Can we calmly discuss what happened at Staples Center? It's pretty simple -- Metta World Peace hit James Harden with an indefensible cheap shot. If Andrew Bynum drew a five-game suspension for his foul in the lane against J.J. Barea last postseason, my guess is that World Peace will receive a ban between 5-10 games. Few could deem such a penalty either soft or excessive. The tricky variable will be Artest's history. He's drawn two suspensions for throwing elbows since 2006 (most recently in ‘09, for elbowing Kobe Bryant). Notice I didn't mention the "Malice At The Palace"? That matters no more or less than Artest slamming a television camera in the tunnel following a loss in 2003. Forgot about that? That's because it happened nine years ago. The Palace? Eight. It would be foolish to say World Peace is the man he was then, when he was called Ron Artest, and a stretch to compare those apples to Sunday's oranges. World Peace's personal growth has been documented and, following the Lakers' 2010 championship, celebrated. He's gotta pay for this one, though, and he's gonna pay a lot.
Oh yeah, they finished the game ... and it turned out to be a doozy. But while it was entertaining, it pointed out what there is to worry about from both teams in the postseason. The Lakers will live and die with the blessing and curse that is Kobe Bryant. His usage rate, similar to Allen Iverson's when he carried the ‘01 Sixers to the NBA Finals, is indefensibly high. But what he did at the end of regulation and the confidence his presence gives the Lakers are undeniable. But given the net gain the Lakers got from Artest and Harden leaving the game, it can't be ignored that the heroics were necessitated by the team's 14-point third quarter, where Kobe shot 1-7. As for the Thunder blowing a 17-point fourth quarter lead? At some point, people will get around to questioning the dude in the suit.
How modern technology can make things worse. Slow-motion comes in really handy when viewers need to figure out what happened on a bang-bang play. But what purpose does it serve when someone's been elbowed in the head? There was nothing to clarify, nor was there any true mystery as to what happened. Intent was irrelevant given what everyone knows about the responsibility a basketball player has for his own elbows. All repeated viewing of slow-motion replays did in Sunday's game was foment the visceral reaction many had to seeing what Artest did. It didn't point out anything new. It just made what we already saw seem worse in a way, and there was no chance the replays would ever make it look better. This happens often in moments like these in sports, and it's what kids on the Internet call "trolling." And given that subjects like lynchings and incarceration showed up in my Twitter mentions in reference to Artest, the slo-mo was more damaging than it was illustrative.
A big NHL suspension ... so now what? There's little sympathy in the air for Raffi Torres after he received a 25-game suspension for his triply-illegal hit on Marian Hossa in Game 3 of the Blackhawks-Coyotes series. It's also hard to blame NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan for issuing a suspension that says "I Mean Business." However, after getting to the part of Shanahan's explanatory video where Torres' prior bad acts are documented, it's impossible to say this punishment isn't largely reactionary. Maybe a reaction was necessary, given the general sense of disorder surrounding this postseason, but Torres' suspension doesn't demonstrate anything systematic about how the NHL doles out punishment. The league did enough to pacify most of those disturbed by the sight of Hossa on a stretcher, but it did nothing for those searching for rhyme or reason behind its decisions on discipline. A 25-game suspension may discourage the most flagrant violations, but there's still no telling what will happen the next time a borderline offense occurs.
How badly does Minnesota want its football team? It's pretty simple -- either someone in Minnesota comes up with the money to build a stadium for the Vikings, or the franchise will probably head to Los Angeles. Even if that's not written, that's certainly the point of all the commotion of the last few days. That point seemed to resonate with the Minnesota Senate's Local Governments and Election Committee, which signed off on a funding bill that died at the same point in the state's House. As long as L.A. is out there, the NFL has the fire to put to any municipality's feet to get a stadium deal going. The question is whether the folks in Minnesota will say "no" like Seattle told the NBA and SuperSonics. And, if they do, will they spend the next few years complaining about it all the time?
"What this team needs is a rainout." And luckily, it got one Sunday night. Bobby Valentine took it pretty hard to hear Red Sox fans chant "We Want Tito!" during Friday's loss to the Yankees on Fenway Park's 100th anniversary. What fans might really mean is "We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher," a description Terry Francona doesn't fit. And said pitchers would have really helped when the Sox gagged away a 9-0 lead between the sixth and eighth innings Saturday. Presumably, things will get better for Valentine. It's hard to blame him when the same starting pitchers who faltered late last year picked up where they left off. But if things don't get better pretty soon, the best thing for all may be a new manager. And no, it's not too early to wonder if the Red Sox hired the wrong guy, or how soon they might correct that mistake.
Hooray for the Flyers ... for now? Philadelphia went up a goal within 32 seconds of the opening faceoff of Game 6 Sunday and scored another before the end of the first period, but it still felt like Pittsburgh had a shot. The puck seemed to live in the Flyers' defensive zone. Of course, when it visited the other end, it would manage to find the net. And so ends a peculiar series, with its backs and forths stretching days at a time. And while the Flyers advanced, Sunday was the first game where they surrendered less than three goals. Their goals against average for the series? 4.33. Think that'll beat the Rangers or Senators, whose series has involved one game where either team scored four?
A fight no one will win. There seems to be friction at the NBPA, whose Executive Committee asked president Derek Fisher to resign. The power struggle between NBPA executive director Billy Hunter and Fisher was no secret during the lockout, and now Hunter seems to have the support to move Fisher out. Fisher says the accusation that he worked in opposition of the players’ interest during the lockout is false, but he’ll have a helluva time refuting howwell past presidents of the union have been treated by David Stern through the years. It’s not damning, but it’s enough to make anyone reasonably suspicious of his motives. Hopefully, for both Hunter’s and Fisher’s sakes, they find a way to resolve this quietly. If we learned anything from the lockout, it’s that neither fans, media, owners nor commissioner take the NBPA seriously. The players’ intellect and the competence of those representing their interests were questioned constantly. They were patronized in a way that often smelled of racism, a reinforcement of the idea the players should "do" while those more capable make decisions for them. And now, the union is engaged in a public spat in front of an audience who, generally, has never wished it well. Few will publicly root for its interest. Many, however, will enjoy seeing the chaos. That hurts Hunter and Fisher, and it will continue to do so, no matter who wins their battle.
There’s no need to make things difficult. Arkansas’ search for a head coach will extend into this week. If those searching took the weekend off, shouldn’t they keep that up until, say, November? There will be no head coach worth the sort of money Arkansas is willing to pay -- Bobby Petrino made over $3 million last year, and he’s owed nothing -- so why not to hire a permanent coach until ... permanent coach hiring season? Or, let’s put it another way -- any coach dumb or desperate enough to take this job right now is too dumb and/or desperate for Jeff Long to settle for right now.
It's almost here! The NFL Draft starts Thursday. It's the payoff for all the mock drafts, profiles of players you'll never think about again and reports everyone -- writers, coaches, executives, agents, etc. -- knows are bogus. And guess what? The Draft will go exactly as it would have had none of those things been printed. Guess what else? Whomever your team drafts, you'll have to root for him. That's all to say the best part of the NFL Draft is it frees America from four months of wasting its time.