NBA Free Agency Winners and Losers

NBA Free Agency is winding down. It’s been arguably the most entertaining Free Agency period in league history. I figured it’s time to dig into the winner and losers of the last few weeks.

Winners

LA Clippers: The biggest winner of free agency, in my opinion, is the LA Clippers. They go from a fringe playoff team to arguably the favorites to win it all next season, with the addition of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. For anyone who wants to give them grief for the haul they gave up to get PG-13, you need to realize this wasn’t a trade just for George. It was the only way they were getting Kawhi. Essentially, they were trading for both players. They now have arguably the 2 top defensive wings in the NBA. Pair them with the re-signed stud defensive point guard Patrick Beverly and the Clippers have a chance to be the best defensive team in the NBA. They didn’t lose the best 6th man in the league (i.e. Lou Williams), or their Most Improved Finalist, Trez Harrell, in the trade for Kawhi. This should be a very scary team next season.

Brooklyn Nets:

Image result for kevin durant kyrie irving

Photo Credit: The Spun

Anytime you land Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in the offseason, you have to feel good about yourself. Let me set the record clear now as a Celtics fan. Over the last week I’ve heard a lot of Celtics fans calling sports talk radio saying, “Kyrie will request a trade in 2 years, I’m not afraid of the Nets. Kevin Durant will never be the same player coming off his injury”. These people are what I like to call frauds. Had the Celtics re-signed Kyrie after everything that occurred this past season and he brought KD to Boston, fans would be going crazy with excitement and for good reason. Is there a chance Kyrie’s ego acts up and causes issues? Of course, but he’s still a top 12 player in the league and at 27 years old he still has his best basketball ahead of him. Is there a chance Durant is never 100% of what he once was? Once again, of course but he’s such an amazing shooter that even if he comes back at 90% of what he was, he’s still probably a top 5 player in the NBA. Nets fans should be feeling very good right now

Philadelphia 76ers: This one might surprise people a little considering they lost Jimmy Butler and JJ Reddick, two key players from last season. In my opinion, Reddick was one of the most underrated players in the league last year. Butler was the best player for the 6ers at times in the playoffs last year. With that said, I think the additions of Al Horford (man that burns as a Celtics fan) and Josh Richardson will help the 6ers take a huge leap on the defensive end of the court next season. Most people know how versatile Horford is on both ends of the court. He should be an absolutely phenomenal fit next to Embiid in the front court. JJ Reddick is a much better shooter than Josh Richardson, but Richardson is the better all-around player. For those who haven’t seen Richardson play the last 2 years, he’s looked very good. He’s also a big upgrade over Reddick defensively. He can handle the ball at PG when Simmons is out of the game and can still shoot and score the ball a little. Combine these additions with the re-signing of Tobias Harris (who will be able to take a little more control offensively with Jimmy Butler gone) and I think the 6ers should be the favorites out of the East.

Honorable Mentions: Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz

Losers

Toronto Raptors: Pretty easy one here. You lose arguably the best player in the league and are left with no back-up plan, you get put in the losers column. Had Kawhi returned, I don’t think any team in the East had added enough to unseat the Raptors as the favorite. Instead, Kawhi has bolted and you’re now left with a core around an aging Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry, along with up-and coming star Pascal Siakam. The Raptors ceiling at this point is an exit in the second round… and their floor might be getting bounced quickly out of the first round. Had they not just won it all, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them shopping around Lowry and Gasol to start to re-tool. All in all, I don’t feel that bad for Raptors fans nor fault them for going all in on Kawhi for one year. Clearly their plan worked and I think they made Kawhi’s decision to leave, much more difficult than anyone could have imagined. No one will forget their special season.

Houston Rockets: Image result for chris paul james harden

Photo Credit: Uproxx

Let me preface this by saying that if they can find a way to get Russell Westbrook, then they would be removed from the losers column. That doesn’t mean I would love the move.  We heard chat that the Rockets really wanted Jimmy Butler, and they were also linked to Celtics first team all-defensive guard Marcus Smart in trade rumors. After reports came out that there’s a huge rift between James Harden and Chris Paul (although they’ve denied it) it appeared to become clear that something needed to change with this team. Couple that with the fact that their nemesis the Golden State Warriors lost Kevin Durant and will be without Klay Thompson for much of next year, the Rockets had a chance to mix things up a little and maybe go into next season as favorites in the West. Instead their challenging salary cap situation and inability to get creative with it has pretty much left them with the same team. I think it’s been proven by now that the Mike D’Antoni ISO ball system doesn’t really work come playoff time.

New York Knicks:

Image result for sad knicks fans

Photo Credit: NY Post

Why not save the best for last? Boy oh boy, I have to say there’s actually a part of me that feels bad for Knicks fans. Before the lottery back in May, fans were dreaming about the potential of Zion Williams, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving all coming to New York next season. Fast forward a month and a half later and the Knicks went 0-3 in securing these players. Obviously, the lottery was out of their hands and no one can blame them for not getting Zion. Kyrie and KD on the other hand, that’s a tough hit losing them to the other team across town, the Brooklyn Nets, a team with no tradition, history, or superstars. It has to burn big-time for Knicks fans. They’re now left with no kind of back-up plan other than letting their young players Kevin Knox, Mitch Robinson, and RJ Barrett develop. These guys are good young players, but won’t make the Knicks serious title contenders anytime soon. The Free Agency class next year is very weak, so there are no superstars they can try and lure. Even if they attempt to trade a package of their young core for a superstar in the next 6-12 months (should one become available), they won’t be able to pair that guy with anyone. It’s a tough time to be a Knicks fan. On the bright side, at least they didn’t go overspend on second tier FA’s like Tobias Harris, Boogie Cousins, or Nik Vucevic. For now, all the Knicks and their fans can do is stay patient and hope their young guys develop into something special.

Honorable Mentions: Charlotte Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves

U.S. Open Course Preview and Picks

Well well well… it’s U.S. Open week and they return to the historic venue we know as Pebble Beach in California. As some people may know, they play the “AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am” here every year in February. The winning score usually ranges between -17 and -20. In other words, the course is usually very easy. It’s a par 72 course with four par 5s, and the rough is not very difficult.

The course layout will be completely different this week for the U.S. Open. Driving the ball in the fairway will be essential. The fairways will be much narrower than we usually see at the Pro-Am. As is the case with most U.S. Opens, if you drive the ball in the rough, it’s going to be long, thick, and nasty. Although Pebble Beach is much shorter than a normal U.S. Open track, the rough can still be very penal.  Many times players will have to lay up to a number they like for their 3rd shot, to try and get up and down on the longer par 4’s and par 5’s.

Short-game is also going to play a crucial role this week. The last time a U.S. Open was played at Pebble Beach, the winning score was won with an even par score by Graeme McDowell. The average percentage of greens hit in regulation by the field was 51%. To give you some perspective on just how low this number is, the worst player on the tour ranked 209 out of 209 players for greens in hit regulation, is Seamus Power who hits 59.47% of GIR. The 100th ranked player in the statistic is at 66%. In other words, people are going to miss greens this week as Pebble has some of the smallest on the PGA Tour. This course will really test your short game and this tournament will be won by someone who has a great short game and can grind out pars vs. the birdie fest we usually see at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

The most important statistic/trait a golfer needs this week is a sharp iron/approach game. This is the case at many tournaments on the tour, but it’s much more pivotal this week. As I mentioned earlier, it’s tough to hit these greens in regulation. If you’re hitting good approach shots, you’re going to relieve a lot of stress from your short game and won’t have to grind as much to save pars. On top of that, Pebble is not like a normal U.S. Open, where you really need to hit the ball far and straight. A lot of players will be clubbing down off the tee and it’s much more of a second shot course compared to places like Shinnecock Hills and Erin Hills (which put a premium on length off the tee).

One last thing I want to mention before I get into my power rankings is that wind has the potential to be a big factor this week. The course is played right along the ocean. If the winds really pick-up, it’ll make the course much more difficult and favor the guys with lower ball flight.  So, if you’re into that sort of narrative, it might be worthwhile to pick some guys who play well in the wind, in your office pools, DraftKings teams, and bets (you can reach out to me for advice on what players I like in that category).

Alright let’s get into my Top 5 Power Rankings…

5. Jason Day – Day has a lot going for him going into the U.S. Open, yet is under the radar. He has good history at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am including a T4 back in February. Although the course is going to be much different, I think playing here previously with strong course history, has the chance to lead to success this year. More importantly Day is one of the best wind players on tour with his low ball flight. We know he’s one of the best short-game players and putters in the world as well. If this turns into an absolute grind fest, like it was in 2010, it would be a great benefit to Day. The concern that gives me a little pause with Day, is that he’s not the strongest iron player. I’ll choose to bet on his short game prowess and grinder mentality this week and overlook his spotty iron stats.

4. Tiger Woods – People who know me well, know that yes I like Tiger Woods, but I’m not your ultimate Tiger Woods fan who can’t look at him with an unbiased point of view. I truly think this is a great chance for him to win another major. We know Woods can win here (or anywhere) as he dominated here in the 2000 U.S. Open. Looking at the bigger picture though, out of all 156 players in the field, over the last 50 rounds, Woods ranks 4th in SG Approach, 5th in Greens in Regulation Gained, 19th in SG Around the Green, and 9th in SG on Par 4’s between 400-450 yards. He actually ranks as the number 1 overall player in my statistical model over the last 50 rounds. I see no reason why we shouldn’t see him in his Sunday red, in contention on Sunday night.

3. Jordan Spieth – It took me about 4 months but I’m finally back on the Spieth train. If you read my Masters blog back in April then you know that my number one story-line was how bad Spieth was playing and whether or not he could put it together for the Masters. He ended up finishing 21st that week and is now coming into the U.S. Open with 3 straight top 10’s. If you’ve been paying close attention the last few tournaments, Spieth has been otherworldly with his putter and short game. He’s also gained strokes off the tee in 3 consecutive tournaments. As I mentioned before, distance is not a key factor this week and Spieth will be able to club down off the tee and focus on hitting fairways. Although his iron game has still been a little off the last few months, it appears his improvement off the tee has given him utmost confidence in the 2 traits that we’ve always known him for… the putter and short game. Should that continue this week, Spieth could be in store for a great finish at Pebble. Spieth is one of the best grinders on Tour as we saw with his U.S. Open win back in 2016 at Chambers Bay and his 2017 win at The Open. I should also mention that Spieth won the Pro-Am back in 2017. Watch out folks Jordyyyy is back!

2. Hideki Matsuyama – Sick of me writing about this guy yet who has never won a major and hasn’t won a PGA event since 2017…well too bad because I’m still riding on this train. Deki’ rates out in the top 5 in pretty much any timeframe you run my statistic model, from the last 12 rounds to the last 100 rounds. Other than the PGA Championship, in which he lost 0.8 Strokes off the tee (yet still finished 16th), he has gained strokes Off The Tee, Approach, and Around the Green in every…single…tournament… he’s played in going back to January. The guy has been on absolute fire with his irons all year. His short game which had abandoned him a little back at the end of last season has been spot on all year as well. He is DUE for a major win here sooner rather than later. He’s also coming off a 6th place finish at The Memorial 2 weekends ago, his 4th top 10 of the year and second best finish of the season. He’s peaking at the right time and you know that I already hit his 38-1 odds to win the tournament pretty hard.

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Photo credit: Golf.com

1. Patrick Cantlay – People who know me well will tell you this is another guy I bet almost every week (except 2 weeks ago when his odds were as low as I’ve ever seen and of course he goes on to win). If you still haven’t heard of Patrick Cantlay, then he’s probably the best golfer on the tour you’ve never heard of. I’ve been talking him up for over 2 years now. He’s been arguably the most consistent golfer on tour this year. Take a look at his last 12 starts on tour…

Cantlay

Photo credit: Fantasy National

9 top 10’s in his last 12 starts… not too shabby. So we know he’s coming in with good form. Another guy who’s grading out in the top 10 of my overall statistical model, whether I sort it by the last 12 rounds or last 100. If you could build an ideal golfer, Cantlay might be your guy. He really doesn’t have any weaknesses in his game. He hits the ball straight and long, is strong around the greens and one of the best iron players in the world. Pebble is set-up perfectly for Cantlay due to his strong all-around game. If the winning score is around -10 he’ll have no issue getting there and being in contention. If it’s an absolute grind-fest with the winning score around par, that can suit Cantlay as well considering we just saw him at the PGA Championship grind to a 3rd place finish with a final score of -2. I expect him to breakthrough and win his first major.

There’s nothing like a west coast U.S. Open! You get home from work around 6 o’clock and are able to watch golf until 9 p.m. As always feel free to reach out to me for advice or if you just want to talk about the tournament in general. Good luck in your pools, DraftKings teams, and bets!

tiger woods GIF

The Nightmare is Finally Over for the Celtics

The Celtics’ season has finally come to an end. I have to say there’s a slight part of me that’s relieved. This team made me want to throw my remote through the TV numerous times throughout the season. I’ve been saying for months that quite frankly, this just hasn’t been a fun year. They weren’t a likeable team… especially after the run they had last year falling just short of the NBA Finals. It felt like every time they faced adversity, they just rolled over and tapped out. It never felt like the team was on the same page as a collective unit. I don’t want to go as far as to say they didn’t like each other, but I think it was evident that they weren’t exactly all best friends and inseparable on and off the court.

Now the questions in the coming days will begin with, “Who’s most to blame?”

Is it Kyrie Irving, who constantly threw his teammates under the bus early in the season and seemed to have had a change of heart regarding his commitment to resigning with the Celtics? Did it rub off on his teammates that he just “didn’t care”? (see his post-game conference after game 4)

Is it Brad Stevens who seemed to be unable to mesh together a team with egos and high expectations? This was a challenge he hadn’t been tasked with as yet, in his tenure as the Celtics head coach.

Is it Gordon Hayward who looked like a shell of his former All-Star days in Utah? As most people know by now, this isn’t exactly a fault of his own after his catastrophic injury back in 2017.

Is it Danny Ainge who didn’t try and cash in on the all-time high value of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier by trading any of them to land a star like Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler to team up with Kyrie? Was it because he didn’t try to trade a package for Anthony Davis in the middle of the season, once Davis made his trade demand?

For me the blame starts with Kyrie Irving. He wanted the challenge of being “the guy” after forcing his way out of Cleveland, so he didn’t have to play in LeBron’s shadow. Unfortunately, Kyrie displayed multiple times throughout the season that he’s just not ready to be a leader.

Whether it’s on the court, field, or office, a team is always going to feed off their leader. Back in February, when the Celtics were struggling, he was asked if he’s worried that the struggles would continue into the playoffs. He responded with, “Nah we’ll be fine, because I’m here.” What about the players surrounding him and his coaches?
He then went on to have arguably the worst 4 game stretch of his entire career in the playoffs against the Bucks, shooting 25-83 from the field, looking disengaged, and playing lazy defense.

Earlier in the season, he took the liberty in announcing to the media that he called LeBron to apologize for his antics as a young guy. “I had to call ‘Bron and tell him I apologize for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips,” said Irving. The funny thing is I actually don’t think he meant for his comments to come out as indirectly taking a jab at young guys like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and crew, but it just goes to show he doesn’t have the mental awareness to lead a team.
When your leader deflects the blame in tough situations on his or her peers, doesn’t show up in the biggest moments of adversity, and starts answering questions with “who cares” in playoff post-game press conferences, then teammates aren’t going to follow your lead.

So now the next question for Kyrie, Brad, and the Celtics is, “What’s next?” The first matter of business is whether or not Kyrie will re-sign. I know that if you currently asked most Celtics fans whether or not they want him back next year, the answer would be no. For me, I can still EMPHATICALLY say I want Kyrie back in green next year. Did he deserve a lot of blame this year? Yes, of course, but like I mentioned earlier, there were plenty of other people to pin blame on. Who knows where this season would have gone had Gordon Hayward returned to his All-Star caliber days in Utah?

Although, it feels like a long time ago (and it was), let’s not forget when Kyrie was healthy in the 2017-2018 season, the Celtics were a top 2 or 3 team in the NBA. Hell, they won 16 straight games at one point.

One thing appears clear, this Celtics team must choose a direction moving forward. Do you build around Kyrie and unload some of the young assets and draft picks for an All-Star (Anthony Davis please), or does Kyrie leave and you commit to building around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the young core moving forward? Time will tell and you can bet that the media will beat this story-line to death in the coming months.

Story-Lines and Predictions headed into the Masters

Ahhh The Masters… my favorite sporting event of the year. It’s FINALLY here! It really is a tradition unlike any other, with views of Magnolia Lane, the beautiful azaleas, Amen Corner, the classic 16th hole, and the presentation of the Green Jacket awarded to the winner on Sunday night. These are images forever ingrained in my head and sights I cannot wait to see this week. As always there are dozens of major story-lines heading into the week. Here are a few that I’m really keeping an eye on…

Can Jordan Spieth find his form?

Jordan Spieth

Photo credit:  NYT

Personally, I think this is the most intriguing story-line headed into the 1st major of the year. We all know the affinity Jordan Spieth has for The Masters. He’s had some of the most unforgettable moments at Augusta over the last several years. From his breakthrough win at 21 years old, to his collapse on the 13th hole in 2016, and his final round 64 (-8 under par) to almost force a playoff last year. But for those who haven’t been paying attention to the tour lately, Spieth has been a disaster the last 9 months. His last top 10 came all the way back in the Open Championship last July. He didn’t finish inside the top 30 in the FedEx Cup rankings last year, meaning he didn’t make it to the Tour Championship which is the final event of the golf season. His best finish to date this year is T24 and he has fallen all the way down to 33rd in the world golf rankings, a far cry from occupying the 3rd spot after last year’s Masters. The reason for his struggles… well Spieth cannot seem to hit his driver with any accuracy anymore. He’s ranked in the 200s on the tour in strokes gained off the tee and he’s continuously missing putts from inside 5 feet. He’s had some good rounds this year but constantly has one blow up hole or round to take him out of contention.
So is Augusta the place where he turns his game around? While Spieth has never struggled with his game to this degree heading into the Masters before, he’s had questions going into the first major of the year… and always proves the doubters wrong…

Spieth Masters

Yes you’re reading that right, Spieth’s worst finish in 5 Masters appearances is a T11. I’ve made the mistake of doubting him here before… and I promised myself I won’t make it again (memo to self DON’T FADE SPIETH AT THE MASTERS!). I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a player navigate his way around Augusta like we have with Spieth. There’s something special about this course for him and I think he’s going to be in contention this week. Right now Spieth’s odds sit around 16-1 or 18-1 to win the tournament.

Is Rory ready to complete the career Grand Slam?

Rory 2018

Photo credit: Golf Digest

Rory McIlroy is arguably the hottest golfer on the tour right now. He made a concerted effort to play in the United States earlier than he has in the past and to play more on the PGA Tour this year (he hasn’t renewed his European Tour membership yet which is a story in its own). McIlroy started the 2019 calendar year at the Tournament of Champions (the first tournament of the new calendar year), an event he’s had the chance to play in just about every year of his career. This was his first time participating in the TOC. Rory has played in 7 events since the start of the new year and has 7 top 10 finishes including a win at the Players Championship. He’s driving the ball as straight and far as he ever has, ranking 1st on tour in Strokes Gained Off the Tee. His putting has looked improved, and it can be argued that this is the best he’s ever been playing heading into his 5th chance at completing the Career Grand Slam. He’s the odds on favorite (7-1) to receive the green jacket Sunday night. He was 2nd headed into Sunday at last year’s tournament before faltering to a round of +2 and finishing a “disappointing” T5.

Rory knows he’s going to be getting questions about whether or not he can complete the Career Grand Slam all week. The real question is can he handle the pressure. I don’t care if you’re Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, or MJ DeDonato, if you’re in contention on the back 9 of any golf tournament, never mind The Masters and going for the Career Grand Slam, you’re going to feel the pressure. I expect Rory to be there on Sunday as his length off the tee and around the green game (2 of the most important traits to succeed at this tournament) have always helped him in the past at Augusta. Am I convinced he’ll be able to handle the pressure and slip-on the green jacket… well you’ll have to keep reading to find out.

Does Tiger actually have a chance to win his first major since 2008?

Tiger golf

Photo Credit: Golf.com

Now that Tiger got the monkey off his back winning the Tour Championship, his first win on the tour since 2013, his main focus is on winning majors. All the tournaments he’s played in this season, are to gear himself up to compete and win the tournament that means the most to him; The Masters. I’ve said before that I doubted his ability to really compete for a major win ever again. He obviously proved me wrong after his electric performances last year at The Open (T6) and the PGA Championship (Solo 2nd). Augusta is a ball-strikers course. Tiger’s strength these days is his iron game. He’s still one of the best iron players on tour. Woods ranks 3rd in strokes gained approach over the last 50 rounds, amongst all players in the field (87).
The biggest question for Woods since the start of last year is constantly his driver/game off the tee. It was a big issue for him last year heading into the Masters and it let him down at times as he finished the tournament at +1 and a tie for 32nd. His driver has been a little more consistent as of late. Woods has gained strokes off the tee in 7 of his last 8 tournaments, a very good sign heading into the week as Strokes Gained Off the Tee is constantly one of the best indicators for success at Augusta. Should Woods drive the ball far and straight this week, he should be in contention come Sunday. Everyone loves Tiger and wants to see him recapture his magic at The Masters. If he does falter this year, this will still be an amazing tournament, so don’t be one of those fair weather golf fans who taps out on the tournament… nothing beats The Masters!

Top 5 Predictions

5. Hideki Matsuyama – My friends know that… HIDEKIIIII is one of my favorite golfers on the tour. He’s been absolute hot fire with his irons the last several months. He has the course history, current form, and tee to green game to be in the running late Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, he also has the entire country of Japan on his back as no Japanese golfer has ever won a major and I expect those pressures to be too much for him to actually win at Augusta this year. (Odds to win 35-1 via Westgate Las Vegas)

4. Rory McIlroy – As I mentioned above, Rory is arguably the hottest golfer on tour. He’s the best driver in the field and has the length to dominate Augusta. If Rory tees off in the final group on Sunday, this could hurt his chances to win. It adds to the pressure of trying to complete the Grand Slam. If he tees off in the penultimate twosome or 3rd to last, I think this would help lessen the pressure and give him a better chance to wear the green jacket come Sunday night. (Odds to win 7/1 via Westgate Las Vegas)

3. Francesco Molinari – The casual golf fan may not be familiar with this name, but they should be. Molinari won the Open Championship last year, becomingthe first Italian to ever win a major (making all us fellow Italians proud). He then proceeded to finish 6th at the PGA Championship last August, the final major of the year. Simply put, Molinari has been a stone-cold assassin on the golf course the last several months. He’s coming in with scorching hot form, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month and finishing 3rd in the WGC Match-Play a little over a week ago. Molinari seems to never find himself in trouble off the tee and never makes a  big number on a hole. He’s as consistent as a golfer you find on the tour, missing just 2 cuts over the last year. The big con against Molinari is his course history. His best finish ever at Augusta was T19 back in 2012. He also had a solid showing last year as he finished T20. I’m willing to overlook Molinari’s spotty course history because quite frankly he’s a different golfer today than he was a year ago, nevermind the last several years. Do yourself a favor and do not overlook Molinari! (odds to win 20-1 via Westgate Las Vegas)

2. Dustin Johnson – Between Rory’s hot run, Tiger being Tiger, Fan favorite Rickie Fowler winning this year, it seems as if DJ has become somewhat of a forgotten man. I’m not totally sure why, as DJ has already won once on the PGA Tour this year and once in Europe. He’s coming in with 4 straight Top 10’s and his stats check out as good as anyone in the field, ranking 4th in strokes gained off the tee, 3rd in approach, and 2nd in strokes gained tee-to green. DJ is also great in the wind due to his low ball flight. We’ve seen the wind pick up at Augusta in the past (i.e. 2016 when Danny Willett won at -5). Should the wind become a factor, DJ’s game might be best suited amongst all the big guns. (Odds to win 10-1 via Westgate Las Vegas)

Justin Rose

Photo Credit: Heavy.com

1. Justin Rose – Your 2019 Masters Champion will be none other than #TeamRose (He loves putting that in all his Instagram posts) aka Justin Rose. It’s been a long time coming for Rose. His course history at Augusta is as good as anyone without a win. He has 5 top 10’s including two 2nd place finishes. He’s never missed a cut in 13 appearances. He has 11 top 25 finishes, and has never finished worse than 39th (which was all the way back in 2003, his first start ever at Augusta). Course history has proved year in and year out to have more significance at Augusta than anywhere else on the PGA Tour. Rose has already won on tour this year and similar to Tiger, is really concerned with trying to win majors first and foremost at this point in his career. He has the length off the tee, the iron game, game around the greens, and has been rolling the ball on the green as well as he ever has over the past year. Rose also has a U.S. Open victory to his name, so we know he can deal with the pressure of the back 9 of a major on a Sunday. As I mentioned, this has been a long-time coming for Rose and he feels destined to finally breakthrough and receive his first green jacket come Sunday afternoon. (Odds to win 12-1 via Westgate Las Vegas)

Buckle up everyone it’s going to be one helluva week. Feel free to reach out to me for any advice in your pools (if I’m not in it), betting advice, and DraftKings. Hopefully you enjoy the tournament and win a little money while doing it!

The Celtics Biggest “Trade Deadline Acquisition” is Ready for a Big Finish to the Season

Now is the time for Gordon Hayward…

It has been a wild first two-thirds of the season for the Boston Celtics. They currently sit at 37-21, which is good for a tie at fourth place in the Eastern Conference. 37-21 sounds good, but for anyone who’s been following this team, they know it’s been far from a smooth ride. From the crappy 9-9 start, to home losses to the lowly Knicks, Magic, and Suns, drama between Kyrie Irving and “the young guys”, the list has been never-ending for eye-brow raising moments. The Celtics’ season has been one of the most intriguing story-lines to follow during this NBA Season, albeit for maybe the wrong reasons.

Even with all these issues, I don’t believe anyone is realistically counting this team out on making a deep playoff run. There’s still a lot to look forward to as they prepare for the rest of the season. Kyrie Irving, despite all his drama, is in the midst of the best season of his career. Gordon Hayward looks like he may finally be ready to “turn the corner” and the Celtics entered the All-Star break with 2 straight wins, including a win at Philly (without Kyrie).  Some people consider the 76ers to be the Eastern Conference favorite after their trade to acquire Tobias Harris. The Celts came back with a solid home-win the next night to illustrate a little consistency after the big Philly win, something they’ve struggled with throughout the season.

As we get ready to start the last 2 months of the season, the biggest story-line on the court is clearly Gordon Hayward. Let’s be fair to Gordon, anyone who thought he’d come into the 2018-2019 season and immediately flash his pre-injury athleticism and form would’ve been naive. It was always going to take him time to get back to even 90% of what he once was… never mind 100%. But at times during the season, the frustration with him has been warranted. We’ve seen him drop 30+ points twice. Both games came against the lowly T-Wolves. He’s had other very solid games, but they always seem to occur against bottom of the barrel teams like the Wolves, Cavs, and Knicks.

Hayward will go out and have a strong all-around game against one of these lower-echelon teams, then go out the next game and become invisible on the court (e.g. the Warriors game). The biggest hurdle that Celtics fans have been waiting for, other than a full-recovery from his injury (which we know may not happen this year…or ever), is to see him get over his inconsistency and step up his game against higher competition in the NBA.

If you paid attention to the last 3 games he played before the break, it should have opened your eyes. The Philly game in particular stands out. In a huge road game, that most people gave the Celtics no chance to win without Kyrie Irving, Hayward went out and lead the Celtics in scoring with 26 points. He shot the ball with extreme confidence, took the ball to the hoop aggressively (getting to the line 7 times) and resembled the Hayward of his pre-injury days.  He then went out the next night and had another efficient game shooting 5/8 from the field with 18 points, 8 assists, and 5 boards against the Pistons in 34 minutes, a great sign to see in back-to-back nights.

He gave us the two things we’ve been waiting to see, consistency in a stretch of multiple games (he also led the Celtics in scoring in the collapse against the Clippers), and more importantly in my eyes, stepping his game up against maybe the Celtics’ biggest competition in the East (the 76ers).

This is the most excited I’ve been about Hayward since his debut in October of 2017. How he continues to progress throughout the rest of the season may not only determine the ceiling for this team, but may also impact the upcoming Free Agency decision that awaits Kyrie this summer.

I know I’ve been guilty of the fact that when I think of this team moving forward, I look at Kyrie+ Tatum or Anthony Davis, as the guys we ideally want to build around. I think at times we’ve almost forgot that we brought Gordon Hayward here to be an All-Star and the 2nd or 3rd best player on a team with championship aspirations.

Should Hayward continue to get back to his pre-injury form, it may force Kyrie to re-think his outlook on the Celtics future. It may also force Danny Ainge and the front-office to re-think their plans in the upcoming off-season for acquiring Anthony Davis. All of a sudden, with a Big 3 centered around Kyrie, a re-born Gordon Hayward, and budding superstar Jayson Tatum, the Celtics original plan prior to the Hayward injury, may have some life to it again….

 

Why Kyler Murray is making the RIGHT Decision to Play in the NFL over the MLB!

In case you missed it, 2018 Heisman Trophy winner and former Oklahoma Quarterback Kyler Murray is entering the 2019 NFL Draft. Why’s this a big deal? Well, Murray was the 9th overall pick of the Oakland A’s in the 2018 MLB Draft. He signed a contract with Oakland which included a $4.66 million signing bonus. Noted in that contract was the fact that Murray could play football for 1 year at Oklahoma (think Billy Beane and the A’s organization is kicking themselves now for allowing this in the contract?).

By deciding to enter the NFL draft, he has made the decision that he will be playing in the NFL for years to come, instead of the MLB. He will now have to give up the $4.66 million signing bonus he was going to receive from Oakland.

As stated before, Murray was the 9th overall pick in this past year’s MLB Draft. Don’t let that diminish the talent that evaluators have always seen in him on the football field. He was a 5 star QB recruit coming out of high school and committed to Texas A&M. He would end up transferring from A&M to Oklahoma after his freshman year. The important thing to note about his transfer was that he had a concern with the football situation at Texas A&M, not the baseball situation. This should have foreshadowed the events we’ve seen unfold the last few days.

Murray had huge shoes to fill at Oklahoma coming into the 2018 season, replacing the most recent Heisman winner and #1 overall pick in the draft – Baker Mayfield. Needless to say, he didn’t disappoint since he won the Heisman, lead Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff, and finished first in several NCAA statistical categories.

As the season went on, whispers began about whether Murray should give up baseball and enter the NFL Draft instead. Anonymous scouts started texting insiders that he’d be a 2nd round pick at worst and that his combination of speed, athleticism, and arm would lead him to success as a QB at the pro-level.

I will say that the more I watched him, the more I fell in love with him as the season progressed. He’s one of the most explosive players I’ve ever seen on a college football field. As Murray lost to Alabama in the CFP Semi-Final, I remember thinking to myself “damn it’s an absolute shame we’ll never get to see him on the football field again.”

Then all the rumors started coming out that he was debating entering the NFL Draft and spurning the A’s. Finally, on Monday, those rumors became facts.

So now there are plenty of people saying, “Murray is an idiot for choosing football over baseball!” They’re citing reasons such as, “baseball is the smart move for the future of his health. Everyone knows football is more demanding and damaging on the body.”

They’re also saying he would have more success and make more money in baseball than the NFL.

Is there some validity to these points? Yes, of course, but there are plenty of pros in choosing the NFL instead.

First, Murray can immediately make more money in his first year in the NFL, than he can in the MLB if he’s drafted in the first round. Last year, Lamar Jackson was the last pick of the first round and got a $5 million signing bonus along with a 4-year contract worth $9.47 million guaranteed. If we look at someone like Derwin James, selected at 17th overall, he received a $7.1 million signing bonus and $12.39 guaranteed over 4 years.  Finally, let’s look at the 10th overall pick Josh Rosen, who received a signing bonus of about $11 million and $17.84 million guaranteed over 4 years.

The draft is still about 3 months away but based on the talk around Murray and the fact that he’s choosing the NFL, it appears that he’ll end up being a first round pick with a chance to make a lot of money.

Also, should Murray become a star in the NFL, or even show great potential, he would be rewarded handsomely with a big contract. Take for example everyone’s favorite all-time Patriot not named Tom Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo, who had started a grand total of seven games in his NFL career prior to this season got a contract worth up to $137.5 million over 5 years. The contract paid him $42.6 million this year alone!

In regards to people who argue that he should have stayed with baseball, the trip to the big leagues is an absolute grind. I’ve never watched Murray play baseball and while he’s obviously extremely talented to be a top 10 pick in last June’s draft, that by no means ensures he’ll eventually make it to the big leagues one day. Unlike the NBA and NFL, there are plenty of guys who get drafted high in the MLB and never make it to the big leagues or never see much success.

Let’s look back at the 2014 MLB Draft and the top 10 picks…

mlb draft picks

(source: MLB.com)

Of the list, 6 have played in the MLB. The #1 and #2 overall picks both have never played a game in the big leagues… earning the bust label and not looking like they’ll earn a call-up any time soon. Of the list, how many can the casual baseball fan name… I would say 3 at most and the only one who’s looked like a legit star is Aaron Nola.

Murray very well could’ve worked his way up with the A’s and become a star. But, if we ran the above exercise year in and year out, I think it’d surprise many people to learn how few top baseball picks ever make it to the big leagues.

The last argument for Murray making the right decision is the fact that baseball is America’s Favorite Past Time. These days it’s all about Sundays in the fall. Everyone is glued to their couches and TVs, watching their favorite NFL team or NFL Red Zone. We all love to eat, sleep and breathe football. If you have the passion to keep on playing America’s favorite sport, how do you give that up and not follow your dreams to get the spotlight as a starting QB in the NFL. Watching Murray throughout the season and seeing this whole situation come to light the last few days, you could tell his heart belongs more to the gridiron than the diamond.

The NFL is where he belongs and I couldn’t be more excited to watch him on Sundays. Who couldn’t be, after the amazing season he just had with Oklahoma…

 

P.S. Can the Patriots please find a way to draft him?

 

 

 

 

 

For Jets and Patriots Fans, their Futures could come down to… Kliff Kingsbury?

Will the Jets lose out on another coach to the Patriots and be haunted by it for years?

For those of you who don’t know who Kliff Kingsbury is, let me introduce you to him. Kingsbury, 39 years of age, was most recently the head coach at Texas Tech finishing with a record of 35-40 and winning 1 bowl game during the last 5 years at the helm. His tenure with Tech was a mediocre stint at best. Before coaching at Texas Tech, Kingsbury had spent time as an offensive coordinator for Texas A&M and an offensive assistant for Houston.

While his numbers as a head coach may not impress, he’s always been known to be what some people consider “a QB whisperer.” It began in his time at Houston when he was given large responsibility for the success of Case Keenum. Keenum finished his career with multiple NCAA records and would go on to be drafted and start in the NFL.

In his time as OC at Texas A&M, Kingsbury would go on to coach up the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and Browns first round pick, Johnny Manziel. Kingsbury won the College Football award for best OC in the country that year.

He then became the first coach in NCAA history at a BCS school, to start a true freshman walk-on QB. The name of that quarterback at Texas Tech… Baker Mayfield. Baker would go on to win Big 12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year in 2013. He would then transfer due to miscommunication with the coaching staff after the season ended. Shortly after, Mayfield would go on to win the Heisman and become a #1 overall draft pick in the NFL.

Kingsbury had his next QB lined up for the Raiders of Texas Tech, this time a fella named Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes would play 3 seasons under Kingsbury and win College QB of the year after his junior season. Mahomes is now an MVP candidate with the Chiefs and was the 10th overall pick back in 2017.

Kingsbury was not retained by Texas Tech after this past season and recently accepted an OC position with USC. So why could the future of the Jets and Pats come down to Kingsbury? Both teams are interested in hiring him for a coaching position. The Jets are trying to get him in for an interview for their vacant head coach position. The Patriots are rumored to be interested in his services as a replacement for Josh McDaniels, since McDaniels may finally leave New England for a head coach opportunity.

Now I’m not saying I think Kingsbury will or won’t have success as an NFL coach, but there’s no denying the success he’s had in developing great QBs over the last several years. He’s also young and innovative on offense, which seems to be the new flavor in hiring coaches around the league (see Sean McVay and Matt Nagy). Finally, he’s been in the NFL before, as he was drafted by the Patriots back in 2003. The Patriots won their second Super Bowl that year.

It’s easy to see why the Jets could have interest in him considering they have a young team with a young promising QB in Sam Darnold. The thought of Darnold developing under the young innovative Kingsbury, similar to Jared Goff under McVay and Mitch Tribusky under Matt Nagy, has to be compelling.

On the other hand, Kingsbury was largely considered a disappointment at Texas Tech with his 35-40 record and a losing record in the Big 12. Now you’re telling me the Jets are interested in hiring him as their head coach when he’s never coached in the NFL… that sounds like a recipe for disaster.

The bigger picture is that he’s now being linked to the Patriots and it’s already starting to get into Jets fans heads. Long time Jets reporter Manish Mehta sent out a tweet last night that many Jets fans probably can’t get out of their minds, as rumors about Kliff swirl…

As NFL Insider, Mike Florio reported on Sunday, the NFL is “hot” for Kingsbury. It’s clear that if he leaves USC, he’s going to get a job as an HC or OC in the NFL. Should he leave and get the chance to be the head coach of the Jets, he could be the next young guru in the league, while turning Sam Darnold into an elite QB. But he could also prove to be “out of his league” and simply a poor coaching choice for a desperate team.

However, he could get a chance to work with Tom Brady for a few years, if he were to become the Pats OC. He’d also have the opportunity to develop Brady’s replacement, which I won’t lie, gets me a little excited as a fan of the team.

Kingsbury is a very interesting name to keep an eye on during the next few weeks, as he has a chance to be a major factor in the Pats and Jets future. Jets fans have already seen the misery Bill Belichick has caused them over the past 20 years. We all know the story there by now. Will the Jets organization get too aggressive, to be sure they don’t lose Kingsbury to the Pats? I’ll be keeping tabs on this situation very closely the next few weeks…and maybe few years.