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Thursday, December 1, 2005
Page 2 Quickie: November 30, 2005

The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Can a player who misses 8 games in the NBA's first month be its most valuable?

Tracy McGrady has missed 8 of the Rockets' first 15 games. Houston has lost all 8, part of the reason they have the worst record in the West and were riding a 7-game losing streak.

T-Mac returned to the lineup last night after missing the last 5 games and scored 25 to help snap that losing streak (admittedly in a win over even-more-lowly Atlanta).

That's certainly evidence for the argument that McGrady has outsize value for this Rockets team. But does that make him NBA's November MVP? Hardly.

Let's be clear: Naming the NBA's MVP for November isn't the same as naming an MVP for an entire season.

Obviously, it's based on only a limited set of stats, plus trends in the standings that may or may not hold up over the rest of the season.

I'm heavily influenced by the standings. That's why I can't get behind T-Mac or Kobe (who shot 9-for-33 in a loss to the Spurs last night).

And that's why Sam Cassell is my November MVP.

The Clippers' success is THE story of the month-old NBA season. 10-4. Leading the Pacific Division. 2nd-best record in the West (3rd in the NBA).

Credit Cassell's leadership, along with his steady 15.6 ppg, 7.2 apg and 4.5 rpg averages. He fought off the flu last night to lead the Clippers past the Wolves on the road.

Are the Clips a fad? They lost in Minnesota three weeks ago by 15, the team's first loss of the season. 10 games later, they returned and walked out with a W, confident the season isn't the joke fans have snickered about all season long. The Clippers?!

That's Cassell's influence (along with the arrival of backcourt mate Cuttino Mobley and the development of Corey Maggette and Elton Brand).

I'd give November MVP consideration to other leaders of standings standouts like Baron Davis and LeBron (See Big 5), but to lead the Clippers to where they are right now -- even if it doesn't last -- is worth honoring.

Illini Edge Heels

Let's get real: There is no payback for losing in last year's playoffs by beating your nemesis in the subsequent regular season. No team has ever won a ring or hung a banner off of a moral victory.

(Just ask the Colts, who beat the Pats a few weeks ago, yet were still dogged by, "Yeah, but you haven't beat them in January yet.")

Simply call Illinois' win over UNC at Chapel Hill what it was: an indicator that the Illini are better off this season than the Tar Heels are (but, in losing by only 4, UNC proved they won't struggle as much as critics think they will).

By the way: What was up with those bastardized uniforms with the wide gray stripes on the shoulders? Points for trying something new, but why not traditional team colors?

Konerko Disses O's
Konerko disses the O's, proving that free agency isn't only about money. Baltimore offered him 5 years for $65 million, but apparently Konerko realized that five years of losing isn't worth even that much cash.

So where will he land? He could always stay with the White Sox, but I think a jones for his hometown West Coast will inspire him to jump to the Anaheim Angels. Hitting next to Vlad won't bother him, either.

Give Me (Middle) Relief!

Middle relievers are the new hotness. To wit:

Cubs sign Howry, to go with previous November signing Scott Eyre. Chicago now has enough new set-up guys to start their own Wrigleyville dating service. (I'm only half-joking: Having lived there as a single guy in my early 20s, that's not a bad idea.)

Yankees inking Farnsworth? 3-year deal ($17 million) would bounce Tom Gordon. I suppose re-signing Matsui qualifies as a big offseason move, but is Farnsworth going to be the team's annual flashy high-priced import?

Quotable Wagner

What Billy said: "There's a difference between winning and being competitive. In the end, I thought [the Phillies] were more interested in being competitive than winning."

What Billy meant: "Did you see the size of the checks they're going to give me? And to Delgado? And maybe even Manny, too? Money talks, baby."

Belle for Hall?

I got a fascinating e-mail from my colleague Michael Knisley, who pointed out that my HOF commentary yesterday about Gooden and Hershiser is eclipsed by the Great Albert Belle Debate.

Your knee-jerk reaction is probably to insist he couldn't possibly be a Hall of Famer, but as Knisley pointed out, his stats are more than comparable with first-ballot HOF'er Kirby Puckett, who, like Belle, played 12 seasons:

Edge Belle:
HR: 381-207
RBI: 1,239-1,085
OBP: .369-.360
SLG: .564-.477

Edge Puckett:
BA: .318-.295
SB: 134-88
Rings: 2-0

It begs the question of whether Hall status should ever be a popularity contest (which Belle would never win). If not, Belle has got a decent shot, at least by the "Puckett standard."