July 24, 2014

What’s Next for the Cavs in Free Agency?

ray-allen-compressor

The Cleveland Cavaliers have already won the offseason by winning the services of the best player in the NBA, LeBron James. The whole direction of the team has completely changed in the past week. James makes everyone on the team better and his unselfishness gets his teammates a lot of open shots. He is a physical freak, who can dominate on both sides of the ball. He will be the leader of a young team with a lot of potential. Kyrie Irving is already an All-Star caliber player, who can team up with James and be part of one of the best duos in the league. He is a talented scorer, who is a dual threat with his shooting and driving to the basket. We have already seen in the NBA All-Star Game that these two can make the Cavs an exciting team. James and Irving give the Cavs the makings of a top team in the NBA.

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LOL we really are waiting hardcore now, While We’re Waiting

The nest.Hello. Scott asked me yesterday at 3:44 pm to write his morning post for him so that he could spend another day on vacation with his family (see image). It seemed reasonable to do so because I am not on vacation and Scott is a good friend.

As of the scheduling of this post (10:50 pm EST), something may or may not have happened regarding the Cleveland Basketball Cavaliers and LeBron James. There will be no breaking or recently broken news contained in this post, just meandering and navel-gazing thoughts about sports and LeBron and life and etcetera. Don’t worry: I’m not “writing mean” this time.

Craig wrote a piece this weekend that got me thinking about LeBron and a potential return. Craig’s writing has, in general, seemed to me to shift focus over the past year and a half or so and taken a wider view of sports and their impact on the community writ large, and I have enjoyed the result. But what hit me in his piece on Saturday was this paragraph, a much more introspective bit:

But that was a long time ago. My four-year-old was just three months old at that time. I remember because I recall not caring if I woke him up when I cursed at the top of my lungs. But I’ve changed a lot since then. I’ve re-learned a ton about not only apologizing but to accept apologies. There’s something about being a dad and teaching your kids about grace and humility that you can’t help but remember to try and be a decent example for them, at least to some approximation of your own capabilities.

The notion of ‘I’ve changed a lot since then’ struck a chord with me. (I suspect the parts about apologizing/children will resonate more when my daughter is older than six months. Also I think the chord was Fadd9.) I don’t follow sports like I used to. There are reasons behind that, and those reasons are essentially a Gordian knot; it seems better to commit to non-fandom than to dip my toe into non-fandom and seeing how it feels. So now I’m at a point where I’m trying to figure out how exactly I feel about all of this LeBron business. This makes me no different from most people, except that I also am trying to figure out ‘sports’ as a thing in my life.

Before I read Craig’s post, I knew there was potential for LeBron to return, but I hadn’t really thought about what that may or may not mean to me. Craig’s piece was written Saturday, before Cleveland sports things generally devolved into chaos. Since then, I have only tangentially payed attention – too much is “happening” too quickly for me to have the energy to keep up. (Plus, my daughter just started eating solid food, and one of my dogs has some sort of stomach bug, the weather and holiday last weekend were marvelous, and I’m spending a lot of time reading about dual fuel ranges.) I’ve been thinking about what LeBron James playing basketball in Cleveland might mean to me and how it may effect the way I view sports. That last point is a really hard thing to pin down.

In 2010, LeBron James left Cleveland. On the same night (and on a much, much smaller scale) I left writing about Cleveland sports after publishing a half-drunk piece that I am somehow still mostly satisfied with four years later. Looking at what I wrote, it’s clear that some previously-important thing broke in me that night. I’m pretty sure it was the part of me that was invested in individual professional athletes (also broken was some of my remaining naivety–but not my optimism).

It’s also clear, looking at the tail end of that piece, that I’ve failed in some ways of living up to what I had hoped to accomplish. To wit:

[I]t’s never a good thing to be that old, frumpy, joyless person who thinks that it’s their job to poop on everyone’s parade. Bitterness and cynicism rarely accomplish anything of note. I sincerely hope that I won’t become such a person. If that happens to me, I imagine that I will view this as a failure to live a happy life. I hope that none of us become severely embittered because of this – living in a downtrodden, angry place is not any sort of way to live our lives.

My tendency to piss in other people’s Cheerios over sports has not subsided, even though I live a generally happy life. The amateur etymologists in the room will tell me that “fan” is derived from “fanatic”, as though that in some way justifies taking pictures of an athlete’s young children at an airport because it might mean something about sports ball. There are many, many facets of fandom that I feel deserve to be mocked. Reading over how I felt immediately after LeBron left in 2010, I can’t say that I’ve lived up to what I wrote. I’m trying, but maybe I need to try harder.

What’s remarkable about this whole free agency thing, at least on an existential level, is that this LeBron free agency extravaganza is an instance that so very closely mirrors the first time around. The only thing different is that we all are a little older. You, me, LeBron, Chris Broussard, Chris Broussard’s Multiple Sources. All of us. Amin Vafa alluded to that point at HP yesterday:

Again, I can’t speak for him, but I can speak for myself as a 29-year old who’s more self-aware than he was at 25. It’s likely that James wants to do what’s right by him, what’s right by his career, what’s right by his family, what’s right by his friends, and he wants to hurt as few people as possible in the wake. There’s no “right” answer to his choice here.

And so taking that self-awareness into account, we get to this point where we can look at the outcomes from the first time around (and our personal reactions to the outcomes) and really reflect on them. How did we react, and how can we look at that reaction and use it to better-prepare ourselves this time around? How will our own personal reactions in 2010–and our subsequent feelings—inform our reaction in 2014?

In 2010 I lost a lot of my love for the NBA. That was the first of many steps that’s gotten me to where I am now: circumspect of fandom in general and not really even watching the World Cup, which is my favorite sporting event of them all. Some of missing the World Cup has to do with work scheduling, some with having a six month-old, some of it has to do with not having cable, some of it has to do with planning home renovations. But underlying all of that is the fact that I don’t care as much as I used to, probably because I don’t want to allow myself to be hurt by sports like I was when LeBron left.

It’s been difficult caring about all of the trickle of  ‘information’ surrounding the tightly-held decision-making process that LeBron is going through. The absurdity of Twitter dot com has grown exponentially by the day, to the point where trying to follow anything related to NBA free agency is more tiring than anything else. If I wanted to chase short little serotonin bursts derived from steady input and ever-increasing desperation, I’d start mainlining heroin.

LeBron is a grown-ass man, and it’s his decision alone to make. He’s not leading anyone on at this point. Nobody is entitled to his services, nor is anyone entitled to force him into making his decision before he’s ready to.

I can’t guarantee how I’ll react to whatever LeBron chooses. Maybe I’ll give the NBA another shot. Maybe I’ll shrug and keep on going as I have been. I just hope it doesn’t drive me further away from sports, because I want to enjoy them. Especially if LeBron is part of those sports again. He’s really damned good at shootyhoops, and it’d be a shame for me to miss out on that.

Random thought-like substances:

  • As mentioned, I am currently in the late planning stages of a kitchen remodel. The stages or planning, as I see them, are as follows: 1) Early: you think ‘oh, a new kitchen would really be nice’, as the whole thing is an abstraction; 2) Middle: events happen and that kitchen work becomes far less abstract and almost tangible. This is the exciting stage; 3) Late: You’ve spent way too much of your life trying to figure out just what needs to line up and how things are going to work, and really you’re mostly there and just wish it were over with. To the point where I’m waiting on other people to get to where I want things to be, and they’re just standing in the way and my GOD why can’t they just get it over with already?
  • Designing a row home kitchen is a really fun challenge, except for the part where you realize you’re going to hate aspects of it and only have yourself to blame.
  • Trying to figure out what parts of the kitchen work you’re willing/able to do yourself is even more challenging.
  • As part of kitchen renovation we are considering buying a new cookware set, likely all stainless. This is exciting but also leads to a lot of probably unnecessary research into pots and pans.
  • It seems like I’m always about three weeks from really having the time to start running again. Just need the baby to sleep through the night better, is all. Not running is all the baby’s fault, not my own.
  • I really liked Brendan’s piece last week on The Colony. If you missed it over the holiday weekend, be sure to check it out.
  • Okay. Go Sports.

NBA Musical Chairs, ClevelandRox, and Losing My Voice, While We’re Waiting

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Happy Tuesday WFNY! I hope everyone had a great 4th of July weekend. Now it’s time to get back to business.

It’s July 8, 2014…exactly four years after the original Decision. I don’t expect the 2014 Decision to happen today, but I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what it was like around this time in 2010. There were so many emotions involved in those final days of the 2010 free agency process. It’s interesting to look back at the roller coaster I went on back then. On July 7, when we found out about Wade and Bosh going to Miami, I wrote this. I still was feeling confident. I just couldn’t believe he would join Wade and Bosh in Miami.

On the morning of July 8, we woke up to the horrible reality that LeBron was going to Miami. But even then, I still wanted to hold on to hope. Even in the face of overwhelming reports of LeBron going to Miami being a virtual certainty, I just couldn’t allow myself to give up. Then, after the aftermath of The Decision, I wrote on July 9 that loyalty in sports was dead.

It’s a little tough to go back and re-read the things I thought on those days. It’s funny to see how much my perspective on sports has changed in the four years since. Of course, a lot of that is probably a direct result of everything that happened on the night of the Decision. Just remembering how raw the emotions of that night were, it makes it seem even crazier to me that there seems to be a chance LeBron could return. I have no clue what’s going to happen in these next few days. I honestly feel like all of these recent reports and optimism have all come from external sources. By all accounts, LeBron has shut himself off from everyone. I remain pretty skeptical that he’s going to come back to Cleveland. But if nothing else, this week has been fun. Unlike last time, the Cavaliers have nothing to lose. And that has been a very fulfilling point to keep in mind.

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The NBA’s game of Musical Chairs

If nothing else, the NBA’s free agent market this offseason is starting to feel like a fun little game of Musical Chairs. Or maybe “Duck, Duck, Goose” is the better game. With so many rumors swirling, you wonder which free agents and which teams are going to be safe inside the circle, and who might potentially be left out.

As of Sunday, the Knicks were pretty confident that Carmelo Anthony would be returning. They were reported to be expecting Carmelo to announce his return on Monday. However, on Monday afternoon the Rockets reportedly offered Chris Bosh a max contract. This is where things get interesting. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst was on Mike & Mike in the Morning on Monday morning, and he said that LeBron has cut off communication to pretty much everyone, including people with the Heat. He said there have been a few texts between the Big 3, but beyond that, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are just as in the dark as everyone else regarding what LeBron is going to do.

With the uncertainty of LeBron’s future, Chris Bosh is now said to be at least considering taking the Houston deal, even though his preference remains to return to Miami with LeBron. But now Carmelo has held off on announcing anything. Some speculate it’s because he remains torn between the Lakers, Bulls, and Knicks, but others have suggested that perhaps Carmelo is now waiting to see if Bosh takes the Houston deal. If he does, then Carmelo could see if he could sign with the Heat and bring LeBron back.

Of course, knowing this, Bosh seems likely to wait and see what LeBron does first before deciding what he’s going to do. But what if in the meantime Carmelo goes back to Houston and, seeing how much they offered Bosh, says he’ll take that deal? In that way, Carmelo could actually put pressure on Bosh to act first or risk losing out on the Houston deal and possibly seeing LeBron sign somewhere other than Miami.

Phew. Did you get all that?

I’ve said from the beginning and I continue to maintain that I think these rumors have gotten out of hand and that the odds of LeBron returning to Cleveland are being blown way out of proportion. In reading the tea leaves, it just seems like the source of all this speculation comes from external sources on the periphery of LeBron’s inner circle. In other words, some of the Akron/Cleveland people who want LeBron to return are using the media to put pressure on LeBron to do just that. By all accounts, LeBron has gone completely ghost. So I just don’t trust all these reports. Windhorst said there’s only three people he believes when it comes to info about LeBron’s future: one is LeBron and the other two are unnamed sources presumably in his extreme inner circle. Windhorst said he hasn’t heard anything about LeBron returning from any of those three.

I fully admit there seems to be something weird going on. I think when Bosh and Wade opted out, they fully believed that they were working with LeBron. But there have been reports that Wade and Bosh are a little confused by LeBron’s silence and isolation. There are reports that Miami is starting to feel a little uneasy and unsure. But at the end of the day, Pat Riley is going to get his face to face with LeBron, and I have a feeling Riley will get the job done and secure LeBron’s return. I think LeBron will have a hard time saying no to Riley and perhaps to a greater extent, a hard time saying no to Dwyane Wade after Wade opted out of $42 million just to facilitate keeping the Big 3 together. From there, Bosh and Wade will return, as will Ray Allen most likely. That gives them a core of LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Allen, Norris Cole, Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger, and Shabazz Napier. Udonis Haslam would probably return as well.

That’s not the greatest team to project going forward, and the Heat will always have trouble finding cap space to sign free agents. But it’s good enough to walk through the pathetic Eastern Conference the next couple years, and from there, the Heat would be playing for a Championship every year. There are plenty of good reasons for LeBron to return to Cleveland, but Dan Gilbert continues to be one gigantic reason for LeBron not to. And you better believe Pat Riley will spend a good portion of his meeting with LeBron making that exact point, while illustrating the obvious differences between himself and Dan Gilbert. I want LeBron to return to Cleveland, but as long as Gilbert owns the team, I just don’t see it happening.

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Guess who’s back?!

One of the most beloved Cavaliers of all time is finally back in the NBA…sort of. Delonte West has seen his shares of ups and downs. Recently Slate.com ran this amazing feature on Delonte, asking the question ‘Why isn’t Delonte West in the NBA?’. Well, it appears Delonte is being given a chance:

Now, obviously, being on a Summer League roster isn’t the same thing as being on an NBA roster, but it’s a start. And this is the beautiful thing about the Summer League. In addition to rookies and undrafted free agents trying to make their way into the league, the Summer League also offers a chance at redemption for players who have somehow found themselves adrift from the league.

I think I speak for almost all Cavs fans when I say I wish Delonte the absolute best of luck and I truly hope that this can lead to a future back in the league for Delonte.

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#ClevelandRox!

I think this is one of the more interesting PR campaigns I’ve seen in quite some time. For anyone who may have missed it, the Indians and Rockies are teaming up to ask their fans to vote for Corey Kluber and Justin Morneau for the final All-Star spots in the AL and NL, respectively. The campaign is using the hashtag #ClevelandRox.

The Cleveland Indians and Colorado Rockies have teamed up to get Tribe starter Corey Kluber and Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau into the All-Star Game through the All-Star Game Final Vote.Fans can vote online at Indians.com or MLB.com/vote through Thursday, July 10 at 4PM ET. Votes on Twitter will count on Thursday from 10AM-4PM; fans are encouraged to use #VoteKluber, #VoteMorneau and #ClevelandRox.

I don’t know if it will be effective or not, but it’s just fun to see these two small market teams combining efforts to try to get their guys voted in.

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Album of the Week

Finally, we have our new music release of the week. Now, I know this is going to look like favoritism, but my vote for new album of the week goes to WFNY’s own Craig Lyndall, whose new album “Losing My Voice” is out today under his band’s name, The Company Line.

Yes, Craig is a good friend of mine so I’m hardly objective here, but in case you guys haven’t figured out by now, I take music discussions seriously. I wouldn’t recommend this album if I didn’t think it was up to par. To begin with, you need to read Craig’s backstory on how and why this album came to be:

During that consultation the surgeon casually mentioned that part of the surgery would temporarily relocate a nerve connected to my vocal cord and that one of the risks of surgery was that I could lose my voice.As a singer and songwriter, this was terrifying to me. I am not prolific as a songwriter, but I always go back to it when I have something I really want to say. It was eating me alive that I had unrecorded songs that could be lost forever so I decided to do something about it. A week before surgery, I recorded these six songs to document that moment in time when I thought I might lose the ability to ever sing again.

And that’s my favorite thing about this album. I absolutely love music that carries a purpose, and Craig delivers on allowing that sense of urgency to carry through. There’s a great dichotomy between the fragility of the future of his vocals and the way he pushes his vocals to the limit on some of these songs.

Thankfully, the surgery was a success and Craig’s worst fears weren’t realized. But there’s still a very real and raw power in this songs. Despite his simple setup of just an acoustic guitar and his voice, you can hear his resolve in his delivery and the lyrics themselves.

I hope you guys at least read the backstory and then listen to some of the songs. I hope some of you will enjoy it, and if you guys want to learn or hear more, you can check out the following links:

Backstory | iTunes | Amazon MP3 | Spotify

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Anyway, that’s it from me this week. Between the Cavs Summer League games starting on Friday and the free agent market coming close to reaching it’s resolution, I have a feeling we’ll have some more good stuff to talk about next week!

Kyrie’s staying, Klinsmann’s “American-ness”, and The Leftovers, While We’re Waiting

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Happy Tuesday, WFNY! And Happy July!

Sometimes July can be a bit of a dull sports month for me. I’m not exactly the world’s biggest baseball fan, so sometimes the month can be a bit of a drag for me. But not this July. The World Cup has been the most exciting World Cup in my memory, and it lasts through July 13th. Then we have the NBA’s Summer League. The Cavaliers will once again participate in the Vegas edition of Summer League. It runs from July 11th through the 21st. In fact, the Cavaliers play the Bucks on the first day of Summer League, which means we’ll get to see the first Andrew Wiggins vs Jabari Parker matchup. Finally, the Browns start Training Camp on July 25th, just four days after Summer League wraps up. Not to mention NBA free agency will be ongoing all month.

So there will be no shortage of things to occupy my sports interest this July.

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Kyrie is one loyal Cavalier!

Well, he’s a rich one, anyway. I had pre-written a segment last night about Kyrie for this morning’s WWW. When I woke up and saw the news that he had already agreed to sign, I was naturally ecstatic, but it also meant I had to completely scratch my Kyrie section and write a new one from the start. And you know what? I am perfectly fine with that.

I happened to still be up at midnight for the official start of free agency, and I decided to be smart ass and tweet:

I figured there was a very good chance that this would drag out a bit as both sides worked out some details. Boy was I wrong. Just a couple hours later came the tweets from Dan Gilbert, Adrian Wojnarowski, and my favorite one of them all, this tweet from Kyrie Irving:

Look, far be it from me to try to put a damper on anyone’s jubilation. Nobody is a bigger Kyrie fan than I am, and today is one of the happiest mornings I’ve had as a Cavs fan for a very long time. A 22 year old two-time All Star PG just decided to sign the longest contract possible to stay in Cleveland. The cynics will say “of course he did, it’s just about the money and now that he has the contract done he can try to force a trade out of Cleveland”. I’m cynical about a lot of things, but Kyrie Irving is not one of them. Despite all the external speculation about his relationships with coaches and teammates and his burning desire to get out of Cleveland, the fact is he has always said the right things and, outside his one big mistake on Fan Night a couple years ago, he has done the right things and represented the Cavaliers in a way that we should all be proud of.

There’s a good portion of the fan base that has never warmed up to Kyrie and has chosen to blame him for most of the Cavs problems. Maybe they’re right. Maybe it is mostly his fault. I can’t say anyone is right or wrong, it is only my opinion that the Cavs problems have been much more with the players, front office, and ownership issues than with the one really good basketball player this team has actually had.

I feel like some fans have kept Kyrie at a distance in part because of latent feelings of mistrust and heartbreak over LeBron leaving. It takes time to let someone back in after getting burned like that on national TV. But I hope now that Kyrie has shown he means it when he has always said he wanted to be here long term, some of those fans will start to loosen up and just enjoy Kyrie Irving for what he is rather than judge him for who he is not.

We don’t always get good days being Cleveland sports fans. But today is one of those good days!

And now back to my debbie downer stuff that was written before Kyrie agreed to sign…

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Will the Cavaliers be free agency players this summer?

I want to say yes. I really do. The Cavaliers have plenty of cap space as is, and they can more or less create as much cap space as they need. They have an exciting young core in Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson (I guess). They have an intriguing new coach. They have incredible facilities and an owner who is more than happy to spend. And they have a pretty great fan base, too (if only that was a bigger factor….or even a factor at all). So why shouldn’t they be a free agency player?

The problem is, right now, it’s hard to find any information on any players being linked to the Cavaliers. I searched the web all over for rumors of any player having any interest in Cleveland whatsoever1. I found nothing.

That’s the hardest part of being a Cavaliers fan sometimes. It’s fun to fantasize about big free agency moves the team can make, but the reality is, free agents just aren’t interested in Cleveland unless the team is willing to overpay them to a degree that other teams won’t match. It’s just a brutal and harsh truth to swallow.

On Yahoo! Sports’s list of the Top Ten NBA Free Agents, not a single one is linked to Cleveland. NJ.com made a list of the Top 25 Free Agents and listed the top three most likely destinations for each of them. The only ones that had Cleveland in the list of three potential destinations are Lance Stephenson and Andray Blatche. ESPN.com did a roundtable discussion of the top free agents, and Cleveland wasn’t mentioned once anywhere. Lance Stephenson was mentioned as one of the most likely to be overpaid, so maybe Cleveland is inherently implied there. Finally, USA Today released their list of Five Teams to Watch When Free Agency Starts. No mention of Cleveland.

We’ll see what happens. I’m sure the Cavaliers will sign someone, but it just might be more of an Earl Clark type signing than a Chandler Parsons type deal. I hope I’m wrong. I hope David Griffin can succeed where Chris Grant failed and really bring in some exciting free agent targets. But history is not on Cleveland’s side.

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But at least the Cavs have Andrew Wiggins!

Last week I had WWW duties on Tuesday before the draft, so I still didn’t know who the Cavaliers were going to take. And while I was heartbroken over Joel Embiid’s injury, I had decided that I just wanted the Cavaliers to do the safe, smart, and relatively boring thing and take Andrew Wiggins. So I was ecstatic when they did just that.

When I say it was the boring move, I mean comparatively. In recent years the Cavs’ drafts have been an adventure. It was so enjoyable to have a nice, calm, relaxing evening knowing the Cavaliers had the player who was the consensus #1 pick for most of the previous year.

I don’t know how good Wiggins will be. Projecting potential is tricky. But I saw a photoshopped image of Wiggins next to 18 year old LeBron. I was struck by how similar their body types were. Not to say Wiggins will be even close to LeBron, but the photo got me thinking, what would have happened to LeBron’s draft stock had he been forced to go to college and then played in a system that maybe wasn’t exactly a perfect fit for him? Would playing in the slow constraints of 35 second shot clocks and deliberate offenses have hurt his stock at all like it did Wiggins? Perhaps.

I mean, there’s no reason to think LeBron wouldn’t have destroyed college players. He’s the best player in the world. But even thinking back to LeBron’s rookie year, as exciting as he was and as bright as you could see his future was, he wasn’t anything close to the dominant player he is today. These things can take time. So I hope fans can be somewhat patient with Wiggins as well. If Wiggins can grow into his body even to a degree half of what LeBron did it will only help his game. Wiggins may never be the physical presence LeBron is, and it’s silly that I keep mentioning their names together. It’s completely unfair to Wiggins. I just wanted to point out that Wiggins is an incredibly exciting prospect and the Cavaliers organization is unbelievably lucky to have won the lottery and have him. Now it’s up to the team to both be patient with him and also develop his skills and put him in the best position to succeed.

Anyway, check out Scott’s incredible Wiggins profile from yesterday. No matter what happens in free agency, this is a time to be excited about the Cavs and to allow ourselves to have a little hope.

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USMNT will win in whatever way is necessary

Today is a big day for another reason. The US team will face Belgium in the first knockout round of the World Cup today at 4:00 pm ET. I’m more nervous and excited for this game than I was for the Ghana game four years ago at this same point in the tournament. I feel like last World Cup the US felt a little lucky to have advanced thanks to Landon Donovan’s incredible late goal. This year, I feel like the team is more on a mission, making a statement by advancing out of the Group of Death.

I really want the team to capitalize on this opportunity to show the world that US soccer is on the rise and that Jürgen Klinsmann is changing the very perception and definition of what “US Soccer” stands for. I’ve made no secret of my personal admiration for Klinsmann and what he is trying to accomplish for the sport inside this country. But he is leaving behind a trail of scorned doubters along the way.

I’ve seen some criticism lately of Klinsmann’s philosophy of going out and recruiting multinationals to play for the US. It’s this idea that Klinsmann’s German heritage is an affront to what being a “real” American is all about. But this was a country founded on principles of inclusion. This country has been and continues to be far from perfect in that goal, but the American Dream stands for something real.

I suppose in a perfect world it would be nice if the USMNT only featured “true blue” Americans. I guess. But where would this team be without those multinationals? It was John Brooks who put in the winner against Ghana. It was Jermaine Jones whose incredible strike turned the tide against Portugal. Fabian Johnson has been one of the most consistent players for the US in the World Cup, flying down the sides and keeping possession for the US in attacks. When Jozy Altidore went down against Ghana, it was Aron Johannsson who stepped in and did the best he could. All of these players have one thing in common….they are all American citizens. They may not live in the US, English may not be their first language, they may not “look like us”. But they all have at least one American parent and they all are citizens of this country.

Klinsmann is dreaming big. People may not have liked his comments about it not being realistic to think the US can win the World Cup, but I think they missed the point he was trying to make. He’s trying to grow something special in the US Soccer establishment, and he’s not just trying to win this World Cup. He’s looking even bigger picture than that. And his first step was to raise the talent level of the entire team by looking at all Americans, not just those who are “real” Americans.

By bringing in some multinational Americans to elevate the play of the USMNT, Klinsmann is banking on elevating the national awareness of the sport as well. The US team has now made it to the knockout round in consecutive World Cups for the first time ever. That’s a huge achievement. But they can’t stop there. It’s time to start making some consistent noise in the knockout rounds as well. So today is a huge day for the team and the sport in general in this country. But even if they lose, I don’t think it’s the end. I think it’s only the beginning for future opportunities for this team. Those who only tangentially follow the sport may not care for all of Klinsmann’s antics, but I get what he’s doing and I’m really happy he’s in charge of US Soccer. I just hope he can follow through on his vision, and a big part of that starts today against Belgium.

This piece is a little old, but I loved what Aaron Gordon wrote for Sports on Earth on the topic of Klinsmann and his perceived “American-ness”:

American soccer differentiated itself from the European game only because it had to. Italy could have played an attacking style at any point, but it chose not to until recently. In the 1950s, Brazil adopted an individualistic, talent-driven style, because they had five of the best forwards in the world on the same team. England typically has deployed a rough defensive style, relying on long balls, because it fit their talent pool. Likewise, American soccer has relied on physical prowess and lots of running, because that’s what you do when you don’t have the instincts and skills to be in the right place at the right time. The team developed its identity not to align with American ideals, but because it was not very good at soccer.

But we are getting better, and as a result we are evolving. Largely due to an influx of continental players, the U.S. team has options now and is reaching beyond its previous identity, the way a toddler goes from a crawl to a walk. It’s a natural progression of a growing, improving entity, and here again, it has very little to do with a national identity.

We are not that different from Europe, but we are very different from what we imagine ourselves to be. The German journalist Josef Joffe once said that America is “less a country [than a] canvas, a continent-size Rorschach blot, on which to project their own preoccupations.” His observation holds true for American soccer. We can look at the same manager and come to two diametrically opposed conclusions as to whether he is a representation of American ideals, because America is whatever you want it to be.

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The Leftovers

Time to wrap up WWW with this week’s pop culture segment.

I don’t know if Lost is my absolute favorite drama of all time. But it’s Top Three for sure, right up there with Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. I was on board with Lost from day one through the finale. I loved every second of it (with the exception of some of the middle parts of Season Three before the writers had set an end date for the show). As a result of my love of the show, I’ve been anticipating the new HBO drama The Leftovers for quite some time.

The Leftovers is based on the book by Tom Perrotta, and the show is being run by former Lost show runner Damon Lindleof. The show debuted last Sunday and….well…I don’t know how to feel about what I saw. Keeping this spoiler free, the premise of the show is that suddenly 2% of the world’s population just disappears in an instant. And nobody knows why. Was it the rapture? Was it something scientific? Was it something supernatural or alien? Nobody knows. And the show doesn’t really care, either.

You see, the show starts three years after the disappearances. Rather than focusing on the mystery of what happened, where those people are, and whether or not they’ll ever return, the show instead deals with those still living and how their lives have changed in dealing with the unexpected losses. The world of The Leftovers is dramatically different from the real world, but those still there try to masquerade their world as normal. To varying degrees and using dramatically different methods, everyone is just trying to cope.

And that’s where my issue with the show’s debut was. This was hands down the most wholly depressing pilot I have ever seen. I thought The Walking Dead was bleak, but that show has nothing on the soul-sucking emptiness of hope, happiness, and fulfillment we see in The Leftovers. There are no signs of redemption, no indicators that life is going to get better. In fact, there are clues that things are only going to get worse.

The show was directed by Peter Berg (of Friday Night Lights fame) and Lindleof and Perrotta are working together on the show’s script and direction. So there’s no reason this show shouldn’t be a success with those three guys leading the project. But I don’t know. I just don’t know if I can take a whole season of this show’s emptiness. I want to like this show, I really do. So I’m going to give it the whole season to win me over. But at some point I hope there is something to cling to. Some kind of chance for redemption for these characters. Otherwise, watching these zombie-like shells of human beings just wallowing their way through abject misery just might be a little too much even for me.

But I’d love to hear from you guys. If you watched the premiere, what did you think? Are you excited for more, or are feeling the same apprehension that I am? Let me know in the comments.

That’s it for me this week. I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July, and I’ll see you guys here next Tuesday!

I believe that we will win! Go USA!

 

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Footnotes:

  1. with the exception of a certain someone who I do not believe will really consider coming back []

NFL Rumors: Alex Mack and TJ Ward to test free agency

Despite their 4-10 record the Browns have built a core to build around for the future, but this off season could see the departure of two key players via free agency. In Sunday’s version of “Hey, Mary Kay” Cleveland.com Browns’ beat writer Mary Kay Cabot suggests that both Alex Mack and TJ Ward are likely to test free agency and can expect to some big dollar offers on the open market.

“At this point, I think Mack and Ward will test the free agent market. I think both will command big dollars, but both would love to be back. I think the Browns will probably make offers, but both will most likely hit the jackpot elsewhere.” writes Cabot.

The Browns’ front office showed they weren’t afraid to spend some money last off season with the acquisitions of Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant, but how much they are willing to pay to retain their own players remains a mystery. Joe Banner is notorious for cutting ties with players earlier rather than later. He came under fire in Philadelphia after deciding to part ways with Eagles’ legend Brian Dawkins after Dawkins had given the Eagles 13 years of service, but Banner is a businessman so business always comes first.

While Dawkins was in the twilight of his career when Banner decided to part ways with him in Philly, Mack and Ward are coming into their primes as they complete their rookie contracts. The demand for a pro bowl center in Mack and a safety in Ward who received All-Pro consideration last year is surely to be high. Not to mention both have been healthy all of the 2013 season,.

[Related: Coordinators call out players for team's shortcomings: Browns Notes]

 

NBA News: Cavs’ Marreese Speights opts out of contract and will become free agent

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports is reporting the Cavs’ Marreese Speights has opted out of the last year of his contract and will test free agency.

Speights,  due to make $4.5 million in 2013-14, sparked a much needed resurgence from the Cavaliers’ bench when he was acquired along with Wayne Ellington from Memphis back in January. In each of his first seven games as a Cavalier, Speights scored in double figures, including two double digit rebound games. He provided a much needed offensive option for Cleveland down in the paint, something Zeller and Thompson had been struggling to do consistently.

Consistency also became Speights’ biggest issue. Speights would mentally check out for whole halves and even games at a time, constraining the talented big man to long stretches on the bench for Byron Scott. For as well as Speights started his career as a Cavalier he ended it equally as bad. While Speights was in double figures in each of his first seven games, he failed to hit that mark in any of his final seven games in the Wine and Gold.

Nonetheless Speights has shown he can play at a high level for extended stints and he should garner some interest on the free agent market. The $4.5 million he was set to make in the final year of his contract with the Cavs is most likely less than he’ll get on the open market.

Also, with the Cavs using the first pick in the draft on power forward Anthony Bennett, Speights would have a hard time finding minutes in a rotation that is set to feature Bennett, Tristan Thompson, Andy Varejao, and Tyler Zeller.

The Cavs still have a team option to decide on with CJ Miles and are expected to re-sign Wayne Ellington to a $3 million qualifying offer. With the departures of Speights and Miles, and the resigning of Ellington the Cavaliers would have just under $26 million in cap space this summer.

Free agency begins Monday, July 1.

[Related: The NBA draft may be complete but Chris Grant's job is just getting started]

 [Related: Saturday Six Pack: Reasons to love Anthony Bennett]

Chris Grant says draft day moves are “just the beginning”

While Cavs fans are contemplating how draft picks Anthony Bennett, Sergey Karasev, and Carrick Felix will all fit with the current roster, Cavs General Manager Chris Grant indicated on Friday the Cavaliers’ roster is far from finished.

In an interview with ESPNCleveland’s The Really Big Show , Grant told show hosts Tony Rizzo and Aaron Goldhammer that “this is just the beginning” in reference to the team’s off season moves.

The Cavaliers were reportedly very active in trade talks leading up to the draft, with names such as Paul Pierce, Shawn Marion, and LaMarcus Aldridge all among those Grant and his staff had their eyes on. While Cleveland was not involved in any major deals on draft night it appears the Cavaliers front office is merely getting started with their offseason work.

“We’re a pretty aggressive team, just look at our track record the last three years,” Grant commented to The Really Big Show.

Pierce has since been shipped off to Brooklyn, but both Marion and Aldridge could still be targets with Dallas wanting to shed the $9 million Marion is due next season and Aldridge wanting out of Portland.

The Cavs core of Irving, Waiters, Karasev, Bennett, Thompson, and Zeller are all 23 years of age or younger, leaving the team in desperate need of some additional veteran presence to go along side Andy Varejao.

“You want to give enough space for the young guys to play and grow…but at the same time you want to put enough experience and professional leadership around them” Grant explained.

With Dan Gilbert making it clear he wants the Cavs in the playoffs next April, Grant and his staff will have to leave no stone unturned in their continuing quest to upgrade an extremely young roster that won just 24 games last season while also leaving the door open to sign a max contract free agent in 2014.

[Related: The NBA Draft may be complete, but Chris Grant’s job is just getting started]

NBA News: Cavs to have $19 million in cap space this summer

ShamSports.com a website for basketball data and analysis is projecting the Cavs to have just over $19 million in cap space this summer. That number will more than likely grow if Mo Speights opts out of his deal that would have him earning just over $4.5 million in 2013-14.

Throughout the rebuild process, Chris Grant and his staff have tried to stay as flexible as possible, acquiring assets, and reducing the amount of salary committed to the long term.

The Cav’s salary cap picture looks as follows for the summer of 2013, this is with the inclusion of Speight’s contract and ShamSports.com’s projected cuts of CJ Miles and Chris Quinn..

Anderson Varejao: $9,036,364
Kyrie Irving: $5,607,240
Marreese Speights: $4,515,000
#1 pick: $4,436,900
Tristan Thompson: $4,062,000
Dion Waiters: $3,894,240
Alonzo Gee: $3,250,000
Tyler Zeller: $1,633,440
#19 pick: $1,223,200
Kevin Jones: $788,872
Roster charge: $490,180
Roster charge: $490,180

Total = $39,427,616 = $19,072,384 in cap room.

If Speights decides to opt out, that number will grow to above $23 million in free cap space.

The biggest names among unrestricted free agents include Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Andrew Bynum, Al JEfferson, and Manu Ginobili.

Paul, Howard, and Ginobili seem like unrealistic options for Chris Grant and his staff, while Josh Smith, Andrew Bynum, and Al Jefferson  are all wildcards. The Cavs will have to make some moves to upgrade a roster that won just 24 games this past season, while still leaving open the option to pursue LeBron James in the summer of 2014.

[Related: The Cleveland Cavaliers should plan well for 2014 but not just LeBron James]

Banner Report: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

You may remember back in 2010 (you know the last time there was a complete overhaul in Berea) we wanted to give incoming President Mike Holmgren a hand evaluating the roster. We are nothing if not equal opportunity. The Browns have a completely new group in charge this year. Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi, Rob Chudzinski, Norv Turner and Ray Horton take over a 5-11 team. They have plenty of important decisions to make about the roster between now and the 2013 NFL Draft. WFNY wants to offer our assistance with The Banner Position Reports. Previous reports:LB, QB, RB, DBs, DL

Not since the “The Season of Dreams” back in 2007 have the Browns had real playmakers catching the football. That year Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards each topped 1000 yards and 80 receptions before seeing their numbers drop off significantly in 2008. Then, the next three years the Browns’ pass catchers were led by Mo Massaquoi (34 rec, 624 yards), Ben Watson (68 rec, 763 yards), and Greg Little (61 rec, 709 yards). It became something to celebrate when a receiver caught a pass instead of the usual dump off to backs and tight ends. The Browns’ inability to get the ball out wide has been as much on the receiving corps as it has been on the revolving door of quarterbacks coming through Berea. It’s the old chicken or the egg conundrum. Have the struggles passing been the result of poor quarterback play, or lack of weapons catching the football? The short answer is yes. But in 2012 with Weeden throwing to Little and Gordon the Brownies started to show signs of a real passing attack. While far from a proficient one, there was now a passing attack to speak of.

[Read more...]

Banner Report: Defensive Backs

Banner Report ElevatedYou may remember back in 2010 (you know the last time there was a complete overhaul in Berea) we wanted to give incoming President Mike Holmgren a hand evaluating the roster. We are nothing if not equal opportunity. The Browns have a completely new group in charge this year. Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi, Rob Chudzinski, Norv Turner and Ray Horton take over a 5-11 team. They have plenty of important decisions to make about the roster between now and the 2013 NFL Draft. WFNY wants to offer our assistance with The Banner Position Reports. Previous reports: LB, QB, RB

In 2012, only 7 teams in the NFL allowed more passing yards than the Cleveland Browns. This came just one year after allowing just the 2nd fewest passing yards. So why the drastic change? A lot goes into raw passing yards allowed stats. It’s not just on the DBs, but it’s a combined effort between getting pressure on the QB, forcing opponents to be one dimensional in any way possible, and of course, defending opposing receivers.

The Browns have certainly been active the last couple years under Tom Heckert in trying to address the secondary, bringing in guys like Usama Young and Dimitri Patterson and drafting Buster Skrine, Trevin Wade, and Eric Hagg. The results have been somewhat mixed, but lets see if we can’t look a little more in depth at any potential issues with the Browns’ DBs. [Read more...]

NFL Rumor: Miami QB Matt Moore to test free agent market; Norv Turner a fan

Buried at the bottom of this Miami Herald piece is a tidbit that Browns fans may find interesting. Barry Jackson writes-

“Several Dolphins people, including Ryan Tannehill, have reached out to Matt Moore, hoping he will re-sign. Keep in mind that Cleveland offensive coordinator Norv Turner is a big fan of Moore, who will test free agency to see if there’s a starting job available in a situation that’s appealing to him. But he hasn’t ruled out coming back to Miami. Kyle Orton earns – on average – $3.5 million per year to back up Tony Romo in Dallas, so quality backup quarterbacks like Moore aren’t cheap.”

Reportedly, Norv Turner wanted the Chargers to sign Moore in San Diego as a back-up to Philip Rivers, but Moore opted to re-sign with Miami in order to compete for the starting spot.

Moore has appeared in 45 games over the course of his five year career. He is 13-12 in his 25 starts with 33 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. At 28 years old, he is younger than Brandon Weeden.

[Related: NFL Rumor: Weeden could be traded]

Nick Swisher: A Risk Worth Taking

There are plenty of reasons to be bearish on the Nick Swisher signing that locks him in for at least four years and $56 million, and I think some of the unbridled enthusiasm1 out there might need a wee-bit of tempering before we get too far ahead of ourselves.

For one, he could get hurt.  Just because he has a track record of impeccable health—Swisher has played at least 148 games in every season since 2006—doesn’t mean that he’s immune to broken bones or pulled muscles or damaged knees.  Perhaps he’s just been lucky.  Perhaps he’s due.

There’s also the inherent performance decline associated with players in their middle 30s, especially corner guys whose primary skills comprise power and patience.  In other words, guys like Swisher do not tend to age gracefully, and we could end up with a $14 million per year part-time player in 2016 ala Travis Hafner. [Read more...]

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Footnotes:

  1. h/t Billy Mumfrey []

Fun with Numbers: Nick Swisher and Tristan Thompson

I’m calling on you WFNY readers: Starting in 2013, I’m hoping to roll out a consistent stats-related article for Cleveland sports on WFNY. But instead of just doing “Fun with Numbers” bit that was originally Rick’s idea, I need a catchy new name. In the past, I’ve done “The Boots” for Boot Ups and Boot Downs. But that’s not necessarily #math. So please, help me out with a new name — it could be Cleveland-y, related to a day of the week or anything. See ya next year with the winning name and a new logo.

I wanted to start today in continuing my Indians talk from yesterday. With the big Shin-Soo Choo trade done and Trevor Bauer now impacting Cleveland’s starting rotation future, what’s next? If you’ve been paying attention to all of the rumors of late, Chris Antonetti’s remaining winter plans have two final steps: 1) Sign Nick Swisher and 2) Sign a veteran free agent starter.

While the starter could be any guy such as Edwin Jackson, Shaun Marcum et al, Swisher is the clear target for a RF/DH position for the Tribe. Choo’s gone and Drew Stubbs is in, but another outfield role remains for the taking. With Josh Hamilton’s signing with the Angels, Swisher is one of the key offensive free agents remaining. But why exactly is Swisher so valuable? As expected, let’s go to the math. [Read more...]

Cavaliers will not be a player in free agency according to Tom Reed

On yesterday’s Bull and Fox show, the Plain Dealer’s Tom Reed said that the Cavaliers will NOT be players in free agency this summer.

“No, not at all. The only types of guys that they will bring in here, is if they feel that their leadership may be lacking, maybe they bring in kind of a smaller name type player. They will not put any significant money into free agency. When they do that it will be more like a final piece… they are not going to overpay anybody.”

The Cavaliers have just under $18 million coming off the books with the expiration of Jamison and Parker’s contracts. They could also save $4.72 million if they choose not to pick up Daniel Gibson’s option. Small forward Alonzo Gee will also be a restricted free agent.

[Related: Antawn's Closing Advance]

NFL free agency is far from over for the Browns

I know how stressful it can be to watch big names fall off the boards with the Browns being so quiet. (Apologies to Frostee Rucker.) I’ve gotten caught up at various times during the past two weeks trying to balance between my desire to see the Browns get better and not get held up by some player agent for way too much money. I’ll admit that I sometimes want to crack jokes on this team too and I’m one of the ones who has already willingly admitted that the Browns won’t be challenging for the playoffs this year and will have a very difficult time winning more than six games this season. And six, by the way, includes a much healthier roster than what the Browns had a year ago. The point though is that the Browns can still get better via free agency. The top of the list is pretty picked clean, but the process is really just getting started.

I was reading The OBR and saw a post referencing an article from CBS Sports that had an interesting take on the numbers of free agents vs. roster sizes. [Read more...]

Guessing what the Browns’ moves mean… so far

These are allegedly tea leaves

Even without a ton of movement in free agency, I think we’ve seen and heard enough to start at least making some educated guesses about what the Browns are thinking and doing. Please save me the cheap jokes about them doing “nothing” in the comments.

Defensive line – Regardless of what you think about Frostee Rucker or Juqua Parker, their signings say a few things. First of all, the Browns probably won’t spend one of their high draft picks on a defensive end. It seemed like even the best defensive linemen in the draft were reaches at #4 anyway, so this is good news. The Browns have Sheard, Taylor, Rubin, Rucker, Parker and holdovers like Marcus Benard, Scott Paxson, Brian Sanford, Brian Schaefering, Emmanuel Stephens and Jayme Mitchell. Hold on there, Jayme Mitchell.

Will Burge from ESPN Cleveland reported on the first day of free agency that Mitchell’s people were trying to contact the Browns, presumably to figure out his future. My guess is they were trying to secure his release. Regardless, the Browns will probably draft a defensive end somewhere in the draft, but it won’t be all that high, considering their signings. [Read more...]

Report: Former Brown Kamerion Wimbley could be cut

According to a report by NFL.com’s Jason La Canfora, the Raiders will cut LB Kamerion Wimbley if he doesn’t agree to restructure his contract. A contract he signed before last season.

Wimbley is due to make $11 million this season, with $6.5 million guaranteed, and Oakland is trying to restructure its budget and get under the salary cap. Wimbley also has triggers in his deal that execute $19 million in future guarantees if he’s not released before the start of the league year.

The Raiders still value Wimbley, but are in desperate need of clearing some cap space. Wimbley had 7 sacks last season, and 9 in his first year as a Raider. He has started all 32 games since being traded to Oakland.

Grossi Predictions: Peyton Hillis and Phil Dawson Leave Cleveland

In his Sunday column, Cleveland Browns beat writer Tony Grossi discussed the potential of select restricted free agents returning to the team for the 2012 season. While Grossi does feel that the team will have linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and cornerback Dimitri Patterson back in uniform, two of the more disheartening predictions come in the form of running back Peyton Hillis and place kicker and team captain Phil Dawson, whom are both thought to be playing for another franchise come next season.

Dawson is the longest tenured member of the Cleveland Browns being the only man to have been with the team when it returned to the city in 1999.  A franchise tag would cost the Browns approximately $4 million which is a considerable price for a place kicker regardless of the percentage of scoring he contributed this past season. Also, Grossi states that Dawson recently turned 37 years of age and has relocated his family to Austin, Texas — a “strong indication ” that  he would like to leave in free agency.

Hillis has has had one of the worst up-and-down campaigns in recent memory after being named to the cover of Madden 12 to only deal with a variety of injuries and miss considerable time.  Despite his finish to the 2011 season, Grossi feels that the two sides still remain at an impasse over how much the player should be guaranteed in his next contract.

MLB Rumors: The Tribe’s Ongoing Search for a Right-handed Bat

I’m back with your weekly “search for the right-handed bat” update.

As we stand on December 14th, the Indians are still on the hunt. Names keep getting bandied about, but nothing as of yet has happened. Last week’s Winter Meetings spawned conversations, including the now infamous Chris Antonetti “if I gave you 50 chances, you wouldn’t guess” quote in regards to who the Indians are going after. In the past two days, two names were crossed off the Tribe’s wish list; Third Baseman Aramis Ramirez and Outfielder Josh Willingham.

[Read more...]

Cleveland Browns’ Run Defense Officially Indefensible

Following Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns rank 31st among all NFL teams when it comes to stopping the opposing team’s running back. Allowing a robust 151.3 yards per game, the Browns are essentially allowing their opponents to leave half of their playbook at home.  The quarterback hands the ball to their running back of choice – a starter or workhorse is nary a requisite – and the offensive line is tasked with out-toughing the Cleveland Browns front seven, allowing the ball-carrying back to run rampant.

Only the winless and hapless Indianapolis Colts, long known for their ineptness in the trenches, have been run against more (419 attempts) than the Cleveland Browns (409).  The Colts boast a pair of veteran defensive ends whose game is predicated upon speed and getting to the opposing quarterback. The other five individuals boast very little in terms of name recognition or size; the Browns had their most successful running game of the season in their Week 2 win with a then healthy Peyton Hillis.  Where the Colts can choose to either continue focusing on speed and pass-rushing or to start the process of filtering in size to replace veterans, the Browns find themselves in a seemingly endless pitch of quicksand. [Read more...]