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The Rundown: November 22, 2013

The ’13-’14 Sacramento Kings & The NBA Lottery: Too Soon?

It was an epic battle with Seattle, but, in the end, Sacramento won out and kept the team that it had rooted for since 1985.

Unfortunately, it was also a team that wasn’t very good, even with talented young players like DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore on the roster.

And now, currently at a less-than-respectable, but not bottom-of-the-barrel, record of 4-7, new owner Vivek Ranadive has a big decision to make, in terms of the direction of the team: Does he do all he can to make the team respectable right now; or does he do all he can to see to it that the Kings are guaranteed a lottery pick come next June?

While “Tanking” for a better draft pick is frowned upon in many a professional sports league, it is inevitably practiced. And, with the Sacramento Kings – a franchise that hasn’t seen a winning record since 2006 – it may serve them well to do so. With the roster as currently constructed, it’s possible that the team could grab an awful record for the 2013-14 season naturally. But if they choose not to leave it to chance – say, for example, getting rid of middling players for future draft picks during the regular season – the franchise, while suffering in the short term, could see a potential for long-term prosperity via the draft.

After all, they are currently ranked second in ESPN.com’s new NBA column, “Tank Rank” – rankings of cellar-dwelling teams that could scratch the season as early as the first two months, in order to better themselves in the upcoming draft.

See what I mean?

No, I’m not joking.

But why, you may ask, would this year be any different than any other year, in terms of the importance of grabbing a top-3 draft pick? One need only observe the talent potentially coming out said draft.

Judging from pundits and prognosticators of college and international talent eligible for 2014, this coming draft may be the deepest the league has seen since 2003 – where little-known players with names like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade were taken.

Currently, there appears to be up to five “can’t-miss” prospects coming into the 2014 draft: Kansas SG Andrew Wiggins; Kentucky PF Julius Randle; Duke SF Jabari Parker; Oklahoma State PG Marcus Smart; and PG from Australia, Dante Exum.

While having the worst record in the league may not guarantee the first pick in the draft (As 2009 so unceremoniously showed the Kings), it, at the very least, guarantees a top-4 pick. And with the draft as deep as it projects, it can’t be the worst thing in the world if Sacramento, despite its first season in years without the stormcloud of possible relocation looming over its head, ends up with one of the league’s worst records. Considering their track record over the past seven seasons – not to mention the many seasons before 1999 – it’s nothing new for the capitol city.

And, if their loyal fanbase is willing to tough out one more season of bad basketball, and the Kings end up with the choice of Wiggins, Randle and Parker in their hands, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t ultimately be well worth it.


The Oregon Ducks & The Rose Bowl: Arrogance or Expectation?

When the Ducks of the University of Oregon were flying high as the No. 2 team in the country three weeks ago, it was almost expected by everyone – especially by the team – that they would cruise into a BCS championship berth, most likely in a rematch of 2011 against Alabama.

One loss to Stanford – and a subsequent loss by Stanford to USC – later, and the Ducks are understandably displeased with their current plight.

So much so, that, even with a BCS berth firmly within their grasp, U of O comes off as ecstatic as “Grumpy Cat.”

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

Two players for the Ducks have already expressed their displeasure about needing major help for a chance at the National title game, rather than controlling their destiny by running the table undefeated. After all, they played uncharacteristically slow and sputtered in their loss to Stanford. Had they brought their “A” game, arguably, they could still be in control of the No. 2 spot with only games at Arizona and against Oregon State left on their schedule.

“I don’t want to play in a Rose Bowl unless I’m playing for a national championship,” said wide receiver Josh Huff when asked about playing in the annual BCS game. RB De’Anthony Thomas shared these sentiments:

“It’s not a big deal at all. We already won a Rose Bowl, so it feels like, ‘Whatever.'”

Now, these could be interpreted as words from spoiled players who fail to realize what they have, in terms of opportunity. Only two teams can reach the championship game every year, and the fact that they are still on a fast track to a major bowl game should be appreciated, not treated like a booby prize.

Then again, it’s not like Thomas and Huff were entirely wrong in what they said. After all, they have reached a major bowl game in each of the last four seasons, going 2-2 in the process, and losing their only National Championship appearance, in 2010, to Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers. Furthermore, until they ran into Stanford two weeks ago, they were considered the consensus No. 2 team in the country. Their main expectation for the season – with early Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota at QB and a high-powered offense flanked by Thomas at RB – was to go for that crystal football. Anything short of that opportunity would have been hard for them to look at as anything but a disappointment – fair or not.

These young men play to expectation, just like any other team with championship talent and championship aspirations. It’s difficult to hold it against them when it wasn’t long ago that their ultimate destination would have been Pasadena for the BCS title game, rather than the Rose Bowl. Perhaps the only thing they can be faulted with was their public denouncement of the Rose Bowl berth. Humility goes a long way, as these Ducks may soon find out, when their trip to Pasadena turns out to not be for the National Championship.


Ahmad Brooks vs. The NFL: What’s A Clean Hit?

This hit on Saints QB Drew Brees caused a bit of a firestorm and questioned whether penalties were helping to keep quarterbacks safe.

This hit on Saints QB Drew Brees caused a bit of a firestorm and questioned whether penalties were helping to keep quarterbacks safe.

It was a play that propelled a 49ers linebacker not named Willis, Smith or Bowman into the national spotlight – and one that perpetuated the continuing debate about the safety of quarterbacks, vs. the speed and nature of the game as it is played today.

It was late in the fourth quarter with the 49ers ahead 20-17 in the Mercedes Superdome. On a routine pass play, LB Ahmad Brooks blew by the offensive line and blew up Saints QB Drew Brees for a potential game-ending sack/fumble, subsequently recovered by San Francisco. The play was reversed, however, when officials called a personal foul on Brooks for unnecessary roughness. It continued a drive that ultimately tied the game at 20, and the Saints ultimately won the game in overtime. With the perceived severity of the foul, it was expected that Brooks would receive a fine from the league.

That didn’t stop a bevy of detractors – including Brooks, himself – insisting that the hit, though violent (it irrefutably gave Brees a bloody mouth as a result), was perfectly legal. It turned into such an outrage, that current ESPN NFL Analyst Ray Lewis promised that, in the event Brooks was fined (which he was earlier this week, for $15,750), he would pay half of it.

Apparently, the NFL takes American Express.

Apparently, the NFL takes American Express.

Look, I can let go of the fact that this play may or may not have affected the 49ers’ chances of winning – after all, even after the Saints tied the game on that drive, San Francisco couldn’t move the ball down the field in two potential game-winning drive opportunities. And I can understand that the league is only trying to protect their most valuable asset – the quarterback position – in their crusade to get violent hits to the head, neck and legs out of the league.

But it seems to me that a majority of analysts and former players are seeing more and more instances of legal hits being interpreted as illegal. The rules call for a designated “strike zone” of sorts, below the neck and above the knees, where a tackler can hit offensive players. While it may be as simple as that, equating tackle zones to “strike zones” are problematic – after all, these particular “strike zones” are quick-moving targets, and at the fast-paced speed of the game, it is next to impossible to account for all incidental “illegal” contact. Again, the rules are in place to regulate offensive player safety against tacklers. But there is only so much a league can do before it is asking too much of its players.

Now, this is only a suggestion, but perhaps the NFL and the Officials’ Union can work with many former and current defensive players in order to get a mutual understanding as to what is a clean hit, vs. what is an illegal one. Maybe only then can we bridge the apparent divide between interpretations of both are today in the league.

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