So the only sports all weekend was Yankees-Mets. Luckily, there wasn't much worth watching. Wait, that doesn't make you want to read this column, does it?
Ummm, I meant ... man, look at all this stuff that happened off the field! Yeah.
Hats off to R.A. Dickey. Dickey's streak of innings without giving up an earned run ended at 44-2/3 Sunday night. Our own Rob Neyer wrote a great piece on what separates Dickey from any knuckleballer ever -- his velocity. Another wonder of watching Dickey is feeling like he actually knows what he's doing. His three walks Sunday were the most he'd surrendered since May 6. Before Sunday, he'd walked five batters during his streak. His 1.8 walks per nine innings rival Phil Niekro's best seasons, and his .889 WHIP blows anything Knucksie did out of the water. The knuckleball has always been a quirky change of pace. Dickey has turned it into a weapon, making his streak all the more impressive and something we should remember for a long time.
Deron Williams is down to the Nets and Mavericks. This doesn't seem like big news, but this will be an interesting test of the new collective bargaining agreement. The new CBA should make decisions like Williams' no-brainers, given how much more the Nets (Williams' current team) can offer him relative to the Mavericks or anyone else. But if Williams decides to sign with his hometown team, even though most believe Dwight Howard wants to play for Brooklyn, it will be another illustration of how farcical the NBA lockout was. Sure, the owners got some money back, but the idea that the new CBA would stop players from going elsewhere, if they want, will be dealt a death blow if Williams signs a deal with Mark Cuban. Imagine the irony -- Cuban might win, even though he couldn't outspend for Williams if he wanted to. Once again, the lockout would look like a big waste of time and energy for all parties involved.
So James Harden knows what's going to happen next, ha? Harden seemed pretty confident he would have his contract extended by the Thunder. Well, has anyone talked to Serge Ibaka about this? The prevailing sentiment is that Oklahoma City will only be able to re-sign one of them after the 2013 season (at true market value, at least). Extending one is, effectively, telling the other he's a lame duck. And while Harden talks about how the Thunder is a family, families often have beef, usually when one child feels like its sibling is getting what the other feels is rightfully his. If not then, then usually over money. This case involves both. Certainly, both Harden and Ibaka think they're worthy of a huge extension. I doubt either would be fine with being the odd man out, and I wouldn't bet on either of them being silly enough to leave significant money on the table. That's a lot to leave hanging in the air, meaning Sam Presti would be smart to decide soon who to keep and quickly trade the other while he can. As for Harden, he should take this video as a warning of what might happen to him.
The NBA Draft is on Thursday??? I hate draft coverage. I hate the long lead-ins, as if the things that happen in the weeks before drafts are going to matter after the event itself. That said ... is anyone else feeling unprepared for the NBA Draft? I mean, I didn't need two and a half months to prepare like we have for the NFL Draft, but I haven't even memorized that one guy's name. You know, the one from the small school. The point guard. THE DRAFT IS ON THURSDAY, AND THESE ARE THE THINGS I'M SAYING. So yeah, maybe a little draft buildup wouldn't be the worst idea. There, I said it.
Be careful what you wish for... Spencer Hall distilled the issues of a college football playoff, and Bill Connelly used the past to show how a four-team playoff will still leave teams and fans irate. What problem do I see? That a football "bubble" would be much different than basketball's analogue. Those last teams in the NCAA Tournament, in all likelihood, will not win the championship. There are 60-plus teams who are better. In football? Well, there would only be three teams, in theory, better than the last team in. Unlike basketball, where the rules make it easier for the physically inferior to compete, a great team from a smaller conference may have a better playoff case, but they will often be incapable of competing with the superior size, strength and skill of schools from larger conferences. That will leave a hanging, irreconcilable dilemma for the Boise State and schools like it -- should they be allowed to enter a tournament few think they have a real chance of winning? Fairness and function will always be at odds, and they'll be balanced by a system few of us should trust. So while you may think the future will be an upgrade from the BCS, it looks like we'll be calling a rose by another name, a rose most thought smelled more sour than sweet. But trust -- in the end, it will be the same rose.
The Heat are right on schedule. A few days have passed since Miami won the NBA championship, enough time to step away from the immediacy of everything related to the Heat and truly assess what has happened since July 2010. The Heat were in the worst place an NBA team can be -- stuck being pretty good. They'd win too many games to get a great draft pick, but never be good enough to contend. They tore the whole thing down and invested in three players, hoping to fit cheap parts around them. It was the quickest rebuild in NBA history, and unquestionably the most successful. The 2011 Heat had obvious, staggering flaws and found a way to the NBA Finals. This year's team survived a regular season in which Dwyane Wade missed 17 games and a postseason where Chris Bosh -- the only player of consequence on the team taller than LeBron James -- missed nine games. It fought from off the ropes against Indiana and Boston before winning the NBA Finals, primarily because it was the tougher, more grizzled team. Yeah, the Heat said they could win seven championships, but they weren't going to win all those in two years, anyway. They got farther than I expected a team could with Mike Bibby at point last year. This year, they made quick work of the NBA's next big thing. Once you back away from all the hoopla, the success of this grand experiment is undeniable, as is the fact that it went according to a reasonable schedule.
Let's cut the bull about LeBron James. Predictably, the story surrounding LeBron James' first title is about his growth. It should be. After all, he handled everything surrounding the Heat much better this season than last, and the issues that dogged him late in games seem to be gone. But let's stop lying about who LeBron was before this season. Was he a choker? In a "what have you done for me lately?" sense, maybe. As Bill Simmons wrote, James put up 35.3 points, 9.1 rebounds 7.3 assists and per game in the 2009 playoffs (including an unreal 38/8/8 in the Eastern Conference Finals against Orlando). His numbers this postseason -- 30.3/9.3/5.3 -- weren't as good, but the Heat won, lending itself to an easy spin to the narrative. That ignores one thing -- it's easy to say Bron "figured it out" when his team defeated a team of adolescents, guys who were in high school when James became a superstar (like the utterly shook James Harden). What's more difficult is looking back and realizing, in spite of LeBron's highly-publicized struggles, fans and media overreacted. LeBron was a "choker" for five games that mattered -- Game 5 vs. Boston in 2010 and the last four games of the 2011 NBA Finals. That's it. He didn't stop being the guy we saw in ‘09. Hell, before it all came apart against the Celtics two years ago, his Game 3 in that series was one of the most impressive performances of the last 10 years (and came off a loss). He got more mature, and he learned to cope with pressure better, but save the talk that he became a different guy. LeBron James played like a guy we've seen before -- LeBron James. The LeBron James that ended the Pistons' most recent run, the one who dragged the Cavaliers to heights to which they may never return, the one who dispatched the Bulls and Celtics late in games last postseason. He's the best player in the NBA, as he's been for five years, and this year was his time. That's not as sexy as the narrative, but it feels a lot more accurate from here.
From America to Joe Amendola. Please don't. We understand this is your job, but if you were going to quit representing Jerry Sandusky, it would have been better had you done that before allowing Sandusky to creep America out in a television interview with Bob Costas. Now, you're just dragging out something inevitable. Jerry Sandusky is going to jail. He is a sick man who belongs there. No matter how solid your argument is, he's going to jail. This is not your chance to become a star. You will not be Johnnie Cochran. The longer this goes, you will disturb America as much as your client does. It does not look like you're looking out for him. Just as was the case when Sandusky wound up on TV, you're looking out for yourself. And if there's been too much of anything in this whole ordeal, it's people looking out for themselves. That goes for Sandusky, Amendola, administrators, coaches and everyone else. The trial is over. Your time in the spotlight is over. Please, on everything we love, just let this horror be over.
No, I won't let Bountygate go. The story of the Saints alleged bounty program isn't as sexy now, but it's even more important. With each passing day, it's clear the NFL should not be trusted. All one need do is look at the information on the NFLPA's website -- the same information that left NFL media certain that something happened -- to see this scandal simply wasn't what the public was sold. So when DeMaurice Smith said he wanted the investigation re-opened, the public should have demanded the same. Player safety should be a concern, but the cause should not be exploited to make the NFL look good. While the "safety" in question involves what happens on the field, players should also be protected from the NFL, especially when the media that covers it has been so unwilling to scrutinize limited information offered by the league. And, if you don't care about the players, chances are you care about competitive balance, and that has been disrupted without a proper explanation as to why. All of us -- the Saints, the suspended players, and those who invest time and money in the NFL -- deserve better.
I want to work with Jonathan Papelbon. Hey, I respect Papelbon's willingness to throw five stacks to whomever cleaned up his mistake. In fact, I'd like to know if he's got any interest in working for a certain Internet company. Because if he's paying guys bonuses for, you know, doing their jobs, we need to get him on board here. I mean, I wrote this column fresh off a plane. That's gotta be worth a couple hundred bucks, right?