The people vs Russell Westbrook


The claws are out after the Houston Rockets have compiled a 3-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook’s critics now have the requisite ammunition to lower the phenom point guard down a peg.

After reading this article, I feel the need to defend Westbrook; I think the defense is simple — a player cannot average a triple double and be selfish. Wracking up 10 assists a night is easier than it used to be, but it’s still a difficult accomplishment. How many of Russ’ passes would have led to a dunk but the driving player was fouled in the act of shooting? How many times did a Thunder player miss an open look?

Westbrook averaged 10.4 assists per game over the course of 82 games and has averaged 11 assists a night in four playoff games. I implore you to watch the highlights of the 51-point performance in game 2 on the road. How many times did Russ make the wrong play, passing up an open teammate? Twice, maybe it was three times. His fourth quarter was awful, but the Thunder’s fourth quarter was also awful.

Comparing Westbrook to Allen Iverson, as Sean Fennessey coyly does, is not fair to Westbrook or Iverson. Iverson was a more willing passer than I remembered, averaging 7 assists or more in six of his seasons. However, Iverson had one career triple double. Westbrook had 42 this year.

The most assists Iverson ever had in a season was 596 in ’04-’05. Westbrook had 840 assists in ’16-’17. In comparison to one of the greatest point guards of all time, Isaiah Thomas, had four seasons of 800 or more assists. This included the sublime ’84-’85 campaign where Isaiah led the league in assists with 1,123, 13.9 per game. The great Oscar Robertson, to whom Westbrook is endlessly compared, topped 800 assists four times. In fairness to the Big O, the rules were different in the ‘60s. Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards of all time, topped 800 assists twice. Westbrook is just entering his prime, age 28, and he has had back-to-back 800-assist seasons.

Westbrook is as gifted and as skilled a player to have ever played the point guard position, but he doesn’t play the position like Kidd or Steve Nash. One of the characteristics that binds Westbrook, Kidd and Nash was that in their primes they played at a frenetic pace. Kidd and Nash had running mates. Kidd had Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson, who loved running the floor with Kidd leading the break. Nash had Shawn Marion and Amar’e Stoudemire.

Russ is not the problem in OKC; the rest of that roster is the problem. I would be willing to shed every player except Steven Adams. It’s not that Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Singler and even Enes Kanter are bad players. I think most of those guys will by snapped up by contending teams looking for role players. None of those guys are athletic finishers.

The ’16-’17 season was the first year Westbrook was truly unleashed. Before he had been tied to Durant and Durant’s needs. I think Sam Presti needs to consider remaking this roster in Westbrook’s image. Kidd did not truly thrive until he had the right pieces around him. Nash was a great player in Dallas, but became an MVP in Phoenix. Well, Westbrook is already the MVP, but you can build a championship team if you build to Russ’ strengths: a relentless need to run the floor at full speed and a desire to toss dimes to teammates on artful cuts to the basket.


Potential basketball playing tight ends

The Saints traded Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks earlier this past week. The storyline for Seattle is that Graham makes them the odds on favorite in the NFC. For the Saints, it’s time to rebuild now that they’ve gotten rid of Drew Brees’ most effective pass-catching threat.

With much less fanfare, Julius Thomas signed as a free agent in Jacksonville. My question: are these guys that difficult to replace? Both were undervalued — if people knew Graham was going to be this exceptional, he probably would not have lasted until the third round; Julius Thomas was a fourth round pick.

What they have in common, along with Antonio Gates, is that they all played college basketball. Going back to Tony Gonzalez, the history of basketball tight ends is really strong. I can’t remember it ever not working out.

I did a quick perusal of college basketball rosters. I was looking for guys between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-9 who were solidly built, athletic and probably not on the NBA radar. Honestly, I don’t know if 6-foot-9 would be too tall for some reason but I have some of those guys.

Branden Dawson — Michigan State — 6-6, 225 pounds — SR


I think 225 pounds might be a little light; I would check that scale. Regardless this guy is a monster and he can jump. I bet he’s fast enough too.

Treveon Graham — VCU — 6-6, 225 — SR


The Saints draft Treveon they can probably keep all those Jimmy Graham jerseys they have lying around. This is the type of guy that is perfect. He’s playing high level college on a team that requires him to do a lot athletically — they press constantly. But, he might not be quite good enough to play in the NBA. Definitely a hard-nosed guy too.

Darius Carter — Wichita State — 6-7, 245 — SR


Classic case where a smaller school guy is a little undersized at his position but for an NFL tight end he would be huge. He’s a good leaper, which is becoming more and more important for a tight end.

Coreontae DeBerry — Cincinatti — 6-9, 275 — JR


I think this guy used to play football. To show how athletic he is, he’s a big shot blocker at 6-9. I don’t know if him being that tall is a problem, but good luck pushing him around at 275 pounds. Now, you might want to wait a year because he’s a junior. Side note, he has an awesome name.

Nnamdi Amilo — UCONN — 6-3, 225 — JR


Look at how built this guy is. Athleticism might be questionable because he walked onto the team after playing intramurals; actually I change my mind, that’s a plus because this isn’t a mid major — UCONN won the title last year. He has to be an incredible athlete to be able to do that. And you know with that back story that he won’t get a big head.

Thomas Gipson — Kansas State — 6-7, 265 — SR

Thomas Gipson

This is the one guy who I question whether he’s fast enough. If he is, he’s basically the exact same size as Jimmy Graham. Now, Gipson’s weight has fluctuated. You might want to just convince him to bulk up to 300 and play him at tackle; he has quick feet, but he’s not the explosive leaper as some of the other guys on this list.

Joe Thomas — Miami — 6-7, 245 — already graduated


You already went to the well once with Jimmy Graham and this guy is a tank. Plus it would make for confusing NFL conversations because of all-pro Cleveland offensive tackle Joe Thomas.

JayVaughn Pinkston — Villanova — 6-7, 235 — SR


Justin Anderson — Virginia — 6-6, 228 — JR


Both of these guys are athletic enough and, I think, swol enough to work. The problem is that it would make sense for both guys to get drafted in the second round of the NBA draft. Anderson is slotted for late first round in this mock draft.

Rico Gathers — Baylor — 6-8, 275 — JR


People are already speculating that he might be bound for the NFL. He apparently doesn’t like this talk; he’s leading the nation in rebounding, so I understand. But, I’ll put it this way — the ceiling for his NBA future would be Kenneth Faried, who is a bit of a specialist anyway. He’s probably projecting more like Reggie Evans, who can’t stay on the court because of flaws in his game. His ceiling as an NFL tight end is the best in the league.

Cliff Alexander — Kansas — 6-8, 240 — FR


That same mock draft still has Alexander as a late round pick in the first round. I’m not buying that though. He might be a steal in the second round but I would really want him to go back to school, mainly because he’s a power forward, he’s a little undersized and he doesn’t seem to understand how to play. I don’t know how the NFL’s age thing works with a guy who has NCAA trouble in basketball but this would be a chance to steal an otherworldly athlete.

Death to the big 3 model


I irrationally hate the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It’s weird because I was definitely part of the club last summer that wanted LeBron to go back home, in part because the good people of Cleveland deserve a championship. Logically I still feel that way, but I hated watching them in the early part of the year — the way Blatt and coach LeBron have used Kevin Love is still frustrating and I think that is carrying over to the Mosgov era.

I found myself rooting hard for Golden State in the game on Thursday and then LeBron went apes**** in the third quarter to allow the Cavs to pull away. Even though the Cavs are entertaining now, I’m going to root against them all playoffs. What I dislike is the way the Cavs were assembled — they were atrocious every season after LeBron left, lucked their way into three number one picks and only got two right but still convinced LeBron to come back and form a new big three.

Nothing would put the nail in the coffin of the big three era like a Golden State and Atlanta finals this year. Actually, any team in the west besides the Thunder would drive that point home.

Kevin Durant is my boy; I’ve loved his game since college. Westbrook, because I can’t ignore his amazing play, is growing on me. Sam Presti also put the Thunder together the right way — he got all of his top picks right, let the team grow and has assembled a pretty good supporting cast now: Steven Adams, Enes Canter, DJ Augustin and Kyle Singler (although I still dislike Singler and Josh McRoberts from their days at Duke; Oddly enough, I let that go for Kansas guys but it lingers for Duke white guys).

But if the Thunder are able to vault themselves out of the 8th or 7th seed, it tells the whole league — “You know what, everybody was right, you need at least one superstar.”

Atlanta, Golden State, Memphis, Washington, Toronto, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Portland and The Clippers are all assembled as teams not a big three and scrubs. Yes obviously Dirk and Duncan are lasting superstars, Curry and Thompson are amazing, and CP3 and Blake are just at the tail end of their prime together, but the narrative has never been — with any of those guys — this guy or tandem will carry you to a title without any help.


This all relates to the tankapalooza going on in Philadelphia — the league’s most egregious but not only case of front-office designed tanking. Philly GM Sam Hinkie just traded his best player, Michael Carter Williams, for the Laker’s draft pick he is hoping will fall just outside of the top five. The fly in the ointment is that the Lakeshow are also aggressively tanking. So are the Knicks and kind of Boston. Hinkie also gave away KJ McDaniels, who people tend to like.

As a fan, I agree with what Hinkie is doing. There is a model throughout sports that shows that one of the best ways to build a title contender is to suffer a few years of awful. The Tigers in the early 2000s and recently the Royals have shown that this works. However, in baseball, you can easily recognize that teams are waiting for their young players to come around. The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs are on the precipice of those young pedigreed guys making an impact.

That has not been the case for the Sixers. Everybody thought MCW was a piece of the future and then they dumped him. Embiid and Noel are building blocks but Embiid has not played yet. I think what happens in this years playoffs could inspire Philly to speed things up.

They have their pick, and they have a pick from the Heat if it falls out of the top 10 (a safe bet). If the lottery works out the way it should based on record, Philly would have the No. 2 pick and pick No. 16. Let’s say they pick Emmanuel Mudiay from SMU at 2 (if they like him, it might be part of the reason to get rid of MCW) and Jerian Grant from Notre Dame (his brother is already on the team) at 16. With the two big guys and a veteran wing, that’s a good enough starting five (in an on paper, potential sort of way; I see Grant as a 2 in this scenario) to at least see how they play with each other. If they get the Lakers’ pick this year — in the 6 to 10 range — Kelly Oubre from Kansas makes sense and now you have a potential future starting five. That is unless the two bigs can’t play at the same time and then I would suggest drafting Frank Kaminsky with Miami’s pick.

But if a Thunder and Cavs finals happens, then its oh my God, we need at least two superstars, I could see Hinkie trading Noel for picks.

NBA underrated team

I’m going to try to put together a team that could contend but not break the bank.

C – Marc Gasol


I know he won defensive player of the year honors two years ago, but I still feel like his offense, especially his passing, is underrated. He’s the better of the two Gasol’s in my opinion and Pau is a borderline hall of famer.

PF – Channing Frye


With Gasol occupying the block, it’s nice to have a stretch four to create spacing. I think Frye’s defense is overlooked because he’s regarded as a turn style on that end of the floor. Gasol would make up for some defensive liabilities.

SF – Trevor Ariza


Can go the bombs away route with corner 3s but is also a decent off the bounce creator. Really he’s pretty good at everything but not especially gifted at any one skill. Probably would get eaten alive by LeBron and Durant but so does everybody.

SG – Bradley Beal

Indiana Pacers v Washington Wizards: Game Four

If he can stay on the court, he’ll challenge as one of the best 2 guards for years to come. Can defend, shoot and drive, which is everything you want.

PG – Kyle Lowry


Everyone else so far is more of a clinical technician, Lowry is a pitbull, playing with extreme heart and power. He’s just now starting to get regular playing time and some credit as one of the best point guards in the league. He’s a poor man’s version of Chris Paul.

Back up SF – Luol Deng


He starts for Miami but this team needs a plus defender to come off the pine. I would say he’s slightly worse than Ariza as a offensive player.

Back up PF – Taj Gibson


Two nights ago Reggie Miller said Gibson would start for 25 NBA teams. Reggie overestimated quite a bit but Gibson is a talented defender and extreme hard worker.

Back up guard – Kirk Hinrich


Even though he played for Kansas, I can’t help but love Heinrich because he’s white guy who plays great defense and can play either guard position.

Back up guard – Greivis Vasquez


Speaking of a guy who can play either guard position. Vazquez is the type of passer that allows second units to thrive.

Back up Center – JaVale McGee


He’s a total head case, but this team needs cheap rim protection. I would rather take a chance on McGee than someone like Samuel Dalembert.

Back up guard – Danny Green


Every team somebody who is just a lights out shooter.

Head coach – Brad Stevens


He’s already one of the best coaches in the league. I feel he’s one of the rare guys who is both an X and Os master and a skilled motivator.

Ideal locations for Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony

Rajon Rondo is one of my favorite NBA players ever. His highlights, especially his palm the ball fake passes, are bonkers. I understand he can be hard to reach, kind of like the way Dennis Rodman is kind of described. It’s hard to call a player so talented at dishing out assists selfish but it almost seems that way. I think he’s got another championship run or two in him.

And his days in green and cream are probably numbered. The Celtics seem determined about to rebuild through the tank-to-a-superstar method. That puts Rondo, who’s 28, on the outside looking in. Her are some trade locations.

New York Knicks

This is Bill Simmons preferred destination because of the package the Knickerbockers could offer. Rondo would be the perfect complement to Carmelo and instantly the best point guard he’s ever played with (Chauncey Billups is Rondo’s equivalent as a player but not really a point guard). The roster isn’t great, but not completely devoid of talent. A back court of Rondo, Iman Shumpert, Pablo Pigroni, JR Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. is not bad (it’s not good either). Their front court is just a dumpster fire of guys who are either washed up or less-than-talented young guys, except for Carmelo of course.

The other issue is that the triangle is not the best offense for traditional(ish) point guards and Boston would have to trade him within the division. Let’s keep looking.

Los Angeles Lakers

Not many teammates have meshed well with the Black Mamba and Rondo’s temperament does not seem to be a good fit, but he’s a pass first point guard who can take some of Bryant’s tougher assignments on defense. Kobe would probably kill half the Lakers roster if it meant Rondo was on the way.

As long as the one guy he doesn’t murder isn’t Julius Randle. I like Jeremy Lin but there is so little upside on this Laker roster. Kobe is going to have to score 25 a game to have them sniff .500. Plus, it’s even less likely that the Celtics would trade with the Lake show than the Knicks.

Charlotte Hornets

Rondo would make an interesting young team even better, possibly pushes them to a place where they’re fighting with Washington for second place in the east. It would also be a crappy-Celtics reunion with Al Jefferson.

Sacramento Kings

The Kings need to get a little lucky. They need Ben McLemore (STL!), Derrick Williams, Nik Stauskas, and perhaps even Ray McCallum to show that they are competent NBA rotation players. If three out of the four hit, I think Sac-town’s new owner might pull the trigger on a trade. But, that’s a lot of juries out on quite a few players. Still, the Rondo, Boogie Cousins and Rudy Gay big 3 is an intriguing triumvirate.

The Cousins-Rondo combo would inspire a psychological study. I think the two former Kentucky Wildcats are emotionally similar and thus will either be best of friends or hard-boiled enemies.

Golden State Warriors

Adding Rondo would make an already good team into a potential juggernaut. Ideally you would play Rondo, Curry, Thompson, David Lee and Bogut at the same time and bring Andre Iguodala off the pine. However, it’s a question of what the Warriors can give up. Would they need to part with Thompson, something they were unwilling to do when Kevin Love was on the table, who in fairness is a better overall player than Rondo?

Oklahoma City Thunder

To make this work, where the Celtics would accept it from a basketball perspective, the Thunder would have to give up Reggie Jackson and probably two other young players — candidates include Mitch McGary, Jeremy Lamb and Andre Roberson (?). The Thunder do not have a lot to offer. And they would have to play Russell Westbrook at the 2.

I suggest this because I think playing Westbrook at the 2 is exactly what the Thunder should do, even with playing Jackson at the point. A. It gives Westbrook a break from time to time. B. It cuts down on the oh my God what the Hell did Westbrook just do moments. And if Rondo was the player taking over the point, he would snap Westbrook into shape:

“Do you know what you have? Kevin Durant is a scoring machine; German scientists couldn’t genetically engineer a person better suited to put basketballs through hoops. We’re giving him the ball and we’re going to win games.”

Imagine how beastly the Thunder would be with Rondo, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka on D? It would be like a Chinese finger trap with teeth.

Miami Heat

The Heat really don’t have any trade chips. Their starting five — Mario Chalmers, Wade, Luol Deng, Bosh and Josh McRoberts — is interesting but their bench does not offer much. However, I think Rondo could get them back to title contention territory and maybe squeeze just a little bit of life out of Wade’s tired legs with some easy buckets. Side note, I hope Wade isn’t completely done.

Houston Rockets

What I believe is the best option. I think Houston, with the players they have, can put together some type of package the Celtics would accept. Rondo adds the last piece of the big three the Rockets have been searching for and is better fit than Carmelo would have been. Of course to get the most out of that three, they would have to run … a lot, something I’m not sure Dwight Howard wants to do. Maybe it would work if you lined the rim with candy.

Hall of Fame or Not

On this installment of Hall of Fame or Not, I examine the careers of two big guys and diminutive and productive shooting guard.

Baseball — David Ortiz


-He’s 43 homers away from 500 and he averages 42 over a 162 game period. He’s 38 now but he’s probably playing until he’s 40.
-Career .284 average, 1511 RBI, hit 30 home runs seven times and 54 once in 2006. Career OPS of .925. Had WARs over 4 five times.
-Arguably the best DH of all time with Edgar Martinez.
Won perhaps the greatest game of all-time with a walk off dinger.
Then he did it again the next night in 14 innings.
Boston strong

-He has three rings

-He’s a career DH. Some baseball writers have a real problem this.
-His career as we know it, hitting 30 home runs and close to .300 didn’t really start until 2003. He had two pretty bad years back-to-back in 2008 and 09. Still hit 23 and 28 home runs with 89 and 99 RBI but his averages were .264 and .238.
Has some PED talk swirling around him

Final Verdict: He should get in even if he doesn’t get to 500 home runs. In a few years, the National League will have a DH and the DH stuff will die down. The Hall-of-Fame is meant to cherish moments like that 2004 World Series run and giving Big Papi a bronze bust is a perfect way to do it.

Football — Orlando Pace


-He was a seven-time pro-bowler and three-time all-pro.
-His contemporary Jonathan Ogden is already in the Hall.
-The Greatest Show on Turf never gets off the ground without Pace. Pace’s play was absolutely essential for keeping stone-footed quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger from getting murdered on the long posts that were a staple of the Mike Martz offense. The Martz years in Chicago are a good example.
-Has a ring.

-There aren’t really stats for offensive linemen.
-There was no doubt of his prowess through 2005 and then his career fell off a cliff.
-Played 12 years, which is the same number as Ogden.

Final Verdict:
-I would think he gets in but the voters for Canton are a hard group to judge sometimes. He’s the second best left tackle of his era and the best guy is already in the Hall.

Basketball — Allen Iverson


-He averaged 26.7 points per game in his career. He averaged 30 five times. He’s 22nd all-time in scoring.
-He’s a better defender than he gets credit for, averaging 2.2 steals per game and leading the league in thefts in 2002-03 and 2004-05.
-Has a career PER of 20.9.
-He took Eric Snow, George Lynch, Theo Ratliff, Aaron McKie and Dikembe Mutombo to the finals in 2000-01.
Then he won game 2 of the finals by himself.
-The killer cross over.
Hates practice.
-Tough as nails, was always undersized and got beat up on drives.

-A huge ball hog. He led the league in field goal attempts four times. His highest shooting percentage was .461.
-He shot below 40 percent from field two years in his prime in 2001-02 and 2003-04.
-When he was on a good team, late in his career with Denver, they lost in the first round of the playoffs each year. When they traded him to Detroit in 2008-09 they made the western conference finals and the Pistons lost in the first round.
-Doesn’t have a ring.
Not the best attitude.

Final Verdict:
-I think Iverson is going to get in, but should he? I don’t think AI was a good team player and thus his teams were flawed by his constant lust for the ball. Who would have been the ideal teammates for Iverson en route to a title? I don’t know if anyone group of players would have worked. That doesn’t sound like a hall-of-famer to me.

Hall-of-Fame or Not

It’s time to play America’s favorite guessing game, say it with me folks, “Hall-of-Fame or Not.” I’ll give you an athlete from each of the major American sports (yes, I’m counting hockey) and then an arbitrary assessment of their hall-of-fame validity.

I’ll start with the inspiration for this post.

Baseball — Adrian Beltre


The best defensive third baseman of his generation. Almost unbelievable he only has four gold gloves.
-He has solid career offensive numbers: .284 average, 392 homers, 2,548 hits, .336 on base, 1,368 RBI, .479 slugging, and 75.3 total WAR.
-His seasons in Boston and Texas have been insane, posting WAR over 7 twice and 5 twice and hitting over .300 and 30 home runs in each of those years.
-Has has a shot at 3,000 hits if he plays until he’s 40.
Laughs at cameramen when they fall down and hates being touched on the head.
This is one of the greatest hits I’ve ever seen.

-His early years with the Dodgers and Mariners are very pedestrian, hitting over .300 just once. Is that due to ideal park situations later?
-Doesn’t have a ring, although that doesn’t matter as much in baseball and he played in the World Series twice.
-Is Beltre one of the best third base defenders of all time or just extremely good? Arguable.

-He gets to 3,000 hits, he should be first ballot. If he decided to retire at the end of this season, no.

Football — Brian Urlacher


-One of the best players at his position in a very consistent career. He made eight pro bowls and was a four-time all-pro. Had two 100 tackle seasons and over 90 tackles four times.
-Was the leader of one of the best defenses of his era. A defense dominant enough in 2006 to make a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as it’s quarterback.
-One of the best linebackers ever at defending passes.

-Not the best linebacker of his era. That distinction would go to Ray Lewis.
-Played on good defenses with other borderline hall-of-famer types like Peanut Tillman, Mike Brown (a stretch with him), Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers.
-Plays a position that is historically significant but becoming devalued over time. Middle linebacker is a position designed to stop the run. As the league becomes more and more pass happy, linebackers become less valuable. Just like running backs, teams should be wary of drafting non-pass-rushing linebackers with first round picks.
-Doesn’t have a ring.

-He should get in if for nothing more than pro number two.

Basketball — Shawn Marion


-He has a ring with the very entertaining 2011 Mavericks team.
-He was a key cog with the very entertaining 7 Seconds or Less Suns.
-One of the best defensive players ever. A Swiss Army knife who could defend Kobe and Dirk.
-Career stats are interesting: 15.8 points, 9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Has a career PER of 19.
-The Matrix, great nickname.

-Was never a scorer, although he did have two seasons with 20-point averages.
-Was known for being mercurial.
-Piled up great stats for those Suns teams playing with a great point guard.
-If you’re ranking the top players from the past 10 years, how long does it take to get to Marion?
-Has one of the ugliest jumpers in Association history.

-He should definitely get in from stats alone.

Hockey — Chris Pronger


-The second best defenseman of his era after Niklas Lidstrom.
-Led the league in plus/minus twice with insane seasons in 1997-98 of +47 and +52 in 1999-2000. He played 30 minutes a game during his prime with the Blues.
-Had more than 30 assists 10 times.
-Has a ring with Anaheim. Took a terrible Oilers team to the finals in 2005-06.
Once was hit in the chest with the puck, had his heart stop and was back four days later.
-He didn’t fight often but he was devastating when he did.

-Like Urlacher, he was one of the last of a dying breed. You don’t see the monster-sized defensemen much anymore. Zdeno Chara is really the last of the Mohicans there.
-Stats are good but uninspiring when looking at wings and centers.
-Career really didn’t get going until the 1997-98 season.

-He’s in, probably not much of an argument.