#1 – The Real NBA MVP
As the NBA post-season nears and conference seedings become realized, the debate over who should walk away with the league’s MVP trophy is picking up traction too. While there are plenty of good candidates to speak of, and the closing weeks of the season will certainly decide it, it’s hard to make a case right now against the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose.
The Bulls like lots of other teams were left on the outside looking in on the LeBron sweepstakes last summer, left like the rest to pick through the post-Heat remnants of the summer’s free agent bounty, landing eventually on Carlos Boozer. This despite the fact that they reportedly had enough to sign all of Miami’s power triumvirate, in addition to the perfect components in Rose and Joakim Noah to compliment them as well. Add to that the fact that many believed the Bulls only motivation in hiring head coach Tom Thibodeau was in attempting to lure James into the mix, and the Bulls were as good a candidate as any to go through the 2010-11 season either egg-faced or in desperate pursuit of Carmelo Anthony or some other trade deadline elixir.
Instead the Bulls have rallied whatever healthy bodies they have been able to muster behind Rose’s night-in and night-out brilliance and remain as a result viable for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. And as a result, Rose should not only be the top candidate for the league’s MVP hardware, but also may be in the argument for most improved, all while seemingly dispelling the notions that you need a team of superstars to win consistently and that Rose is anything but an ideal facilitator, leader and point-guard.
If you caught this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated and its glowing assessment of Rose’s season, you may also have noticed that Rose credits a lot of the progress he’s made this season to the off-season work that he put in with Rob McClanaghan. It goes on to list McClanaghan’s mini-camp roster of Rose, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, and Minnesota’s Kevin Love…arguably the three most improved players in the league this season. Begging the question: who is Rob McClanaghan?
Beyond his bio on Facebook, it’s hard to say really. What might be the better question is who’s working with Rob McClanaghan? Given the upside he’s drawn out of the three aforementioned players, it’d be prudent to see whom he spends next summer with before drafting your next fantasy basketball team. Give McClanaghan my vote for league MVP.
#2 – Riley’s Angels Reeling
The Heat had another disappointing weekend dropping games 125-95 to San Antonio and 87-86 to the Bulls in a 3-day stretch. Despite being within striking distance of both the Bulls and Celtics for the top spot in the east, the Heat are still a disturbing 15-18 against winning teams this season, and a downright depressing 2-8 in games decided by 3 points or less. These stats do not speak to deep runs into the playoffs.
Clearly the Heat are talented and interested when sprinting up and down the floor against lesser teams, but to say that they’re lost in the half court would be an understatement. The Heat has no clear direction in the half court, seeming to defer to etiquette for 3 ½ quarters of play, but in the clutch and when it matters they still have a lot to figure out.
Teams have players and they have playmakers, and some like the Heat have both. While it’s a safe bet that Kobe will get the ball in crunch time in LA and Durant will get it in Oklahoma City, pay too much attention to either and a teammate will just as likely burn you. Look no further than Oklahoma City and San Antonio against the Lakers last season in the playoffs. In each series Kobe took and end game shot to win a game and missed, and in each case an LA rebounder took advantage of the attention being paid to Kobe to get themselves a game-winning put back.
In Miami, when it comes to crunch time the big 3 becomes the big two, as Bosh is seemingly no longer an option. Whichever of the remaining big two gets the ball first is likely to shoot it. In recent games opponents have taken to single covering both Wade and James seemingly figuring one or the other will take an off balance attempt at a winner.
They have until playoff time to figure it out or they’ll get a whole summer (and possibly a lot longer) to think about it. While initial questions about the potential cohesiveness of the Heat centered around who would get the big shots, questions now abound as to who can make them. Maybe the pressure of trying to establish themselves as the defacto-options have left Wade and James with even more pressure to bear in end game situations. Until they figure it out it’s clear that the Heat can be beat, and in a 7-game series against a good team it seems almost like a sure thing.
#3 – NFL Still Winning PR Battle?
Maybe it’s the inherent doldrums of the Terps disappointing season that has cast a shadow of local disinterest over college basketball coupled with anxious anticipation about the Orioles upcoming season (the first deserving of any real level of anticipation in years) but the amount of attention being paid to the behind closed doors negotiations of the NFL and its players’ association is still somewhat surprising to me.
For now, the draft is scheduled to go off as planned, and yet while it usually feels like we’re up to NFL mock draft 5.9 or so by now, the draft anticipation of seasons past has seemingly been replaced by labor negotiation updates and speculation.
I get that we as a nation have grown to love our football year round, and maybe I’m underestimating the fervor that we’re missing with the usual round of free-agency not taking place right now, but have the machinations of NFL labor strife given us another avenue to pursue our devotion to the league or does it just seem that way?
If nothing else, last week’s extension should give fans hope that football will begin on time next year, how long it takes to get to that point is really inconsequential as long as games aren’t compromised. So until then who cares? Yet still we the sporting public seem more consumed with their legal back and forth than we are with the developing March Madness fields, the familiar sights and sounds of spring training and the most interesting looking NBA playoff field in recent memory. Maybe that’s where the league has taken us these days, to the point where even something as boring as what they’re going through right now has all but trumped actual games and seasons still taking place. Perhaps it’s exactly the reason why they’re fighting so hard. The league’s “cash pie” will continue to grow and those inconsequential looking decimals will add up to big bucks….clearly they’ve got us right where they want us.