Cavs and Bickerstaff Are the Best Opportunity for Each Other

Well, we can’t say it hasn’t gotten off to a good start. After the not so shocking, yet still abrupt dismissal of Cavaliers Head Coach John Beilein over the course of the All-Star break, the Cavaliers were back in action last night for the first time in a week. They prevailed with a 113-108 victory over the Washington Wizards.

One immediate positive to take away from this contest was that the victory came in a tightly contested game, something the Cavaliers hadn’t done since a January 9th overtime triumph in Detroit. The Cavs did well last night to not squander what was just a 3-point lead with around 2 minutes left.

Maybe, just maybe, there is reason to have hope for the JB Bickerstaff era.

Sure, there is the slight stench of nepotism when you consider that his father is currently Senior Basketball Executive for the Cavs, but sources state that Bickerstaff was hired at the discretion of General Manager Koby Altman for just such an occasion where things didn’t work out with Beilein.

Sure, his career record as a head coach coming into last night was 85-131, good for a .394 winning percentage, but he did go 37-34 as the interim head coach of the Houston Rockets in 2015-2016. That team made the playoffs and had the 7th best Offensive Rating in basketball, despite the 2nd best offensive player on that team being post-Orlando Dwight Howard.

Yes, going from interim head coach to full-time chief of the Memphis Grizzlies over the past two seasons wasn’t nearly as fruitful, and its looks even more troubling when the Griz now hover around .500 with the potential possibility of a Western Conference playoff birth. A lot of that sudden improvement can be attributed to star rookie point guard Ja Morant, but the development of players around him should not be taken lightly either, and part of that certainly happened under the Cavaliers new coach.

Still, what must be acknowledged is what Bickerstaff’s true objective will be here in Cleveland, and that is to nurture and development a core of young talent. For better or for worse, this is essentially uncharted territory for him.

Bickerstaff has been an NBA head coach for portions of three different seasons; they are with the aforementioned 2015-2016 Rockets, as well as the 2017-2018 and ’18-’19 Grizzlies. In that time he has coached merely 2 players that have been both the age of 25 or younger, as well as picked in the top half of the first round of the NBA Draft.

One of those players is guard Ben McLemore, who was in his 5th professional season while on the ’17-’18 Grizzlies after having been the 7th overall pick by the Sacramento Kings in 2013. Memphis signed him as a reclamation project after 4 uninspiring campaigns with the Kings, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out with the Griz either. He averaged just 7.5 Points Per Game and less than 1 Assist in his only season in Memphis. It wasn’t until this season that McLemore has finally shown signs of life while coming off the bench for Houston..

The other qualifying player is power forward Jaren Jackson, who Memphis took 4th overall in the 2018 Draft. He scored 13.8 Points Per Game on a surprisingly efficient 59.1% True Shooting Percentage as a 19 year old in his rookie season under Bickerstaff. He has also continued to see the development to his scoring game this season, shooting with the exact same efficiency, but while taking more shots, leading him to 17.1 PPG. I don’t think its unfair to suggest that Bickerstaff’s tutelage last year may have at least put him in the right position to continue to succeed.

The remainder of the draft picks and other young players that Bickerstaff has coached have been a cavalcade of marginal G-Leaguer/reserve list types that haven’t seen much of the floor with few exceptions. Names like Andrew Harrison, Ivan Rabb and Jarrell Martin come to mind. Grizzlies wing Dillon Brooks is likely the best of this bunch, averaging 15.4 PPG as a starter for Memphis this season after missing most of 2018-2019. Its hard to say how much impact Bickerstaff had on his development.

He did also coach 2nd year center Clint Capela and rookie big man Montrezl Harrell in Houston. Capela got his first chance to be part of a legitimate rotation under Bickerstaff, and admittedly didn’t fair especially well, putting up the worse per 36 Minute numbers of his career in any season that he played full-time. As a reminder though, this was his also his first season with legitimate NBA minutes. Conversely, Harrell didn’t see much of the floor at all.

Beyond these names, Bickerstaff hasn’t been able to guide many young players of a high pedigree. Houston took Sam Dekker 18th overall in 2015 and took Harrell in the 2nd round of that same summer. Dekker would go on to miss most of his rookie season with injuries and still hasn’t amounted to much around the league. Before Bickerstaff’s ascension in 2017, Memphis took guard Wade Baldwin 17th overall in 2016. Baldwin lasted 1 season in Memphis before being traded, and has barely been heard from since. Meanwhile, Memphis didn’t even have a 1st round pick in 2017, as it had been traded to Cleveland 4 years earlier (for forward Jon Leuer, yikes!).

My point is this: previous to his time in Cleveland, Bickerstaff had been given just one, young talent that was anything close to a sure-fire prospect. Yes, Capela became Capela after Bickerstaff left Houston, but Capela praised him in their time together. Yes, he never really gave Harrell an opportunity. It should be remembered that the 2015-2016 Rockets were expected to compete, not develop young players.

The fact is that the one legitimate prospect that Bickerstaff got his hands on in his previous coaching tenures: Jackson, is performing pretty well thus far.

On the other hand, this Cavaliers team alone has two players under the age of 22 that were taken in the top half of the first round of the draft (guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, of course). It has three under 25 if you include guard Dante Exum, who was taken 5th overall by Utah in 2014. Swing-man Kevin Porter Jr. may have been taken at the end of the first round, but he was voted biggest steal of this past year’s draft by his peers as well. This is easily the most young talent Bickerstaff has ever worked with and this is his chance to prove himself to be a capable talent developer. Consider the fact that another lottery pick is likely coming this summer and he is clearly better positioned today than he ever was in Memphis and has the chops of past stints both as an assistant and head coach to not fall into some of the same traps that his predecessors have. He even has a history of coaching veterans like Trevor Ariza and Howard from when he was in Houston, meaning the experienced members of this oddly constructed Cavalier roster won’t necessarily feel shut out either.

I’m not here to say that the Cavaliers front office has definitely found their man and we can start setting aside money for playoff tickets in 2021, but I think at the very least there is a more reasonable pathway to growth for this young Cavaliers’ squad today than there was just 2 weeks ago.

For JB Bickerstaff, this is his chance. It might be his last one, but it also might be his best one.

MLB Caps off a Disappointing Off-Season with Questionable Rule Changes and Proposals

With the one exception of the Houston Astros organization still appearing classless, its been a week of change for Major League Baseball. On Wednesday, the league announced the full brunt of rule changes that will be a part of play for this coming season. They are, in to particular order:

  1. The 25-man roster is now the 26-man roster. Teams can have 26 players on their regular roster, but there is a limit of 13 pitchers. An additional man can still be added for double-headers.
  2. The September roster now only expands to 28 players, not 40.
  3. Players that pitch at least 20 innings AND play 20 games as a position player or DH with at least 3 at bats in those games are eligible to be named as a “Two Way Player” that will not count against your thirteen pitchers, but may pitch. The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani or Reds’ Michael Lorenzo are prime examples of this type of player.
  4. Position players may only pitch if a game is in extra innings or their team is winning or losing by more than six runs.
  5. All pitchers must face at least 3 batters, or complete an inning before removal from the game, excepting injury or illness.
  6. Pitchers now have a 15-Day Injured List while position players will remain on the 10-Day IL.

Beyond this, MLB also had a, totally-not-meant-to-distract-from-the-Astros-press-conference “leak” occur about a new proposed playoff format. This format suggests that seven teams from each league make the playoffs. The team with the best record gets a first round bye, leaving six remaining teams to face each other. The two remaining division winners and the top wild-card team (teams ranked 2 thru 4) then get the chance to host a first round three game series versus teams seeded 5 thru 7. However, the two division winners would get to choose their opponents from the remaining three teams and would do so on television on the final night of the season after all games have ended.

The first round would be a set of three game series with all games hosted by the team with the better record. Completion of that round would lead to four remaining teams who would then play out the rest of the playoffs in the format we are familiar with from the end of the ’94 strike to 2011 with an LDS, LCS and World Series.

Where to begin? Lets start with rule changes.

Major League Baseball has just found new and exciting ways to take more and more of the power to innovate or make decisions out of the field manager’s hands. In a league where teams are becoming more and more cookie-cutter. In a time where advanced analytics have made it so that every single team thinks they have to play the exact same way- this abysmal all or nothing brand of baseball that now pervades the game. When we are ever so certain there is one and only one proper way to devise your batting order, we have just found more ways to make the field manager completely useless.

Teams have been given benefit of an additional roster spot but only if they use it a certain way. If newly named Royals manager, Mike Matheny really wants to roll with 16 pitchers and 10 position players, what is the problem with that? He’s not likely going to do it anyway, because he’d be in danger of a serious lack of flexibility to his fielders in case of injury. He would also have to feel super confident he would never need a pinch hitter or pinch runner. There is a built in advantage/disadvantage system from having a roster limit in the first place, what is the need for taking the ability to make nuanced decisions from these teams?

If Yankees reliever Adam Ottavino steps to the mound against the Angels in a 3-2 game in the 8th, and immediately walks Max Stassi and Tommy LaStella, why must he be required to face Mike Trout? This feels like a perfectly good time to remove him and use one of the other league-mandated, perfectly good 7 relief pitchers in the bullpen. For some reason, Rob Manfred doesn’t want that.

Why?!?! Pace of play? So the game can be 2 hours and 55 minutes long instead of 3 hours and 2 minutes long? Is that REALLY going to make some 15 year old in Los Angeles or Louisiana all that much more interested in watching baseball?

If baseball was really serious about improving the pace of play, they would literally put their money where their mouth is and sacrifice some of their ad revenue to get the game moving faster. No commercial breaks between half innings would be a good start. So would enforcing the “batter keeps 1 foot in the box” rule that they pretend to enforce in one April out of every five years. They can’t afford to do that though, because you might not get to see the most recent Taco Bell stat overlay brought to you by Budweiser or the shoehorned live read for the local car dealership before that critical pay-off pitch. Its bad enough that you can’t enjoy any cutaway shot of the stadium without being bombarded with sales.

But they aren’t serious about pace of play. I know they aren’t because none of these changes barely do anything. What Manfred and company are doing is the equivalent of slapping a new coat of paint on a 2005 Mitsubishi. Sure, its looks like you fixed it, but all the problems are still there. Nothing of any genuine substance has been attempted.

As for this playoff system, I don’t believe its even a legitimate proposal. I think this was partially a negotiation tactic on Manfred’s part, as described by Reds’ pitcher Trevor Bauer’s agent, Rachel Luba. The timing though is purposeful, floated out the night before the Astros quasi-apologetic press conference in order to try to distract from the current fracas at hand. It fails, both as a distraction and an idea. In no way are multiple days off a benefit to a baseball team. Giving the team with the best record time off in a game that requires rhythm and routine is a detriment. You would think the Baseball Commissioner’s Office would have a clue on what might or might not be beneficial to a baseball team.

Beyond that, not everything has to be a reality show. Having a TV show for the 2nd and 3rd place teams to pick their opponent is asinine. This is a league that has to play some of their playoff games on their own network; a network that isn’t even on most basic cable packages. MLB suddenly thinks they can shop this reality show around to major networks? With their lack of media savvy, it will probably end up at midnight Monday morning on MLB Network.

And the benefit for all this? Just to make the 5 thru 7 seed teams angry enough to come out and try to beat the pants off their opponents. If the 2nd and 3rd place teams are smart they will just announce they are playing the 7 and 6 seeds respectively because that’s how things would line up with normal seeding. No big statements. No pageantry. Just a low profile announcement so you don’t anger your first round opponent. Let me tell you… that would make for amazing television!

Lets not forget the World Series barely fits into October as it is. Game 7 of the World Series last year was on October 30th. This year the season is starting on March 26th so that the Series would be ending on the 28th. I know the planet is getting hotter and hotter, but why do we insist on playing more and more baseball games where the potential for snow is possible? The season is more than long enough as it is. We don’t need an extended first round before the LDS.

Baseball isn’t perfect. Its never been perfect, its likely to never be perfect. Tinkering around the edges isn’t going to lead to perfection. All its going to do is alienate more and more purists that love the game for what its been, while not doing anything to drive interest in youth.

Bauer can explain better than I can how baseball could use its marketable players and the internet to promote itself way better than any of these changes could. Sometimes, the League Office just needs to get out of its own way, or better yet, get a clue.

Digging Slightly Deeper on What’s the “Right Thing” for the Indians- Lindor Part 2

Last week, I spoke on the potential for the Cleveland Indians and Francisco Lindor to come to agreement on a contract extension and what such an extension would look like. At the time, I reached the conclusion that there might be a number out there that is both a reasonable possibility for the Tribe as well as Lindor, based off the context of some of Lindor’s peers. Of course, the one thing I did not consider in this entry was the idea that perhaps Lindor really isn’t interested in an extension at all. There is a chance out there that he has seen the type of dollars that a player like Xander Bogaerts received for his contract extension, compared that to someone like Bryce Harper and decided that he stands to make a lot more money by playing the long game and testing free agency. Mid-contract extensions seem to lead to discounts and it sure seems that Lindor wants to be paid his full worth.

Regardless of all that, there is a question to be asked from the Indians perspective in this. That question: is such a contract extension really worth the price in the long-term for the Indians? For this exercise I will consider the extension figures that I previously used for Lindor. Those terms were 8 years and $192 million for an Average Annual Salary of $24 million.

Let’s start with looking directly at Lindor himself. He will be 26 years old for the entirety of the 2020 season. Over the last three seasons he has accumulated more home runs and runs scored than any other shortstop in baseball.

Only Bogaerts, the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres and Houston’s Carlos Correa have a better weighted Runs Created+ rate (an all encompassing offensive stat from, get used to seeing it in this entry) as a shortstop than Lindor over those 3 years. However, Torres has only played 2 seasons, possibly helping his sample. Additionally, Correa has averaged only 98 games played a season, and also has had the aid of the garbage can drum.

Over the same three years Lindor is the second best fielding shortstop in baseball according to Ultimate Zone Rating Per 150 Games with only the great Andrelton Simmons (he might get in the Hall some day off his defense alone) of the Angels being better.

For comparison, Bogaerts ranks 11th with a just barely above average rating of 0.4 (Lindor’s is 9.5 for context). Torres has been an absolute mess at the position. He doesn’t have enough innings under his belt to qualify for Fangraphs’s regular leader-board, coming in with just 811 2/3, or about 90 games worth in 2 seasons. He would rank 21st of 23 candidates if he did qualify with an abysmal -8.1 rating. Correa doesn’t have enough innings to qualify either. His 2547 innings (283 games) over 3 seasons record a UZR/150 of -4.5 which is also below average, and would rank 21st as well if he qualified.

Factor in the fact that over the last 3 seasons Simmons has a below average wRC+ of 99 and Lindor is the clear cut answer to the question “who is the best shortstop in baseball right now?”. I should’ve just given you his WAR number of 17.7 over the last three seasons, mentioned it was nearly 3 wins better than the next closest challenger (Bogaerts) and we could have gone about our lives, but I think all this data drives home a point.

All of this goes to say that right now Lindor deserves to be the highest paid shortstop in baseball and that figure of about $24 million per year would be justified. Factor in that most baseball players peak at 29 or 30 years old and you can then recognize he should have five more seasons before we even begin to sniff a decline. Really, it would not be unthinkable for Lindor to even find one more level to raise his game before we are done. An eight year extension right now would conclude at age 33. The vast majority of that contract should be money well spent.

Still, what sets Lindor apart even more is his ability to embrace being a leader and his absolute exuberance for the game he gets to play every day. He is a star. He is super marketable and the type of ballplayer that would be on the tip of everyone’s tongue every day if he played in New York or Los Angeles.

That however brings us to the other side of this issue. I’ve now spent a lot of time over two different entries defending the idea of Lindor being deserving a boatload of money. Say no more. He is. However, can the Indians afford to put together a sustainable product while also tying so many dollars into just one player, regardless of how talented and exuberant he may be?

Now, I don’t want this to either be either a condemnation nor blind support of the Dolan family. We can argue about whether the Dolans are thrifty, cheap, frugal or Mr. Krabs incarnate until we are blue in the face. For our purposes it won’t matter. Only the facts matter. Cleveland is ranked as the 19th largest media market in the country with 1.37 million homes to count for. There are six other markets in Major League Baseball that are ranked within five places above or below Cleveland. Four of them: Detroit, Minneapolis, Miami and Denver rank above Cleveland. St. Louis and Pittsburgh ran below it.

Of these six teams, three of them have ever signed players to contracts with total values as high as my proposed Lindor deal. All three of them are the teams that rank higher than Cleveland in the media market list: Colorado, Miami and Detroit. Beyond this, St. Louis committed $26 mil per year to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt when they traded for him last winter, but that money is over just five years for a total of $130 million.

Details are below:

Almost one year ago, Colorado signed third baseman Nolan Arenado to a 8 year, $260 million extension ($32.5 AAV). He took up nearly 18% of their payroll last season and while he was productive with a .315 average, 41 homers, 128 wRC+ and 12.0 UZR/150 (tied for best for a 3B in baseball) the Rockies went 71-91 and there are already talks that they need to rid themselves of the burden of Arenado’s contract by trading him.

Miami signed outfielder Giancarlo Stanton to an incredibly lucrative 13 year, $325 million deal ($25 mil AAV) before the 2015 season. He proceeded to hit .265 and average 38 homers with a wRC+ of 145 (good for 5th best outfielder) over the following three seasons. Stanton even hit 59 home runs in 2017 and won the National League MVP that year. But he only averaged 117 games played between 2015 and 2017 and the Marlins never won more than 79 games. They rewarded him for his MVP season by deciding they couldn’t handle the contract, and traded him to the Yankees going into his age 28 campaign.

Detroit has signed two players that meet our criteria. Just before the beginning of the 2014 season the Tigers signed 1st baseman Miguel Cabrera to a 8-year, $248 million extension ($31 million AAV). Cabrera would go on to terrorize American League pitching for three more seasons. He hit .320 from 2014-2016 averaging 27 home runs and recording a 154 wRC+ (2nd best of any 1B). Since 2016 Cabrera hasn’t hit over .300 or parked more than 16 home runs. He’s been below 100 (considered below average) in wRC+ twice in those three seasons and in the season where he was above 100 he only played 38 games. He will take up 32% of the Tigers’ payroll this season on a team that will be lucky to win 65 games. For all their trouble, the Tigers have made the playoffs one time since Cabrera signed this extension.

Contributing to this demise is the other noteworthy Tigers player, Prince Fielder. In 2012, Fielder signed a 9 year, $214 million contract ($23.8 million AAV) with the Tigers. This deal was easily the most successful in the short-term. Fielder hit .295 over the course of 2 seasons and averaged 34 homers in those seasons to go with a 139 wRC+ (5th best 1B). Further, the Tigers actually made the playoffs in both years. However, despite all this success Fielder was traded to Texas following 2013, likely in part because of the burden of his contract. I also imagine the Tigers needed some of his money in order to offer to Cabrera and other players coming of age. The timing of this trade and Cabrera’s extension is likely not a coincidence. Fielder played three more seasons for Texas under the contract but played less than 90 games in two of them. He ultimately had to retire due to a chronic neck injury. Not to speak poorly of someone who had misfortune that was out of their control, but this deal started with a bang and then fell as flat as humanly possible. Fielder was completely out of baseball before its completion.

That leaves us with Goldschmidt. He was traded from Arizona to St. Louis last off-season and appeared to press in an attempt to prove himself to his new team. A career .292 hitter hit just .260, and while he did hit 34 home runs, his wRC+ of 116 was just 12th of qualifying 1st basemen. The good news is that the Cardinals won 91 games and made the playoffs, but Goldschmidt is 32 and won’t be a free agent until 2025. This deal has plenty of time to go the way of Cabrera yet, at an AAV of $26 million.

So what did we learn today? To be perfectly honest, the evidence seems pretty blunt. A deal as big as the one we are talking about for Lindor seems to either create future years where the player in question doesn’t live up to his contract, or the money committed tends to cripple the team’s ability to put a competitive roster around their star. In two of five cases the player was traded while performing at or beyond expectations just in order to provide relief, and because the roster needed reconstructed in some way. In a third case there are rumors that this will happen as well. In another situation, that star is now wilting away on a rebuilding team that can’t find a way to offload his contact because his skills are so diminished.

Lindor has some things in his favor. He’s only 26 right now and keeps himself in incredible shape. He plays in the middle of the field, unlike every other player we have mentioned, and his game is predicated just as much on his speed and fielding as it is on his offense. Of the players we have mentioned he and Arenado are the only ones that have any of these traits.

However, you absolutely can’t be certain that the Indians will be able to sustain a winning team with a $194 million anchor tied to their leg. Recent history shows over and over again its just not realistic. This isn’t a Dolan thing. Its not a Lindor thing. Its a baseball thing. Making sure one of the best, most charismatic players in Indians history remains an Indian would feel absolutely blissful.

Unfortunately, ignorance seems to be bliss.

(Relatively) Instant Trade Reaction: Cavs Acquire Andre Drummond

It might not be the biggest news of the day, but the Cleveland Cavaliers’ trade deadline acquisition of Andre Drummond is definitely among the most perplexing of today’s deals. As the deadline has come and gone at 3 PM we can now take a full look at this transaction and try to make sense of what it means. To recap:

Cavaliers receive: All-Star Center Andre Drummond

Pistons receive: Power Forward/Center John Henson, journeyman Guard Brandon Knight, the lesser of either Cleveland’s own 2nd Round Draft Pick in 2023 or Golden State’s which the Cavaliers had rights to.

The first thing that jumps out is that the rebuilding Cavaliers have traded for an All-Star. This alone is quite a valid surprise. Drummond is a 2-time former All-Star, his most recent appearance being in 2018. He is also a 3-time rebounding champion and whether you use the metric of Value Over Replacement Player, Box Plus Minus or Win Shares he would be rated as Detroit’s best player for this season to date. Comparatively, by eye test and traditional pecking order he would be considered their 2nd best behind star Power Forward Blake Griffin. The Cavaliers have dealt for what appears to be a proficient center.

On the other hand, in return they provided Henson, who hasn’t played more than 29 games in a season since 2017-2018 due to both injury and coaches’ decisions, along with Knight, who similarly hasn’t played more than 39 games in a season since 2016-2017 for similar reasons. Also included is that not very potent 2nd round pick to be administered 4 drafts from now.

On its face, this looks like an absolute steal from the Cavaliers perspective. So why would Detroit accept such an offer? Well, this season is the third where both Griffin and Drummond have appeared as the two best players on the Pistons’ roster (Griffin landed on Detroit in a mid-season trade during the 2017-2018 season). In this configuration the team has never finished better than 8th in the Eastern Conference, which occurred during the 2018-2019 season, and they were immediately swept in the first round of that year’s playoffs. This year they are in 10th in the East and 4 games out of any playoff spot. Not only do they seem to have peaked already in regards to this current conglomerate of players but they have a total of $61.3 million locked up between Griffin and Drummond just for this year, which equates to 56.2% of their salary cap. That’s over half of their cap tied up in just 2 players that haven’t gotten them a single playoff victory. Pair this with the fact that starting point guard Reggie Jackson is a free agent this summer and it is clear that a re-tooling is imminent, even with Griffin still likely on the squad.

To add onto matters, there have also been questions in the past about the consistency of Drummond’s effort level on the floor. The most glaring example of this problem came in the aforementioned 2018-2019 playoffs when Drummond looked visibly disinterested in Game 3 vs. Milwaukee. Drummond was seen during that game coasting from the painted area to the 3-point line and not even raising a hand in order to contest shots on defense; sometimes just simply standing around and not defending his man at all. He had built a reputation for these type of tendencies both before and after this game, but to make matters worse on this particular night Griffin scored 27 points and dished 6 assists while playing on an injured left knee that required surgery after the season… the contrast is startling.

Beyond the good or bad feelings that an alleged lack of effort can leave, this deal is really also about dollars and cents. Speaking even further on the money, Drummond was in the 4th year of a 5 year contract with the Pistons. That 5th year is tied to a player option that would allow Drummond to make $28.8 million next year. The Boston Celtics (stood pat), Miami Heat (added Andre Iguodala– not a center) and Dallas Mavericks (stood pat) are all possible championship contending teams that could have used a center of Drummond’s caliber. None of them decided he was worth dealing for, not even when the ultimate offer that the Pistons accepted was just Knight, Henson and a 2023 second round pick. That should tell you everything that you need to know about not only Drummond’s reputation in the league, but what he will do in regards to his player option. Teams aren’t that interested. He isn’t getting more than $28.8 million if he opts out and Detroit did not want to have him cash in at their expense, having him sputter out their effort to re-tool before it could even begin.

For Detroit this trade is ultimately to dump Drummond’s salary, make sure he doesn’t hurt their cap space next year as well as to jettison him off the team with possible bad feelings in mind. There’s a chance they think Henson could help mop up the minutes that will now need to be filled with Drummond off the roster. He did play solid, defensively-minded basketball in the few minutes he provided for the Cavs. Ultimately though, the Pistons likely just wanted to do away with Drummond.

So now that I have done my best to besmirch any pleasant feelings about what was seemingly a fairly positive trade, what really are the positive outcomes for the Cavs?

Well, its still true that Drummond was analytically Detroit’s best player this season and if you compare his numbers to the Cavs right now he would be their best rated player as well. He is again leading the league in rebounding and is scoring the most PPG he has in his entire career on efficiency that is in line with his previous 2 seasons, and above his career average. He is also immediately the best rim protector on a team heavily devoid of and seriously needing such talents. Drummond has led the league in Basketball-Reference’s Defensive Rating twice in his career. Young, defensively inept guards like Darius Garland and Collin Sexton immediately become better when they have a shot blocker of Drummond’s caliber behind them protecting the paint. You could argue he is automatically the best player of the Cavaliers right this minute.

In terms of money, the Cavs are flush with cap space going into next season and have no present requirement to run out this summer and sign any expensive free agents, as they are still in the early stages of their rebuild. Tying their money into Drummond for the next 2 seasons isn’t as troublesome as it would have been for the Pistons. Perhaps the change of scenery will do Drummond well and it can kick-start some forward movement for this young Cavaliers squad that has really struggled, especially lately, having dropped 12 of their last 13 games.

However, while Drummond does add certain much needed abilities to the Cavs, there is still a bit of a question about his fit. Its likely the Cavs strategy in pulling the trigger on this trade was to jump at the opportunity to acquire the best talent they could at best possible value regardless of position. Before the deadline occurred I wondered if this move was preemptive to a trade that would send a player like fellow center Tristan Thompson out of town. The Cavs had made him available before the deadline, but no such trade was made.

To that point, this is a team with a number of veteran big men on the roster that are all worthy of minutes: Kevin Love, Thompson and Nance among them. Adding Drummond does increase that log jam, and particularly at a time where teams are playing fewer and fewer big men the move seems curious in that regard. Its even more curious when you consider that Cavs’ coach John Beilein prefers centers that are able to shoot the three (item number 10, I also recently heard one of ESPN’s basketball writers mention this, but can’t find the source now). Thompson and Nance both rank in the top 6 in Minutes Played for the Cavaliers and get the majority of their minutes at center. I imagine they will be playing less, which is a shame for Nance especially, as an incredibly underrated talent on this squad who should probably be playing more minutes as opposed to less.

Ultimately though, the Cavaliers accumulated more talent than they had previously and, while I’m not expecting playoffs, they should be improved on the floor from the jump from this move alone. They also will now have more flexibility for future transactions. Assuming Drummond opts in, he could represent a trade-able expiring contract next season, and as long as the Cavs get a better haul than Knight, Henson and a 2nd round pick in 3 years, the move would be a win (definitely possible, but not a given). If Drummond really tears it up for the Cavs perhaps an extension would be in order- the type that Drummond has been asking for– and then a trade of Nance in the future is a real possibility as his talents become redundant. More talent is always good and the fact the Cavs paid so little in order to get it is a major benefit, even if the fit isn’t perfect.

Games down the stretch of a pretty lack-luster season might have just gotten a little more interesting. Drummond could be a big boost this team needs to get out of a funk… let’s just hope he has the effort and desire for the challenge.

Digging Slightly Deeper on What’s the “Right Thing” for Francisco Lindor: Part 1

Its been the biggest story of the Cleveland Indians off-season and really one of the biggest in the entirety of Major League Baseball. Indians All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor will come into his fifth full Major League season this year and will do so without a long-term contract.

This past January, Lindor agreed to a $17.5 million dollar contract for his second year within the arbitration system. That leaves just one more season in 2021 before he will become a free agent on the open market.

The consensus is that Lindor, arguably the best player on the roster and the face of this generation of Indians teams, and the Indians front office have tried to work out an extension for his contract in the past, but simply haven’t come to terms. The Indians have a pattern of taking risks on young talent, buying out their arbitration years and even sometimes a free agent year or two, but Lindor has resisted. As he gets closer and closer to the open market it will likely just become that much harder to find an agreement. To his credit, Lindor has bet on himself, and more power to him for it. He stands to potentially make a huge payday in the 2021-2022 off-season.

While there isn’t absolutely no hope at all that a new extension could still happen, for some it seems a foregone conclusion that Lindor will not be on the roster beyond 2021. Even Indians owner Paul Dolan made a remark last winter that Indians fans should “enjoy” Lindor while they can. Meanwhile, just this weekend Lindor himself stated that he wants to bring a championship to Cleveland and that the most important thing to him is winning. He also specifically mentioned that the Indians just need to provide “the right thing”, but they haven’t offered it.

Very cryptic, but a lot of people assume the obvious. He is saying that he wants the Dolan family to show him the money, Cuba Gooding Jr. style. Now, this is merely just speculation, but I think everyone is just slightly off with this assumption. Sure, Lindor wants more cash, but there is one more detail here that isn’t quite as obvious that I really think Lindor is referencing.

Years. Years and years of commitment. Allow me to explain how I got here.

In 2019, the now 26 year-old Lindor had the 6th highest Wins Above Replacement of any shortstop in baseball. Among the five shortstops that performed better were four that are right around his age. The Cubs’ Javier Baez and Colorado’s Trevor Story are 27. Much like Lindor, Boston’s Xander Bogaerts and Minnesota’s Jorge Polanco are 26. All of them except Baez have signed some sort of contract extension with their current team. Bogaerts received the best deal at at $132 million (over 7 years).

Now, I do believe that Lindor is set slightly apart from this pack. He is the most prolific of this bunch of players, accumulating the most WAR over his career to this point. Further, this accumulation isn’t due to playing more games. He actually averages about .04 WAR per game, the rest of the bunch. Beyond this, he is a four-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner, two-time Silver Slugger, led baseball in runs scored in 2018 and has finished as high as fifth in MVP voting (2017). Bogaerts (3 Silver Sluggers, 2 All-Stars) and Baez (2 All-Stars, 1 Silver Slugger, 2nd in MVP voting in 2018, led league in RBI that year) are almost as well decorated, but not quite.

What is my point here? I’m trying to establish a barometer for what a Francisco Lindor extension might look like. Lindor is the best player of this group and will want to be paid as such. Further, he will also want a slight bump in salary just because more time has passed since all these other shortstops’ deals have come to fruition.

However, I have heard a lot of talk thrown around in regards to $300 million or more… and I’m not sure Lindor’s market value is quite there yet. Once again, allow me to explain.

If you were to take the very best of the other shortstops’ deals you would end up with a 7 year contract at $19 million per year, equating to $133 million. That’s not anywhere near the type of numbers that Bryce Harper, Mike Trout or Gerrit Cole are getting, but this is what precedent suggests. It could also be proof positive that there is absolutely no chance of Lindor signing an extension. Players like Harper and Trout that hit the open market stand to make even more than when signing an extension. You can make the argument that the likes of Bogaerts and Polanco settled when they signed long-term without testing the waters.

Moving on with the precedent that we have though, Lindor is the best player of this group, and he will want more money for both inflation and in order to make the Players’ Union happy. For that reason, let’s change his terms to 8 years and $24 million per year for a total of $192 million.

I want to focus first on that $24 million figure though, because for the Indians, that really may not be an insurmountable number. Current 1st baseman Carlos Santana will make $20.8 million this year and that money stands to come off the Indians’ books following the season, barring the approval of his team option. Further, although it was the largest contract in team history, the Indians committed $20 million per year when they signed Edwin Encarnacion in 2017. If the Indians front office is able to account for that extra $3 million or so, I do think that there is an Annual Average Value out there that is manageable for both Lindor and the Tribe, particularly when you are talking about a star of Lindor’s magnitude.


A long-term commitment is also essential to this deal. Of the other five shortstops that I mentioned before, only Trevor Story signed an extension that was less than five years (also excluding Baez, of course), and once again Lindor is the best of the best. He is going to want the best of the best, and herein lies the problem.

In March of 2017 the Indians signed IF Jose Ramirez to a 5-year contract extension worth $26 million. And that is the longest contract that the Cleveland Indians front office has ever agreed to. Beyond that, the Indians have only committed to one 4-year deal in team history, given to Travis Hafner in 2007. To top it off, notice that the AAV on that Ramirez deal is still only $5.2 million, making it relatively low-risk.

There is absolutely no way, no how that Francisco Lindor is going to receive anything near an eight year commitment from the Cleveland Indians, particularly at over $20 million per year. It just wouldn’t be in the nature of this front office or ownership group to extend themselves to those reaches. So to say its the amount of money that the Indians won’t pay to Lindor that is the problem is only half of the truth. I actually believe the Indians could meet Lindor’s monetary wants in the short-term. They nearly do right now. Lindor will make $17.5 million this coming season. They just don’t have the stomach to commit to him for the extended length of time that will be required. I think this is the “right thing” that Lindor is requiring.

We can and will discuss whether that is a good thing or a bad thing on another day soon.

9 Possible Kevin Love Destinations- A Ranking

The trade deadline now fast approaches following a Cavaliers’ victory on Monday night against the Detroit Pistons from Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit. The Cavaliers move to 13-34 following the win and sit tied for 13th in the Eastern Conference with the New York Knicks. They are well on their way to second consecutive year in the draft lottery, and I have already written about their continually frustrating play despite this specific victory. Concerns continue to brew as reports come out that some of the players on the roster are frustrated that more progress hasn’t been made on the court.

Kevin Love is likely one of those critics. He has already let it be known that he would prefer to be traded to a contending team, while not directly demanding so. It is well-documented that he is frustrated though, showing it both on and off the court. Hard decisions are going to have to be made as February 6th approaches.

I came into this season thinking Love would likely remain on the roster through April, but with how this season has progressed and how detrimental keeping Love could possibly be to every party involved, its now a definite that a trade to ship Love elsewhere should at least be explored. Beyond that, we know for a fact that Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman is listening to offers.

And the rumor mill spins. I’ve taken some considerable time to comb through that rumor mill and devise a list of suitors for Love. The teams I am about to list have had their names strewn about the inter-webs in regards to a potential attachment to a trade. I will put them in three categories and rank them, from least likely to most.

Before we get there though, we need to have some criteria for these rankings. Teams obviously have to financially be capable of taking on Love and his 4-year extended contract in a trade that makes sense for both sides. The money has to match up under NBA rules, and the trade must make sense. Beyond the basic financials of the situation, I will be mindful that most teams are also trying to save their cap space for the summer of 2021 when a monumental free agent class headlined by Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will be available. Therefore, a team that can handle Love’s contract, and still have additional cap space is a better option. One possible exception to this element though would be a team that isn’t located in a big market or glamorous, free agent destination. That type of team would be much more likely to pull the trigger on a trade for a star of Love’s ilk, even with the flaws his contract perpetuates .

Further, Love must be a fit for that prospective team. This likely means its a team with a star or two on it already where Love would slide in as the 2nd or 3rd best player. The team would have to be able to swallow the fact that Love has statistically been one of the worst defenders in the league this year (299th out of a qualifying 311 in’s Defensive Rating!!!). Lastly, a team currently in playoff position that isn’t considered head and shoulders above everyone else (so basically any team in either conference’s top 8 that isn’t the Lakers, Clippers, or Bucks) or a fringe playoff team looking to gain some cachet would be a better fit. I personally think the best bet to trade Love comes from a team looking to cause a stir by jumping itself from 9th thru 11th in this conference right now and into the playoffs.

Additionally, wherever it isn’t already mentioned, there is also the opportunity for draft picks to be included in these trades. I will talk a lot about the Cavs receiving players that often just fill salary cap rule obligations. Ultimately, most of the value back that the Cavs will ever receive will be in dollar-less draft pick selections.

There might be one or two more elements to this, but those would be specific to the teams we are talking about, and we will get to that. Without further delay, let’s get to it! Here are your nine ranked teams that have been rumored to Kevin Love trades.

I Can’t Believe Writers Thought These Were Good Ideas

9. Golden State Warriors

  • The premise behind this is that the Warriors are itching to get rid of guard D’Angelo Russell so much that they would be willing to take on Love in an effort to re-tool next season.
  • What’s more likely is that the Warriors will continue to tank out this season, try to come back with a fully healthy squad next year, plus a high draft choice and be nearly as scary as they were in 2016 all over again.
  • Yes, Russell becomes redundant next year when Klay Thompson returns and he is the only player financially that makes the money work here. MAYBE this is a consideration in the summer if Love hasn’t been dealt, but I suspect the Warriors are in no hurry to use their assets.
This trade is also bad because analysis shows it makes both teams actually worse.

8. Boston Celtics

Love for Hayward straight-up is possible but unlikely.

7. Dallas Mavericks

  • Another team where contracts lead to trade inflexibility, this one requires the Mavericks to deal sixth-man Tim Hardaway Jr. I fear he might be too difficult of a loss for a team with true aspirations to go deep into the playoffs. They’d be trading their 3rd best scorer for a guy averaging only about 3 points more a game if this trade were in the offing.
  • Love would slot in well with current stars Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but he would fill their 2021 cap room. Doncic will be 22 in 2021. Porzingis will be 26. They are perfectly equipped to continue to progress for now and add another star when that summer comes. They have the possibility to be the next super-team in a couple years, but only if they don’t trade for Love.

Teams Where I Can Start to See It

6. Portland Trail Blazers

  • This seemed fairly likely at one point. Portland is Love’s hometown team and he has expressed interested in returning. I’d even call it his preference.
  • Also, stat-stuffing but often not-winning center Hassan Whiteside would be a likely centerpiece to any trade. I could see the Cavs being excited about giving Whiteside a 4th chance for his career to flourish.
  • Portland is a fringe playoff team, currently 10th in the West as they have disappointed all season. Love would be a good fit to go with star guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
  • However, Portland traded wing-man Kent Bazemore earlier this month and his contract was likely needed for flexibility in any such Kevin Love trade.
  • They are also 25th in the Association in defense, a likely explanation for their woes this year and something Love would far from remedy.
  • He’d also fill their cap for the 2021 off-season. Portland might be a little too underwhelming right at this moment to sacrifice their future. This trade seems a little ill-conceived.
A Blazers trade would likely include Whiteside, and a young prospect like Little or a pick. Either would be legal.

5. Miami Heat

  • Miami is an ambitious playoff team that could really stand to add to the star power it has with forward Jimmy Butler. They’re 14th in defense and Butler along with coach Erik Spolestra preach a style that could bolster Love’s abilities on the defensive end.
  • A trade would likely include some combination of veteran forward James Johnson’s bad contract and wing-man Justise Winslow, who has been oft-injured this season and played poorly when healthy.
  • However, due to previous moves the Heat are unable to include their first round pick in 2020 or 2022 in any trade, making sweetening the pot much more difficult and likely requiring them to trade one of the young, talented prospects that they have been depending on for production this season (my recommendation would be shooter Duncan Robinson). I doubt they will be willing to make that sacrifice.
  • Miami is a big-market, destination for free agents and the Heat are currently positioned well to bring in a big name player in 2021. They still could do so if they trade for Love, they currently would have that much space, but after relenting on trading for Thunder guard Chris Paul all summer for cap reasons, it sure seems more likely that Pat Riley would rather hold onto that money for another year and a half.
Duncan Robinson is just one prospect that Miami could trade in lieu of draft picks. Others include guard Kendrick Nunn and shooter Tyler Herro.

The Real Deal Ideas

4. Indiana Pacers

  • Indiana has a cavalcade of players that could possibly be included in a deal that would likely be headlined by center Myles Turner. The Olympian is expendable for a perceived inability to co-exist on the floor with other fellow big man Domatas Sabonis, who the Pacers are committed to.
  • The Pacers would fill their 2021 cap money if they trade for Love, but are a small market team not likely to pull in a big fish in free agency.
  • They already have players like guard Victor Oladipo and Sabonis to slot around Love and are the 10th best Defensive team in the NBA.
  • Concerns come from how serious are the Pacers about their playoff aspirations and the fact that this trade would occur within the Central Division. Indiana is 5th in the East and still doesn’t have Oladipo back from injury, but does a trade for Love really make them competitive with the Bucks? Will the Cavs trade Love within the Central? Still, there is potential here. This deal would check a lot of boxes for both teams.
Turner is valuable enough to potentially do this deal without picks involved, and Love could fit better with Sabonis.

3. Orlando Magic

  • The Magic are the 7th seed in the East right now and could really bolster themselves by adding a playoff tested star like Love who can provide offense to go with the 7th best defense in the league.
  • They are a smaller market, but do have some Florida appeal to free agents, which is handy because currently they could handle Love and an additional 2021 free agent on their books.
  • Aaron Gordon is likely the big contract to be traded back to the Cavs and he’s the closest thing Orlando has to a face for their franchise right now. That might be a price slightly too steep, or the Magic front office could think their potential has peaked with Gordon as their leader.
  • An interesting note: teams are also interested in Magic guard DJ Augustin. Augustin’s steady hand was crucial to Orlando’s playoff appearance last season, but they might also be willing to part with him in exchange for Love. A team like the Clippers though is much more likely to have use for Augustin, so a 3-team deal might be a possibility. This would likely require the Cavs to also acquire Mo Harkless from the Clippers.
  • A simpler 2-way deal such as Gordon and forward Al-Farouq Aminu for Love is more likely.
Wiry center prospect Mo Bamba can also be swapped out for Aminu in this deal, but Gordon is likely the best return player in any of these suggested trades (with exception to the unrealistic Celtics and Warriors deals).

2. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Memphis had the 2nd pick in the most recent NBA Draft. As of today, they are the 8th seed in the West at 22-24.
  • They are a small market with a young team and a ton of cap space. They don’t have other stars to pair with Love outside of rookie guard Ja Morant, but would automatically get a bump for adding a play of Love’s caliber offensively. It would also signal that their front office is serious about competing.
  • A deal will likely include center Jonas Valanciunas and the miserable contract of forward Solomon Hill. There’s not a lot of value there but with a pick or two included, there is a trade that makes a lot of sense.
  • The only other drawback I see if that Memphis is 22nd in Defensive Rating, but I think they could compromise that to solidify their present and to provide a running man for the young Morant.
This one would require picks. Valanciunas has some talent, but as constructed this is mostly a salary dump trade.
  1. Phoenix Suns
  • This is the most likely destination if only based off all the non-hypothetical smoke that exists around a Kevin Love to Phoenix trade.
  • The Suns are 11th in the West, and although Memphis is in the playoffs as of today and Phoenix isn’t the Suns have a considerable amount more star power to pair Love with in one of the top scoring guards in the league in Devin Booker and former 1st overall pick center DeAndre Ayton.
  • Phoenix isn’t a traditional small market team but they are an organization with a bit of a reputation for a bad owner, making then not a great free agent destination. A Love trade might be their chance to bring in an established star.
  • Beyond all this, they could have 2021 cap room even with Love added to their roster and he could help change the reputation of the organization.
  • The Suns also have the biggest arsenal of trade-able contracts to send back to Cleveland. Guard Tyler Johnson is likely part of the deal, but beyond that names could include Cam Johnson, Aaron Baynes, Frank Kominsky, Mikal Bridges along with various picks. Variety and flexibility more likely means a better chance at a deal.
Just one of the ways a Suns trade could go down since Phoenix has so many trade-able assets.

Will a trade happen? That is yet to be seen. There is still the pull and tug of the fact teams don’t want to take on Love’s 4-year max contract. He’s on the wrong end of 30 years old and has an injury history. There aren’t a lot of long-term contracts in the league right now and having all that money tied up is a real liability. Teams will feel like they are doing the Cavs a favor by taking him off their hands, but the Cavs are still going to want value for him.

I do know that after finishing this exercise a trade feels more possible than I thought it could be before. There’s a real possibility a team like Indiana, Memphis or Phoenix will want to make a statement and make a slightly rash judgment to compete now. We only have another week or so to wait and see, so an answer is coming shortly.

For now, it wouldn’t be a Cavs season without Kevin Love trade rumors.

A Post About Kobe Bryant’s Death from the Perspective of a Shocked and Devastated Sports Fan

I’ve been prepping a post about trade possibilities for Kevin Love as the trade deadline approaches… forgive me. I don’t feel like writing it anymore right now.

Kobe Bryant is dead today at age 41. He and his 13 year old daughter Gianna were in a helicopter crash this morning. Tragically, Gianna has passed away as well.

I feel selfish for focusing on Kobe. Four other people including his own daughter passed away, but Bryant will get all the press and all the publicity. Maybe that is better. Others can grieve in peace. Maybe its worse. What about recognition? We as a people only care about tragedy when it happens to us or to someone with a high profile. I’m guilty of it as well. I know I am. That’s why I feel the way I feel now. Just stunned. Absolutely, positively stunned. My reaction from the moment I got the notification on my phone has just been “Wait, what?!”.

I was never even that big of a Kobe fan. I’m from Cleveland. To this day, with the exception of four years we as a city would rather forget about, this is LeBron’s town. Even today. Its strangely bizarre then that last night LeBron passed Kobe in all-time scoring for 3rd on the list. What a strange set of circumstances. Bryant’s own last tweet is a show of class at being usurped by James.

Regardless of all that, this death matters to me, and I know it matters to so many more. I might not always have preferred Kobe’s style of play; I’d make jokes about his reluctance to pass and how his overly serious nature helped cause the rift between himself and more jovial former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, but I always recognized Kobe as an undeniable force.

A fierce scorer who would use a deft combination of skill and will to get buckets on one end and smother his opponents on the other. He grew into a leadership role as his career progressed. His second set of Finals runs with the Phil Jackson led Lakers showed an older, wiser Bryant still at the top of his game, but more capable to reach his teammates and work inside a framework to make everyone exceptional. He became a well oiled winning machine, willing to raise his teammates and himself in favor of greatness on the floor. He became the undisputed 2nd best shooting guard in the history of the game. He became an invincible force of basketball nature, even sinking 2 free throws before retreating to the locker room after tearing his Achilles in 2013. He became the Black Mamba.

And I think that, for those of us fortunate enough to have been able to follow Bryant’s career, that is why this hurts and why it is so shocking. Every previous memory we have of Bryant is of him willing his Lakers squads to 5 rings, slashing through every last Toronto Raptors on his way to 81 points or even those aforementioned one-legged free throws. We never consider these athletes that we cheer or boo just as fragile as the rest of us, especially when they hit the type of peaks that Kobe hit. It is absolutely devastating when we end up getting reminded that despite all those feats they are exactly what we are: human. It hurts.

Now for a disclaimer: I don’t want this next part to be taken wrongly. Family and friends are important- one of the most important things this world has to offer, period. What I am about to say is in no way a replacement for that, if anything it should re-affirm it.

For someone who has been an avid American sports fan for as long as I can remember, these teams and these individuals become a part of our lives. I can turn the television six days a week in the summer and watch the Cleveland Indians play baseball. Often times I do exactly that. These athletes become part of our routine. We watch their professional lives progress sometimes from their dismissal from college until their middle age. They become part of our lives. For better or for worse, they create a connection with us through a common interest. They just happen to be the ones blessed enough to perform it on a daily basis. Bryant may have been a villain to me more often than not, but he was a respected one for all the reasons I have mentioned. Having “lived with him” for the last 20+ years is what makes this so harrowing.

He can’t be dead. He’s too wily and tough to be dead. He terrorized the Western Conference for twenty years and was a perfect foil to the natural passer and less hardened exterior of LeBron. How could it possibly be?

But it is. Rest well, Mamba. That fall-away mid range shot of yours is going to give them all fits in heaven. You and your daughter can continue to share your passion forever. I hope your family finds peace, as well as all the other families involved.

For the rest of us: remember that we are all fragile. Even the ones of us we see day in and day out. Even the ones we could never even imagine not being strong.

Be kind to one another.

An Update on MLB Sign-Stealing and Why Alex Cora (and Fans) Should Be Worried

The Houston Astros may have become the poster children for illegal sign-stealing, but they definitely weren’t the first or only perpetrators. When official news broke about their illegal use of a center field camera and a garbage can, we already also knew about a previous scheme that the Boston Red Sox ran using an Apple Watch and live footage from news reports during the 2017 season.

What we only partially knew at that time though was that it was the rival New York Yankees that turned the Red Sox in to the league. We also knew that, in retaliation, the Red Sox went back to MLB and claimed the Yankees were doing the same, as well as using their bullpen phone illegally. Both teams faced fines for their activity with the Red Sox being penalized a larger sum than the Yankees.

What we didn’t know until now, was that the illegal use of that bullpen phone was essentially harmless. In a game in 2017 one member of the Yankees’ coaching staff picked up the phone and used it to contact the replay room and ask if they thought a particular pitch was a strike or not. That was it. Technically illegal, but really, no advantage came of it. They could have literally done the same thing themselves on the delayed television feed in the clubhouse. However, we also know that that illegal phone use is what the Yankees were punished for. We know this because after MLB investigated in 2017, they found no evidence that the Yankees were using a live feed to steal signs like the Red Sox suggested.

We now know that to be false as the Athletic has reported that the Yankees did indeed use their video room to decode signs from 2015 thru 2017. Now to be clear, MLB didn’t really even start making any type of stink about this type of activity until 2017. Any time before that it is practically certain that what the Yankees were doing was unethical, but not directly illegal by official rule. For all we know, they may have stopped after paying their respective fine in 2017.

This first interaction between the Commissioner’s office, the Yankees and the Red Sox would be the impetus for statements from the League directly saying that any future wrongdoing would be punished more severely. From the moment of the Apple Watch and bullpen phone, this became a big deal. It should also be noted that the Red Sox fine was announced on September 15th, 2017. The now famous video showing White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar changing signs due to the Astros banging a dugout trash can occurred on September 21st, a mere 6 days later, but indeed after the announcement of a crackdown on this type of activity.

And that is why we wait today for Commissioner Rob Manfred and his staff to levy punishment upon the Astros. Claims are that this is the most thorough investigation that MLB has ever performed and that up to 75,000 pieces of electronic correspondence have been reviewed as well as the interview of countless team personnel. Meanwhile, sources claim that the looming punishment for Houston and its staff members is likely to not only be brought down in the next two weeks, but to also be “severe”.

Beyond all this, the Athletic has now reported that the 2018 World Series Champion Red Sox also were using cameras and their instantly replay room in order to steal signs. A staff member viewing this screen would decipher the opposing catcher’s signs for that day and then tell a passerby player what the sign system was. That information was then likely disseminated through either each player in the lineup or one of the base coaches, with the goal being that base-runners would then relay signs to the batter.

I will say, this is still a dirty system that made illegal use of the camera tech provided to each team, but it was at least a mere speed up of a process that could have been done by the players themselves. The monitor created a steady, consistent ability to get opposing signs down pat, something that would have been possible through getting a runner on second base, just less efficiently. Think of the Red Sox as using a calculator on an elementary school math test where you are supposed to show your work. Its not nearly as blatant, swift or comprehensive as what the Astros were doing. You can kinda squint your eyes and convince yourself it isn’t as big of a deal. Still, we now have World Series champions implicated in this type of cheating for consecutive years.

And now, this opens up a whole extra round of investigations for MLB. Once they are done with the Astros, the Red Sox are sure to be next to become scrutinized. The one common thread between both teams is current Astros manager Alex Cora. Cora was the Astros bench coach in 2016 and 2017 before being named skipper of the Red Sox in 2018. That means he was in the dugout when the Astros were doing their best garage band impression in 2017 and again when the Red Sox were playing telephone in 2018. I would not be surprised at all if in due time Manfred makes Cora a scapegoat for a lot of this wrongdoing. Yes, people like Astros Manager AJ Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow with face punishment. However, I fear it will all be too easy for MLB to link the circumstantial evidence together, point their collective finger directly at Cora and levy the steepest punishment of all on him, followed by patting themselves on the back and going back to distracting us with ideas of a pitch clock and universal designated hitter.

When I last wrote about this subject, I specifically highlighted that the fine people at the Athletic stated that the Astros were only a part of a larger, wide-spread problem. I continue to believe that to be the case, and will continue to, even after Cora will be made the sacrificial lamb (to be clear, I really am speculating here, it just really wouldn’t surprise me at this point). The easiest way for baseball to get rid of this scandal is to find someone to blame and move on, and I fear that is exactly what they will do.

It says a lot about this situation as well that back in 2017 when the Red Sox got accused of cheating by the Yankees they were able to come out and say “yeah… but they were doing it too!!!” and be absolutely right. For one, it presents a situation where teams can weaponize allegations against each other. Its a system of “don’t tattle on us, because we will do it right back”. Now, with the promise of stricter penalties against team personnel it even becomes a bit of a nuclear option, a way to the get staff of one of your rivals potentially removed. Secondly, it becomes clear that teams confidently know that other teams are even operating this way in the first place. That should be enough in itself to suggest that this goes deeper than just the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros.

It makes me wonder where this ends? Is every team that isn’t tanking doing this (because if you’re tanking why the heck would you look for an advantage)? If that is the case, and we vacate the 2017 and 2018 World Series for anyone who cheated, does that leave say… the 2017 Atlanta Braves and a tie between the 2018 Cincinnati Reds and Texas Rangers as World Champions? I know I’m getting carried away, but I am trying to make a point on how deep this could go. It just seems all too easy for MLB to chalk this controversy up to a couple of bad apples and then move on. If they really want to eradicate this problem, whether it is to make the game ethically better or to cease the effect it has on pace of play, then they will have to do better.

They probably won’t.

AD Declines Extension: 5 Choices for Anthony Davis’s Future With (or Without) Lakers

30-7 record. Currently the top seed in the NBA’s Western Conference. Playing with the best player in the world. Sunny, glamorous Los Angeles, California. Lakers Power Forward Anthony Davis has all of that and more going for him. Yet yesterday, Yahoo reported that Davis will test free agency this off-season rather than take the max contract extension that has been offered to him by the Lakers. He will forgo the 4 years and $148 million that he can make today, and risk it all this summer. All of this, despite requesting and being obliged to a trade to Los Angeles just this past summer. How could this be? What could the Lakers have done wrong?

The answer is likely, not very much. This is a calculated move by one of the ten best players in the NBA and his people, and it provides him with a lot of good options to position himself and his career into the future. Below, I will go through five of those options, and rank their likelihood by percentage.

Lets see what he have:

Davis opts in to his 1 year player option this summer (-1000% chance)

So this one isn’t a real choice, but I felt like it still needed to at least be addressed. On its face it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Davis has announced he will be turning down the 4 year extension he could be provided by the Lakers. So why opt in for one measly year at the end of the season? He would make less money signing this option than signing an all new deal and would have no longer-term contract. Further, Kevin Durant just had the worst injury a basketball player can get, and still accepted a max contract from the Brooklyn Nets. Its likely that even if the same happened to Davis, a max deal will be out there for him in the summer. Financial security isn’t an issue that would cause Davis to need to opt in. This isn’t happening.

Davis opts out this off-season and goes somewhere else (3%)

Is this possible? Yeah. Is it likely? No. But, if Davis for some reason really doesn’t like playing with LeBron or disaster strikes and James becomes injured long-term then there are a couple of teams out there that could provide the enticement for Davis to leave the Purple and Gold.

Chicago is his hometown and is struggling to find its leader and star on the floor. Plus, they will have a max salary slot available where Davis would fit quite nicely. An even better basketball option in Miami won’t have the space automatically, but could clear it with a trade or two. If they want to pass up the 2021 free agent sweepstakes (which stands to be much better than this coming summer’s) and pair Davis with Jimmy Butler they would become the best team in the Eastern Conference. Don’t put it past Pat Riley to flash his 6 rings and make a compelling case. Still, Davis will be hard pressed to find a situation better than his current one in the summer, especially when you consider he would make more money staying in LA.

Davis opts out, but then signs a 1 year deal with a player option for a second year (7%)

The good ol’ LeBron’s return to Cleveland deal. Davis has the same agent as James- Rich Paul, and they used this strategy very effectively in Cleveland. It applies pressure on the Laker front office to do every possible thing to be as competitive on the court as can be, and that’s something both Paul clients would benefit from. Davis could keep opting out every year like this for as long as he wanted, and then really test the market any year he desires. Like I previously mentioned, 2021 is a big free agent class year and teams are already clearing salary cap space for it. Davis could make himself available then and there, and if not could keep increasing his money with the Lakers every year re-signing new deals because of the way the collective bargaining agreement is structured. He might want more security than this though, which brings us to our next option.

Davis opts out this summer and then signs a long-term max deal for the most money and years possible (35%)

This choice is the obvious reason why Davis is currently turning down the extension that the Lakers have offered. He stands to be able to add a fifth year to his contract and an additional total of about $50 million to his payout by signing this off-season. The reason why has to do with the CBA, but to put it simply, Davis lost the ability to sign for this kind of money through a mid-season extension when he was traded from New Orleans to LA. Anyway, this option provides him the peace of mind of knowing that if a better opportunity really is out there, he can take it this summer, but he can definitely fall back on more money and a great situation in LA. He can continue to learn from LeBron as they will eventually shift roles between top player and side-kick over time (assuming LeBron actually does regress at some point before being eligible for Social Security). They are already in great position to win a title this year. Adding stability and continuity to their situation would just position them even better. Remember, LeBron has never won the title in his first year on a new team. Both times it was the second year. And that second year really might be the big one…

Davis opts out, then signs a 2-year deal with a 1-year option in the summer (55%)

On its face its sounds like a weird choice. Its not the LeBron-style 1 and 1 that applies pressure, and its not the full big money contract. BUT, players with 10 years vested in the NBA are eligible for a higher max contract than those with less years in the league. If Davis opts out after completing a new 2-year deal he will have been in the league for 10 years and be eligible for that larger contract. You know what else? LeBron could also be coming off the Lakers books that summer. So if the King decides he wants to return to Cleveland for part three, go somewhere new or just spend more time watching his sons play and making movies then Davis will have the opportunity to act accordingly. Oh, and its still to early to tell, but there’s a chance the Lakers could have another max slot available for their roster that summer no matter what Davis and James do (they actually have no commitments at all entering the summer of 2022). Maximum flexibility comes for Davis in this choice as he can decide what to do based on what LeBron does, what the Lakers do, and really what the general landscape of the NBA is come the summer of 2022. I think this is the choice. Hey AD, is my check for 10% in the mail?

Really, there is no bad choice here for Davis, only ones that are better than others. He sits in an enviable position, and that’s great for him. For better or for worse at this point, players like Davis are in charge of their destinies, and really the destinies of the league at large that they play in.

At this point, we are just along for the ride

Crunch Time Break Down: What’s Kevin Love so Mad About?

Yesterday was a tumultuous day for Kevin Love. Subject to trade rumors since at least Dec. 6th, Love has grown increasingly frustrated recently with his status on the Cleveland Cavaliers. For background, Love signed a 4 year, $120 extension in the wake of of LeBron departing Cleveland in the summer of 2018. That extension started this year and will carry out through the spring of 2023. He inked that deal with the understanding that the Cavaliers were going to try to continue to field a competitive team, capable of reaching the playoffs. This notion didn’t come out of thin air, but rather from the statements that were made to him by General Manager Koby Altman.

Obviously, that hasn’t happened whatsoever. A little over a year later the Cavs are now 10-25 and look like a top-half lottery team for the second year in a row, and are still in the beginning stages of a complete rebuild. As such, Love is the subject of continual trade rumors and even though he hasn’t formally asked for a trade, would likely welcome one. How do I know this? Well for one, there are reports that say so. But also, things appear to be hitting a boiling point between Love, his teammates and the Cavaliers’ staff.

Saturday afternoon following shoot-around, Love had an emotional “outburst” that was directed at Altman. One of his claims during that outburst was that the Cavs have “no feel”. Further, in the waning seconds of the 2nd quarter in Saturday night’s contest vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder Love appeared visibly frustrated and threw up his hands at ball-handling guard Collin Sexton mid-play. Love stood in front of him until Sexton passed him the ball. This led to Love firing a pass to forward Cedi Osman (who ended up being fouled on a 3 point attempt).

Bad body language, outbursts, a desire to be traded, and alleged complaints about head coach John Beilein. Love doesn’t sounds like a good teammate right now.

I think his frustration to a point is understandable though. The sticking point is the actual on the court actions of himself and his teammates. All that I laid out above is obvious. Its’ all macro-level considerations of the situation that Love finds himself in. If you take a look at the nuts and bolts of a game situation that Love finds himself in though, it could be perceived as pretty maddening.

I’ll provide an example. I will call this a “crunch time break down”. I might do more of these in the future, where I lay out a close game and explain what I saw as an avid basketball fan. Forgive me. Its going to be wordy. I could just as easily throw up a video and say “see for yourself”, but there are specific points I want to lay out. Without further delay:

This past Thursday night the Cavaliers took on the Charlotte Hornets from Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse (gag).

With about 5 minutes left in the game the Cavaliers led 100-93 and Love, forward Cedi Osman and center Tristan Thompson have all just re-entered the game after rest. The following possessions occur (this is going to be fairly Love-centric, but I plan to be even-handed):

Right off the free throws that allowed the trio to come into the game Love received the ball in the post and travels. Its his only turnover of the night, the Cavaliers had 14 as a team. 4:58 remains in the game. Cavs still by 7.

Charlotte point guard Terry Rozier makes a three and Charlotte now trails by 4. On the next Cavs’ possession the ball never leaves Sexton’s hands. He drives into the crowded paint and puts up a contested layup with 3 seconds left on the shot clock. He held the ball for the entire 21 seconds. Not only is it a miss, Love is open at the 3 point line. 4:13 remains. Cavs lead 100-96.

Charlotte forward PJ Washington’s layup makes it a 2 point game. On the Cavs possession they run a set play. After the ball comes up the forecourt, Love receives the ball at the top of the key and immediately gives it up on a dribble hand-off to wingman Kevin Porter Jr. Porter dribbles around the perimeter into traffic and takes a bad contested layup. The shot is no good. Love isn’t as open this time, but is still uncovered on the left wing. Osman and Sexton are also open on the left side of the floor. Two bad, contested layups in a row. Cavs lead 100-98. 3:27 remains.

Porter putting it up, surrounded by 3 Hornets. Love, Osman and Sexton, all open to his left.

On the ensuing Charlotte possession Rozier comes right down the floor off the rebound, and receives a screen from center Bismack Biyombo. Love had been guarding Biyombo and shows hard on Rozier. To Rozier’s credit and the slow-footed Love’s detriment, Rozier crosses Love, who fails to impede his progress. Porter was Rozier’s man, but he went over the top of screen and now can’t recover since Love failed to keep Rozier in front. This means the man guarding the weak-side corner- Osman, should come to help. He doesn’t. Tie game. 3:16 left. Cavs call timeout.

Love tries to keep Rozier in front
Love is too slow. Osman appears ready to help.
Osman is still standing there. Easy layup.

Coming out of the timeout Beilein draws up a play for Love off of a Thompson off-ball screen at the top of the key. Love takes an open three in rhythm but misses. 3:06 left. Still tied at 100.

Charlotte guard Devonte Graham throws a pass into the stands and the Cavs get the ball back. A Darius Garland-Love screen and pop leads to penetration by Garland down the right side of the lane. Garland kicks to Sexton in the left corner. 3 ball… got it! This is the best play you will see throughout this entire exercise. Cavs lead 103-100. 2:30 left.

Hornets come right back down and Graham answers with a 3 of his own. We are tied again. The ensuing Cavs possession has Garland bring the ball up the floor on the right side of the key. Osman comes out, slips a screen and dashes to the left wing behind the 3 line. Osman briefly flashes open but by the time he receives the pass and puts up the shot he is contested. 1 pass was made, the shot was contested, Love never touched the ball and 11 seconds were on the shot clock when Osman hoisted. Bad possession. Still tied. 1:58 remains.

Look who is open on the other side of the floor.

Sexton plays sparkling defense that leads to a Garland steal of Rozier. Garland is fouled in the open floor which leads to a review to check for a clear path foul and an unofficial timeout. No clear path foul occurred, but its Cavs’ ball and we are still tied.

Beilein uses the extra time to draw up a set play for Love coming off another screen. He takes a good shot, but misses the three pointer at the top of the key. We are still tied and there’s 1:30 left.

More good team defense in crunch time leads to a missed three by Rozier. We are really getting into crunch time now as Thompson pulls down the rebound and gets it to Garland as we get under the minute mark. Garland and Love run screen and pop again. It looks a lot like the play Sexton made a 3 on instead this time Garland takes a layup in traffic with 7 seconds still on the shot clock. Biyombo should be guarding Love at the 3 point line but he has completely abandoned his post and has come down to the key to help on the drive and ensure he retrieves the rebound. This is the most open Love has been yet, naked on the left wing at the 3 point line. We are still tied and 45 seconds remain.

Love is barely in frame, but open. Osman is open too.

On their possession Charlotte runs a screen slip that leads to a bad, contested three that Graham makes even though he had no business taking it. describes it as a “36-footer”. I give credit to Sexton for contesting. 106-103 Charlotte. 23 ticks remain.

Beilein calls timeout and the Cavs inbound at half court. Austin Carr directly says on the broadcast “You can (afford to) go to your second or third option here and get a 3 point shot.”. John Michael makes mention that a quick 2 pointer wouldn’t be bad either. We either want to work for a 3 pointer to tie or find a quick, easy 2 pointer and allow time to still come back.

Love comes to the ball at the left wing and receives the inbound. Its a screen hand-off to Sexton at the top of the key. Sexton’s initial drive is shut down, but he tries again and dribbles into the paint. Biyombo completely leaves Love this time. You can see it down below. He knows there is absolutely no chance Sexton is going to pass the ball back out. Its another missed layup in traffic. The Cavs were down 3, Sexton took 8 seconds and only got a contested layup out of the possession. That was neither a couple passes that led to a three, nor a quick, easy 2 pointer.

Biyombo pulls down the rebound because he has nothing better to be doing; the Cavs foul twice and send Graham to the line. He makes both and Charlotte leads 108-103. 9 seconds remain. Looks like checkmate.

Beilein calls his last timeout and the Cavs take the ball out from half-court again. This time the play is a direct pass to Love in the post off the inbound. Instead of guarding Love, Biyombo is guarding Osman, but hedges inside to help on Love. Love actually notices and fires the ball out to the perimeter to Osman. 3 ball… got it! Holy cow! Someone passed to an open player, and a shot was made?! The Cavs still trail by 2 and there’s only 4 seconds left.

Actual court vision.
Cedi for 3!

The Cavs foul again and the door kinda, sorta swings open. Rozier misses one of two free throws and its a 3 point game again, but the Cavs are out of timeouts and have to inbound in the back-court. Sexton gets freed up 40 feet from the rim and fires a decent looking shot, but its no good at the buzzer. Love comes over and rubs Sexton’s shoulders. I’m not a lip-reader, but he appears to tell him “good shot!”. The Cavs lose by 2 after leading by as many as 10 in the fourth quarter.

So what do we have here? 11 possessions in the final 5 minutes for the Cavaliers. Love touched the ball on 6 of them but two of those were quick give-ups for a dribble hand-off and a screen hand-off. Three different times he was left wide open on the perimeter and four different times a young Cavaliers’ ball-handler took a bad, contested layup at the rim. That’s just as many attempts as legitimate touches that Love got in the final five minutes.

I would be frustrated too. I am not saying that Love should be taking every shot down the stretch of a close game. Absolutely not. But at the same time, each possession that didn’t involve him was absolutely poor. The only one where he didn’t touch the ball and it went well was Sexton’s corner three. Yes, Love missed 2 threes of his own. They were good, open shots. They weren’t contested layups with two or more defenders draped over the shooter while the best player on the team stood wide-open for three. That’s how you lose games. That’s not how you build any type of winning culture. That’s the type of thing that leads to this:

A good friend of mine texted me and said he thinks Sexton lost track of the shot clock. Could be, but it seems more like Sexton just doesn’t have any real vision. He isn’t really a ball-handler. He couldn’t see Love standing near the paint with the 6 foot tall Chris Paul on him. Love literally has 9 inches on him! I think that’s what Love might have meant on Saturday when he blew up at Altman and said the Cavs have “no feel”. These young guys have no feel for how to operate a professional level offense. What is Coach Beilein teaching these guys anyway? The crazy part is that with the shot clock running down, Love found a half decent look for Osman for three, and they got foul shots out of it. That would not have occurred unless Love did what he did.

Yes, Love is being surly, but I think he has good reason. Quite genuinely, if placed in this position I think a certain former Cavaliers’ star would act very similarly as well. In fact, this on-court attitude is somewhat reminiscent of LeBron taking himself out of plays while Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters fought over the ball in 2014, or the month long pout-job he did in January of 2018 to force Altman to re-form the Cavs roster at the trade deadline.

I don’t think Love means anything ill by what he is doing, but he is frustrated. I can’t blame him for that. Unfortunately for him, he might have to ride out the storm for this season. A Love trade still seems like a rigorous endeavor at this point.

More on that to come…