Can They Do That? NBA Vetoes Megabuster Three-Team Deal Sending Chris Paul to Lakers

Can They Do That? NBA Vetoes Megabuster Three-Team Deal Sending Chris Paul to Lakers

It was supposed to be a short, easy off-season. No big-name free agents
hitting the block, unless you count Nene and Marc Gasol (nope), just a
lot of small, quick signings and quiet roster-bolstering as teams
prepare for their very short pre-seasons and incredibly strenuous
regular seasons. But then that wisenheimer Chris Paul had to go and tell
the New Orleans Hornets that he wasn't going to sign an extension with
them, pushing them to look to trade the superstar point guard. And now
nothing is as it should be.

As of 6:00 pm today, it looked like a done deal that Chris Paul was going to be traded to the Lakers. In all likelihood, it was a
done deal—New Orleans was gonna send CP3 to the Lakers for forwards Pau
Gasol and Andrew Bynum, then turn around and deal Gasol to the Houston
Rockets in exchange for shooting guard Kevin Martin, power forward Luis
Scola, backup point Goran Dragic and a 2012 first-round pick belonging
to the New York Knicks. Twitter exploded with the news of the trade,
leading to the inevitable amount of hand-wrigning about the rich getting
richer when we just had a lockout partially caused by the desire for
parity between the big and small-market teams.

But not so fast, Rodriguez. Turns out that the league—which by the
way, technically owns the Hornets—doesn't approve of the trade, calling
it not in the league's best interest. Indeed, it does seem sort of odd
that we just had a lockout to help small-market teams be able to hold
onto their stars, and now the '11-'12 season kicks off with one of its
marquee stars forcing his way out of New Orleans to get to the
quintessential big-market team, but it seems far crazier that the league
should be able to veto the trade just because it seems to create some
sort of competitive unbalance. ("This is pretty shameful on the owners'
part. This isn't a fantasy league." read a well-circulated tweet from
NBA writer Eric Freeman.)

And here's the thing: Were we really sure that this trade was going
to make the Lakers that much better? Better at all? Nobody who watches
hoops with any seriousness would dare question the value of Chris Paul,
an MVP-caliber player any year that he's healthy, but people around the
league all agree that the reason the Lakers have won two of the last
three championships is because of their incredibly imposing frontcourt,
with the combination of Odom, Gasol and Andrew Bynum all but guaranteed
to be bigger, more physical and more skilled than whatever big men
combos other teams could throw at them. With Odom and Gasol gone, Bynum
would be awfully lonely in a frontcourt shared with Derrick Caracter,
Devin Ebanks and whatever veteran-minimum or mid-mid-level guys the team
could sign in free agency. The team's primary advantage would vanish.

What's more, who knows how well Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant would've
gotten on as teammates? Kobe's used to playing with yes-men point guards
like Derek Fisher, Smush Parker and Ron Harper, guys who were willing
to serve as unobtrusive role players and let Kobe do most of the
playmaking. (You know how many double-digit assist games Derek Fisher
has had as a Laker since 1998, when Kobe first became a starter? Zero.
Not a single one.) How would Kobe respond to having possibly the best
playmaking guard in the world sharing a backcourt with him? Could he
play off the ball? Could the two split touches and still keep a fluid
offense? Could Kobe stand no longer being his team's unquestioned most
skilled offensive player? All these questions would've invariably come
up for the Lakers, and the answers might not have always been pretty.

And on the other hand, New Orleans might not have been all that
worse off for the deal. Sure, if they had to choose between trading
Chris Paul or signing him to a six-year extension, they'd select the
latter 100 times over, but after Paul let them know he would not stick
around after the season (and with second banana power forward David West
a likely departed free agent anyway), they had to start the rebuilding
process, and in this trade, they received pieces that allowed them to
almost completely rebuild on the fly, not unlike Denver did last season
when they traded franchise forward Carmelo Anthony and were arguably
better after the deal. New Orleans wouldn't have contended this year
(and might not have again any time soon), but at the very least they
weren't going to be Cleveland. (Of course the Rockets seemed like they
were getting hosed in the deal, but whatever, their own fault for
getting involved.)

Now, who even knows. If Paul to L.A. is dead, does that mean he can
still be traded to a fellow small-market team? Or a
small-team-in-a-big-market like the Warriors or Clippers? Or is he just
stuck playing out the string in New Orleans, where everyone knows he's
already planning his next move, with New Orleans unable to get the
proper rebuilding pieces in exchange for his departure? The entire thing
is ridiculous, and furthermore, it shines a light on how ridiculous the
entire lockout was if a disaster like this—in which the league only
seems to be hurting itself more by imposing its will on the situation—is
occurring so close to the lockout's resolution.

Oh, and by the way, the lockout IS officially over now—the players
and owners voted to approve the new CBA as of this afternoon. Welcome
back, The NBA.

Chooch was 'a fireball,' says Ryan Howard, last of the '08 Phillies

Chooch was 'a fireball,' says Ryan Howard, last of the '08 Phillies

NEW YORK — Phillies players were greeted by a message from Carlos Ruiz when they entered the visiting clubhouse at Citi Field on Friday.

“I will miss all of you guys. Good luck the rest of the season. Love you all, Chooch! Gracias,” (see story).

Ruiz did not actually write those words on the whiteboard by the entry to the clubhouse, but they were his. He reached out to visiting clubhouse manager Tony Carullo and asked that the message be written in just that way.

Ruiz, 37, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday, ending an 11-season run with the Phillies that included five NL East titles, a World Series championship, an All-Star Game, a slew of clutch hits, many words of praise from the pitching staff and a million calls of Choooooch from fans in the stands (see story).

“Everybody loved Chooch for a number of reasons,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He’s the kind of guy you loved seeing every day, a hard-working, humble and appealing human being.

“I’d like to think when he’s done playing, the Phillies might have a place for him.”

Mackanin paused and laughed.

“As long as they don’t make him manager and he takes my job.”

Ruiz’s exit leaves Ryan Howard as the only member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club. Over the last few seasons, Howard has seen Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Chase Utley depart.

It’s a topic that Howard seems to have grown weary of talking about.

“I've had to hear about it every year,” he said. “It's again the same thing. You play with guys your entire career and now you see them in different uniforms. It's definitely going to be something to get used to but that's baseball. That's the business aspect of it. Teams make moves and that's what happens.”

Like the rest of the core of that team, Howard, 36, has been available for trade the last few seasons, but there has been no real interest because of his decline in performance and huge salary.

So he will play out the final six weeks of his contract and try to hook on elsewhere next season.

Howard saluted his former teammate, Ruiz.

“I'm trying to think of the right words,” he said.

“The thing about Chooch — he was the quarterback in a sense. The way he handled the pitching staff, the way he prepared himself for games with the pitchers, from the defensive standpoint knowing different situations, knowing what guy you want to beat you, what guy you don't want to beat you. Just the way he played the game, he was a fireball. He was a fireball out there. I'm definitely going to miss him. I hit him up yesterday a little bit after I found out. I was happy for him and wanted to wish him the best.

“Chooch, he was always very, very positive. Always trying to help guys out, trying to pick guys up when he can and it carried over onto the field. That was his mentality.”

The Phillies acquired veteran backup catcher A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitcher Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later for Ruiz (see story). Ellis is due to join the team Saturday. In the meantime, the Phillies added prospect Jorge Alfaro from Double A (see story). He will be the backup catcher Friday night, then return to a talent-rich Reading club that has the best record in minor-league baseball and a date with the Eastern League playoffs.

Jordan Matthews sticks up for beleaguered Eagles wide receivers

Jordan Matthews sticks up for beleaguered Eagles wide receivers

Jordan Matthews is probably the only Eagles wide receiver you feel remotely good about right now.

Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff are draft picks who haven’t accomplished much yet. Rueben Randle and Chris Givens are veteran offseason pickups who’ve shown little this preseason (see story). Dorial Green-Beckham is a former second-round pick whose first team gave up on him after just one year.

It’s not a group that inspires a whole lot of confidence right now. 

Potential? Sure. But opening day is 16 days away, there’s only one preseason game left for the starters to play, Sam Bradford has two guys to throw to — Matthews and Zach Ertz — and potential is a scary word at this point.

Matthews isn’t a superstar at this point. He’s a solid pro who seems to be getting better. His 1,862 yards are 10th most in NFL history after two seasons. 

But compared to the Eagles’ other receivers, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

He's got credibility and because of that the 24-year-old Matthews has become a spokesman for the entire group. And this past week, two games into the preseason, he found himself in the position of having to defend this entire beleaguered bunch of wide receivers the Eagles have put together.

“The funniest thing is last year [the receivers] played extremely well in the preseason, got into the season, didn’t play well, and everybody’s like, 'Preseason doesn’t matter,'" Matthews said.

"Then the first preseason game we don’t play well, everybody’s like, 'The preseason matters, you guys suck!' Hold on … I thought it didn’t matter. You know what I’m saying?”

What he's saying is it's too early to write this group off. Maybe Huff and Agholor and Randle and Givens — or whichever among them makes the team — will turn it on once the regular season begins.

But going into the Colts game Saturday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium, the numbers are not pretty.

Huff and Randle both have three catches for 13 yards. Agholor has two catches for 30 yards. Givens is 0 for 0.

Matthews hasn’t played yet in the preseason because of a knee injury, and the next four receivers have a combined 56 receiving yards in two preseason games.

Paul Turner, an undrafted rookie, leads the group with nine catches for 78 yards. 

Improvement? Matthews sees it.

“I take this approach,” Matthews said this week. “Every rep counts. And so if every rep counts, what are we trying to do? We’re trying to do better the next rep, and I felt like guys took steps forward for the next rep. And that’s the main thing you always want to see, that improvement.

“I understand it’s the NFL, I understand obviously people are going to say you get paid a lot of money to do one thing, but I’ll tell you what, I know the guys in that room, they want to do well. None of those guys went into that game wanting to mess up or not put their best foot forward.”

Probably no recent draft pick has infuriated Eagles fans as much as Agholor. Well, other than maybe Marcus Smith and Danny Watkins. And Lane Johnson maybe.

But it’s tough for some to be patient with Agholor when Jeremy Maclin had 773 yards as a rookie, DeSean Jackson had 912 and Matthews had 872.

Heck, even Reggie Brown (571 yards) and undrafted Hank Baskett (464) were factors as rookie wideouts.

Agholor’s 283 yards last season rank tied for 27th out of 32 wide receivers drafted in the first round over the past 10 years.

But he has a big-time supporter in Matthews.

“I felt like the jump he made from the first game to the second game [was significant]," Matthews said "Even the stuff you don’t see. Blocking? [Darren] Sproles caught a short pass and Nelson turned his route around … he ran a great route, got open, turned around, blocked and probably sprung Sproles for another 10, 15 yards.

“He had another bubble situation where he had to block for Josh and he did. Definitely better than the first game, and that’s what you want to see. That’s the biggest thing. And it gets lost in the shuffle.”

That Sproles play, a 21-yard gain, was called back because of a penalty on rookie guard Isaac Seumalo.

But Matthews is passionate when he talks about how Agholor’s lack of production as a rookie doesn’t mean anything moving forward.

“I don’t know if y’all know this, but I love Jordy Nelson (Packers Pro Bowl receiver),” Matthews said. “I love him. One of my favorite receivers. Jordy Nelson didn’t have 1,000 yards till Year 4.

“Let’s put it in perspective. Guys get better. And I feel like that’s what I want to see from my group. Are guys getting better?

“There’s two things that I really look for from my group — attitude and effort. And do Nelson and Chris and Josh and those guys bring great attitude and effort?

“Yes. That’s what I want to see, and I feel that’s what we’ve shown.”

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

For the third time in five seasons, the Soul and Arizona Rattlers will compete in the ArenaBowl. Prior to Friday night's 7 p.m. matchup, the leaders of both squads, Soul coach Clint Dolezel and Rattlers coach Kevin Guy, were each named Marcum Moss Coach of the Year.

Dolezel and Guy will share the award but not the ArenaBowl trophy, which the Soul haven't won since their lone triumph in 2008 over the San Jose Sabercats. Dolezel, who has been at the helm since August 2012, led the Soul to the ArenaBowl in 2012 and 2013 but lost to the Rattlers on both occasions.

This season, Dolezel, who spent over a decade as a quarterback in the AFL, coached the Soul to a 13-3 regular-season record. The team advanced to the ArenaBowl with a dramatic win in the American Conference championship game over the Jacksonville Sharks.

Dolezel also earned the Coach of the Year award last season for guiding the Soul to a 15-3 overall mark and a conference championship game appearance.

“Without a question, Clint is one of the best offensive minds in AFL history,” Soul majority owner Ron Jaworski said in a press release. “His success is attributed to a great deal of preparation and hard work. To make a playoff appearance every year as a head coach shows his dedication and willingness to win.”