Saturday, September 29, 2007

Air Jordan 15 SE

You like?

They're rumored to be limited to only 150 pairs.

Pics via Sneaker Files.

Friday, September 28, 2007

I Gotta Make This Blog Cry

After a year and a half of grieving, Trey finally forgives the Texans for passing on Vince Young in the 2006 NFL Draft.

It still hurts from time to time, but I'm cool now. Let's revisit this first.

17 months ago, my Houston Texans made the (at the time) unthinkable decision to draft workout wonder Mario Williams over Houston native Vince Young and Heisman winner Reggie Bush.

Young had just come off an undefeated junior season (not to mention a 30-2 record as a starter at Texas) which ended in one of the greatest championship game performances in sports history (200+ yards passing and rushing each in the '06 Rose Bowl vs. USC). Bush had just spent the previous two years dazzling college football crowds everywhere while recreating the aura of Gail Sayers and the acquitted-of-double-murder-former Heisman winner who shall not be named in this space. He was that great.

The Texans used the 2005 season to delight us Houstonians (read: torture) with record numbers for sacks, a defense that was laughable at best (You know that feeling when you're playing Madden against someone, and they're driving the ball down the field almost at will, and you can do absolutely nothing about it? That's how it felt every Sunday in '05), a bunch of rookie mistakes from a fourth-year quarterback, and the excitement of a funeral. It wasn't so much that the Texans sucked, it was that they were totally boring in the process.

When we got the number 1 pick (after tanking in the last game of the season against the 49ers, mind you), it was a foregone conclusion that Bush would be dancing and prancing in the Texans backfield for years to come. That is, until Young announced he was leaving UT for the NFL. Then everybody from Pearland to Baytown started dreaming of Texans #10 "Young" jerseys. Forget Bush, we wanted VY.

You know the rest of the story, GM Charley Casserly took Mario, he did squat in '06, Vince won Offensive Rookie of the Year and came thisclose to taking the Titans to the playoffs, and Bush helped the Saints to their first division title ever and a spot in the NFC Championship Game.

So why am I not bitter anymore? Because, at this present time, I'm sorta happy with Super Mario, and we don't want those other two players. (Well, at least one of them.)

Why? Because the Houston Texans are actually a decent football team now. We're 2-1 (as of September 28), with a great chance to go 3-1 after we thump the Falcons in Atlanta this Sunday. The defense is playing great despite a truckload of injuries and the running game is solid for the first time since Dominick Davis (Williams? Whatever) was healthy.

And we finally have a quarterback who doesn't make you wish the Texans held open tryouts in the Reliant Stadium parking lot on every Saturday. Matt Schaub hasn't just provided much-needed consistency and intelligence at the QB position, he's been a steady and calm leader, something the previous regime never managed.

Don't get me wrong, I still dreams of watching Vince every weekend playing for the home team. But I'm 22 years old now, and we all have to learn how to let stuff go. Plus, I realize that it's just the nature of Houston franchises to get torched by certain athletes, for many different reasons. It did hurt a lot more seeing VY tear up the Saints on the road in his first Monday Night Football appearance while leading Tennessee to a convincing win last week, though.

But, for the record, I was strongly against us drafting Bush. His recent string of dropping open passes ala Terrell Owens (sorry, Frank) and his uber-exciting 2-yard rushes to the sidelines prompted one ESPN analyst to call him a "overhyped kick-returner". Ouch.

So, I'm good. I'm happy with my Texans team, regardless of who we passed up 17 months ago. Of course, if we pass up DeSean Jackson or Darren McFadden (if we get the chance), then we never had this discussion.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Prep Recruit Snitches On UNC

What's this world coming to?

After his official visit in Chapel Hill last week, prep recruit Iman Shumpert reportedly told that he played pickup ball with a few former Tar Heel players. Shumpert said Raymond Felton, Sean May, and Marvin Williams tried to persuade him to commit to North Carolina.

Not a big deal, you say. Well, if what Shumpert said is true, it could mean a possible recruiting violation.

Under NCAA rule, NBA players are seen as athletic representatives because they promote the school. In May and Williams' cases, the rule doesn't apply because they are currently still enrolled in classes at the university. Felton is not.

My only question is why this is even a rule in the first place? Oh yeah, the NCAA is a bunch of idiots. Nevermind.

I wonder if Roy Williams will still recruit him.

Somebody Wake Doc Buss Up

It's official. Shawm Marion reportedly has asked the Suns' braintrust for a trade out of the desert. Apparently, he's tired of hearing of hearing his name in trade rumors. As if.

Where to now? Marion said he would welcome a trade to the Lakers, and there has been reports of trade talks with L.A. that would send Marion to Hollywood and Lamar Odom to Phoenix. I say, make this happen yesterday.

The proposed trade works well for both teams, financially and on the court. I don't even have to say how much it improves the Lakers. With Marion, Kobe gets a running mate that can both score when needed and defend like hell (in my opinion, he should have won the Defensive POY last year). He really can't create his own shot (which Kobe probably won't like when teams start doubling him), but he can give you 20 and 10 without having one single play ran for him in the halfcourt (which Kobe will definitely like).

Odom, on the other hand, has been dying to get as far away as possible from 24 since he got there and will relish getting to play with a successful team full of unselfish players. The Suns also run a system that utilizes LO's talents. Mike D'Antoni implemented a style that allows for multiple playmakers outside of Steve Nash. Odom is a good enough rebounder, so he give the Suns another option to run the fast break when Nash isn't on the floor. Marion is a better rebounder, but not the ball handler and passer Lamar is.

Lamar also gives them a more positive presence in the locker room, an alternative from the constant bitching about "being noticed" and what not. Odom doesn't even want to be noticed, he just wants to play, as long as it's not with KB.

The Lakers also would get some much needed playoff experience that Lamar never came close to offering. Plus, Shawn Marion is 10x the athlete Lamar Odom is, hence the nickname "Matrix".

Kobe should like this trade, seeing that it's the closest Mitch Kupchak and Jerry Buss will come to getting a "star" player around him this season. If getting Marion doesn't appease him, nothing will.

Though the Lakers front office has been morally irresponsible concerning the improvement of their roster, I have to give them props for jumping on this Marion situation, knowing that he already had an interest in playing there. And this also works for the Suns, considering they have been cutting costs like the Depression was coming back around.

Hopefully this deal gets done before training camp starts on Monday. Of course, we have to be skeptical about this deal even happening at all, considering how it makes too much sense and all.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Matrix Inflation

Will somebody please remind Shawn Marion that he is not a franchise player. Please.

According to Arizona Central, Marion is upset at the Suns' front office because they haven't yet started to discuss an extension for him.

Marion is, by the way, the Suns' highest-paid player (he'll earn $16.4 million this year), despite being the team's third-best player. And in continuing with the "Shawn Marion Whining Series", he wants even more money, most likely in the $20 million range.

$20 million...for Shawn Marion? Hell no, for the following reasons:

The Matrix is not a $20 million guy.
The list of $20 million-type guys stops and ends with Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal (before last year), LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, and Allen Iverson. That's it. Did I miss anyone? No, and Shawn Marion is not and will not be on that list.

Phoenix can't afford to give it to him.
Has Shawn not been seeing Robert Karver (Suns owner) and Steve Kerr (new GM) cutting costs at a rapid rate this past summer, or over the past year for that matter, to avoid the dreaded luxury tax. They sent Kurt Thomas to Seattle for little to nothing and they've been selling first round picks like dimebags the past two years. Now the Suns are supposed to pay $20 million to a guy who is clearly not worth it. Right.

The Suns could still get rid of him.
The Matrix has been featured in several trade rumors for over a year, including a rumored deal for KG this summer. There's been a much talked about deal for Andrei Kirilenko recently and I would imagine the organization is tiring of his continuous whining about not being respected. Add to the fact that he might be overpaid, and he might not even be there for an extension.

Don't get me wrong, I think Marion is a great player and a vital asset to the Suns style of play and their success. But $20 million + and you're not the reason people come to the arena to see the Suns? Try baseball.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Life After Death -- Is The East Back?

Driving home from school today, I began to think about LeBron James and the Cavaliers. (Platonically, I swear.) I thought about their improbable run to the first Finals appearance in team history, LeBron's beastly classic Game 5 against the Pistons, and what they needed to do to get back to the Finals.

Then, almost like a rapid gust of wind, I came to my senses. The Cavs aren't coming anywhere close to the NBA Finals. Not even on NBA Live.

Ever since Michael Jordan's second retirement in 1998, the Eastern Conference has seen a fall from grace better reserved for a Britney Spears. (In fact, it could probably be argued that the Eastern Conference is the Britney Spears of the NBA. Dominant for a stretch, took some time off, and now is making a bunch of headlines about a comeback to greatness but has yet to prove it should even be noticed.)

Anyway, with Boston's resurgence back to relevance and the moves made by the cellar-dwelling Knicks (along with the possible Jermaine O'Neal-to-New Jersey trade looming), the Leastern Conference is making a push back to actually matter this season.

Best Offseason Moves:
Kevin Garnett (Celtics)- When you acquire a player that is a annual lock to start in the All-Star Game, a former MVP, future Hall-of-Famer, perennially amongst the league's leaders in rebounds, and one of the most talented creatures God has ever created, you just might have made the best offseason move this side of Shaq in '96.

Jason Richardson (Bobcats) - Suprisingly, I'm going to go with the trade MJ made to bring J-Rich to the Queen City. Richardson's presence in Charlotte will, in my opinion, push the Bobcats to the 8 or 9 seed in the East, a big move for a franchise that has only been playing four years. Add him with Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Primo Brezec, Sean May, Matt Carroll, and Adam Morrison and you have an exciting team and potential playoff sleeper. (Wait, you mean if you draft players who excelled in college and put them around other players that excelled in college and then traded for a young, veteran proven scorer, they'll be good? Why haven't more teams tried this? Oh yeah, they're idiots.)

Zach Randolph (Knicks) - Although I've gave my reasons why this acquisition might cause some problems, but there's no way a guy who averaged 23 and 10 won't improve a 33-win team.

Rashard Lewis (Magic) - In the long term, the signing of Lewis ($110 million over six years) will kill Orlando's cap for years to come, forcing them to live off mid-first round draft picks and little to no depth. For the next two years however, 'Shard gives the Magic a go-to perimeter option who could potentially get them a much higher seed in the East.

Ray Allen (Celtics) - I was going to go with Penny Hardaway here, but I haven't drank since yesterday. Jesus Shuttlesworth, along with KG and Pierce, will establish the C's as possibly the class of the East, with Allen resuming his role as one of the league's most potent shooters and even some point guard duties.

The proposed Mike Bibby-to-Cleveland deal could vault the Cavs back to the list of top 2 teams in the East, but most likely, it'll be LeBron and a bunch of D-Leaguers scrapping their way through the season and relying on King James in May.

It's a shame, too. He's thisclose from taking over the NBA.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Adolescent Exploitation -- A Necessary Evil?

Earlier this week, Class of 2010 point guard Kendall Marshall committed to the University of North Carolina. If you've never heard of Marshall, he was named the number one-ranked fifth-grader in his class in 2002. In a related story, my little brother was named the number one ranked NBA Live player in his sixth-grade class.

As a UNC fan, I'm definitely excited that Coach Roy Williams has lined up more future talent to lead his program into the next decade (He got a commitment from '08 guard Larry Drew, Jr.). As a basketball fan, I'm still excited, but a little concerned about the fact that a kid just entering his sophomore season in high school has already committed to a university, which is ultimately one of the toughest decisions in life, in the same vein as the girl you marry and "Beyonce or Alicia Keys?".

Now, I'm not going to get all conservative sports media on you. I recognize that their is huge demand for talented prep players in a growing market filled with coaches all over the country who would give a lung for a five-star recruit.

College basketball recruiting has turned into a cradle-rocking spectacle, with the best (read: biggest names) players go to the coaches who can get them the earliest. A part of me recognizes this as a necessary process that is needed to keep the top programs as contenders and the mid-level schools on the rise.

But a huge part of me can't help but think if this is hurting the kids way more than helping them. A few things in particular bother me:

1) How young is too young?
In June, 14-year old Ryan Boatwright committed to USC, a few days before he even picked which high school he was going to attend. Add to the fact that the term "committment" means absolutely nada to a 14-16 year old. USC missed out on one of the most important recruits in school history when Brandon Jennings reneged on his verbal commitment and committed to Arizona. In the ESPN article above, Boatwright admitted that North Carolina was his favorite school and "didn't know" what he would do if Roy Williams offered a scholarship to UNC. Which leads to my second concern....

2) What if the kid isn't as good as advertised?
Do you, as a coach, rescind on a scholarship offer you made to a kid in 2007 if he isn't the player you expected him to be (or the player he was advertised) in 2012 (if you're still there)? It is a huge risk offered a spot to a young player so far away from his college arrival. Injuries, lack of focus, or lack of skill progression can make an early offer look extremely bad if the player doesn't turn out to be as spectacular.

It may not be as big a risk in Marshall's case, seeing that he is at least a sophomore and just came off leading his team (Archbishop O'Connell in Arlington, VA) to the state championship game, where they lost to 2008 UNC recruit Ed Davis and his St. Benedictine squad. Boatwright hasn't even played a high school game yet. Nobody knows his talent level yet, meaning he could absolutely suck at the next level. What is Tim Floyd going to do then? A few years ago, Davon Jefferson was one of the most-hyped recruits in the class of '07. This year, he barely gets a mention as a member of USC's incoming freshman class that includes O.J. Mayo.

Decrease in interest
Tar Heel fans may be elated now at the news of Marshall's commitment, but that excitement will most likely wane throughout the coming years. Kendall Marshall won't touch the Dean Dome floor (that's, of course, if he doesn't go back on his verbal commitment) until the fall of 2010. The new U.S. president will be a year and a half into his/her presidency by then. I'll be five years away from 30. Long time. Not to mention that Drew, Jr. might still be in a Tar Heel uniform by that time, playing the same position as Marshall.

It seemed like it took forever for the hoops world to see Mayo in a college uniform, though we all believed he would never wear one. I'm going to take one big nap and hopefully when I wake up, Jennings will be in Tuscon playing for the Wildcats.

We live in a shortsighted world that has an extremely stunted memory when it comes to "hot" things. One day, somebody is the "next great thing", and the next day he is replaced by the "next next great thing". It's just how it is.

Even the argument that "picking a college early is good because kids can get it out the way" is flawed. If every major university wants you when you're a scrawny 15-year-old kid, they should be all over you when you're 17-18 and your game has progressed. On the same note, if a kid is good as a freshman in high school, why not wait until he has gotten older and significantly better to offer a scholarship to him as a junior. Minimize the risk, why don't ya?

In the end, though, you can't really blame the kid for simply taking advantage of coaches' haste to get a leg up on the competition. It's like they're 21 year-old men recruiting wives as skinny, flat-chested 14 year-olds and hoping they morph into Beyonce in four years. Could happen, most likely won't, and you may ruin a kid's future before it actually starts.

Now if you excuse me, I have to help my 11 year-old brother pick out courses for freshman year at Texas.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Knicks Are Burning!

It's been a very hot past four months in the Big Apple. Of course, it wasn't the hot summer Cam'ron promised it'd be, but it was still on fire in New York.

The Yankees started off slow, then exploded upon the American League and now are on the cusp of taking over the AL East, which is an annual event in the Bronx. The New York Giants, by all means, suck. The Jets lost Chad Pennington (another annual event), and their coach proved to be a snitch after getting blasted by the New England Patriots in Week 1. Shit, ESPN even released a mini-series called "The Bronx Is Burning", detailing the Yankees' 1977 World Series season.

But no team has provided more public fodder than the Knicks, who missed the playoffs in the lackluster Eastern Conference and have endured months of questionable trades, draft choices, and a wacky interview by their best player that wasn't even close to the wackiest thing that occurred in Knicksville.

Since the ending of the 2006-2007 NBA regular season, the New York Knicks have managed to stay in the news, and at the tip of people's tongues (sometimes, literally). This proves to be extremely remarkable given the fact that the 'Bockers were 16 games under .500 and played with the chemistry of a group of guys playing a fifth consecutive pick-up game at the gym. I guess GM/Head coach Isiah Thomas and the Knicks decided that the only way to get back to elite status was by making themselves more interesting to the public.

During June's draft, Thomas traded Steve Francis and Channing Frye to the Trail Blazers for Zach Randolph, Fred Jones, and Dan Dickau. The deal seemed perfect for the Knicks at the time, until you realize that Randolph further cripples the Knicks' payroll (he's scheduled to make $13 million in '07-'08) and basically has the same game as Eddy Curry, which will be interesting seeing as though they both prod around the lane, have no range outside of 12 feet, and play not a lick of inside defense. But it does make the Knicks more interesting, right?

About a week later, guard Stephon Marbury appeared on the NYC show, "Mike'd Up", as a guest and proved to the world that he was indeed crazy. No more words can do that interview justice, so I'll just post it.

And, to top the summer off, the sexual harassment trial against Thomas and Madison Square Garden started earlier this month. A former Knicks employee claimed that Thomas called her a bitch on numerous occasions, asked her to go off-site for what was believed to be a sexual encounter, and said he loved her. To put it plainly, Isiah is fucking up. Seriously, after further screwing up the Knicks roster, making horrible trades that never had the salary cap in mind, coaching the team out of playoff contention, and then this, I'm concerned that Thomas physically threatened owner James Dolan to keep his job. I'm just saying.

On top of that, Marbury testified that he slept with one of the plaintiff's interns in the backseat of his car, amazing considering he's married and all. Of course, that led to this:

However, the Knicks' summer wasn't all that bad. Nate Robinson took home MVP honors at the NBA Vegas Summer League, and Randolph will get New York 25 and 10 next year in the East, even if he and Curry will get in each other's way all season. And the Knicks might even get an old friend back for cheap, old and washed up as he may be.

That's it, though. Everything else is chaos and a disaster waiting to happen. The Knicks may be better than last year, and they may not be better. But, one thing's for sure, they will be interesting to watch.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Back To The Future, Gotta Slow Up For The Present, I'm Fast

How does it feel to be Aaron Brooks right now?

When the former Oregon standout was drafted in June, he instantly had a really good chance of starting for the Rockets, who were noticeably thin at the point guard position, at some point during his rookie year.

New GM Daryl Morey had already traded for scoring guard Mike James, who came from the Timberwolves in exchange for Juwan Howard, in May after losing to the Jazz in the first round. Everybody in Houston was relieved at the return of James (who played here during the 2004-05 playoff season), and with the arrival of Brooks, it was clear to all that Rafer Alston, who was widely inconsistent and struggled against any pg that would be rated an 80 or above on NBA Live. We had just gotten rid of David Carr, and Skip was next.

Then, Brooks ran through the NBA Vegas Summer League in July, winning top rookie honors (averaging 21 ppg and 5 apg in the process), and I was two seconds away from putting 26's on the Aaron Brooks bandwagon. After his impressive showing as a member of the U.S. Select Team playing against the U.S. Senior Men's Team, it was crystal clear that this kid was ready for the big time. If everything would have stayed the same, Brooks would be going into his first NBA training camp with a chance of being the starting point guard on a potential championship team.

Then the Rockets traded for Luis Scola (and Jackie Butler), and Aaron became the second most important offseason addition; then the Rox (Houston, when did we start calling the team the Rox? Who authorized this?) signed former franchise Franchise Steve Francis, and Brooks was the third most important acquisition. Then the predictions and expectations started to roll in, and the little rookie was barely even being mentioned. Shame.

No biggee, because, Aaron Brooks is still one of the most vital players the Rockets have added in years. Actually, I think he's the 3rd most important acquisition (with Tracy McGrady and Yao 1 and 2, obviously) Houston has made since we brought back Clyde Drexler in 1995.

Here me out here. The Rockets' history with point guards has been kinda average. Yeah, we had Calvin Murphy and then John Lucas, Sr., but after the Lucas era ended in 1978, our starting guards were Mike Dunleavy (who never led the team in assists) and Allen Leavell (who?). Lucas, Sr. came back in 1984 and helped lead the Rockets back to the Finals in '86, and then he was pretty much out of the league after that.

Then there was Rodney McCray and the non-Spur-like Sleepy Floyd before Kenny Smith came arrived in 1990. Smith, though a solid point and an accurate outside shooter, was never a spectacular guard (his Rocket-high in assists was 7.1 in '91), though it was mostly because he didn't have to. The Rockets were run exclusively through Hakeem Olajuwon and didn't have much space in the offense for creative penetration, as evident by the fact that Vernon Maxwell, a two guard, and Sam Cassell, then a second year role player off the bench, led the Rockets in assists during their two-year run as World Champs.

Then there were the gawd-awful Matt Maloney years, followed by the (thankfully) temporary Cuttino Mobley point guard experiment during the lockout season in 1999. Then, with the trade for rookie Steve Francis in '99, we finally had a dynamic, game-changer at the 1. But, after Steve was traded out (for T-Mac) in '04, we were subjected to the inconsistencies that were James and Alston. Both are serviceable NBA guards; neither is the pure point guard the Rockets need.

Brooks is. He's quick, speedy, can handle and shoot the ball with precision, score in bunches, get into the lane at will, and find the open man consistently. Not to mention he's a pure, pass-first pg and is undoubtedly clutch. I've been watching him since his freshman season at Oregon, where he started all four years, and he's one of those few players that steadily get better every year. I liken him a lot to Tony Parker. Both are super-quick, undersized guards with major scoring ability. Both have the ability to drive past bigger, stronger defenders to get into the paint. Both were drafted at the tail end of the first round by playoff teams, from Texas at that. And, like Parker, Brooks has a chance to make an immediate impact on a very good team. Parker took over the starting point guard position from the aging Terry Porter in the first month of his rookie season in '01-'02, and the Spurs took off from there. He later became a key part of a championship team ('03, '05, and '07) and is poised to be so for years to come.

The same can possibly be said for Brooks. Sure, he's probably not going to get a ton of minutes this year (hey, he'll get more minutes than Greg Oden. Oops.), and he most likely won't start over Francis in '07-'08, but he'll work his way into the rotation. Talented players with heart always seem to. I think he'll show that he's one of the new era guards that will be a force in the league over time (I put him ahead of Mike Conley, Jr., easily).

The future of the Rockets franchise starts in two weeks. Don't say I didn't warn you.

P.S. Spurs and Mavs fans, be scared.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Air Jordan Retro 15 Black/Red

These originally came out in 1999. I had the White/Carolina blue 15s back in the 9th grade. (Memories.)

See ya'll in November.

Monday, September 17, 2007

On The Rise Like Yeast

The Texans are 2-0.

In other news, the war in Iraq is over, the Trail Blazers did not make a mistake in drafting Greg Oden, and David Carr is just about ready to take the league by storm. (That last one may have been a stretch. Okay it was.)

Not only are the Texans undefeated after two weeks, they've looked like an actual playoff contender in the process, especially considering that we Houston football fans haven't been too familiar with such a sight in like 14 years.

New quarterback Matt Schaub has proved that he was ready for the limelight when he left the ATL for a starting spot in H-Town. He's thrown for 452 yards in the first two contests, with 3 TDs, only one interception, and a un-Houston-QB-like 111.4 passer rating. Not only that, he's actually provided some leadership, which is important, seeing as though he's the quarterback and all.

Excuse us Bayou City fans for getting all excited about a 2-0 start and the new QB who led us to it. It is the first time the 6-year history of the franchise that we've started the regular season on a 2-game winning streak. (And we would fawn over Trent Dilfer in Houston, as long as he was replacing David "Raggedy" Carr. The city suffered through years and years of forced throws to Andre Johnson after staring him down for 10 seconds, taken sacks on 3rd down, and the look of a guy that would rather be surfing than leading an NFL offense.)

Schaub and the Texans got their second win against Carr (well, Jake Delhomme, we all know Carr will never start again) and the Panthers, overcoming a 14-0 deficit by scoring 31 unanswered points, resulting in a 34-21 win.

What was more impressing was the fact that they did this in Carolina, on the road, against a team that (stupidly) is a trendy Super Bowl pick almost every year. The Texans D shut down the Carolina rushing attack, holding Deshaun Foster and Deangelo Williams to only 53 yards and forcing three costly turnovers. Dunta Robinson got a great interception off Delhomme (who was forcing it to Steve Smith) that pretty much put the game away.

New RB Ahman Green has rushed well in Houston, going for 144 yards for the Texans in the first couple of games. Even more important, he's looked completely healthy, which means I have to reluctantly big up my boy Blaze for correctly predicting that. (Damn!) And rookie WR/KR playmaker Jacoby Jones has looked good coming out of the preseason where he wowed the nation.

(Side note: I started my franchise on NFL Madden '08 with the Texans recently, and I was shocked to see how low Jones was rated. 67 overall? Only a 92 in speed? 81 on punt/kick returns? Did they not watch any tape of this dude. He's a beast. Oh, and every other Texans WR not named Andre Johnson is ranked so low, you have no choice but to give up somebody for a 3rd-down possession receiver. It's pathetic. Their O-line, suprisingly, is nice though, and Mario Williams is an absolute monster on Madden. I'm ranting now, that's it.)

With the Super Bowl champ Colts coming to town next Sunday, the focus must now shift to the things the Texans need to do to actually have a chance against Manning and co.:

Do not get burned. Steve Smith caught three TD passes Sunday, including one where about 20 Texan defenders touched and failed to wrap him up before he broke loose, which is unacceptable. The Colts receivers have traditionally put up big numbers against the Houston secondary, excluding last year's Texans win in Reliant. The secondary is improved, but not yet good enough to shut down Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark. Of course a lot of that would be alleviated if we....

Get to Manning. Gary Kubiak isn't going to blitz Peyton Manning much, Robinson and Demarcus Faggins would get torched, more so Faggins. A little pressure from the Texans front line could possibly rattle Peyton and knock their offense off-beat. Maybe Mario, Amobi Okeye, and Anthony Weaver can take advantage of a couple new starters on Indy's vaunted O-line.

Score early and often. Schaub and the offense have averaged 27 ppg in the first two, and they will probably need to match that to beat the Colts. Indy's offense was on fire in Week 1 against the Saints, and despite a bunch of mistakes, still managed 22 points against the Titans in Week 2. Either that, or the Texans can take a page out of Tennessee's playbook: keep it close until the final stretch and try to come through in the clutch. (Unfortunately, this didn't work for the Titans.)

All in all, it's good to finally be able to root for a team that has the mental fortitude and talent to have a chance to win every Sunday. It got really depressing tuning in to CBS every Sunday and wagering on how many dumbass plays Carr was going to make in the first half that would make sure there was no chance at winning in the second.

I'm not saying the Texans should be considered Super Bowl sleepers, but, we're on the way.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Used To Love H.E.R

I was in love with her...still am, kinda.

I first fell in love with Ivory Latta in 2003, not with how she looked, but how she played. She was a small, cocky, dynamic point guard playing in the McDonald's All-American Game in Cleveland, Ohio. (Actually, I first saw her the night before in the 3-point contest.)

She had signed to play at North Carolina, which meant that I would definitely be watching (or slightly obsessing over) her at every chance for four years. She idolized Allen Iverson, which meant we were soulmates.

And I did. I watched her accomplish great things and I watched her fall, repeatedly.

I watched and watched, year after year, as the Tar Heel women fell short of a national title, even though they were the most talented team year after year. I never got mad, I didn't judge. You don't do that to women you love.

I watched as she (went too late) to the Detroit Shock with the 11th pick in the '07 Draft. I kicked and screamed that the Houston Comets should've taken her, at least then I would have watched a few WNBA games.

Now, she sits the bench for the Shock as they take on the Phoenix Mercury for the championship. She's played 11 minutes total in the series. Some might consider her a bust, a has been. But I'll keep watching, not for how she looks, but because of how she plays, how I know she can play.

And, that's why I love her.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Look On The Bright Side, Portland

With the heartbreaking news that number one overall pick Greg Oden will miss his entire rookie season due to microfracture knee surgery, the collective thoughts of Trail Blazer and NBA fans alike is, what now?

Oden's injury surely puts a damper on Year 1 of the Trail Blazers revolution era. They still have '07 ROY Brandon Roy, 7-footer LaMarcus Aldridge, Channing Frye, Martell Webster, James Jones, and Steve Blake, but the injury to their franchise rookie could potentially deflate the collective spirit of the team before the season even started.

But, for fun's sake, let's pretend that the Oden injury is a potential win for the Blazers. Let's say the Blazers got lucky again in next year's lottery and ended up with a chance at one of the top-flight guards that could make them extremely dangerous (and a potential dynasty in the making) in 2008.

Before June's draft, I was thinking that some NBA teams in desperate need of a point guard (Memphis, Atlanta, Clippers, etc.) should wait until '08 when the crop of pgs is in abundance. As good (and solid) Acie Law is, Hawks fans may have wanted a more dominant (and exciting) point guard to make up for Billy Knight passing on Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Raymond Felton in '05. Maybe that's the reason Clippers GM Elgin Baylor took Al Thornton instead of taking a guard in the first round.

Imagine Portland or Seattle running with Derrick Rose at the point. Or the O.J. Mayo lighting up Los Angeles, only this time for millions as a Clipper. Or Eric Gordon suiting up for his hometown team in Indiana. Or Tywon Lawson as a King in Sacramento or dishing passes to Dwight Howard in Orlando.

The Trail Blazers have talent at every position. Oden (whenever he gets healthy), Aldridge, and Pryzbilla in the middle; Frye, Raef Lafrentz, and Josh McRoberts at the four; James Jones, Darius Miles (whenever he gets healthy), and Travis Outlaw at the 3; Roy, Webster, and Sergio Rodriguez at the 2; and Jack, Blake, and second-rounder Taurean Green at the point, which is their weakest position.

A few injuries here (besides the huge one they already suffered) and some close, bad losses there, and the Blazers could (read: will) end up back in the lottery in May, possibly with an inside chance at getting a top-5 pick in the draft and a potentially potent squad that would absolutely scare the West for years to come. Think of a starting lineup of Rose/Mayo/Gordon/Lawson, Roy, Jones, Aldridge, and Oden. That team could be a suprise squad come playoff time.

Of course, if Oden isn't healthy or gets hurt again, forget we ever had this conversation.

NBA Live '08 -- 19 Days Away!

Get your money right, people. Me and the Rockets are going undefeated this year.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

O.J. Mayo On The Cover of Slam

O.J. Mayo gracefully graces the cover of the new Slam, which should be on newsstands next week.

I'm actually feeling the cover. O.J. dipped in USC colors with the Bentley in the back and "Fresh Prince of L.A." as the subtitle is hot.

Gawd, I can't wait for college basketball to return.

The past few weeks, ever since I wrote the Derrick Rose/Mayo post, I've been trying to come to grips with whatever gripe I might have had with O.J. I like his game, and while I still don't think (and probably never will) his game is as explosive as Rose's, I admit that he is going to tear shit up at the next two levels.

I agree with what Slam's Ryan Jones said in the Mayo post he wrote today. Ryan actually did the Mayo cover story and talked today about the backlash a lot of young prepsters face after the novelty of being the "next big thing" wears off. And it's true.

The sports world we live in now is filled with experts, scouts, and analysts who scour the earth trying to find the next prodigy and then proceed to place self-made expectations upon the kid that are both far-fetched and unreasonable. In some cases, the kid rises above the hype, in which case doubters mock the competition and say that said kid is "overrated".

O.J. Mayo is a special case. He exceed the limitations placed upon his high school career (except for the whole next LeBron thing, Bron was even more otherworldly in high school as he is now, if that's possible), but he did it while appearing to most (including myself, I admit) as a diva. Coming from the hood, this was a norm among gifted athletes who were showered with praises since birth, so I was equally not suprised and annoyed at the same time.

I hate listening to the middle-aged, white, conservative media types who are so extremely out of touch with this generation's athletes that any form braggadacio is considered vile and abrasive. But, sometimes I agree with their criticism of young, prep athletes who are often catered to as prima donnas by the world eager to get a piece of their future success. I can take it from professional players, but a 11th grader has nothing to be arrogant about. You don't want to piss off people before you graduate from high school, trust me. It pains me to see players gunning for stats to make their profile look better, or supposed point guards taking over 20 shots in AAU All-Star Games instead of just playing as if there was an actual goal of winning. Arrogant athletes I can sometimes be tolerate; me-first, me-second arrogant ones I can't.

I always saw O.J. going down that route, or helping to pave his own special lane on that route. Right or wrong, I saw him as the epitome of everything wrong with prep basketball, the symbol that the innocence of amateur hoops was gone. Him changing schools just to play for certain coaches or to play with certain players or to be close to certain father figures wasn't necessarily wrong, but it was indicative of the negative image big-name prep athletes were starting to receive.

His last second antics in the West Virginia championship game was overblown, but, in my opinion, might have been unnecessary. (Granted, that dunk and shirt toss into the crowd came at the end of a brilliant title victory game in which he recorded a triple-double with 41 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists. Sorry about not mentioning that in the first post.) Also, his erratic play in the All-American Game proved to some critics (including me at the time) that he only saw himself on the court. His East team was down by 2 in the final seconds and he had an open lane for a layup or dunk. Instead of going for the deuce, he stopped and bricked a slightly contested three-pointer and his team lost. As the Sports Guy pointed out, it looked as if he was more concerned about missing the shot than actually winning.

Compare that to Derrick Rose (I know I keep bringing his name up, sorry) and Kevin Love, two much-hyped recruits with names a tad less as big as Mayo's. Rose, a point guard with amazing scoring ability, went out of his way to get his teammates involved while holding back his scoring (a little too much) in order to get the win. Love, a burly big man with a NBA-ready post game, displayed a fundamental team game that impressed scouts more than his play on the inside. Mayo shot 4-17 and forced shots all game.

Even his recruitment was shady. It was good to see him choose a school where he could help jumpstart a basketball powerhouse. He'll only jumpstart it, because he's made it quite clear that Southern California is only a (very) temporary step on his way to the NBA, like Rose, possibly crosstown to the Los Angeles Clippers, who are badly in need of a dominant lead guard.

Yet and still, I'm excited for the O.J. Mayo Era. He's always had the game to back up his humongous reputation and the hype that ensued. He will make USC a more watched team; better, maybe not, but everyone's eyes will be on them.

And maybe he's not as bad a guy as people make him out to be. By a lot of accounts, he's a very personable and polite dude, not that any of these things relate to his play on the court. But he definitely has the attitude of a NBA player, even though he's yet to suit up as a college freshman.

Maybe the NBA is where he belongs. Maybe then it'll be easier to tolerate him.

I Ball For Real, Ya'll Dudes Is....Greg Oden?

Anyone think Portland might be having a few flashbacks? No? You think they're starting to regret their decision. Maybe not, right?

I'm sure you all heard Trail Blazers rookie center Greg Oden is getting some cut up on his knee. They're saying its minor, but it's another in a line of injuries for Oden, and dude hasn't played in a preseason game no less.

During his and Kevin Durant's freshman years at Ohio State and Texas, respectively, I repeatedly stated that Durant should be the number one overall pick in the draft in the summer. Durant's on-court explosiveness and NBA-ready scoring ability was too dominant to pass up. No disrespect to Oden, I love his dominant inside defense and I think his offensive game will at least be formiddable, but Durant made the college game look too easy and he had that fire that the greats always have.

Before the draft, I repeated the same, though I knew it wouldn't happen. To a lesser extent, it compared favorably to the Texans taking Mario Williams over Vince Young and Reggie Bush in the 2006 NFL Draft, preferring to draft need over future Hall-of-Famers.

Don't get me wrong, Portland made a good decision. Oden will anchor that defense for years to come (if he doesn't suffer Bowie-like chronic injuries) and he will make the Blazers a perennial contender. However, Durant has that Jordan-like intensity and is as clutch as they come. The Supersonics might not be a lock to be perennial contenders, but they got the player who has a chance to be one of the best ever, and he has the talent alone that can carry a team far. I'll always have the feeling that the Blazers will kick themselves in the long run for just making the good, safe decision.

The Blazers would have definitely still have been contenders with Durant. They already had a young big man in LaMarcus Aldridge, who has a better low-post game than G.O. by far. With Channing Frye coming in, they would have had a frontcourt of Aldridge, Frye, Durant to go along with Brandon Roy and Jarrett Jack/Steve Blake. Tell me that's not a potential great team.

But they made the safe pick that really wasn't that safe. In 2006, the summer before his freshman season, Greg broke his right wrist, which really didn't heal until the end of the season. In July, during the summer leagues, he had his tonsils taken out because he couldn't breathe right on the court. And then the knee surgery, that's two major injuries before turning 20. Add to the fact that big men injuries should be considered more dangerous than others, and that safe, supposedly-lock pick doesn't seem much like a lock now.

But, maybe this is the last major injury for Oden, and maybe it's not that major anyway. But the irony is, the safest pick of the '07 Draft may be in Seattle.

UPDATE: Oden will most likely miss the 2007-2008 season with after arthroscopic microfracture knee surgery.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Who Ya Got? Chris Paul Vs. Deron Williams

Note to writers and bloggers everywhere: if an article idea pops up in your head at any time, write it. Write it as quick as possible. That way, you won't feel stupid when you see your idea somewhere else.

Anywho..after seeing the post at Dimemag, I obviously decided it was time to unveil the second installment of the immensely popular and equally controversial Who You Got? series.

The first installment drew a few readers and even landed on ESPN's Truehoop. But that really wasn't my aim (well, it was, but still). I wanted to tackle a debate that had been waging for some time now, and simply add my two cents. Of course, it was a tad one-sided but shit, this is a blog, and blogs are 90% subjective. If you want my objectivity, check me out at Houston Style Magazine. Frankly, I think Derrick Rose is better than O.J. Mayo and I wanted to tell everyone my reasons for that theory. Yes, Rose is my favorite over the two, but it's because I think his game is superior to Mayo's.

But this one's going to be a lot harder. Let me throw this out there right now: Chris Paul is one of my favorite players in the league, moreso (by a wide margin) than Deron Williams. CP was one of my favorite college players (though he went to Wake Forest and I'm a diehard Tar Heels fan) and that carried over to the NBA (even though his Hornets share a division with the Rockets).

Deron's breakout season in '06-'07 caused me to dispose of the grudge I carried against him due to the fact that:
A. He's from Dallas, and Dallas and Houston sorta have this rivalry going on since forever. He and Acie Law are slowly knocking down that barrier, though.
B. During the '04-'05 season, I had to frantically argue with my roommates who said his Illinois team was as good or better than the North Carolina team that had the Illini up by 20 at halftime of the Championship Game. I think overrated is what I called him.
C. He plays for Utah, and in case you haven't heard, we hate Utah in Texas. If Paul would have gotten drafted there, I would've disowned him.

But what he did last year kinda makes up for those past transgressions. You are forgiven, Deron. On to the subject.

This is easily one of the toughest comparisons in the NBA. It can go either way, but it must be done. Who you got?

Playmaking Ability - Chris Paul has been one of the premier point guards in the league since he was drafted. Coming out of college, he was touted as the best player in the '05 Draft because of his ability to dominate games through his passing. Plus, he's averaged 8.3 assists on an average team in his two years in Lilweeziana.

D-Will's rookie year should come with a big asterisk the size of Jerry Sloan. Deron drastically improved as a playmaker his second year as his confidence grew and Sloan untightened the ropes for him to run the offense. Coming out of Illinois, he was seen as the poor man's Jason Kidd, due to his size, though he pales in comparison to Kidd (and Paul's) otherworldly court vision. Williams still has shown over the past season that he can run a very good NBA squad and he's dished out 6.9 assists over his two seasons in Salt Lake. But...

Team Accolades - CP3 has taken the New Orleans Hornets to the brink of the postseason in both of his seasons in the league, despite having to carry the team as a rookie in '06 and the Hornets being ravaged by injuries (Paul missed 18 games in '07) in 2007.

The Utah Jazz were nowhere close to the preseason in '06, but not having Carlos Boozer was a huge part of that. The Jazz rebounded with a healthy Boozer and a vastly improved Williams to make the Western Conference Finals with Deron becoming the catalyst against the Spurs. No disrespect to Chris, but Deron takes this easily.

Individual Statistics - In 142 NBA games, Chris Paul has averaged 16.6 points (16.1 in '06; 17.3 in '07), 8.3 dimes (7.8 in '06; 8.9 in '07), 4.8 boards (5.1 in '06; 4.4 in '07), and 2.1 steals (2.2 in '06; 1.8 in '07), in 36.3 minutes per game. Amazingly, he didn't make the All-Star Game in either his rookie or sophomore season.

In 160 NBA games, Deron Williams has put up 13.5 points, 6.9 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and 0.9 steals in 32.9 minutes per. Those numbers are skewered because of the Jerry Sloan/rookie dilemna, but there's no excuse for being 6'3 and only averaging 3 boards per game. In the all important second year, he put up 16.2 points and 9.3 assists (second in the league in '07), and still make the All-Star Game either. I'll give him a curve. But still....
ADVANTAGE: Paul (slightly)

Accolades - Neither has made the All-Star Game in their two seasons in the L, but Chris Paul has that shiny Rookie of the Year award from '06 and several Rookie of the Month awards from that season. Williams dished out 21 assists last season and was drafted before Chris. As far as accolades go...

Efficiency - Come on, they're point guards. Elite pgs at that. They've gotta be efficient with the ball in order for their teams to be in a good position to win. In two seasons, Paul has averaged 2.4 turnovers per game to go along with his 8.3 assists. But CP dominates the ball and is bound to have a few miscues.

In the same span, Williams has also averaged 2.4 turnovers to 6.9 assists. The Jazz run a motion/pick-and-roll offense, so his turnovers are highlighted a little more. But he had a 3-to-1 assist/turnover ratio in '06-'07 (as did Paul), so....

Shooting - And not in the Pacman Jones way, either. Deron is the better outside shooter (36.5% on 3-pointers in 2 seasons, 48% overall to Paul's 32% on 3-pointers and 46% overall), but, though his percentage is lower, Paul gets into the lane for easy layups at a rate rare for a player of his stature. Guards who aren't great shooters don't usually shoot 46%. However....

Leadership Ability - Both are great leaders. Chris Paul has been showing it since he was a freshman at Wake, and Williams took over the Fighting Illini as a sophomore in the shadow of Dee Brown (who is now his backup). Paul has led exceptionally in his pro career in the face of Hurricane Katrina moving his team to and fro Oklahoma City, being the go-to guy as a rookie, and having half the team out with injuries for extended periods.

Williams took a backseat as a rookie on Sloan's team, but burst out his second year, averaging 9.1 assists and leading the Jazz to the Northwest Division title and then the Western Conference finals, where he took over sole possession of the leadership role as the Spurs bottled up Carlos Boozer. He averaged 19.2 points and 8.6 assists going up against Rafer Alston, Baron Davis, and Tony Parker.

Paul has had to carry a weak squad, but you can't deny Deron's playoff performance. Fuck it...
ADVANTAGE: Tie They're both two elite leaders on up-and-coming teams.

Defense - Neither are the Glove, but both are good defenders at the 1 position. Deron harasses guards with his size and stays in front of people with his deceptive quickness, except on this infamous play.

Chris harasses with his quick hands and feet and has been among the league leaders in steals, averaging 2.1 in his two seasons.

Bonus: Marketability - In our final category, we ask who is more marketable? You know, nobody wants boring NBA point guards anymore. Paul has a more flashier game, is part of the Jordan Brand family, and the Rookie of the Year award, and appearance for Team USA and the All-Star Skills Challenge has definitely boosted his popularity.

Deron plays in Utah of all places and has a solid, fundamental game that is highlighted by his size and steadiness. But his '07 playoff explosion and Team USA appearance has definitely put him into the public eye.

In my opinion, I would have to's a tie. Yeah, I'm a spineless bastard. But they basically cancel each other out. The things CP is better at, Deron's not far behind. Vice versa. They're both in the short group of elite, dominant point guards in the NBA, and will be for a long time.

September 11 Marks The Era

Six years later, still one of the classics.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dear Summer

Dear Summer,

This isn't a hate letter, Summer. After all, we've been together like Nike Airs and crisp T's. It's been an eventful few months, Summer. Not good, not great, but eventful.

You started with one of the worst NBA Finals series in history, with the San Antonio Spurs coming out on top, like they always do. (Summer, do you hate the world when you put the Spurs in your most popular series? They're good and all, but we would rather stand outside all afternoon during one of your blistering, 110 degree days then watch them bore out the planet.)

Then, to further punish me (and the rest of the city of Houston), you endure us with the most rain we've had in 65 years. Now, that was just cruel.

You provided the world (sports and other) with scandals that proved just how crazy this world we live in really is, including one of my favorite athletes effectively ethering his own career for the love of dogfighting, with the added bonus of his so-called friends and co-defendants ethering the rest of him to save their own asses. There was also the referee betting scandal that gave NBA fans even more reason to re-think their loyalties, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Nicole Ritchie fucking up, and, to end your time with us off right, some more Brittney Spears fuckery. (More here.)

And, sadly, you ended The Sopranos. Though, with the series finale, you could have done a tad bit better than this.

But, Summer, you weren't all that bad. After all, you do harbor my birthday and all. You gave ignorant baseball writers and fans another reason to totally hate Barry Bonds. You brought the gold back to where it rightfully belongs. And you found time out of your busy schedule to resurrect the hopes and dreams of one of the NBA's greatest franchises.

And despite your obvious hatred for Houston sports, you finally showed some love to my Rockets, and even the Texans. (The Astros, not so much. But never mind them anyway.) You brought back an old friend, and introduced us to a couple new ones. And you finally gave the city of Houston quarterback worth cheering for. Of course, I had already turned my back on the Texans, thanks to what that bitch Spring did last year.

So, Summer, my beloved, since we're getting some time away, I wanted to praise you. Even though you deprive me of my addiction to basketball, you've improved over the years and gave us the Internet and all its lovely gifts. No longer do we have to rely on ESPN Classic and NBATV all day in anticipation for Winter. Your best invention yet, YouTube, is truly a present from God.

And you also give us the great game of football just as you're leaving, and we can't thank you enough. And we all long for you when school arrives in the Fall. NFL Madden's release should double as your Christmas. Hell, you were even the inspiration for one of the greatest Jay-Z songs of all time, which was the inspiration for this post. See how it all spins around.

So, I have to say goodbye to you Summer, while you play out the last few days of your stay. Next time I see you, hopefully we can talk about how the Titans suprised some AFC team in the playoffs, how A-Rod dominated in the World Series, and plans for a championship parade downtown in July. But, until then, I'm done for now, so one for now.

P.S. Please tell Winter and Spring to show the same love to my Rockets.

Only Because I Have To: NFC South Preview

In many fields in life, there are always going to be inferiors to the superior group. The NBA's Western Conference has the East. In baseball, the AL almost always trumps the NL. Hip-hop music these days is vastly inferior to pop. (Note: STOP ALL THESE DAMN DANCES!!) And of course, the AFC has the NFC, football's junior varsity conference.

So without further ado, your NFC South preview.

New Orleans Saints (2006: 10-6) -- Besides the brutal beating the Saints took on opening night against the Colts, they're still a very good, and potentially great, team. Of course, they could surely work on their pass coverage (shout out to Jason David), but with QB Drew Brees, RBs Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister and WR Marques Colston, they feature one of the league's most explosive offenses (even though that same offense was held to only a field goal against the Colts, who are no '85 Bears). Screw it, they're a really good team and they should still win the South.
Prediction: 11-5.

Carolina Panthers (2006: 8-8) -- Panthers, oh Panthers, everybody's perennial trendy Super Bowl pick. Of course, Carolina always manages to disappoint those people. Thankfully, the Panthers don't have much of those expectations this year, because frankly, they won't be going to any Super Bowls anytime soon. WR Steve Smith is still one of the most feared playmakers in the NFL, it's just that his starting quarterback is an overrated choke artist, and his backup quarterback is David Carr. Enough said. And why is John Fox still allowed to have a job there?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2006: 4-12) -- Honestly, Tampa and Atlanta could easily replace each other for 3rd and 4th place in this division. They're both horrible teams. The Bucs' only bright spot, however, is their stud running back Carnell Williams and the hopes that Jeff Garcia can help lead them away from their destined mediocrity.
Prediction: 3-13.

Atlanta Falcons (2006: 7-9) -- Weren't they a game away from the Super Bowl three years ago? What a difference. Their star coach was fired last year, they haven't made the playoffs since they made the NFC Championship Game, their superstar quarterback was exiled from the NFL, and the insurance backup QB was traded to the Texans, and Joey Harrington is now their starting quarterback. Brittney Spears would be proud.
Prediction: 2-14.

Division Champs: Saints

Sunday, September 9, 2007

How To Win A Super Bowl In The Summer: AFC East Preview

In the latest installment of I Ball For Real's NFL previews, we tackle the AFC East, which features the league's Super Bowl favorite, a team that could suprise as a Super Bowl contender, and a team that suprise as a playoff contender for the first time in almost a decade. Oh, and the Miami Dolphins.

New England Patriots (2006: 12-4) -- Last year, 3-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady took the Pats to the AFC Championship Game without the services of a true number one receiver and old, slow linebackers. This year, his prayers have been answered with the welcome additions of Randy Moss, Donte' Stallworth, Wes Walker, Adalius Thomas, plus Asante Samuel is back and the team took Univ. of Miami safety Brandon Merriweather in the first round. This team could go anywhere from 14-2 and 16-0. They're that good.
Prediction: 14-2.

New York Jets (2006: 10-6) -- It's possible that the Jets biggest deficiency is that they're in the same division as the Patriots, but the Jets have a really good team that could overachieve their way into the Super Bowl. They added former Bears running back Thomas Jones and drafted playmaking corner Darelle Revis in the first round. You know, the Darelle Revis who did this.
Prediction: 10-6.

Buffalo Bills (2006: 7-9) -- The Bills haven't been in the playoffs in 7 years. I'm sorry to say that they won't be making the postseason this year, either. For starters they traded their workhouse, running back Willis McGahee, and replaced him with a rookie, Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is a good back, but he's no McGahee yet. The Bills do have a young playmaker in wide receiver Lee Evans, but they also have inconsistent quarterback J.P. Losman throwing him the ball. Buffalo will come close to the playoffs, but not close enough.
Prediction: 8-8.

Miami Dolphins (2006: 6-10) -- Let's see, the team signed former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, who struggled with injuries last year; then they passed on Notre Dame QB in the draft for Ohio State WR Ted Ginn, Jr., who had surgery on his left foot before the draft; then they traded for Chiefs quarterback Trent Green, who missed most of '06 with a concussion. Yeah, they have top-5 pick written all over them.
Prediction: 4-12.

Division Champs: Patriots (who else?)

Penny For Your Thoughts, And Your Feet

After Friday's Penny Hardaway post, I was inspired to reflect on Penny's brilliant run of genius Nike trademark shoes. So, here are a few of the best (and my favorite) Nike Air Pennys of all time. Enjoy the trip down memory lane.

Air Penny I

Air Penny II

Air Penny Foamposite

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Penny With A Hole In It

Damn. *wipes tears from eyes*

He was legendary before he got a chance to be a legend. He captivated but never dominated, not because he couldn't, but because he didn't want to give you everything so fast. He had the world at his $130 feet.

In the basketball sense, he was a gift from God. Temporary, but a gift nonetheless.

Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway was THAT dude, circa '93-'98. He was untouchable. He had a chance to Michael, Magic, and Bird, all rolled in one. He made miracles look like simple tricks. He was a symbol of the emerging hip-hop scene that was starting to dominate pop culture in the mid 90s, in-your-face, aggressive, colorful. Yet he exemplified the smooth elegance of the jazz/R&B era he was born in.

He was special. From high school, where he put up 36 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. To Memphis State (now just Memphis), where he was a conference and national All-American. To the NBA, where he was a first-team All-NBAer several times.

He was a quiet star, but a star nonetheless. He was two seconds away from superstardom. His signature shoes came thisclose to rivaling the dominant Air Jordans in the 90s; and he had some of the best commercials EVER.

He was the reason (after Magic) GMs salivated over tall pgs; the reason why incoming Chicago freshman pg Derrick Rose won't be wearing his trademard #25 at Memphis this fall; the reason Chris Webber never paired with Shaq; the reason the Orlando Magic should've been running shit until the 21st century; one of the reasons every hoops star wanted to act; the reason kids (temporarily) forgot about Magic; the reason we all tolerated MJ's brief stint in the minor leagues; the reason T-Mac wears #1; the reason Shaun Livingston went #2 in '04; the reason Livingston was the most coveted player in '04; the reason I will be watching almost every Miami Heat game this season. Memories man, memories.

He was my Iverson before Iverson. When I was 11 years old, my sixth grade class took a trip to Washington D.C. in 1997. I came back to Houston with a white Penny Magic jersey and matching shorts with a NIKE arm band just how he wore it.

One day, my mother unexpectedly came home with the Nike Air Penny IIs, and to this day that remains one of the three best gifts I've ever received in my life.

In 1995, my favorite player went up against my team, the Houston Rockets, in the Finals. We swept the shit out of the Magic, but it was fun to see Penny take advantage of the smaller Rocket guards. He made a lot of mistakes in that series, but he solidified himself as the future of the league.

That future, however, only lasted a few more years. In '96, Shaq departed for the greener pastures in Hollywood. The next year, a knee injury kept him out of a bunch of regular season games, though he got healthy in time for the playoffs. The Magic lost in the first round to the Heat, but Penny put up one of the best playoff performances I've ever seen, becoming the first player to score 40 points in consecutive games against a Pat Riley-coached team.

Knee surgery kept him out of most of the '98 season, and the '99 lockout season was his last in Orlando. (Unfortunately, it ended in a first-round loss to Iverson and Philly. Bittersweet I tell you.) His star and game was fading in front of our eyes.

His five-year stint in Phoenix felt more like a breeze. The much-hyped backcourt pairing with Jason Kidd ended in 2001 when Kidd was traded to New Jersey for Stephon Marbury, who could relate to falling off.

They were both traded to New York in 2004, and though Marbury's numbers were still good, Penny's stats (and his career) were clearly on the downside. He became the national symbol for the injured list as a Knick and was shipped back to Orlando for Steve Francis in '06 and was subsequently waived by the Magic soon after. With mounting injuries and age, and no team willing to take a chance on him, he was out of the league that he was born to set on fire.

What was worse was that, nobody seemed to notice.

The rise and fall of Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway brings to mind what could have been. If Shaq and Kobe could win three straight titles in the crowded Western Conference, I'm convinced that Shaq and Penny would have taken at least four 'chips in the Leastern Conference. Had he not have been so injury-riddled, people would probably be talking about how LeBron reminds them so much of Penny, instead of Magic, who retired when Bron was six years old.

If, in 1995, I told you that 12 years later he would be out of the league and would have to sign for the veteran's minimum in Miami, you would have laughed. In the same token, if I were to tell a kid under 17 that at a time, most kids wanted to be like Penny instead of Mike, he would look at me as if I were a lyrical hip-hop artist (re: he would look at me crazy).

The most important thing to remember is that, from '93-'97, he had the world by the balls and we loved every minute of it. Instead of wondering what may have been, let's remember what happened and how hoops fans will never forget Penny Hardaway.

AFC West Preview

All right folks, time to squeeze in a couple of posts before the old girlfriend smothers every second of my weekend from me. I apologize in advance if this preview is a little short and half-assed. Maybe not.

San Diego Chargers (2006: 14-2) -- For all intents and purposes, the Chargers are supposed to be 2007's defending champions. They stormed through the regular season in '06, despite basically starting a rookie quarterback in third year man Philip Rivers. LaDanian Tomlinson put up record-breaking numbers for TDs (31) and won the league's MVP award. They were even up late on the Patriots at home in the AFC Divisional Round. Then a couple of dropped passes here, a few mistakes by the secondary there, and you had the obligatory Marty Schottenheimer playoff collapse. San Diego will still be a regular season beast behind LT and Antonio Gates, but they barely addressed their wide receiver issues and Norv Turner has replaced Schottenheimer as the postseason choker du jour.
Prediction: 12-4.

Denver Broncos (2006: 9-7) -- After missing the postseason last year, Denver enters 2007 in unfamiliar territory: as a playoff sleeper. The defense is still stacked, with Dre' Bly joining lock-down corner Champ Bailey on the edges and the always brick-wall linebacking trio (D.J. Williams, Ian Gold, Nate Webster) and first-round pick defensive end Jarvis Moss. The Broncos also added former Titans back Travis Henry to the fold. The wild card is if second-year QB Jay Cutler can live up to his potential and if this team can get past the tragedies to two of their former teammates (Darrent Williams, Damien Nash).

Oakland Raiders (2006: 2-14) -- The defense, which was the Raiders' only bright spot last season, returns and the offense improves. Dominic Rhodes, who played a big role in the Colts' Super Bowl victory in February, comes to a team that is badly in need of a running game. Daunte Culpepper signed on in Oaktown to pave the way for number 1 pick JaMarcus Russell, who still hasn't signed yet.
Prediction: 6-10.

Kansas City Chiefs (2006: 9-7) -- The Chiefs, to me, are battling Cleveland for the right to draft Arkansas' Darren McFadden or Tennessee's Erik Ainge next April. Larry Johnson is due for a season-ending injury because of the workload he received last year and will be subjected to in '07. Damon Huard + Brodie Croyle = a long season. If you have two quarterbacks, you have none. The defense shouldn't even be discussed here.
Prediction: 2-14.

Division Champs: Chargers

Opening A Can Of Defending Champ Domination

And you thought the defending champs were getting soft?

Last night, Peyton Manning and the crew completely dismantled the New Orleans Saints 41-10 in front of not only their home crowd, but a national audience thirsty for some real football.

Indianapolis blitzed the Saints in what a lot of people were saying was a potential preview of the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. If it was, chalk another one up for the AFC.

Manning put up 288 yards passing, connecting with Reggie Wayne for seven catches, 115 yeards and three TDs, abusing former Colts cornerback Jason David in the process.

(Side note: David's public lynching eerily reminded me of the demolishing that was done to former Packers' corner Ahmad Carroll in 2004 against the Eagles. Carroll was abused by Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens in a Monday Night Football matchup in Philly. He got burned for 3 TD's and, despite being a first-round pick, was cut the very next day.)

(Side note no. 2: Don't you love how television networks highlight the players as they're getting abused. The close-ups of David on the bench were priceless.)

The Colts defense, however, was the real star of the show. With safety Bob Sanders healthy, they looked hungry as hell against the much-hyped Saints offense. They didn't allow one offensive touchdown all game (the Saints only TD came ironically from David after recovering a fumble by Wayne) and held Deuce McCallister and Reggie Bush to 38 yards rushing apiece.

If the Colts can continue to stop the run like they did last night, while having their own run game (Joseph Addai went for 118 yards on 23 carries) compliment their explosive offense, Peyton Manning could definitely be getting fitted for a second consecutive Super Bowl ring.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

AFC North Preview

As we continue our forray into the eight NFL divisions, we'll take a look at the AFC North, highlighted by three teams expected to make some noise this season (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati). Two of those teams, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, won Super Bowls in the last seven years.

Baltimore Ravens (2006: 13-3) -- Last year, the Ravens, with newly acquired quarterback Steve McNair, stormed through the regular season, before running out of gas against the Colts in the AFC Divisional Round. This year, B-more replaced struggling power back Jamal Lewis with former Bills standout Willis McGahee, an obvious upgrade. The defense is still murderer's row, and McNair and McGahee should add more consistency to an up-and-down offense this year.
Prediction: 12-4.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2006: 8-8) -- The Steel Crew were hammered all last year with injuries, specifically to their franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger, who suffered a near-fatal motorcycle accident in the summer. With him healthy, and new coach Mike Tomlin running the show, the Steelers should be back on track as one of the top teams in the AFC. Tazmanian devil Troy Palamatu is still wrecking havoc in the secondary and Willie Parker is still one of the most productive backs in the league.
Prediction: 10-6.

Cincinnati Bengals (2006: 8-8) -- The Bengals truly underachieved in '06. They were expected to make the leap into elite status and challenge for a Super Bowl spot, instead their season was ravaged due to inconsistent play and a load of off-the-ball incidents. 10 arrests shouldn't happen in one decade, let alone one year. The loss of change-of-pace back Kenny Irons in the preseason will be more hurtful later on in the season than it seems now. But with All-Pro Carson Palmer throwing to Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh, look for Cincy to try to sneak into the playoffs.
Prediction: 9-7.

Cleveland Browns (4-12) -- All I can say about the Browns is, I wonder who they're going to draft with the number 1 pick next year. Expect Brady Quinn to be starting at QB by Week 5 or 6.
Prediction: 2-14.

Division Champs: Ravens

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Remember The Titans -- AFC South Preview

Remember folks, we're still moving in the ending trenches of the dog days of summer, and there's only so much basketball-related stuff I can squeeze out around this time. We must remember to show love to the NFL, because, frankly, we have no choice.

The NFL, which opens up its regular season tomorrow (Saints at Colts, NBC, 8:30 ET) more than holds us over until the NBA and college regular seasons start and all is right in the world. It's America's Game, and it contradicts everything that the NBA puts forth. In essence, everything that you hate about the NFL makes it that much greater.

NFL teams play only one game a week; NBA teams play up to 5 games in seven days, sorta like they're rock stars on tour or something. You would think that would be a negative for the NFL, but it's not. Far from it, actually.

The one game a week for 17 weeks (one bye week) makes for a scenario where every game is a life-or-death situation. A loss to Cleveland in Week 2 could be a major pain in the ass come late December. In the NBA, a loss to the Grizzlies in the second week of January means absolutely nothing to a team outside of that actual night, and even then I'm sure players and coaches don't give a damn. In the League, you're taught to put every win and loss behind you like that (snaps fingers); in the NFL, for the most part, you better play your life out each week or risk it biting you in the ass later.

The NFL also provides the dynamic of "This could be our year". Every summer, analysts, experts, and fantasy owners try to predict "sleepers", whether they be players or teams. A team that finished 2-14 could realistically have a chance at winning their division the next year, except the Texans, of course. (Of course, this also speaks to the dramatic roster changes due to salary cap moves, which is a blistering negative for the NFL, but hey, can't win 'em all.) Hey, the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions battle each year for the right to be America's sleeper team. (Not really making them sleepers, me thinks.) In the Association, a franchise can literally go a decade without so much as smelling any kind of success.

So here we are, early September with the luxury of non-stop football to quench our thirst for athletic excellence, but to transition us into the NBA's 2007 arrival. So of course there must be debates, analysis, predictions, and previews. And I'll start with the AFC South, the division that not only is home to the reigning Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, but my official NFL team (Tennessee Titans) and the franchise that plays just 10 minutes from my house, not counting the horrific I-610 traffic (Houston Texans).

Indianapolis Colts (2006: 12-4) -- The Colts finally got over the hump last season, despite a record-setting run defense (not a good thing) and being down 21-3 to their bitter rivals, the New England Patriots, in the AFC Championship Game. Peyton Manning got the two trophies (Lombardi and SB MVP) he needed to silence his critics, but he'll probably need another season like those in the Manning 2003-2005 range to overcome huge losses to the Colts' core (Nick Harper, Dominic Rhodes).
Prediction: 12-4.

Tennessee Titans (2006: 8-8) -- Led by rookie quarterback Vince Young (thanks, Charlie Casserly), the Titans barely missed the postseason after winning 8 of their last 13 games (all started by Vince). Moreso than the Colts, the Titans are going to need a Herculean effort from VY if they want to make the playoffs in '07.

The Titans lost their top two receivers from last season (Drew Bennett, Bobby Wade), 1,300 yard running back (Travis Henry) and their main playmaker on defense and special teams (Pacman Jones). Will Vince and second-year back LenDale White be enough? I think so. They're still better than the Texans.
Prediction: 9--7.

Speaking of the Texans....

Houston Texans (2006: 6-10) -- Here's a familiar Texans fan quote (which I'll be hearing for the next 17 weeks): "The Texans improved. We're better than last year." Well, it's true, the Texans have improved. They're no longer the cellar dwellers of the AFC South (that title belongs to the last team on this list), they got rid of David Carr (which I couldn't believe, seeing how he was so good last year that Gary Kubiak passed on the Offensive Rookie of the Year and gave Carr an extension. You mean to tell me they made a mistake with that one. No! *releases sarcasm button), and they actually seem to have a competitive roster for once.

Matt Schaub looked good in the preseason and Ahman Green is still walking, so they have that going for them. The Texans still need another reliable receiver behind Andre Johnson and need to upgrade their struggling secondary (and get Dunta Robinson a bodyguard while they're at it.)
Prediction: 7-9.

Jacksonville Jaguars (2006: 8-8) -- The Jags looked destined for disappointment long before coach Jack Del Rio publicly castrated former QB Byron Leftwich last week. With him out, new quarterback David Garrard is in. Long-time Jags safety Donovan Darius is also out after an injury-riddled 2006 season; rookie safety Reggie Nelson is in. With mainstay back Fred Taylor also coming off an up-and-down year due to injuries, young speed back (and fantasy football Hall-of-Famer) Maurice Jones-Drew should step in and take most of the carries. Jacksonville never seems to live up to their potential, and this year, there seems to not be much to have to live up to.
Prediction: 5-11.

Division Champs: Colts