Happy Second Birthday…To Us!

College Sports Town turns two years old today!

Year two of College Sports Town was a great one; we published more than 100 posts and had over 20,000 views. As always, we thank you for visiting our blog, reading our entries, and dropping in the occasional comment!

We hope you continue to keep coming back to the Sports Town as we enter our third year. It should be another fun one in our little corner of cyberspace.

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Why I Love Lebron’s Return

Tim Balk may not be captivated by LeReturn, but I’m here to say that it’s a story worthy of captivation.

Let’s go back to the evening of July 8th, 2010. It was one of those seminal moments where you’ll always remember where you were. I was lying down on my living room floor, staring up at the TV. ESPN blared on the screen as I looked blankly at my surroundings, shocked by what had just occurred. LeBron James was forming a super team in South Beach along with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. My Knicks hat, which I had been wearing for good luck in the hopes that LBJ would bring his talents to MSG, was discarded, as my head was too full of thoughts of the Heat domination of the rest of the league for me to don it.

Four years later, I was again lying in my living room, ESPN murmurings in the background, when I heard the news of LeBron’s return. In the same way LeBron handled his free agency completely differently this time around, I reacted in the opposite manner as I had four years prior. The level of desolation I had felt in 2010 was matched by the level of excitement I felt in 2014. I leapt to my keyboard, reading LeBron’s letter about as fast as I could. It wasn’t just a matter of the best player in the game moving teams, it was a matter of the best player I’ve ever witnessed fulfilling a terrific narrative.

The romance of the story is unquestionable. The shunned prodigal son returns home, forgiven for his past sins, in exchange for optimism. LeBron’s image in Cleveland rising out of the ashes of burnt jerseys, giving the people of Ohio the opportunity to witness one of the best players in NBA history perfecting his craft, making his young teammates realize their full potential. As nasty as his return to Cleveland after The Decision was, I can’t wait for the Cavs home opener. I’ll be watching with a box of tissues handy, hopefully wearing a maroon and gold Cavs jersey with #6 emblazoned on the back. It’s not a matter of being a Cavs fan, or even a basketball fan. If you enjoy the basic narratives which have run throughout the course of human history, you can enjoy LeBron’s return. This IS more than basketball. I’m waxing poetic about a transaction. This is the beauty of sports.

He's back, baby!

He’s back, baby!


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Responding to LeBron’s Return


LeBron: savior…traitor…savior again.

Forgive me for not being romantic about LeBron James’ decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Because I’m not. At all.

That’s not to say that I have any problem with the King’s homecoming. His return should be fantastic for the sport and, of course, the city of Cleveland. But I don’t buy for a second the narrative, so willingly lapped up by the media, that LeBron presented in his exclusive Sports Illustrated letter. James and the press have framed the move as one eclipsing basketball motivations, a mature decision to return to one of America’s most forsaken cities out of a combination of altruism and good ol’ American hometown pride.

In his SI feature, LeBron states “this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball.” I’m calling BS on that one, LBJ. If the Cavaliers had the roster of, say, the Utah Jazz or Orlando Magic, I have a tough time believing James would be heading back to the shores of Lake Erie. LeBron is returning to a franchise that has a top flight point guard in Kyrie Irving and the top pick from this year’s draft: the prodigiously gifted Andrew Wiggins. The Cavaliers represent a beautiful landing pad for James while his old supporting cast in Miami has aged somewhat ungracefully in the past couple of years.

I’m not doubting that location played a role in James’ decision. It would be outrageous to suggest that it didn’t. Of course he wants to bring a ‘ship to Cleveland. And I also am willing to believe that it was, as he says, always his plan to return to the city on the Cuyahoga. By the same token, he must also have seen appeal in the sunny beaches of South Beach when he made his decision to head south in 2010.

LeBron James is a basketball player. He’s a very good one–the best one on earth and probably one of the two or three best in the history in the game. I’m here to tell you that his decision to return to Cleveland, much like his decision to leave, is motivated by one thing more than any other: basketball. The Cavs have a basketball future as sunny as the Florida coast. After the aging Heat got dominated by the Spurs in this year’s NBA Finals, their future looked as clouded as the Cuyahoga River. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are beyond their best years. The Cavs are young and talented.

I’m a fan of LeBron James. He appears intelligent, articulate, and a selfless teammate. He’s a tremendous ambassador for the game of basketball and one of the most enjoyable athletes to watch in any sport. I’m looking forward to seeing him don the maroon and mustard yellow jerseys of the team that plays their games about 40 miles north of Akron.

That being said, just as he was excessively criticized and maligned for moving to Miami, James has received more praise for returning than he deserves. The pendulum has swung the other way.


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USMNT World Cup Review

This World Cup ended the same way as the last one for the US: a hard-fought defeat in the Round of 16. Many pundits observed this fact and noted the defensive style the US used for most of the tournament. Strangely, some pundits have used these observations to criticize Jurgen Klinsmann, claiming that he didn’t provide the kind of attacking soccer that he promised when he took over from Bob Bradley. These people couldn’t be more off base.


Sad Jurgen

Klinsmann made just two mistakes the entire tournament: first, he put Chris Wondolowski in the squad. Second, he used him. Wondo is a fantastic MLS player, and he excels at getting into dangerous spaces without the ball. But he lacks the physical tools and the finishing touch to succeed on the international level, as he showed by missing a sitter against Belgium, bringing back memories of his miss in the 2011 Gold Cup. The US would have been better off with Terrence Boyd, who would have been an ideal backup for Jozy Altidore as the two share similar skill sets, or Juan Agudelo, who would have brought pace and creativity to the side. The inclusion of Agudelo also would have helped the young American’s club career; his lack of international appearances prevented him from gaining a work permit, and ultimately led to his release.


Déjà vu for Wondo

But enough criticism. Klinsmann was one of the best managers in the tournament. The controversial inclusions in the final squad–chiefly DeAndre Yedlin, Julian Green, and John Brooks –paid off wonderfully. He used his substitutes to perfection. And most importantly, he got the US out of a group in which no one gave them a chance. This accomplishment can’t go overlooked. And to those who claim that the US only advanced by playing defensively, I would suggest that they go back and rewatch the Portugal game. For almost an entire game, the US outpassed, outpossessed, outshot, and outplayed a team that entered the tournament ranked fourth in the world. And of course, the US did this while the team’s most creative player, Clint Dempsey, was forced to play as a lone striker due to an injury to Altidore. Even if the US didn’t play like that for the entire tournament, the fact that they played like that at all against a top team should be considered a success. And with quite a few bright young prospects (looking at you Gedion Zelalem) potentially ready to make an impact in the next cycle, it won’t be long before American fans will be seeing more performances like the one against Portugal.


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The Balk-Cooper NBA Offseason Conferences: Part Two

Tim Balk and Danny Cooper continue their conversation about the NBA offseason below. Click here for a link to the first part of their discussion, and stay tuned to College Sports Town to see further Tim-Danny discussions.

Tim Balk: Let’s start things off by delving deeper into free agency. Dallas locked Dirk Nowitzki up for another three years. Dirk is 36 years old, but he’s still an elite weapon. His numbers have remained fairly constant over the past few seasons and he has to be the league’s best player over 35. Another guy over 35–Paul Pierce–is one of the hottest commodities in this year’s free agency. Pierce is coming off the worst season of his illustrious Hall of Fame career, but the wily wing still played staunch defense and provided efficient offensive production for the inconsistent Nets. Brooklyn surely wants Pierce back, but they’ll have to compete with a horde of other suitors including the Clippers, Trail Blazers, and Bulls. If Pierce does come back to BK, he’ll rejoin a nucleus of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and a now healthy Brook Lopez. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers inked a deal with the oft-injured Chris Kaman and the Kings picked up Darren Collison.

Dirk Nowitzki will be a career Maverick (Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Dirk Nowitzki will be a career Maverick.

Danny Cooper: It’s certainly been a busy couple of days in the free agent market. Dirk has long been one of my favorite players, and I’m glad to see him basically commit to being a Maverick for life. He’s still got some gas left in the tank, and the Mavericks could only be a high-profile free agent signing away from real postseason success, being that they pushed the eventual world champions to 7 games this past spring. I’d also just like to point out the contrast between the hometown discount Dirk took to benefit his squad and the exorbitant $48.5 million 2 year extension Kobe signed last year.

The Clippers with Paul Pierce could be really dangerous next year. A reunion between The Truth and his old coach Doc Rivers could prove fruitful for the Clippers. A hard-nosed defender with a smooth jumper such as Pierce would fit in well in their sets, and he could provide valuable veteran leadership alongside Chris Paul. I know you are already emptying out your wallet to get a fresh #34 Lob City jersey, no? At this point, I’m just hoping I can wear my Carmelo Anthony Knicks jersey without it being a throwback.

TB: Los Angeles would be an interesting landing spot for Paul. Personally, I wouldn’t mind The Truth following me to Chitown. He’s not Melo, but Pierce would be an awfully solid add for Chicago…or any team really. I actually don’t see Pierce shipping off to his hometown; for #34 to land in LA a sign-and-trade deal between the Clips and Nets would likely need to go down and I have my doubts about how much interest Billy King has in a Jared Dudley or a Matt Barnes.

The hot new rumor is that the Lakers made a strong push for Carmelo Anthony, but I don’t see what the Lakers possibly can offer him beyond a 35 year old ballhog co-star whose knees are failing him, an uncertain coaching situation, and a spot in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. Not to rehash thoughts from our last post, but Chicago continues to be the clear basketball choice, and New York remains the comfortable, potentially more lucrative option. When it all shakes down, it’s probably still the best bet that Paul and Carmelo will be playing their basketball in the concrete jungle of New York in the fall.

In one of the stranger stories of the offseason, rookie Hornet P.J. Hairston punched someone in a pickup game. This is another in a line of bizarre off-court incidents for Hairston. The former Tar Heel is a fantastic talent–he’s a big, athletic, wing with an impossibly sweet stroke–but it’s getting harder to see him ever realizing his potential at the NBA level.

DC: Los Angeles is obviously an attractive location for any superstar athlete, but I agree with you. The strongest basketball decision for Melo is no doubt Chicago, and the stronger financial decision is clearly New York. I’m anxious over this decision as a Knicks fan, but I am looking forward to the drama being over.

I’m not so sure Hornets owner Michael Jordan is bothered by P.J’s behavior. Sure, he prefers that Hairston stay out of legal trouble, but MJ was no stranger to getting fired up in the heat of battle on the basketball court. If Hairston is throwing punches in the YMCA, I’d love to see his competitive fire in the NBA. Hopefully, the legal situation will blow over, and Hairston can focus his energy on improving his game and staying out of trouble.

P.J. will need to stay out of trouble as he attempts to make an impact in the NBA.

P.J. will need to stay out of trouble as he tries to break into the league.

I’m afraid we can’t complete this post without mentioning the ongoing LeBron saga. Misinformation is being fired at the general population from all sides, meaning no one really knows where the King is going. Zydrunas Ilgauskas reportedly flew to South Florida on Dan Gilbert’s private plane, supposedly in an attempt to lure LBJ back to Cleveland, a move that seems increasingly likely each passing day. Meanwhile, the Heat signed former LeBron opponents Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, each giving their consent with the understanding LeBron would be returning, according to a tweet from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Frankly, I’ll be happy when the entire ordeal is over, but, like the majority of basketball fans, I’d like to see LeBron go back home. Tim, where do you want to see the King end up?

TB: I’d like to see LeBron in Boston or Chicago. OK, maybe not THAAAAT realistic. A LeReturn (I know, I know, that’s terrible) to Cleveland would be loads of fun and they’d be quite good. At the same time, I’ll believe it when I see it. The media is clearly excited about the possibility, but as you note, it’s impossible to get a read on how legit Bron’s interest in taking his talents back to the Mistake by the Lake is. What I’m more confident about: the Heat’s championship window is closed up, barring a miracle. LeBron-Wade-Bosh is not the trio it once was and the King’s going to have a tough time chasing ‘ships in South Beach EVEN IF Chris Bosh spurns the outlandish offer the Rockets have presented him. A move to his hometown might be a win-win for the King, but it also would mean turning his back on Dwyane Wade and rest of the Heat organization.

DC: Although it would be difficult for LeBron to leave the organization he’s been to four straight Finals with, I agree that he’d have a better chance to win his third ring in most of the other potential destinations that have been listed over the past few days. Wade’s game was incomplete in the Finals, as the hobbled former superstar struggled to do what he once specialized in, finishing at the rim. If, and again, that’s a big if, Chris Bosh decides to stay in Miami, who knows how much longer he’ll be an elite big man. Bill Simmons asserted following the Finals that Bosh is already beginning to decline. LBJ would be wise to surround himself with young guns Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, and (dare I say) Anthony Bennett instead of his aging old crew. Not to mention the Nike executives already drooling over the prospect of “The Return of the King.”

TB: Anthony Bennett is terrible.

Bennett gets no love from Tim!

Bennett gets no love from Tim!

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The Balk-Cooper NBA Offseason Conferences: Part One

Below, College Sports Town editors Tim Balk and Danny Cooper electronically conference to discuss the happenings of  two crazy weeks in the NBA. This is the first in what will be a series of back-and-forth conversations about the NBA.

Editor’s note: After this post was written, the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks agreed on a deal that sent Jason Kidd to Milwaukee in exchange for two second round draft picks. The Bucks fired coach Larry Drew.

Danny Cooper: The last few weeks have been a time of turmoil in the NBA. While the NBA Draft and impending free agency usually brings about radical changes, this offseason has been the craziest in recent memory. The draft had a fair amount of drama itself, with promising but injured prospect Joel Embiid falling to the Sixers at the third pick, after the Cavs and Bucks drafted the safer options of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker with the first and second picks. The rumor mill has been churning at an alarming rate, with rampant speculation about the eventual destinations of superstars such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Love. Front office drama has been prevalent as well, with the impending exile of Jason Kidd from the Brooklyn Nets and the ongoing controversy of the Donald Sterling fiasco. Tim, have you ever seen a wilder offseason?

Flip Saunders is back in Minneapolis.

Flip Saunders is back in Minneapolis.

Tim Balk: They’re all pretty wild. I still haven’t gotten over the Timberwolves inexplicably ceding almost total control of their franchise to Flip Saunders. I mean, I love Flip. Remember when he spent like a month as an assistant on the C’s bench and came to every game looking bored and shabbily dressed? Seriously though, this is a guy with a long history of being a marginal coach–he never got over the hump the first time in Minnesota, he never got over the hump with some extremely talented teams in Detroit, and his time in Washington was a trainwreck. I’m not sure what qualifies a guy who lost in the first round SEVEN years in a row with Minny the first time (and we make fun of the Hawks now…) to now take over the team for a second time as coach/GM/part owner. Even funnier, the Flip deal seems to have Jason Kidd, who, honestly, did a terrible job with Brooklyn this year, thinking he should get a similar deal in Brooklyn.

DC: It’s despicable when Flip Saunders has a job coaching an NBA team and Lionel Hollins is waiting for a call back from the Rockets front office. Head coaching moves this offseason have been bizarre. Steve Kerr, Derek Fisher, and David Blatt have been handed the reigns of franchises at major turning points despite no previous NBA head coaching experience. On the bright side, Quin Snyder couldn’t possibly do a worse job than Tyrone Corbin in Utah, and Stan Van Gundy is a sight for sore eyes in Detroit, but there’s a limit to how much they can improve their poor teams. There’s a clear upper echelon of coaches, there’s a hundred yards of crap, then there’s the rest of them. Outside of Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, Doc Rivers, Tom Thibodeau, and Frank Vogel, I’m not sure which coaches are worth the money blown on them each offseason.

TB: I’m not sure I totally agree with your stance on there not being a middle of the pack when it comes to coaching. I’d point to guys like Larry Drew (who may be out of a job quite soon)  and Kevin McHale as fairly average NBA coaches. And there are a lot of other guys I like outside of those four or five. I thought Terry Stotts did a fantastic job in Portland this year. Jeff Hornacek had a great first year in Phoenix. I think we both agree that Spoelstra is an extremely capable coach. Moving back to Kidd, news just broke that the Bucks and Nets are trying to hash out a trade to send him to Milwaukee. First there was the Doc Rivers trade last offseason and now…this? We might be taking the whole coaching carousel to a new level. The weirdest thing to me is that the Bucks are apparently only willing to part with a second round draft pick. If you have enough confidence in a coach to want him leading your team, you’d think you would be willing to give up more than a meager second round pick.  Personally, I’d give up a second round pick NOT to have Kidd coach my team.

DC: Your point is taken. There are some extremely talented coaches out there who performed fantastically last year but aren’t quite at the Poppovic- Rivers- Carlisle level yet. That is not meant as a slight to those coaches but as a testament to the skill of the elite coaches of the league. In any case, dealing coaches is certainly one of the weirder developments of the past few years. I’m not sure that I like it, especially when there is an incumbent in place already, as there is in Milwaukee with Larry Drew. It does make you wonder how much teams would be willing to give up for a great coach like Poppovic.

Where will Melo land?

Where will Melo land?

TB: Shifting the subject from coaches to the draft, I love what the Chicago did. The offensively starved Bulls got a legit offensive weapon in Doug McDermott. Anyone who reads the blog knows I love Dougie. The dude’s got a diverse offensive game and I think he’ll thrive in the Chi. Getting him at 11 smells like a steal, even if they had to flip the 16th and 19th picks to Denver in order to get him. Bringing this thing back to the subject of coaches, Thibodeau was apparently very happy about the acquisition. Given the guys he’s had on his roster the past few years, it isn’t hard to see why he’d be glad to pick up a guy who can put the biscuit in the basket.

DC: No wonder you love McBuckets, you look just like him! In all seriousness, the Bulls are primed to control the East for a long time if the front office can snag highly-sought after free agent Carmelo Anthony. Playing with DPOY Joakim Noah, excellent sixth man Taj Gibson, and perhaps a resurgent Derrick Rose, Melo would prosper, and the Bulls would certainly be perennial favorites in the weak Eastern Conference. Chicago has to sign Melo first, though, and it faces stiff competition to do so. The Rockets and Mavs both have meetings set up with Melo next week, along with the Bulls, and the Knicks won’t let him get away so easy. Tim, what do you think Melo should do? To be honest, I would probably leave New York to create a superteam in Chicago and try to finally get a ring, but as a Knicks fan, that scenario depresses me.

TB: From a purely basketball perspective, Chicago is the clear choice. The Bulls already have a superstar, a proven coach, and a solid supporting ensemble. However, there are other factors at play. New York can pay him more than anybody else. He’s also a New York guy and his family is in the city. Then there’s always the allure of playing in MSG. So I’m not sure what Melo should do. I’ll be going to college outside of Chicago next year, so I’d like to see him take his talents to the United Center for selfish reasons. Even without Anthony, the Bulls should be the class of the East next winter if Rose can stay healthy. By the way, I’m also happy with the draft moves of my hometown C’s; by drafting Marcus Smart and James Young they’ve added some great young talent. Smart’s presence could pave the way for the Celtics to deal Rondo.

We think the C's made a smart move in taking Marcus Smart. (The Smart puns never get old, do they?)

Marcus Smart will be suiting up in Celtic green next season.

DC: The Celtics ended up with two of the better prospects in the draft (thanks Billy King!) in Smart and Young. Smart can let his emotions get the best of him, but if that’s the worst thing there is to say about him, that’s a good sign. Young is a solid sharpshooter who should benefit from playing in a system with Smart and/or Rondo. My issue with the Smart pick is Rondo’s presence on the team. The Celtics need to decide whether they want to deal him to garner more picks in what should be another deep draft in 2015 or if they want to keep him in Beantown for a while. Knowing Rondo’s competitive nature, I’m not so sure he’ll be a great mentor to Smart. Would it be possible for Danny Ainge to finagle a deal with the Timberwolves to exchange Rondo and picks or an expiring contract for Kevin Love? That’s the dream, isn’t it?

TB: That’s the dream.

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The Mets: Sputtering off the Tracks Like a Derailed 7 Line Car

Yesterday was a day of celebration at Citi Field. The weather was gorgeous. The ballpark was mostly full–an unusual and welcome sight. And 50 Cent closed the night with a 90 minute concert that rivaled Nas’ last year.

The Mets are 3-9 in June.

The Mets are 3-9 in June.

The only thing not worth celebrating: the hometown Mets. They put forth a putrid performance against the San Diego Padres, losing 5-0 and managing just two hits. Met starter Zack Wheeler saw his record fall to 2-7 while Jesse Hahn, starting just the second game of his career, embarrassed the Mets’ lineup in six innings of one-hit work. The loss, which came to a Padres team that entered the day 11 games under .500, left the Orange and Blue at 30-38 on the year.

While the Mets’ record is bad, their offense is worse. The two hit effort was a spectacular failure, but it also was hardly a shock given the Mets’ recent  track record. They currently hold the 29th best SLG% and the 28th best batting average in baseball. Their six through eight hole hitters are all dudes batting under .200. Even David Wright, the lone (healthy) star for the fledgling franchise, has been mediocre this year; to date he has a .327 OBP and .358 SLG%. The Mets’ best hitter this year has been none other than 40 year old Bobby Abreu, a late pickup who hasn’t played a full season since 2011. A few weeks ago, the Mets fired their hitting coach.

Let’s not mince words; the 2014 Mets are fairly pathetic. Caught somewhere in limbo, they are playing without their best player (injured pitcher Matt Harvey), with a joke of a starting lineup, and with a hodgepodge rotation that includes Bartolo Colon and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The Mets’ pitching across the board actually isn’t horrible. Jon Niese and Dillon Gee are both solid starting pitchers in the midst of career years. (Although Gee is currently on the DL.) Nonetheless, this Mets team is depressingWith Harvey recovering from Tommy John surgery and Wright caught in a huge slump–and possibly the wrong side of his prime–the relatively good vibrations that were present during last summer’s 74 win campaign have faded.

The Mets recently sent 25 year oldTravid d'Arnaud, who was hitting .180 in 39 games, back to the minors.

25 year old Travid d’Arnaud, who was hitting .180 in 39 games, was recently sent back to the minors.

As was the case a year ago, the Mets’ struggles are packaged with a future that could hold some promise. Harvey, of course, is the center of that future. But, to borrow a quote from the endlessly quotable Yogi Berra, “the future ain’t what it used to be”. There’s no guarantee that  Harvey will return as the hard-throwing hero he was in ’13, and other supposed future stars like Wheeler and catcher Travis d’Arnaud have struggled in major ways this year. Meanwhile, the club’s financial issues remain an ever-present theme for the ball club.

Happy days still could be ahead for the team and their Flushing faithful. But on a day when the Mets got rolled by one of the league’s worst teams and, in the process, made a rookie pitcher look like Pedro in his prime, it’s hard to look at the franchise and see much to get excited about.

50 Cent once asked 21 Questions. It seems that New York Mets’ management might want to start asking some questions too.


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