August 15, 2014

Scott Raab profiles Mike Pettine, underwater MP3 players, and Michael Cera… While We’re Waiting

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What’s up everybody? It’s Friday and I’m on for WWW. Hope it’s one of the good ones. We never know when we write these, by the way. I’ve discussed this with Andrew and the rest of the crew and it’s a mystery to us which ones are going to draw commentary and which ones will draw flies.

Oh well. [Read more...]

Pirates acquire reliever John Axford from Indians

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Well, it was fun while it lasted. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that the Pirates have acquired reliever John Axford from the Cleveland Indians, just a few months after signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal.

Despite the success of current Tribe closer Cody Allen, Manager Terry Francona said earlier this month that the team’s eventual goal is to have Axford return to the closer’s role. He was in the midst of a decent stretch, pitching well enough to be the team’s closer, getting his ERA down to 3.14 and recording a save earlier this month before allowing a grand slam to the New York Yankees roughly one week ago.

In his 49 games with Cleveland, Axford went 2-3 with 10 saves, two holds, 51 strikeouts and 30 walks in 43 2/3 innings of work.  It’s a straight-up waiver claim, so the Indians essentially said “Here—you guys pay him” to the Pirates, who are currently a half game ahead in the NL Wild Card standings and are now responsible for the $1.1 million left on the reliever’s deal.

Now about that “Unfinished Business…”

Hoyer to start second preseason game

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According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network and later confirmed by the Browns, Brian Hoyer will reportedly make the start on Monday versus the Washington Redskins. This is a different sentiment then last weekend when there was a report that Manziel was likely to start in the second preseason game. The news of Hoyer starting may lead many to believe that Hoyer is the favorite to win the starting quarterback job. But as Mike Pettine said this week, the starter is not important because both quarterbacks will split snaps with the ones. This news, though, conveys the feeling that Hoyer has a leg up in the competition because he has received both starts this preseason.

The second preseason game on Monday seems to be a big deciding factor in who will win the starting spot. Hoyer will get the first shot at making his case for the starting spot, but Manziel will still have a chance if he gets time with the ones. But for right now, the favorite to win the job seems to be trending towards Hoyer especially after this recent news.

(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)

The NBA’s marketing machine is fantastic … While We’re Waiting

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“When’s the schedule coming out?” This was a text I received every few days since LeBron’s return to the Cavaliers. For weeks and weeks, many have been on edge. No official announcement came at first – the NBA had been said to want to delay the release to closer to mid-August.

Finally, there was news. The schedule was set to be released at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13 on NBA TV. The NBA’s marketing was brilliant. They had kept the free agency circuit on edge just enough to then kickstart an entirely new news cycle with the schedule reactions on their own network. [Read more...]

It’s Here! The much anticipated Cavaliers schedule

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Are you ready? The NBA has just released the entire 2014-15 NBA season schedule. We now know who LeBron James and company will play throughout the season. The excitement for the season started with the return of James back to Cleveland. He has allowed Cavs fans to realistically dream of an NBA championship. This excitement seems to have only escalated since the news of the impending Kevin Love trade. The team is close to building their own “Big Three” of Kyrie Irving, James, and Love. This could be one of the most anticipated seasons in Cleveland sports history.

The Cavaliers start the season on October 30th at home versus Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks. It will be an electric atmosphere when the Cavs turn the lights down for the first introductions of the new team. James will once again battle his draft classmate in one of the best player matchups in the NBA. The day after the opener, the team heads to Chicago to face Derrick Rose and the Bulls. The Bulls are expected to be Cleveland’s biggest threat to winning the Eastern Conference. Another notable game this coming season is the Christmas Day matchup against the Miami Heat. This will be the first game back in Miami for James after he left in free agency this summer. It is great to be back playing on Christmas and being a part of the great games on that day.

Here are some other notable notes about the 2014-15 Cavaliers season:

  • The Cavs have 29 nationally televised games including 25 games on either ABC, ESPN, or TNT.
  • After the season opener, the team goes on a four game road trip to Chicago, Portland, Utah, and Denver.
  • The Cavs play the defending champions San Antonio Spurs at home on November 19th and at the Spurs on March 12th.
  • After the Christmas game, the Cavs play the Heat at home on April 2nd and February 11th and another at Miami on March 16th.
  • The longest road trip begins on January 9th against the Golden State Warriors. This west coast trip continues on to Sacramento, Phoenix, and end in Los Angeles against both the Lakers and Clippers. It is a five game road trip.
  • The Cavs finish the season on April 15th at home against in Washington Wizards in possible playoff preview.

To view the full Cavaliers schedule Click Here.

Indians Notes: Bourn to be activated on Friday, Swisher getting second opinion

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The Indians take on the Arizona Diamondbacks today in a traditional doubleheader starting at 4 pm. The team is currently on a two game win streak after beating the New York Yankees two out of three games this past weekend. The Tribe could get a boost on Friday when they are expected to activate Michael Bourn off the D.L. He was placed on the 15-day D.L. on July 6 after injuring his hamstring. Manager Terry Francona said before the doubleheader today that Bourn will start on Friday and Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles and sit on Sunday. This move could give the team an offensive boost for the stretch run.

On a less positive note, Nick Swisher will get a second opinion on his injured right knee. He will travel to Los Angeles on Tuesday to meet with Dodgers’ team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache. The Indians should know more after this examination on the status of Swisher for the rest of the year. It will be interesting to see how the team handles Swisher’s status for the rest of the regular season.

(Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

Cavaliers to host Knicks in season opener, play in Miami on Christmas Day

Cavaliers vs KnicksThe 2014-15 NBA schedule hasn’t been officially released yet, but reports have slowly been leaking out with information about some of the league’s marquee matchups. After initial reports that the Cavaliers were going to have to open the season in San Antonio to face the Spurs, Yahoo’s Marc Spears is now reporting that the Cavaliers will actually host the Carmelo Anthony and the Phil Jackson-led Knicks on opening night.

We also have word that the Cavaliers will be playing on Christmas Day for the first time in five years when they travel to Miami where LeBron will square off with former teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The full schedule is expected to be released Wednesday at 6:00 pm.

[Related: LeBron makes first comments at his Welcome Home Party in Akron]

Report: Former Bucks Coach Larry Drew to Join David Blatt’s Staff

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With all the excitement over LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, along with all the talk of the impending Kevin Love trade, one of the overlooked stories surrounding the Cavaliers is the makeup of new coach David Blatt’s staff. Tyronn Lue was hired to be Blatt’s Associate Head Coach, but other than rumors of mutual interest in Larry Drew, no word has come down on the rest of the staff.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe tweeted that the Cavaliers have indeed hired Larry Drew to be on David Blatt’s staff:

Drew was rather infamously and shamefully replaced as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks as part of the fallout of Jason Kidd’s failed power play in New Jersey, which landed Kidd in Milwaukee and left Drew unemployed. Drew is regarded as a coach who designs playstyle to the talent of his roster, as opposed to forcing his roster to play his preferred style. This mentality should be a good fit with David Blatt who also coaches with this adaptive style.

As for the rest of the staff, Bernie Bickerstaff, Jim Boylan, Igor Kokoskov, and Bret Brielmaier are all still listed on the Cavs’ official website. No further information regarding their future has been reported as of this time.

[Related: Charlotte joins Cleveland in running to host 2017 or 2018 NBA All-Star Game]

Rex Grossman doesn’t make Brian Hoyer expendable

I was listening to Kiley and Booms this morning and Chuck Booms was entertaining the idea that Grossman’s arrival actually makes Brian Hoyer trade bait. It’s hard to believe that Grossman could be that ready considering his last regular season NFL snap came for the Washington Redskins in 2011. Then again, I didn’t really think that I’d be looking at pictures of Grossman in a Browns uniform a couple weeks ago.

Still, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Mike Pettine was asked by Tony Grossi directly yesterday if Grossman made Hoyer expendable. Pettine didn’t really take a lot of time when he said “No.”

The Cleveland Browns have needed more than one quarterback in a season pretty much every season ever. The idea that they could be so fickle as to pick up a guy who hasn’t played in the regular season in two seasons and get rid of the pre-training-camp incumbent starter, is hopefully a storyline from dysfunctional days gone by and not a realistic part of the Ray Farmer future.

Hopefully the trade talk is nothing more than the inane rantings of a comedian with nothing but a headline-grabbing take.

My Williams tribute and new games on the horizon: While We’re Waiting…

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On Tuesday, Andrew shared his thoughts on the passing of Robin Williams. Ordinarily I would shy away from the topic since it was brought up in recently in While We’re Waiting, but not today.

As a boy I remember being fascinated with Robin Williams’ comedy. I was too young and naive to really understand a lot of his subject matter, and I certainly didn’t understand the impact that drugs were having on his performances. All I knew was that he was a ball of energy and you never knew what he was going to do next. His quick wit and improvisation made a big impression on me.

If a life can have a soundtrack to mark time, I believe that movies can do something similar. I was seven years old when I saw Robin Williams in Popeye. At the time, a cartoon that became a live action movie was kind of impossible, but they pulled it off. Williams’ performance of Popeye was so different from anything he’d done to that point, and foreshadowed his ability to dive in and become other characters.

The next Williams movie that made an impact was The Best of Times. I was fully involved in organized football at the time and loved the idea of a team having a reunion game years after the fact to settle an old score. If you haven’t ever seen this movie, give it a shot. It isn’t one of his better known films and the WFNY audience would like it. I’m certain.

The summer before high school came Good Morning Vietnam. This film blended Williams’ true gifts. He was (and my heart sank just now typing was instead of is) a good dramatic actor, and obviously a brilliant comic. The combination made this movie what it is. So many great lines in this movie. Along with movies like Platoon, Good Morning Vietnam helped open the lines of communication between generations about Vietnam. It was a subject never mentioned in my house before.

Dead Poets Society was released while I was in high school, but I didn’t see it until after I had graduated. In fact, I was visiting a good friend from high school at the University of Illinois when we caught a showing at the campus theater. With all due respect to Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets is my favorite Williams role. Anyone who has ever taught has that desire to see a real connection with their students, to know that they truly understand what you are giving them. Williams became the Captain in this film. the circumstances around his death now make this film even more eerie and heartbreaking.

Awakenings was fantastic. Robert DiNero and Williams were tremendous together. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it. Inspiring.

A flurry of movies seemed to follow, including Hook, The Fisher King, Mrs. Doubtfire and Toys. The Fisher King was the best of this group in my opinion, as a little darker of a movie for Williams. Mrs. Doubtfire was certainly a memorable performance and gave Williams a perfect vehicle for comedy. Toys really missed the mark, and was the first time I remember being disappointed with a Williams movie.

There was a time that I kind of stepped away from Williams’ movies. I’m sure it had more to do with me than Williams. The Birdcage didn’t interest me, and Jumanji-Jack-Flubber all seemed geared towards kids. It wasn’t until Good Will Hunting did Robin’s work grab me again.

I can’t think of anyone anywhere near my age that didn’t like that movie. Certainly that is a testament to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s amazing story and performances as well, but they couldn’t have made a better choice than Williams for his part.

What Dreams May Come, Patch Adams and Bicentennial Man were all movies I saw and enjoyed, but were a little turned off by the reincarnation overtones. Not my belief system, but I certainly would not say you shouldn’t see the movies because of that. Loved Philip Seymour Hoffman in Patch Adams. There’s another sad story from Hollywood.

Night at the Museum, Robots and Happy Feet resonated with me for a completely different reason. I was now a father—Williams was now helping to bring happiness to my daughter’s life as well as mine.

And there will be more. I saw a report that at least three movies with Williams have been filmed and are in post-production, including a Christmas movie.

I’m sure that there will be a moment of grief watching these movies, knowing that Williams is gone. I’m also sure that the grief will go away as Williams applies his craft and brings home laughs once again. Thank you Robin for all the years of entertainment.

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For those interested in some of the board games I talk about in this space, you will want to check this out once it opens.

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The headline here is awesome, as is the video that follows:

“Pennsylvania Sports Anchor Punches Man Who Interrupts Live Shot”

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I like Pat McManamon, but the ‘chances Johnny Manziel starts’ daily chart is ridiculous.

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I get the hatred for OSU in Michigan, but what in the world???

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Toronto Argos uniforms. Love these.

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I will be attending GenCon this week, so I should have a number of new game reviews for this space in the coming weeks. Have a great weekend!

Charlotte joins Cleveland in running to host 2017 or 2018 NBA All-Star Game

quicken loans arenaEarlier this week, the Charlotte Hornets threw their hat in the ring for the right to host an upcoming NBA All-Star Game. A joint statement was released by the team and the recently founded non-profit Charlotte Sports Foundation.

Charlotte, which did not have a franchise from 2002-04, last hosted the All-Star Game back in 1991. Of course, if you may have forgotten, the other contender for the 2017 or 2018 game appears to be the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Not many other legitimate competitors are on the horizon. Portland had been a contender, but infrastructure issues derailed their 2017 bid. Orlando, which hosted the 2012 game, hopes to remain a future contender as well. There haven’t been too many other reports of interested host cities.

The upcoming schedule includes New York City in 2015 and Toronto in 2016. This season’s game will be played at Madison Square Garden, with Saturday festivities to be played at the Barclays Center. The Toronto announcement was made with much fanfare and lots and lots of Drake.

Previously, the Cavs had announced their intention to host a future game in spring 2012 and then submitted an official bid in spring 2013. The announcement about Toronto was made last September, but early reports are that the 2017 decision won’t come until later this winter or next spring.

Of course, the 2016 Republican National Convention will take place in Cleveland sometime that summer. Thus, necessary and centrally located infrastructure will likely already be in place for the city by the time of possibly hosting the NBA’s mid-season extravaganza.

Cleveland last hosted the NBA All-Star Game back in 1997, the year of the league’s 50th anniversary celebration. The Indians also hosted the MLB All-Star Game that summer and advanced to the World Series.

[Related from WFNY’s Scott Sargent at the 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans:
On Crescent City, Community and Creation]

Mike Pettine’s Secret Weapon: Hand-written notes, history lessons

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Barkevious Mingo may not be the world’s next award-winning long-form scribe, but it won’t be for lack of note taking and tutelage. The second-year linebacker, along with 88 0ther Cleveland Browns teammates, were the recent subjects in a Wall Street Journal article that focused on the team’s use of pen and paper—as opposed to more tech-friendly mediums—under new head coach Mike Pettine.

The NFL has become an iPad-driven world, but Pettine may be singlehandedly keeping Mead and Bic in business.

Armed with science and a little common sense, first-year Browns coach Mike Pettine is stressing to his players the old-school notion of writing things down. The strategy is backed up by new academic studies that say writing by hand instead of typing improves your chances of learning something.

For an NFL team, which spends hours upon hours explaining plays in team meetings, this can be crucial. A coach, giving a broad directive about a play, must run through numerous small tasks the players must do on a single play—like watching the right guard’s left arm at the snap. Good memory is crucial.

Pettine said the players’ notebooks feature countless “graduate-level” details about the team’s plays in their basic, Browns-themed notebooks, which are something of a secret weapon. [...]

‘To write is to learn,’” Pettine said. “When you write stuff down, you have a much higher chance of it getting imprinted on your brain. We leave it up to them—their job is to write down all the intricate things, and hopefully they get out the pen and get going.”

Rookies carrying around notepads is nothing new—every member of a rookie camp can be seen in Berea toting around spiral notebooks with a pen harnessed above their ear, waiting for the next nugget of wisdom to come from coaches or teammates. For an entire team—one littered with countless veterans—to adhere to similar practice, however,  appears to be rare. The 47-year-old Pettine is old school through and through, gaining the majority of his knowledge (and how to learn) from his father. It should come as little surprise that Kyle Shanahan, despite being just 37, also prefers the handwritten ways, having utilized such a medium for years.

This “secret weapon” goes beyond just the plays themselves. When teaching a goal-line defense, for instance, Pettine will start with the history of the tactic. Then, after he tells the players all the history of the play, Pettine will reveal the changes he has made and help the players understand their role. Mingo, still a rookie in many ways, speaks highly of the practice, but so do veteran teammates Karlos Dansby and Desmond Bryant (who, as the WSJ made sure to mention, went to Harvard). “They’ll say, ‘But if you tweak this person’s responsibilities just a little bit, you’ll be able to run [the play] more effectively,’” said Bryant. What sort of fruit these history lessons bear will be seen as early as September 7.

(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)

Browns finally sign Rex Grossman

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After being linked to him through much of the offseason, the Cleveland Browns have agreed to terms with veteran quarterback Rex Grossman.

Grossman is 6-1, 225 pounds and officially in his 12th NFL season out of Florida. Originally, a first-round pick (22nd overall) by Chicago in 2003, Grossman has appeared in 54 games and has compiled a 25-22 (.532) record as a starter. He has completed 863 of 1,562 career passes for 10,232 yards with 56 touchdowns and 60 interceptions. He’s also the subject of one of the sports blogesphere’s most entertaining (and meme-generating) pieces pretty much ever.

Sexy Rexy spent his first six seasons (2003-08) with the Bears and led Chicago to Super Bowl XLI during his first full season as the starter. He spent the past four seasons (2010-13) with the Redskins following one year with the Texans (2009). Last season, he was inactive for 13 games and was active but did not play in the team’s final three contests.

To make room for The Cannon, the Browns waived quarterback Tyler Thigpen.

RIP Robin Williams: While We’re Waiting…

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Sigh.

I normally start this off with a “Happy Tuesday” greeting, but this Tuesday is anything but. I opened my laptop to start writing this post last night, and I was immediately hit in the face with the news of Robin Williams’ death.

I’ll be honest with you guys: I don’t normally feel all that affected by celebrity deaths. I mean, I feel bad for their families and friends, and yes it is sad, but I’ve never been good about connecting their deaths to my life. There have been a few exceptions, though…Certain artists and celebrities who meant something to me in some personal way: Kurt Cobain, Dale Earnhardt, Layne Staley, Chris Farley, Greg Giraldo. And now Robin Williams.

Robin Williams was a titan of my youth. He already had a long, prosperous career before I first remember noticing him, but in reality his career was just getting started. I still vividly remember seeing “Hook” in the theater as a young 12-year-old kid and just loving Robin Williams’ performance as Peter Pan. I remember seeing Mrs Doubtfire in the theater a couple years later and thinking it was just about the funniest thing I had ever seen. I’ve been a fan ever since, always trying to make an effort to see just about anything he does.

I can’t even totally grasp this news. Anyone who followed his career was familiar with his battles with addiction and depression, but Robin Williams was so full of life that it seems unfathomable that it could extinguished. Robin and Chris Farley both had a similar quality to them in that even when doing something that wasn’t funny, they could still make you smile and laugh. Robin always had that incredible, mischievous smile and twinkle in his eye, like he always knew more than he was letting on to and had something up his sleeve. His very essence and aura just oozed charisma and laughter.

The most beautiful part about living life at the same time as Robin Williams is that the capacity for happiness always existed. And that was both his gift and his burden. I remember once, while watching one of Robin’s many late night appearances, thinking to myself how exhausting it must be to walk in his shoes. Every time he was in public, there was pressure for him to be “on”. And the remarkable thing is, he never failed to deliver. If he was ever tired of entertaining us and making us laugh, he certainly never let us see even a hint of it. He simply lived his life to make the rest of us laugh and experience happiness.

It would be easy to think only about all the great things Robin Williams gave to society, but obviously this news also serves to remind us that there was another side to the man, hidden from most of us. It’s been said that humor is a kind of defense mechanism, and I think that might be why some of the funniest people to ever grace this planet have also had some of the biggest demons. Often times the humor is used to disguise the very real hurt underneath the surface. And the lifestyle of comedians can naturally lend itself to addiction, excess, and depression. Yet it’s hardly unique to comedians. People in all walks of life suffer with the same afflictions and struggles. We all deal with things differently, and clearly we all have varying capacities for coping with these issues. But no matter how common this connection might be among us all, it always seems to be a shadow lurking beneath the surface. It’s an unspoken side effect of conscious thought and self-awareness. It’s something we’re still evolving inside of and trying to better understand how to make sense of it all, especially in the wake of this kind of tragedy.

For all the uncertainty in a time like this, though, the one thing we know for sure is that while Robin Williams may be gone and will be forever missed by his family, friends, and fans, the man leaves behind an incredible legacy of work that we will be able to enjoy forever. The breadth and versatility of work across all genres is truly astounding. The highlights are too many to list in totality, but just think about some of the memorable roles he has played, including Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs Doubtfire, Insomnia, One Hour Photo, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Moscow on the Hudson, Hook, Jack, Jumanji, The Birdcage, Toys, Death to Smoochy, Patch Adams, What Dreams May Come, and on and on and on.

Yet I think the two most memorable performances that I’ll always remember him for came off the big screen. The first was his unforgettable cameo in an episode of Louie. It showed us a slightly different side of Robin that we didn’t often get to see. It was a more subdued and introspective side of the man who always seemed to have the largest personality.

The other comes from the Nerdist youtube channel, in a series called “Set List: Stand-Up Without a Net”. In this series, comedians come to a tiny stage in the back of a comic book store, and they are given a series of prompts in which the comedians must form their set around on the fly. It tests some of the best stand ups to think on their toes and to showcase their improvisational abilities. Some of the comedians absolutely bomb. Some of them struggle right before our eyes to formulate their jokes in real time.

But when Robin Williams was on, he just nailed it out of the park. And he did it without breaking a sweat. I remember him more as an actor than as a stand-up, but this episode gave me an amazing glimpse at his true comedic genius at his core.

RIP Robin Williams, and thank you for all the laughs and all the memorable performances.

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Browns’ QB competition heats up

I’ve read some fairly compelling arguments for both Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel starting Week One for the Browns. But the one thing I keep coming back to is just how quickly this race seems to have shifted. Hoyer came into camp the overwhelming #1 guy, with the front office saying Hoyer was ahead of Manziel “by a substantial margin”.

Yet over the last couple days we’ve been hearing reports from within Browns camp that Manziel has now pulled ahead of Hoyer, reports which Browns coach Mike Pettine has denied. Yesterday in his MMQB column, SI’s Peter King quoted Browns safety Donte Whitner as saying the locker room is split 50-50 between Manziel and Hoyer.

Look, it doesn’t really matter who is “leading” right now. This isn’t a literal race. The only thing that matters is who will ultimately be the starting QB for the Browns week one in Pittsburgh. But what I find interesting is that this is even a race at all. I’ll be honest, I believed the Browns were going to go with Hoyer unless Manziel played so well as to leave them with no choice but to give Johnny the nod. So far, that hasn’t been the case. The two QBs seem more or less even. I thought that would be enough for Hoyer, but the more we see and hear, the more I think a tie just might go in Manziel’s favor.

Regardless of who the QB is, though, the Browns simply must find a way to score TDs. The offense’s red zone struggles have been a recurring theme of training camp, it was an issue in the intra-squad scrimmage, and in preseason game one, it once again manifested itself on the field. We’ve seen this story over and over again in the Browns’ post-’99 return. I remember two years ago making the dreary walk into Cleveland Browns Stadium (as it was known at the time) for yet another home loss, and someone behind me yelled out “It doesn’t get any better than this guys….getting drunk in the morning and then going to watch Phil Dawson kick field goals all afternoon!”.

This has been an issue for too long, and while I know better than to put too much stock into one preseason game, I am certainly alarmed that red zone offense has been such an issue all training camp long. There’s a lot of optimism around this Browns team, but if we’re going to be watching them kick a bunch of field goals all season long, we’re all in for another very long season.

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Are advanced stats negatively impacting my love of sports?

I was listening to a recent Bill Simmons podcast with author Chuck Klosterman, and they got to talking about the World Cup. Klosterman mentioned that he felt that one of the nice things about the World Cup is that it was one of the few times it was just about watching the sport. We weren’t talking about free agency, trades, collective bargaining, players likeness rights, power struggles, etc. Instead, we just enjoy the games themselves.

Then they also briefly mentioned that watching soccer is one of the few team sports where advanced stats aren’t a main talking point. They didn’t really expand on that thought, but it did get me to thinking.

First of all, I am not an anti-analytics guy. I bought Bill James and Jim Henzler’s book “Win Shares” in 2002 and it opened my eyes to seeing sports and statistics in a completely different light. I’ve been using analytics as a tool to help me better analyze basketball for years. So I don’t want anyone to think I’m saying analytics are in any way bad.

However, I do think they are affecting my enjoyment of talking about sports in a negative way. As metrics have become ever more prevalent in basketball, there has been a shift in the way people discuss the sport. Part of the fun in sports is debating the merits of players and teams, and to project how players and teams might match up. But now, if I make a qualitative assessment of a player on Twitter, I will inevitably get a couple responses from people citing a certain stat that they deem to be the end of the discussion. I have been proven wrong, and that’s that. There’s no room for discussion or debate, and it’s just not as much fun as it used to be.

Maybe that’s part of why I enjoy soccer so much these days. As FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine recently pointed out, analytics do indeed exist for soccer. But in general they are in their infancy and not fully realized yet. Soccer still exists as the one last adjective-based team sport. Announcers in soccer frequently refer to a player’s “quality” and use terms like “bravery”, “intention”, and “mindset” to describe what we see on the field. Even terms that are rooted in analytics such as “pace”, “touch”, and “possession” have a more qualitative than quantitative meaning in the lexicon of the sport.

I’m sure many statistical-minded people scoff at embracing a qualitative adjective-based approach to something that can be quantifiably measured, and they should be. Just like when someone can statistically demonstrate why my basketball opinion is flawed, they should tweet at me to tell me. They are not in the wrong. Enhancing and furthering our understanding of anything and everything in life is tantamount to the human experience.

My only point is that one side effect of all of this is that following sports from an analytical perspective is losing some of its fun. And some might suggest that I simply don’t follow the stats if I don’t like them and just watch the sports and enjoy them the way I want. But it’s not that easy. Willful ignorance isn’t something I’m particularly good at. If there’s a better way to understand something, you better believe I want to know it. When I make a basketball judgment, I want to feel confident that what my eyes are seeing can be backed up with the proper stats.

So I’m not saying advanced stats are bad or that I want them to go away. I just sometimes think sports were more fun to talk about and debate before we became overcome with all these stats.

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New Music of the Week

Finally, we end this Tuesday’s WWW with some music. They say laughter is the best medicine, and it’s pretty darn good. But for me, music has always been my best medicine. So while this WWW started on a somber note, I’m happy to end it with a new album that I have been enjoying quite a bit – The Gaslight Anthem’s new album “Get Hurt”.

This album is something of a departure for the band. I have a feeling a lot of people will dislike it. It’s not flashy, it’s not groundbreaking, it’s not doing anything special. It’s just simple, solid, dependable rock and roll music. And something about that just resonates with me. Similar to how chasing advanced stats can be exhausting and watching a sport for the age itself can be refreshing, I also feel that always chasing innovation and uniqueness in music can sometimes get exhausting and sometimes it’s nice to recharge the batteries with something simple and reliable. That’s what the Gaslight Anthem is for me, particularly on this album.

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That’s all for me this week. I hope everyone has a great week filled with laughter and joy!

 

Cavaliers sign center Alex Kirk

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The Cavaliers have been making a splash with free agent signings and visits this summer. This isn’t one of those.

The Cavaliers announced on Monday that they have signed center Alex Kirk to an undisclosed contract. Kirk was with the Cavaliers’ summer league team in Las Vegas averaging 5.2 points on .524 shooting and 3.4 rebounds in 15.4 minutes per game.

Kirk went undrafted this year out of New Mexico.

An early entry candidate, the 7-0, 245-pound center went undrafted in the 2014 NBA Draft after appearing in 101 games (86 starts) over three seasons at the University of New Mexico. He averaged 10.0 points on .488 shooting, 6.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 25.3 minutes per game over his collegiate career, where he was also a two-time All-MWC Defensive Team selection. Last season, he averaged 13.3 points on .490 shooting from the field, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 32.0 minutes per game, while receiving his second All-MWC Defensive Team honor.

The Cavaliers list him as 7-0, 245 pounds. If that is the case, he grew over an inch and lost a little weight since the NBA combine.

NBADraft.net listed Kenny Frease as his NBA comparison. Here’s what they had to say about Kirk-

Strengths: A versatile offensive threat, Kirk averaged a solid 16.6 points per 40 minutes this past season at New Mexico … Can score both inside and out; has a soft right-handed hook shot and a very smooth jumper, with range that extends to the NBA three-point line … Most effective inside 18 feet – according to Hoop–Math.com, Kirk made an impressive 70% of his shots at the rim and a respectable 38% of his 2-point jumpers … Not afraid to put a ball on the floor and drive past slower defenders … Can shoot off the dribble … Sets solid screens and effective on the pick and pop … Good size and length – had the 2nd longest standing reach at the NBA combine at 9 feet and 1.5 inches… Solid rebounder and shot blocker – averaged 10.9 and 3.4 per 40 minutes in those respective categories this past season at New Mexico… A coach’s son, Kirk plays within himself, hustles, is alert, and communicates well on the floor… Good stamina for a true center, averaging 32 min. per game this season for the Lobos.

Weaknesses: Not overly physical on either end of the floor, and as a result, struggles to carve out space underneath the basket … Not much lift – relies on his height and length when rebounding and blocking shots… Does not get many rebounds outside his area … Lack of speed greatly hinders his on-the-ball and help defense … He would fit into the NBA 40 years ago, much better than today’s game, as the game has gone to speed over size for bigmen … When defending the pick and roll, he often does not show strong and gets caught in no man’s land… Not shy about shooting, even when well beyond the college 3-point line. This past season, he made just slightly more than 21% of his threes, a number that would likely be significantly higher if he had better shot selection… Prefers to play in space – not afraid of contact, but sometimes struggles in a crowd… Has difficulty with double teams, frequently forcing up wild shots or committing turnovers … Struggled to stay out of foul trouble against athletic big men, including Joel Embiid (KU) and Khem Birch (UNLV) … Though an underclassmen early entrant, he’ll turn 23 at the end of this year, limiting his potential.

So that gives the Cavaliers Andy Varejao, Brendan Haywood and Kirk listed as centers.

[Related: Simmons- Kevin Love is underrated]

 

The importance of what Donte Whitner said about Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer

Manziel and Hoyer

Everyone’s talking about what Donte Whitner was quoted as saying to Peter King’s MMQB this morning. The quote was this.

“It’s been fierce,” Whitner said. “Two guys fighting for their lives. It’s close. I’d say [the locker room] is split about 50-50. We know they both can play.”

While I think a lot of the focus has been on the split within the team and the report cards comparing the two quarterbacks, what Whitner said last is most important to me. If Whitner’s accounting of team sentiment is accurate, then there’s legitimate belief in the locker room that the Browns have not one, but two quarterbacks who can actually play the position.

As I said on Sunday, I’m intrigued by Manziel’s performance and I can’t wait to see more. Maybe I’ll even get to see him with the first team this week on Monday Night Football. I welcome the opportunity to see it. In the end, with the way the Browns have set up their team this year, the quarterback looks to be helped by the running game and not vice versa.

That being the case, all I need is a guy who can perform somewhere close to the middle of the pack of NFL quarterbacks. I don’t need Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. I need something approximating Alex Smith, Carson Palmer or even Andy Dalton plus a great defense and running game.

It seems like Donte Whitner is saying the Browns’ locker room thinks they might have two guys capable of that.

[Related: Johnny Manziel ahead in QB race? I want to see more, but I’m patient]

Forbes’ most miserable sports city is…Atlanta?

photo2

Apparently Cleveland’s “letdown factor” has led to a bit of numbness as Atlanta, Georgia tops this year’s edition of Most Miserable Sports Cities as constructed by Forbes. So, just how did Atlanta—with it’s stretch of post-season play and general transient population—get the nod?

We grade the misery of major sports cities (only those with 75 cumulative years in the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and the NHL are considered) based not so much on sheer futility as the “letdown factor.” That is, which teams have been good enough to build up fans’ hopes only to fall short of the brass ring in the end. Those that probably pop into your mind right away: the Braves (19 postseasons; one championship), the Phoenix Suns (eight trips to at least the Western Conference Finals, no championships), and the Buffalo Bills (one AFL championship in the pre-merger days, then 0-for-4 in Super Bowls). All three of those cities make our top five.

Phoenix, as mentioned above, comes in at No. 2 while our beautiful Cleveland, Ohio comes in at No. 3 with the last title coming in 1964. San Diego and Buffalo (Cleveland’s typical rival in these sort of battles) come in fourth and fifth, respectively.

Hope are, that come this June, we no longer have to bank on this kind of notoriety.

Are we dumber than ever? While We’re Waiting…

Journalism Word Bubble Over a full year later, and the war still rages on. Different, smaller battles with varying individuals being placed on the front line, perhaps, but the Good Fight still rages on.

A little over a year-and-a-half ago, I penned a rhetorical crowdsourcing column of sorts where I discussed the worth of words. Sure, said column was specific to Cleveland and the lack of worth most readers placed upon those putting forth the work, be it in the way of a beat, column or anything that resembled investigative or enterprise. Trading in content production, it would be easy for me to stand on this side of the desk and point at the cheapskate consumers who simultaneously fail to see the work involved and feel entitled to knowledge in a world where information travels quicker than Spaceball I. Demanding more from those filing copy could also be a potential fix. But the overriding problem, one that I stated back in March of 2013, was on the publishers and their advertisers.

Until someone finds an answer to this overriding problem — until companies can figure out a way to maximize returns to a point where they can afford to compensate, and quality reaches a point where end consumers are willing to pay with more than just eyeing advertisements – writing and the inherent quality of such (time spent, calls made, interviews given, multi-layer editing prior to publishing) will continue to fall by the wayside.

So where is all of this going? As Craig and Denny briefly discussed in last week’s Casual Friday podcast, Sports on Earth, the long-form, writer-focused outfit of USA TODAY and MLB Advanced Media, has given the axe to a sizable portion of it’s staff. When it launched in the summer of 2012, general manager Steve Madden stated that the project was “very much planting a stake in the ground and saying that we are about the written word.” USA TODAY, two years later, decided that it didn’t quite value quality quite as much as they thought, cutting their ties with MLBAM—meanwhile, this is still alive and well.1

Whereas I waited until this very WWW to discuss this topic—one which, as you can see, is very important to me—Elevendub’s Ramzy Nasrallah struck while the iron was hot, sharing a few words that may have very well pre-echoed (if that could even be possible) my exact thoughts.

Blaming the consumer here is easy and short-sighted. We’re not dumber than ever; we just have better visibility into our least sophisticated citizens than ever before. The biggest problem here is that we still have not yet figured out the optimal way to profitably distribute quality content. Since cognitive skidmarks like slideshows and lists are cheap to produce and humans are helpless against the charms of rubbernecking, that’s exactly what’s winning out among media assets. Quality writing and shitburgers use the same distribution channels. [...]

We need to figure out distribution because long-form journalism, stories with depth and provocative prose (not just photos) are vital to sportswriting’s biodiversity. It’s needed for the annals future historiographers will use to try and figure out what the hell we were up to. It’s nourishment for those of us who have never taken or needed Ritalin or Adderall.

We need to figure it out soon, because if we don’t – someday we’ll run out of writers like SoE’s who are all braver than me, and I’m totally uninterested in clicking on a list of reasons long-form journalism died and finding out it’s a slideshow.

Writers like Patrick Hruby and Tomas Rios and Jessica Luther have, for years, covered countless hard-hitting topics that extend well beyond box scores and cheerleaders are now unemployed while myopic jerkoffs like this guy get to continue counting on some form of paycheck hitting his checking account on a frequent basis. Wherein said jerkoff couldn’t even pick up the phone to get word from anyone impacted by the cuts (or research data, etc.), the number of pieces published that are rooted solely in commentary (as opposed to analysis, research and/or reporting) is increasing at a nauseating level. This isn’t to say that long-form writing should be the only form of writing that exists or gets a distribution-type push, but even the quick-read columns should be done with some level of pride.

And this isn’t about on-line writing or “blogs,” necessarily. Newspapers died because they waited too long to adapt to changing landscapes. But rather than recreating the playing field as a whole, those willing to take a leap years ago—those with the foresight and balls to add electronic, engaging content to run alongside their preexisting high-quality work—are alive and well while the rest flail around like small mouth bass clutching for that last breath. The term “blog” has become even more nebulous and blurry than ever before as sites like ESPN housed their stunning World Cup work under the “blog” tag and Grantland’s blog  “The Triangle” puts out pieces like this and this. Talk about raising the bar—these guys are hoisting that bar, taking it down, clubbing the lazy square in the mug, and then ratcheting it up a few pegs higher.

Grantland works because ESPN is willing to offer resources to a word-focused arm in addition to their news distribution. Like The Mag, this website is far from the big earner that the television network is, but it continues to exist because John Skipper sees the value in quality and cross-promotion. Same can be said for VOX, SB Nation Longform, FiveThirtyEight, and their respective homes. They’ve managed to be flanked with a sales staffs that focuses on the longevity of visits rather than how many times a URL reloads.2 Perhaps Sports on Earth had to cut ties due to poor compensation planning—we don’t know if these writers were contracted, salary, at large, or paid on a per-piece or per-word basis. What we do know is that Trader Joes and Whole Foods don’t make money on milk and bread, but they continue to stock the shelves with each, obtaining larger margins elsewhere, all while the Walmarts of the world continue to exist, catering to different types of consumers.

That image above is the result of a Google search for “Advertising Journalism.” Note that nowhere in said word cloud do the words “lists” “slideshows” or “commentary” show up; “human,” “intelligence,” “content” and “story,” do. Just saying.

***

While we’re on the topic of quality writing and those who are compensated for it, Scott Raab’s profile of Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine was indeed completed by it’s September-issue deadline. I don’t believe it’s on-line yet, but I also didn’t give it much effort because you can subscribe to the magazine for a full year at a cost less than a couple of non-fat Venti lattes. It’s excellent and is essentially a must-read for Cleveland fans.

The lede is terrific: “Skull shaved tight, default goatee, eyes of flint, mandatory frown.”

This quote from Pettine is also worth sharing: “Look, I know I have zero credibility. The Browns right now have zero credibility… There is no benefit of the doubt here. None.”

It discusses Doylestown, Pennsylvania as much as Cleveland, Ohio. There’s Manziel and Gordon and Pettine Sr; there’s also a boat load of football. Go get the September copy. You don’t need those lattes anyway.

***

I’m sensing a theme here. Behold this week’s edition of #ActualSportswriting

The King of Roam” by Jack McCallum (Sports Illustrated): “[David] Griffin valued not only [David] Blatt’s brain but also a lower part of his body, something in the groin area. Blatt is most certainly the only coach in history who can be caught on one YouTube video conducting a press conference in flawless Hebrew; on another telling his Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv players, in unequivocally plain English, to “shut the f— up” during a timeout huddle; and on a third kicking two Russians off the squad during an Olympic game for the same offense.”

Behind Corey Kluber’s Success…” by Jeff Sullivan (FOX Sports): “The Corey Kluber story is complicated, as all of them are. He’s extremely dedicated and focused off the field. He’s changed the fastball that he throws. He’s made all kinds of little tweaks and adjustments, and he’s benefiting now from just having gotten an opportunity in the majors. But there is this one little signature of his that’s never been as good as it is today. Recently, Baseball America polled big-league managers on the best tools in the league.”

Bernie Kosar Unmasked” by Dan Pompei (Sports on Earth): “In a cup on an end table in Bernie Kosar’s family room are three teeth, knocked from his mouth by Mark Gastineau, and two screws from an ankle surgery gone bad. He shows off the cup as if it is a picture of his kids. Football has taken so much from Kosar, making his life’s journey more treacherous than any journey should be. wenty-one years after his last pass for the Browns, Kosar remains as much of a rock star in Cleveland as anyone inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

Hunter Pence and Heckling in the Internet Age” by Ian Crouch (New Yorker): “The signs appeared during the first game of the series, on Friday, written in Sharpie on neon poster stock and held aloft deep in the right-field stands by a pair of young men in Mets jerseys. The guys were back at it for the remaining three games of the series, and, after TV cameras picked up some of their greatest hits, other people started bringing their own signs to the game. Copycats noted that Pence “hates bacon” and “prefers baths.” Meanwhile, away from Citi Field, the hashtag #HunterPenceSigns allowed users to provide their own critiques of Hunter Pence’s various innocent foibles on Twitter. Mets fans had spread a bit of humor to the sports world with their deadpan jabs, but they still couldn’t catch a break: the Giants took three games out of four. Pence was untroubled, with six hits and two home runs in the series. No one said he couldn’t play.”

***

And finally, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver forecasts the Cavs as currently constructed to win 65 games. Too high? Too low? Just right?

Have a good Monday, kids.

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Footnotes:

  1. Just two weeks ago, I was speaking with a writer from SoE who referred to USA TODAY as the father who goes out for cigarettes and shows back up at the most inopportune times, while MLBAM was more of the caring, mother figure. I chuckled at the time, both of us having no idea about what train was coming down the tracks. Thankfully, it appears his job is safe—for now. []
  2. Grantland, for example, averages roughly two page views per visitor, but the average time on the site is just shy of four minutes—this, coupled with their brand loyalty, is huge in the advertising world. []

Browns lose the GLC to the Lions 13-12

hoyer and manziel

The Browns and Lions battled in a low scoring game that ended with a late fourth quarter game-winning touchdown by the Lions. The final score is not as important as how the team actually played. The main focus of most fans and the team was on the battle for the starting quarterback position. Brian Hoyer started the game and had a solid first half, going 6 of 14 for 92 yards. He drove the offense down the field for two field goals. Johnny Manziel replaced Hoyer late in the second quarter and also a solid first game for the Browns. He completed 7 of 11 for 63 yards and ran 6 times for 27 yards. Manziel led the offense to one field goal in his four drives, excluding the one drive at the end of the second half where he took a knee. Both quarterbacks had their ups and downs during the game. They were both hurt by multiple drops from their receivers. Neither quarterback really stood out above the other, so the battle remains tight for the starting spot.

The second half was marred by bad offensive line play by the second string. They had trouble protecting the quarterbacks causing both Manziel and Tyler Thigpen to get hit on multiple occasions. The depth of the line is a major question going forward with the Browns. The team also struggled late in the fourth quarter finishing off the victory. The offense could not get the first down and subsequently gave the ball back to the Lions for their game-winning drive. On the last drive, the Browns defense was called for a lot of penalties including multiple fouls on Leon McFadden. It was not a pretty game late in the fourth quarter for the Browns.

All in all the team showed signs of improvement from last season including the running back depth. But, they also need to improve on multiple aspects like tackling and catching the ball. It is not good when the team cannot tackle on defense and catch the ball on offense. The Browns will look to build off this first performance and go into this week’s practices with the mindset of getting better. The Browns next game is a week from Monday versus the Washington Redskins on national television.

(Photo by: Joshua Gunter/ The Plain Dealer)

Johnny Manziel’s first action comes late… Browns vs. Lions Halftime Report

Manziel and Hoyer

Johnny Manziel’s career in the NFL started today… but only after Brian Hoyer was finished. The Cleveland Browns only put up six points in the first half of their pre-season game against the Lions, but that was good enough for a tie heading into the locker room.

The Browns moved the ball pretty well. Brian Hoyer was the first to get the call at quarterback for the Browns. He ended his night shortly into the second quarter completing six passes for 92 yards on 14 attempts. Hoyer struggled a bit with accuracy on some of his longer balls, but the Lions didn’t make him pay for his overthrowing ways. It was just an alright performance by Hoyer as everyone was really waiting for their first look at rookie Johnny Manziel.

When the rookie hit the field for the first time, the stadium came alive with anticipation. Johnny Manziel was streaking upward on the depth chart according to many who have been closely watching training camp. Yes, Brian Hoyer’s name is still a fixture in the number one slot, but it is the first real quarterback competition in Cleveland that I can remember. How did Johnny Manziel fare in his first chance?

Well, on third and one, Johnny Manziel ran head first into two defenders on a pistol option run. In fairness, Johnny completed his first pass in rhythm for six yards to Anthony Armstrong. For Armstrong it might be the moment he became an answer for a Johnny Manziel question on Jeopardy! For Manziel it was a very small amount of first-half action. Manziel wouldn’t get back under center for the Browns until there was under 20 seconds to go in the first half. With a single kneel, the Browns ended the first half.

The Browns defense looked very good in spurts. Barkevious Mingo showed up well. Donte Whitner got one of his signature “Hitner” hits in with a vicious shoulder. Desmond Bryant and Armonty Bryant were causing havoc, although not at the same time. Still, the Browns were a bit of “bend-don’t-break” for much of the first half. Even after Matthew Stafford gave way to Dan Orlovsky, the Browns weren’t exactly finishing as a defense. In the end, they only gave up a pair of field goals.

We’ll have much more on this game later, but that’s your halftime report.

Meanwhile, it’s tough to maintain perspective on Johnny Manziel. He’s already such a bigtime national figure.