Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Celtics and 76ers pull off an even trade?

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On Monday, it was made official. The Boston Celtics are trading the number one pick in tomorrow’s draft to the Philadelphia 76ers, who in return will send Gang Green the third pick plus either the selection they gained from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018 or if that stays protected, they’ll deliver a pick garnered from the Sacramento Kings in 2019.

Could this, in all honesty, be a great deal for both sides if all things come to fruition?

Starting with the team in Pennsylvania, adding Markelle Fultz to their growing core could be a potential blockbuster move. It allows them to move Ben Simmons into a more natural small forward role, or even as a combo guard next to the Washington standout, with both able to score and make plays for others.

Add the frightening talents of Joel Embiid, if he can stay healthy, and the surprising rise of Dario Saric into the mix and you have a young foundation of which a high-quality team can be built out of. Again, the sticking point is them staying fit and those high picks playing to their potential but with Brett Brown at the helm, there could be real hope of the 76ers being contenders in 2-3 years’ time.

Even if it does blow up, say that Embiid can’t stay healthy or the college form of their two number one picks doesn’t translate to the NBA, they haven’t given up a whole lot. They still own their own pick and should that Lakers one drops out of the 2-5 safety net, they’ll keep the Kings pick too, which at least for the time being looks like it could still be in the lottery bar a dramatic shift in California.

Trusting the process might have finally paid off.

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As for the Celtics, they can now stack up their options on their terms before deciding where their immediate future lies. They want to contend as soon as they can, they want to add another superstar in the mix and don’t want to overload a backfield in a year that they could challenge the dominance of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

For starters, drafting Fultz might have been a good move for the future but for the now, he would have been sitting behind both Isaiah Thomas, the face of the franchise, and Avery Bradley, one of the best two-way guards in the league.

That’s not to say a combination of him and Marcus Smart coming off the bench wouldn’t have been frightening, it’s just that bringing him on board might convince more than one of those three to jump ship. If you’re Bradley, for example, will Boston give you as big of a deal as you should be getting if they have a number one pick in your position on the roster?

So, dropping to three gives them the perfect opportunity to draft Jayson Tatum or Josh Jackson, both forwards that could be solid enough to finally give them depth at the big position. Add to that, they give themselves a safety net should free agency not come together or an asset that other teams might covet in a trade.

It also doesn’t limit them come July to go after Gordon Hayward either. The team would be delighted to have a high draft pick off the bench while the current Utah Jazz forward supplements the already solid starting five and they could play a number of interesting small ball mixes with them as well.

Should they miss there, picking up another draft pick to dangle in front of teams looking at trades can also only be a good thing. That extra pick could be enough to push Chicago into a deal, with the Celtics having another in their back pocket should they decide to hand the Bulls a king’s ransom for Jimmy Butler.

The fact of the matter is, unlike most trades in any of the big American sports, there are big positives from both teams. Both still have options if the eventual results do not pay off, while they could be even competing toe-to-toe down the line if everything goes exactly to plan.

In that eventuality, one might be annoyed at the other for gifting them that win but if it pushes you closer to the promised land of the NBA Finals, are you really that disappointed?

Now it’s time to just sit back and watch the fireworks on draft night.

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Just about good enough: Manchester United’s 2016/17 season review

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Be wary of anyone who said they enjoyed watching Manchester United throughout the entirety of the 2016/17 season. They might be a little crazy.

While there was glimpses of quality and some strong performances dotted in there, this campaign has been a tough slog for the Red Devils. Jose Mourinho is slowly but surely stamping his mark, both on the squad and the tactics, but that hasn’t come as quickly as many expected under the Portuguese manager.

In terms of results, it has been a mixed bag of a season. The results in the EFL Cup and the Europa League were good, earning two trophies and an automatic Champions League spot cannot be understated in how valuable they are to the club not just this season but the upcoming one too.

Cup competitions in general were a success, with an FA Cup quarter final exit to Chelsea disappointing but by no means embarrassing. It showed that when it’s needed in a high pressure, one-off game, the team can pull off the result they need.

They proved that against the champions in the Premier League too, but that was an all-too-brief bright spot in a frustrating campaign. Too many draws, especially at home, combined with a plethora of missed chances against smaller teams and being outclassed by those above them meant they never really looked like title contenders.

In fact, they only really looked like top four contenders because of the misgivings of other sides fighting for those places. A great run over Christmas was matched by everyone else, meaning their long, strange unbeaten run saw them keep pace rather than hit their stride with any real aplomb.

From a tactic’s perspective, it seemed like Mourinho could never quite settle on a preferred setup with a consistent line-up. The squad looks set up to play 4-2-3-1 but with midfield issues it switched to a 4-3-3 before moving back in the final few months of the season.

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That meant no-one really settled into their roles yet neither particularly showed that it should have been the formation to follow.

The 4-3-3 meant one of the attacking midfielders missed out but it added more balance to the midfield. It offered Paul Pogba a little more freedom, it helped strengthen the middle of the park but it also hindered United at the attacking end, leaving the striker often too isolated with predominantly inside forwards at the club’s disposal.

The 4-2-3-1 got more forward-thinking players into the side but created an imbalance behind them. Finding someone who worked best with Pogba in that role proved troublesome, even if at the end of the season Ander Herrera showed why it really should have been him all along.

However, the win against Chelsea towards the end of the season did show off Mourinho’s tactical prowess when needed. An almost misshapen 4-4-2 with Jesse Lingard joining Marcus Rashford in a speedy front two caused the Blues back three all kinds of problems.

The man-marking from Herrera on Eden Hazard worked perfectly too and displayed what this team could produce under the right conditions. That flexibility will be great in big games next season but a more consistent system with a regular starting eleven needs to be established.

A few unheralded players can hold their head up high, with that list beginning with Antonio Valencia. A revelation at right-back and a reinvention no-one could have seen coming, the Ecuadorian has been nothing short of excellent and has thoroughly deserved his contract extension.

Herrera has also been his non-stop self, even if he has overstepped the mark on occasion. He holds himself extremely well, never puts in less than his maximum and has worked extremely hard to be a permanent fixture in the big games in the heart of the midfield.

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At the same time, there’s a few that should be a little ashamed of a pretty dire season. Phil Jones has been poor along with injury prone which sees him practically out of the door, Luke Shaw needs to bounce back stronger in the pre-season and Anthony Martial needs to rediscover his consistency if he is to continue his progression as a footballer.

The signings from the summer window were all good additions, even if not all of them hit the ground running. Zlatan Ibrahimovic was exactly what you’d expect from the big Swede, Eric Bailly has the potential to be a mainstay for years to come, Pogba can be so good when he’s fully involved which needs to happen more often next season and Henrikh Mkhitaryan just has to find more consistency after a slow start, an exciting middle and a dithering end.

The positive to take from this campaign is there has been a foundation built. That’s not to say there isn’t more to be added, they need a little more at centre-back, left-back, midfield and up top but with the right players in again, they could be pushing much higher in the table and in all cup competitions as well.

What needs to be done is an establishment of an attacking identity. There’s a solid base from Mourinho’s background but he needs to create a more dynamic, unpredictable offence that not only creates better opportunities but finishes them off as well.

In the end, United’s season felt like they were learning a musical instrument. Sometimes it would sound wonderful, on occasions it made your ears bleed but on the most part, you could just about understand what they were trying to play.

The challenge now for Mourinho is to turn them into rock stars. If he can get them singing off of his hymn sheet instead of just humming the tune, this team could grow in both quality and potency quickly.

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Do the Boston Celtics stick or twist?

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It has been a pretty interesting week for the Boston Celtics.

On the court, they have reached the Eastern Conference Finals just four years removed from being outside of the playoffs looking in, while off it, their crazy trade with the Brooklyn Nets around the same time has earned them the top pick in a widely perceived loaded draft.

What a time to be in green.

If only they didn’t get blown out by 40 points in their own building by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then see their best player ruled out for the rest of the postseason.

Swings and roundabout. At least they’ve won a game now.

However, that could have been the perfect wake-up call to a team that might got a little ahead of themselves after finishing as the top seed in the East. The Cavs had a pretty poor end to the regular season but have been irrepressible in the playoffs, highlighting the gap that Boston still has to close to get anywhere near a championship.

So, with a handsome wealth of options to go down, which way should the Celtics go to push themselves into that Finals conversation? Do they keep their top tier picks or do they trade them away for proven talent that can match the riches in Cleveland and at Golden State?

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Option one seems to be there forethought at the moment, holding their cards close to their chest. Regardless of which route they will take, unless they have a trade already set in motion, they will pick the best available player with that first pick in the 2017 draft with the view that they can develop him if they want to.

Their actual focus goes beyond that and into free agency. Numerous outlets are reporting Boston’s significant interest in signing Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, a first-time All Star this season and someone who could relieve some of the scoring burden off of Isaiah Thomas’ shoulders.

If Hayward does join, the Celtics have the cap space to make it happen and a better opportunity for him to win a championship sooner, then trading becomes an afterthought. Not only is he filling a hole both on a scoring and quality level, he also plays in the same position of their two rumoured trade targets.

Should the former Butler Bulldog stay in Salt Lake City, then they should be on the phone to other teams. With Jimmy Butler and Paul George both looking like the best options, they should go all in on getting one to boost the Green’s chances against the Cavaliers.

Both are quality scorers over a number of seasons lumbered on see-sawing franchises. Butler is the tougher deal but more likely to sign a long-term contract, George should be easier to move for but there has been much chatter about his desire to eventually join the Los Angeles Lakers, whether he’s traded this summer or not.

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Then the question becomes whether the price to get either of them where they also agree to an extension, will it be worth the price? That first pick in a loaded draft this year could give them an asset on a strong contract that if they are lucky, could contribute from the off.

Add to that the likelihood that they’d have to give away their 2018 pick from the Brooklyn Nets as well and it’s instantly looking more like a poor decision for the long term. With that draft choice likely to be a high one again, why mortgage a potential long-term future that could build another dynasty for a short-term goal?

That tends to be the thinking in basketball, trust the known commodity over the unknown potential when hunting for glory. In the modern era of the number of superstars dictating your number of championships, many feel the Celtics need to headhunt if they want to even think of challenging.

There’s no surprise that their first option is the one they feel strongest towards as keeping their cards in their deck only enhances their chances. Entice Hayward along, add him to Thomas and a solid starting line-up with the hope that the rookies over the next two years can not only contribute but push for starring roles.

Regardless of what happens, it will be an interesting future that could even shape the future of the NBA. When July 1st comes round for free agency, it will become much clearer as to which direction one of the most storied franchises in NBA history is heading.

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A most unlikely of likely seasons for Hull City

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On May 14th 2017, Hull City Football Club were relegated from the Premier League. Not so surprising for most that the Tigers eventually succumbed to their pre-season prediction of falling through the trapdoor but that it took so long to do so should be something of note.

Rewinding back all the way to July in their preparations for the season to come, I caught the friendly between Hull and Mansfield Town. Steve Bruce had a bare bones squad, filled with youngsters and missing spots on the bench along with Peter Odemwinge on a trial, that only just scraped past a League Two side with a 1-0 win.

To add insult to the many injuries they had coming into the evening’s game, Michael Dawson had to be taken off in the first half.

This also went down as Bruce’s last game in charge, leaving three days later due to a lack of funds in the transfer window.

In came, well, no one. Bruce’s assistant Mike Phelan was promoted to caretaker manager while the owner continued to keep his purse strings tight as the team kept weltering. Without enough new faces to supplement the stricken and no injection of quality needed for top flight football, it always looked like it would be an impossible season for the club on the Humber.

They started shockingly well, winning their first three games in all competitions, which included a victory on the opening day against reigning champions Leicester City. A late defeat to Manchester United, however, saw the spiral down the table with heavy defeats of four, five and six goals.

Phelan was initially promoted to full-time manager, only to see himself replaced by Marco Silva in late January. The Portuguese was an unpopular appointment with some sections of the media, questioning his experience despite winning the Portuguese Cup with Sporting and the Greek title with Olympiacos.

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What he did within the time he had was astounding to say the least.

 

To start with, he saw two of their best players sold. Robert Snodgrass was shipped off to West Ham United, the Scotsman still standing as the club’s top scorer some five months on, while Jake Livermore saw his chance to flee south to West Bromwich Albion.

Saying that, they did pull in more faces than in the summer but most came in the form of loanees. Lazar Markovic, Oumar Niasse and Andrea Ranocchia were all bundled through the door in the last few days of the window, with Kamil Grosicki making a permanent switch from Rennes.

However, the rag-tag group was brought together and started playing football on both ends of the pitch.

Before his arrival, Hull had scored just 17 and shipped a staggering 44 goals this season. While the scoring hasn’t moved an enormous amount, the Tigers have two more goals in three less games, their defence has almost taken on another personality altogether.

They shipped just 29 in their last 17 games, not spectacular numbers but a drastic improvement from before. They added three more clean sheets to the one they had right at the start of the season, which shows that they were in an upwards trajectory.

Gone were the days where they would mix between a 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-4-1-1 or even a 4-3-2-1 for what seemed like what position the sun was in the sky. Silva gave them a 4-2-3-1 base to work from, instilling graft and when a little bit of zest was needed, a switch to 3-4-3 seemed to do the trick.

 

He grew their relatively solid home form, where they have only lost to the top six excluding Tottenham Hotspur (who visit on the final day), Stoke City and Sunderland, the result that killed their hopes.

They also played in a more adventurous, do-or-die kind of way. The wingers were swashbuckling, everything was with commitment and they would go down swinging, shown by their eight defeats under the Portguese were by more than one goal as they left themselves a little open in the pursuit of a comeback.

In fact, that’s what became their Achilles heel all season long. Only four of their 21 defeats were by a single goal, showcasing that they could never keep it close even in games they were playing well in.

The manager gets plenty of plaudits and will rightfully have interest across Europe this summer. Whether a spot in the Premier League will open up for him is debatable but with a number of attractive options in France, Italy and even with FC Porto at home, he could be under new employers soon.

Some of the players showed enough to stay as well. Sam Clucas showed both quality and effort, Harry Maguire is finally filling in the promise he showed at Sheffield United a few years ago, Andrew Robertson has looked like a left-back for a bigger club for years now while both Markovic and Grosicki glimpsed enough quality to get interest from elsewhere too.

In the end, the disappointment for the fans will be that up until that Sunderland game, they really had it within their own hands. In reality for most, who thought it could be a Derby 2007/08 scenario, they’ve done much more than many could have even imagined.

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Pitch invasions should be a thing of the past

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Have you ever had that rush of blood when you are at a concert and you are so overjoyed that your storm the stage in celebration of the band’s beautiful creation?

No?

How about when Anthony Joshua beat Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley, didn’t you want to jump into the ring to celebrate with all the assembled media that hopped in?

Really? Weird.

Well, it seems to happen every year in English football, regardless of whether a team goes up or avoids going down. It’s tradition, like watching the queen’s speech at Christmas or throwing up after having too many pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, for many a pitch invasion simply has to happen.

But, why?

Picking apart one of many that occurred over the final games of the Championship, League One and League Two, the one at Nottingham Forest was a little shameful. The former two-time European Champions, as they would kindly remind you, saw their fans claim the City Ground’s pitch after their team staved off relegation to League One on goal difference.

It’s like throwing a party because you managed to pay the bailiffs by finding a pound coin in-between the sofa cushions.

Even the positive ones seem a little redundant, like when Bolton Wanderers’ fans even started raiding before the final whistle had blew. They have come straight back up after relegation last season, so the redeption story or the overwhelming sense of beating the odds just isn’t there.

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Compare it to Brighton, who were on the brink of extinction just over two decades ago, and you can justify their need to hug all of their lovely footballers. Those fans almost couldn’t imagine a future and now, it could not be much brighter.

Saying that, footballers must hate pitch invasions. For the home players, it must be like being mugged by the most joyful person in the world. Most of them hope to be near the tunnel straight away but the poor goalkeepers and defenders must wade through the barbarians like it’s Black Friday at Tesco.

As for the away players, they must be begging that they can avoid all of it. The only things that could happen are getting shouted at, potentially assaulted or a dabble of both, with a sea of people running your direction not looking so nice for those that simply want to be on the first plane off this rock for the summer.

What’s even stranger is that it never happens elsewhere. There wasn’t a mass raid when Leicester spectacularly won the title last season, no one in Turin jumped the barriers when they made the Champions League final earlier this week and France contained themselves when they even won the World Cup in their own country in 1998.

However, we English tend to get all passionate about much. When it’s our local football club, with it’s inferior budgeting for stewarding and their more lax nature for idiots, let’s just ignore the norms and go a little mental.

It might be an unpopular opinion, or a surprisingly popular one, but end-of-season public pitch parades should be a thing of the past.

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Arsene Wenger and when adoration becomes aggravation

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You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

It might be a little cliché to quote The Dark Knight but when a real-life superhero to many slowly fades into infamy, it seems only fitting.

Arsene Wenger has been a monumental figure for Arsenal. The Frenchman took them to great highs in an era where only his stylish sides could match or even better the juggernaut from up north in Manchester United.

However, the key word in that paragraph above is has. Whether it’s a mixture of a failure to evolve, a delusion of power or the modern game simply outpacing him, the 67-year-old’s time at the helm of the Gunners should finally come to a close.

Not with a bang, not even with a whimper for some.

There’s no doubt that Wenger is one of the greatest managers in English football history. He’s won an impressive stash of trophies, maintained a strong league finish every year even with the money thrown around by other clubs and preceded over an unbeaten season that will likely never happen again.

Not only that, he looked to bring through a number of young English players and develop them as the core of his next great footballing side. A little distant from the powerful, cultured sides he had before as they slowly evolved into a slick, possession-based monster.

That is likely where his downfall started.

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The first step was changing the culture, adapting it into what he believed was beautiful football. No one is questioning that he succeeded, sometimes Arsenal are simply a joy to watch, but too often they were found wanting when it came to crunch times of the season.

They could be bullied, with a lot of the new players being a little more lightweight than the ones that came before. Then came the adage that they would try to pass the ball into the net, with teams setting their stalls out on the edge of their box to keep the Gunners at bay and all too often, it worked.

Almost like a backwards evolution, that deformity became a trait. Fans clamoured for some physicality but for years Arsene resisted, lamenting with the signing of Granit Xhaka this summer, only for him to fall into the trap of becoming an Arsenal stereotype himself.

The second issue that has come back to bite him is those young players, who have simply taken advantage of his belief in them. So many of them have had their careers stalled in one way or another, their desire to fight when they struggled torn away and his loyalty to them, almost as a father figure, have plunged both into deep waters they can’t escape from.

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Taking Aaron Ramsey as an example, who was maligned for so long before bursting into life for one fabulous season. He’s been intermittent at best since, Arsene torn between sticking with him or throwing him to the sidelines as he showed in the European Championships with Wales that his powers have not abandoned him.

He has not been ruthless enough. Francis Coquelin still gets a game despite becoming a passenger, Theo Walcott has never learned how to play with his brain and Petr Cech is on a seemingly speedy decline in between the sticks.

This, in turn, has led to a shirk of responsibility on his ‘star’ players. Mesut Ozil can’t get on the ball and when that doesn’t happen, he’s absent while Alexis Sanchez would run through the crust of the Earth for you at the start of this season but when no-one else follows suit, why should he bother?

Even as a fan of a bitter rival, it really is a shame that it has come for this for Arsenal. It almost needs blowing up in the summer and rebuilding completely, unless someone can resurrect a virus that seems to run deep into the core. Scarily deep at that.

With Wenger still coy on his future, the players have decided to make up his mind for him. They haven’t got the fight any more, the powers are seemingly draining from a frustrated manager and the fan base is slowly turning in on themselves.

It’s poisonous and while for many it will seem like cutting off a leg, at least it might save the rest.

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In defence of the away goals rule

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Look, we’ve all been burned by it or adorded it, so let’s talk about the away goals rule in the Champions League.

For me, I’ll never forget the time Manchester United lost to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League semi-final on away goals. Having drew 2-2 at Old Trafford, the Germans slipped through our grasps and snuck into the final in a 1-1 that will have me shaking my head for all eternity.

At least Zinedine Zidane scored that blinder in the final.

So many complain about it, while those same voices are eerily quiet when it works in their favour. With that in mind, do we really need the away goals rule? Is it really fair to everyone? Or is it just a way to avoid extra time like it’s the plague for club sides?

In the last six years, eight knockout ties have been settled by the away goals rule with at least one each year. Four of the opening ties were won by the home side, Paris Saint-Germain drew twice to Barcelona in 2012-13 and to Chelsea in 2014/15, while the other two were defeats for Arsenal at the Emirates.

Two of those four that won their opening home fixture secured safe passage to the next round, while both of the Gunners’ initial defeats could not be turned around away from home. PSG’s two draws saw them knocked out at the Camp Nou but qualify in extra time on away goals at Stamford Bridge.

In some, like Marseille’s passage in 2011/12 over Inter Milan and Arsenal’s two losses, the rule looks incredibly harsh. The Ligue 1 side won the tie in the very last second, having held on for 74 minutes before the Italians nabbed two goals only to see it slip on one mistake in the dying embers.

As for the Gunners’ pair of clashes, three goals conceded at home in opening legs killed the ties. On both occasions, they managed to score two away without conceding but alas, the away goals rule states that is not good enough.

Then again, it gives some teams their just rewards. Atletico Madrid were excellent in their semi-final over Bayern Munich last season, with their away goal coming whilst the tie was level at 1-1 and Chelsea’s excellent 2-0 win at home meant the single goal they stole from a drab affair at the Parc des Princes earned them rightful passage to the next round.

In truth, it does tend to hand the advantage to the away side in that first leg. In the 78 games played in the knockout stages in the last six years, the away side has only failed to score in the first game on 27 occasions.

58 of those 78 sides that start away have gone through. However, with seeding affording you that opportunity through qualifying top of your group, it’s not a surprise as you expect a stronger team to be heading on the plane first.

What is extremely interesting is when it comes down to the semi-finals, when the true big teams match up without a seeding advantage. Only one side that went away in the first leg has qualified for the final in the last 10 attempts, Real Madrid being the sole victor over Manchester City last season.

That shows that when it is whittled down to the crème de la crème, the law doesn’t matter. In fact, only one semi-final has required away goals in that span, which was the aforementioned Atletico win, while only one other has gone down to penalties.

In the end, UEFA are forced into a little bit of a corner. The rule is there, on paper at least, to encourage attacking play from the away sides in both legs but more often than not, it causes it in the first leg while the home side sit on anything they’ve gained in the follow-up match.

At the same time, no club wants to play extra time in midweek with a busy domestic schedule that has everyone vying for silverware too. It also tends not to matter in the slightest when it really comes down to the best of the best, so isn’t it a relatively amicable way to thin the herd early doors?

You could tweak it a little, potentially switching the seeding around to test the big teams but with clubs highly unlikely to want to force extra time and the rule needing to be applied fairly irregularly, they will stick to their guns. And so they should, It does encourage exciting ties in the long run and can keep teams in them for longer if they really give it their all.

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Why Erik Spoelstra should be Coach of the Year

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A few years ago, people would have you believe that the Miami Heat could have anyone coaching the trio of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh to their two NBA championships.

Those voices are eerily silent now, wonder why that would be?

Maybe because Erik Spoelstra has knitted together a group of rag tag players that have rebounded back from an 11-30 start to the season to being on the brink of the Eastern Conference playoffs. If they finish above .500, they will be the first team to recover from a 19-game deficit to be above that average at the end of the season.

It started with the end of an era, as Dwayne Wade decided to say farewell to the south coast and returned home. Combined with the admission that Bosh would likely never play the game due to reoccurring blood clots, Miami looked to be resetting to a rebuild of their roster.

They started by making sure their best prospect didn’t skip town. Hassan Whiteside was tied down to a big deal, anchoring the team alongside the likes of Goran Dragic and youngsters like Justice Winslow.

As previously mentioned, they floundered around early on. What did come out of every defeat, from every coach and broadcasting team, was despite their record the Heat would put in maximum effort for the entire game and never allow anyone an easy night.

Seemingly out of the playoff run by the turn of the year, they all of a sudden clicked into place. The defensive principles that the coach reminded them every night, the system to get more threes into their game and adding that to the effort they were already showing mixed into a potent cocktail.

From January 17th, they rattled off 13 straight victories that included wins against the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks and the Golden State Warriors. Including that run, Miami have gone 24-6 which has seen them go a game clear in the eighth spot in the playoffs and they have yet to lose two games back-to-back.

One factor in that has been their defence, which has been stellar all season. They rank 5th in the league in points allowed, they lead the league in three-pointers made in a game against them and every single night, just watching them rush round the court like a pack of Jack Russell’s, you know they play hard on that end of the floor.

What has changed in recent times is their offensive output, with their points per game average going up by a whopping 10 points per game for the months of February and March. The offence is finally clicking, players are believing in their ability and that confidence is flowing throughout the line-up.

Whiteside was a beast all year and is still currently leading the league in rebounds while sitting third in blocks. Dragic is a great point guard in a league filled with them, but those two alone were never going to be enough to push the Heat into the postseason.

Their push starts with Dion Waiters, the odd man out for many years has finally come out of the shadows. Averaging 15.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, all career highs and he isn’t afraid to take that big game shot, hitting huge game-winning threes against the Charlotte Hornets and the Cleveland Cavaliers, his old team.

No wonder he feels he has that Philly Cheese swag.

Add to that the Johnson brothers, Tyler and James, who bring such a burst of the bench. The former is averaging 13.8 points per game, justifying his expensive extension in the summer, while the latter is not far behind on 12.3 ppg.

Both are averaging over four boards and three assists per game and bring so much energy in the second quarters. Neither has started a game all season but when they are on the court, they allow Miami to switch gears but lose none of the intensity.

That’s saying nothing of other role players like Wayne Ellington, who’s been dynamite from three-point range in recent weeks, or Rodney McGruder, who doesn’t fill the box score but brings great defence every night. Willie Reed does plenty in his short minutes to give Whiteside a breather, Josh Richardson is growing into a fine player and they all add something to this time.

When you also think they’ve missed Justice Winslow in that stretch, especially just as he was ascending into the line-up, and the Heat finally have direction. Unlike so many other mid-card teams in the NBA, they have an identity, they have the right kind of players and they have a foundation they can hopefully pull an interesting rebuild into quickly.

Those that are fighting for that first seed are praying that the Heat either finish seventh or fade away. Even if a series goes 4-0, all of those teams know it will be an incredibly hard-fought battle to sweep a team that brings everything night in and night out.

While Mike D’Antoni has done wonders for the offensive juggernaut that is the Rockets but Spoelstra’s efforts, should the Heat get to the post-season, are beyond miraculous. They aren’t just a team, they are a culture and after their boom years of buying big, they now have a network from which they can structure another championship run.

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Winners and losers of the NBA’s trade deadline

The NBA trade deadline is like their transfer deadline day, only things happen and less dildos are thrown by supporters outside stadiums. In this more civilised yet slightly more complex set-up, it can lead to some teams changing their seasons after the All-Star break while others decide to blow things up now ready for the summer.

So, with all that in mind, who came out smelling of roses and who had the scent of rolling around in a pig sty? Here’s a look at the winners and losers from last week’s deadline.

 

Winners

Houston Rockets

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Lou Williams was a super pick-up for the attack-minded Rockets. Source: The Undefeated.

If you want to see what a playoff team needs to do to give themselves an extra push at the trade deadline, you only need peer through the doors of the Toyota Center. They solidified their bench by adding Lou Williams, who could still be in the running for Sixth Man of the Year alongside new teammate Eric Gordon, while moving KJ McDaniel’s slightly weighty wage to make that much-needed room to breathe in the buyout market.

To say this team really need another shooter is like saying Scrooge McDuck needs more gold but then again, you can’t argue with a couple more doubloons to add to the collection. With the Golden State Warriors worrying about Kevin Durant’s health and the San Antonio Spurs not quite as powerful as before, the Rockets now see their chance to contend against the best in the Western conference.

They are fun, exciting and might have just elevated themselves into a real contender.

 

Toronto Raptors

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If Ibaka returns to form, this goes from a decent to a fantastic move. Source: NBA

With an almighty scuffle looking to break out at the top of the Eastern Conference, it was the Toronto Raptors that looked to try and steal a march on everyone else. Adding Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker to their ranks gives them more depth up front and should make the better on defence too.

If they can get the Spaniard back playing to his potential, Ibaka could be a steal and could even be a bargain come the summer to sign on a longer deal. Tucker has put in some solid displays for the Phoenix Suns this season and with other teams sniffing around, the Raptors will be delighted to have snapped him up too.

The injury to Kyle Lowry has probably killed any momentum towards the top of the playoff order but the Raptors will not be sorry come the postseason when the gloves come off.

 

Losers

New York Knicks

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The Rose experiment hasn’t worked and they should have done more to get Rubio through the door. Source: Daily Knicks

It seems like the Knicks can’t trade anyone away at the moment. They tried to kick Carmelo Anthony out the door and just when they thought they had found Derrick Rose a home, the Minnesota Timberwolves slammed the door in their face.

In all honesty, they needed to push harder to get Ricky Rubio in and start this new era at Madison Square Garden. Finally, someone would have passed the ball on this team and maybe they could be moving forward but instead, Phil Jackson will keep fighting Melo and owner Jimmy Dolan will keep fighting the fans in what really is becoming a real miss.

Sorry, Kristaps.

 

Boston Celtics

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The Celtics are pretty good but could have been sensational if they had nabbed either George or Butler. Source: Business Insider

This is a little harsh, since they are still a pretty good team, but could they not get us so excited if it wasn’t going to happen? The Celtics were amping everyone up that they may pull off a blockbuster move for either Paul George or Jimmy Butler, yet neither managed to come to the TD Garden.

Either would have been a quality addition that would have pushed Boston into the upper-upper echelon of the NBA but they were thwarted. The Indiana Pacers wanted more than they were willing to play, while the Chicago Bulls are under some kind of spell that tells them the playoffs now are more important than their impending and almost certain rebuild.

A toast to what could have been, Boston, but don’t get our hopes up again.

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Is Jay Cutler’s NFL career over?

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Cutler has had a pretty poor career with the Bears. Source: blacksportsonline.com

If there is one thing that is for certain in the offseason in the NFL, Jay Cutler will no longer be playing for the Chicago Bears. Their unhappy marriage that has been in counselling for the past few years looks to finally be heading for divorce as the NFC North team look towards a rebuild.

According to NFL.com’s Ian Rappaport, the Bears are looking as to whether there is any trade interest for desperate teams before cutting the 11-year veteran. Unless someone feels that strongly about the former Denver Bronco draftee that they’d throw a seventh-round pick their way, expect him simply to be kicked to the curb in early March.

However, the story doesn’t end there. After a number of tough seasons and coming off an injury-hit year, Rappaport also mentioned that Cutler is considering retiring from football. At 33 and plenty of money in the bank, he could quite easily walk away from the game if he wanted to.

But should he?

There’s no doubt that the quarterback position is the most important position in the game. You can’t really win the Super Bowl with a serviceable quarterback as a very minimum and with so many teams still needing a signal caller, the question becomes whether there are 32 men better than Cutler.

If you look at his recent stats over his career, you have to say no. Other than this season, where he only played five games, he has always had a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio including 21 TDs to 11 INTs in his 15-game season in 2015.

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Yes, even the majestic Brian Hoyer was better than him in spots last season. Source: Sports Illustrated.

Then you look at the statistics against the other two quarterbacks that deputised in his absence and you have to say there could be. Both Bryan Hoyer and Matt Barkley, who faded a little in his final two games, equalled or surpassed his output over the 2016 season, unforgivable against a journeyman and a youngster who has barely played any first-team snaps.

That wayward stance has followed Cutler for what seems like his entire career. There are moments where you think he could lead you to the promised land, others when the only place he’ll lead any coach is to the back of the line at the job centre.

Teams like the San Francisco 49ers, the Cleveland Browns, the Houston Texans and the New York Jets will surely take a long, hard look at him. He’s never had the greatest offensive line, which is likely to be the case again in any of those teams and a dearth of weapons to throw to will also impact his inconsistent arm.

He’s not always the most accurate thrower, he’s also not the greatest deep ball shooter so an offence would have to be built around that. Will one of those rebuilding sides see the worth in changing their game to suit that long-term? Probably not but a contending team like the Texans who need just one more push might see it as a solid short-term risk.

The real question for most of those teams will be is there better out there? Not really. That more speaks to the talent level in the NFL and that in the draft, although there are a few interesting prospects but the Bears will be in that fight along with them.

Leaving Cutler in that space will be an interesting topic to watch over the course of the spring. If a team tries to go for him, he should give it a go but if there’s only sporadic interest or backup opportunities, it might be time for him to ride off into the sunset.

He might fall off the horse and frown about that on the way out, but that’s Jay Cutler for you. He’ll at least never be dull.

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