Mike Cameron.  When injuries held Ellsbury to only 18 games fans and the media wondered if he was really too injured to play.  Even some of his own teammates question why he wasn’t rehabbing with the team.  When Ellsbury bounced back in 2011 even his biggest supporters couldn’t predict what he would accomplish.  He posted a line of .321/.376/.928, all career highs.  He hit 32 home runs, 21 over his previous career high of 9 and 105 RBI, 55 more than his previous career high of 60.  He also added 39 stolen bases and a Gold Glove.  Will Ellsbury continue this torrid pace?  Maybe not but remember one thing – he’s got three more years of arbitration and Scott Boras is his agent.  I’m thinking that the production doesn’t dip too much.

Royals Left Fielder Alex Gordon

Alex Gordon, Left Fielder, Kansas City Royals – Gordon was supposed to be the center piece of the Royals’ re-build when he was drafted 2nd overall in the 2005 MLB draft.  Things didn’t turn out that way.  After a disappointing rookie season in 2007 Gordon was either too hurt or too ineffective to stick with the major league roster for a full season.  The natural third baseman also became a man without a position after the Royals started moving him around the diamond, from shortstop to first base, to the outfield and back.  Gordon entered spring training in 2010 and 2011 on the roster bubble.  He seemed like he’d be another high rated pick that couldn’t get it done in the small market and would need a change of scenery if he wanted a chance to succeed.  Manager Ned Yost decided to give that change of scenery to Gordon himself by declaring Alex Gordon his starting left fielder for the 2011 season and Gordon rewarded Yost’s faith with his best season yet.  He had a .303/.376/.879 line, all career highs (his previous high in batting average was .260).  His 23 home runs were 7 better than his previous best of 16 and his 87 RBI were 27 better than his previous career best of 60.  Like Ellsbury, Gordon was also awarded a Gold Glove for his prowess in the field.  Will the Royals ever complete their perpetual rebuild?  If they do one thing is for sure – Alex Gordon will be playing left field for the Kansas City Royals.

Saints Tight End Jimmy Graham

Jimmy Graham, Tight End, New Orleans Saints – Jimmy Graham’s mother left him at a foster home when he was 11 years old.  Since then he went to the University of Miami to play basketball, got a degree with a double major in marketing and management, joined the football team in his fifth year in school while he was taking post-grad classes, was drafted to the NFL and became the favorite target of one of the best quarterbacks in the league.  Who says that the system is broken?  When he knew that he wasn’t going to make the NBA he just decided to play football in his extra year of eligibility.  He only caught 17 passes in his year playing with the Hurricanes but 5 of them were for touchdowns.  The New Orleans Saints made him the 95th pick in the 2010 NFL draft.  He would play behind former Hurricane stand-out tight end Jeremy Shockey.  In his rookie year he caught 31 balls from All-Pro quarterback Drew Brees, including 5 touchdowns and a paltry 11.5 average yards per reception.  In the off season Shockey was traded to the Carolina Panthers and Graham was promoted to the starting lineup.  Through 14 games in 2011 only Wes Welker has more receptions than him.  He already has 87 receptions for a whooping 1,171 yards and 9 touchdowns.  He still has two more games to add on that total.  He’s been a huge part in Drew Brees attempting to break Dan Marino’s long standing yards in a season record.  He’s only in his 2nd year.  Graham looks like he’s going to stick around in New Orleans for a long time coming.  It’s not too bad for a guy who just decided one day to play some football.

Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III

Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Baylor Bears – Life is good for the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner.  Why wouldn’t it be?  When people keep their expectations low it’s not hard to exceed them, especially if you are Griffin.  His Baylor Bear football team wasn’t expected to do much this year.  Ask TCU, Oklahoma, and Texas (all ranked teams that Baylor defeated) how much they’ve done this year.  When Heisman time came all of the talk leading up was about Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Alabama running back Trent Richardson.  In swooped Griffin on the last week of the season and put on a big performance against the Texas Longhorns to win the Heisman trophy.  Not only was he the first Baylor Bear to win it, he was the first to ever be nominated.  Griffin’s life is much different from Graham’s.  Griffin was born in Okinawa, Japan in 1990 to Sergeants Robert and Jacqueline Griffin, both of the U.S. Army.  He bounced around the world until his family finally settled in Texas when he was 8 years old.  That led him to Baylor University where he helped turn a perennial also-ran into the #12 team in the country by the end of his junior season, which is his 4th at Baylor.  Griffin can graduate now and leave for the NFL or he can come back for one more year and try to make Baylor football even better.  One thing is for sure – the future is bright for RG3.

Diamondbacks pitcher Ian Kennedy

Ian Kennedy, Pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks – The New York Yankees had high hopes for Ian Kennedy when they drafted him 21st overall in the 1st round of the 2006 draft.  Kennedy made his Yankees debut in September of 2007.  He bounced up and down and on and off the disabled list for between 2007-2009.  His injuries ranged from a strained lat to bursitis to an aneurysm in his armpit.  The Yankees decided it would be better to use him as a trade chip then count on him for the future of their starting rotation and shipped him away to Arizona in a three team trade to acquire center fielder Curtis Granderson.  Kennedy, finally healthy, made 32 starts for a horrible D-Backs in 2010 and had a 9-10 record with a 3.80 ERA.  For that mediocre performance Kennedy was rewarded by being named the opening day starter for the Diamondbacks in 2011.  2011 was a much different year for Kennedy and the D-Backs.  He finished with a 21-4 record and a 2.88 ERA in 33 starts.  He struck out 198 batters in 222 innings pitched, 30 more than the high of 168 that he set the year before.  He didn’t make the All-Star team and he only finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting but Kennedy led the Diamondbacks to a worst to first place finish.  Kennedy pitched for the D-Backs in their first post-season since 2007.  They lost to the Brewers but Kennedy had established himself as the ace of the staff for Kirk Gibson and an up-and-coming Arizona Diamondback team.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw, Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers – You’ve got to hand it to Clayton Kershaw.  While a historic franchise was imploding around him Kershaw kept his cool and gave the Dodgers faithful a unanimous Cy Young winning season.   Kershaw was another one of these players that the fan base always had high expectations, maybe too high, and even modest results were met with disappointment.  His best record coming in to 2011 was his 13-10 record in 2010.  The Dodgers fan base expected more out of Kershaw so that is exactly what he gave to them in 2011.  While the owner of the Dodgers was losing his shirt (and his baseball team) in a divorce the Dodgers became a side show.  Kershaw did not.  By the end of the season Kershaw had amassed a 21-5 record with a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts.  His 21 wins, 2.28 ERA and 248 K’s earned him the pitcher’s triple crown.  By time the 2012 season rolls around the Dodgers will be in a more stable state.  The MLB took over the team during the season and they will likely have new owners in charge by early next year and they will need to pick up the pieces of the mess left by the previous regime.  The new owners will have a pair of centerpieces to build around – outfielder Matt Kemp and Kershaw, who finally became the ace that the Dodgers fans have been waiting for him to become since he first broke into the big leagues back in 2008.

Timberwolves forward Kevin Love

Kevin Love, Forward, Minnesota Timberwolves – Kevin Love was the #5 pick in the 2008 NBA draft by the Memphis Grizzlies and was promptly traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a multi-player draft day deal.  He would be part of the rebuilding process after the T-Wolves had traded Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics in the previous off-season.  He was blocked, however, by Al Jefferson who was the centerpiece of the Garnett trade.  He played modest minutes in his first two seasons in Minnesota, putting up solid but unspectacular numbers.  Jefferson was traded to the Nets before the 2010-2011 season and Love was primed for a bigger role with the Timberwolves.  He started 73 games last season, more than the 59 that he started i his first two seasons combined.  His numbers enjoyed an strong uptick as well.  He went from 14.0 points per game to 20.2, from 11.o rebounds per game to 15.2, and from 28.6 minutes per game to 35.8.  He also improved his field goal and free throw percentages (45% to 47% FG, 81% to 85% FT).  Love posted the first 30/30 game in the NBA in 28 years when he scored 31 points and grabbed 31 rebounds in a game against the Knicks.  The Timberwolves only won 17 games and were the worst team in the league for the 2nd year in a row but they have Love, who was a Western Conference all-star last year as well as the 2011 most improved player in the NBA.  If he can continue to develop into one of the marquee players in the league he might get the Timberwolves out of the lottery before you know it.

Bruins winger Brad Marchand

Brad Marchand, Winger, Boston Bruins – Marchand is the Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Bruins.  Listed at 5’9″ and 183 lbs. Marchand may not be the biggest or strongest player but he makes up for it with heart, toughness, and a little ego.  Marchand has been a pain in the ass for opponents (especially the opposing goalies) since he broke into the league in 2009.  After not scoring a goal in 20 games during his time with the Bruins in the 2009-2010 season he broke out last season with 21 goals and 41 total points for the Bruins in 77 games during the 2010-2011 season.  He took his game to another level in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs when he had 11 goals and 8 assists in the 25 game run to the Stanley Cup championship.  The diminutive young star quickly became a fan favorite among the Bruins faithful with his mix of speed and finesse to go along with his little tough guy antics on the ice.  Marchand came back and picked up right where he left off in the 2011 portion of the 2011-2012 season.  He has scored 15 goals and 29 total points for the Bruins in the first 33 games of their Stanley Cup-defending season, including a hat trick just last night.  Marchand is one of the cornerstones of a Boston Bruins team that looks to be a Cup contender for many years to come.  The opposing fans are sure to love to hate Brad Marchand for many years to come and Marchand and the Bruins faithful wouldn’t have it any other way.

Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul

Jason Pierre-Paul, Defensive End, New York Giants – Jason Pierre-Paul was a stand-out basketball player in high school.  The school’s football coach tried to recruit him to play football and Pierre-Paul casually brushed him off.  The coach then started to wait for him after basketball practice by sitting on the hood of his car until he finally agreed to play football.  Pierre-Paul is probably happy that the coach had been so insistent on him playing football.  After playing a year each at College of the Canyons and Fort Scott Community College Pierre-Paul was recruited to play at the University of South Florida.  The son of Haitian immigrants only played one season at USF before declaring for the NFL draft.  He was drafted 15th overall by the New York Giants at the 2010 NFL draft.  He had little previous training but was going into a situation were he would be mentored by guys like Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.  After a decent rookie season with modest playing time Pierre-Paul has blown up for the Giants in 2011.  He has 13.5 sacks including 1 for a safety, 2 forced fumbles and 6 passes defensed to go with 59 tackles in his sophomore season.  Pierre-Paul looks to be next in a long line of impressive pass rushers to don the New York Giants uniform.  He’s only two years into his career and he’s got plenty of time to create a resume that matches the likes of Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan.  He is off to a pretty good start.

Canadians defenseman P.K. Subban

P.K. Subban, Defenseman, Montreal Canadiens – Speaking of hockey players that opposing fan bases love to hate, Subban has earned quite the reputation of loathe among fans of the Canadiens’ fiercest rivals.  He broke into the NHL with the Canadiens in February of 2010 and has only gotten better as he has gained experience.  His personality is what makes Canadien fans love him and opposing teams hate him.  He’s rough and loud on the ice and his celebrations, such as his trademark arrrow show, make him one of the most hated men on the ice.  He’s a productive player too.  He scored 14 goals and had 24 assists in his first full season in the NFL last season.  He also added 2 points and 2 assists in his first NHL post-season action in the first round series against the Bruins.  On March 20, 2011 Subban became the first rookie defenseman in Canadien history to have a hat trick in a game.  Subban has only scored 2 goals so far during the 2011 season but has already recorded 12 assists in 35 games.  He’s the stabilizing force in the back end of the Canadiens’ defense and at only 22 years old looks to be an integral part of the Canadiens success for a long time.


Thunder guard Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook, Guard, Oklahoma City Thunder – Westbrook was the 4th overall pick of the Seattle Supersonics in the 2008 NBA draft out of UCLA.  The Supersonics were subsequently sold and moved to Oklahoma City where he would have to join Kevin Durant as the centerpiece for the new franchise, the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Thunder disappointed in 2009-2010 but made a huge turn-around in 2010-2011 thanks to the maturation of Westbrook.  The Thunder went 50-32 for the season and made the playoffs, making it all the way to the Western Conference finals.  Westbrook averaged 21.9 points in 2010-2011, up from his previous high of 16.1 the year prior.  He also improved his free throw % from 78% to 84% over the course of the last two seasons.  If that wasn’t enough Westbrook averaged 23.8 points per game during the Thunder’s deep playoff run last season.  With Kevin Durant dominating up front Westbrook looks to lead the Oklahoma City back court that may be the team to beat in the West.

Follow me on Twitter