Wishful thinking: NBA Pacific Division preview

If you've somehow missed all the NBA previews--or are simply jonesin' for more--top bloggers helped We Rite Goode boil the season down to a few catchy soundbites that can be used to impress at cocktail parties or keggers. After you've read our methodology here, check out what bloggers see in store for Kobe, Baron, and Bibby.

1. Phoenix Suns
Steve Goldman, Born and Raised

What they need to do to make me happy: I'd be very happy if Phoenix win 60+ games. Some might say this is a big ask, but I know they can do it. Phoenix can make it to the Western Conference finals they will disappoint many fans if they fail. Leandro Barbosa should improve even more, and I'd like to see rookies DJ Strawberry and Alando Tucker prove that they deserve to be playing for such a great time.

Reasoning: The Suns' elimination from the playoffs at the hands of the Spurs was disappointing but San Antonio were a better team at the time. This year, I expect a different outcome if the two teams meet in the playoffs. After snapping up two good draft picks and signing Grant Hill, the Suns have more depth than last year. Barbosa.

2. Los Angeles Lakers
Carter Blanchard, Plissken at the Buzzer

What they need to do to make me happy: Go 48-34, make it past the first round, and generally look like second-tier contender. Individually, I'd like to see Bynum to contend for MIP, Odom to be in at least 70 games, Kobe to play the All-Star Game as a Laker, Crittenton to come in a surprising 3rd in ROY voting, and Ronny to play extended minutes without fouling out while warming the hearts of all of men and women the world over.

: Healthy and happy there's no reason this team couldn't be sniffing the tail of Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio (and now Houston) like they were for the first third of last year. Bynum seems poised for a breakout, and preseason/summer league Critt has eased my Belinelli-envy ever so slightly.

3. Golden State Warriors
Ty Keenan, Plissken at the Buzzer

What they need to do to make me happy:
Win more than 45 games, make it to the playoffs, and win a playoff series. Individually, Baron Davis plays 75 games, Captain Jackson only gets suspended two more times, Monta Ellis learns to hit the 20-foot jumper that made Tony Parker a star, and Marco Belinelli finishes in the Top 5 for ROY voting on coolness alone.

We still don't have enough of a post threat to challenge for a title, but that doesn't mean Nellieball can't continue to chip away at the Right Way monopoly. For this pinko commie fan, that's enough.

4. The best NBA team in Los Angeles--the L.A. Clippers
Clipper Steve,
Clips Nation

What they need to do to make me happy: Win 42 games and squeak into the 8th spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Sure, they'll lose to the top seed (be it the Spurs, Mavs or Suns) - it would be gravy if they could make a decent showing. In addition, Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston both need to return from injury and play well this season. That's almost a given with EB - much more of an unknown with Livingston. Corey Maggette needs to lead the team in scoring in Brand's absence, and Chris Kaman needs to earn his $52M salary. Oh, and Al Thornton needs to be solid in his rookie year. And most importantly, the Clippers must finish ahead of the Lakers. That's all I'm asking for. It's not so much, really.

: Last season, with the weight of expectations, the team underachieved. Back in familiar territory, with Brand injured and picked to finish near the bottom of the west by most experts, the Clippers are once-again their lovable underdog selves. If Brand can return from injury sooner rather than later (Jan. 1 would be a nice round number, and would be five months after the injury - aggressive but not unheard of), the team would closely resemble the team that took Phoenix to a game seven two seasons ago. Maggette and Cassell need to keep the team competitive until Brand returns. A playoff berth in a season as ill-fated as this would have the team ready to enter next season on the upswing again. It's not completely unrealistic - the top of the Western Conference is great, but the 8th spot has to go to someone - the Clippers just have to finish above the Lakers, the Hornets and the Grizz (forget Portland, Seattle, Sacramento and Minnesota). That's not that daunting.

5. Sacramento Kings
Tom Ziller,
Sactown Royalty

What they need to do to make me happy: 40+ wins, which means competing for a playoff spot. Get Kevin Martin into the All-Star game. Get a youngster or draft pick and no bad contracts for Mike Bibby.

Reasoning for above
: Because it's a fast trip to the bottom and a long journey up. (I remember the 1990s.) This team won't resemble a contender for years, but playoff contention is a nice distraction from the depression fed by the roster at large.

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 18:16, ,

Getting real: NBA Southeast Division preview

If you've somehow missed all the NBA previews--or are simply jonesin' for more--top bloggers helped We Rite Goode boil the season down to a few catchy soundbites that can be used to impress at cocktail parties or keggers. After you've read our methodology here, take a spin with stars like Gil, Dwyane, and Dwight.

1. Orlando Magic (Formerly The Orlando Tragic)
Black and Blue Jor, The Howeva Files

Forget what they need to do; here's what they will do: I forsee good things, like winning the Southeast Conference with a 48-34 record. Yes, really.

Reasoning for above: The Magic did something unheard of in their crappy non-existent history: they actually retained a superstar. Not only did they resign Dwight Howard, they somehow managed to pry another star in Rashard Lewis from the Sonics and retained all of their other key players. Yes, Darko and Grant Hill, I said KEY players...not a chronically injured sub and a backup power forward. Couple that with a possible emergence of Jameer Nelson and you have the makings of a very solid team. By solid, I mean they are still something the Western Conference wipes their asses with, but solid nonetheless.

2. Washington Wizards
JakeTheSnake, Bullets Forever

Forget what they need to do; here's what they will do: Struggle out of the gates but then pick up steam, play marginally better defense and end up playing just above .500 ball for the season putting them somewhere between 4th and 8th in the conference.

Reasoning: If the preseason has been any indication (which it probably hasn't) Gilbert is still trying to get into a rhythm and the team will have to feel things out while adjusting to not having Etan Thomas' presence inside. After struggling throughout November and into December, Agent Zero will catch fire get the Wizards back in the hunt but won't have enough to get them into the elite in the East. All in all the Wizards will end up being better than last year's version but the improvement in the conference keeps the Wizards will keep that improvement from paying dividends in the win-loss column.

3. Miami Heat
Ben Go
, Thank You Isiah
[Editor's note: This was written pre-Ricky Davis/Antoine Walker trade.]
Forget what they need to do; here's what they will do: Possibly go .500 and sneak into the 8th spot. (The improved Orlando and Charlotte squads will vie for the Southeast.) But barring a simply remarkable performance by Wade, they'll be bounced in the first round.

Reasoning for above: This team is old (and its skin may be cold). Thanks to Shaq and Antoine Walker, their cap situation is a total wreck. And their lone youngster besides Wade and Haslem is Dorrell Wright, who hasn't looked good in the preseason, despite the fact that the starting SF job was his to lose. (He appears to have lost it, to Walker, no less.) Ah well, we'll always have 2006.

4. Charlotte Bobcats
, Queen City Hoops

Forget what they need to do; here's what they will do: Win more games than last year...but not enough for it to matter. 37 wins sounds about right. Oh, and the Bobcats continue to get snubbed at the mid-season gala. And Rufus (the mascot) gets arrested for running a prostitution ring.

Reasoning for above: The team should be better than last year, having added another high quality player, Jason Richardson, to the mix. That brings the total to...4, but with 1 of them out for the year, Sean May. The rest of the pieces are ok, but when you consider that Okafor and Wallace are both injury risks, and the team's depth is still a bit shallow (I'm really enjoying the competition by 2 second rounders for the starting center position), this team is not quite ready to make a major jump. Crash and Emeka will continue to put up solid numbers that border on All-Star worthy, but come up a bit short yet again. As for Rufus? Well, have you seen him? It is just a matter of time.

[Editor's note: Plissken at the Buzzer also has some thoughts on Rufus. Not all of them good.]

5. Atlanta Hawks
Jay Busbee, Right Down Peachtree

Forget what they need to do; here's what they will do: They’ll hit the thirty-win mark sometime in early spring and throw a rod. They’ll end up with 35 or so wins and get eliminated from the playoffs with a couple weeks left in the season. Again.

Reasoning: They’re still a young team, and Mike Woodson hasn’t yet proven to me that he can keep momentum going for an entire season. Plus, the West Virginia-family-reunion that is the Hawks’ knotted ownership situation means they can’t count on dealing for some stretch-run talent. Best-case scenario is above; worst-case is everybody gives up on the team and starts going for individual stats—which would make them fit in perfectly with the 2007 Falcons.

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 12:22, ,

Wishful thinking: NBA Southeast Division preview

If you've somehow missed all the NBA previews--or are simply jonesin' for more--top bloggers helped We Rite Goode boil the season down to a few catchy soundbites that can be used to impress at cocktail parties or keggers. After you've read our methodology here, take a spin with stars like Gil, Dwyane, and Dwight.

1. Miami Heat
Ben Go
, Thank You Isiah
[Editor's note: This was written pre-Ricky Davis/Antoine Walker trade.]
What they need to do to make me happy: Win 50 and the Southeast, Shaq actually plays 72 games or so, Jason Williams plays 75 games, Wade returns by the end of November, wins the MVP. Make the Eastern Finals, where they lose to Chicago. (Remember, I'm a Bulls fan now.)

Reasoning: Stuck with Shaq for 3 more years at $20 mil per, the goal has got to be to win everything now. As for Wade winning the MVP, if he's healthy (a big if), he's capable.

2. Washington Wizards
JakeTheSnake, Bullets Forever

What they need to do to make me happy: I'd like to see the Wizards get into the second round first and foremost, while you don't need a certain record to get to that level (see: Golden State Warriors) I'd like to see the Wizards get at least 47 wins. Anything above that is an added bonus in my book. This effort will be led in part by Andray Blatche who will take home M.I.P. honors this season (you heard it here first!).

The Wizards can't continue to stay on the verge of being an elite team, this has to be the make or break year for this team. While I'll still take languishing as a also-ran in the playoffs over consistently being an out and out terrible team, I would much rather root for a winner.

3. Charlotte Bobcats
, Queen City Hoops

What they need to do to make me happy
: Win 40 games...or 41...or 39 - whatever winds up being the minimum needed to make the playoffs. Losing in the first round is perfectly acceptable, but winning a game at home would be nice. Additionally, seeing a Bobcat make the All-Star game would bring a smile to my face. Make it two, with Gerald Wallace on the team, and Emeka Okafor making it as Shaq's injury replacement.

: At this point, 4 years into Charlotte's second shot at NBA basketball, the natives are getting restless: We're ready for playoff basketball to come back to the city, as the Hornets had gotten us quite used to seeing some playoff games every spring. For the city to really embrace the new franchise, the team needs to start winning a bit more, and making the playoffs would be a great start. As far as the All-Star game is concerned, it is just time for Emeka and Gerald to be recognized as the outstanding young players they are (and it would bring more credibility to the team to have our best players acknowledged on such a stage).

4. Orlando Magic (Formerly The Orlando Tragic)
Black and Blue Jor, The Howeva Files

What they need to do to make me happy: To be honest, unlike most of the shitstorms that are in the NBA the Magic actually have high expectations this season. Anything less than the 2nd round playoffs will have all 4 of the total Orlando Magic fans in a huff. If they don't win at least 40 games and make the playoffs, it's time to burn Darko Milicic for witchcraft.

The Magic spent a loooooooot of money this offseason, including robbing banks and actioning off illigitemate children of Patrick Ewing to sign Rashard Lewis. They also have been waiting a while to see what the deal is with Jameer Nelson and if they have more than a drunk white poet in JJ Redick.

5. Atlanta Hawks

Jay Busbee, Right Down Peachtree

What they need to do to make me happy
: Just show up to play every night…and don’t look up in the stands. The Hawks have the talent to make a little noise in the East, but that noise won’t be coming from the desolate Philips Arena seats. Best hope? 40-42, sneaking into the playoffs only to get waxed by the Boston Trifecta.

Reasoning: Joe Johnson’s a top-20 player, Josh Smith is a singular talent, and Al Horford and Acie Law should be in the running for All-Rookie First Team. This team could be a lot of fun to watch, and if the Hawks brass has any clue, they’ll cut them loose and turn them into Phoenix East.

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 09:30, ,

Getting real: NBA Southwest Division preview

If you've somehow missed all the NBA previews--or are simply jonesin' for more--top bloggers helped We Rite Goode boil the season down to a few catchy soundbites that can be used to impress at cocktail parties or keggers. After you've read our methodology here, get acquainted with the league's strongest division below.

1. San Antonio Spurs
Liston Von Culbertson, Introducing Liston/Epic Carnival

Forget what they need to do; here's what they will do: They will go 96-3. It's a lock, baby. You heard it here first. They will lose the first three games of the season and then win 96 straight. Tim Duncan will be elected President of the Solar System and Manu Ginobilli will get me pregnant. Oh yeah.

Reasoning: Once again, because they rock tits, hardcore. And it would be dope if I was the first guy to get pregnant. Manu and I would have some type of hybrid super basketball baby. He would have two times the amount of necessary chromosomes which means two times the amount of ass-kickery. I mean, it's science.

2. Dallas Mavericks
Wes, Mavs Moneyball

Forget what they need to do; here's what they will do: 59 wins, lose in the conference finals.

Reasoning: Dallas will take it a little bit easier in the regular season this year. As a result, they'll make it further in the postseason, but once again the lack of post presence on offense will come back to haunt them.

3. Houston Rockets
Trey Jones, I Ball For Real

Forget what they need to do; here's what they will do: Finally get past the Dallas-choke zone (first round), push DAL/SA/PHX to 7 games in the semis or the finals, get every Houstonian's hopes up, and lose (followed by a tearful McGrady press conference).

Reasoning: This is the first year with this team as a whole, so a championship might be a slight stretch. Plus, Rick Adelman is coaching, so a playoff collapse is always imminent.

4. New Orleans (Formerly New Orleans/Oklahoma City) (Formerly Formerly Charlotte) Hornets
Zeb Benbrook, AdonalObsessed

Forget what they need to do; here's what they will do: 42 wins, 8th seed, first round knockout. Chris Paul makes the All-Star game.

Reasoning: Peja is looking like Shaq out there, he might never fully recover from his back surgery. It is inevitable that Paul or someone else important will get injured, and it reamins to be seen how many fans will show up to games in New Orleans.

5. The Boys from Beale Street – The Memphis Grizzlies
Spartacus, Shades of Blue

Forget what they need to do; here's what they will do: Win 37 games, lose enough close games to miss the playoffs and wind up 9th or 10th in the West. Gasol will make the All-Star team as a reserve and actually score a point this time, unlike his last appearance. They’ll also trade Damon Stoudamire mid-season once Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley Jr. prove that they are capable of leading the team.

Reasoning: There are a few teams that are evidently worse off than Memphis (Minnesota, Portland, Seattle, L.A. Clippers) and a couple of more that don’t appear to be much, if any, better than the Grizzlies (Sacramento, L.A. Lakers, Golden State, New Orleans). Because of that, I think the 7th – 11th spots in the West will be separated by only 5 or 6 games, which means that if the Grizzlies step up, find a go-to scorer and come together as a new team under a new coach, they could be in the thick of things. Their attention to defense will be one of the main keys to their success, since they neglected to play any last year.

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 16:22, ,

Wishful thinking: NBA Southwest Division preview

If you've somehow missed all the NBA previews--or are simply jonesin' for more--top bloggers helped We Rite Goode boil the season down to a few catchy soundbites that can be used to impress at cocktail parties or keggers. After you've read our methodology here, get acquainted with the league's strongest division below.

1. San Antonio Spurs
Liston Von Culbertson, Introducing Liston/Epic Carnival

What they need to do to make me happy: They need to go 98-0. Tony Parker needs to not be French anymore. Manu Ginobilli needs to continue being so super bad ass. It'd also be cool if I ran into Tim Duncan while I was riding the bus to work. I wouldn't try to get his autograph because I would be too nervous, but I would try to brush up against his balls with the back of my hand. I'm not gay, but I'd do that, big time.

Reasoning: Well, cause they rock tits, hardcore. Does it get more analytical than that? Also, I have a theory that Tim Duncan's sweat smells like championships and MVPs. Everytime I ride a bus my balls sweat, so that'd probably be the best place to try and test my theory.

2. Dallas Mavericks
Wes, Mavs Moneyball
What they need to do to make me happy: 16 wins - all in the playoffs.

: After last season, all Mavs fans are over the regular season. The playoffs are all that matter now.

3. Houston Rockets
Trey Jones, I Ball For Real

What they need to do to make me happy
: Win 55-60 games, advance to the second round for the first time since I was 11, vanquish the evil Spurs/Mavericks/Suns, and get to at least the WC finals.

Reasoning: GM Daryl Morey was making moves like he was in Dynasty mode on NBA Live, improving the positions we sorely lacked (sucked?) at, PG and PF, bringing in Luis Scola, Steve Francis, Mike James, and Aaron Brooks (the talented one).

4. New Orleans (Formerly New Orleans/Oklahoma City) (Formerly Formerly Charlotte) Hornets
Zeb Benbrook, AdonalObsessed

What they need to do to make me happy: Win 50 games, get to Western Conference Semi-Finals, Adam Haluska in Rookie-Sophmore game, Chris Paul in the All-Star game (Playstation skills challenge doesn't count.)

: Last year, this team was really poised to do something great. All the pieces fit, we were winning games, and then Peja goes down. And then David West goes down. And then Chris Paul goes down. And then Bobby Jackson goes down. And even Tyson Chandler goes down. Before you knew it, Marc Jackson was starting at Center and Devin Brown was holding it down at Shooting Guard. Yeah, it was bad. So, in truth, the only reason we were out of the playoffs...was injuries. With a quick upgrade at SG (Mo Pete over D-Mase), a replacement for the Ball hogging of Pargo (Haluska), a almost developed Chandler backup (Armstrong) and yet another project in the wings (Wright) we look to get things going.

5. The Boys from Beale Street – The Memphis Grizzlies
Spartacus, Shades of Blue

What they need to do to make me happy: Win 35 games, develop chemistry while adapting to Marc Iavaroni’s new system, generate enough positive buzz to bring back some of the disgruntled fan base, make a commitment to developing/nurturing the young talent. Having Rudy Gay display more than just flashes of his unreal talent would make me ecstatic.

Reasoning: The organization suffered through a horrific season last year, so they need to show some progress to the fan base to bring some of them back into the fold. Making significant strides towards returning to the playoffs would be a big step in the direction. Since Rudy is considered a key cog of the future, having him develop would be another big reason to keep hope for the outlook of the franchise.

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 14:12, ,

Until tonight, everyone's still undefeated

Long-rumored...but with hours to spare, here's our NBA preview special. Because, you know, the world needed another one.

Hey there, wayward readers! Welcome to We Rite Goode's high-concept, low-rent NBA preview, where we'll...

....wait, wait. Hold on. Not only does the season tip off tonight, there already are a gazillion, top-notch NBA previews to choose from. Tom Ziller offers the appealing, non-denominational Festivus series on Ballhype. Celtic Blog's Jeff Clark corralled an entire league's worth of bloggers to post about their favorite teams. Even our hometown heroes, Prada and Jake at Bullets Forever, have done due diligence on the Wizards while offering "competition discussions" to take the league's pulse. The list goes on and on and on, with wrinkles galore. Most likely previews! Individual player previews!! Previews by players!!! A preview so hyperlinked it folds back in on itself!!!!

You get it. It's a crowded space. So why us? What made us think we can actually add value to the mix?

Two words.

John Hollinger.

As usual, it all starts with him.


We got to wondering, when ESPN's Hollinger started taking flack this month over NBA predictions that we'll charitably describe as "counterintuitive" and others call "$%$ing awful." The Raptors...slipping out of the playoffs? The Nets...falling behind the Hawks and Magic? The Clippers...winning only 20 games!?

Save Houston fans--basking in Hollinger's prediction of a title--many others were grinding their axes, or at least asking Yahoo! if it was OK to get angry.

But here's the thing about Hollinger. Unlike many, many bloggers (excluding most of the ones mentioned above), he accounts for competition.

It should go without saying, but predictions can't be made in a vacuum. If a blogger forecasts one team winning 10 more games than last year, he needs to understand that the rest of the league collectively loses those 10 (and a true forecast would account for scheduling quirks, too). Say a blogger predicts the Wizards to win 55 games, up from 41...well, who's falling behind them in the East? And didn't Boston, Orlando, Atlanta, and other Eastern teams improve more in the off-season? Looking at the Celtics Blog-organized previews--which are wonderfully comprehensive, entertaining reads, and offer all kinds of fan perspective--occasionally reveals this lack of scope. We knew something was fishy when the Seattle guy predicted 40 wins.

What makes Hollinger annoying is that he serves as a check on our optimism at exactly the wrong time. During preseason, as we're thinking of what could be, he keys on what never was; looking backward, Hollinger explains why some won-loss records are hollow and certain players had career years. And agree with his logic or not, Hollinger grounds his predictions in such granular, player-by-player reasoning, it's hard to ignore his argument. Thus, while we're dismayed by the forecast of a 33-49 Wizards' season, we at least understand his case.

(We'll also confess our bias here; regular readers know Hollinger carries WRG's stamp of approval, and Dan Steinberg points out that Hollinger wasn't that far off last year.)


So, here's where we came in: We wondered if bloggers could independently exercise the same restraint, the same critical eye as Hollinger. In an early incarnation, we figured our NBA preview would focus on a brief experiment--ask 30 of the bloggers we most respected and trusted to predict their favorite team's season, submitting some brief comments as explanation.

We didn't explain this experimental aspect when we asked; meanwhile, in a credit to bloggers' kindness, our target participants near-unanimously agreed to help. As we collected data, the bloggers' responses all were kept blind of one another; moreover, we didn't encourage participants to focus solely on won-loss record, as we asked for that fact within the context of a larger survey.

Basically, no one knew to "temper" their predictions. For all intents and purposes, each participant wrote up a normal preview.

(Of course, the writing that we got back was so good, we decided to expand this preview. More on that all the way at the bottom.)

(And hopefully, none of these bloggers now hate us. Scout's honor, it was for a good cause! Marketplace of ideas, and all that.)

First, we wanted to know--what does your team need to do to make you happy? Here's what we learned, in what we'll call the "wishful thinking" scenario.

Yes, hope springs eternal in the preseason. (Note: We conducted these surveys pre-Ricky Davis trade, pre-Beno Udrih trade, and pre-Mark Cuban elimination from Dancing With the Stars. Just take that into consideration). According to our participants--ranging from dedicated NBA writers like Natalie Sitto and Marcel Mutoni to guys like the Big Picture's Zach ("I'm only a fan, not an expert" he assured us)--the average team would need to go 47-35 and a whopping 24 teams would make the playoffs in order to satisfy expectations. Only the esteemed bloggers representing Memphis, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Portland, Sacramento, and Seattle are OK with buying their teams lottery tickets in October. (You read right--every Eastern Conference blogger save one think his team's got a chance. It's that wide-open).

You'll notice that we scratched a few predictions out; this reflects three cases when participants weren't especially concerned with record. As you'll read in their write-ups, Jon of MVN/Passion & Pride wanted a win--just one!--for the 76ers, while Seth Kolloen of Enjoy the Enjoyment only asks for the Sonics to stay in Seattle. (Also, Liston Von Culbertson calls for an 82-0 season for the Spurs...but we felt obligated to exercise a bit of restraint.) In these cases, we turned to the Celtics Blog-previews and just subbed in the average record expected.


But OK. That's the ideal scenario. Of course every fan dreams big...although, pending emergency playoff expansion, more than one-quarter of our participants are slated for disappointment. But we figured, true fans are grounded in reality--they've had to temper expectations before. So we also asked--forget the ideal scenario; what realistically is going to happen? And here's where it gets really interesting, folks.

Sure, there's still some distortion--the average team would go an impossible 43-39--but, the group now forecasts a near-perfect field of 17 playoff teams. The correct eight from the East, the unorthodox nine from the West. Seven bloggers weeded themselves out; only Carter Blanchard's wavering support for the Lakers keeps it from a proper playoffs.

So our conclusion: Bloggers tend toward slight optimism and inflation, but given the limitations of their information, being an average of just two games off (and picking a near-playoff field) was pretty impressive to us.


And we could've stopped there...but the bloggers blew us away. Some wrote back in record time (Tom Ziller, Trey Jones) or offered to craft multiple previews (Ben Go). Others wrote reams, even when we asked for only a few lines of context (you know who you are). Clearly, we had a full-fledged preview on our hands, even if we weren't initially prepared to build one.

Thus, although it's not We Rite Goode's style, we'll update the site two-three times per day over this first week of the NBA, sharing with you all the witty quips and observations some of the best sports bloggers offered up to us, division by division. And we really feel like we've been given a great window to do so--we've totally cornered the NBA preview market for this week and next!

As a side bonus, we pulled some other insights from the surveys, and if there's time, will throw them up via other soul-crushing graphs and charts that only remind you of work and/or dreaded econ classes.

Wait. Graphs, charts, and pages of text?

Yes--we know our target audience.

Update: Links below as we upload division-by-division previews.
Southwest Division previewSoutheast Division previewPacific Division preview
Atlantic Division preview
Northwest Division preview
Central Division preview

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 04:35, ,

Our lunchtime critical interlude

Hey, remember when we started reviewing newspapers' all-sports blogs? Neither do we. Re-acquaint yourself with the series here and read on for Part II: The Central Division.

First, a caveat.

In our initial look at newspapers' all-sports blogs, much was made of using comments as a proxy for utilization figures. We didn't fully express our regret for relying on such a rough-edged metric--some members of the WRG team have professional experience with comments and Web posts, fully understanding that certain pieces (by style and topic) are simply destined to spark more discussion. However, it was agreed that comments offer a rudimentary scale of readership, and we felt that the visual presence of feedback had positive connotations.

(Of course, if you'd like to improve this series' accuracy by sharing actual utilization data with us, we're e-mail-accessible at we period rite period goode at gmail dot com.)


Second, a reminder for how we do, again to those who missed Part I. Here's the key: We avoided team- and sport-oriented blogs to focus on all-sports blogs--ones that didn't have a built-in audience but had to cultivate their own (like a Mister Irrelevant or With Leather have done, as opposed to a TrueHoop or BulletsForever). We stuck to the major sports towns and, as an informal guide, came up with a few metrics that seemed fair.

* Post length: Hey, working against readers' limited attention span is important.
* Output: And so is keeping things fresh.
* Style: How the blog's written (like an AP article or a self-help column) goes a long way toward standing out.
* Hat-tips: How much love is given to non-newspaper blogs.
* Following: The best metric would be utilization, but since that's kind of opaque, we used the imperfect gauge of comments.


And to any reader who's made it this far, we're sorry for the long commentary. But keep your reading glasses on and take your Adderall; this post is just getting started. We review the seven "Central" sports cities today.


Chicago Tribune
Steve Rosenbloom

It must be a Tribune Company mandate--like its sister publication, the Baltimore Sun, the Trib has a number of its staff members blogging using the same WordPress template, although RosenBlog was a much stronger effort than O, by the Way. In part, that's because Rosenbloom brings some personality and energy, and we liked his give and take with readers. Don't read too much into our praise, though; this isn't an amazing format but it works.

Post length: Very long. 1,000+ words.
Output: Frequent. Usually one-two posts per day.
Style: Generally conventional. While Rosenbloom moves from topic to topic, he might as well be doing a round-up in a print column. Interestingly, and increasingly, Rosenbloom also uses his "back talk" feature to pull out comments as a regular feature in posts, either to respond and foment conversation...or more likely, mock the readers.
Hat-tips: None. Although there are a number of links, they're all to other news services.
Following: Strong. Most posts warrant a couple dozen comments. Rosenbloom also gets points from us for interacting with his readers, although some of them clearly aren't devotees. According to one commenter, "I am not a big fan of RosenBlah," although he goes on to commend a post on Carlos Zambrano. We also weren't huge fans, but like the Cubs over the White Sox, we'll take the Trib's blog over the competition (see below).

Chicago Sun-Times
Full Court Press
Roman Modrowski

Chicago's big enough to warrant two baseball teams, not to mention two major newspapers. But with the exception of a high school blog, "Full Court Press" is the Sun-Times' only sports blog, perhaps helping it attract a greater share of the newspaper's readers than it deserves.

Post length: Very, very short. Several dozen words on average. A typical post: "Cubs get Steve Trachsel back for Rocky Cherry and another prospect. Will he help?"
Output: Frequent. One post per day, although these feel more like daily polls than actual articles.
Style: Inquisitive. Modrowski asks questions--LOTS of questions. The typical post either is framed as a question, ends on a question, or is basically composed of several questions. Perhaps this helps with his readership, but didn't build any attachment with us; the posts are too short to do anything but hint at Modrowski's personality.
Hat-tips: None. The posts are so short, where would he put them?
Following: Very strong. Dozens to even several hundred comments on several columns, usually responses to Modrowski and each other. And as we found, maybe this is a winning formula. But we're interested in reading a sports blog, not a message board.

Cleveland Plain Dealer
Various authors

Kind of a choppy read, but that's to be expected: The Plain Dealer hasn't built an all-sports blog, but developed a clearinghouse that lumps every sports writers' posts into one feed (the feed can be customized by sport, but that defeats our purpose). If we were huge Cleveland-area sports fans, who had equal interest in the Indians, Ohio State football, and area prep athletes, this site would be our heaven. But since we're not, we mostly got a headache trying to keep the many topics straight.

Post length: All over the place. From 100-word live blog game updates to 1,000-word game previews and digressions, with the paper's sports columns and news stories mixed in.
Output: Frequent, with a caveat. Up to dozen of posts per day, with heaviest volume on game days. However, many of the posts are just articles from the newspaper edition, so that skews the number; perhaps 4-5 solid posts per day that are strictly written for the blog and more than just a quick game update.
Style: Also all over the map, although nothing too adventurous--the writers usually stick to addressing or challenging the major talking points. Still, the quality and type of writing considerably varies by what's been covered, who's doing the covering, and so on. However, we were very intrigued by the decision to share the alternate story of the Indians' Game 7 victory. (It's common to write two versions of a sports story, given deadlines).
For their part, Indians fans were intrigued too...as to why the paper was tormenting them. "Sadistic," wrote one; "I want to vomit," chipped in another. Still, it's the rare sports blog that can provoke physical reaction--and by innovating, using the blog to offer this behind-the-scenes look, we want to think the Plain Dealer's doing something right.
Hat-tips: Very few. Several links to blogs musing over the Indians' collapse, the Paul Byrd HGH scandal, and so on. But nothing extraordinary and extremely minimal, especially given the blog's volume.
Following: Handful of comments, usually, although the Indians' collapse has drawn out the mourners; some Tribe-demise stories have gotten 30-40 responses.

Detroit Free Press
Mike Valenti

We were divided over how critically to review Valenti's blog; it only debuted in August, he's a radio host--not a Free Press staffer--and he's only written about a dozen posts, a good chunk of which are on fantasy football. Actually, we figured he's had enough time to get settled, so we'll be brutal: The Free Press has made a huge mistake. Valenti's fantasy football tips, which were orginally conceived as his site's original bread and butter, are underwhelming and no different than anything you'll find across the Internet. His wrap-up of Michigan State games is painful to read; it's like someone held out a microphone and Valenti auto-babbled the first talk radio words that came to mind. (MSU quarterback Brian Hoyer will be happy to know that Valenti thinks, "
He's a man and he may not have the best physical attributes, but he is a good leader and I respect him." So, to confirm--the MSU quarterback's a man, should you have doubted, and the newspaper's chief blogger is a fan. Thanks for the insights, Free Press!)

We have no idea what the newspaper muckety-mucks were thinking--maybe that Valenti's radio audience would migrate over? (And is the guy even popular? We Rite Goode needs a Detroit-area stringer to fill us in). Maybe colleague Mitch Albom is just orchestrating this to get material for his next book, "Saturdays with a Moron."

(OK--that's overly harsh. Valenti's not necessarily dumb, just a bad writer. But we just thought up the joke and really, really wanted to use it.)

Also, we're trying to stay away from commentary that doesn't concern the actual blog, but the Free Press blogging set-up is frankly awful, especially for a major newspaper. The site's incredibly difficult to navigate--who knows, Valenti may not be the only all-sports blogger, just the only one we could find--and we even had problems trying to load the pages.

Post length: Medium. The posts range from 200 to 1,000 words.
Output: Minimal. One post per week, on average.
Style: Colloquial. The guy's a radio show host, not a Free Press writer. Maybe you can tell by our comments...let's just say, it shows.
Hat-tips: None.
Following: Handful of semi-literate comments so far, some expressing scorn, others challenging the manhood of other commenters. However, reader Quasar is grateful for Valenti; he writes, "This blog was sent to me [by a friend] as a joke...
I appreciate the fact that this was sent to me, so that I could get a good laugh 1st thing in the morning."

Indianapolis Star
David Woods

Not much to say about this very, very quiet blog. Plenty of potential...none of it realized.

Post length: Medium. 350 words or so on average.
Output: Non-existent. Starting in June, Woods began posting once a week or so--with promises to blog "through the 2008 Beijing Olympics"--but after four quick posts at the start of August, there's been only one post per month. We don't know if he's been on vacation, if the plan fell through, or if Woods is really, really pacing himself through next year.
Style: We liked that Woods admitted upfront that he was a track and field fiend--it gives him a wrinkle, even if he's covering all sports, and could position him nicely as Olympic-mania builds over the next year. But, sadly, Woods is strictly conventional and doesn't really push the medium.

Take this post where he touches on his idea of having four medals in the Olympics, to preclude a country from carrying out a medal sweep. This is the kind of stuff great newspaper blog posts are made of--Woods could use his connections, his years worth of expertise in the industry, and get actual athletes to weigh in--say, the fourth place finisher who never got to the victory stand, or the bronze medalist who eked out a victory. Instead, Woods just confines the idea to a paragraph.
Hat-tips: None.
Following: None.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The J-S didn't seem to have an all-sports blog--disappointing, in a town that has the big three profesesional sports represented--so we're going by default with Don Walker, who writes about "the business of sports." It's a little bit of a stretch from our parameters, but the topic could be a neat little niche (we always liked Darren Nowell's columns on ESPN) and an interesting prism to focus a general sports blog. Too bad this appears to be a blog in trouble.

Post length: Average. 250+ words per post.
Output: Minimal. When we first started tracking blogs months ago, Walker had been posting 4-5 times on a typical week, but now he's down to a weekly post. at best.
Style: Straight news. Some of it's good stuff, but the blog sorely misses a personal touch. For example, Walker posts about a new Lombardi movie being eased into production. Is he excited about it? Your guess is as good as ours--one would think a cheesehead would have some opinion, but Walker never shares what his thoughts might be. If the Free Press's Valenti lets too much rah-rah MSU fervor dominate his posts, Walker errs too far to the side of clinical, detached writing to make his blog compelling.
Hat-tips: Almost none. There was a link to a Yi Jianlian fan club, for instance...back in July.
Following: Low. A few comments on the sporadic posts. We worry that Walker's given up on the effort, just when a feature linking the Milwaukee Bucks to the Chinese Triad is begging to be written.

Nashville Tennessean

Not a good sign when the blog's description--which has been up for months--features a blatant error. "There is something is wrong in the world of sports..." Paul Kuharsky tells us*. Unfortunately, he doesn't often explain what those somethings is are. And as a full-time NFL reporter with a radio gig, this blog is clearly a sidelight and suffers for it; if he didn't update it during training camp, there's no way Kuharsky's making time during the Titans' regular season.
* Update: The blog appears to have been finally fixed within the past few weeks, but here's a record of the error.

Post length: Average. 350 words.
Output: Minimal to nearing irrelevance. Only two posts in the past two months, which makes Kuharsky previous pace of a post per week positively prodigious.
Style: Conventional, but with a little attitude. We actually really liked Kuharsky's work, what we saw of it. He wrote a short missive about nervous habits in baseball and ugly trees; a more recent post, about his lost jacket, seemed destined to annoy but was sufficiently entertaining
Hat-tips: None.
Following: None.

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 01:16, ,

Dane Cook: Hate him or love him? New York Times can't decide

The crack We Rite Goode staff is up at the crack of not even dawn, pondering the latest spectacle to capture the attention of MLB fans.

No, not the Indians' collapse (nor the hubris of Pedro Cerrano, licking his wounds today).

Not Paul Byrd's chiseled physique. Not allegations that LeBron's hat nor Chief Wahoo's red-faced racism may have cost the Indians a World Series trip.

Nope. We're drawn--despite all logic, all common sense--to one man.

Mr. Good Luck Chuck--Mr. D to the C.--Dane freakin' Cook.

We know, we know. This isn't news; as early as July, the sports blogs already issued a collective "WTF?" to Cook as postseason spokesperson (Special notice for PostmanE of FanHouse/We Are the Postmen, who has been all over this story like Woodstein on Watergate...and even SNL mocked the commercials, which is saying something.)


It's one thing when the blogs and an aging, unfunny TV show are poking holes. It's another when the New York Times starts paying attention. Which one of the authors of "Freakonomics" did last week. True, Stephen Dubner doesn't say what prompts him to plumb the mystery of Dane Cook's ubiquitous success. But given the timing, and Dubner's status as a self-confessed sports fan, we're guessing he and PostmanE have similar stimulus-reflex patterns.

But just as we're about to write Cook off...no, that's not true--we wrote him off a long time ago.

But just as we're beyond sick of Dane Cook's postseason presence, the Times--putting actual sports writer Murray Chass on the case, sticking the story above-the-fold in yesterday's Sports section--now tells us that the commercials are all about love. Love of a team (the Red Sox), love of a game. Love of a father, who lost any hopes of a baseball career to serve in Korea.

(Or in Cook's words, there's only one team, one game, and one father. Read the one nice article about him here).

Even if the article flatters as much as it reports, it doesn't turn Cook into some free-commercial-making saint, at least in this corner. But it's not his fault the commercials are being shoved down our throats. (It is his fault they're not funny.)

However. The Times convinces us of one thing: Cook really is a fan, the kind of guy who rushes through work to watch his favorite team in a crucial game, or wants nothing more than to get box seats during a playoff push. And who can despise a guy for that?

Yes, we now like Dane Cook a little bit. It's a sad day for the blog.

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posted by Crucifictorious @ 04:56, ,

Didn't the baseball gods see the disclaimer?

Certainly this fine blog of record is not my personal forum. But as of this writing, there is only 1 out in the bottom of the 3rd inning. The Red Sox are up 10-1.

This is not my fault. It truly isn't, or so I shall insist. I put a disclaimer on my post after the Indians won Game 4 to go up 3-1.

This can't be happening.

I need to wake up.

posted by Pedro Cerrano @ 21:53, ,

He may comment on your blog, but only we have the interview

A few weeks back, the paper of record wrote a story on the clever-est, wittiest writers on the Internet. Bloggers like Ufford and Leitch?

Please; they're yesterday's news. Per the New York Times, The Big Lead, RandBall...commenters are all the rage today. From that Times article, a glimpse into the life of one commenter:

DaShiv is in town and the celebration has not ceased. Strange women are opening their apartments to him. Three parties have been given in his honor. His beer mug has been constantly refilled.

I'll let you guess who in this picture is commenter DaShiv and who's the pretty lady welcoming him to town.

Anyway, the We Rite Goode team heard about all the hoopla, saw the groupies, read about the parties and got to thinking--screw this idiotic blog venture; how can we get in on this commenting thing? And who can teach us to become ace commenters?

The obvious answer: Jarrett Carter, the brains behind Scott Van Pelt Style. No one comments on We Rite Goode like he does...in part because, no one really comments.

So I found some time to catch up with Jarrett, who's the most energetic guy I've ever (virtually) met. Somehow, recently getting married, moving into a new house, and starting grad school isn't enough; he also writes SVPS (and three other blogs) in his spare time, and comments on everybody else's.

Hope you've got the printer warmed up: Commenting school is in session.

We Rite Goode: The eternal question: Which came first--being a blogger or a commenter?

Jarrett Carter:
Definitely being a commenter. I've only been blogging seriously for about two years, and my most popular blog is only in its fourth month. I've been leaving stupid remarks on sites for years.

If you remember, which sites did you first start commenting on? Was there a specific post or issue that got you to break the ice?

It started on a lot of message boards. I remember about 10 years ago, posting on www.shaq.com, which interestingly enough takes you to CBS Sportline's NBA section. (Which is just begging for a comment about Shaunie being shady on Shaq's assets)

Sites like allhiphop.com, boxden.com...Hip-hop related sites are a perfect breeding ground for fine tuning quality commenting, because you will get clowned quick for a lame comment. Like the whole point of the thread will shift over to destroying you. I think the first sports blog that really piqued my interest was TBL, which led me to Deadspin, which began this peculiar descent into trying to be the Redd Foxx of sports blogs.

The Redd Foxx of sports blogs? So should we expect a "Scott Van Pelt Style and Son" to rival "Blog Show" for basic cable domination sometime soon? You and wifey can't be moving that fast.

Even if you started with the better-known reads, it seems like you mix it up between the well-read (
KSK, AA) and some of the lesser-known sites (Blogimore Ravens, We Rite Goode, [it's killing me, but there’s one random site where I was just astounded to see your name]). Which blogs do you regularly post at these days? Any that you think are particularly commenter-friendly ( i.e., the blog authors take time to respond, or other commenter conversation tends to be interesting)?

I generally try to comment on at least 25 blogs a day, for a couple of reasons. One, I generally try to outdo myself with every comment, because after all, it is free advertising. Two, there's no better feeling as a writer than having feedback on your work - positive or negative - and I enjoy contributing to that.

Blogs that have national and local interest, like Mister Irrelevant and the DC Sports Bog are usually targets for me, but also among my favorites is Larry Brown Sports, WRG, Juiced Sports Blog, Mind Rite Sports, Inside Charm City, Deuce of Davenport, 100 Percent Injury Rate, and Cousins of Ron Mexico. Cousins of Ron Mexico doesn't know it, but he is probably the funniest commenter out there, and I have a friendly competition with him to try and be the funniest on a given post.

You mention DC Sports Bog, a favorite of ours too. Any opinion on Dan Steinberg? It seems like he enjoys gently ribbing you sometimes.

For example, from Steinberg's post "Scott Van Pelt on Blogs":

When I spoke with Scott Van Pelt last week and mentioned that there was a blog named after him, he seemed unaware of Scott Van Pelt Style, despite the fact that its proprietor seems to have commented on every sports blog post authored within the past 60 days.

I think Steinz is one of the best, if not the best, sports blogger in the world. He has a reporting background, and you can see how down to Earth he is in his writing and what he chooses to write about. Athletes, fans and writers respect his style. It's my dream to carve out a niche like he has, and be as personally and professionally respected as he is.

He has zapped me a couple of times, and although I've satirically said in my comments that it hurts my feelings, I believe that he and I have an understanding that its all jokes, and its all love. Maybe I should holler at Jason La Canfora and school him on blogging etiquette, huh?

Hey, talk to JLC at your own risk--that dude scares me. True on Steinz, he's a quality writer who's shown this blog a lot of love, for some reason.

Not only are your comments
clever, they can also be particularly insightful at the same time, no small task; any that you're particularly proud of?

I've had some that I may have gone to look at other comments, saw mine and laughed pretty hard. Now that you've reminded me of the KSK one, I guess that went over pretty well.

It's usually the ones where i take it a totally different direction, and people actually follow it. [Yesterday] on TBL, they did a post on Paul Byrd and I think I wrote something about Larry Bird not being convinced.

Another one was a post they did on Jeff George last week, and I said something about Jeff Blake, and I think I included something about the Stone Cold Steve Austin entrance music.

I read Mister Irrelevant, and there was one stretch a few weeks ago where you seemed to be on comment-fire--in the span of 15 minutes, maybe five-six comments in a row, on one post after another. It felt like LeBron's 25-straight points versus the Pistons. Remember what was going through your mind back then? How often do you get on a roll like that?

When guys like the Mottrams say that was hilarious, or other commenters piggy back off of your stuff, it really makes you think about how practice and dedication pay off. I don't have any teammates to give credit to, but posts like the Serge Zwikker classic, some TBL posts that really are open to creativity on the keyboard, they really put me in a mindset to sign in and perform.

By Zwikker, I'll assume you mean the Brian Bersticker special, so, thanks.

But what if the post doesn't give you much to work with? Dan Steinberg and others talk about the "
blank screen of death"--the pressure of having to come up with something. Is it like that with commenting too?

You always have to adjust on the fly. That's just sports period, whether you are playing, coaching, blogging or commenting. The blank stare happens every now and again, and sometimes you have to go with the obligatory, ___________ doesn't find this amusing, and insert a relative retired athlete or washed up actor.

Other times, you find you can make something out of nothing. Barry Sanders made a living on making spectacular plays out of busted ones; making people be in the right place to block when they originally got pancaked. So let's say there's a post on UVA not living up to expectations in the ACC. I don't know very many of their players this year, so I might be obliged to throw in a Tiki Barber, Matt Schaub, or Thomas Jones reference.

But if you dig a little deeper, there's a gold nugget in your heart somewhere with Herman Moore's name written in platinum.

On a related note, do you prefer to be the first commenter or join in the middle of a commenting thread?

It really doesn't matter to me; I just like to be in the fray. This kind of goes back to posts I'm most proud of, but one time I compared Kobe Bryant to the video game Contra, and the very next day, the guys did a post comparing the Contra villains to the New England Patriots. I jumped in the middle on that one, and it changed the complexion of that post, and the next one.

The guys at We Rite Goode think you're a top commenter--heck, you're our most faithful reader, to confess our bias--but rightfully or not, Ballhype doesn't recognize you as one of its top 20 (We know that they have some algorithm or something, based on number of comments you write on the site and feedback you get.)

Becoming a Ballhype top commenter--Is that something that interests you?

Not particularly. I know I comment a lot on blogs, but I wouldn't want to bloat stats for the sake of being known as a top blog on the network. I would hope people want to read my stuff because of the comments I make on their blogs, and I hope that my writing and content is good enough to keep them coming back.

You might say I'm and old school type of commenter; either comment legitimately and with meaning, or stay an ordinary reader.

Do you think you're the kind of person who comments on things, in general? Making observations about folks walking down the street, cracking jokes when watching TV, commenting on wifey's outfit, and so on?

With my family and friends, definitely. My wife is hilarious, and I get a lot of my sense of humor from my brother, father and friends. Something about growing up in the DC area I guess, so many folks around there are naturally hilarious.

I wouldn't dare clown my wife's outfit, though. That might make for a rather sad post on my marriage blog.

When it comes to the Carolina Panthers' wide receivers, do you have a horse in the ( Dwayne) Jarrett vs. (Drew) Carter competition to be no. 2? USA Today says Jarrett>Carter by week 8...

That's hilarious! That actually would be a great comment in itself. Kudos.

As an ace commenter, any comments on this interview? Did we give you enough to work with?

I thought this interview was excellent. I feel like I had an opportunity to really give an inside track on how to make other commenters look like bland losers, and make yourself look like the funniest person on the Internets.

Seriously, I had a lot of fun with this, and with reading WRG. I hope this interview doesn't cause you a drop in visitors this week.

The joke's on Jarrett--we have no visitors! Many thanks for his time and funnies this week.

posted by Doctor Dribbles @ 15:56, ,

Not to get ahead of ourselves...

Pedro enjoys the Tribe. There - it's out in the open, as if it wasn't crystal clear before. And Pedro does not want to get ahead of himself (nor does he wish to keep writing like Bob Dole would)...
...but with a 3-1 series lead on the BoSox now, the Indians are looking to be in good shape to head to the World Series to play the surprising Colorado Rockies.

Disclaimer: Again, I am not getting ahead of myself. The Indians still need to beat Boston, which is no small task. But in the interest of writing this story while the ideas are fresh in my mind, I shall pen it now.

Okay, I recall vividly watching Joe Table implode in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. For those scoring at home, I do not hate Jose Mesa for that, as many in Cleveland do. He did, after all, save about a million games that season, and everyone has bad nights sometimes. Poor timing? Yes. Awful person? Yes - but not for that game. More for the off-field conduct... But I digress.

Anyway, as I was saying, the Tribe lost that series. To whom? The Florida Marlins.

I know, I know - I had forgotten they still had a team too, just like all the "fans" in south Florida. Point it, the Tribe, a storied franchise with a long and fabled history of reminding Americans of our terrible treatment of the first inhabitants of this land, lost to a freakin' expansion franchise. Lame.

And now, here they are - one win away from meeting the other franchise that came along with the Marlins.

So... since this writer knows nothing about the NL, aka, AAAA baseball, it is time for a SERIOUS comparison of the two teams - head to head, on all the crucial points no fan should miss!

--- Advantage: Colorado
Their catching corps is bad enough - Torrealba and Iannetta. Throw in Tulowitzki and the whooping-cough like Hawpe and you have a mouthful. Cleveland is far more tame, with the likes of Blake, Garko, and Lewis. Sad really.

--- Advantage: Cleveland
Oh sure, the Rockies have the crisp, clear taste of the mountains. But give me a break - Coors is like dirty soda water. What a terrible excuse for beer. Cleveland is certainly no Milwaukee, though they played 3 home games there this season, but there are a few fine microbrews.

--- Advantage: Cleveland
Grady Sizemore.

Alone, he compensates for Travis Hafner and Paul Byrd. But what a pair of games he's pitched...

--- Advantage: Colorado
It's that mountain air, you know? I'm sure this is the next "big idea" Selig has up his sleeve.

--- Advantage: Cleveland
One word... er, two words. Kenny Lofton. Is he old? Hell yes he's old! Just about as old as those freakin' DHL commercials featuring him are by now. But he's itching for a win. And he's never wrong by the way. No, Kenny Lofton never strikes out - the ump just passes out for a second and raises his arm to call strike 3. Kenny can do no wrong. But I still love the guy.

More importantly, he has single handedly gotten my wife into watching baseball. You'd think it would be Grady and, yes, she would very much like to meet him for a nice dinner and a movie. But there is something in Kenny's swagger that appeals to my wife; and while a 162 game season seems utterly meaningless to her (wonder why?), she has finally found a passion in post-season baseball and has turned her back on her mother's KC Royals (again, wonder why?) and embraced the Tribe like no other. Makes me a happy man.

And there you have it folks. All the points you could possibly need to know.

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posted by Pedro Cerrano @ 00:14, ,

On a knee to know basis

Young NBA players dropping with knee injuries. Promising teams forced to shelve playoff hopes. Once-foreign medical lingo becoming increasingly commonplace.

Sound familiar?

Yes, I'm talking about December 1990.

Oh--you thought I meant Greg Oden and Sean May, of the Blazers and the Bobcats? Well, I won't minimize their recent microfracture surgeries; they've just lost a year off their young careers, may never regain full strength, and their teams have scaled back present and future ambitions. And for a while this week, it looked like they'd have company from California (beyond Brian Giles), but Tom Ziller reports the good news that sore-kneed Spencer Hawes dodged a bullet (or did he? I thought the docs might still get in and find that the knee was worse than expected. Let's hope not.)

But as bad as microfracture seems today--one Sacramento Bee story called it a "dirty word among NBA players"--almost exactly a decade after John Stockton was pro basketball's patient zero, it really is the rescue operation that its billed to be. And I'm not saying that because Amaré had a good year.

Rather, compared to the early days of ACL reconstruction, microfracture's track record isn't so shabby.


Alright--let's back up a second. To understand where we are with microfracture, just revisit 1990, when a rash of ACL injuries struck young NBA stars and terrified the league's executives.

And who could blame them? At that point, there had been only four "successful" ACL reconstructions in a decade, if you want to be generous. Current Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak had been the first guy to really make it back, after several years of rehabilitation from his 1981 injury--but he was no longer a 14 ppg, 8 rpg starter, but a backup big man off the bench. Bernard King is considered the patron saint of ACL recovery, but although it's well-documented how he changed his game and re-emerged as a major scorer in Washington, it's less well-know that he didn't come close to his previous level of efficiency. Derek Smith also had returned, but never recaptured his promising young career, while no one would ever knew how good Danny Manning could be, as his ACL tore during his rookie year.

Instead, the list of players who lost their careers to ACL tears--dotted with names such as Billy Cunningham, Doug Collins, and Jamaal Wilkes--seems nearly endless. (Although who knew that a rookie Patrick Ewing suffered an ACL tear? Hubie Brown's taxicab confessions to Henry Abbott aside, there's zero record of this).

And why is the ACL tear so damaging? It's because the ligaments align the leg's upper and lower parts, enabling players to make sudden moves and quick changes in direction. It should go without saying that lateral quickness is essential when competing against the world's best athletes, almost all of whom have blazingly fast reaction times (compared to the quickness gap between the average D-1 basketball player and NBA player, Gilbert Arenas and Steve Blake actually aren't that far away from each other.) Unfortunately, ACLs rarely heal after a tear and don't grow back once they're gone.

Responses vary by surgeon and patient, but competitive athletes usually need an ACL reconstruction, which is incredibly intensive and requires grafting, not to mention months of therapy and strengthening, and no guarantees of returning to previous levels of performance. This was a young Ric Bucher writing about Tim Hardaway's 1993 ACL surgery, a technique that's still in practice.

[The surgery] involves replacing the ligament, located in the center of the knee, usually with a slice of a larger ligament. The substitute ligament is attached through holes drilled in the femur and tibia, or shin and thigh bones, and the knee needs time to properly adapt to the substitute.

Yeesh. Even I know that taking a ligament from another part of the body increases the damage--two areas now need to recover from operation.

So when 1990 rolled around--and up-and-comers Ron Harper, Mark Price, and Johnny Dawkins tore their ACLs in relative succession--it was cause for legitimate concern. Then-Bucks GM John Steinmiller called the ACL "the `in' injury"--like calling bird flu the "in" virus, I guess--before suggesting a league investigation into basketball shoes and weight training as potential culprits. Sports Illustrated ran a story on the "ACL fraternity," focusing on the woes of the guys who'd lost their careers to the injury.

The performance chart below really says it all. Of this 12-player cohort--which spans the range of older guys to younger prospects, from big men to short guards, and from scorers to distributors--the average decline in performance post-ACL reconstruction was more than 21%. And these players are culled from the lucky ones who made it back.

Really (foreshadowing John Stockton), only Mark Price was able to return at and even improve on his previous level of performance in that 16-year period--even Eric Williams as recently as 1997 was never the same. And quite unfairly, it seemed like the ACL had a nasty happen of tearing just as a player was enjoying or coming off a career year. For the implications of those declines, look no further than the trajectory of Ron Harper's career; his most comparable players regressed from a pre-injury Scottie Pippen and Clyde Drexler to a post-injury Ty Corbin and Tony Campbell.

But because Price and Harper and Dawkins all returned with some success, by 1992 the threat of a torn ACL had begun its downgrade from career crisis to a serious-but-surmountable injury. Today, it's a significant medical risk that we just accept. Nene returned from an ACL tear to have the best year of his career in 2006-2007. NBA player Leon Powe tore his ACL twice--before he got drafted. Nenad Kristic has yet to play a game following last year's ACL injury, and John Hollinger still thinks it's a defensible idea to sign him now. Few waves were made this summer when NBA first-round prospect Brandon Rush pulled out with a torn ACL, while this piece looks at all of the college players whose ppg went up after rehabbing.

And why has ACL reconstruction stopped setting off alarms? Because the more procedures they did, the docs gained experience and got better. (It's a proven medical fact.) The rehab programs grew more comprehensive and targeted. Not to mention, understanding spread that an injured player could make it back. (Another reason why, performance aside, Bernard King was a trailblazer.)

So what's emerged to terrify the NBA in the ACL's place? The spectre of microfracture.

Here's what we know: Microfracture's been performed on more than 20 NBA players. The procedure is designed to fix loose cartilage, which TrueHoop's Abbott does a nice job of explaining. And thanks to Bethlehem Shoals this is what it looks like.

Here's what we also know: That players who undergo microfracture don't see the performance drop that the comparably early ACL reconstruction patients experienced.

For this 13-player cohort--again, a range of players as with the ACL group, and only players who have since returned--the average decline in performance was half that of the ACL early cohort (Note that * represents years that the player either did not play or has yet to play).

Now, here are the many caveats--microfracture focuses on a totally different part of the knee, so comparing it to ACL reconstruction is like weighing apples and oranges, or cartilage and ligament. And has been widely noted, you either tear your ACL or you don't; with microfracture, so much depends on the size of the lesion and the age of the player, and so on--it's not a stretch to say that performance widely varies because the injury itself is all over the map. Finally, this isn't to ignore that microfracture doesn't fix everyone; Terrell Brandon and Jamal Mashburn never came back, while you'd have to be blind to notice that Chris Webber and Kenyon Martin...heck, even Amaré...weren't quite the players they were.


Back in the 1990s, fans and players were starting to rationalize and understand ACL reconstructions after 7-8 players returned; as we've surpassed that point with microfracture, it's time to do away with fears of it as a "death sentence." More importantly, for a procedure that's very much in progress (one recent major breakthrough was made because an athlete was too lazy to go to rehab--yet recovered faster and better), the first decade's outcomes have to be encouraging, as clinicians will only get better. Oden going under the knife isn't Penny in 1997 or 2001, nor even Allan Houston in 2004. And by the time that undetermined big man in 2012 needs microfracture--who knows how far along microfracture surgery will be...or really, why we'll even bother with it, when we have stem cells.

Update: I've been called out before for not reading Dave Berri, and looks like I've done it again. Oops. His post-Oden surgery post just focuses on the post-op performance of microfracture patients rather than the evolution of orthopedic surgery--i.e., he's tying his post to reality--and given that he's a statmaster, it's definitely worth a read.

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posted by Doctor Dribbles @ 07:21, ,

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