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My daughter has one goal every night: to prolong her bedtime routine as long as humanly possible.
A few months ago, she realized that watching sports with me -- and pretending to be interested, no less -- was a good way to avoid brushing her teeth, reading two books, getting kissed good night, then lying in a dark room until she falls asleep. About 7:30 every night, she snuggles beside me on the sofa, throws herself into the game I'm watching, asks a few pertinent questions, then eventually says, in the sweetest voice possible, "Daddy, can I close my eyes for a few minutes?"
That really means, "Daddy, I'm skipping the bedtime routine and falling asleep right here against your warm and slightly doughy body. It's going to be like Ryan Clark knocked me unconscious. And eventually, there will be a timeout in this stupid game you're watching, and you're going to have to carry my sleeping ass upstairs to bed. We've done it before; we're doing it again."
It's a smart move. She knows I want her to like basketball. That 15-minute window before "Daddy, can I close my eyes " is one of my few chances to brainwash her. I don't care whether she becomes a fanatic, just that she knows enough so that
A) We can attend Clippers games without her believing that cheerleaders, vendors and the humongous video screen are 10 times more interesting than the players or anything happening on the court. (Although, at a Clippers game, it's 50/50 she might be right.)
B) She realizes that "Celtics = good" and "Lakers = evil."
I can't control A. When she's 16, she might still be leaning toward cheerleaders, vendors and the humongous video screen. But I can control B. Or, I should be able to control B.
Warning: Do not read this if you're a Portland Trail Blazers fan.
The three-word e-mail came this morning from someone who knows things: "Oden -- microfracture surgery."
My three-word response: "Oh. My. God."
It's one of the saddest stories in recent NBA history, regardless of how it turns out down the road: Not just that Portland took the wrong guy last June, but that the same city may have been screwed over twice. There was Bowie-over-MJ, and now, there might be Oden-over-Durant.
The Blazers' fans don't deserve this. They don't deserve the "Bowie 2.0" jokes, and they don't deserve to endure a season of Kevin Durant knife-in-the-stomach highlights when he's averaging 25 points a game on a bad Seattle team. On a larger scale, the double whammy of Bowie/Oden brings back memories of the day Reggie Lewis dropped dead seven summers after Lenny Bias' coke overdose. Obviously it's not as tragic because nobody died, but there was that same "Oh God, not again ..." feeling upon hearing the news. I know that feeling all too well. As a sports fan, there's nothing worse.
It's not like this story came out of the blue. Heading into the draft, there were concerns about Oden's long-term physical health and the fact his legs were different sizes. After his predraft physical with Portland, rumors spread that the Blazers were concerned about his knees, followed by a round of stories that they weren't concerned at all. I believed at the time the Oden-Durant thing was so close, ANY potential physical concerns should have swung the choice to Durant; that's one of the reasons I kept writing last June that Durant should be Portland's pick. Everyone kept writing Oden was a sure thing; if anything, Durant was the sure thing. He has a chance to become one of the greatest offensive players ever. That's his ceiling. We've never seen anyone remotely like him. Throw in his competitiveness and flair for the dramatic and I probably wrote more words arguing Durant's case than anything I've ever written for ESPN.com. Even for the team Portland had, Durant was the logical pick -- the Blazers could have kept Zach Randolph and played Durant at small forward instead of stupidly giving Randolph away.
From Portland's viewpoint, what worried me was Oden wasn't entirely a basketball decision. Clearly, his gregarious personality played a huge role -- the Blazers even said so -- and when he hammed it up at a local parade after the draft, you could see why they picked him. After the whole Jail Blazers debacle, they spent the next few years trying to upgrade the character of their team. Hence, the curious Martell Webster pick (sixth in the '05 draft???), the Brandon Roy/LaMarcus Aldridge picks (and the team shying away from Ty Thomas); the Randolph trade; Steve Francis' buyout and everything else. It's not like Durant is a bad guy -- he's actually a good guy, just shy and uncomfortable with the press -- but Oden's deadpan wit and constant smile off the court made him a more seductive pick for a franchise that was desperately trying to win back the citizens of Portland. Supposedly, they were also attracted to Oden because he's a loyal person who didn't care where he played, whereas Durant's motives were tougher to peg. In four years, if Durant evolved into a superstar and had the words of the wrong agent in his ear, would he bail on Portland to play for a big market? Could they take that chance?So, Greg Oden was the "safe" pick.
Here's the irony of the whole thing: You know who would have won the good people of Portland back and gotten them excited about basketball again? A kick-ass superstar like Kevin Durant. That's why the Blazers should have taken the most talented player. And everything that happened after the draft helped Durant's case: Oden looked terrible in the summer league and dropped out of the Olympic tryouts because of exhaustion (a dubious reason for someone who's 19; we should have known right there). Meanwhile, Durant got better and better in summer league and knocked everyone's socks off during the Olympic tryouts, including a jaw-dropping performance in the Blue-White scrimmage on TV. Even before the story broke about Oden's surgery, I was 100 percent convinced Portland would regret passing on Durant. We'll see 20 more Odens before we see another Durant.
|Three things that might cheer up Blazers fan: 1. From what we know about microfracture surgery, it seems younger players can come back at 100 percent (such as Amare Stoudemire). 2. The Oden-less Blazers are headed for another top-five pick because they play in a tough conference; if Oden comes back healthy in 2009, they're going to be stacked. 3. Video Game Greg is still healthy on Portland's "NBA Live 2008" roster.|
You could say "Those who ignore the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them," and you might be right. But throwing aside all the videotapes, predraft interviews and workouts and everything else, there's this: At the ESPYS two months ago, I helped write jokes for Jimmy Kimmel, whose dressing room was backstage at the Kodak Theater and right off a hallway where celebrities were ushered in and out before and after the show. So, I watched every single athlete walk by at some point, and I swear, if I hadn't taken this summer off to write a book, I would have written about this story in a blog or something.
Anyway, when you see basketball players dressed in normal clothes, it's mesmerizing to watch them walk for two reasons: They're always much bigger in person, but they move so effortlessly that it's always strangely discombobulating to watch them walk, like they belong to another species or something. For instance, we all know one or two exceptionally tall people who don't play sports -- they always move gingerly, and their posture usually isn't that good, and everything about them says, "I wish I wasn't this tall." The best athletes in the NBA don't carry themselves like this. They glide. Everything moves effortlessly as they walk, and it's impossible to fully explain unless you've seen it. Even someone like Shaq glides across the room like he's the size of Steve Nash. They don't move like normal tall people.
So, before and after the show, I was vigilantly watching everyone stroll by for one reason: I wanted to see Oden and Durant walking in normal clothes. It was like the final piece of the "Durant vs. Oden" puzzle for me. As it turned out, I got to see Durant first -- he shuffled down the hallway, all 81 inches of him, looking like he was put on Earth to play sports for a living. No big surprise there. Even the biggest nonsports fan on the planet could watch Durant walk for 35 feet and think, "That guy was born to play basketball." Now, I needed Oden. We didn't see him before the show, and I didn't see him right afterward. Just when I was about to give up, a friend of mine said, "Yo, Oden just walked by."
I scurried down the hallway to see him. Lo and behold, Oden was walking by himself down the last stretch of the hallway, about 50 feet in all, right before the exit to head outside.
And you know what? He walked like a 50-year-old man. His posture was screwed up. He had the Fred Sanford walk going. If you saw him from behind and just studied his walk, you would have thought it was a retired player, someone like Patrick Ewing or Robert Parish. I couldn't believe it. I didn't stop talking about it the rest of the night. Greg Oden walked like a guy who had bad knees. If I were Portland's GM and watched Oden walk across the room, that would have been it for me. The next day, I even called my buddy Sully (who works for the Celtics) just to have the obligatory, "Yo, we might have dodged a bullet May 22; Greg Oden walks like a 50-year-old man" conversation.
Now, you could argue this is the single dumbest thing I've ever written, and you might even be right. Just know I have spent the past two months telling that Oden/ESPYS story to everyone who brought up the Oden-Durant thing to me. Sometimes in life, you just know with these things. And yeah, there's a chance he was already favoring his knee at the ESPYS, or he hurt his knee during summer league. There's also a chance his body doesn't carry its weight correctly and puts unnecessary stress on his legs and joints. ... You know, the exact same problem Sam Bowie had.
I hope I'm wrong. Portland needs Greg Oden to be good. The NBA needs Greg Oden to be good. On a personal note, I was legitimately excited to watch him play. Now he's gone for the season, and any NBA fan who doesn't cringe at the phrase "microfracture surgery" is lying their ass off. Amare Stoudemire came back, so there's hope for Blazers fans. Just don't tell me Greg Oden was the safe pick of the 2007 NBA draft. Two months ago, I wrote Durant was "the surest thing to come into the league since Jordan. Barring injury, he's going to be the league's next dominant forward."
That's what the Portland Trail Blazers passed up June 28, 2007. I thought it would haunt them some day. ... I just didn't know it would haunt them so soon.
Here's the schedule:
Sept. 12: Cleveland at Boston, Game 3, 1992
From Bird's final season, the spring when he was playing in a bulky back brace and spending nights in traction. In fact, he doesn't even play in this game. But this was a great series and none of the games ever get shown -- you had the Garden on its last legs, Mark Price and Reggie Lewis at their peaks, and a number of entertaining guys on both teams. (This Cavs team could have made a Utah-like run in the East if Price and Brad Daugherty had stayed healthy.) The energy in the building was particularly incredible for the Boston home games -- we knew it was the last run with Bird, Parish and McHale -- and this particular Celtics team was especially lovable. With Bird out of Game 3, every fan and player stepped up. It's the kind of thing that just doesn't happen any more in the Luxury Suite Era. Most importantly, everyone forgets about Lewis, who had 36 points and carried a crunch-time comeback in this one. We never see him on ESPN Classic or NBA-TV so that's why I picked this one.
Sept. 19: Seattle at Phoenix, Game 5, 1993
You can't go wrong with any game involving the '93 Suns, but this one features two superb matchups (Barkley in his prime vs. a young Shawn Kemp, KJ in his prime vs. a young GP) and Dan Majerle going nuts with a then-record eight 3s. Up until this point, the series sucked ... then Game 5 turned out to be a classic. By the way, anyone who thinks the NBA hasn't been diluted by expansion needs to check out the talent in this game: Barkley, KJ, Kemp, Payton, Majerle, Danny Ainge, Tom Chambers, Sam Perkins, Eddie Johnson, Ricky Pierce, Derrick McKey, Ced Ceballos, Nate McMillan, Dana Barros, Oliver Miller during his one skinny year, Richard Dumas during one of his drugs-free years ... holy crap.
Sept. 26: Golden State at L.A. Lakers, Game 2, 1991
The Lakers' last extended playoff run with Magic, G-State at the peak of the TMC Era, and if that's not enough, Chris Mullin and Magic both catch fire during the game. If I remember correctly, the final score ends up in the mid-120s, Mullin finishes with 45 and Magic finishes with 48 or 49 ... it's a legitimate shootout. Also, check out a pre-ACL injury Tim Hardaway when he literally couldn't be guarded; a goofy-but-effective Warriors bench that included Sarunas Marciulionis, Tom Tolbert, Rod Higgins and Mario Elie; a skinny Sam Perkins on the Lakers; and especially, how unstoppable Magic was in this game. Remember, this was his 13th NBA season and nobody could guard him. How long could he have been great if not for the HIV diagnosis?
Oct. 3: Chicago at New York, Game 3, 1996
Now we're entering the stretch of games that have never been seen on ESPN Classic or NBA TV before. This was an epic game involving the 72-win Bulls and a Knicks team that wasn't nearly as good, but they were still allowed to knock the Bulls around because the league hadn't totally cracked down on the flagrants and the intimidation stuff yet. In particular, Charles Oakley acts like a crazed bar bouncer in this game -- it's like his goal was to make Scottie Pippen cry. Meanwhile, MJ plays out of his mind and singlehandedly drags the Bulls into OT ... this was one of their three playoff defeats that year, but anyone who thinks LeBron James (or anyone else) compares to MJ in his prime needs to sit down and watch this game. Also, look at the guys that the '96 Bulls threw out in crunch-time (Bill Wennington???) and tell me you honestly believe this was the greatest team ever.
Oct. 10: Chicago at Detroit, Game 3, 1991
The Bulls break the Pistons to take a commanding 3-0 lead and control of the Eastern Conference for the rest of the decade. I haven't seen this game since it happened but remember it being inhumanly intense. These teams hated each other. Don't you miss the days when teams hated each other?
Oct. 17: Boston at Milwaukee, Game 4, 1986
The greatest team ever completes a sweep on the road and clinches a trip to the Finals ... unfortunately, the Lakers don't have the balls to show up. I haven't seen this game since it happened but specifically remember Bird ripping Milwaukee's hearts out with four 3s in the final quarter, including one last 3-pointer after the game had been decided just to make sure they were dead. The Legend was at his absolute peak this spring, as was Kevin McHale. By the way, in the '86 team video, they show the Celts re-entering their locker room after the game as a giddy Bill Walton keeps singing, "Larry Bird! Larry Bird!" and laughing in disbelief at the four 3s.
Oct. 24: Orlando at Chicago, Game 6, 1995
1. Because my East Coast draft already happened and I have the No. 1 pick in my West Coast draft next week ... which means I'm getting LaDainian Tomlinson ... which means I can give away all my sleepers, favorite picks and stay-aways and still finish third or higher with LDT on my team. It's good to be the king.2. Because we need a dissenting opinion to combat the side effects of MBFO (Matt Berry Fantasy Overload). Just know that Berry and I made a wager last season on Steven Jackson's 2006 production -- I was pro-Jackson, he was anti-Jackson -- and I cruised to an easy victory and won dinner off him. Sure, it will end up being an overcooked cheeseburger at the Ruby Tuesday's in Bristol, but that doesn't change the fact the scoreboard reads, "Simmons 1, Berry 0." If you want to trust Berry for your fantasy tips this year, good luck with your sixth-place finish. If you want the proven fantasy football guru of ESPN.com who has been churning out winners for the past six years, keep reading.
3. Because it's going to be more entertaining than hearing me bitch about J.D. Drew and the 2007 Red Sox for 2,000 words.Without further ado, here's my Top-50 list heading into the weekend using the tier system:
TIER ONE: THE SURE THINGS
1. LaDainian Tomlinson
Probably the single-best argument for scrapping the draft format and going to the auction format. On the other hand, it's fun to have LDT for an entire season while your buddies constantly bitch about the fact you have him; there's really nothing else like it in the male bonding stratosphere. I mean, your friends wouldn't begrudge you for making a lot of money, or having a great car or girlfriend, or buying a huge house. ... If anything, they'd be happy for you. But when you have Tomlinson on your team? They openly hate, envy and disparage you the entire time. Somebody needs to bring this up during his Hall of Fame enshrinement in 10 years.
2. Steven Jackson
Although 2007 could be the year when a running back gets pulled down from behind by his dreads and blows out his ACL, MCL, PCL, XFL and ACLPA. We're overdue. He's one of the prime candidates.
3. Shaun Alexander
Comeback year. You can feel it in the air.
4. Joseph Addai
One of the fundamental mistakes of fantasy football is that people would value Addai over Alexander because it's more fun to take Addai. After all, he's the up-and-comer, the potential breakout guy, the guy with the higher ceiling. Well, why not go with the guy who's healthy and who has done it before? With your first-round pick, you should approach it like you'd bet your life on the pick. Would you bet your life on Addai doing better than Alexander this season? I sure wouldn't.
5. Frank Gore
Dropped him two spots because of the broken right hand. I think he's on pace to break or tear every bone and ligament in his body.
6. Larry Johnson
Forget the fact he put 110,000 miles on his odometer in 2006 and 2007. After watching a month of "Hard Knocks" episodes, what scared you more -- the Brodie Croyle/Damon Huard combo at QB, or Herm Edwards being Herm Edwards? Did anyone else watch Herm and think, "Wow, I'm glad we finally know what it would have been like if Cameron Diaz's dad in 'There's Something About Mary' became an NFL coach"? His "I did a terrible job preparing the team this week ... I DID A TERRIBLE JOB!" speech in Episode 4 rivaled some of Denny Green's finest work.
TIER TWO: THE NON-REACHES
7. Peyton Manning
My logic: The gap between Manning and the sixth-best QB in the league is much more significant than the gap between Westbrook/Parker and whatever RB you'd get in the second round. If you don't take Manning here, you're not getting him on the way back, and you're not taking Palmer in the top half of the second round, and you might not get Brady/Brees/McNabb in Round 3. Why risk pinning your fantasy hopes on the likes of Jon Kitna?
8. Brian Westbrook
Replaces Tiki Barber in the old "Reuben Sandwich" analogy that I've been making for years. When you had Tiki on your team, it was like ordering a Reuben at lunch -- for some reason, there's a hesitation as you're making the order, but when you're eating it, you're thinking, "Man, why don't I order the Reuben more often?" and your friends are all looking over and wishing they had ordered it. Now, Westbrook is like that. You never hear someone say, "Man, I wish I didn't pick Bryant Westbrook." Er, Brian Westbrook.
9. Willie Parker
Scares me only because of the fumbles. Fumbles eventually kill a running back's confidence, turn the fans against him and cause his coaches to say things like, "Maybe I'll start Najeh Davenport this week ..."
10. Willis McGahee
Baltimore's upgrade from Jamal Lewis to McGahee was like going from coach to first class on one of those two-floor jumbo jets like the one they used on "Snakes on a Plane." By Week 6, I see him sitting at 600-plus yards and eight TDs and taking shots at J.P. Losman. Too bad we can't wager on this.
(Note: Speaking or predictions, if "Snakes" doesn't have one of the most magical runs in cable history, I'll be shocked. So much to love, including Sam Jackson showing off a Barry Bonds-sized noggin, Juliana Marguiles with an "I never should have left 'ER'" look on her face, Tim Riggins from "Friday Night Lights" joining the Mile High Club, Kenan Thompson successfully landing the plane because of his experience landing planes in video games and, yes, snakes eating people on a plane. I've watched this movie three times in 10 days, and I might go for No. 4 tonight.)
11. Reggie Bush
First, he's not doing worse than he did in 2006 (1,300 rushing/receiving yards, eight TDs). Second, he should be better -- it's a logical evolution for a second-year back. Third, there's an outside chance he could have a monster season. And fourth, out of the next 10 guys on the list, he's the one who'd leave you kicking yourself if he DID have a monster year and you passed on him. So just take him here.
12. Cedric Benson
Getting 350-400 carries on a great defensive team with a potential midair plane collision playing QB. (Note: I'm tired of the phrase "train wreck," we need to start mixing it up.) Shouldn't this translate into 1,300-1,500 yards, 10-12 TDs and an eventual inclusion in the "Curse of 370" Club next summer? Or am I overthinking this?
13. Marvin Harrison
He's the best receiver. He's always the best receiver. Just take him. Nobody has ever said the words, "I wish I hadn't taken Marvin Harrison." Well, unless you're in a playoff fantasy league.
TIER THREE: THE SLIGHT HESITATION GUYS
14. Marshawn Lynch
If we've learned anything about fantasy football over the years, it's this: Every season, without fail, one rookie RB puts up a ton of fantasy points. Since Lynch is the obvious candidate this year, I'm overvaluing him and sticking him here. And if the aforementioned Rookie RB Du' Jour turns out to be Adrian Peterson, so be it.
15. Travis Henry
A little scary because of the fumbling problem and Mike Shanahan's abject hatred for fantasy owners ... and that's before we get to last weekend's remarkable "nine kids by nine different women" revelation. Remember when we were all blown away when it was reported that Shawn Kemp had seven kids by six different women? If Kemp was like Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile, then Henry just brought the sports fertility record down to the 3:35 range. You have to admire the way he's spreading his seed around. According to the guys at Football Outsiders, Henry has the highest kids-per-partners rate (100.0) since they started keeping track of the stat in 1993.
16. Maurice Jones-Drew
Take it from a proud MoJo owner in 2006 -- you can't go wrong. You really can't. Every time they cut into a game to say, "Let's go to Jacksonville," you'll move to the edge of your seat thinking MoJo just broke a 76-yard screen pass. I think he's a little undervalued this year, actually.
17. Carson Palmer
Everybody now: one ... two ... three ...
"IT TAKES TWO YEARS TO FULLY RECOVER FROM A TORN ACL!"
18. Rudi Johnson
One of those picks with which you're not happy even as it's happening, and then Kenny Watson starts stealing carries from him and you're telling your friends, "I knew I shouldn't have taken Rudi Johnson!" as they patiently wait for you to finish whining so they can complain about their team next. And yeah, I know this is 8-10 spots lower than he's going everywhere else. I don't care. Buyer beware.
19. Laurence Maroney
Trust me on this one: he won't get as many carries as everyone thinks. Kevin Faulk is the third-down back, and they might use Maroney and Sammy Morris almost as a Starter 1A/Starter 1B thing to keep Maroney fresh for December and January. (Remember, he died down the stretch last season, partly because of a bum shoulder and partly because he just ran out of gas.) And if that's not enough, they love going play-action near the goal line and throwing to linebackers and third-string tight ends. Just promise me you won't take Maroney before the second half of the second round. Don't do it.
20. Edge James
Comeback year alert! Comeback year alert! Although I might just be high on the Edge because he drinks Patron.
TIER FOUR: STEADY ADDITIONS
21. Tom Brady
For the first time, Brady is blessed with an above-average receiving crew that includes his best slot guy since Troy Brown in 2001 (Wes Welker), two home-run threats (Donte Stallworth and Randy Moss), a pass-catching tight end (the slightly overrated Ben Watson) and some serious depth if anyone gets hurt. Only one person could sidetrack a career season for Brady: Bridget Moynahan, his enterprising ex-girlfriend who gave birth to his baby after spending the past nine months clotheslining US Weekly photographers to take her picture while she held her belly. I was hoping she'd name her baby, "Son of New England Patriots' Star Quarterback Tom Brady Moynihan."
22. Donovan McNabb
I like him. Can't explain it. I think it's because he gave up on the Gus Williams Memorial Afro and finally shaved his head.
23. Drew Brees
The last reliable QB pick. Right after the Brady/McNabb/Brees group goes, that's when everyone looks at their list and says, "Oh, s---, I better get a QB!" And that's the chain of events that leads someone to say the words, "I'm taking Jon Kitna."
24. Larry Fitzgerald
I like everyone on that 'Zona offense -- they finally have a real coaching staff. Yeah, I want to crown Ken Whisenhunt and his staff! I want to crown their asses! OK? All right? That new coaching staff is what I thought they were gonna be! OK? All right?
25a. T.J. Houshmanzadeh
25b. Chad Johnson
It's unclear why everyone ranks Johnson over Housh when Housh had better stats last season, and Housh's efficiency as a receiver (number of catches versus number of times they threw to him) was one of the highest in football. So why do people take Johnson over Housh? Because nobody wants to say Housh's name. If his name sounded as cool as "Torry Holt" or "Reggie Wayne," he'd crack everyone's top 30.
27. Reggie Wayne
He's always one Harrison groin pull away from being the No. 1 receiver in football for a few weeks.
28. Steve Smith
Free falls into the late-20s because of the ongoing QB problems in Carolina. Has there ever been a recipe for a 6-10 season quite like a Jake Delhomme/David Carr QB battle? And what are the odds Smith sucker punches one of them before November?
29. Torry Holt
Top-five sentences you never want to hear from your No. 1 fantasy receiver: "In time, I'm going to be exonerated of these charges." ... "I'm never using cocaine again." ... "I did not knowingly take steroids, I thought I was taking a vitamin supplement." ... "My knee isn't totally recovered from the surgery, I'm at like 75-80 percent right now, but it's feeling better every day." ... and (fill in any Terrell Owens quote since 2004). And, yes, Holt made the knee comment this week. Gulp.
30. Javon Walker
After what happened in the offseason, it's safe to say Mr. Walker will be sufficiently inspired this season.
TIER FIVE: THE GUYS NOBODY CAN AGREE ON
31. Thomas Jones
The first Jet is off the board! J ... E ... T ... S ... JETS, JETS, JETS!
32. Lee Evans
Seems a little early, but screw it. Anyone who can catch long TD passes thrown by the likes of J.P. Losman deserves to be taken seriously. By the way, I forgot to put Evans on the Lindsey Hunter All-Stars for athletes with names that make them sound like hot females. Sorry about that, Lee.
33a. Marion Barber
33b. Deuce McAllister
Just because they rack up those TDs. I have Barber ranked slightly higher because every one who watched the 2006 Cowboys and/or studied their 2006 statistics believes Barber is clearly better than Julius Jones. Eventually, you'd think that someone on the Dallas coaching staff will realize this. On the other hand, Wade Phillips is prominently involved, so who knows?
35. Marques Colston
Everyone seems lukewarm on him this year. I don't get it. What's not to like? He's clearly their No. 1 guy now.
36. Antonio Gates
A hard one for me because he killed both of my fantasy teams last season and I kinda sorta hate him for it. And yet, if Norv Turner has shown anything over the years, it's an ability to maximize his assets on offense and get career years out of them. You'd think this would happen with Gates. You'd think.
37. Andre Johnson
It's not like Matt Schaub is Joe Montana or anything, but at least he's a decent QB, and Johnson was putting up big numbers with David Carr slinging him the ball. And don't underestimate the positive effects of rookie WR Jacoby Jones (aka, the 2007 Mega-Sleeper Who Isn't a Mega-Sleeper Any More After Last Week's Preseason Game) opening some space for him. Like this pick. He's 40-to-1 in Vegas to finish with the most receiving yards, by the way. Hmmmmmm.
38. Terrell Owens
Just know that he'll never be on my team. I can't root for him. It's not in me. When TO does something good, I don't want to feel happy. Also, for the number of times they threw to him, he should have had better numbers. I just don't see him getting better. Speaking of TO, did anyone else think that the Idaho senator hired Kim Etheredge to handle his PR decisions this week?
TIER SIX: THE WILD CARDS
39. Donald Driver
Stick a gigantic, Bonds-like asterisk next to this pick if we find out that his injured foot is keeping him out for an extended length of time. When healthy, he's one of the most reliable fantasy guys in football -- not quite the Reuben, but definitely a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.
40. Clinton Portis
The captain of the "I Hope Somebody Else Takes Him So I Don't Have To" Team.
41. Marc Bulger
If Westbrook is the Reuben, and Driver is the grilled ham and cheese, Bulger is like an onion bagel that's toasted and covered in butter -- good enough to tide you over until dinner, tasty if you're in the right mood, but that's about it. I don't totally trust him this season -- between the contract extension, Holt's knee, Isaac Bruce's age and the inevitable Drew Bennett injury that hasn't happened yet, he makes me juuuuuuuuuuuuust a little nervous. I'd almost rather take my chances with Alex Smith or Matt Schaub a few rounds from here.
42. Vince Young
Let's say Bulger comes close to last year's stats: 4,200 passing yards, 24 passing TDs and 44 rushing yards. And let's say Young finishes with realistic numbers for him, something like 2,500 passing yards, 750 rushing yards, 13 passing TDs and eight rushing TDs. Guess who would have more fantasy points using a conventional scoring system with one point for every 20 passing yards, one point for every 10 rushing yards, four points for passing TDs and six for rushing TDs? Yep ... Vince Young. So why is Bulger ranked 5-10 spots ahead of Young in every fantasy magazine, newspaper and Web site? You got me.
43. Adrian Peterson
The home run pick for this tier. Yeah, he's splitting time with Chester Taylor and probably rushing against the first-ever 11-0-0 defensive formation because of Tavaris Jackson ... but you never know.
44. Philip Rivers
You know he'll put up solid numbers, and there's a chance Norv Turner will give him a boost. Yes, this is where I include the obligatory "Every offense that Norv has taken over since 1873 has jumped at least 10 places in the offensive standings" stat.
45. Ronnie Brown
Splitting preseason carries with Jesse Chatman on an awful team with below-average QBs and spectacularly bad receivers, and it's unclear whether he was ever that good in the first place. Other than that, he looks good.
46. Brandon Jacobs
Crummy team, crummy coaching staff, and it's unclear whether he's the poor man's Christian Okoye or the homeless man's Christian Okoye.
47. Roy Williams
Seems about right.
48. Matt Hasselbeck
49. Anquan Boldin
See the reason for No. 24.
50. Ahman Green
Here's where the draft officially falls off -- when you're talking yourself into Ahman Green. I'd go with the Ravens, Bears or Pats defense in this spot. But that's just me.
While we're here, my 12 favorite fantasy sleepers:
Sleeper No. 1: Wes Welker
I am making one "take this to the bank" prediction, and only one: if he stays healthy, Wes Welker will catch at least 85 passes for at least 950 yards and at least eight TDs this season ... and he'll throw in one or two special teams TDs to boot.
Sleeper No. 2: Vince Young
As explained above.
Sleeper No. 3 (tie): Matt Schaub, Alex Smith
I'd rather grab these guys in the middle rounds over wasting a fourth-round pick on Bulger or Hasselbeck and hoping he stays healthy.
Sleeper No. 4: Jerious Norwood and Warrick Dunn (as a handcuff tandem)
If you go this route, make sure you get both -- after analyzing this from every direction, I have become convinced that (A) the Falcons have more Ewing Theory potential than any sports team in the 21st century, (B) Bobby Petrino might have a bigger fantasy impact than any player on this list outside of the top six, and (C) it's exceedingly possible Joey Harrington isn't a terrible quarterback.
Sleeper No. 5: Vincent Jackson
Technically, he's not a sleeper anymore because everyone's onto him. We need a new term for guys like this. Nappers? Dozers?
Sleeper No. 6: Jacoby Jones
If I'm a Dolphins fan this season, I'm thinking about four things: (1) I hate Nick Saban, (2) I hate Daunte Culpepper, (3) I hate Ricky Williams and (4) instead of taking Ted Ginn Jr., the Fins could have taken Brady Quinn at No. 9 and grabbed Jones at No. 71 (two picks before the Texans took him) to do the same things that Ginn does. Bad times.
Sleeper No. 7: The Oakland defense
The Raiders had a top-five defense last season (secretly) and now they have a real coaching staff and the following QBs on their schedule: Jon Kitna, Jay Cutler (twice), Charlie Frye/Derek Anderson, Trent Green, Damon Huard (twice), Vince Young, Matt Schaub, Rex Grossman. Tavaris Jackson, Brett Favre, Byron Leftwich. That's a lot of potential turnovers, no? I just made your second-to-last round pick for you.
Sleeper No. 8: Joe Horn
Might have one last good season in him. And don't underestimate the Petrino Factor. In fact ...
Sleeper No. 9: Joey Harrington
You're not picking Harrington as much as you're picking the QB who's running Bobby Petrino's potentially explosive offense on a Falcons team reeking of Ewing Theory potential. Think of it that way.
Sleeper No. 10: Santonio Holmes
Nearly every season, a second-year receiver makes The Leap. Here's your best bet for 2007.
Sleeper No. 11: The Ronald Curry/Daunte Culpepper combo
I'm not even kidding.
Sleeper No. 12: Selvin Young
I won't even tell you what team he's on. Now that's a sleeper.
B. Deal Wallace (two years and $26 million remaining on his deal) in a three-way trade in which 'Sheed goes to Washington, Antawn Jamison (expires in 2008) goes to Portland and Zach Randolph goes to Detroit. ... Or they could just deal 'Sheed for Jamison straight up if they wanted the cap space. The other option? Re-sign Billups, hope McDyess and C-Webb come back, hope to get lucky at No. 15 with the likes of Rodney Stuckey, and waste their entire free agent exemption on this year's Nazr Mohammed. Face it, Detroit -- your window to win another NBA title this decade, for all intent and purpose, closed for good on Saturday night. As Greg from Detroit pointed out in a "we need to blow it up" e-mail last night, "Please help us, we have officially become the Atlanta Braves of the NBA."
2. Speaking of windows, the Red Sox left the window slightly ajar in Fenway by giving away that Yankee game -- first, Lugo gives away an insurance run with the dumbest slide of the season, then Paps leaves an 0-2 fastball over the plate to A-Rod in the ninth. Bad loss. Believe me, I'm not panicking ... it just seemed like they were one more win away from ramming a giant pitchfork into the Yanks. No matter how many problems they're having, the Yankees are like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees in that you never feel totally comfortable until you see their heads get chopped off. You don't want to leave them "bleeding to death" but breathing. You just don't. 3. Wait ... ***** SOPRANOS SPOILER ALERT ***** All right ... Sunday's episode was so tense, I almost started smoking again. Unbelievable. But why am I terrified that Paulie Walnuts is in cahoots with Phil Leotardo? Doesn't it seem fishy that Phil went after Tony, Silvio and Bobby but ignored Paulie, or that Paulie was in charge of Phil's whacking but it got "screwed up"? I'm fearing the Paulie backstab-out-of-nowhere, as scripted by Vince McMahon. By the way, I enjoyed this e-mail from Kevin P. in Austin, Texas: "In regards to tonight's second-to-last episode of 'The Sopranos,' I truly believe A.J. finally surpassed Fredo as the most sniveling and pathetic Mafia-related family member of all time. He was on the cusp in the last episode but I felt he officially grabbed the reins tonight at approximately 8:46 CT." One more thing: Between the "Lost" finale and the way the "Sopranos" is wrapping up, it's hard to remember a greater stretch of TV. Two of the 10 greatest TV shows ever slinging 99-mph heat at the same time. Fantastic. ***** END OF SPOILER ALERT ***** All right, time for some long overdue clips and links: 1. Eugene from San Antonio is trying to turn me into an alcoholic: "Check out this article that appeared in the San Antonio Express News on Sunday. David Robinson actually considered not signing with the Spurs to wait for Boston or L.A.!" (P.S.: I'm a huge fan of Robinson as a person and believe he's one of the best role models in the history of professional sports ... but wow, has there ever been a dumber decision than Robinson not just waiting two years and putting himself in the open market instead of signing with the Spurs just to pick up an extra $1 million per year for two years? If he liked them that much, couldn't he have waited two years, gotten an insurance policy to cover the contract he could have gotten, allowed the open market to drive up his price and signed with them then? ESPN needs to create a show called "The Top 50 worst business decisions in sports history." That's a lock for the top five.) 2. From the YouTube files ... • Kelly from Baltimore: "One man's interpretation of the Yellow Ledbetter lyrics." • An anonymous Kansas Jayhawks fan: "If this brawl were to happen today, all that would be televised is the negative influences of pop culture, thugs in the NBA (well, this was college) and such. But videos like this show that nasty stand-clearing brawls are nothing that's unique to the post-1990 era." • Ken from Tarzana: "Check out a classic cameo by David Letterman on 'Mork and Mindy.'" • Luke from Richmond: "If you have a YouTube account, check out this clip from a movie called 'Undefeatable.' (Note: the clip can only be accessed by 'mature users' for some reason but it's totally fine.) I had to cover my mouth I started laughing so hard at work. Its pretty high on unintentional comedy. One of the best slow motion punches ever." • Josh from Brooklyn: "Funny link to my twin friends playing the theme song to '90210' on the same guitar ... described by some as incestuous homoeroticism, but it invokes a few smiles. Pop culture at its finest." • From Sully in Boston: "This is absolutely classic. I haven't seen acting this bad since Mike Brown playing the role of coach for Cleveland." • KRob in Santa Cruz, Calif.: "In your LeBron article on Friday, you made a small reference to Pele. Whenever my friends and I start getting into the argument of the greatest athlete of all-time, I have one friend that drops the Pele hammer, hard, every time. I didn't really take him seriously until I saw this. Now I drop the Pele hammer as well ... hard. I highly recommend watching the whole 10 minutes." • Jordan H. in Elmira, N.Y.: "Had to write in about that Johnnie Morton fight! I couldn't stop laughing because it was so funny (here is the link if you missed it). Watching this makes me think that Jay Leno could have knocked him out after Johnnie called Jay out after the Lions won a game that year." • Josh from San Fran writes, "Check out the Top Moments in NBA Draft Lottery history on NBA.com (scroll down to the bottom). It's an instant classic. My favorite part is No. 10, when it takes Elgin Baylor a good two seconds to figure out that he just got the No. 1 pick. Doesn't that explain his career in a nutshell? Also, we get Jerry Krause's epileptic fit when he got the Elton Brand pick (No. 8) and everyone around him begins to retreat. We have the look of horror on Jerry West's face when losing out on LeBron (No. 5)." (Note: I forgot how hilarious Krause's reaction was. One of the all-time funniest NBA moments. Watch that 20 straight times and see if you're still not giggling on No. 20.)
4. Speaking of the lottery, before the tragedy of 5/22, Josh from New Castle e-mailed an article containing details from every lottery the Celtics have ever participated in. What a grisly list. I loved that we sent Kenny Anderson for the draft that ended up getting Jerome Moiso. Perfect. Also loved the desperation of sending Milt Palacio in 2001 because he hit that miracle shot against the Nets. Somebody needs to come up with a "Top-25 Worst Ideas For Lottery Representative" list. 5. The readers seem to be split on how we should name LeBron's Game 5 performance. Old friend Jason Whitlock sold me on "LeBron's 48 Special" but a host of readers think it should either be called "LeBron's 29 for 30" or "LeBron's Leap." Maybe we should make this an ESPN.com poll. While we're here, two leftover Game 5 e-mails: • Dave F. in Brooklyn: "That performance was truly insane. I was sitting in my living room giggling. It was like one of those kung fu movies in which Bruce Lee is fighting 30 guys, but they only send one at a time for some reason." • Jake in Vegas: "One of the things you didn't point out was TNT panning the Palace crowd during their postgame show. The looks on the faces of the Pistons fans is the one thing that I think I will always remember about the game. I've never seen anything like it in sports. They were COMPLETELY shell-shocked, just sitting there with blank looks on their faces like they had just survived a back-alley encounter with Keyser Soze. And its not like this was even the series-clinching win, either. Most times when they show the fans of the losing team after a tough home loss, they are either trying to ward off the trash-talking from the opposing teams' fans or just trying to make their way out to their cars. The Pistons fans just sat there like they didn't want to go home so they wouldn't have to go to bed with nightmares of King James dancing through their heads." And just for kicks, a postgame e-mail from Game 6 from Brandon in L.A.: "I love the NBA. Can you think of any other avenue in life in which a 22-year-old black kid from Akron, Ohio, would excitedly jump in the air and lovingly embrace for a good 20 seconds a 7-foot-3, 31-year-old from Lithuania?"
6. Speaking of Bron, Kevin from Cleveland passed this along: "Here's a link from the News-Herald, a local paper just east of Cleveland, in which sportswriter Roger Brown puts you at No. 3 on the list of the six people who have done the most damage to their reputations since the Cavs-Pistons series. Here's what he wrote: "Simmons spent months ripping and mocking James as an overhyped fraud -- and gained lots of national attention in the process. But after James' historic Game 5 performance, Simmons scrambled to save face in embarrassing fashion. He wrote a column on LeBron that was more slobbering and fawning than a 13-year-old girl writing a fan letter to Justin Timberlake." Sorry, I have to respond to this one. First of all, if Roger can produce anything I've ever written that called him LeBron an "overhyped fraud," I will send him a $200 check to double the salary that the News-Herald is paying him every week. I think he has me confused with Charley Rosen. Second, I love the idea that me "ripping" LeBron gained me national attention ... really? From who? Did I happen to be in a coma at the time? I criticized him in my Anna K. column from Miami (and rightfully so, Bron mailed in a game on national TV); my All-Star column from Vegas (where Bron's lack of enthusiasm for the season was a major topic, and if you don't believe me, check out the ESPN.com column by Brian Windhorst from March once LeBron started playing hard again, and this from a writer who's covered LeBron for his entire career); when LeBron made the absurd "global icon" comment; and a couple of times during the playoffs when Bron-Bron didn't seem properly enthused by the proceedings (and he wasn't). I don't regret a single thing I wrote about LeBron in the past year. Everything still stands.
And third, before Game 5 of the Detroit series, I picked the Cavs to win in 6 and wrote an extended section about LeBron showing signs of turning the corner and getting it in Games 3 and 4, to the point that I had my hopes up for Game 5 because there was a chance something truly special might happen. Here's the exact quote: "The fact remains, No. 23 happens to be the only interesting thing about this painfully disjointed Pistons-Cavs series. ... Like many others, I'm looking forward to Game 5 solely because of LeBron. Like many others, I want him to shift into fifth gear, hush the crowd, rip Detroit's heart out and make the Vivid Video face after everything's said and done. Like many others, I will be disappointed if this doesn't happen." Bottom line: If you're going to rip another writer, make sure you've actually read the guy first. While we're here, my ESPN colleague Colin Cowherd mocked my seven trade scenarios for Kobe on the radio last week without reading the entire column or even attempting to understand its premise, namely, that the trade options for Kobe were limited because (A) he needed to go to a big market for a team that could contend right away, and (B) nobody pays 100 cents on the dollar for a team looking to unload an unhappy superstar. And if that wasn't bad enough, Cowherd embarrassed himself by not understanding basic NBA trading principles like "it would be valuable for L.A. to swap Vlad Radmanovic's contract for Bobby Sura's expiring contract in a T-Mac/Kobe deal because Sura's contract expires in 2008, which would buy them some cap space down the road." Look, I know the radio business lends itself to hosts lazily skimming other people's columns and blogs ... but seriously, Colin, in the words of Mark Jackson, you're better than that. Your show's on for three hours a day and you get four giant commercial breaks per hour. That leaves you plenty of time to research your segments so you don't come off as misinformed. No offense. 7. All right, how did I miss this? How did I miss this???? Anthony from Gloucester, N.J., explains: "I doubt you caught the Reebok Grand Prix on CBS this past Sunday. Track and field is only exciting every four years for the Olympics -- except when Gus Johnson takes the helm. I watched him call the 110-meter hurdles for some guy named Liu Xiang (apparently the best hurdler in the world). Gu-Jo got me on my feet and the race lasted only 13 seconds. Just another example of how CBS has the X-Factor over the other networks when it comes to sports telecasts." Speaking of missing things, I can't BELIEVE nobody sent me this clip before a few days ago -- it was like finding out that there's another view of Shannon Tweed's nude scene in "Hot Dog: The Movie" or something. Patrick R. from Holyoke, Mass., explains:
"Inexplicably, this YouTube clip has less than 10K views, but it's a treat -- silent footage from right-center of the Roberts steal, steady as it has to be and no less fun for the passage of time." (Note: Isn't there a way for someone to take that video, then match it with the audio of the game?) 8. After getting sent roughly a kajillion A-Rod jokes and e-mails over the past few days, the one I enjoyed the most was a relatively simple e-mail from New York reader Bjorn C.:
"I don't know if you've been following the whole A-Rod strip club scandal, but this quote from the New York Daily News (which put on its investigative hat and interviewed strippers at A-Rod's favorite clubs) absolutely made my day: "A petite stripper at the Hustler Club said A-Rod 'likes the she-male, muscular type.'" "Oh man. That's hilarious. I'm gonna paste it again. "A petite stripper at the Hustler Club said A-Rod 'likes the she-male, muscular type.'" "Somehow, this never stops being funny." (Couldn't agree more. We're about 40 months away from seeing A-Rod re-enact Eddie Murphy's 5:30 a.m. "just being a good samaritan" car ride in Hollywood.) 9. Well, I've been pushing for a TV show with Corey Feldman and Corey Haim since 2002 (scroll down to the Corey Haim section) ... and I'm not sure what's more incredible, the fact that they're both still alive, or that it's finally happening. (Speaking of old columns, Jake from NYC read my running diary of the 2002 Spelling Bee and points out that the famous "euonym" moment that I wrote about in that column has now been immortalized on You Tube.) 10. Kudos to Lissa in Attleboro for digging up LeBron's Bo Jackson shot from 2006 that I mentioned in Friday's column: "Your description made me go looking for the video. I think you owe it to all your fans to share it; and please, please give me credit so I can brag to my boyfriend that I got published by the SG before he did!!! Clip starts after the commercial, 46 seconds in." 11. Jared B. in New York wonders, "I don't know if you've mentioned this, but did you ever look at how many guys are on the payroll for 2006-07 for the Philadelphia 76ers and not playing for them? They are paying Chris Webber, Jamal Mashburn, Todd MacCulloch, Aaron McKie and Greg Buckner. For a total of $45 million, too. There has got to be some kind of conspiracy theory here how Billy King still has a job." 12. Some dopey-but-fun links: • Dan from Chapel Hill, N.C.: "I send this baby name site to all my friends who are expecting. It's fascinating." • Nick Holle from Minneapolis: "What did Ray Allen say when he heard about Kobe's trade demands today? Hint: It starts with 'I' and ends with 'told you so.'" • A million people sent me this and it's been floating around the Web for a solid week, but in case you missed it somehow, Noah from Indiana explains: "'This package includes: A one-hour coaching session with the New York Knicks head coach, Isiah Thomas, at Madison Square Garden.' Are you kidding me? Shouldn't they just call this 'Learn how to sabotage your AAU or high school team in one hour or less.'" • Really enjoyed this link from Lindsey in K.C.: "I know you like Joe Posnanski so here is a GREAT column he wrote about Bo Jackson. I got chills a few times remembering some of those things he did!" • More good reading: Tim McG from Evendale writes, "In case you haven't seen it yet, good article on the sub-culture of Dunkin' Donuts." And Mike in N.J. adds, "As a baseball fan, I thoroughly enjoyed this feature about Kerry Wood. As a Cubs fan, it made me throw up in my mouth a little." • This feature on Durant/Oden made me think that it's not a lock Oden goes first. Hmmmmmmmmm. • From Mike in Boston: "You have to include this in your links section. I wish I could say this was a joke, but what a spin job by the Hawks. Do their fans really believe this!?!?"
• Had to pass along this N.Y. Daily News report on Hal Steinbrenner (George's youngest son) potentially taking over the Yankees because of the overwhelming Vito Corleone/Michael Corleone parallels.
I never wanted this for you ... you were supposed to be Senator Steinbrenner, Governor Steinbrenner ... • Finally, ESPN Books released an "uncyclopedia" called "23 Ways to First Base" by Neil Fine and Gary Belsky. Two whopping disclaimers: First, ESPN Books published my Red Sox book, and second, Neil Fine has been editing my magazine column for the past five years. Could you perceive a major conflict of interest here? Yes. Absolutely. But they mailed me this book last week and I was thinking, "Crap, now I have to think of a way out of plugging this thing without hurting anyone's feelings because there are too many conflicts here" ... and then I started thumbing through it and realized within about three minutes that it's one of the top-10 toilet books of all-time. I can't even really properly describe the book other than to tell you that ... A. It's an absorbing and valuable collection of relatively useless/helpful sports information -- stuff like "What are the lyrics to the Canadian National Anthem?" and "Who were all the No. 1 baseball picks since they started the draft?" and "What were the names of every player on 'The White Shadow'? and even "What are the best percentages for Texas Hold 'Em hands?" B. The book has a hard cover, but it's compact, which means it fits perfectly on the top of any toilet. Just trust me, it's useful for this purpose. C. I'd never recommend something that costs money unless I thought it was worth it.
So there you go. Buy the book, don't buy the book, I don't care. Just telling you that I liked it.
This is what Bill wrote about LeBron in a column from last spring:
"At least once a game, he does something so explosive, so athletic, so incredible, you can't even believe it happened. The last time I remember feeling this way about a professional athlete was Bo Jackson, who wasn't just great he stood out. I attended a spring training game once when Bo scored from third base on a 180-foot pop fly -- standing up. It was awesome to watch. Well, LeBron reminds me of Bo. On those plays when he says, "Screw it, I'm scoring" and heads toward the basket like a runaway freight train. He's like a young Barkley crossed with a young Shawn Kemp crossed with young Magic, but with a little Bo thrown in. Out of anyone in the league, he's the only player who can cripple the other team with one monster play.
There's a perfect example that Hollinger wrote about on Sunday, but screw it, I'm retelling the story. On Saturday afternoon, I TiVo'ed the Nets-Cavs game because the Nets had won 14 straight and officially reached "record all our games" territory. LeBron completely took over the game in the fourth, capped off by one of the most startling plays I have ever seen: Trailing in the final two minutes, LeBron seized some open space in transition and pulled the Runaway Freight Train move, careening toward the basket as one Net reached in and hacked him, followed by another Net on the other side reaching in and fouling him, and then a third guy just to make sure he wouldn't score. LeBron was cradling the ball, taking two giant steps toward the basket and absorbing those karate chops. BOOM-BOOM-BOOM. Any normal human being would have either lost the ball or lost their balance and tumbled to the ground.
Well, LeBron kept going -- almost like a tight end bouncing off three safeties in the open field. As the last guy walloped him, LeBron jumped in the air (where did he get the strength?!?!?), regained control of the ball, hung in the air, hung in the air for another split-second, gathered the ball (at this point, he was drifting under the right side of the rim), and finally unleashed a righty layup that banked in. The shot was so BLEEPING INCREDIBLE, the referee practically jumped in delight as he called the continuation foul. The Nets were done after that. He ripped their hearts out, MJ-style. Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it.
-- Bill Simmons