General Sports: May 8

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-The Pistons fired head coach Stan Van Gundy after a few mediocre seasons with the team. Granted, the Pistons were a shitshow before SVG got there, but they haven’t been able to get above “contending for the 8 seed” territory, which is about the worst place you can be in today’s NBA (not good enough to contend for a title, not bad enough to get a top Draft pick, which tends to be franchise-altering nowadays). The Pistons made the playoffs once in his 4-year tenure but failed to win a playoff series. It wouldn’t shock me to see SVG land another job sometime in the near future, as his resume speaks for itself (led the Orlando Magic to their only NBA Finals appearance back in 2009) and he certainly won’t be the last NBA head coach to get his walking papers as the offseason moves along in these coming weeks.

-The San Francisco Giants continue to get ravaged by the injury bug as this time it has hit Johnny Cueto. Cueto suffered a sprained elbow and will miss the next 6-8 weeks. This couldn’t come at a worse time for the Giants as they’re one of the hottest teams in baseball at the moment, having won 13 of their last 18 games entering Monday night (this is being written before the conclusion of their tilt with the Phillies). Cueto was bouncing back in a MAJOR way this season. After having an ERA well over 4 last season, Cueto was pacing the Majors in that category at 0.84 and was pitching some of the best baseball of his life, which is saying something considering the run of success he had with the Reds in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the game. It’s a tough blow for the Giants, who are looking to try and make the playoffs and considering how good the Diamondbacks and Rockies have been looking of late, that task seems to be made even tougher without Cueto for up to 2 months.

-The Carolina Panthers are signing former Broncos runningback CJ Anderson to a 1-year deal. After releasing Jonathan Stewart in the offseason, I was surprised the Panthers didn’t get another bigger runningback to shoulder the bulk of the carries in the Draft so that Christian McCaffrey can continue to do scat back stuff. Anderson isn’t a flashy player by any means but he’s consistently solid and was the Broncos’ #1 back when they beat the Panthers in Super Bowl L. He’s also a very similar style of player to the departed Stewart and is 4 years younger so one can argue it’s an improvement on multiple fronts.

-The Saints are releasing tight end Coby Fleener after 2 years of a 5 year deal. Fleener was a pretty big disappointment in New Orleans as he and Drew Brees never really developed the connection you would’ve expected given how much Brees liked to target Jimmy Graham in the past. However Fleener managed just 72 catches for 826 yards and 5 TD’s over his 2 years with the team. The Saints were reportedly interested in bringing back Graham, but he signed with the Packers instead, leading many to speculate the Saints had tight end as a high priority. Then they traded up 13 spots in the Draft, including giving up next year’s first round pick, to select UTSA’s Marcus Davenport and didn’t draft any tight ends, making this release a little more surprising to me. As of right now, the tight end roster in New Orleans features a 37 year-old Ben Watson, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Josh Hill of note. Watson has had success in this offense in the past so perhaps that’s the reason why they weren’t in any hurry to get another tight end and were comfortable in letting Fleener walk.

-I didn’t blog about this when it happened due to my being in my finals-related hiatus, but on April 20, White Sox reliever Danny Farquhar suffered a brain aneurysm and collapsed in the dugout during the game. He had to be rushed to the hospital with this affliction that has taken so many lives. Luckily, Farquhar survived and he was finally able to return home yesterday for the first time. Hopefully Farquhar is able to make a full recovery and can continue to create a positive impact on this world, whether that be on the baseball diamond or in other ventures.

-So Vlad Guerrero Jr continues to be the most talked-about minor leaguer in the game today. Here’s something from a segment he was doing with Carlos Pena for MLB Network.

I don’t think the average person quite understands just how impressive this is. A lot of the power behind hitting a home run comes from how fast the pitch is being thrown. Normally guys don’t hit the ball very far off the tee because it’s just sitting still. Well Guerrero Jr is 19 years old and he’s putting a still baseball into the right field seats. This kid is going to be something special and if he’s just half of what his father was, the Blue Jays will have a guy to build around for the next 10 years.

That’s going to do it for this edition of General Sports. Let me know what you think of the topics discussed in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

NBA All Star Weekend Preview

We’re at that magical time of year where it’s NBA All Star Weekend, which aside from the Super Bowl is really the only sporting thing of note in February. It’s in Los Angeles this year and I typically find that the challenges they do to be more interesting than the actual game itself. I’m writing this around 6 pm on Friday night, so I’m just going to give a couple of quick picks on the Celebrity Game and Rising Stars Challenge. I think that team Lakers, coached by ESPN NBA Analyst Rachel Nichols, is going to win mainly because they’ll have Candace Parker on their team, who is really the only person on either roster that I know for a fact is good at basketball. For the Rising Stars Challenge, I think Team World is going to defeat Team USA. I know, that’s very unpatriotic of me, but Team World has both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The best Team USA has to offer is Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Brown, two good players but not up to par with what Team World can offer. I’ll be rooting for Team USA, though, not just for nationalism purposes, but because they have 2 Celtics players (Brown and Jayson Tatum) whereas Team World has none. We’ll see how my picks did on Saturday morning when this blog is published. Let’s get into the festivities.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Are they not doing that Shooting Stars challenge this year? Damn shame, I actually really enjoyed that event, especially once everybody got to shooting half-court shots to try and beat the best time. Well as we get into the third year of the Skills Challenge obstacle course/gauntlet/whatever you want to call it, the new twist implemented has been pretty riveting. The 6 participants are not only just guards now, but big men as well and in fact, both years that this has been in effect a big man has won (Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porznigis). Granted both winners were genetic freaks of nature, which makes it surprising to me that Giannis Antetokounmpo is not taking part in this, as I feel he could totally keep the streak going for big men. But as it stands right now, the participants this year are guards Buddy Hield of the Kings, Jamal Murray of the Nuggets, and Lou Williams of the Clippers to go along with big men Andre Drummond of the Pistons, Al Horford of the Celtics, and Joel Embiid of the 76ers. Drummond’s involvement in this has to be a joke, right? The guy’s a terrific defender and post player, but handling a basketball? Come on now, the guy has a family. Of course, as soon as I say that he’s probably going to go and win the damn thing. I’ve got to imagine the favorite to actually win this thing is Clippers guard Lou Williams, but the way this competition has been going, it’s going to be an athletic big man. Al Horford is probably the most athletically gifted of the bunch but he gives off such a vanilla air that it’s probably going to be a colorful personality like Joel Embiid, who had a pretty great comment over the weekend. Paying homage to Dikembe Mutombo, Embiid was asked what his favorite pickup line is, to which he responded “who wants to sex The Process?” Legend. Embiid’s probably going to win.

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Projected Winner: Embiid defeats Williams in the final.

JBL Three-Point Contest

Wrestling fans will probably do a double-take at the sponsor, but no, it’s not that JBL, but a speakers company. Shame that there won’t be anyone yelling “ballgame” or emotionally (and in some cases, physically) abusing coworkers. But all tangents aside, the contest this year will feature reigning champ and former Indiana Hoosier Eric Gordon of the Rockets, Klay Thompson of the Warriors, Devin Booker of the Suns, Wayne Ellington of the Heat, Paul George of the Thunder, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Kyle Lowry of the Raptors, and Tobias Harris of the Clippers. Klay Thompson’s got to be the odds-on favorite to win this event as he’s arguably an even more prolific 3-point shooter than his teammate Stephen Curry is, but that’s probably because shooting 3’s is all Thompson is really known for while Curry has insane handles to go with his 3-point shooting prowess. But I actually think that Thompson won’t win. He did win it when the event was in Toronto two years ago, but I think the fact that he has won it before will kind of take the sense of urgency out of him. I’m actually going to go with a guy who’s star is on the rise…a star…rising to the sun? Okay, I’m saying I’m picking Phoenix Suns’ guard Devin Booker to win. He’s a very capable shooter and I think he’s going to be on a mission to make an impression on the rest of the league, considering he doesn’t get much respect being the best player on one of the worst teams.

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Projected Winner: Booker defeats Thompson and George in the final.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

Didn’t it always use to be Sprite sponsoring this? I wonder how Verizon is going to make their little scorecards look. But that’s neither here nor there. We’re at the Slam Dunk contest and here’s another event where I think the NBA is totally whiffing on an opportunity to have Antetokounmpo participate. A guy of his freakish athleticism would certainly shine. But we do have a pretty solid list of participants. We have rookies Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz and Dennis Smith Jr of the Mavericks, Larry Nance of the Lakers, and former Indiana Hoosier Victor Oladipo of the Pacers. No real household names (though the way Mitchell and Oladipo are improving, that may change), but some real hop from all of these guys. Oladipo lost in the final round of this contest in 2015 to Zach LaVine, which pretty much spells disaster if you have to face that guy. The fact that he still won in 2016 even though Aaron Gordon’s dunks were way better still doesn’t sit well with me. The reigning champ, Glenn Robinson III, is not participating this year in a dunk contest that was ultimately a letdown from the absolutely incredible 2016 affair. But I think Oladipo is going to come out on top this year. I don’t know if the contest is going to be great, as 3 of the 4 competitors will be making their first appearance in this contest so we don’t know how creative of dunkers they really are. But I do know that Oladipo is capable of some impressive dunks in games, plus he was pretty good when he lost to LaVine in ’16. I think he takes home the hardware this year.

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Projected Winner: Oladipo defeats Mitchell in the final.

NBA All Star Game

This one has an interesting component to it because the top two vote getters, LeBron James and Stephen Curry, picked their teams. On Team LeBron, we’ve got of course, LeBron James of the Cavaliers, Anthony Davis of the Pelicans, Kyrie Irving of the Celtics, Kevin Durant of the Warriors, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Spurs, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Goran Dragic of the Heat, Andre Drummond of the Pistons, Paul George of the Thunder, Victor Oladipo of the Pacers, Kemba Walker of the Hornets, and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder. On Team Curry, we’ve got of course, Stephen Curry of the Warriors, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks, DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors, James Harden of the Rockets, Joel Embiid of the 76ers, Jimmy Butler of the Timberwolves, Draymond Green of the Warriors, Al Horford of the Celtics, Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers, Kyle Lowry of the Raptors, Klay Thompson of the Warriors, and Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves. I’m not nearly as interested in the winner of this game as I am to seeing if a team reaches 200 points. They’ve come close each of the last two years, as the West hit 196 and 192 in 2016 and ’17, respectively. But I guess I have to pick a winner in this game and I think I’m going to go with Team Curry here, as I think they’re a little deeper than Team LeBron. Poor LeBron, can’t seem to shake that Curry kid.

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Projected Score: Team Curry: 187 Team LeBron: 181

That’s going to do it for my NBA All Star Weekend preview, let me know what you think is going to happen in each event in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.