Durant, Oden and hoops housecleaning

Five quick updates on the Greg Oden-Kevin Durant Sweepstakes before we get to some housecleaning:

1. Let the tanking begin! After Milwaukee (25 wins) suspiciously announced that both Andrew Bogut AND Charlie Villanueva would miss the rest of the season, the Celtics (20 wins) tanked last night's game against Charlotte (26 wins) about as egregiously as you can tank a game. Here was their crunch-time lineup as a double-digit lead dissipated and eventually blew away: Sebastian Telfair (headed for a Greek professional league in two years), Gerald Green (right now, the worst player in the league who plays more than 15 minutes a game), Allan Ray (an NBDL veteran), Ryan Gomes (the only decent player in this group) and Leon Powe (an undersized power forward playing center, which made him an under-undersized center).

Telfair, Green, Ray, Gomes and Powe. This was a tank job that was so blatant, a stammering Doc Rivers tried to pretend afterward that he was teaching his bench guys a lesson. And what was that lesson?

For any of our bench guys who are complaining that they aren't getting enough playing time, I'm going to leave you in for the entire fourth quarter as we blow an 18-point lead at home to a lottery team playing without three of its best guys.

Does the "lesson" make any sense? Of course not. They tanked. I watched the game. And you know what? I didn't feel good about what was happening. As you know from any of my Vegas columns, I'm a big believer in the whole karma thing. The Celtics had been approaching this season admirably since mid-December -- they were trying to win every game and competing hard every night, only they kept getting betrayed by inexperience, injuries and shaky crunch-time coaching. Maybe they were on pace to lose 55-60 games, but it was an honest 55-60 losses: No chicanery, no tanking, no B.S. along the lines of Mark Madsen jacking up seven 3-pointers in Minny's final game of the 2006 season. Last night against the Bobcats, they crossed the line. And it made me feel a little dirty.

Well, for about 10 seconds.

Then I looked at the Reverse Standings online and didn't feel dirty anymore. The C's are pretty much locked into No. 2 right now. This is a good thing. I just hope we didn't lose any points in the karma department in the process.

2. Another underrated perk for the tanking teams: This year's draft is ridiculously deep, to the degree that guys who would have been top-20 picks in last year's draft (Arron Afflalo, Brandon Rush, Jared Dudley, Alando Tucker, Nick Fazekas, maybe even Tyler Hansbrough) could conceivably drop out of this year's first round. So those picks in the 31-33 range have real value, especially since you only have to guarantee one year of the contract. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to stare at the NBADraft.net and Draft Express board for another 10 minutes.

(Request: On the NBADraft.net board, could they change "D.J. White" at No. 32 to "Big Fat Huge Mistake?" Thanks. I don't want the Celtics to get any ideas.)

3. Forgot to mention this in Tuesday's blog, so I'll turn it over to Tyler in Tuscaloosa: "Anyone who would take Oden with the No. 1 pick in the draft after seeing how he reacted to the Ohio State buzzer beater is clinically insane. The entire bench erupts and where's Oden? Quietly clapping in the background. Your team just hit a shot to prolong your college career and that's all you got? No fire. No passion. Give me KD all day."

(To be fair, it's hard to imagine Oden getting excited in any scenario; he's like a cross between Robert Parish and Silent Bob. In fact, that would be a fun game show: "Try To Get Greg Oden Excited." But I agree with your basic point ... the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft should seem a little more excited after a teammate just prolonged his college career with a last-second 3-pointer.)

4. For anyone "wondering" if Durant does come out, please keep this in mind: it would be one thing if he was just passing up NBA money to stay in school. The second pick in last year's draft (LaMarcus Aldridge) made about $4 million this season. Sure, that's a lot of money, but not THAT much money. You could easily get insured for that amount and go back to school for another season. But passing up the shoe contract money ... that's another story. Nike gave LeBron $90 million when he was coming out a few years ago. Wouldn't you say Durant is good for $70-75 million from them coming out of the gate? You really think he's passing that money up?

5. Apparently Rick Pitino appeared on "PTI" last week and said that he'd take Oden over Durant. As Brad from Andover jokes, "If there was any doubt left that the Celtics should go for Durant, it's gone." Agreed.

Time for some links and follow-ups on a Thursday afternoon:

FOLLOW-UPS
1. In Tuesday's blog, I wondered if the NCAA and NBA passed a secret rule that no team with a three-point lead is allowed to foul in the final 10 seconds of a game? As countless readers pointed out, Bruce Pearl Productions blatantly ignored the memo, fouling with a three-point lead and six seconds to play on Sunday. Regretfully, I watched that entire game until Chris Lofton's free throws gave Tennessee a four-point lead with 19 seconds left; at that point, I figured the game was over and flicked channels, so I missed Virginia's ensuing 3, two more free throws from Lofton and Pearl's decision to foul and prevent a game-tying 3. By the way, it worked -- Tennessee won the game. We'll see if Pearl gets fined by the NCAA.

2. Greg in Oregon argues, "You can dismiss all of us 'Pac-10 doesn't suck' posters but even if Kansas and Texas A&M played in the final, that doesn't NECESSARILY mean the Big 12 is better. It could mean they have two excellent teams ... and maybe 10 bad ones. Best league (to me) means best teams top to bottom, with at least a few making a deep tournament run. Washington finished seventh in the Pac-10, a very good team this year. Six others made the tourney and three into the Sweet 16. That's a good league (at least it doesn't deserve 'Pac-10 sucks!') in any book."

That's an excellent point. You're right, under that definition, the Pac-10 definitely doesn't suck. And the fact that USC (the fourth-best team in the Pac-10) crushed Texas (the third-best team in the Big 12) killed my long-standing argument that the Big 12 was definitively better than the Pac-10. So you know what? I'm waving the white flag on this one. Yes, WSU was overrated, Stanford and Arizona weren't worth a damn and nobody else in the conference mattered -- but UCLA and Oregon were good all year, and the fact that USC came together in the tournament submarined my argument.

Upon further review, the Pac-10 didn't suck this season. I will swallow my pride and admit being wrong ... as long as we can all agree that the Big Ten royally sucked. Thank you.

3. If you ever wanted to hear Gus Johnson calling an exciting boxing match, here's your chance. Clearly, the man deserves to be ringside for every big pay-per-view. Either we have to draw straws to see who pulls a Shane Stant on Jim Lampley's larynx or the UFC has to step up with a seven-figure offer for him.

Also, Michael E. in Harrison, N.Y.: "If you haven't yet seen the replay, check out YouTube for Gus' blow-by-blow call of the John Duddy/Luis Ramon Campas fight covered on MSG last September. The fight was the runner-up for Fight of the Year on many boxing publications so you know Gus had ample opportunity to unleash his excitement. I think it's his single greatest announcing achievement to date and scores very high on both the unintentional comedy scale and the my-head-is-about-to-explode excitement scale. Plus, his two color guys were absolutely awful so he had to bring his A+ game to pick up the slack."

And C.D. from Louisville writes: "I was in Lexington last weekend for the NCAA subregional, sitting at the press table right behind Johnson and Dan Bonner. During the break before the Ohio State/Xavier OT, he was just standing and clapping excitedly like a little kid waiting for the soda jerk to put the cherry on his hot fudge sundae."

4. Note to any readers from Holy Cross who admonished me for being "embarrassed" that the Crusaders stunk out the joint in the NCAAs: When our school shoots 14-for-42 for the game, our best two players combine to go 1-for-19 when the game's still in doubt, a backup forward's career night (6-for-6) keeps us from dipping under 40 points for the game and we play like a team that didn't deserve to be a 13-seed in the NIT, much less the NCAAs ... sorry, I find this to be embarrassing. We haven't won an NCAA game in 30 years, we've been bounced in the first round four times this decade, and the only reason we even get invited is because they were dumb enough to give the putrid Patriot League an automatic bid every year. I'm supposed to feel good about this? Whatever happened to Holy Cross becoming the "Gonzaga of the East Coast?" What's the estimated year for that happening ... 2035? Have expectations really been lowered to the point that we're supposed to take solace in the fact that we have good kids and a good graduation rate every time we stink out the joint in March Madness? Since when did the campus turn into a bunch of soccer moms? I want to throw up. More on this next week.

5. From Darrick in Boston: "Saw your reference to the Hanes commercial with MJ and Kevin Bacon and totally agree with your comments that it looked as though they are dating. But you missed talking about the fact that they quite obviously filmed this commercial at separate times. In defense of MJ maybe he thought he was making this commercial with Jessica Simpson instead of Kevin Bacon. Watch it again. They never appear together in the same frame until the end, when it is clear that the fine folks at Hanes merged the two films to get them together. Once you notice it, it will drive you nuts. The only thing that drives me more nuts is during a reality show ("Survivor," "The Amazing Race," "The Apprentice") when the host is talking to the contestants and you can hear them dub in lines that were not said during the filming. Even reality TV isn't real."

(Also, Jamie in Chicago argues: "That wasn't Jordan in the Hanes ad -- it was John Amaechi.")

6. Ever since LeBron James decided to start breaking a sweat after the All-Star break, the Cavaliers fans have been sending me these "LeBron is shoving it in your face!" e-mails. Look, I'm GLAD he's playing hard. My original point was that, if he kept going at his pre-All-Star pace and didn't start giving a crap, the whole "What's wrong with LeBron?" subplot would have become the dominant story of the season. And yesterday's well-done ESPN.com feature by Brian Windhorst tackles that very point. The fact remains, the Global Icon was on cruise control for three months of a six-month season. I don't know how this is a good thing.

7. My joke about Rick Pitino calling a timeout to diagram a 30-footer at the end of the Aggies-Cards game elicited some defenses by Louisville fans, including this one from Jason in Louisville: "For what it's worth, Pat Forde reported that the play Pitino diagrammed at the end of the Louisville/Texas A&M game was supposed to be for Jerry Smith to be the first option, coming off of a double screen. Terrance Williams was supposed to pop out on the opposite side of the court, as option No. 2. If the play completely broke down, Edgar Sosa was told to take the ball to the hole with five seconds left on the clock. The desperation 3-pointer with plenty of time left was the result of a young player panicking, more than it was a result of bad play-calling on Pitino's part. Pitino is certainly guilty of some questionable moves, but it doesn't seem that this one was as bad as you might have thought."

Hold on, hold on. A couple of counterpoints ...

• Teams practice end-of-the-game situations ALL THE TIME. It's not like Pitino drew this play up in the dirt on the playground. Blaming your point guard for panicking is unacceptable -- it's like a military unit training a group of soldiers for a year, then blaming one of them for screwing up in a battle. If they were trained properly, they wouldn't have screwed up. Plus, how does it help Sosa's future at Louisville for everyone to know that he screwed up the final play of the 2007 season? Who gained from that information being revealed other than the Ricktator?

• Last time I checked, Sosa was a freshman. Isn't that asking a lot of your freshman PG to run a play with your season on the line that has three options? It's not like the kid was Steve Nash -- he's 19 years old. Why complicate things when he's already nervous and playing with a ton of adrenaline?

• Take it from a longtime Celtics fan who grew accustomed to the Ricktator throwing young players under the bus to make himself look better: if you didn't think he was pushing one of his players down the proverbial stairs after that loss, you're crazy. (If you don't believe me, read this game story for Pitino's classic "look, I don't want you to think that I'm blaming my players, but hold onto your seats as I blame my players!" move.) That's why Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker and everyone else quit on him during the '99 season and continued to quit on him until he resigned two years later ... and as soon as he left, they finished the rest of the season over. 500 and made the Eastern Conference finals 15 months later. In college, the players can't quit on him because they never stick around long enough to see through his me-first B.S. These are the facts. He has absolutely no problem making his players look bad over taking the bullets for them. That's how it played out in Boston, and that's how it played out last weekend.

8. This isn't a follow-up, more of an FYI: If you're a fantasy baseball junkie, make sure you check out USA Today Sports Weekly's preview this week for their suggested auction prices for every player in both leagues. Valuable stuff. This seems like a good time to mention that my 10-hour auction draft for the League of Dorks is happening on April 1, the same weekend as the Final Four, Opening Day and Wrestlemania. Does it get any better than that?

(Important note: The Sports Gal just announced plans to drown herself in our bathtub.)

LINKS
• Hope you caught the bizarre New York Times mini-feature about USC's recruitment of O.J. Mayo. It's indescribably indescribable. As Jacob from Baltimore writes, "What a nutjob. And we're handing the NBA over to this guy?"

Also, SKizzle in New York passes this along: "Did you see OJ Mayo's last play as a high schooler? He threw a sick pass to himself off the backboard, dunked it home and threw the ball into the stands in celebration IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GAME (well, a minute to go). He's lucky George Teague wasn't around. I'm torn between it being sick and ridiculous."

(One thing's for sure: I think we finally found the athlete who's going to make Skip Bayless's head explode on live TV.)

• My buddy House called this the crowning achievement of his life.

• A few days ago, the L.A. Times reported that Time Warner fired the head of its regional office in Southern California after "an avalanche of complaints about Internet and e-mail outages, TV channel lineup changes and pressure to sign up for digital service. Customers were most annoyed by maddeningly long -- and sometimes futile -- waits to reach a human by phone." See, it wasn't just me.

• You might remember my magazine column about creating an Us Weekly Fantasy League for my wife last spring. Well, we don't have a link for this, but if you're killing time at a newsstand, check out Page 54 of this month's issue of Esquire for a writer who ripped off that idea (right down to the "I'm a baseball fantasy junkie who needed a league that wouldn't drive my wife crazy" angle) and pretended it was his own. Love when that happens.

• In case you had your doubts about Greg Oden's birth certificate, check out this Washington Post story. You know what? Screw it, I still have my doubts.

• I don't know if this "Real World" news is a relief or a bitter disappointment. Maybe they realized that they couldn't top the debauchery, lunacy and sluttiness of this year's RW Denver cast.

• This New York Post article mentions my favorite part of Antoine Wright's interview on "Costas Now" -- the fact that Texas A&M offers a class called "Poultry Science." Sorry, guys, I can't go out tonight, I have to write a mid-term paper about Chicken McNuggets.

• Hey, here's a question: Why does everyone keep talking about Gary Matthews Jr., but everyone was perfectly willing to forget this story?

• Jimmy from Shanghai, China, writes, "I've read your column for the last couple years, but have yet to send you an e-mail. I believe I've found something worthy here, though. It's a YouTube clip of a guy named Ronald Jenkees doing a remix of the "Rocky" anthem "Gonna Fly Now." If I've judged your tastes correctly, it's the perfect clip to appeal to both your love for the inane and your love for the "Rocky" series. Ronald himself seems to have strong SNL-related influences, ranging from his Marty Culp-esque mastery of the keyboard, to Wayne and Garth's crude home-video style filming, to the intermittent "hoooo" a la Adam Sandler's The Excited Southerner."

(Jimmy, you know me too well. Don't ask me why, but I watched it five times yesterday. And I might go back for No. 6 as soon as I hand in this blog.)

• Finally, my Sweet 16 picks: Texas A&M by 6; Kansas by 20; UCLA by 1; Tennessee upsetting OSU; Georgetown by 3; UNC by 3; UNLV upsetting Oregon; Florida by 25 over Butler; and Gus Johnson by 30 over James Brown.