LeBRON FIGURES TO WIN A TITLE WITH THE LAKERS – BUT NOT QUITE YET
You might have heard that LeBron James now is a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The news broke around the start of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
They said it was the first time a news bulletin broke into a Sunday night game on ESPN since a guy named Osama bin Laden was killed May 2, 2011. That’s BIG!
A few quick takes on LeBron joining the Lakers:
1—The overall talent gap between the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference is even wider. The Boston Celtics figure to represent the East in the 2019 NBA Finals by default.
2--The Lakers will be fun to watch again. Their last winning season was 2012-13 (45-27). They’ve been 126-284 since. The Lakers will have a winning record this season and make the playoffs.
3—They aren’t going to win the NBA championship – yet. King James still is the best basketball player on the planet, but even he isn’t likely to carry Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, maybe Julian Randle, newcomers Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee, and probably not Kawhi Leonard (maybe next year) to the title this season.
4—The updated odds posted to win this season’s NBA championship are ridiculous (I think):
Golden State -110 (bet $100 to win $100)
Boston and the Lakers each 7-to-2 (bet $2 to win $7)
They’re the only four teams with single-digit odds.
Cleveland minus James is 500-to-1, at the bottom with Brooklyn and Sacramento.
5—I believe James will become the third player to win NBA titles with three teams – joining James Horrey and John Salley. It could happen as soon as the 2019-20 season. The Lakers will have added another superstar (Kawhi Leonard) or two by then. Improved three-point shooting would be a huge help. How about Kemba Walker or – better yet -- Klay Thompson (add one of the NBA’s great three-point shooters while subtracting him from Golden State).
SABRES WILL MISS O’REILLY MORE THAN HE’LL MISS THEM
I don’t understand how the worst team in any league would think trading one of its best players at the age of 27 for two considerably older fading players, an overrated prospect and two future draft picks is a good idea.
The Buffalo Sabres on Sunday traded Ryan Reilly, one of the NHL’s best two-way centers, a steady 20-plus goal scorer and one of the league’s best faceoff men, to the St. Louis Blues for 30-year-old center Patrick Berglund, 31-year-old left wing Vladimir Sobotka, disappointing No. 26 overall 2016 draft pick Tage Thompson (3 goals and 6 assists in 41 games), a first-round pick in 2019 (probably in the 20 range) and a second-round pick in 2021.
Sabres GM Jason Botterill said, “We had to change the dynamic.”
OK, I’ll buy that. The Sabres haven’t been very “dynamic” in recent years.
He also wants to make Buffalo’s roster “faster.” O’Reilly is not a speedy skater.
Trading O’Reilly will save Buffalo some money (St. Louis picked up his $7.5 million signing bonus due July 1 and his contract is off the books).
But I don’t think unloading O’Reilly will make the Sabres better now or in the future.
HUTTON AND ULLMARK ARE KEYS TO TURNAROUND FOR SABRES
The Sabres were the worst team in the NHL last season. Sub-par goaltending wasn’t the only reason – but it was a big one.
Robin Lehner (14-26-9 record; 3.91 goals-against average; 908 save percentage) and Chad Johnson (19-17-3; 3.55l .891) left much to be desired. So did the defense in front of them.
If the Sabres have a chance to shock the hockey world and make the NHL playoffs this season, new goalies Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark figure to be two major contributors.
Sabres GM Jason Botterill is taking a gamble on Hutton, who signed with Buffalo as a free agent Sunday. The price was right – 3 years for $8.25 million. But he’s 32 years old and has never been a heavy-duty starter in the NHL.
Between 8 and 10 teams reportedly were interested in Hutton on the free-agent market. The Sabres had lots of company. He was an effective No. 2 goalie the past three seasons:
2015-16 (with Nashville) – 17 games; 7-5-4 record; 2.33 goals-against average; .918 save percentage; 2 shutouts...No. 1 Pekka Rinne was 34-21-10; 2.48; .908; 4 shutouts
2016-17 (with St. Louis) – 29 games; 13-8-2; 2.29; .913; 4 shutouts...No. 1 Jake Allen was 33-20-5; 2.42; .915; 4 shutouts
2017-18 – (with St. Louis) – 32 games; 17-7-3; 2.09; .931; 3 shutouts...No. 1 Jake Allen was 27-25-3; 2.75; .906; 1 shutout.
The Blues didn’t want to lose Hutton but they have a hot prospect in 23-year-old Ville Husso, who is coming off two strong seasons in the AHL.
Ullmark at one point last season was expected to be Buffalo’s heavy-duty goalie for this coming season. But he slumped down the stretch and Buffalo isn’t quite as sure that he’s ready for immediate No. 1 status in the NHL.
Buffalo’s defense figures to be improved this season with rookie whiz Rasmus Dahlin and Brendan Guhle.
NBA IS PROOF THAT PARITY IN PRO SPORTS ISN’T ALWAYS NECESSARY
My rankings of America’s four major team sports in terms of parity (percentage of teams with a legitimate chance to win the championship entering any given season):
My rankings of America’s four major team sports in terms of growing popularity:
3--NFL (declining; the National Anthem controversy is a factor, like it or not)
4--MLB (declining; pace of play and lack of action are problems; it is the old-fashioned National Pastime. I’m pretty sure you’ve noticed that a growing percentage of folks are of the opinion that the “good old days” weren’t really all that good).
So what does the NBA have going for it?
1--Basketball is a great spectator sport. In arenas, paying customers are on top of the action. On TV, the court fits perfectly on the screen.
2—The evolution of a very “superteams” apparently has captivated a majority of fans. Simply making the playoffs seems to be a reasonable goal for approximately 26 of the 30 teams. For example, there are scant illusions of a team other than Golden State, Houston -- and whichever team LeBron James decides to play for -- winning the 2019 NBA Championship.
3—NBA players are the best all-around athletes in American pro team sports. In terms of sheer athleticism – coordination, strength, speed and endurance -- that would be tough to argue. They put on an entertaining show and usually look good doing it.
4—The Draft and free agency keep the NBA in the news all year long. The NBA gets more newspaper space and TV/radio sports talk time in the summer when it is not playing than Major League Baseball does while it is playing.
5—The public cares much more about how the USA fares in international play in basketball than in baseball or hockey. American-style football has no international competition.
6—The eyeball test tells me that many more young Americans are wearing NBA shoes, caps and jerseys than NFL, MLB or hockey gear.
YOU MIGHT NOT AGREE WITH ME BUT...
Tim Tebow is putting up decent batting numbers for the Eastern League Binghamton Rumble Ponies (.257 batting average; 56-for-218; 12 doubles; 1 triple; 5 HRs; 30 RBI; 20 walks; 89 strikeouts), but he’s old for a Double-A player (turns 31 August 14) and doesn’t have enough power or speed (0-for-0 stealing bases) to be a legitimate Major League Baseball corner outfielder. If he were five or six years younger and a middle infielder, he might have a chance. But he’d be a big help at the box office with a September 1 promotion to the Mets.
Did NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell mess up again? A growing number of critics – rightly so – are wondering how Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston could get only a three-game suspension for admitted sexual misconduct after New England quarterback Tom Brady received a four-game suspension for allegedly inflating footballs.
SPRAYING BASEBBALL HITS TO ALL FIELDS
The Baltimore Orioles ended a seven-game losing streak with an 8-2 home win Sunday over the Los Angeles Angels. The O’s now are 1-15 versus the AL West and 2-17 at home since May 13. Buck Showalter, manager of the 25-53 Orioles, said, “We’re undefeated in July.”
Tampa Bay completed a 9-1 homestand with a 3-2 win over Houston.
The underachieving Washington Nationals are 6-15 in their last 21 games after a 4-3 road loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Atlanta won 6-5 to complete its first three-game sweep in St. Louis since May 11-12-13, 2012.
Jon Lester won his NL-most 11th game and hit a rare home run to help the Chicago Cubs best Minnesota 11-10 at steamy Wrigley Field. The Cubs have scored at least 10 runs in four straight games for the first time since 1930. Willians Astudillo tripled and is 3-for-7 for the Twins since being promoted from the Red Wings last week.
Texas lost 10-5 at home to the Chicago White Sox but Shin-Soo Choo reached base for the 42nd consecutive game with a walk.
Jose Peraza hit Cincinnati’s MLB-most ninth grand slam HR of the season in an 8-2 game win over Milwaukee. The Reds are 11-3 in their last 14 games and Matt Harvey won his third straight start.
Nick Castellanos hit a grand slam as Detroit ended an 11-game losing streak with a 9-1 win over Toronto.
Seattle’s James Paxton, from British Columbia and pitching on Canada Day, allowed 2 hits and struck out 11 in 8 innings in a 1-0 home victory over the Kansas City Royals.
YANKEES HIT HALFWAY MARK ON PACE FOR HR RECORD
The New York Yankees will enter the midway point of their 2018 season with a 52-27 record and 137 home runs.
The Yankees are on pace to hit 274 HRs this season. The MLB record is 264 HRs by the 1997 Seattle Mariners.
Former Rochester Red Wing Aaron Hicks hit three of the six HRs by the Yankees in Sunday night’s 11-1 romp over the Boston Red Sox. In the equivalent of a full season in 2017-18, he has 29 HRs.
Repeating my suggestion: If Greg Bird doesn’t start hitting better soon, move Hicks from the outfield to first base and platoon Brett Gardner and Clint Frazier in the outfield.
Pro Football Focus says Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy led the NFL in total outside rushing yards last season (654), followed by Le’Veon Bell (603), Mark Ingram (584), Kareem Hunt (581) and Alex Collins (580).
Matt Hague, the 2015 International League Most Valuable Player for the Buffalo Bisons (.338, 11 HRs, 92 RBI) and a solid Rochester Red Wing last season (.297, 10 HRs, 65 RBI), was released last month by the Syracuse Chiefs after starting this season and being released by Tacoma (PCL). If he still wants to play and if Minnesota is looking for a fresh bat for the Red Wings...
The North Carolina (the former Western New York Flash) continue to dominate the National Women’s Soccer League. They scored three goals in a three-minute span in the first half to crush the host Orlando Pride last Saturday. The Pride lineup included former WNY Flash stars Marta, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux. North Carolina is 11-1-3 (including 7-0-1 on the road) and has outscored opponents 31-13.
The best pro hockey goalie for Buffalo this season could be Shannon Szabados, the two-time Olympic gold medalist for Team Canada, who last week signed with the Buffalo Beauts of the NWHL. She was in demand but was attracted to Buffalo because her boyfriend is from Ohio.
The only non-Major League Soccer team to reach the quarterfinals of the 2018 U.S. Open Cup will be Louisville City FC of the United Soccer League. The matchups on July 18: Louisville City FC vs. Chicago Fire...Oklahoma City FC vs. Philadelphia Union...Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo...Portland Timber vs. Los Angeles FC. Since the MLS began in 1996, the only non-MLL team to win the U.S. Open Cup (all teams in the country are eligible) was the 1999 Rochester Rhinos.
The 2018 U.S. Bowling Congress Open Championship concludes Sunday at Syracuse’s Oncenter. Since the tournament began March 24, around 35,000 bowlers and family members pumped an estimated $75 million into Syracuse’s economy. Rochester hosted the AFC Tournament at the War Memorial in 1956 and 1966. Could we do it again?
I’m pretty sure Soccer Sam didn’t bribe the Greater Binghamton Thunder to let 49-year-old Rochester soccer legend and current Lancers coach Doug Miller score a goal just 24 seconds after he entered Saturday’s game at Marina Auto Stadium – but it was an exciting moment for Doug and all of his fans as the Lancers won 5-3. It was his first outdoor goal in 13 seasons, his first ever at the downtown soccer stadium and – perhaps – the final goal of a brilliant career.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO...
Monday, July 2
Rex Burkhead (28)...Alex Morgan (29)...Chad Heene (33)...Johnny Weir (34)...Angel Pagan (37)...Joe Thornton (39)...Eric Daze (43)...Sean Casey (44)...Jose Canseco (54)...Bret Hart (61)...Purvis Short (61)...Richard Petty (81). Margot Robbie (28) and Lindsay Lohan (32) are invited to the birthday party.
Tuesday, July 3
Crystal Dunn (26)...Greg Paulus (32)...Manny Lawson (34)...Grant Wistrom (42)...Teppo Numminen (50)...Brian Cashman (51)...Neil O’Donnell (52)...Moises Alou (52)...Greg Vaughn (53)...Frank Tanana (65)...Julian Assange (47) and Tom Cruise (56) are invited to the birthday party.
Wednesday, July 4
Terrance Knighton (32)...Omer Asik (32)...Josh McCown (39)...La’Roi Glover (44)...Vinny Castilla (51)...Harvey/Horace Grant (53)...Pam Shriver (56)...John Bednarski (66)...Floyd Little (76)...Yankees radio broadcaster John Sterling (80). Malia Obama (20) is invited to the birthday party.
Thursday, July 5
Shohei Otani (24)...sh Smith (30)...Megan Rapinoe (33)...Richie Incognito (35)...Jessie Crain (37)...Chris Gratton (43)...Koy Detmer (45)...John LeClair (49)...Doug Wilson (61)...James Lofton (64)...Goose Gossage (67)...Gary Matthews (68).
ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...
115 years ago (1903), baseball star Ed Delahanty disappeared after being removed from a train by force. His body was found at the base of Niagara Falls two weeks later...97 years ago (1921), Jack Dempsey KOd Georges Carpentier in 4 before a crowd of 91,000 in the first million-dollar gate...86 years ago (1932), Rochester’s Walter Hagen won his fifth Western Open in Cleveland. It was then considered to be a golf major...85 years ago (1933), New York Giants lefthander Carl Bubbell worked 18 shutout innings in a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals....77 years ago (1941), Joe DiMaggio hit a three-run HR to pass Wee Willie Keeler’s record 44-game hitting streak...57 years ago (1961), Roger Maris hit his 29th and 30th HRs en route to 61 for the season...52 years ago (1966), Billie Jean King beat Maria Bueno at Wimbledon for the first of her 12 Grand Slam singles titles...40 years ago (1978), Don Guidry beat Detroit 3-2 for a New York Yankees-record 13-0 start to the season...10 years ago (2008), a settlement was reached allowing the NBA Seattle SuperSonics to move to Oklahoma City.
86 years ago (1032), after 30 years as manager of the New York Giants, John McGraw retired with a 2,583-1,948 record...67 years ago (1951), Sam Snead defeated Walter Burkemo 7 and 6 for his third PGA Championship...52 years ago (1966), Atlanta’s Tony Cloninger became the only pitcher to hit two grand-slam HRs in a game in a 17-3 romp over the San Francisco Giants...42 years ago (1976), Bjorn Borg beat Ilie Nastase for the first of his five straight Wimbledon titles...38 years ago (1980), the host Cleveland Indians beat the New York Yankees 7-0 before a crowd of 73,096...24 years ago (1994), Romania upset Argentina 3-2 in the Knockout Phase of the World Cup at the Rose Bowl...12 years ago (2006), Annika Sorenstam won the U.S. Women’s Open for her 10th and final LPGA major title.
91 years ago (1927), USA beat England 9 ½ to 2 ½ in the first Ryder Cup...54 years ago (1964), Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitched his third no-hitter in a 3-0 victory over the Phillies...44 years ago (1974), the NFL granted a franchise to the Seattle Seahawks...29 years ago (1989), Patty Sheehan won the LPGA Rochester International...20 years ago (1998), the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres, 4 games to 2, in the NHL Eastern Conference Final.
104 years ago (1914), the Boston Braves dropped 15 games out of first place in the National League. They went on to win the pennant...99 years ago (1919), Babe Ruth hit two HRs in a game for the first of 72 times...50 years ago (1968), Rod Laver beat Tony Roche 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 to win the 82nd Wimbledon men’s title...the Philadelphia 76ers traded Wilt Chamberlain to the Los Angeles Lakers...38 years ago (1980), Bjorn Borg beat John McEnroe 16, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6 for the Wimbledon title...27 years ago (1991), the National League approved franchises for the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins...9 years ago (2009), Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick at Wimbledon for his record 15th Grand Slam title.
I’ll be taking July 4th off. My next WHAM-1180 column will be posted Friday at noon. Thank you for reading and for listening.