Friday, 21 September 2018 17:19

Solving Football's Place-kicking Problem

I, thankfully, didn’t watch all of the Week 2 matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers on Sunday. That’s the case more and more these days, when in the past I’d hardly miss a second of a Vikings game. Rookie kicker Daniel Carlson, who the Vikings selected in the fifth round of the draft five months prior to waiving him Monday, missed three field goals to waste a valiant, 13-point comeback led by new quarterback Kirk Cousins in Green Bay. I stopped watching after the first two series of the second half with the Vikings down 20–7, and I couldn’t be happier with that decision given the resulting tie.

The Problem with Place-kicking in Football

It bothers me that games featuring more than 100 athletes too big to be able to run as fast as they do repeatedly colliding into each other to obtain property like they’re at war are often decided by the least athletic of the 53 players on National Football League (NFL) rosters. NFL kickers are like generals sitting a comfortable distance from enemy lines sipping on Gatorade awaiting a request for an air strike from their foot soldiers taking heavy fire only to bomb their own troops on occasion.

Last season, 22.5 percent of all NFL games (including the postseason) were either decided by three or fewer points or featured scoring exclusively by kickers. Almost a quarter of regular season games played in 2016 were decided by three or fewer points. Between 2003 and 2015, 27.9 percent of games were decided by three or fewer points. As of this writing, 25 percent of 2018 NFL games have been decided by a field goal or less, and the average margin of victory in the NFL continues to fall. Whether it’s one in five or one in four games decided by kickers, one game decided by the least athletic player and the player seeing the least playing time is one game too many.

There were more field goals attempted and made last season than in any other time in the history of professional football, according to Pro Football Reference. The result was 3,664 points scored by kickers in 2017, or almost an even third (32.96 percent) of all NFL scoring. That’s an increase in kicker-exclusive scoring of 5.65 percent over the last 50 years.

Kickers have been ruining the game of football at all levels, especially youth levels, since the game’s inception. Finding someone who could kick and punt the ball were always the hardest positions to fill on our youth teams, and while kickers have gotten better over the years according to FiveThirtyEight, the problem of kickers over-influencing outcomes and under-entertaining fans has worsened with the implementation of longer point-after attempts and uneventful kickoffs.

Instead of stand-still kickoffs that were implemented this year, punters should simply punt the ball as they would on a free kick after a safety. Their teammates wouldn’t get a running start to protect players’ health, but free kicks would result in fewer touchbacks and a higher potential for kick return touchdowns — once the most exciting play in the sport now all but extinct. Most importantly, though, free kicks would make place-kickers entirely unnecessary.

My research found kickers were the exclusive scorers in six NFL games last year, and the touchdown-to-field-goal ratio has declined by almost an entire touchdown per successful field goal since 1975. While these ridiculous roughing-the-passer penalties will assuredly increase the touchdown-to-field-goal ratio, achieving the all-time high of 2.5 touchdowns scored per successful field goal converted is not probable unless kickers are removed from the game.

Solving Football’s Place-Kicking Problem

The more fourth-down plays there are in games, the more intriguing those games will be. Games’ outcomes need to swing on one play every series instead of one play every half. Football is not providing enough moments of perceived momentum shifting from one team to the other. Without place-kicking, fans would be on the edge of their seats more often, as the Dan Bailey bailout would be unavailable to the Vikings or anyone else, forcing coaches to utilize more forward passes — the play that saved American football from extinction and made it the behemoth it is today. There would also be fewer breaks in the action for commercials, but what’s the best option for solving football’s place-kicking problem?

Removing place-kickers from the game doesn’t necessarily mean field goals have to go away. While I think goal posts unnecessarily obstruct the views of fans, we don’t have to tear them down (although it’d be cool if they were moved behind the fans so they could go home with souvenir footballs). They are a symbol of the sport after all, and what would college students do on Saturdays after a big win if they couldn’t tear down the goalposts? They’d probably be at higher risk for alcohol poisoning if they didn’t exert that effort.

If the NFL wanted to continue employing place-kickers and make games more exciting, it could simply make field goals worth two points instead of three. How a field goal is worth more than a safety is disrespectful to defenses everywhere, even though your offense gets the ball back after the defense scores a safety. While kicking was highly emphasized when the game was conceived, the field goal’s point value decreased from five in 1883, to four in 1904 and three points in 1909, three years after what many believe to be the first legally completed forward pass.

After more than 100 years without a change to the field goal’s point value, I’d say we’re long overdue. But lowering the point value of a field goal does not affect the risk in attempting a field goal, which is the actual problem. Kicking is a bailout in football. Both punts and field goal attempts bail out an offense incapable of scoring touchdowns. I’ve got no problem with punters. I’ve seen punters make plays, but I’d prefer to watch the NFL’s place-kickers play soccer if they’re capable of running and kicking a moving ball. Removing place-kickers from football would enhance the intrigue of games by forcing coaches to be more creative and take more chances on both sides of the ball. That brings me to Rule 1 of football re-imagined without kickers.

“All teams must attempt a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown.”

That’s where games should be won and lost — in the trenches between lineman at the goal lines. The men risking the most should determine the outcomes of games, but field goals wouldn’t necessarily have to disappear. They could just be altered. The NFL simply needs to make the field goal attempt a less enticing option for coaches — make the bailout riskier.

I recommend the NFL adopt something like the drop goal in rugby, where a player can drop the ball on the ground and kick it through the uprights on any down. The quarterback could avoid a sack and dropkick the ball through the uprights on second down for three points. That might be a big enough change to eliminate field goals altogether, but punters would eventually get the hang of drop-kicking to make it a less riskier option. It’s not as though they have much else to do during practice.

To up the ante even further, the ball’s placement on the field should depend on how close you get to the goal line. The closer a team gets to scoring, the more difficult a drop goal attempt should become. That’s why I recommend the hash marks running down the middle of a football field get wider and wider as they get closer and closer to the goal line. This might even be enough to keep place-kicking in the sport while minimizing kickers’ control over games’ outcomes.

The new football field in a post-place-kicking NFL.

An American football field is 160 feet wide. NFL hash marks are 70 feet, nine inches from the sidelines. That’s where they’d remain between the 40-yard lines on each side of the field because 50-plus-yard field goals are hard enough. At the 39-yard line, however, the ball would be placed on the hash mark 69 feet, nine inches from the sideline closest to the completion of the previous play. At the 38, the ball would be spotted on the hash mark 68 feet, nine inches from the nearest sideline, and so on. At the one-yard line, the ball would be snapped 31 feet, nine inches from the sideline nearest the last completed play. This would result in some new, creative formations, more fourth down plays as well as some drop goals attempted from truly amazing angles. This would make “four-down territory” even larger, increasing excitement even if it results in less scoring.

Counteracting a Potential Decrease in Scoring

While we’re not eliminating a third of all scoring in football, points will be harder to come by in the game without kickers. A point-after attempt and two-point attempt have almost the exact same expected value, so forcing teams to go for two would result in almost the exact number of points as point-after attempts. But field goals alone accounted for 23.37 percent of points scored in 2017, and teams won’t be trading those field goals for drop goals or touchdowns at a 1:1 or even 1:2 ratio. That said, an effort should be made to counteract a potential decrease in scoring by providing more scoring opportunities.

Football and rugby are unique in that they offer multiple means of scoring points. You only score in baseball when you touch home plate. You only score in basketball when you put the ball through the hoop, and you only score in soccer and hockey by putting the ball or puck in the net. Scoring in football involves either kicking the ball through goal posts or taking it across a goal line (or downing it there in the case of a safety). But why stop at two means of scoring points? That brings me to Rule 2 of football re-imagined without kickers.

“Award one point for each sack or tackle for loss.”

Awarding one point for sacks and tackles for loss would almost replace every point scored by NFL kickers. Based on 2016 totals, there were 1,118 sacks and 2,218 tackles for loss, totalling 3,336 potential points. Kickers accounted for 3,669 points in 2016, and spreading those points around to players playing and sacrificing most makes for a more democratic game. And frankly, defensive players deserve to score more.

Defensive players seldom score, especially big defensive players. An offensive lineman can at least declare himself eligible and catch a touchdown pass. Defensive players have to either force a fumble, pick it up and run into the end zone, grab an interception and run into the end zone or tackle the ball carrier in their own end zone for a safety. And now that defensive players have to defy physics and somehow stop more than half of their body weight from falling on the quarterback during a sack, their team should at least get a point if it’s likely the sack will result in a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down for the offense.

While this rule might result in more coaches challenging the spot of the ball, I’d rather watch a replay of a quarterback sack or tackle for loss to determine if the ball carrier reached the line of scrimmage than watch a kicker come on the field and make or miss a kick sandwiched between commercials. And the NFL is far past due for placing sensors on the ends of the football and on the players’ knees and elbows to determine the exact location of the ball when the ball carrier is down by contact. But that’s another Grandstand Central story for another day.

Imagine the Vikings just scored a touchdown to tie the Packers with no time left on the clock and only the two-point conversion left to be played. With this rule, either team could win or lose the game right there at the goal line. The Vikings could either convert the two-point attempt to win or take a sack or tackle for loss to give the Packers the win. Green Bay could also intercept the ball or recover a fumble and return it for two points as well. That’s a whole lot more exciting than bringing a kicker onto the field to attempt an extra point converted 94 percent of the time in 2017. It’s also more indicative of which is the better team.

Unless the NFL takes place-kicking out of the game, I’m boycotting the league upon the end of Cousins’s tenure with the Vikings or if the Vikings win the Super Bowl — whichever happens first. And I’m not just saying that because of the Vikings’ rich history of kicking woes in big games. They are the franchise who had a kicker who shall not be named go an entire season without missing a kick only to miss one that would have sent them to the Super Bowl. More recently, they had a kicker who shall also go unnamed miss a 27-yard field goal that would have extended their playoff run in 2016. I just can’t bring myself to pay attention to the game of football anymore. The kickers keep kicking my attention elsewhere.

Published in Sports

All rise. The sports court of public opinion we call Foul Play-by-Play is now in session, providing play-by-play and color commentary on foul play in sports on and off the field, pitch, court, and ice.

Headlines

Headline 1: Urban Meyer Placed on Paid Administrative Leave

Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer was placed on administrative leave after former ESPN journalist Brett McMurphy obtained text messages and an exclusive interview showing Meyer knew in 2015 of domestic abuse allegations against his assistant coach, Zach Smith, yet retained him anyway. The university has formed what it called a “special, independent board working group” to investigate the allegations.

Meyer said had he known of the allegations, he would have fired Smith in 2015 instead of last week after the alleged domestic violence was first reported. But Meyer and Smith go way back. Smith was Meyer’s longest-serving assistant and even played for Meyer at Bowling Green before interning for Meyer at Florida, where the first domestic violence accusations surfaced.

According to McMurphy, Smith first physically abused his wife, Courtney, on June 21, 2009 in Gainesville, Florida when she was eight to 10 weeks pregnant. Meyer and his wife threw a party celebrating Florida’s second championship in three seasons. After the party, Courtney said she went home while her husband went out with friends.

Courtney said Zach returned home drunk around 3 a.m. with Meyer’s secretary at the time, whom Zach called “baby” and pleaded with Courtney to allow her to spend the night with them after reportedly breaking up with her boyfriend. Courtney refused and drove the woman home, but upon returning, a heated argument turned violent, with Zach allegedly throwing his wife against their bedroom wall. That was the Smiths’ one-year wedding anniversary.

Zach was arrested for aggravated battery on a pregnant victim, and Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days that he and his wife advised the Smiths to try counseling. A few days after the arrest, Courtney said two of Meyer’s closest friends asked her to drop the charges against her husband, and ultimately pressured her to do so. She did, thinking it would never happen again, which seems to be a common mistake of domestic abuse victims.

Courtney said she left her husband on June 6, 2015, but the abuse didn’t stop until Courtney was granted a restraining order against Zach on Nov. 10, 2015. She filed for divorce two days later. Cleveland.com reports that Powell (Ohio) police visited the Smiths’ home nine times in response to domestic disputes between January 1, 2012 and July 26, 2018.

Courtney spoke frequently with Meyer’s wife, Shelley, a nurse, about her abusive relationship, yet Meyer claimed ignorance of any abuse occurring after the 2009 incident.

Meyer, of course, is not unfamiliar with allegations of foul play brought against his football programs. During his time at Florida, Gator football players amassed 251 traffic citations, his best defensive player was suspended for a DUI prior to the SEC Championship game, and freshman foul player Aaron Hernandez suckerpunched an employee of a Gainesville bar, rupturing his eardrum. Hernandez also went unquestioned by police or his coach despite being a suspect in a 2007 shooting that left two men injured, with one shot in the back of the head. That attempted homicide remains unsolved.

Meyer mostly avoided being muddied by his Gators’ allegations, not because he won, but because he had the good guy on his side. Not God, but a God-fearing quarterback so squeaky clean and contagiously charismatic he stole the spotlight, allowing his teammates to remain in the shadows. Tim Tebow was Urban Meyer’s guardian angel. Tebow protected Meyer as he did the football. Meyer no longer has that protection and the mud is being flung.   

Meyer’s battle for his job will be fought on two fronts. While an investigation determines his knowledge of his assistant coach’s alleged transgressions, he’ll also have to address allegations of verbal and physical abuse brought by former Florida players. If his ignorance of his assistant coach’s domestic abuse history since the incident in 2009 is confirmed or unconfirmable, Meyer could still lose his job if any of the players’ stories are substantiated.

If the Bryan Colangelo Twitter scandal is any indication, Meyer’s wife can’t necessarily save her husband’s job by saying she never told him about Courtney’s claims. Colangelo’s wife took all the blame and her husband was still forced to resign. I imagine that’s what’s coming for Meyer, too, especially with the players painting him as abusive just like Smith. What are your thoughts?

Headline 2: Ex-OSU Wrestling Coach asked Ex-wrestlers to Support U.S. Representative Jim Jordan, Who They Allege Ignored Sexual Abuse Reports against Team Doctor

It gets worse for The Ohio State University, as retired OSU wrestling coach Russ Hellickson asked former Buckeye wrestlers to support former assistant coach and current U.S. Representative Jim Jordan, who they allege ignored reports of sexual abuse by a team doctor.

Jordan is seeking to succeed retiring Speaker of the House Paul Ryan if Republicans retain a majority in the House after the midterm elections. But he won’t do it with help from the two OSU wrestlers Hellickson contacted. They came forward earlier this year alleging former team doctor Richard Strauss committed sexual abuse and harassment, saying Jordan knew about it and failed to act when serving as assistant coach between 1986 and 1994.  

More than 100 former students have told independent investigators that they were victims of Strauss, who took his own life in 2005. While Strauss won’t serve the time for his alleged crimes, Jordan could face similar charges as former Penn State officials Gary Schultz, Graham Spanier and Tim Curley, who were sentenced to at least two months in jail for failing to alert authorities of Jerry Sandusky’s molestation of young boys in 2001. Judging by the number of alleged victims in this case, however, it would stand to reason Jordan would be subject to an even harsher sentence if charged and convicted.

Headline 3: Conor McGregor Avoids Jail Time with Plea Deal

UFC’s biggest star, Conor McGregor, avoided jail time by pleading guilty to a single count of disorderly conduct in an agreement reached with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office on Thursday, according to Brett Okamoto of ESPN. The charge stems from an incident occurring April 5th at Barclay’s Center, during which McGregor was caught on video throwing a metal dolly and breaking the window of a bus carrying UFC athletes and employees..

McGregor will serve no jail time, have no criminal record and his travel visa will be unaffected despite facing 12 criminal charges related to the incident, including two felony criminal mischief charges and three assault charges. Those charges carried a maximum sentence of seven years in prison, but instead McGregor could return to the octagon by the end of the year having paid restitution for damages, serving five days of community service and completing an anger management program lasting one to three days.

A potential lightweight title fight between McGregor (21-3) and current champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (26-0) could arguably be the biggest fight in UFC history. Nurmagomedov was the target of McGregor’s actions in April.

McGregor, 30, obviously got a good plea deal. Most people wouldn’t get 12 charges dropped down to one misdemeanor in exchange for paying restitution, serving five days of community service and doing a joke’s-worth of anger management therapy considering McGregor’s clear anger issues.

Headline 4: Art Briles gets Coaching Job in Italy

While Urban Meyer might be on his way out, former Baylor football coach Art Briles is on his way back into coaching. He took a job coaching an American football team in a 12-team league in Italy playing by NCAA rules. Briles is just two years removed from being removed as head coach at Baylor amidst the sexual assault scandal involving multiple football players committing crimes university officials failed to act upon after they were alleged.

If Briles is any indication of what we can expect, Urban Meyer might be coaching in the NFL next year. With crimes as egregious as those committed by players Briles recruited have him coaching again when two years ago most thought he ever would, Meyer claiming ignorance of his co-worker’s spousal abuse might not be a problem for, say, the nearby Browns. 

Headline 4: Iowa Football Players Struggle to Stay Sober

The Iowa Hawkeyes will be without two of its starters for the first game of the season against Northern Illinois on Sept. 1 due to alcohol-related citations. Defensive tackle Brady Reiff was arrested for public intoxication in Iowa City after mistaking a police cruiser for an Uber, and eight days later offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs was ticketed for driving while intoxicated. I haven’t spent much time in Iowa, but I imagine it’s not as heavenly as Field of Dreams advertises, and judging from the damage left by vandals taking a joy ride through the iconic field in January, there’s evidence indicating a lack of entertainment options besides drinking and driving. 

 

Headline 6: Cowboys’ Terrance Williams has Charge Dismissed

Terrance Williams, who allegedly crashed his Lamborghini into a light pole and then left the scene of the accident, had a public intoxication charge stemming from the incident dismissed according to his attorney. Williams somehow was never charged with leaving the scene of an accident, and the Class C misdemeanor is the equivalent of a speeding ticket requiring payment of a fine and completion of a state-mandated Alcohol Awareness Education course, which Williams has already done.

Not only did Williams avoid criminal charges, but his completion of the diversion course makes a suspension from the NFL unlikely, and even if he were to be suspended, it would likely come in 2019 and not this season. Does Jerry Jones just make a phone call to make this stuff go away or what?

Cheats of the Week

It’s time for everyone’s favorite segment, where we award the most foul cheats in sports over the past week in what we call Cheats of the Week.

Winner of the Bronze Balls award this week isn’t even an athlete, unless you consider crime a sport, and it very well could be in certain circumstances. In this case, the crime required a team of players led by ex-cop Jerome Jacobson, who rigged the McDonald’s Monopoly game and won almost every prize for 12 years until the FBI launched an investigation and sting operation. The team of “mobsters, psychics, strip-club owners, convicts, drug traffickers, and even a family of Mormons” defrauded McDonald’s of more than $24 million in cash and prizes, according to Jeff Maysh of The Daily Beast

The Silver Syringe goes to swimmer and boozing bad boy of the Rio Olympics, Ryan Lochte, who was again banned from competition by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency until July of next year for receiving an intravenous injection of permitted substances in May. While the substances weren’t prohibited, athletes can’t receive IVs without an exemption or unless it’s a result of hospitalization. Neither was the case for Lochte, who incriminated himself by posting a photo to social media while receiving the IV, making him quite possibly the worst cheat we’ve mentioned on the show. Regardless of U.S. Anti-Doping rules, why would anyone feel the need to not only photograph but publicize their intravenous injection to the world?  

Our two-bit cheat of the week is Italian cyclist Gianni Moscon, who was kicked out of the Tour de France after punching a French cyclist in the face during the first 800 meters of Stage 15 last Sunday. This isn’t the first time Moscon has been guilty of foul play, which brings us to our next segment, Historically Foul Play, when we go back in time and relive foul play and foul players of the past.

Historically Foul Play

Last year, Moscon was suspended six weeks and required to complete diversity training after berating another cyclist with racist insults. Fresh off the suspension, Moscon was accused of deliberately causing Sebastien Reichenbach to crash, fracturing his elbow and hip. He was cleared of any wrongdoing due to a lack of evidence. And a couple months after that incidental accident, Moscon was disqualified from the UCI Road World Championships for being towed too far by the team car into a 29th-place finish after a crash with just under 24 miles to go.

I wish I would have known this Italian bad boy of cycling existed prior to this week. I might have tuned into the Tour de France to see this foul play tour de force culminate in a scene straight out of Road Rash, the video game. 

Published in Sports

Unless you’ve been playing fantasy baseball and were in need of an undrafted reliever like me, you might not have known who Josh Hader was until the 2018 MLB All-Star Game. Hader’s All-Star selection was a bittersweet honor in more than one way. He allowed three runs in a third of an inning and then discovered after the game that he’d have to complete sensitivity training for racist, sexist and homophobic tweets made at 17.

The tweets were uncovered by Twitter users with too much time on their hands. These investigations into the social media statements of minors are unfair to the public figures who made the statements because minors aren’t entirely responsible for themselves, legally speaking. Journalists seldom quote minors for that very reason. Their parents share responsibility for their words and actions until they’re 18.

While I agree with my colleague, Dan Szczepanek of Grandstand Central, that Hader’s “young and dumb” excuse isn’t good enough, he isn’t solely responsible for the social media statements he made as a minor. His parents share that responsibility, but not in the court of public opinion. It is troubling, however, that just seven years ago and even to this day, racist, sexist and homophobic thoughts are running through the minds of American minors.

On the Foul Play-by-Play podcast, my attorney and I discussed how to remedy the racist, sexist and homophobic sentiment that seems to be growing or at least getting louder in America. Reforming haters is a delicate process not unlike treating addiction. It requires the dedication of the addict first, and an empathetic, supportive community providing evidence consistently contradicting the addict’s former mentality. But hate, like addiction, isn’t curable, only treatable.

“There’s no magic cure, no such thing as a ‘life after hate,’ only a life of fighting not to succumb to it” Wes Enzinna wrote for Mother Jones’s cover story in the July/August issue. Not everyone is as fortunate as Hader was to grow into a man in an environment conducive for avoiding an addiction to hate.

Without social and familial support and a safe environment facilitating the formation of relationships between diverse groups of people, haters gonna hate. That’s why Barack Obama’s administration added the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule to the Fair Housing Act in order to address segregation that persists in public housing. Department of Housing and Human Development Secretary Ben Carson has since suspended enforcement of the rule, resulting in a lawsuit brought by the National Fair Housing Alliance and joined by the state of New York.

Those living in environments that perpetuate hate can also learn something from Hader’s hateful tweets coming back to bite him. Even parents perpetuating hate in the home have their children’s preservation as their top priority, so talking with their children about safe social media usage, similar to the talk about practicing safe sex could result in fewer instances of hate speech online.

If children in the moment are too emotional to consider the effect their words might have on others, perhaps they’ll resist using hate speech over their own interest in self-preservation. Just as images of STDs are used in sex education courses to scare young people into practicing abstinence or safe sex, stories like Hader’s and Roseanne Barr’s might be enough to scare children from publicly expressing hate if their parents explain how imperative it is that their children are employable.

And if Hader’s and Barr’s stories aren’t scary enough, or children don’t understand why they should protect something they don’t yet have, maybe they’ll protect something they do. A fifth of undergraduate college students believe physical force is an acceptable response to “offensive and hurtful statements,” according to a 2017 Brookings Institution survey. So hate speakers have to consider whether they’re prepared to defend themselves, although most instances of violence resulting from hate speech indicate they are, which is why it’s so important that Hader do more than apologize and complete sensitivity training.

Colin Kaepernick didn’t just take a knee during the national anthem. He thoughtfully explained why he took a knee when asked, sought feedback from military personnel as to avoid offending them and backed up his words and actions with his money. Kaepernick has donated a million dollars to organizations working in oppressed communities as of January. Life After Hate, an organization working to reform haters, received a $50,000 donation from Kaepernick. Since Hader doesn’t make millions of dollars, he should donate his time and image to the movement to end hate.

If Hader was willing to take the time to trademark his nickname, “Haderade,”he can take the time to start a nonprofit called Hater Aid, an organization that helps haters stop hating. I’ve started two nonprofit organizations, make a lot less than Hader’s $555,500 annual salary and had no previous training. If he needs some guidance, the National Council of Nonprofits provides all the information he needs.

I would only recommend Hader focus his efforts locally to start. If the standing ovation he received from Brewers fans at Miller Park in his first appearance since the All-Star Game is any indication, he still has the support of Milwaukeeans, at least until he struggles to get MLB hitters out. Regardless of his performance on the field, Milwaukeeans will appreciate Hader focusing his off-field efforts locally, and there’s plenty to be done in Milwaukee.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are four active hate groups in Milwaukee alone and nine statewide. So Hater Aid’s initial mission should be to eradicate hate in Milwaukee first, then the state of Wisconsin, and then the region and nation. It’s also cheaper and easier to start and run a locally-focused nonprofit than one with a state or national focus.

With a modest, tax-deductible donation from Hader to found Hater Aid and a bit of paperwork to incorporate the organization and acquire a tax exemption, Hater Aid could be up and running before the end of the baseball season. MLB and the Brewers’ public relations department would love for Hader to dedicate some free time to meeting with former haters in the Milwaukee area willing to share how they managed to stop hating. If interested, they could serve as Hader’s Hater Aiders, a group of volunteers, interns and paid staff to run the day-to-day operations of Hater Aid, including a 24-hour, hater hotline for haters who want to stop hating but aren’t sure how.

If Hader were to take these steps, his national image wouldn’t just be repaired — it’d be more valuable than it was before the tweets were uncovered. It never hurts to be a role model and a community contributor in contract negotiations, either. By the time Hader’s eligible for free agency in 2024, Hader’s Hater Aiders will have helped haters stop hating throughout Milwaukee and, perhaps, the state of Wisconsin if not the entire country.

Hader might never have been addicted to hate, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be the face of a movement to end hate. He should embrace and take advantage of this opportunity if he wants to earn a standing ovation from anyone other than Brewers’ fans.

Published in Opinion

All rise, and welcome to this sports court of public opinion we call Foul Play-by-Play -- the podcast that provides play-by-play and color commentary on foul play in sports on and off the field, pitch, court, and ice.

Headlines

Headline 1: Dolphins First to Release Potential Penalties for Anthem Protests

Since the Miami Dolphins are one of the first NFL teams to report to training camp, they were the first to put police brutality protest penalties in writing, as required by the league. I’m calling them police brutality protests instead of anthem protests because that’s what they are: the players are protesting police brutality against minorities, not the national anthem. Yet the media was quick to dub the protests as anthem protests, which has stuck.

If you search Google using the terms “anthem protest” you get 13.6 million hits. Using the search terms “anthem protests” you get almost 1.5 million hits. If you search “police brutality protests” you get just 187,000 hits, so simply assigning a name to these protests

The Dolphins stuffed the police brutality protests in with other acts of conduct deemed “detrimental to the club” punishable by up to four-game suspensions, but they reportedly have no intent of suspending players four games for protesting the national anthem. Co-owner of the New York Giants, Steve Tisch, has since announced that their players will not be subject to penalties for protesting police brutality during the national anthem.

The public backlash to the Dolphins’ announcement has forced the NFL to put a freeze on its national anthem protest policy, and the NFL Players’ Association and the NFL are finally working out an agreement to end the anthem feud, as should have been the case in the first place given the collective bargaining agreement.

Since the Dolphins’ announcement and resulting public backlash, Donald Trump has tweeted his displeasure with the anthem dispute, tweeting, “Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!”

To answer your question Donald, players’ contracts do not include an anthem clause and neither does the collective bargaining agreement, and the commissioner taking your recommended stand could be devastating to the league given the NFL Players’ Association membership being almost 70-percent black. That union, at least, still has power. There is no NFL if only the black players protest during the anthem, and it hasn’t been just black players protesting.

I imagine the players value their right to protest less than guaranteed contracts but more than the right to use cannabis. On the topic of guaranteed contracts...

Headline 2: Le’Veon Bell to Play Without Job Security for Third Straight Season

For a third consecutive season, running back Le’Veon Bell will play for the Steelers without a long-term contract in place, providing him no job security if he were to be injured in 2018. Pittsburgh’s final offer to Bell, which is likely to be the final contract the Steelers ever offer Bell, was reportedly worth $70 million over five years. But it only contained $10 million in guaranteed money, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. And Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com tweeted that the deal would have been virtually identical to...the last contract” Pittsburgh offered because the boosts in value would have been based on the increase in value of the running back franchise tag.

Bell’s franchise tag with Pittsburgh will pay him $14.55 million this season, but if he were to be injured, Bell might end up with a mostly unguaranteed contract in 2019 if he’s healthy enough to play at all.

Bell isn’t the only player griping about the NFL’s non-guaranteed contracts, but running backs seem to be the loudest proponents for guaranteed contracts and for good reason. Los Angeles Rams’ running back Todd Gurley told TMZ Sports that all NFL players deserve guaranteed contracts and expects a lockout by the players to get them in 2021.

Running back DeMarco Murray chose to retire at age 30, and during his short, seven-year career, Murray amassed just over $25 million. That’s what Yu Darvish will make this season despite spending much of it on the disabled list. Murray, remember, led the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage just four years ago. So a guy who was arguably the best player in the sport at one time made the same amount of money over his career as a top-30 starting pitcher will make this season despite appearing in just eight games thus far.

Major League Baseball, though, is not a hard-capped league. Owners could theoretically spend as much as they want on players, although not without paying a hefty competitive-balance tax. The same goes for the NBA, but the NFL and NHL owners benefit from a hard salary cap that limits the earning potential of players. It seems NFL players are better positioned in bargaining than they’ve ever been given decreasing viewership and youth participation. So what are the chances the NFLPA challenges the hard cap with a 2021 lockout, and how ugly is this round of collective bargaining going to get? And will it end the way the players want, with guaranteed contracts for all NFL players?

Headline 3: Randy Gregory, Banished for Cannabis Use to Deal with Anxiety, Earns NFL Reinstatement

Dallas Cowboys pass rusher Randy Gregory has been reinstated by the NFL, ending a two-year banishment for repeat violations of the league’s Substances of Abuse Policy. Gregory’s use of cannabis while at Nebraska is well documented, and he’s told multiple media outlets that he used the drug to cope with anxiety.

With the STATES Act getting the support of Congressmen and -women on both sides of the aisle, it seems the end of cannabis prohibition will be determined by each individual state. It’s safe to say Texas might be one of the last states to adopt medical cannabis laws, but regardless of the laws in Texas, the STATES Act would still allow the NFL to prohibit cannabis use, medically or otherwise and in states where it's legal or otherwise. With cannabis remaining federally illegal, the NFL can pretty much demand what it wants of its employees regardless of state law. But the NFL Players’ Association can and should make it a point to demand cannabis prohibition end in the NFL.

On the show two months ago we talked about a high school football player whose use of CBD oil, the non-psychoactive chemical in cannabis that has healing and pain relieving properties, eased his seizures so he could play the game. But the .3 percent of THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis responsible for its euphoric effects, still present in his medicine made it impossible for him to realize his dream of playing for the Auburn Tigers due to NCAA rules. “We don’t want kids to give up their dreams of playing football for a living because there’s fewer and fewer of those kids in existence everyday due to concussion fears” seems like a strong message the NFLPA can use to get what it wants on this front.

Headline 4: Josh Hader Required to Complete Sensitivity Training for Tweets Made at 17 Years Old

Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader’s first All-Star appearance didn’t go very well, allowing three runs on four hits in a third of an inning, but what awaited him after the game was even worse.

Jeff Passan reported for Yahoo Sports that Twitter users uncovered a series of racist, sexist and homophobic tweets Hader made over an eight-month period when he was 17 years old. Hader thrice used the n-word, used the fist emoji followed by “white power lol” and another time tweeted, simply, “KKK.” “I hate gay people,” one tweet read, and two months before the Orioles drafted him in 2012, Hader tweeted, “Need a bitch that can bleep, cook, clean, right.”

Hader’s family and friends in attendance at the All-Star Game left Nationals Park with their Hader jerseys either inside-out or covered by generic, no-name National League All-Star jerseys. After the game, Hader called his comments “inexcusable” and said he was “deeply sorry” for what he said. “There’s nothing before that I believe now,” he added. “When you’re a kid, you tweet what’s on your mind.”

Regardless of age, those thoughts being on anyone’s mind should be troubling to anyone, and in my mind, it’s partially a result of just white, old-timers being white, old-timers and teaching their kids outdated and offensive habits, and partially a result of the segregation that persists in this country in the form of gentrification. Hader graduated from high school in Millersville, Maryland where 55 percent of enrolled students are minorities, according to U.S. News and World Report. But 71.3 percent of the city’s population is white.

Here in Minneapolis we have school segregation disguised as a “right to choose.” That is, parents and students have the so-called “right to choose” in which school they want to enroll, resulting in taxpayers like me paying more to bus white kids to mostly white schools further from the diverse neighborhoods in which they live.

Maryland also prides itself as a “right to choose” state, offering vouchers to low-income students to attend private and charter schools instead of public schools where the majority of students are minorities. That wasn’t the case for Hader, but he was sounding like Donald Trump before Donald Trump started sounding like Donald Trump. Hader’s tweets were published a year prior to the 2012 election that didn’t include Trump, but did see Barack Obama earn reelection by beating the pants off Mitt Romney.

So from where does this seemingly growing racist and sexist sentiment of young, white men start? Is it a direct result of the reign of white presidents coming to an end and a sense that white men’s power is finally being threatened?

Headline 5: Marcell Dareus Faces Two Sexual Assault Lawsuits

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is facing two lawsuits alleging sexual assault. The first, brought by an unidentified Texas woman, accuses Dareus of sexual assault and transmission of a sexually transmitted disease, according to Chris Parenteau of News 4 Jacksonville.

The second lawsuit stems from an alleged incident occurring in Florida in January 2017, according to Greg Aumen of the Tampa Bay Times. Dareus rented a mansion in Florida the week of the college football national championship game and allegedly invited the accuser to an afterparty at the mansion, where she said Dareus groped her against her wishes. She then “blacked out” from drinking too much alcohol and awoke next to a naked Dareus, aware that sexual acts had been committed.

Dareus will move to have the second lawsuit dismissed on Aug. 9, but regardless of how the lawsuits are settled, Dareus would be subject to suspension by the NFL and for a considerable amount of time. The baseline suspension for sexual assault is six games, but the NFL hasn’t had to issue a punishment for multiple allegations as of yet, meaning Dareus could miss up to 12 games this season.

Headline 6: Cardinals GM Suspended After Pleading Guilty to Extreme DUI

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was suspended by the team for five weeks and fined $200,000 after pleading guilty to extreme driving under intoxication on Tuesday. The suspension stems from an incident occurring the night of July 4th. Keim was arrested, booked and released the same night, but shouldn’t NFL GMs and owners be subject to the same conduct policy as the players?

Headline 7: Olympic Figure Skating Medalist Denis Ten is Murdered

Olympic figure skating medalist Denis Ten was murdered Thursday in Kazakhstan by a man who has since confessed to the crime in the presence of an attorney. Ten was stabbed after a dispute with people who allegedly tried to steal a mirror from his car in his home city. He died in the hospital of massive blood loss from multiple wounds, the Kazinform news agency said.

Cheats of the Week

Our dishonorable mention this week is Milwaukee Bucks center Thon Maker, who was suspended three FIBA matches for delivering multiple flying kicks during a brawl between Australia and the Philippines in a World Cup qualifying match on July 2nd. Do you agree that flying kicks by a seven-footer would be considered cheating in a basketball brawl, Mike?

Winner of the Bronze Balls award this week is Jacksonville Jaguars pass rusher Dante Fowler, who was suspended for the first game of the 2018 season. Fowler’s bronze balls are massive, as he refereed a fight between his baby momma and current girlfriend in February of 2016, a video of which TMZ released. Fowler also has 10 traffic violations since December of 2015, and is charged with misdemeanor battery and mischief after an arrest on Tuesday. All of this comes in a contract year for Fowler, Mike.

The Silver Syringe goes to New York Jets receiver ArDarius Stewart, who tested positive for a substance designed to mask performance-enhancing drug use, Ian Rapoport reports. While a suspension hasn’t been announced, it’s expected to keep Stewart out for two games.

Our two-bit cheat of the week is former New York Knicks center Charles Oakley, who was arrested in Las Vegas for pulling back a $100 chip he wagered after learning he had lost his bet.

Historically Foul Play

Let’s get nostalgic and talk about foul play of the past, when news was delivered on paper and milk in reusable glass bottles. Here’s your sports-crime history lesson we call Historically Foul Play.

On July 20th, 1944, en route to a 20-win season, St. Louis Browns’ ace Nelson Potter became the first player in big-league history to be ejected and suspended for throwing spitballs. Potter denied ever loading up the ball with anything, and returned to play a big part as a reliever and spot starter in the Boston Braves’ World Series appearance in 1948.

The last player to be ejected and suspended for using a substance on baseballs is former Yankee and current Twin Michael Pineda, who was ejected and suspended for loading the ball with pine tar back in 2014. 

Published in Sports

The New York Yankees led the American League Wild Card race by five games over Seattle as of the Major League Baseball All-Star Break. They could very well finish the season 10 games better than both the Mariners and the winner of the AL Central Division, and will still have to win a one-game playoff just to earn the right to play the best team in the American League, who will likely be from their own division.

I’m not one to make excuses for the Yankees. As a Minnesota Twins fan, I despise the Yankees more than most, and I’m a huge fan of the one-game playoff. But there’s nothing fair about a team’s postseason chances coming down to one game when that team has played a tougher schedule to a better record than all but one team in the league. It’s time for MLB to do away with divisions and go back to a division-less pennant race.

While Rob Manfred was repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth prior to the MLB All-Star Game, blaming the Los Angeles Angels and Mike Trout for not marketing Mike Trout, and calling for a discussion on ending defensive shifts, only the most interesting thing happening in baseball, he failed to address the most pressing issue facing the game. The one-game Wild Card could be played between the second- and fourth-ranked teams in the American League while the sixth-ranked team in the league gets a pass to the Divisional round simply for playing in a historically weak division. And that sixth-ranked team won’t even play the league’s best team.

Back in 1969, when East and West divisions were adopted by Major League Baseball, there were no Wild Card teams in the playoff format. And when just one team from both the American League and National League were awarded a postseason berth as a Wild Card for the first time in 1995 (the 1994 postseason was cancelled due to a player strike), there weren’t immediate issues.

But now that there are two Wild Card teams from each league reaching the postseason, either those teams need to play a three-game Wild Card series, or the league needs a good, old-fashioned pennant race. I’m for both.

I would recommend shortening the season to 154 games and adding a three-game Wild Card Playoff series to be played between the fourth- and fifth-ranked teams in each league, regardless of division standings. There is no need for a team to play the same four teams 19 times every year. I’d be fine with MLB divisions remaining simply for travel and rivalry reasons, but 17 games against division rivals is still probably too many. Commissioner Manfred should shorten the regular season to the original 154-game length while adding at least four and up to six lucrative playoff games to the schedule.

Since the All-Star Game no longer determines which league has home field advantage in the World Series, a good, old-fashioned pennant race is the most reasonable and fair way to determine who plays who in the playoffs. The top three seeds in each league would benefit from up to five days off entering the playoffs while the two Wild Card teams are decided, and each league’s top seed would play the fourth-best team instead of the second-best team that happened to lose its division despite winning more games than other division champions.

So before Manfred even considers changing rules to the game regarding defensive shifts and pace of play, he should make sure the league’s best teams are rewarded for being the league’s best teams. Even if the Yankees were to win the Wild Card Game, if the playoffs began today, they’d meet the Red Sox in the Divisional Series instead of the ALCS. And if 2004 taught us anything, it’s that baseball’s best rivalry should be decided in the ALCS. Most importantly though, the league’s best playoff team should play the league’s worst playoff team in the divisional round, and that’s not the case as the MLB postseason currently stands.

Published in Opinion

The Major League Baseball (MLB) Trade Deadline is July 31, and the weeks leading up to it give fans of every team at least one reason for hope regardless of the standings. Even fans of the last-place Baltimore Orioles have reason for hope at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, despite the seemingly silly salary of Chris Davis, whom the Orioles owe $92 million over the next four years, and the depreciated value of both Zach Britton and Brad Brach. I wrote that they should have been sellers at the Trade Deadline last season, but last season’s failures could still end up successes of seasons to come. Here’s every fan’s reason for hope at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.

The Contenders

Boston Red Sox

Reason for hope: Plenty of affordable bullpen arms available

The Red Sox are in a good place at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, but every team’s bullpen could be deeper come August, September and October. The Red Sox have the fifth-best bullpen based on FanGraph’s version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), so adding a veteran reliever like Zach Britton to open a sixth or seventh inning instead of relying on 29-year-old Heath Hembree might give Boston’s bullpen the boost it needs to challenge the Yankees’ MLB-best bullpen.

 

Boston also has some room to improve at second base if Dustin Pedroia does indeed miss the rest of the season due to a troublesome knee. The Red Sox have been linked to Whit Merrifield, who would give them a long-term insurance plan at the position if Pedroia continues to struggle with injuries. Merrifield is cheap (for now), arbitration eligible for the first time in 2020 and comes with team-control through 2022. He will not be cheap to acquire, however. Brian Dozier could be an alternative option as an affordable rental if the Twins are still committed to selling at the deadline.

New York Yankees

Reason for hope: Manny Machado and Miguel Andujar

The Yankees look to be in need of a Game 3 starter who can swing a playoff series in their direction, but New York’s focus has been on acquiring the best player available at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline: Manny Machado.

 

The Yankees don’t need a shortstop, and they don’t look to be in need of a third baseman given Miguel Andujar’s .818 OPS at just 23 years old. But Andujar could be traded to acquire that starter the Yankees need to hang with the Astros, Indians and Red Sox, all of whom’s starters have performed better than the Yankees’ this year.

 

Toronto’s J.A. Happ is a “realistic” trade target the Yankees are considering according to Jon Heyman, and could be the Game 3 starter who swings the momentum of a playoff series the Yankees’ way. Happ earned a win over Houston allowing three earned runs over six innings earlier this season and has allowed just .938 walks/hits per inning pitched (WHIP) in two starts against Boston. His start against Seattle was a disaster, though, lasting just three and a third innings after allowing seven earned runs.

Houston Astros

Reason for hope: Bullpen buyers’ market and Wilson Ramos

The defending champions have almost everything they need to repeat as champions. The Astros’ starting rotation has been almost 14 wins better than a replacement play – the best in baseball. Houston’s starters are so good that Collin McHugh was forced into a bullpen role, where he’s amassed an incredible ERA+ of 392.

 

The Astros, like every other contender, is looking to add bullpen depth at the Trade Deadline, and like the Red Sox, they’ve shown interest in Britton according the Heyman. With Ken Giles being optioned to Triple-A, Houston has reason to acquire a reliever despite its bullpen ranking second in MLB in WAR thus far in 2018.

 

The Astros aren’t reading too much into the success of catcher Max Stassi and his .804 OPS over 177 plate appearances either. And while Brian McCann is expected to return from arthroscopic right knee surgery in September, his .606 OPS over 173 plate appearances leaves a lot to be desired, even when considering the hitting ineptitude of catchers throughout the league.

 

That’s why the Astros contacted Tampa Bay about pending free agent and All-Star Wilson Ramos, whose proven ability to hit (.751 career OPS) will be even more evident given Houston’s deep lineup. His deficiencies behind the dish (6 defensive runs below average over 1,200 innings this season) would also be less impactful given the pitchers he’d be catching in Houston compared to those he’s catching with the Rays.

Chicago Cubs

Reason for hope: Yu Darvish or J.A. Happ

The Cubs might make the second-best addition at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline and do so without surrendering anything in a trade, but that possibility is looking less and less likely everyday. Yu Darvish experienced pain in his elbow after a bullpen session that followed a rehab start in the minors, so the Cubs don’t know when or if he’ll be available.

 

The Cubs lead the National League in run differential, and by 25 runs as of this writing, making their 23rd-ranked starting pitching WAR less of a concern. That won’t be the case against an American League contender, however. The Astros, Red Sox and Yankees all have higher run differentials than the Cubs, which is why J.A. Happ has been on Chicago’s radar according to Bob Elliot of the Toronto Sun. If Darvish gets bad news, the Cubs will have to add a starter to have a chance at winning a second World Series in three years.

Cleveland Indians

Reason for hope: Buyers’ market for bullpen arms, Andrew Miller’s return, and maybe Adam Jones

The Cleveland Indians’ bullpen, once the team’s biggest strength, has become the team’s biggest weakness. Cleveland’s Cody Allen, who was almost unhittable last season, blew a four-run, ninth-inning lead over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, allowing six runs in two-thirds of an inning after Trevor Bauer tossed eight shutout innings. The Indians lost 7-4, breathing new life into a Minnesota Twins team that was 11.5 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central Division and announcing the availability of its pending free agents. The Twins are just 7.5 games back as of this writing and

 

While Andrew Miller is expected to return after the MLB All-Star Break, his return won’t make Cleveland’s bullpen playoff-ready. Allen’s struggles aren’t a result of bad luck. While his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.92 is evidence that his team’s defense is at least somewhat responsible for his bloated 4.66 Earned Run Average (ERA), Allen’s soft contact percentage of 8.9 percent thus far this season is a career low and way down from the career high of 22.2 percent he set last season.

 

Allen’s not the only Cleveland reliever struggling either. The Indians are last in bullpen ERA and home run rate allowed, and second to last in bullpen WAR, according to FanGraphs. So Cleveland needs all the bullpen help it can get at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.

 

The Indians have also shown interest in center fielder Adam Jones of the Orioles because their center fielders Bradley Zimmer and Greg Allen have left much to be desired when a bat’s in their hands. The two have averaged a .576 OPS between them.

 

Baltimore is the perfect trade partner for Cleveland because the Indians could also acquire the bullpen help it needs in the form of Zach Britton, who is finally starting to look like his old self according to Jon Heyman of Fancred. Brad Brach, on the other hand, has surrendered hard contact on nearly a third of batted balls against him, a career high. Acquiring one reliever won’t likely be enough for Cleveland to contend for a championship, so they’re lucky it’s a buyers’ market for bullpen arms at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.

The Buyers

Seattle Mariners

Reason for hope: Robinson Cano’s return, Dee Gordon’s flexibility

I said prior to Opening Day that Dee Gordon’s transition to center field would be an adventure worth watching, and it was. While Gordon’s speed and athleticism was often displayed on highlight reels, he was well below average in center field (35 runs below average per 1,200 innings). But Robinson Cano’s suspension for performance-enhancing drug use makes the acquisition of Gordon one of the best deals Seattle won’t have to make at the Trade Deadline. The acquisitions of Denard Span (.842 OPS in 124 plate appearances) and Alex Colome (16 Ks in 16.2 innings pitched) at the end of May have provided the roster depth necessary for Seattle to make a push for the postseason as well.

 

Seattle will get Cano back on Aug. 14, which will be like adding an All-Star prior to the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline. But unlike a waiver acquisition, Cano can’t participate in the postseason, so Jean Segura and Gordon will be the Mariners’ middle infielders should they make the playoffs, leaving a big hole in a lineup that struggles to score runs.

 

Recent recipient of a contract extension, Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto hasn’t been in a hurry to announce any trade targets at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, even with both James Paxton and Felix Hernandez hitting the 10-day disabled list with minor back issues. Regardless, the Mariners’ eighth-ranked bullpen and 11th-ranked starting rotation according to FanGraphs’ WAR won’t be good enough to contend for a championship given their 20th-ranked offense in runs scored, so bringing another bat to Seattle might be necessary. Perhaps an Adam Jones reunion is in order given the Mariners’ .692 OPS from center fielders this season.

Washington Nationals

Reason for hope: Bullpen buyers’ market, Stephen Strasburg, Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton, and Matt Wieters or Wilson Ramos

Stephen Strasburg and Sean Doolittle are potentially huge additions expected to come of the DL prior to the Trade Deadline, and the Nationals have already gotten Adam Eaton, Daniel Murphy and catcher Matt Wieters back from injury just in time to save their season – the last of their quickly closing World Series window.

 

Washington is still in pursuit of a catcher like Ramos to push Wieters into a backup role, and while the Nationals have the eighth-best starting rotation in baseball, their 23rd-ranked bullpen is in dire need of an upgrade. Expect Washington to pursue pending free agents to improve its bullpen to allow for maximum flexibility in free agency this offseason.

Milwaukee Brewers

Reason for hope: Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier...if the Twins actually sell

The Brewers were surprisingly good last year, and continue to surprise just about everyone by holding a one-game lead over the Cubs in the National League Central as of this writing. The starting rotation consists of no one you’ve heard of and the lineup is a collage of castaways, overachieving prospects and Ryan Braun. Their +55 run differential is 50 runs worse than the Cubs, but the Brewers’ bullpen is fantastic, especially Josh Hader – Milwaukee’s version of Andrew Miller.

 

Despite losing new acquisition Lorenzo Cain to injury, the Brewers continue to impress. But scoring the top bat available at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline could help them overcome their 17th-ranked offense in runs scored. They were in the bottom third of the league in runs scored last year, so the Brewers are better, but will end up fighting for a Wild Card spot regardless of what they do at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, and they’ll need to do something big to hold off the Diamondbacks or Dodgers.

 

Milwaukee can improve most at both middle infield positions. The Brewers have been active in the Machado sweepstakes, but are unlikely to win his services according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. So the Brewers will have to hope the Twins’ recent success doesn’t deter them from trading pending free agents Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier, in whom Jon Morosi of MLB.com reports the Brewers’ interest.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Reason for hope: Adding another Zack to go with Greinke, Godley

Also leading their division as of this writing, the Diamondbacks will need to add at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline in order to hold off the Dodgers, who have been trending up and carry a run differential 36 runs better than Arizona’s as of July 13.

 

The Diamondbacks still have Zack Greinke, who allowed more home runs last year (25) than he had since his rookie year in 2004 (26), but the new baseball humidor in Arizona has made him even better in 2018.

 

Behind Greinke, though, only Patrick Corbin can be considered reliable for Arizona. Clay Bucholtz is on the 10-day disabled list with a strained oblique. Robbie Ray is averaging five walks per nine innings, and Zack Godley isn’t doing much better (4.7 walks per nine innings).

 

The Diamondbacks need a middle-of-the-rotation starter who can give them a chance in Game 3 of a playoff series, and adding a third Zack to the roster might be the solution. Arizona has expressed interest in the Mets’ Zack Wheeler, who is controlled through next season if Arizona loses Corbin to free agency this offseason.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Reason for hope: Clayton Kershaw once more, Manny Machado if they’re desperate, or Whit Merrifield, if they’re smart

Clayton Kershaw is back in what could be his last season with the Dodgers. He’s looked like his old self after coming off the disabled list, but the Dodgers needed more than Kershaw last season and need much more this season.

 

The Dodgers are considered a favorite to land Machado, which is the kind of addition Los Angeles would need to make at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline in order to contend for a title. If the Dodgers’ plan is to move Chris Taylor to second base for Logan Forsythe and plug Machado in at shortstop, they might be better off long-term adding Whit Merrifield given his lower cost, both in terms of prospects surrendered and salary owed. Plus, with Chase Utley retiring after the season, and Forsythe a free agent at the end of the year, the Dodgers could use a long-term, affordable second baseman who will improve the Dodgers’ 25th-ranked defense if Kershaw isn’t in LA to hide the Dodgers defensive deficiencies next year.

 

Per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the Dodgers are also linked to the Reds’ Scooter Gennett, who doesn’t anticipate being traded Mark Sheldon reports for MLB.com. The Mets’ Asdrubal Cabrera also has the Dodgers’ attention, as does Josh Harrison of Pittsburgh per Mike Berardino of St. Paul. LA’s exploring all options because these could be the last of Kershaw’s Dodger days.  

Philadelphia Phillies

Reason for hope: Manny Machado, bullpen buyers’ market

Prior to Opening Day, I wrote that the Phillies weren’t as far from contending as some people thought thanks to their young talent being quick studies at the MLB level. They’ve proven me right, but why the Phillies are willing to trade the farm for not even half a season of Machado is beyond me.

 

The Phillies without Machado can make the playoffs and compete with anyone in the National League thanks to its NL-best starting rotation, which might be why they’re so eager to land the best player available at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline. They think Jake Arrieta, Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin can hang with the Cubs, Dodgers and Nationals, and they might be right.

 

Eflin was brilliant in one start against the Cubs, has two wins against the Brewers and one more against the Nationals. Nola allowed just two hits and one run over seven innings in a win over the Dodgers, is 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA against the Nationals and held the Cubs to three runs over six innings. And Arrieta pitched seven innings of shutout ball in a win over the Dodgers, has a .909 WHIP in two no-decisions against the Nationals and should be pretty familiar with the Cubs’ lineup.

 

Philadelphia seems to be in a hurry to take advantage of Washington’s sudden fall, but the Nationals will be even worse next year than they are this year, and Machado could be acquired without surrendering any prospects prior to the season. I think the Phillies are overreaching given their third-worst defense and 20th-ranked offense, but I’ve been wrong before.

 

Machado would certainly make the Phillies contenders for the NL pennant. I just don’t think the risk is worth the reward given the strength of the American League. If I were a Phillies fan, I’d rather hold onto our prospects and lose in the playoffs than trade those prospects to lose in the World Series and then lose Machado in free agency to the team that beat us in the World Series. But maybe I don’t know Philly fans.

Oakland Athletics

Reason for hope: Michael Fulmer

Billy Beane sees the Athletics as buyers at the trade deadline, and they need a starter, especially with Trevor Cahill a free agent after the season. Detroit’s Michael Fulmer would give Oakland a stable starter atop the rotation through 2022 to pair with 26-year-old Sean Manaea, who is under team control through 2023, as is 25-year-old Frankie Montas. Fulmer would give Oakland three-fifths of a rotation with playoff potential under team control for at least five seasons. That’s worth a lot, and besides Chris Archer, Fulmer might demand the best prospect haul of any pitcher traded at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.

Atlanta Braves

Reason for hope: Rebuild way ahead of schedule, and Nick Markakis

The similarly surprising Braves are taking the exact opposite approach of the Phillies despite being just 1.5 games back of Philadelphia in the division. Unlike the Phillies, the Braves can really hit (sixth in MLB) and field the ball (seventh in MLB), but their pitching is middle-of-the-pack. Without any sure-fire aces available on the market, the Braves aren’t risking prospects for rentals according to Rosenthal. That’s a smart move given their situation.

 

Atlanta made an offer for Machado but isn’t likely to win his services. The Braves are looking to add controllable starting pitching at the trade deadline. They’ve scouted Nathan Eovaldi, who comes with another arbitration year beyond this one.

St. Louis Cardinals

Reason for hope: Bullpen buyers’ market, Wacha and Wainwright?

The Cardinals are taking the same approach as the Braves. They aren’t shopping for rentals. They’ll look to improve the 23rd-ranked bullpen by adding arms controlled for multiple seasons. The Cardinals’ seventh-best starting rotation will add Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright sometime in August. Whether either is any good is yet to be determined.

Colorado Rockies

Reason for hope: Bullpen buyers’ market, CarGo?

The Rockies have the 24th-ranked bullpen in baseball based on Fangraphs’ WAR. They, like the rest of the playoff contenders, stand to benefit from the vast supply of affordable bullpen options on the market.

 

Colorado also has until July 19 to trade outfielder Carlos Gonzalez before his no-trade protection begins, but that’s not likely given CarGo’s struggles on the road and against left-handers.

The Buyers/Sellers

Minnesota Twins

Reason for hope: Eduardo Escobar, Brian Dozier heating up, Nick Gordon, and, perhaps, Ervin Santana

The new Twins’ front office of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine managed to sell at the trade deadline in their rookie season last year and still made the playoffs. They’ll try to do it again. The Twins actually announced their willingness to trade their pending free agents, headlined by Eduardo Escobar, having fallen 11.5 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central. And just as they did last season, the Twins responded to the front office “for sale” announcement by winning baseball games – eight of 10 to pull within 7.5 games of Cleveland.

 

The return of Jorge Polanco from a performance-enhancing drug suspension allows the Twins to play on of their All-star snubs, Escobar, at third base while Miguel Sano figures out his swing in Fort Myers, where Twins’ top prospect Royce Lewis was recently promoted.

 

Falvey and Levine should still shop Escobar and take the best deal they can get for a player who could be a difference-maker for a contender. They could even get a difference-maker in return, albeit one a few years away, but that’s a lot more than Terry Ryan or anyone else likely expected when he moved Francisco Liriano for MLB’s current leader in doubles. Given Sano’s struggles to stay healthy and hit consistently, it might not be a bad idea for Minnesota to give Escobar some of the nearly $84 million it has coming off the books at the end of the year.

 

Making the playoffs without Escobar is a tall order for the Twins, however. He was the beating heart of last year’s playoff team and is the clubhouse leader. Ehire Adrianza can’t replace him in that regard or any other, but Byron Buxton could if he’s ever healthy.

 

Other players that might be valuable to a playoff contender are relievers Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke, second baseman Brian Dozier, who is heating up in the second half, as usual, and starters Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi. Remember, the Twins are expecting Ervin Santana to return someday.

 

Starter Kyle Gibson is more valuable than ever as well, and would bring a good return given his extra year of team control following this season – one in which he’s finally figured out how to use his best stuff best. Gibson’s been so good, the Twins might consider extending him. He’s finally the formidable middle-of-the-rotation starter the Twins knew he could be.

San Francisco Giants

Reason for hope: Jeurys Familia, Derek Holland, Sam Dyson

The Giants are looking to shed more salaries after dealing centerfielder Austin Jackson and reliever Cory Gearrin to the Rangers, and could do the same with Derek Holland and Sam Dyson according to Henry Schulman, because the Giants would prefer to remain under the competitive balance tax threshold. But being just three games out of the playoffs at the All-Star Break has the Giants as modest buyers at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, too.

 

The Giants are interested in acquiring Mets’ closer Jeurys Familia to shore up their bullpen down the stretch despite him being a rental, but with Jeff Samardzija being placed on the 10-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation for the second time, the Giants will likely have to wait to deal Holland until Samardzija returns if not acquire an affordable starter at the trade deadline.

The Sellers

Baltimore Orioles

Reason for hope: Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Adam Jones?

The Orioles’ rebuilding effort should have began at the All-Star Break last year, but it will still get off to a good start with the dealing of Manny Machado and Zach Britton, both of whom will most certainly be traded by the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline. Britton won’t bring what he would have last season, but Machado will, and Adam Jones has drawn some interest from Cleveland. So it’s not all doom and gloom in Baltimore. Football season is right around the corner, Orioles fans.

New York Mets

Reason for hope: Asdrubal Cabrera

If the Mets aren’t going to move Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, according to Joel Sherman, or even Zack Wheeler, then Asdrubal Cabrera is Mets’ fans biggest reason for hope. The 32-year-old pending free agent has a career-best OPS+ of 127, and there are plenty of teams looking to improve at shortstop and second base.

 

The Brewers are especially in need of middle infield help, and Cabrera would be a nice consolation prize for the teams losing out on Manny Machado. The Phillies could have Cabrera for much less than Machado and still sign Machado in free agency.

Miami Marlins

Reason for hope: J.T. Realmuto, Brad Ziegler?

The Marlins’ steep price for their All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto is warranted. Realmuto is controllable through arbitration until 2021 and the trade market for catchers consists of Realmuto and the now-injured Wilson Ramos of Tampa Bay. That steep price might not stop the desperate Nationals from acquiring the All-Star, according to Heyman.

 

Steep prices are also attached to Kyle Barraclough, Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley for the same reasons as Realmuto. They are all controllable for an additional three years and the trade market for relievers is deep. Brad Ziegler is a pending free agent but hasn’t been particularly good (1.362 WHIP, 6.5 K:9).

Chicago White Sox

Reason for hope: Joakim Soria

The lone trade chip on the White Sox roster is closer Joakim Soria, who at 34 is pitching like he’s 30. His 149 ERA+ and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings both match his numbers from 2014 when he was good enough to net Texas Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson in a trade to Detroit. Soria could help another contender this season and should provide Chicago added value given his 2019 team option.

Kansas City Royals

Reason for hope: Mike Moustakas, Whit Merrifield

The Red Sox could be interested in both Mike Moustakas and Whit Merrifield, and the Braves have expressed interest in adding Moustakas along with the Yankees, according to Jerry Crasnick. Merrifield has also drawn the Dodgers’ and Brewers’ eyes, so the Royals are sitting on a wealth of proverbial riches at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline.

Cincinnati Reds

Reason for hope: Raisel Iglesias

The Reds’ closer has the Astros salivating, as if Houston needs another bullpen arm as good as Iglesias’s, but Iglesias hopes to remain a Red his entire career MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reveals. Iglesias acknowledged that he has no control over that, however.

 

Cincinnati intends to spend in 2019, as the Reds are only a few starting pitchers away from competing for a playoff spot, of which there will be plenty available in free agency this offseason. Given that Iglesias isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2020, and Scooter Gennett isn’t a free agent until 2020, the Reds might just sit on their hands at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, which is reason enough for hope.

Detroit Tigers

Reason for hope: Michael Fulmer, Nicholas Castellanos

Michael Fulmer could be the most valuable trade chip on the table at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, but the Tigers might as well keep him and his affordable salary for at least another year if not three.

 

Detroit would no doubt prefer to move Nicholas Castellanos, who has just one more year of arbitration eligibility to Fulmer’s four years of team control. Castellanos is enjoying his best season at the plate but is the worst defensive outfielder in Outs Above Average, Katie Strang notes. He could help an American League contender at designated hitter, though. Houston (.748 OPS) and Oakland (.780 )PS) are getting the worst production from their designated hitters amongst the buyers at the trade deadline. The league average OPS at DH is just .759.

Los Angeles Angels

Reason for hope: Shohei Ohtani

Prior to Opening Day, I wrote that the Angels still didn’t have the starting rotation to reach the playoffs, even with Shohei Ohtani in the mix. That has turned out to be true, but Ohtani is still swinging a bat despite his grade 2 UCL strain, and doing so quite capably.

 

Ohtani’s .889 OPS is second to only Mike Trout’s on the team and has been trending up since his return from the disabled list on July 3. With most of the Angels’ starters on the shelf with injuries, and their relievers under team control for multiple seasons, Los Angeles doesn’t have much to offer buyers at the trade deadline. So enjoy watching the best player in baseball and the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball.

Toronto Blue Jays

Reason for hope: J.A. Happ, Justin Smoak?

The Blue Jays stand to benefit from a short supply of starting pitching at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline. J.A. Happ might be the best addition a team could make to their starting rotation at the deadline, so Toronto should get a nice return for the 35-year-old, first-time All-Star. Heyman tweets that the Yankees think Toronto’s asking price for Happ is too high, however. He is a pending free agent.\

 

Justin Smoak is not a pending free agent, as Toronto will likely pick up his 2019 team option, but he could provide a lot of value to a contender in need of a designated hitter, demanding a strong prospect return. Curtis Granderson is another player who could provide a playoff team with some bench depth and pinch-hitting pop.  

Texas Rangers

Reason for hope: Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels?

The 39-year-old third baseman can still hit and play the hot corner with the best of them. He could be a big help to an American League contender like the Red Sox or Yankees, but the Rangers are looking to nab the Yankees’ Andujar at the deadline, and Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman is feeling vindicated for not trading Andujar already.

 

If the Rangers can package Hamels with Beltre they might get a return on par with Andujar. Hamels is in dire need of a change of scenery. Two-thirds of his 21 home runs have come while pitching in the thin air of Arlington, so even the short porches in Boston and the Bronx would likely serve Hamels better.

San Diego Padres

Reason for hope: Tyson Ross, Kirby Yates and Brad Hand

The Yankees have inquired about starter Tyson Ross, who is uber-affordable and, therefore, attractive. The Padres should net a nice return for Ross, who they signed to a minor-league deal. That would keep New York under the luxury tax threshold.

 

Once again, Brad Hand is the Padres’ best trade chip at the trade deadline, and they probably shouldn’t trade him given he’s locked up until 2021. Kirby Yates might be expendable, though, and his value has peaked. Yates has never been as good as he has been in 2018 (.876 WHIP).

Pittsburgh Pirates

Reason for hope: Josh Harrison

An All-Star last season, Josh Harrison is having a down year, but there’s a high demand for middle infielders at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline and always a high demand for players who can play multiple positions at the trade deadline. And with Francisco Cervelli’s brain injuries sustained behind the plate, it’s doubtful he’ll draw interest from contenders in need of a catcher.

Tampa Bay Rays

Reason for hope: Adeiny Hechavarria, Nathan Eovaldi and Wilson Ramos?

Adeiny Hechavarria is a pending free agent who would look good in Milwaukee, and the Yankees, Brewers and Braves have been watching Tampa’s Nathan Eovaldi according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, and you can add Washington to that list, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

 

All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos would bring the Rays the best return, but he’s been shelved with a hamstring injury, further thinning the market for catchers at the 2018 MLB Trade Deadline, which is just fine by the Marlins, who can only ask more for Realmuto.

Published in Sports

At Foul Play-by-Play we provide play-by-play and color commentary of foul play in sports on and off the field, pitch, court and ice. Here are the headlines, cheats of the week and a trip back in time when foul play was fair game to John McGraw.

Headlines

NFLPA Files Grievance Against NFL Owners’ New National Anthem Policy

The NFL Players’ Association filed a non-injury grievance challenging the NFL’s new national anthem policy, Tuesday. According to our comrade Al Neal of PeoplesWorld.org, “[w]ith the league changing the policy without first negotiating with the union, it will need to rely on the broad powers given to the commissioner, Roger Goodell, through the personal conduct policy.”

What I took from the piece at People’s World is the players’ chances sort of depend on the definition of detrimental conduct and whether a majority of four, mutually-selected neutral arbitrators would consider kneeling during the national anthem to be conduct detrimental to the NFL. It seems the conduct has been detrimental to the league if you consider television ratings. A survey released in February found that 50 percent of U.S. consumers who watched less football in 2017 did so because of the anthem protests. But in-game advertising revenue actually increased, so what qualifies as evidence of detriment? Is loss of fans enough or does it have to be quantified in dollars?

And what kind of precedent would this be setting if the NFL’s national anthem policy remains unchanged? Neal mentioned prayer being challenged in his piece, but Tim Tebow proved taking a knee for Jesus is profitable for the NFL, but probably not during the anthem. And apparently taking a knee for a minority murdered by police who go free is detrimental to the league, which is just another example of American racism that didn’t go away because we had a black President; it intensified instead. I think eliminating prayer would be the last thing on the NFL’s wish list. I’m sure the old, white, can’t-dance owners, of which there are 30, would prefer to implement penalties as stiff as their hips for the hip-thrusting dancers we all love like Antonio Brown. I just don't think there's any way the NFL wins this because of the means by which they adopted the policy outside the collective bargaining agreement and without considering the players' association. But they could get an anthem win elsewhere...

NFL Seeks Early End to Kaepernick Collusion Case

In more NFL legal news, the NFL is asking arbitrator Stephen Burbank to issue a summary judgement in Colin Kaepernick’s collusion lawsuit against the league, which would bring an end to the saga and give NFL owners another win on the anthem front. Burbank’s refusal to issue a summary judgement would allow the grievance to move forward and allow Kaepernick an opportunity to collect.

The NFL, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, hopes to force Kaepernick to ‘put his cards on the table’ and prove they have enough evidence of collusion to continue the lawsuit. So even if the NFL doesn’t get the summary judgement, they’ll know the trial plan of Kaepernick’s team of lawyers. But law requires all facts to be viewed “in the most favorable light” towards Kaepernick, meaning it shouldn’t take much to force the continuation of the case. 

I’m assuming Kaepernick doesn’t have a recording of a phone call with an NFL owner saying “I can’t hire you because the other owners said I can't,” so what could Kaepernick possibly have to prove collusion besides the statistics of his last season being better than most backup quarterbacks who played, and why can't that be enough? The only chance I think Kaepernick has is if NFL owners unanimously agreed that the backlash from Donald Trump's tweets would be more damaging to their bottom line than blackballing Kaepernick.

DOJ Provisionally Approves Disney Bid for 21st Century Fox, except RSNs

Disney’s $71.3-billion offer for the movie and television assets of 21st Century Fox has been granted provisional approval by the Department of Justice as long as Disney sells the 22 regional sports networks it would acquire in the acquisition. While Comcast could still outbid Disney for Fox’s assets, they too would likely be required to sell the regional sports networks (RSNs) in order to receive DOJ approval.

With Disney’s assets already including ESPN and ABC programming – the homes of Monday Night Football, the NBA Playoffs and NBA Finals – the company that rode the coattails of a cartoon mouse to mountains of money has found plenty of new ways to invade your home. But Disney’s potential acquisition of Fox’s assets opens doors at the box office as well, uniting the Marvel Cinematic Universe to include the X-men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool along with Disney’s Avengers and Black Panther.

The condition of divesting Fox’s RSNs demanded by the DOJ is intended to preserve competition and protect consumers from monopolistic price gouging, but will it? Andrew Bucholtz of Awful Announcing expects Comcast, holder of the second-most RSNs behind Fox with seven, Charter, owner of five RSNs, and AT&T, owner of three RSNs and a minority shareholder of Seattle’s Root Sports, to be frontrunners for the 22 RSNs Disney will be forced to sell.

Sports teams could also acquire their respective RSNs. YES Network, formerly owned by the Yankees, could once again become an asset for the pinstripers. Eight professional sports teams are featured on Fox Sports Southwest, so it’s possible that a few RSNs end up owned by teams, but taking the best offer might not be the best deal for Disney.

Selling the 22 RSNs individually might result in the most money made from the sale of those networks, but packaging all or most of the RSNs together in a deal allows the buyer to set a higher price for access because of a lack of competition that would remain, which would allow Disney to, in turn, hike the price of its offerings to match that of the acquiring party, resulting in more revenue long-term despite the lower purchase price. 

Colombian Striker Falcao Accuses American Referee of Favoring England

Colombia striker Radamel Falcao accused American referee Mark Geiger of favoring England in Colombia’s World Cup loss to England in the round of 16, last Tuesday. Colombia was the recipient of six of the game’s eight yellow cards and were whistled for 23 of the 36 fouls.

Geiger was also responsible for England’s only goal during open play, resulting from a penalty he called on Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez. Falcao thought scheduling a referee who only spoke English for a game involving England allowed for bias and that “through small calls,” Geiger was pushing Colombia toward its own goal.

We talked a bit last week about the attitude of soccer players in our discussion of the Swedish coach complaining about the German team celebrating its win in stoppage time in front of the Swedes’ bench. And while players and coaches find a way to complain about officiating in every sport, FIFA’s history of corruption has to be considered before Falcao is labeled a crybaby. I didn’t watch the match, so I can’t comment on the calls Geiger made, but I don’t need to watch the game to make a decision in this case.

If it can be avoided, I don’t think a native English speaker, and certainly not a speaker of only English, should officiate any international contest in which native English speakers are involved. I understand that coaches and captains, not necessarily every player, should be able to communicate with officials, but FIFA is known to have its favorites, and Colombia has never been one of those. England, meanwhile, has exceeded everyone’s expectations at the World Cup. Even if the scheduling of Geiger for this game wasn’t an intentional attempt at foul play, FIFA didn’t do much to silence sceptics like Falcao and Foul Play-by-Play.

Seattle Seahawks Safety Kam Chancellor Retires, Sort Of

Kam Chancellor has announced his retirement after eight seasons as safety for the late Legion of Boom. His announcement doesn’t qualify as an official retirement, though, because he isn’t medically cleared to play and is retiring as a result.

That means the Seahawks will be required to pay Chancellor the $6.8 million he’s owed this season because he was on the roster after Feb. 10. Chancellor is also due the $5.2 million guaranteed next season, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport explains.

I think this is money Chancellor has already earned simply by sacrificing his body to play previous seasons, but some people might be up in arms over the fact Chancellor is being paid not to work, even if they qualify for workers’ compensation when they’re injured on the job. 

One-game Suspension Likely for Eagles Starting Linebacker Nigel Bradham

The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles will likely be without starting linebacker Nigel Bradham for their opening game of the 2018 NFL season against the Atlanta Falcons. Bradham, 28, just signed a five-year, $40 million extension with the Eagles.

A one-game suspension could be coming for Bradham as a result of a 2016 alleged assault at a hotel in south Florida. Bradham turned himself in and was charged with aggravated battery, but he avoided jail time. Ray Rice was only suspended two games for his third-degree aggravated assault, so do you think the NFL gave Bradham a break because of how he handled the allegation or because we don’t have a video of the alleged assault, which Bradham said has been resolved legally?

Cheats of the Week

Our dishonorable mention this week is New York Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner, who told Newsday he wasn’t happy about being fined “thousands of dollars” for taking too long to get into the batter’s box. Gardner complained about pitchers throwing to bases to waste time while he takes “three seconds too long to get in the box.” Gardner isn’t the first or only player fined for pace of play violations. Adam Jones told MLB Network Radio he was fined $50,000 last year for violating the rules. I don’t think Gardner has good argument here because throw-overs are necessary, legal in-game action, while Gardner tightening his batting gloves or adjusting his nut cup is simply inaction.

Bronze Balls: Speaking of nuts, owner of the bronzest balls this week is New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman for appealing his four-game, performance-enhancing drug suspension and losing.  

Silver Syringe: Winner of the silver syringe this week is Indianapolis Colts running back Robert Turbin, who is facing a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use, which he confirmed on Twitter.

Two-bit Cheat of the Week: And our two-bit cheat of the week is my boy, Grayson Allen, who got tangled up with the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young in the final Summer League game for the Utah Jazz. A more apt description of the incident might be that Allen tied up Young, with his arms draped over Young’s shoulders in what was at least an intentional foul (VIDEO). Allen received a personal foul and then technicals were given to both players for the foul play after Allen’s foul play.I like this attitude of Allen’s showing up early in his NBA career because he can make up for some of his defensive inability by flirting with the boundaries of foul play. It’s also fun to watch given his history. 

Historically Foul Play

On July 8th, 1902, player/manager John McGraw earned his release from the Baltimore Orioles after being suspended indefinitely on June 29th because he and his players incessantly argued with umpires even after McGraw told Johnson he’d put an end to it. McGraw proceeded to protest calls by umpire Jack Sheridan by sitting down in the batter’s box until he was expelled, and continued to encourage his players to berate umpires.

Upon his release, McGraw organized the purchase of 201 shares of Orioles stock with John Brush and Andrew Freedman from Orioles president John J. Mahon for majority ownership of the franchise so they could ship players to the Cincinnati Reds or New York Giants franchises Brush and Freedman also owned. Knowing that Johnson intended to move the Orioles to New York and the American League after the season, McGraw secured the rights of four players to play for the Giants, and Brush claimed three more for the Reds, leaving the Orioles with just five players.

The Orioles had to forfeit a game to the St. Louis Browns on July 17 and borrowed players from other teams to complete their schedule. Johnson announced the intended move of the Orioles to New York and the American League, and Brush purchased the Giants from Freedman. And in the second year of its existence, the World Series was cancelled because McGraw refused to play the American League due to his feud with Johnson. He agreed to play the following season, winning the 1905 World Series. John McGraw went on to win two more World Series for the Giants in 1921 and 1922. These McGraw-inspired antics are what I miss most in this era of replay.

Published in Sports

At Foul Play-by-Play we investigate foul play on and off the field, court, ice and pitch, giving you the week's cheats, cheap shots and alleged criminals in sports. Here are the headlines for the last two weeks ending July 1.

Headline 1: Jameis Winston Suspended Three Games for Allegedly Groping Uber Driver

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has been suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season for allegedly groping an Uber driver over two years ago. Winston has denied the allegations and negotiated a six-game suspension down to three games for issuing an apology, during which Winston never admitted guilt. He said he was sorry to have put her in that position but not for sexually assaulting her.

The suspension stems from an alleged incident that occurred in March of 2016, a couple of months after the end of Winston's rookie season in the NFL. After partying with friends in Scottsdale, Arizona, Winston ended up in an Uber. The driver of that car, whose identity still has never been revealed, alleges that Winston grabbed her crotch while they were waiting in a restaurant drive-thru lane. She did not and has not pressed charges but reported the incident to Uber, which deactivated Winston’s account shortly after.

The NFL was made aware of the incident after the accuser shared her story with BuzzFeed News. Witnesses have differing testimonies of the night in question, with Winston’s former Florida State teammate Ronald Darby saying he was in the Uber that night and that “nothing inappropriate in nature happened in the car that evening and Jameis did not have any physical contact with the Uber driver.” But former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks, serving a 15-year prison sentence for rape and sexual battery, said he and Darby put Winston in the Uber alone that night.

Headline 2: Outgoing Carolina Panthers Owner Fined $2.75 Million for Workplace Misconduct

In similarly ugly NFL news of foul play off the field, outgoing Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was fined $2.75 million after an investigation confirmed allegations of racial and sexual misconduct in the workplace.

In a letter to Richardson published by Sports Illustrated, one of the women said she "didn't know what to do" about alleged multiple sexual advances by Richardson, including being asked to place her feet in his lap to be rubbed from toes to crotch, being asked to turn around so Richardson could see how her jeans fit, hands placed on her breasts and lips, and being asked sexually charged questions.

The sale of the Panthers to hedge fund billionaire David Tepper was approved at the owners meetings in May for an NFL-record $2.275 billion and is expected to close in the next two weeks. Richardson and investors paid just $203 million for the franchise in 1993.

One thing I’ve taken from the Me Too movement is that the victims of sexual harassment place vastly different values on their privacy. I think I would bring charges regardless of how much money there was to be won in a sexual assault or harassment case. But some of these victims would rather remain anonymous and tell BuzzFeed for an unannounced amount of money. What would you do?

Headline 3: Detroit Tigers Fire Pitching Coach for Using “Monkey” to Describe White Pitcher

The Detroit Tigers fired pitching coach Chris Bosio for using insensitive language towards a team employee, but the whole thing could be a misunderstanding that results in legal action taken by Bosio against the team.

Bosio said he used the word  “monkey” to describe Tigers pitcher Daniel Stumpf in the team’s coaches’ room. Bosio calls Stumpf “Spider Monkey.” “That’s his nickname,” he said, “He's a skinny little white kid who makes all of these funny faces when he works out.”

Bosio believes the black clubhouse attendant thought he and the other coach were talking about him, but he insists that was not the case, swearing on his parents’ graves in an interview with USA Today.

In what could be a similar case...

Headline 4: Hanley Ramirez Victim of Misreporting of Drug Bust

Hanley Ramirez was wrongfully implicated by Michele McPhee of ABC News in connection with a drug arrest of a man who Facetime’d Ramirez during the stop, claiming some of the paraphernalia to belong to him. The accused said later that he was trying to get the cops off his back.

Ramirez was released by the Red Sox on May 25 and has been a free agent looking for work since June 1. While Ramirez’s OPS of .708 is well below his .848 career OPS, he’s likely missed out on an employment opportunity because of this ABC News crime reporter needlessly mentioning him in connection with this drug bust involving 435 grams of fentanyl and a “large amount” of crack. 

Headline 5: Janoris Jenkins’ Brother had Dispute with Man Whose Body was Found on Jenkins’ Property

The body of Roosevelt Rene was found on the property of Janoris Jenkins while he was in Florida upon the completion of the New York Giants’ training camp. William H. Jenkins, the 34-year-old brother of Janoris Jenkins, allegedly had a dispute with Rene according to a police complaint released Thursday.

The complaint says William Jenkins got into an altercation with Rene on Monday night that resulted in Rene's death. Jenkins then fled and was arrested later Monday by the New York State Police on an unrelated matter and held in Ontario County Jail. Jenkins has been charged with one count of aggravated manslaughter and remains in custody. His brother has been advised by lawyers to remain in Florida.

Headline 6: Roberto Osuna Suspended 75 Games for Violating MLB Domestic Violence Policy

Toronto Blue Jays’ closer Roberto Osuna was suspended 75 games without pay last Friday for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. Osuna, 23, was arrested by Toronto police and charged with assaulting his girlfriend on May 8. He was placed on administrative leave by the league, which has been investigating the incident ever since.

Osuna will not appeal the suspension retroactive to May 8 and extending through Aug. 4. He will miss 89 days, which would cost him about $2.54 million of his $5.3 million salary. Osuna will plead not guilty to the charges on July 9, according to his attorney.

MLB and the players' union agreed on a domestic violence policy in 2015, a year after the National Football League adopted its domestic violence policy. Both allow the leagues to discipline a player for a domestic violence incident regardless of whether there are charges or a trial. 

Foul Play-by-Play Feelings

Let’s try something new with a segment we’re calling Foul Play-by-Play Feelings, where we talk about our feelings and the feelings of those crying foul play in sports.

Sweden coach Janne Andersson complained about the German bench for "rubbing in" their victory as they celebrated Toni Kroos' stoppage-time winner in Germany's 2-1 World Cup win on Saturday. There was a confrontation between members of both teams on the sideline at midfield, with gestures allegedly made, and the two groups had to be separated.

Basically, the Sweden’s problem with Germany was that they celebrated in front of their bench and allegedly directed gestures towards the Swedes, for which the Germans apologized. But we all know what an apology’s worth given Jameis Winston’s recent attempt.

Personally, I think these Swedish soccer players need to play some baseball to realize what a real walk-off loss feels like, because in that game they don’t even wait for you to get to your bench before celebrating. They celebrate right in front of you while you’re still on the field, hopefully tossing a bat like Jose Bautista and staring down your pitcher. They celebrate on the way to first base! What do you think? Are these Swedish soccer players softees or were the Germans in the wrong, because if there was more of this after soccer matches I’d be more likely to watch them.

Published in Sports

The NBA Draft is a night every NBA fan has reason for hope – or two reasons for hope – or three, or in the case of the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers this year, four reasons for hope. Here are the reasons fans of every NBA team should have hope following the 2018 NBA Draft.

Phoenix Suns

Reason for hope: Starting lineup gets two potential upgrades

The Suns got a lot better through the draft, and while they might have passed on the best player available, they did so for locally-grown talent like the Minnesota Twins did in drafting Joe Mauer over Mark Prior. While DeAndre Ayton is from the Bahamas, he played high school basketball in Phoenix, and a year of college ball at Arizona. Suns scouts probably saw more than enough of Ayton to be comfortable in making him the number one overall pick.

The Suns also acquired Mikal Bridges, who seems to be a can’t miss kid. He was the best value pick near the top of the draft according to the ESPN Stats & Info model. Bridges will likely be more prepared to play meaningful minutes in the NBA than the athletic Zhaire Smith, who the Suns shipped to Philadelphia along with a 2021 first-round pick that originally belonged to Miami. The Suns’ starting lineup likely got two potential upgrades in Ayton and Bridges, and Phoenix used the second round to draft project prospects with potential.

The Suns also scored the 20th overall player in point guard Elie Okobo out of France with the 31st pick. And even after moving their second-round pick to Orlando for point guard Elfrid Payton, the Suns used Toronto’s 59th overall pick to draft an accomplished defender with potential in George King. The Suns went from bad to better in one day.

Sacramento Kings

Reason for hope: Offensive ability of Marvin Bagley III

The Kings passed on putting a pair of Duke University one-and-dones on their roster. After drafting Marvin Bagley III with the second overall pick, the Kings traded the rights to point guard Gary Trent Jr. to Portland for two future second-round picks and cash. But Bagley is Kings fans’ reason for hope. I’m a little jealous because fans in Sacramento are going to enjoy watching Bagley dunk, which he does whenever possible and leaves no doubt as to whether the ball went through the basket. He’s also a great rebounder whose second and third jump is quicker and higher than any center I’ve seen in college. Jay Bilas said the same on draft night and he’s seen a hell of a lot more college basketball players than me. Bagley runs the floor really well, has a complete repertoire of low-post moves, can handle the ball, is a strong finisher at the rim and will pull up and hit from three-point range. Kings’ coach Dave Joerger’s task will be teaching him how to play defense, which could take awhile.

Dallas Mavericks

Reason for hope: Luka Doncic

The Mavericks got the best player available in Luka Doncic, giving up their protected first-round pick in 2019 to move up two spots in 2018. He’s a perfect fit for Dallas, where international star Dirk Nowitzki’s career is coming to an end. Doncic is the new Dirk and will probably be worth the first-rounder Dallas dumped to get him. The Mavericks’ Dennis Smith Jr. and Doncic should run the floor well together.

The Mavericks filled out their bench with point guard Jalen Brunson of the NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats and acquired from Philadelphia the 56th overall pick in Ray Spalding – a long, pick-and-roll player who can flush the lob – and the final player drafted, Kostas Antetokounmpo – brother of Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is reason enough to draft him. But Mavericks fans’ reason for hope is Doncic – the youngest player to ever win EuroLeague MVP. He’s not even old enough to drink yet.

Memphis Grizzlies

Reason for hope: Grinders added to grind-it-out roster

The Grizzlies drafted the top-ranked power forward in the 2018 NBA Draft at fourth overall. Jaren Jackson Jr. will fit nicely with or without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. He can guard all five positions and defends the rim with the best of them. He also dishes out the fouls, which should be appreciated by Grindhouse fans.

Also contributing the the Grizzlies’ Grindhouse atmosphere will be point guard Jevon Carter, who was one of the best defenders on one of the best defensive college basketball teams for what seems like forever in West Virginia. His struggle scoring shouldn’t be a problem playing next to MarShon Brooks, who averaged 20 points per game over just seven games played last year. ESPN’s analytics model ranked Carter 17th overall, so Memphis might have scored a steal in Carter, selected 32nd overall.

Atlanta Hawks

Reason for hope: Shooters and draft picks galore

The Hawks didn’t lose the trade with Dallas for Doncic. It was a fair deal. They got a protected first-round pick in next year’s draft for moving down two spots in the 2018 NBA Draft and got the sensationally shooting and assisting Trae Young to run their offense that exploits Taurean Prince’s ability to hit the right corner three-pointer.

The Hawks added even more shooting ability in shooting guard Kevin Huerter with the 19th overall pick, who will further stretch defenses, along with stretch big man Omari Spellman out of Villanova to conclude the 2018 NBA Draft’s first round. The addition of Young and Huerter will undoubtedly increase the number of three-pointers attempted by the Hawks, who were seventh in the NBA in that category last season.

Then the Hawks scored two future second-round picks for sending point guard Devonte’ Graham to Charlotte, so regardless of what the Hawks do this season, they could end up with three lottery picks in next year’s draft and another six picks in the second round next year.

Orlando Magic

Reason for hope: Length

The Magic got even longer by drafting Mohamed Bamba, whose 7-foot-nine-inch wingspan will be the longest in the NBA. Defensively, the Magic are going to alter shots like no other team in the league, especially after adding perimeter defender Melvin Frazier of Tulane. Orlando went all in on defense, trading Jarred Vanderbilt to Denver for Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. The Magic’s 19th-ranked defensive rating got a whole lot better in a hurry.

Chicago Bulls

Reason for hope: The rebuild is almost over already

With the addition of Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, the Bulls’ rebuild is almost over already. Carter can play both frontcourt positions, so he can give Lauri Markkanen a blow when needed and could probably start over Robin Lopez at center. The Bulls were hoping Hutchison would fall to them at 22 overall, and he did. He’ll fit in nicely as a versatile wing coming off the bench. It didn’t take long for the Bulls to become relevant again. The trade of Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves that netted Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Markkanen seems much less lopsided now than when it was made on draft day in 2017, especially with the Timberwolves’ lone draft pick acquired in the trade playing four minutes all of last season.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Reason for hope: The Cavs got a scorer who can play right now

Whether LeBron James stays or goes, the Cavaliers have been in dire need of another scorer to complement James since trading Kyrie Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the very draft pick that ended up being point guard Collin Sexton. Now they might need to replace the scoring James provides, and Sexton is a score-first point guard who runs the floor well. While he might not be a fit with James given LeBron’s affinity for handling the ball, he compliments Kevin Love’s spot-up shooting ability with his drive-and-dish game. He’s also healthy and can play right now, which is a message Cleveland needed to send James. Drafting a question mark coming off an injury like Michael Porter Jr. or a high-ceiling project who will take years to develop wouldn’t give James much reason to stay in Cleveland.

New York Knicks

Reason for hope: Kevin Knox will get plenty of playing time

Knicks fans who attended the 2018 NBA Draft didn’t like the Knox selection, but they didn’t like the selection of Kristaps Porzingis, either. Porzingis offered some advice to Knox after he was booed at the draft, but Knicks fans should actually be happy with this pick. Knox will get plenty of playing time in the absence of Porzingis, who could miss the entire 2018-19 season. Knox has plenty of areas to improve, especially on defense. Throwing him into the fire that is the NBA will give him an opportunity to realize his potential sooner, so when Porzingis returns, he’s a competitive, complimentary big man to the bigger man.

The Knicks also got a shot-blocker to stand in for Porzingis in Mitchell Robinson, the third-best center in the draft according to ESPN and 28th-ranked player overall, but the 16th-best player according to ESPN’s analytics model. The Knicks selected him with the 36th pick, and while Robinson fell in the draft due to off-court concerns, the Knicks could benefit greatly from the cautiousness of other NBA teams.

Philadelphia 76ers

Reason for hope: Saved some money to offer LeBron James and got a draft pick to offer in a trade for Kawhi Leonard

After giving us the feel-good story of the draft by selecting the son of their human resources vice president, the Sixers dealt him to Phoenix for Zhaire Smith to save a million dollars, according to ESPN’s Kevin Pelton. Coming along with Smith is the Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick from Phoenix, which the Spurs could find valuable in a potential Kawhi Leonard trade. Not to be overlooked is Smith’s athleticism and potential to be the best defender in this draft.

Oh yeah, and Philadelphia scored Shake Milton from Dallas for two of the final five picks in the 2018 draft. Milton is a six-foot-six-inch point guard who averaged 18 points per game for SMU and shot 43 percent from three-point range. Milton’s combine performance left a lot to be desired, but the 76ers can afford to be patient with Milton because they have Ben Simmons.

The Sixers also selected Isaac Bonga, an 18-year-old, point-forward project out of Germany. He was the 61st-ranked player overall according to ESPN, so Philadelphia saw something they really liked in the kid. They continue to “Trust the Process” without much concern for criticism despite their general manager Bryan Colangelo resigning in disgrace days before his biggest day on the job.

Charlotte Hornets

Reason for hope: Miles Bridges

The Hornets traded down one spot in the 2018 NBA Draft to add two players who can contribute immediately. Charlotte acquired two future second-round picks from the Clippers for trading the 11th pick for the 12th pick to get Miles Bridges, who fills an immediate need, instead of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who does not. The Hornets then flipped those future second-rounders to Atlanta for 23-year-old point guard Devonte’ Graham, who can play meaningful minutes and provide some healthy competition for Michael Carter-Williams.

Los Angeles Clippers

Reason for hope: Modern NBA backcourt

The Clippers passed on filling an immediate need with Bridges and chose instead to build a modern NBA backcourt around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson. This was clearly the Clippers’ “Plan A” because selecting Robinson with the 13th pick was the biggest reach of the first round according to ESPN’s Stats & Info model, which ranked Robinson 59th overall with a 44-percent chance of being a bust.

Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson complement each other perfectly. What Robinson lacks in length defensively, Gilgeous-Alexander has in spades. What Gilgeous-Alexander lacks in spot-up shooting ability, Robinson has in spades. Both will be effective in pick-and-roll play and force defenders to switch, allowing them both to play around their weaknesses by forcing mismatches that play to their strengths. Whether it’s DeAndre Jordan or Montrezl Harrell setting screens for the new Clippers’ backcourt, they’re likely to be the beneficiary of lobs fit for flushing.

Denver Nuggets

Reason for hope: Michael Porter Jr.

The Nuggets struck gold with the 14th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, or is it fool’s gold? Medical reports regarding Michael Porter Jr.’s surgically repaired back spooked Cleveland, so Denver took advantage of its current roster situation and draft position. With 11 players returning to a roster that was seven points from beating the Timberwolves and making the playoffs, the Nuggets can afford to bring Porter Jr. along at his preferred pace, like the Sixers did with Simmons last season.

At the small forward position, Wilson Chandler was better than a replacement player last season with a 0.6 Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) while playing nearly 32 minutes per game for Denver. And while the Nuggets don’t have the cap space to re-sign unrestricted free agent Richard Jefferson, Torrey Craig was serviceable (-0.1 VORP) in his first NBA season, averaging 4.2 points and 3.3 rebounds in 16.1 minutes per game. If Porter Jr. is healthy, the Nuggets are probably a playoff team in 2018-19. If he’s not, the Nuggets could still be a playoff team despite redshirting their top draft pick for a season.

Denver also acquired power forward Jarred Vanderbilt, the 41st overall pick, from Orlando for Justin Jackson, the 43rd overall pick, and a future second-round pick. The Nuggets are getting a long defender in Vanderbilt, who has to increase his lower body strength and offensive game in the half-court.

Seven-foot center Thomas Welsh out of UCLA provides some G-League depth behind Mason Plumlee and Nikola Jokic, whose agent advised Denver to decline Jokic’s team option to avoid losing him as an unrestricted free agent after next season. Jokic would become a restricted free agent this offseason if the Nuggets were to decline his team option, but Denver would be able to match offers made to their star regardless of their absent salary cap space.

Washington Wizards

Reason for hope: Really young, backcourt bench depth

The Wizards used the 15th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft to fill an immediate need – backcourt bench depth. They got it in Oregon’s Troy Brown, who can play four positions on both sides of the ball, but might need some seasoning in the G-League. He’s only 18 years old – the third-youngest player projected to be drafted. So with Brown, the Wizards not only got someone to give John Wall and Bradley Beal breaks, but can spell Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre, too. And his young legs should allow him to provide quality minutes regardless of his position on the floor when his offensive game is ready for the NBA. His defense should already play.

The Wizards weren’t through selecting youth. They also selected the second-youngest player expected to be drafted in point guard Issuf Sanon of Ukraine. Like Brown, Sanon’s defensive ability is ahead of his offensive prowess, and even more so than Brown’s. Sanon will take a few years to develop, but Washington hopes it has a sleeper in Sanon who could eventually join Brown as a potential replacement for Beal in 2021 and Wall in 2023 if they aren’t retained.

Milwaukee Bucks

Reason for hope: Donte DiVincenzo

The Bucks got just what they needed in Donte DiVincenzo. The point guard whose name just begs to be spoken aloud, which it was often during the NCAA championship game he helped win. DiVincenzo will serve as a combo-guard in Milwaukee, which suits the 40-percent three-point shooter just fine. DiVincenzo wasn’t shy about shooting from NBA distance last year, either. His shot plays in the NBA, but his six-foot-six-inch wingspan might make guarding taller players on the wings a challenge. What he’ll give up against taller wings, though, he’ll get back guarding point guards and shooting over them. DiVincenzo also provides Milwaukee some insurance with point guard Eric Bledsoe becoming an unrestricted free agent after next season.

San Antonio Spurs

Reason for hope: Lonnie Walker IV

After DiVincenzo was selected by Milwaukee, I immediately hoped Lonnie Walker would fall to the Timberwolves at 20th overall. I should have known better, because San Antonio didn’t hesitate to select the player I and ESPN’s Jonathan Givony think could be one of the biggest steals of the draft.

Immediately upon seeing Walker’s haircut on draft night, I flashed back to the game I watched him play against Duke in January. He led Miami with 19 points in 33 minutes, but I distinctly remember him being uncharacteristically hot from three-point range and causing all kinds of problems for the Blue Devils on defense. He was five of eight from three-point range and had four steals, and if it weren’t for Gary Trent Jr. going off for 30 points on six-of-nine shooting from beyond the arc, Walker might have led the 25th-ranked Hurricanes to an upset over the fifth-ranked Blue Devils.

You might think this example contradicts my claim that Walker could be the biggest steal of the draft because he’s not even as good as Trent, who went 37th overall. He probably isn’t as good as Trent – yet – simply because Trent’s best skill is the most sought-after skill in the NBA right now.

Trent shoots it better from long-range than Walker (40.2 percent to 34.6 percent last season), but Walker’s length and athleticism make him a better inside the arc than Trent (48.7 percent to 43.0 percent on two-point attempts). Walker is also the better facilitator, dishing 61 assists per 37 turnovers last season. Trent managed just 52 assists and turned it over 38 times. So Walker, now having at his disposal the best player development team in the NBA, can focus on improving the one skill he’s missing while Trent attempts to improve all the skills Walker already possesses.

The Spurs also drafted seven-foot center Chimezi Metu from USC. Like Walker, Metu has a lot of natural ability, but is more of a project given the defensive improvements he needs to make while also finding consistency with his jump shot.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Reason for hope: Jimmy Butler, and a three-point maker, maybe

The Timberwolves still have Jimmy Butler, and as long as that’s the case, Timberwolves fans have reason for hope. Even with coach and president Tom Thibodeau being the alleged source of a split in the locker room between old Bulls and young Wolves, Butler gives Minnesota a chance to contend – and not just for a playoff spot. They finally beat Houston in the playoffs after failing to do so in the regular season, but probably should have won Game 1 in Houston, too.

The Timberwolves are really good one through six, with Tyus Jones being the sixth man after Jamal Crawford opted out of his contract. The rest of the bench leaves a lot to be desired, though. So much so not even Thibodeau could hide its collective ineptitude, and if he can’t do it, no one can. He was the only coach to have three players finish in the top 15 in minutes played last season, and it would have been four had Jimmy Butler not torn his meniscus. It makes you wonder if Taj Gibson’s defensive rating last season (112 points allowed per 100 possessions) would have been closer to his career rating (104) had he been playing the 26 minutes per game he’s averaged throughout his career instead of the 33 minutes he averaged per game last year. But that’s a topic for another piece.

The Timberwolves didn’t get an offer they liked enough to trade down and pass on shooting guard Josh Okogie. With the three selections made prior to the Timberwolves being shooting guards, and five of the previous six being guards, it was a safe assumption that trend would continue, leaving few shooters left in the draft to fill Minnesota’s biggest immediate need.

In fact, trading down could have been devastating for Thibodeau and the Wolves, as shooting guards were selected with three of the four picks immediately following the Wolves’ selection at 20th overall, and guards were selected with five of the six picks behind Minnesota. The run on guards spanned eight consecutive picks, so moving down from 20th to just 24th could have left the Wolves with the 10th-ranked shooting guard, Anfernee Simons, instead of the fifth-ranked shooting guard in Okogie. The 12th-ranked shooting guard also came off the board in that short span, so Thibodeau made the right move not making a move.  

It couldn’t have taken much convincing for Thibodeau to draft Okogie, though. He’s a defender first and has the length for which coaches long. His offensive efficiency in college was adversely affected by carrying the scoring load for a bad Georgia Tech team, but he still hit 38 percent of this threes and was in the 93rd percentile on 62 catch-and-shoot jumpers. Too bad the Wolves don’t see many open, catch-and-shoot jumpers. Minnesota took more contested shots and the second-fewest wide open shots in the NBA last season, so Okogie better find ways to create open looks, because they’re not being created for him or anyone else in a Wolves uniform.

That said, MIke Schmitz’s scouting report on Okogie for ESPN reads: “Extremely rigid ball handler. Shouldn't be tasked with shot-creation duties in the half court.” I guess Thibodeau better start drawing up offensive plays, or better yet, hire someone to do so. Again, Timberwolves fans’ biggest reason for hope is Jimmy Butler, but the bench won’t be as abysmal in 2018-19.

Thibodeau filled another immediate need by drafting small forward Keita Bates-Diop with the 48th overall pick. Bates-Diop was the second-oldest player projected to go in the first round, so Thibodeau grabbing him with the 18th pick of the second round makes this at least look like a high-value selection. Some evidence to support that high value was provided by ESPN’s analytics model, which ranked Bates-Diop 15th overall, which would make him the second-best steal of the second round. Bates-Diop did drain almost two three-pointers per game his senior season and averaged 19.8 points per game. He likely dropped in the draft due to teams’ concerns with his underwhelming performances in his first three years at Ohio State and a foot injury that kept him out most of the 2016-17 season. But if Bates-Diop doesn’t end up healthy, at least the Wolves will finally get some meaningful minutes from their lone draft pick from 2018, Justin Patton, right?

Again, Jimmy Butler is Wolves fans’ biggest reason for hope.

Utah Jazz

Reason for hope: Grayson Allen

After DiVincenzo and Walker were off the board, I wanted Thibodeau to select Grayson Allen. Pairing him with former teammate and fellow national champion Tyus Jones would have given this Duke fan great pleasure. Instead, I long for Utah’s roster and salary cap situation.

The Jazz got one of the best shooters in the 2018 NBA Draft, and they got him with the 21st overall pick. Allen has NBA shooting range. He can shoot off the dribble just about as well as he catches and shoots. He can jump, and he can dunk. He runs the floor and plays with a now-controlled intensity that was downright dirty in his youth. But he’s never going to be a great defender. In fact, he might never be an above average defender, and not because of a lack of effort. But if the Jazz focus his attention on defending against perimeter shots and cheating help to his backside, at worst, he’ll be giving up tough twos and scoring threes.

With uber-assister Ricky Rubio and Allen on the court together (both of whom could be Timberwolves this very moment), the Jazz have a recipe to hang with the three-point exploiters like Houston and Golden State – if Donovan Mitchell is healthy.

Indiana Pacers

Reason for hope: Aaron Holiday, 2019-20 cap space

Both Darren Collison and Cory Joseph become unrestricted free agents after this season, so the Pacers filled a potentially empty position on the floor in 2019-20 by selecting Aaron Holiday 23rd overall. He was the fifth-ranked point guard in the 2018 NBA Draft and gives Indiana and Indiana fans plenty of reasons for hope.

Holiday’s long wingspan for a guard should help quiet any concerns over his height and assist him on defense, where he’s already NBA-ready. He can score, especially when he catches and shoots, and even with a hand in his face. He can hit the three, draining almost three per game and 42 percent of his attempts his junior year. The Pacers may very well have found their starting point guard of the future.

With the 50th pick, the Pacers filled another need at power forward by drafting Alize Johnson out of Missouri State. Thaddeus Young is an unrestricted free agent after the season, and Domantas Sabonis and TJ Leaf have club options the Pacers could reject next year. So, like Holiday, Johnson has an opportunity to slide into a starting role if his NBA game comes together quickly. Regardless, the Pacers could have almost $77 million in cap space entering the 2019-20 season, which is reason enough for hope.

Portland Trail Blazers

Reason for hope: Gary Trent Jr.

The Blazers were eleventh in the NBA with a 36.6-percent three-point percentage last season, but were just 16th in three-pointers made because they were 19th in three-pointers attempted. Gary Trent Jr. will improve all of those rankings. As I stated previously, Trent’s best skill is making threes, which will pay dividends for Portland right now. The Blazers will learn how to accommodate their rookie on the defensive end and shake off the turnovers if he’s hitting threes. Acquiring Trent from Sacramento for two future second-rounders and cash is a good deal for the Blazers, who had already drafted their guy.

The Blazers really liked Anfernee Simons, the least-experienced player in the draft. They liked him enough to use their first-round pick at 24th overall to draft the 34th-ranked player in the draft. Simons is coming straight out of high school. He spent a year playing against questionable competition with IMG Academy in Florida, and is at least two years from competing with NBA players, according to Givony. But if he develops as Portland and many others expect, Portland fans will be forever grateful. But right now, Trent is Portland’s immediate reason for hope.

Los Angeles Lakers

Reason for hope: Cap space, LeBron, Kawhi?

Seven-footer Moritz Wagner is a fine pick at 25th overall to replace Brook Lopez when his contract expires at the end of this season, and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, the Lakers’ 47th pick, can shoot it. But the real reason Lakers fans have hope is because of almost $62 million in cap space to offer LeBron James and/or others, and/or, perhaps pay Kawhi Leonard if the Spurs feel the Lakers have the pieces to make an acceptable deal.

Boston Celtics

Reason for hope: Robert Williams III

My cousin and I both texted “Great pick” simultaneously after Boston filled an immediate need by selecting power forward and 12th-ranked player in the draft, Robert Williams III, at 27th overall. Concerns over Williams’ knee precipitated his fall to Boston, but there probably isn’t a better place for him to land. He’s already a great shot blocker, but Brad Stevens will get the most out of him defensively, as he does everyone. Williams can already come off the bench to spell Al Horford without being a liability given his pick-and-roll potential and passing ability.

Golden State Warriors

Reason for hope: Added depth with Jacob Evans

You might think Warriors fans don’t need reason for hope, but you’re wrong. This championship Warriors squad was almost done-in by its lack of depth. Golden State addressed that lack of depth with Jacob Evans, who fits perfectly in the Warriors’ positionless basketball lifestyle. He’s played point guard, shoots it well, and dished dimes twice as often as he turned it over in three college seasons at Cincinnati. He’s seasoned, so he should see minutes right away.

Brooklyn Nets

Reason for hope: Dzanan Musa

Yes, Nets fans have reason for hope, and his name is Dzanan Musa. Despite Brooklyn’s pick from Toronto being at the end of the first round, Brooklyn still ended up with one of the draft’s better scorers, who fell to the Nets because he refused to allow NBA teams to stash him on a professional team overseas. He wants to play in the NBA as soon as possible, which could be very soon given his 22-points-per-game average per 40 minutes against top European competition at the tender age of 18. He’s no Doncic, but he can and will undoubtedly score in streaks and can and will give Nets reason for hope and reasons to cheer.

The Nets used their second-round picks to select high-risk, high-reward talents in small forward Rodions Kurucs and shooting guard Hamidou Diallo, who they traded to Oklahoma City. Kurucs, of Latvia, struggled to stay on the floor with Barcelona, battling injuries and ultimately playing sparingly with the second team. Kuruc became a legitimate option for Brooklyn thanks to negotiations that lowered his buyout with Barcelona. Before his injuries, Kurucs was considered a lottery pick, so there’s plenty of potential there.

Detroit Pistons

Reason for hope: Bruce Brown’s defense

Bruce Brown was the only selection the Pistons made in the 2018 NBA Draft at 42nd overall. Brown was Miami’s elite defender and one of the best available in the draft, but before his sophomore season was interrupted by injuries, he was as close to a lottery pick lock as they come, displaying uncanny scoring and shooting ability that he has since struggled to summon. While he’s almost 22, Brown’s lost scoring and shooting abilities don’t need to be found for him to contribute to the Pistons in 2018-19, but his career as a role player will require him to knock down shots eventually.    

Houston Rockets

Reason for hope: De’Anthony Melton

If you thought Houston had plenty of open looks last season, just wait until point guard De’Anthony Melton comes off the bench for Chris Paul or James Harden this season. Melton had a knack for finding the open man at USC, averaging 5.1 assists and just 2.6 turnovers per 40 minutes as a freshman. He can also defend multiple positions, forces turnovers and rebounds the basketball like a power forward. According to ESPN’s analytics model, Melton was ranked 13th overall. He was selected 46th overall.

New Orleans Pelicans

Reason for hope: Anthony Davis, still, and strangely, Nikola Mirotic, not DeMarcus Cousins

Penn State point guard Tony Carr, the Pelicans 51st overall draft pick, isn’t going to lift New Orleans over Golden State and Houston with his defensive ability. But judging from the Pelicans’ play without DeMarcus Cousins, lost to an Achilles injury, New Orleans is better off without Boogie. That’s not a knock on Cousins’ game; it’s just a fact. The Pelicans were better defensively on the perimeter, and Anthony Davis is better when he’s running the show, especially with a long shooter like Nikola Mirotic to whom to dish on his dribble drives. The Pelicans were better on both ends of the floor without Boogie, so offering him a five-year, max deal coming off the most threatening injury to a basketball career would be a poor business decision. The Pelicans should feel no shame for telling Boogie to begone. It’s what’s best for the team, and he’ll have no problem finding work. I hear Dallas is interested.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Reason for hope: Paul George might stay, Devon Hall adds depth, Kevin Hervey cleans up the defensive boards

The Thunder drafted two players Thursday night, but neither is as important as Paul George is to Oklahoma City. Word is George could stay in OKC because he likes Russell Westbrook’s character. Westbrook went to bat for George after he was snubbed by coaches when deciding All-Star Team reserves, and that meant a lot to George. But the Thunder need more than just George to improve upon last season’s first-round exit to a soundtrack performed by the Utah Jazz orchestra led by maestro Ricky Rubio and carried by young soloist Donovan Mitchell. If the Thunder hope to drown out that music and compete with the West’s best, their big three has to be a big three, not a big two. I’m obviously talking to you, Carmelo.

In two seasons, Anthony has gone from a 2.9 VORP to a -1.1 VORP. It was the first season Anthony was less valuable than a replacement player, and some of that is likely due to changing teams and going from first option to third option. But this has not been a sudden fall for Carmelo. His final season in New York resulted in just a 0.8 VORP despite being the go-to guy. Anthony’s defense was the problem in 2016-17 and has been progressively regressing as you’d expect from a man who’s played 16 seasons. Playing two fewer minutes per game lifted Anthony’s defensive rating last season, but he had the worst season shooting the ball in his career. Carmelo’s effective field goal percentage was right on his career average, and his three-point shooting percentage was actually better than his career average. But his straight field goal percentage was 22 points lower than that of his rookie year, and his 76.7-percent shooting from the charity stripe last season was 10 points lower than that of his rookie year. Both were career lows. Somewhere between New York and Oklahoma City, Carmelo lost his legendary mid-range game and free-throw stroke.

Help is on the way, though, and the best help always comes on the defensive end, where Virginia’s Devon Hall shines. He was one of the best defensive guards in college basketball and the best one on the best defensive team in the country. Regardless of whether his offensive efficiency in his surprising senior season was skewed by Virginia’s scheme, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan is going to love subbing Hall for Westbrook when he needs a breather. Hall hit threes at a 43-percent clip and dished three assists per turnover in his senior season. No scheme makes the ball go in the basket, and schemes don’t turn the ball over, making Hall a good replacement for unrestricted free agent Raymond Felton, especially at 53rd overall.

Joining OKC’s rookie class is small forward Kevin Hervey, selected four picks after Hall. Hervey was whispered as a potential lottery pick if not for tearing both of his ACLs. He’s big enough to play strong forward, but can hit spot-up threes, too, and he rebounds the ball really well, averaging 11.6 per 40 minutes over four years at UT-Arlington. That’s likely what the Thunder are after. While Oklahoma City led the league in offensive rebounds per game, they were 26th on the defensive boards. Hervey should help OKC climb out of the bottom third in that category and serve as a serviceable stretch four coming off the bench for Patrick Patterson.

After the draft concluded, OKC acquired Hamidou Diallo, the 45th overall pick, from Brooklyn, in a deal that can’t be completed until July 6, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Diallo is dedicated to his craft and fits the physical mold of an ideal wing, with a seven-foot wingspan and good shooting mechanics. He struggled mightily at Kentucky last year, but he’s only 19 years old, so there’s plenty of time for the Thunder to mold Diallo’s NBA game.

Miami Heat

Reason for hope: Living in Miami, which LeBron also loves

The Heat didn’t have a pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, but they and their fans probably have the best reason for hope: living in Miami, which LeBron also loves. But Miami doesn’t have the cap space to add LeBron in free agency. In fact, the Heat are $19 million and change over the cap, according to Sportrac.

The Heat might not have the pieces to acquire LeBron in a sign-and-trade deal either, since Hassan Whiteside’s value plunged in the playoffs and since the Heat would have to dump salary to add what is likely to be the largest contract in NBA history – $205 million over five years. The Heat do have first-round picks in 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025 to sweeten a trade proposal. They have just two second-round picks with which to work in 2022 and 2025, however. That should be enough to get Dan Gilbert salivating, but the money has to match, and neither team can take on salary, which complicates things thoroughly.

So despite two teams having no cap space and very short lists of valuable prospects to offer in a trade, here we are once again speculating that LeBron James will move to Miami. Why? Because it’s Miami, and anything can happen on South Beach. “Don't get me wrong, Chi-town got it goin' on, and New York is the city that we know don't sleep. And we all know that L.A. and Philly stay jiggy, but on the sneak, Miami bringin' heat for real.” Even though the Heat don’t have the money and might not have the prospects to acquire LeBron, they have two things working for them.

First, the City of Miami is “bringin’ heat for real,” as Will Smith so eloquently uttered. That heat scalds the eyes of those unfamiliar with the steamy sights of South Beach. “Ladies half-dressed, fully equipped,” screaming out “LeBron, we loved your last ‘ship.” That white-hot heat burns the nose like pure cocaine and brings tears to bloodshot, sunglassed eyes. “Everyday like a mardi gras, everybody party all day, no work all play, okay?” The heat Miami’s bringing is so hot you’ll forget you’re at work, regardless of occupation. The heat Miami is sending LeBron in Cleveland is too hot to merely be a warm front. The heat emanating from the City of Miami is so hot, Pat Riley doesn’t even have to sell the City of Miami, or the Heat, to anyone. Just visit once and you’ll never want to leave. “Everytime I come I always wind up stayin’.” Miami sells itself, and the heat has LeBron reminiscing, but he isn’t sweating, because he’s in control, which is the second thing the Heat have going for them.

Dan Gilbert will try to accomodate LeBron, not because he feels he owes it to him after how he handled LeBron’s first departure from Cleveland, but because it’s in the best interest of the Cavaliers. If LeBron wants to leave he’s going to leave, but if the Cavs can get something, anything, instead of losing LeBron via free agency for nothing, Gilbert will take it. If James wants out of Cleveland but wants to go to a team without the cap space to sign him in free agency, the Cavaliers will get whatever they can to accommodate the Angel from Akron, Blocker of Shots and Courier of Cleveland Rings. He’s already made the impossible happen, so there’s no reason why LeBron can’t make something like the biggest blockbuster trade in sports history happen. James would be doing Gilbert a favor by agreeing to a sign-and-trade.

Getting LeBron Back to Miami

First, we must rid ourselves of all assumptions. Nothing is off the table, no player untouchable. We can’t assume Cavaliers’ general manager Koby Altman isn’t willing to take on Whiteside and his massive contract spanning this year and next. Not too long ago general managers all over the league would have welcomed Whiteside and his contract. But more importantly and perhaps more interesting, we can’t assume LeBron doesn’t want to play with Whiteside. Quite the opposite could be true.

What LeBron sees in Whiteside might be a personal challenge for himself to mentor a player and silence the critics who say James doesn’t make his teammates better like Michael Jordan did. LeBron might see a solid rim-protector and pick-and-roll, alley-oop partner who’s gotten a bad rep for speaking his mind rather than biting his tongue, the latter of which I’ve been told by licensed therapists to be unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Maybe Whiteside finds comfort or relief in expressing his thoughts. Getting it off his chest could put him at ease. Maybe his struggles on the court stem from his struggle to contain his thoughts and emotions at the behest of the organization. Simply put, we don’t know and can’t assume what LeBron or the Cavaliers or the Heat are willing to do, but we can venture a guess as to the names Cleveland would have at the top of their wishlist.

Rebuilds begin with youth, and Justise Winslow, 21, and Bam Adebayo, 20, are the Heat’s youngest studs. Winslow could replace James in Cleveland’s starting lineup and benefit from playing more minutes, but Adebayo’s offensive rating of 116 was tops on the team amongst players logging more than 300 minutes. He’s especially attractive because he comes with three years of team control. The problem is neither of them make much money, which necessitates the trade of Whiteside just to make the money work. His $25.5 million salary paired with Winslow’s $3.5 million and Adebayo’s $3 million gets us to just $32 million, and we haven’t even taken on any salary from Cleveland yet. So, Cleveland would likely be forced to choose between Winslow and Adebayo, taking Adebayo to pair with Whiteside. That’s $28.5 million, so the Heat need to dump another considerable contract to make the money work. Enter the Johnsons.

Tyler and James Johnson are statistical twins playing different positions. James is slightly better defensively, but Tyler scores a bit more. James is the better shooter inside the arc, and Tyler is better from outside. Cleveland will likely decide between the two based on age. Tyler is 25 and James is 30, so to Cleveland Tyler goes, taking his $19 million contract with him. That gets us over the money hump with $6.5 million for Miami to spread across two players from Cleveland.

Larry Nance Jr. would make sense given Miami’s loss of Adebayo at power forward. Nance makes just over $2 million. A center to replace Whiteside would also make sense, so welcome to Miami, Ante Zizic, and bring your $2 million contract.

Cleveland will no doubt want a first-round pick in the immediate future, because regardless of Nance and Zizic, LeBron is worth more than Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Johnson – much more. So the Heat will send over their 2019 first-round pick, and they’ll have to get something back that doesn’t bust the cap as per NBA trade rules.

The only player left in Cleveland with a salary small enough for Miami to absorb is small forward Okaro White. So Miami absorbs $46,770,104 and sheds $47,635,473. LeBron takes his talents to South Beach, but this time brings Nance, Zizic and White with him. That can’t be right. LeBron is going to demand something. There’s one player he wants to bring with him whose gravity leaves James open despite being grounded and stationary. He knows his Miami teammates would benefit from that gravity, too. That gravity belongs to Kyle Korver, the man whose very presence on the floor improves his team more so than any other player in basketball – LeBron included. No reason to struggle when you can get open shots standing still.

Keeping Korver and LeBron Together

If LeBron James is the Sun, Kyle Korver is Earth’s Gravity, subtly manipulating the orbit of the Sun’s opponents, the defenders of the Outer Rim, to allow the sun to shine through limited traffic, basking Earth with superstar rays of light that literally brighten the days of everyone and everything on Earth, except Gravity. And while Gravity never catches nor reflects the Sun’s spotlight, Gravity prefers to remain in the shadows, unnoticed, grounded, taking silent pleasure in his work regardless of whom the Sun allows to shine brightest that day, because he knows without him, they would all fall off the Earth to be lost in space, where the Sun can’t even save them. But Gravity would never do such a thing because he’s a team player...and because the Sun scares the hell out of him.

There are a few ways Korver can come along with LeBron to Miami. The easiest way would be for James to take a pay cut in the amount of Korver’s $7.56 million contract, basically paying Korver out of his own pocket this season, which might be worth it to LeBron given Korver’s Gravity. I only know what I see on TV, and Korver seems to be LeBron’s favorite teammate, but James isn’t gifting one of these homes to Korver.

LeBron could also take a paycut in the amount necessary to make the money work for both sides. So if Miami needs to dump $5 million in salary to make the deal work, LeBron takes a $5-million pay cut. Simple, except all of these trade details would have to be negotiated before LeBron negotiates his contract. If you don’t think LeBron has people working on the exact “what-if” scenarios similar to what I’m investigating, you don’t know LeBron. He prepares, and he’ll hand-deliver his trade request(s) to Altman and Gilbert, complete with perfect arithmetic and adhering to NBA rules.

So what about the hard way? LeBron’s and Korver’s contracts total $48,560,000, which again necessitates the trade of Whiteside’s salary. And if Cleveland won’t budge on Adebayo, and they shouldn’t, the Heat have to really focus on sending ugly salaries Cleveland’s way instead of the quality players the Cavaliers might value.

Whiteside’s and Adebayo’s contracts total $25,434,263, and Tyler Johnson brings the total to $44,679,633. With about $4 million to go and contracts yet to absorb, the Heat could send Josh Richardson packing for Cleveland. That brings Miami’s total salaries traded to $54,046,833, leaving the Heat $5,486,833 to spread across two players. Again, Nance and Zizic make the most sense, totalling $4,225,151.

With $1,261,682 in cap space to spare, Miami gets LeBron, Korver, Nance and Zizic for Whiteside, Adebayo, Tyler Johnson and Richardson. If Cleveland requires a first-round pick to complete the trade, which it definitely should, Miami can only absorb part of White’s contract in exchange, so swapping draft picks would be necessary. It’ll be awhile before Pat Riley can actually use whatever pick the Heat get in return because Cleveland only has second-round picks in 2023 and 2025. When it comes to draft picks, Riley just needs to do what it takes. You know what you’re getting with LeBron James; you don’t with any draft pick. Miami’s first-rounders in 2019 and 2022 for Cleveland’s second-rounders in 2023 and 2025 should do it.

The only issue with this trade is Cleveland taking on $1,261,682 in salary while already $16.5 million over the luxury tax cap. While it’s a modest amount, I’m not sure if it would fly with the Commissioner’s Office. I am sure Miami would happily send over the difference, but the rules would require them to get something of value back. Gilbert would no doubt like to dump contracts himself, but his contracts are even worse than Miami’s.

Bringing a Third Partner into the Bedroom

If Gilbert wants to get under the luxury tax cap, a third team with cap space will be required. Teams with the cap space to take on the $16,521,661 Cleveland would have to dump in order to avoid paying the luxury tax are Atlanta (who would probably require the acquisition of Dennis Schroder), Chicago (probably more interested in making a run at free agents), Dallas (might use cap space to get DeMarcus Cousins), Houston (dedicated to free agency), Los Angeles Lakers (dedicated to free agency), Philadelphia (dedicated to free agency), Phoenix (perhaps) and Sacramento (perhaps). Let’s investigate.

Sacramento might be willing to take on Tristan Thompson’s two-year, $36 million contract with Kosta Koufos an unrestricted free agent after the season and Willie Cauley-Stein a restricted free agent at the end of the season. The Kings have a familiar face to LeBron in shooting guard Iman Shumpert, but he’s only under contract for one year. That might be the deal Gilbert and Altman have to swallow to avoid paying the luxury tax and Thompson’s contract. Buddy Hield is also stashed on the Kings’ roster and comes with two years of team control before becoming a restricted free agent, but the Cavaliers would probably have to sweeten that deal a bit, and they’re low on sweeteners.

Phoenix could also accommodate Tristan Thompson, as center Alex Len is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The same goes for Tyson Chandler after this season. As far as players the Suns could send back to Cleveland, both the Cavaliers and Heat would probably take Devin Booker, but they might not be able to coax Phoenix out of its best player last year. If so, it’s going to take a lot more than Tristan Thompson. Sacramento seems to be the one to invite into the bedroom, and Shumpert might be the one Cleveland lets under the covers. They’re at least familiar with each other, so it shouldn’t get weird. Cleveland doesn’t have to trade Shumpert to Miami, though. He could replace Korver to give Cleveland three shooting guards, and Miami would roll with Korver, Dion Waiters and Rodney McGruder. If the Kings don't feel they're getting enough to absorb Thompson's contract, Miami could swap draft picks with the Kings or send a pick in exchange for cash.

In summation:

  • The Miami Heat receive LeBron James, Kyle Korver, Larry Nance Jr., Ante Zizic, a 2023 second-round pick, and a 2025 second-round pick from Cleveland.
  • The Cleveland Cavaliers receive Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, a 2019 first-round pick, and a 2022 first-round pick from Miami, and Iman Shumpert from Sacramento.
  • The Sacramento Kings receive Tristan Thompson from Cleveland.

Is there a fair deal involving LeBron James? Of course. Is this it? Probably not, but it gives you an idea of how difficult it will be for LeBron to make the maximum amount of money and leave Cleveland for Miami. I imagine it’s hard for Gilbert to say no to a man who single-handedly, quite literally, delivered his franchise’s first ever championship and more than doubled the value of the franchise. And he did all this after Gilbert publicly berated him as selfish for doing nothing more than exercising a right he earned to become a free agent and choose where he wanted to live and work. Golden State needed four stars to triple the Warriors’ value.

If Gilbert is in it for the money, the time to sell is before LeBron leaves. I wouldn’t be surprised if LeBron’s plan is to leave Cleveland, wait for the Cavaliers’ value to fall in his absence before buying the franchise and becoming the first owner/player in professional sports. Then he can reap the rewards Gilbert enjoyed off his name being attached to the franchise, and King James could finish his reign at home. For now, all we can do is speculate while we wait for The Decision: Part III.

Published in Sports

This was originally published at Grandstand Central, where we cover sports from unique angles. 


 

A great American tradition born of the struggle to fill great American ballparks with great American baseball fans is dying. The ballpark giveaway is giving way to greed.

The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments last Wednesday in a dispute over taxes on promotional items purchased by the Cincinnati Reds and offered to fans through promotional ticket packages. Ohio state law exempts companies from paying taxes on items they buy and resell, but the issue is whether promotional items like bobbleheads are being sold as part of a ticket package or given away in an effort to increase ticket sales. Simply put, if the team gives away bobbleheads, they pay tax. If they sell them with the ticket, they do not.

Regardless of whether the Reds’ techniques are legal or not, the attempt to avoid paying $88,000 in state taxes is pretty insensitive given the Reds’ recent history, both on and off the field. The construction of Great American Ball Park cost Hamilton County taxpayers $349 million and deprived federal taxpayers of $142 million in revenue — the third-most costly of any Major League Baseball stadium according to a Brookings Institute study. The Reds share responsibility with the Cincinnati Bengals for burying Ohio’s Hamilton County in debt, resulting in cuts to social services, including the sale of a hospital, and forcing Hamilton County Commissioners to refinance $376 million of stadium bond debt in 2016. Property owners in Hamilton County were promised 30 percent of the revenue raised by the half-cent increase to the sales tax in the form of reduced tax bills, but the county has rarely had the money to pay the stadium debt and offer the full tax rollback.

Meanwhile, the Reds could go from increasing attendance by giving away items for which they once paid tax to profiting from tax-free items while also increasing attendance. And they’re not the only ones.

The Minnesota Twins are also offering more of these promotional ticket packages and fewer giveaways after winning a similar case back in 1998. Like Ohio, “goods and services purchased solely to resell, lease or rent in the regular course of business” are tax exempt in Minnesota. In fact, most states allow businesses to purchase items tax-free as long as those items are to be resold. So this is only the beginning, and already, great American ballparks are turning giveaways into takeaways, likely turning a profit on what was a cheap means of advertising and now is a cheaper means of advertising.

According to a sales representative at Associated Premium Corporation, a preferred vendor of MLB promotional items, a seven-inch bobblehead purchased in bulk exceeding 10,000 units could cost a ballclub between $3 and $5. Markups on promotional ticket packages are considerably higher than that, and in some ballparks, they vary by seat location.

Senior manager of group sales for the Twins, Phil McMullen, informed me that the prices for their promotional ticket packages are based on the price of their group tickets, which explains why the markup for the promotional item appears to vary by seat location when compared to buying a single game ticket alone. The same cannot be said for the Reds.

The June 19 promotional bobblehead in Cincinnati is available at three different price points in three different sections of the ballpark. The promotional ticket package is $25 per “View Level” ticket, $55 for a seat in the “Field Box” section and $80 for an “Infield Box” seat. The price of a ticket to the same game in the “View Level” section is $17. A field box seat is $41, and infield box seats range from $65 to $68. So the same bobblehead costs $8 when purchased with a “View Level” ticket, $14 when purchased with a “Field Box” ticket and between $12 and $15 when purchased with an “Infield Box” ticket. Assuming the “Field Box” price is based on one ticket price, Cincinnati fans purchasing the promotional ticket package will pay three different prices for the exact same product in the same store.

“It’s consistently very close…the difference is negligible,” Reds’ group sales representative Kristen Meyers said of the varying costs for the promotional items. She attempted to explain the difference in price to accommodate fans buying tickets with exact change, but the Twins’ ticket prices are also full-dollar amounts and their cost of the promotional items don’t vary by seat location.

Minimal research revealed that the Twins and Reds aren’t the only Major League Baseball teams selling promotional items at varying prices depending on seat location. On June 23, the Colorado Rockies are selling a promotional ticket package available in five different sections of the ballpark that includes a University of Nebraska hat. Based on the Rockies’ group ticket prices, fans will pay either $8, $11 or $12 for the hat, depending on their seat location. In Milwaukee on July 7, fans will pay four different prices for a bobblehead depending on their seat location.

If MLB teams are going to sell promotional items on a sliding scale to make those items more accessible to lower-income fans, that should be advertised and owned. But forcing fans who pay more for their tickets to also pay more for a promotional item without their knowledge is theft. While buying a promotional ticket package might be preferable to standing in line for hours with no guarantee of scoring a giveaway item, don’t think for a moment you’re taking advantage of a business desperate to sell tickets. Quite the opposite is true, and the degree to which they fleece you varies as much as the prices of the promotional items they claim to sell in order to avoid paying state tax. But if you must have a promotional item offered with one of these promotional ticket packages, you’re likely best off buying the cheapest seats.

Published in Money
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