Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thanks for the kind words on Christmas, Sasha

Merry Christmas!

It's funny how even the most emotion-filled of quotes can have more meaning than initially intended. All I've heard from Sasha Vujacic is how much he hates the Celtics and he refuses to wear green. On the other side of the spectrum, Kobe Bryant talks about how the Lakers need to improve and learn from last year.

Kobe has won 3 rings and has proven he is a mentally tough player. I personally don't like him but there's not much I can pick on basketball-wise. The problem for L.A. is he's the only player who scares me. The rest of the players are soft and Vujacic's recent comments only lend credence to the perception that last year's Finals scarred the Lakers.

If I'm Phil Jackson, I tell Vujacic to shut his mouth. If he has enough time on his hands to explain his contempt for the color green, surely he can watch tape of Ray Allen blowing past him twice to seal the Celtics' 24-point comeback win in Game 4 of the Finals. In telling us his real feelings on the events of last summer, he's letting the Celtics know they are indeed in he and his teammates' heads.

Alright, enough Sasha Vujacic talk. Let's talk about today's Celtics-Lakers game. Let me start with this. Since the "Big Three" as we currently know it came into existence, when was the last time this team has had a letdown in a game like this? Other than getting blown out of the Garden by the Jazz last year and losing on a pair of Chauncey Billups free-throws last year the Celtics have shown up for these contests.

All of the "upstart" teams such as the Rockets, Jazz, Trailblazers or Magic as well as the normal stalwarts like the Spurs, Suns, Pistons, Mavericks, Cavs and of course the Lakers have fallen to the Celtics in prime time games. Kevin Garnett and the Celtics' smothering defense simply refuses to suffer a defeat in an important game. You'll never hear it from the players but these really are statement games. Playing on the company line from the Patriots a few years ago, the word respect is on the minds of these players.

"If the Lakers had Andrew Bynum in the Finals, they would've won with ease"

I'm sorry, but no chance. He's back and that soft defense hasn't suddenly gotten tougher. After watching him against the Heat recently, he hasn't proven he can handle pick-and-rolls and still gets called for dumb fouls. Kendrick Perkins will reduce him to a spectator. Watch.

The Celtics will show the whole country how and why they are a better team than a year ago. There are still experts picking the Lakers to win the championship, which is fine. Hopefully they'll get a glimpse into what we see nightly the Mecca of the Hoops Universe known as the Garden when Rajon Rondo blows by Derek Fisher (no, Jordan Farmar wouldn't have made a difference) time after time or Kevin Garnett swats a Pau Gasol hook into the stands.

I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say after the game, Sasha.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Marky-Mark and the Well-Paid Bunch

"%&$#* the Yankees!!!"

"Screw Steinbrenner and all his money!!!"

Sound familiar?

The same curses rampant in New England households yesterday were just as popular back in 2004 when Alex Rodriguez was introduced as a Yankee. We were pissed. I'm just as pissed about the Mark Teixeira deal. I can't wait to boo him next year and buy a clever T-Shirt degrading him because it's my duty as a fan.

My fan-hood aside, after some reflection, I've realized that our boys got beat at a game the Yankees are much better at. This is what they do: outbid teams. Any Red Sox fan who didn't think this could happen had their head in the sand...err ice I mean.

OK. I agree with you. Teixeira signing with the Yankees was worst-case scenario. I was not happy upon hearing about the deal and bemoaned the fact that this was a major opportunity lost. At the same time, if you know baseball and how the Bronx Bombers operate then this wasn't necessarily the most surprising news.

Who thought he wasn't this hired gun who would take the biggest deal put in front of him? He had no allegiances to the Red Sox and, for good reason, had the show-me-the-money mindset.

Now that the player we were all drooling over for the past month or so is in pin stripes it's time to face the facts, people. The Yankees are the most talented team in the American League as of right now and, on paper, will continue to be for the next 3 or so years. Let's also give credit where credit is due. They had a plan to reload, even if the way they did it was in excess.

This is the first time since they have had top-flight pitchers in their primes since the late '90s. Their rotation of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes is most likely the deepest in baseball. Burnett is the only one who would scare me as a New York fan. He has yet to prove he can win a meaningful game and has a laundry list of injuries. Not hamstring injuries but elbow injuries that could flush the Yanks' investment down the drain. For the record, I'm not saying this because I don't like the Yankees (which is true, of course) but because the Marlins are my second-favorite team and they won a World Series without him in 2003. Not a coincidence.

They've had formerly great pitchers who hadn't been worth their salaries in years such as Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina (until last year) and Jaret Wright. Oops. Just kidding. Jaret Wright never really had a prime, did he?

My point is that not only are the Yankees spending an egregious amount of cash but they are spending it on players who can actually get them to the World Series on a consistent basis. Teixeira is a far better signing than Jason Giambi was after the 2001 season. As I've said before, he has no flaws and will be a great fit anywhere he goes. It was evident a guy like Giambi was a DH in waiting and even back then there were whispers of steroids.

There is another aspect of these signings to think about. I would compare their 2008 off season to the Celtics' of 2007. They are "going for it" and have about a 3 to 4 year window to do so. The difference is the Celtics have the likes of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce signed only for the duration of that championship window. The Yankees are on the books for CC Sabathia and Teixeira for long after that.

Obviously I'd be far more concerned about Sabathia down the road than Teixeira due to his penchant for staying at the dinner table too long but Teixeira won't have the same type of value as a 33-year-old. He is obviously a great player but I think he'll be a 25-homerun, 100 RBI type player by then. The deal is basically what the Braves did with Chipper Jones, who evolved into that kind of player, on steroids. Even as a Sox fan I know the latter half of the deal would've been too much money for a great-turned-good player.

The Yankees did pretty much everything right in terms of personnel this off season. You, nor I, should be complaining about their deep pockets. Notice I haven't conceded the East to the Yanks yet, just that they are the most talented team in the division. The Devil Rays proved last year that the amount of cash spent doesn't always translate to a deep playoff run. The Bombers have spent money in this manner before but on the wrong guys. It seems as though this time they've gotten it right.

I'll be checking back later with a Celtics-Lakers preview.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Ponderings

Some things to think about as you enjoy your eggnog (and possibly some other ingredients).

-The Celtics game just ended with an 88-85 win and once again the C's proved they are a far more poised team than the Hawks. I could wax poetic about how talented Atlanta is athletically but they aren't going to go deep into the playoffs with Joe Johnson as your No. 1 option. I don't see this being a real rivalry. Just because the Hawks got hot in a series and pushed the Celts to 7 games does not mean they are on the same level.

The Hawks having highlights of their playoff loss to the Celtics on their website is the biggest joke to outsiders since the Ray Bourque rally for his Stanley Cup with Colorado. That was the lowest point for me as a Boston fan and showed a loser mentality. I would feel the same way if I were an Atlanta fan watching those highlights.

I must say, I'm a bit surprised the Celtics are playing this well this early. I thought it might take a little while for them to have sustained periods of success but they're sending a message to the NBA that last year was just the start of this group's run. Those who talked about the aging Big Three and how there was a strong possibility of decline forgot Rondo and Perkins had the chance to improve. Not only have they improved, they've carried this team at times.

That's 16 straight for the 24-2 Celtics. I still have the Globe sports section from the 18-game losing streak that lasted from Jan. 5 to to Feb. 15 back in 2007. Wouldn't it be sweet to have a paper laying beside it with an "18 Straight!" headline? I don't know if the Celts will win the title this year, especially with the Shawn Marion to Cleveland rumors floating around, but I know I'm going to enjoy this ride.

-I love Mike Lowell. When he re-signed with the Sox a year ago it gave me hope that there were still some good guys left in sports. He's a class act and without him the Red Sox obviously don't sniff the World Series in 2007.

All that said, when a team has a chance to grab as close as there is to a perfect baseball player in Mark Teixeira there really shouldn't be any debate as to whether the ramifications are worth it.

If the Sox do sign him it puts a lot less pressure on David Ortiz to return to form. Remember, guys like Teixeira don't appear on the open market very often so here's hoping the Sox are able to take advantage of the ability to sign him without giving up any of their top prospects.

Lowell would be missed and it probably won't help the Sox in future negotiations (i.e. Kevin Youkilis) when a hometown discount is brought into the discussion. I trust that the Sox brass isn't in the business of shedding tears for players, even a fan favorite like Lowell.

-I'm worried about the Pats' match up on Sunday against the Cardinals. If I were Ken Whisenhunt, I'd look at film from the Chargers-Pats from earlier this season and abuse the Pats' secondary. They lack height and often take bad routes to balls. Poor tackling doesn't help things.

Pats fans are worried about the possibilities of other teams like the Jets, Dolphins and Ravens winning or losing but they really shouldn't look past the Cardinals offense. Boldin, who wrecked my fantasy football playoff game, have the ability to light up this Patriot secondary.

Look for a shootout as I don't think the 'Zona defense can handle the Cassel-led Patriot offense either.

32-29, Pats.