Good morning and good week, my friends. I’m back, Captaining the Good Ship While We’re Waiting after a weekend full of Madness. Before you even begin to scroll, let’s make sure you threw WFNY a few votes for Best Sports Blog and Best Podcast for Cleveland Scene’s Best Of for 2014. Now, as we head in to our final week without regular season baseball, we should take a look at the lay of the land, focusing on the important and ancillary. Let’s dig in…
Break up the Cavs! The Wine and Gold took to Madison Square Garden on the second night of a back-to-back and put an end to the New York Knicks’ eight-game winning streak. After allowing 34 points in the first quarter, the Cavs used an inspired halftime speech from Mike Brown—”He challenged us,” said Dion Waiters following the festivities—to hold New York to just 39 second-half points. Also helping matters: A 31-point, 10-assist outing from Jarrett Jack, a man who finally showed flashes of why the Cavs gave him a multi-year free agent deal this past offseason. If FOX Sports Ohio could have overlaid flames coming off of the ball, they would have—Jack was that hot, scoring 23 of his 31 in the second half.
The Cavaliers managed to shoot over 60 percent from the floor in this one, but the more important statistic may be the fact that, over their last four games (against teams like Oklahoma City and Houston), the Cavs have held the opposition to just 24.6 percent shooting from the floor in fourth quarters. It may seem superfluous, but compare this effort—despite losing—to the fourth quarters under Byron Scott. This team, despite all of their current shortcomings and injuries, is at least trying. I’m not sure we can say the same about the units which preceded them.
Meanwhile, Kyrie’s sneaker situation is…Complex: As Kyrie Irving watches the waning games of his third NBA season in street clothes, Complex.com’s Joe Sherman asks if it’s time for Nike to give the All-Star point guard his own line of shoes. I realize that I’m in the minority of this sub-culture marriage of style and the NBA, but as the Jrodan-fueled sneaker industry continues to grow on the backs of guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul, the Nikes of the world are going to continue to mine for their next big star. It took Kyrie Irving one half of a season to get his first PE (Player Exclusive for the laypersons), having his “K” on the tongue of Zoom Hyperdunks galore. It took him just one more year to be the face of a new line, leading the pack on this year’s Zoom Hyperrev. The career arc is there—Irving is very marketable, has now played in two All-Star games (winning the MVP trophy in one of them), and appears to only be hindered by freak injuries.
“It’s rare for a commercial series to garner so much buzz,” writes Sherman. “Irving made it happen. Another player who’s been able to garner that that much buzz with non-basketball related endorsements: LeBron James. This is no coincidence, though, Irving is a star in the making.”
Despite all of his shortcomings, fewer players have as many head-turning moments as Irving has over the last three years. He’s in the top 10 in NBA jersey sales, ahead of Blake Griffin, James Harden and fellow point guard (and sneakerhead) Russell Westbrook. The catch? LeBron James’ signature line only recently became a monetary profit for Nike—all those days in Cleveland were merely a build-up. Further more, Kevin Durant’s signature line (The Zoom KDs, frequently worn by Jarrett Jack) is actually losing Nike money according to sneaker research analyst Matt Powell. This is a huge issue and would be a hurdle that is exponentially bigger than any torn biceps—at least when it comes to pushing product. We may eventually see a Nike Zoom Irving, but prepare for plenty of anti-Cleveland sentiment to come along with it.
Alex Mack Back? The man who was once excited to be heading into the NFL’s free agency period may soon be taking off his party hat—this is assuming he hasn’t already. After the Indianapolis Colts signed a center Phil Costa to a two-year, incentive-laden deal, Mack’s name began surfacing in their former city, Baltimore. The Ravens reportedly wanted to get “bigger” at the center position, and had been rumored to have some interest in the Browns center, having faced him twice per year since he arrived in 2009. Bur rather than offering Mack a deal, Baltimore traded a late-round draft pick to Tampa Bay in exchange for center Jeremy Zuttah. The Bucs had signed former Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smight, making Zuttah (and his $4.5 million salary) expendable.
So where does this leave Mack? The music is starting to wind down and the chairs are disappearing, one team at a time. Nearly two weeks into the league’s free agency period, and what little interest he was garnering prior to these deals has surely dissipated. As penned last week, the Browns could pull back their transition tag, relieving them of the $10 million price tag they gave themselves. Mack and his team could also decide that Cleveland, after this entire song and dance, is his best option for a long-term deal. This, of course, would require the center even talking to the team—something that appears to not be much of a priority at this point.
And just because: Fred Hoiberg, dropping that Nae Nae…kind of.