The Celtics are Here

Getting the update to my phone about Kyrie Irving’s trade request, away from Cleveland and LeBron, was one of the most memorable updates I think I will ever experience.  It was joy, even if it was only indirect impact.  The team we can’t seem to get through, just got dumped by its second best player.  What a world.  Cleveland probably wouldn’t even get a fair return considering the circumstances.  Then I wondered where one of the most dynamic young guards in the NBA would end up.

 

Then, the wildest sports-offseason night of my life happened.  I refreshed twitter, and there it was.  Boston was preparing to send away Isaiah Thomas.  Our fourth-quarter hero.  The heart and soul of our franchise.  We were also sending away another starter from last season, Jae Crowder, and Ante Zizic… and the Nets pick?  It was a tremendous cost.  The cost was so startling… an All-NBA player, a 3-and-D starter, a young big man, and a top-5 pick… it almost made you forget that you were receiving Kyrie.  Kyrie Irving, the best handles in the NBA, the owner of the biggest made shot in 3 years, at only 25…

 

This blog has taken me a long time to write.   I wrote a blog just speculating about the Paul George trade, a complete work of fiction, but couldn’t find any words about this crazy, unexplainable deal.   I just let it sit, all off-season, all pre-season, but now, it’s time.

 

The Celtics are embracing the future at full speed with open arms.  They cut ties from perhaps their three most core-players: Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder.  These three perfectly represent “the old-new Celtics”, a team that had a bunch of good pieces, but never truly stood a chance of winning 4 of 7 against the Cavs or Warriors.  They all had a fatal flaw—Isaiah was too short, Bradley was too hurt, and Crowder was too overmatched against Durant and LeBron.  Danny Ainge pulled teeth, a painful process considering what Isaiah Thomas gave to this franchise and what he meant to Celtics fans.
“The New-New Celtics” are a newly weaponized, sharp machine manned at the helm by Brad Stevens.  After years of less-than exceptional players, one of the best coaches in the NBA has a pure workhorse scorer who can iso his way to 30 points, a newly-elite off ball wing who just ran an offense into the second-round in the West, and one of the most versatile modern centers in the East.  All three of these players are finally in the correct role, as well.  Kyrie is no longer suffocated by LeBron, allowing the  whole offense to run through him as the true number one, including his newfound love of passing.  Hayward now no longer has to run a whole offense, as can embrace his true calling—playing off ball, making the extra pass, stretching the floor and attacking the rim as a secondary option.  Finally, Horford no longer has the pressure of being the 2nd best player, and can comfortably play his game in the paint while the other 4 starters do the dirty work.

 

It’s not just about the new big-three (or, maybe the medium-three is more appropriate…).  Look at the bench.  It’s certainly too early to tell, but Marcus Smart has been one of the better Celtics players on the court every night this pre-season.  His shooting has finally taken those leaps and bounds we’ve been hearing about—for real, this time—and his incredible defensive impact has remained the exact same.  Marcus going from 6th man defensive bulldog to Lite-superstar off the bench would separate the Celtics in an NBA where depth is the low priority on the totem pole.  Jaylen Brown is making a similar leap in year two, showing more composure and control of his body, making contested jump shots, hitting consistent threes and possibly being in better shape.  These are two guys who, if they progress like they appear to be, could be just as vital to the team as Horford and Hayward.

 

Then, you have the X-factor… Jayson Tatum.  Starting in game one tonight.  The kid who the Celtics looked at and decided was better than the consensus #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz.  Will Tatum lead the bench unit in scoring?  Or will he be more?  Before star players are star players, they come into the league as rookies and exceed everyone’s expectations.  Will Tatum play like a star?  Will he impact games and score 20 points on a given night?  Given Boston’s depth at wing with solid young players like Yabusele, Ojeleye and Nader, and Brown and Hayward able to start at the 4 and 5, there isn’t enormous pressure on the Duke rookie to make a giant impact game one.  However, the Celtics are certainly inferring that he can, considering he’ll be on the court at the opening buzzer tonight.

 

My expectations are sky high for this basketball team.  I believe Kyrie Irving is a superstar.  The thought of him being 28 in the year 2020, in his third year of running an offense like Brad Stevens’ team, makes me salivate.  Oh yeah, and we have Gordon Hayward too.  It won’t truly be real until we see them tonight, in the fourth quarter of a competitive game, laying it all out on the line.  Kyrie Irving, the dynamic enigma that he is, finally facing the music on opening night, facing the Cavs.  This is going to be an unbelievable experience.

 

I will miss Isaiah Thomas.  I will miss his late game heroics, and how he seamlessly joined the ranks of Ortiz and Brady, even if it was just for one magical season.  I’m sorry to see him go, but basketball is a business—Ainge got the guy who was taller, better, younger, and locked up for more years.  He paired him with a perfect cast.  Sometimes, that’s just the way life goes.

 

I expect them to win tonight’s game.  I expect it to be electric.  I expect the Boston Celtics to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals when all is said and done.  I expect Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to be the players that Danny Ainge bet on the past two seasons.

 

See you tonight.

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Rafael Devers is the Next Red Sox Superstar

Andrew Benintendi is a great representation of the hypothetical “best case scenario” for a rookie in the major leagues.  Benintendi is hitting an eyelash under .280 with 16 bombs and 66 RBI’s.  He’s got a flaw or two, like his continual base-running mishaps, but as far as rookies go, you can’t ask for more than he’s done.  His swing is a perfect, pure lefty cut that is as effortless as it is powerful.  He’s a polished player—some would even say too polished.

Benintendi will be a star in the league for certain, but it remains to be seen if the young outfield sensation could ever attain Superstar status.  With the true upper-echelon of baseball talents, there’s just something different.  With Chris Sale, Aaron Judge, and even Craig Kimbrel, there is a factor of raw, ugly, and pure talent.  Kimbrel doesn’t just make the radar gun—amongst other things—move, but rather, he throws the ball in a way that explodes at its intersection with the strike zone.  You can take 100 swings a day and train your body to be able to hit a ball with homerun power when you guess correctly on a pitch, but some guys have a natural feel for playing baseball that overmatches Andrew Benintendi’s perfected swing, or Dustin Pedroia’s unparalleled work ethic.

Rafael Devers has that.

 

It is unquestionably too early to say this, and maybe some have already beat me to the hot take, but allow me to claim my seat on the Rafael Devers bus as early as I can—I think Devers has a special ability at the plate.  He’s done simply remarkable things to kick off his career, obviously, including his first Major-League hit being a homerun and hitting a 103-MPH Aroldis Chapman fastball into the bullpen—in the 9th inning at Yankee Stadium—AT THE AGE OF 20.  It’s the fastest pitch that has ever yielded a homerun in the Statcast era.  Rafael Devers was not a highly regarded prospect who moseyed into the Big Leagues; he’s a damn star, and he announced his arrival with a bang.

 

It’s not just his initial accolades that convince me to buy his stock.  Look at his spray chart from the minor leagues:

sgf.jpg

The homeruns almost look too perfectly spread out to be believable, but it’s real.  My biggest gripe with Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are their occasional tendencies to fall into a dead-pull mentality.  They both get into stretches where all they want to do is pull the ball off the Monster, and their averages suffer—and have suffered, this year especially (.268 and .275, respectively).  Devers will be able to maintain this hitting profile, too, and it’s because of his greatest and most unique skill; reactionary power.

 

Allow me to explain.   Hanley Ramirez does not feature his reactionary power often.  Most of El Trece’s homers are moonshots—calculated power swings with the sole intention being to hit the ball to the sun.  David Ortiz was one of the greatest power hitters ever, in large part because of his ability to hit a homerun on a pitch he wasn’t really sitting on.  Everyone remembers this Ortiz blast from the 2004 ALDS that helped them get past a tough Angels’ team, who’s excellent season got overshadowed by the Yankees epic ALCS collapse.  Ortiz is certainly not sitting on an outside curveball, but his superior hitting knowledge allowed him to put that pitch on the back burner.  He recognizes the spin early, and is able to get a good swing off, slicing the ball with power over the Green Monster.  This is reactionary power.   Betts isn’t strong enough to muscle one out like that, but the swing of Ortiz is so mighty that even a good pitch can be sent far enough over the wall.

 

Here is the Devers homer against Chapman last night, in the 9th, to tie the game.  There are 3 or 4 spots Devers would much rather see that fastball, but his natural opposite field swing that he reacts with here still has so much power.  He’s figured out that the complex game of hitting is simple for those who use the 100 MPH+ speeds of baseballs to generate most of the distance.  For a hitter, you just have to make sure your bat is meeting the ball at or near the barrel.  The real miracle here is that Devers even got around—the 400-foot distance was a product of the simplest mantra in baseball.  Just hit it where it’s pitched.

 

No one in the Major Leagues hits with this mentality, most likely because it is significantly harder than it sounds.  But Devers is making it look easy—when you’re hitting bombs off lefties and righties, inside and outside pitches, fastballs and off-speed, you become an incredibly difficult out.  Devers is that right now, and he’s only TWENTY?!?!

 

Baseball Superstars have to have a superpower.  Judge is a gargantuan—Vlad Guerrero could hit any pitch, anywhere—Barry Bonds dominated the strike zone and made you afraid to get past the corner of the plate.  Devers is  nowhere near those names yet, but his superpower exists and was put on full display on national television last night; he simplifies hitting, he uses the entirety of the outfield from pole to pole, and is so naturally powerful that he hits 400 foot fly-balls, even when he’s reacting to a well-executed pitch.

 

Last night was essentially playoff atmosphere, and somehow, the least scared person in the entire lineup against Aroldis Chapman at Yankee Stadium was a 20-year old baby faced third baseman.  I cannot wait to see what we get from someone who fits that description under the bright lights of October.

There is No Chance Kyrie is Traded

A few weeks ago, I received my second-favorite iPhone notification I’ve ever received.  My favorite was the day I found out that the Red Sox acquired Craig Kimbrel, an All-Star closer and arguably one of the most dominant 9th inning guys of all-time.  My second favorite was learning that Kyrie Irving had requested a trade out of Cleveland.   I remember it vividly; I was driving home from work, moseying through Cumberland back roads, and stopped at a red light.  I picked up my phone and saw it.  Kyrie Irving, an 25-year old NBA Superstar playing for the best team in the East, wanted to go somewhere else.  Honestly, if you said I could trade Al Horford to some random team to get Kyrie off the Cavs, I think I’d do it in a heartbeat.  This was arguably the best day in the history of time.

 

It’s not going to happen.  It has been 20 full days since that notification hit my cell phone, and for the first week, I was enticed.  What team is going to add a top 5-Point Guard to their team?  And one who’s only twenty-freaking-five?   A fermented NBA swamp filled with 30 dopey clown fish and 2 nuclear-cyborg Alligators finally saw some change.  Literally anyone could have predicted the NBA postseason last year, maybe apart from the Jazz defeating the Clippers.  It was refreshing; I felt alive; now, I feel dead.   Kyrie is going nowhere.

 

There is a perfect, 4-part storm that explains why nothing will happen.  First: the two sides of any deal will never be able to see even remotely eye-to-eye.  To prospective buyers, the high ground in negotiations is theirs; they know Kyrie wants out, so the Cavs essentially have to trade him (more on this later).  To Cleveland, they hold the ultimate asset in a 25-year old Point Guard, likely about to enter his true prime, with many years still left ahead of him.  He’s an uber-efficient scorer who is talented enough to outshine the best player in the universe offensively, at times.  He’s also the owner of the biggest-made shot since Ray Allen’s fade-away three-pointer against the Spurs.   The Cavs expect the moon, while buyers feel they are the ones who should be able to have an edge when talking potential deals.

 

Part 2 is even more obvious—teams are hesitant to make any major moves because of the ungodly force that is the Golden State Warriors.  I wrote a few weeks ago about how the Nuggets could win multiple championships by pairing Kyrie with Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, but even then, that is a major risk for Denver.  I really do think that trio could knock off the Warriors, but even if you do, you still have to play in the Finals.  Great, you battled your guts out for seven games and somehow knocked off the greatest team of all time—now you have to play LeBron, or the Celtics, or some other team worthy enough of representing the East.  It’s very easy for many teams to just say, “Eh.  We’ll keep our young guys and reevaluate once Steph and KD stop shooting 103% from 30-feet”.

 

Reason 3: Kyrie will not commit to staying long term to any team that trades for him.  Who can blame him?  Irving is one of the very few players who could pair up with another Superstar and create a true “Super Team”.  Irving and Anthony Davis, the player picked exactly one spot before him in the Draft, are incredibly young and unimaginably talented.  If Irving hits free agency the same time as, let’s say, Klay Thompson, he can very easily make a play to go to some team with a lot of cap and some other pieces and make a run at a title.  The average UFA, like Millsap, for example, needs better players than himself to join him to have any real chance.  There are plenty of players who are good enough to be the third star on a “Super Team”, but very few who can be the first or second.  Irving has already proven he can be that guy, to the tune of a 2016 championship ring.

 

The final part that makes Kyrie untradeable is perhaps the most important one—the Cavs are under absolutely no obligation to trade Irving.  He is under contract.   A contract is a binding legal document that is the center of any exchange in history; I’m no legal expert, but I imagine the one Kyrie signed included something along the lines of “you play basketball, we sign your paychecks”.  If the check bounces, Irving won’t play, because even he knows you should never work for free.  If Irving goes so far as to protest playing on the same floor as James, he won’t be paid.  NBA athletes want to get paid.  I have no idea if there are clauses in the contract about these types of situations, but I can’t see a scenario where Irving throws a tantrum and simply refuses to play.

 

It’s a simple chain.  If teams don’t feel like adding Irving will help beat the Warriors, they won’t bother (spoiler; no one [with cap space] is one Kyrie Irving away from the Warriors).  If teams feel that Kyrie isn’t the final piece, they won’t offer anything more than Eric Bledsoe.  If the Cavs don’t feel the trade is an adequate package for a 25-year old Superstar and Finals champion, they won’t trade him.  Ask yourself seriously—what team even could put together a package truly worthy of Kyrie?

 

Kyrie will stay, and LeBron and himself will learn to pretend not to hate each other.  I firmly believe something will go wrong—chemistry is dramatically understated in the NBA.  Kevin Durant once played alongside the MVP and the MVP runner up, Westbrook and Harden.  He didn’t win with them, but he did win with the team that fit his style of play perfectly.  It also didn’t hurt that they were already the greatest team of all-time.  The on-court issues that will undoubtedly arise between the King and the Prince will almost certainly provide a clear path for Gordon Hayward and Isaiah Thomas’ Celtics to make it to the Finals.  They’ll lose, probably, but they’ll be there.  I simply can’t envision Irving putting aside his hatred of playing alongside LeBron—a hatred so strong that he requested a trade from the 2nd best team in the world—and battling his heart out for another chance to lose to the Warriors.

 

The Cleveland ship has sailed; LeBron and Kyrie played out of their minds last June, and they still got bounced in 5-games.  Until the Warriors unprecedented reign of dominance shows any signs of stopping, star franchise players will either be traded for pennies on the dollar (See: Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins), or be left to waste the primes of their careers on teams that have no real chance.  The Cavs are certainly candidates to do something incredibly stupid considering the turnover in their front-office and the constant soap opera that exists in Ohio, but mark my words—at the start of camp, Kyrie will be a very disgruntled Cleveland Cavalier.

Devers and Nuñez are Saving the Red Sox

When David Ortiz was standing in the batter’s box before hitting a walk-off homerun, everything was calculated.  He knew what a pitcher liked to throw on a 2-1 count in the 6th inning and beyond.  He may have seemed like a simple guy who loved to swing the bat, but Papi was one of the smartest guys to play the game.  He’s retired though, and his former teammates need to stop trying to hit like him, and start emulating a 20-year old kid.  Seriously.

 

Well, not just him—while Rafael Devers has been an illumination in the Red Sox clubhouse, so has Eduardo Nuñez, a utility player with a quick bat and a helmet that is significantly looser than it should be.  The two unlikeliest sources have awakened a stagnant Red Sox offense, and pushed their team from 2nd place to back on top, 2 games ahead of New York.  How?  How did a kid who should be entering his Junior year of college teach a bunch of former World Series champions and MVP candidates how to hit?

 

Simple—they don’t think.  They don’t think about the percentages, and shifts, and barrel percentage, and WAR.  They don’t think about David Price and Dennis Eckersley, and “showing up the media”.  Hell, they probably don’t even care about David Price all that much as a person.  They care about the ball, and the big wooden stick in their hands, and making those two things meet.  When you’re at the plate, that’s the only important thing.  And it’s getting contagious.

 

Devers, in particular, is doing something that more of the team needs to emulate; hitting the ball to all fields.  Xander Bogaerts, before his recent injury, was on one of the worst slumps anyone has experienced this season.  Every swing was a wave towards left field, hoping to fly one off the monster and get a cheap double.  Xander, I’ll tell you what I tell my Little League kids—hit it where it’s pitched.  When Bogaerts exploded onto the playoff scene as a rookie, much like Devers, in 2013, that’s what made scouts and opposing GM’s stop and look.  Hitting the ball to all fields is baseball’s best kept secret, but those who have discovered its powers reap the benefits.  Just ask Jose Altuve, the Astros’ second baseman who hit .485 in the month of July (!!!) and is about to walk to a very deserving AL MVP award.

 

The Red Sox offense has an M.O., but it hasn’t been working, so maybe it needs to be tweaked.  Boston sees more pitches than any other team every season, but it’s becoming a point of frustration when everyone on the team is hitting below .300.   Here’s a list of the power bats you have in this lineup: Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers, Mitch Moreland, Dustin Pedroia.  Those guys can all hit 20 homeruns in a season.  Let them swing at pitches they think they can hit out of the ball park.  Here’s a few other good hitters who have less power, but can still hit the crap out of the ball: Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, and Eduardo Nuñez.  If we strike out a few more times a game, it’s a worthy trade for a few more long balls.  There’s very few ways to score multiple runs at a time, which proves crucial in a game where the objective is to finish with the most runs.  This isn’t a team that needs to wait for the perfect pitch—if it’s a strike, a lot of these guys can do some damage.

 

When I watch the Yankees’ young offense, especially Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, it’s almost like they’re protecting the strike zone from strikes.  Pitchers are hesitant to throw a get-me-over fastball for a strike because they know one of those guys could bounce it off the Hubble Telescope.  The Red Sox let a meatball go by for strike one like there’s a rule against swinging at it.  I’m a big fan of working a count, but I’m not a big fan of letting a middle-middle can of corn go by 27 times a game, either.

 

The Red Sox are trending back in the right direction, thanks in no little part to these two young ballplayers who are just showing up to hit baseballs all over the park.  They aren’t thinking about pulling the ball, they aren’t letting the clubhouse fodder distract them, and they’re certainly not up there to look good.  They know that hitting baseballs where people can’t catch them is what earns you a spot—and if Devers doesn’t cool off soon, he could find himself being a much more integral part of this lineup than opposing pitchers hope.  A guy who thinks he can drive the ball no matter which part of the strike zone it’s thrown in is a pitcher’s worst nightmare.

 

The Red Sox have the supplemental pieces to win a championship this season.  You have a potential Cy Young candidate in Sale, one of the best in the game in Kimbrel, and a trio of middle-rotation pitchers who can be great at times in Price, Pomeranz, and E-Rod.  Doug Fister looked great in his last outing and has proven himself in October before.  Porcello continues to struggle, but he was a 20 game winner last season, so you know he has it in him.  It’s not the defense, or the pitching, or the manager—the Red Sox are 60-12 when they score 4 runs or more.  It’s the offense.

 

The Devers call up was a ballsy move by Dave Dombrowski, but he’s certainly rewarded ownership’s faith in him by tearing the cover off the ball in his first weeks.  Eduardo Nuñez is looking like the key to the Sox offense, which is pretty crazy considering at the time he was traded, he was hailed as “a slightly better Brock Holt”.  These are two guys who love to hit in Fenway Park, and they’re doing it the right way.

 

Here’s to hoping John Farrell doesn’t try to stymie the aggressiveness of the lineup in the coming weeks.  If the Yankees have anything you can exploit, it may be their starting pitching.  While they also have CG shut out capability, they also let up quite a few homeruns in that tiny Little League field they play in.  This is your major competition until (and maybe during) October, and you need to get your team moving in a direction to exploit whatever weaknesses you can find.  Most teams are fairly prone to giving up runs on 400 foot fly balls.

 

 

Picture courtesy of the Boston Herald 

How Kyrie Can Win a Ring (Without the Cavs)

And I really mean this year.  Seriously.

 

Most 25-year old superstars with a ring and 3 Finals appearances wouldn’t ask to be traded.  Most NBA players don’t hit Finals winning fade-away threes in Steph Curry’s face, either.  Kyrie Irving isn’t most NBA players.  I can evidence this by pointing out that he is the only person to request a trade away from LeBron James.
But let me tell you, Kyrie is not going to fade off into the middle-seed sunset and settle for All-NBA teams for the rest of his career.  The Cavaliers built their team around LeBron, not Kyrie.  Kevin Love is the perfect complement for James.  The perfect complement for Kyrie lies in the East, too, and on a team that could certainly acquire his services for the right price.

 

Let’s dive into what hampers Kyrie first; we know about his league-best ability to finish ridiculous layups and his knack for big time shooting from 3-pt range and elsewhere.  His defense is subpar, but that’s an issue for many superstar PG’s todays, so I’m going to temporarily look past that.  His biggest weakness, and one that was hidden by LeBron, was his ability to distribute from the point.   LeBron took care of that, for the most part, and once he came in from Miami, Kyrie’s development as a passer was halted.  He never got to develop that part of his game because the team wanted him to take the shot.  Most teams without a LeBron, however, expect the point guard to get the bulk of the assists.

 

Enter the Denver Nuggets.  Enter Nikola Jokic.

 

Let’s talk a little about Nikola Jokic—he might be the best passing big since Aryvdas Sabonis.  His ability to throw strikes from the low post is something that very few NBA teams have.  Here’s a few teams that had a really good distributing big man: the Warriors (Draymond Green), the Celtics (Al Horford), and the Grizzlies (Marc Gasol).  Those teams did okay in the playoffs, right?  Jokic is also twenty-two.  Three years younger than Kyrie, who is absurdly young.  It’s a match made in heaven—there’s nothing quite like pairing a superstar point guard with a superstar big man.

 

Here’s another thing—there’s a logical trade that both sides would probably agree to.  Here it is below, completely compliant with the CBA.

 

Capture

Faried is primarily to make the salary work.  This opens the opportunity for the Cavs to trade Kevin Love if they so choose because of Hernangomez and Faried (who can play the 4). You also acquire some young talent for when LeBron ultimately leaves in a year.  Jamal Murray was way better than anyone expected him to be and has big time star potential.  Gary Harris is a 22-year old SG.   This is a good trade for both sides—you’re going to have to give up some pieces for a player like Irving, and the Cavs probably won’t get more than this from anyone not named the Celtics, and, let’s be serious.  No.

 

Irving’s passing ability—or lack thereof—is matched by Jokic’s excellence.  Kyrie isn’t a klutz with the ball, either; he’ll get his assists, but having a Center who can emphasize ball movement would go a tremendously long way.  Oh yeah, and did I mention you have Paul Millsap, too?  That’s a really good team right there.

 

Denver, you have your big three.  One is 22 and one is 25.  Paul Millsap will be a really good star player to compete for the next couple of years until the next big player that you have a chance on comes around.  You’ve probably made yourself a 3 or 4 seed, and your two best players aren’t even in their primes yet.

Cleveland, if you have to trade Irving, still makes out here.  You may be taking a little less than the Kemba/Batum deal would have yielded, but is Kemba going to make a difference?  He’s not young enough to be a big piece in the future, and Batum is at his peak as well.   Maybe it gives you another Finals appearance, but you certainly won’t win.  If there isn’t a trade that will allow you to compete with the Warriors, you should trade for the future.  This deal includes 3 talented young players under 22.

 

You have three smart, talented, and complementary players in Kyrie, Millsap, and Jokic.  Irving can be the go-to scorer and primary option like he wants because Millsap and Jokic are extremely unselfish.  If Irving has an off night, let Millsap do what he does best.  Millsap was a Celtics killer—this team would play an incredibly 7-game series against Boston.  LeBron and the Cavs?  My bet is on Uncle Drew to get his revenge and go off for 60 points in game 7 against them (if they get there).  Maybe that last one is a stretch, but seriously:

 

Let’s make this happen.

The Red Sox are Toxic. Abandon Ship.

Chris Sale, David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Hanley Ramirez: what do these players have in common?  Two things; first, if you put them all on a hypothetical team together, you’d assume that team would be pretty good.  Second, they’re all part of a baseball team right now, and it’s not looking as good as you’d think.

 

A week or two ago, the Red Sox had over an 85% chance of winning the division.  Now, radio hosts in Boston sports media are wondering if Farrell will be fired on the team’s day off tomorrow if there’s a loss tonight.   Sometimes, when a player is seeing the ball well at the plate, people say “it looks like a beach ball for him right now”.  For the 2017 Sox, it must look like a pistachio.

 

The biggest problem on this team isn’t the bats, though—the team is being run like an AAU squad filled with jerky 14-year old adolescents.  When the team was 4 games up on 1st place, cruising towards October, no one was talking about their success.  They were talking about David Price and his antics, John Farrell and the media, and whether or not Dustin Pedroia is a leader.  He’s not, and that’s a huge problem.

 

Let’s begin with “Dirt Dog”, shall we?  Actually, let me call him by the new nickname I’ve created; “the Dirt-Douche”.  When Matt Barnes threw at Manny Machado’s head after the controversial slide that injured Pedey, Pedroia put all the blame on the pitching staff.  He literally said “that’s not me, it’s them”.  Who, in the history of baseball and the media, has ever called members of his OWN TEAM “them”?  At the end of that interview, Pedroia let his frustration out, asking “seriously?  Can I go home now?”  What a whiny, childish way to handle a situation.  After a hot and controversial fight between yourself and a division rival, Pedroia deflected blame and came across with the same professionalism as those 14-year old’s playing AAU.

 

Pedroia was supposed to be the leader after David Ortiz rode off into the sunset.  He’s not.  What about other veterans?  There’s not many—many of your players are too young, including Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley, Benintendi, Vazquez, Marrero, Devers, E-Rod, and even Drew Pomeranz.  Maybe it’s Price, the veteran ace who has been in many playoff races in this division and has been on 4 teams.  Nope!  He’s pulling schoolyard bully intimidation tactics on Dennis Eckersley, Hall of Fame closer, on the team freaking plane.  He’s blasting music during media availability to make the lives of reporters more difficult.  Congratulations, Boston; you paid $217MM for the softest, pettiest, and most sensitive baseball player in Red Sox history.

 

It isn’t just youth—this Red Sox team was constructed with absolutely zero eye towards chemistry, the clubhouse, or even the personalities of the guys on the team.

I blame this on Dave Dombrowski 100%.  Your two best pitchers, Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel, are both introverted guys who fit the “strong silent type” mantra perfectly.  They’re not going to take control of the clubhouse.  They probably have their noise cancelling headphones on while all this is happening to avoid this nightmare completely.  Same thing with the young stars; Xander, Jackie, and Benintendi are the quietest players you could find.  Their talent is great, but if you know your core players are guys who need to be lead…. Get a leader.

 

This team wasn’t constructed like Theo Epstein’s teams were.  There is no Kevin Millar, no Mike Lowell, no Jonny Gomes, and clearly no David Ortiz.  Those guys are more than just players—people say that to boost their value when they end up here, but it’s more than just a nice guy to hang around.  You have created a 25-man roster full of people who are either spoiled, self-important A-holes who care about cashing their checks and maintaining their image, or players who are too gun-shy to take control over a toxic environment.

 

Why are Price and Porcello attacking Dennis Eckersley?  The NESN broadcasters are providing entertainment for the fans, not the players.   How many times do you think David Price has said “Do you know who I am?” in his life?  Yes, David, I know who you are; you’re the guy with a 3.82 ERA making $30MM to be a negative center of attention.  You’re the second-best pitcher on a team that can’t score runs and has lost 4 games in a row.

 

The MLB is not a video game.  This is not MLB: The Show, where you can acquire players with the highest overalls and win championships until they’re all 35.  These are adult men who spend over half the calendar year together every day.  If you have a bunch of losers, or guys who need to be led by winners to be successful, you’re not even going to win the division.  Look at the Yankees.  Look at that team, and the way they play together and interact.  It’s shocking—the Yankees are the lovable bunch of idiots who are playing hard every night, and the Red Sox are the pompous hitmen for hire who only care about the check clearing.

 

If this team loses a Chris Sale start today, John Farrell’s job is in immediate danger.  Once this team slips out of first, all hell will break loose.  Get prepared, folks; this collapse is going to be worse than 2011.  This team needs an identity, and fast, or else their identity will be “Pompous A-holes Working on their Golf Game”.

Dear Cavs: Release LeBron James

The 2017 offseason had an essence of predictability to it.  Some star players moved around, teams reshaped their images, but it was still Cavs x Warriors part 4.  That is, until the basketball gods spoke and Kyrie decided he was breaking up with LeBron.

 

Read that one more time and pinch yourself; Kyrie Irving, a top-10 NBA talent and the Robin to LeBron’s Batman, has decided that he’s had enough of playing second fiddle to the second greatest NBA player in history.  Irving requested the Cavaliers trade him.  Here’s my question; why the hell would they?  Irving is 25, significantly younger than James.  James is likely to bolt next offseason unless he really likes playing with Derron Williams.  Why not trade the older player who’s about to be a free agent?  The answer to that is: James has a no trade clause.

 

So, let’s trade Kyrie.   What is a reasonable return for a 25-year old top-10 NBA player?   Ideally, a talented rookie or sophomore with a bright future and a pick?  It’s difficult to think of a team with the appropriate assets to make this trade happen.  Boston has a treasure chest of desirables, but Kyrie and Isaiah Thomas are similar players with a $20MM salary distinction.  Basically, you need a team with young stars and a hole at point guard.  Maybe that’s the Suns?  Unfortunately, your star PG decided to request a trade a few weeks after the heaviest PG draft in recent memory.

 

So, let’s say you trade Kyrie to the Suns in a 3-team trade.  Forget the logistics—in comes Marquesse Chriss and Eric Bledsoe, out goes Irving.   Now, when LeBron leaves next year, you have Bledsoe/Smith/Jefferson/Love/Thompson.  Maybe they can rebuild from there by trading Kevin Love, but I can’t imagine they’d get the whole farm system back for him.  Forget about trading Smith and Thompson for reasonable bounties; their contract situations make them nothing more than a salary dump somewhere down the line.

 

The best asset you have in terms of developing a franchise is Kyrie Irving.  Everyone else is either old or overpaid.  You have no draft picks or cap space.  No team is going to give you a deal that makes you comfortable with letting go of Irving, especially considering that the other 29 teams got the Brian Windhorst update Friday, too.  They know the Cavs aren’t in a position of power.  The Cavs have to either trade their young superstar for pennies on the dollar, or watch an 82-game long nightmare that might deter future players from coming to Cleveland.

 

Dan Gilbert, don’t try to negotiate trades without a GM.  Don’t let LeBron control your team’s destiny.  And especially don’t trade Kyrie Irving.

 

Release LeBron James.

 

There are multiple reasons why this makes sense: firstly, James has a no-trade clause, meaning he can override a trade agreed upon by both sides.  This typically prevents stars from being traded to places they don’t want to be, but James has already come out and said that he won’t waive his NTC for any team.

It’s a simple math problem—you can have Kyrie without LeBron (because he wants to be a focal point) or just LeBron.  Without any circumstances, obviously, you’d keep James, but he is almost certainly going to leave next year.  With the thousands of people saying LeBron is destined to leave Ohio again, wouldn’t he have made a public statement addressing the rumors at least once if he was going to stay?  I think his right-hand man Kyrie probably has more information on what his plans are, too—and whatever information he has lead him to request a trade from the 2nd best team in the NBA.  The writing is on the wall.

 

Release LeBron.  He does not have a no-release clause.  He will be on the waiver wire for 48 hours, where any of the 29 teams can place a claim on him for nothing but his salary this year and a $1,000 fee to the NBA offices.   The only requirement is that a team have enough salary cap room to accept his current contract.  There are several teams that could make room quickly enough, but do you know which team has $34MM in freed up cap space alreadyThe Los Angeles Clippers!

 

The only way you get stuck with a 1-year, $30MM cap exception for James that counts against your cap situation is if no one claims him off waivers.  Will anyone be interested in signing the best player in the NBA to a 1-year rental?   For nothing?  My guess is yes.   His cap won’t count against Cleveland.  The only way you were gonna win this year was if you had the same team, and a star on Golden State’s team got injured.  Now, without Kyrie, you could even lose to the Celtics or Bucks in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.  LeBron had the best playoff performance he will ever have last season, and it wasn’t enough.  Why run it back only for him to leave while losing Kyrie, too?

 

Release James.  Now, Kyrie gets to stay with his team and be the focal point.  There’s no stronger gesture a franchise can make than saying “hey, we know you wanted your own team, so we traded the 2nd best player in history during his prime to keep you.”  Now you’ve almost fixed your cap situation on its own.  Trade Kevin Love too, and recuperate some cheap contracts and maybe some picks.  Like I said, Kyrie is 25.  Next season, try to draft some complements for Irving, and build your team that way.  It’s way better than rebuilding one year later with no superstars at all.

 

It goes against everything NBA GM’s are taught in NBA GM school.  If you tried to do this in 2K, your PlayStation would explode.  But seriously, this year is a wash if you lose Irving, and it’s a foregone conclusion that you’re going to lose LeBron a season later.  You walk away with the most talent if you can keep Kyrie here.  The only way to do that is to tell LeBron James “you’re fired”.

 

Side Note: The only way this NBA offseason gets more perfect is if James loses his job.  It’s important to note that if multiple teams claim LeBron, the team with the LOWEST RECORD gets him.  AMAZING.  LEBRON TO THE NETS!