ESPN’s NFL Fantasy Football TOP 15 Overall Projections

PROJECTED 2017 SEASON STATS
1. Le’Veon Bell, Pit RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 261 1268 4.9 7 75 616 2 317.4
2017 Projections 303.6 1398.6 4.6 9.8 81.3 669.4 3.8 368.6
2017 Outlook: Bell was suspended for four games to start the 2016 season but still managed to finish fifth at the position in rushing yards, as well as second in targets, receptions and receiving yards. Bell has been on the field for at least 86 percent of the team’s offensive snaps during 25 consecutive games in which he wasn’t injured or limited (25 of his past 28 total). During those 25 games, he was on the field for 95 percent of the snaps and handled 22.2 carries and 6.7 targets per game. The heavy usage allowed him a top-14 fantasy week during all 12 of his outings last season. There’s little reason to expect the 25-year-old to play a reduced role in 2017. His off-field antics are a concern, but Bell is too good to pass on early in the first round of your draft.
2. David Johnson, Ari RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 293 1239 4.2 16 80 879 4 407.8
2017 Projections 307.1 1229.7 4.0 11.6 77.8 782.2 4.1 368.5
2017 Outlook: Johnson’s breakout 2016 campaign was the highlight of a comeback year at the running back position. Fantasy’s top-scoring running back accrued 2,118 yards and 20 touchdowns on 373 touches. Johnson paced all backs in targets, receptions, receiving yards and end-zone targets (four). He carried the ball inside the opponent’s 5-yard line 22 times (second most). Johnson’s pedestrian rushing efficiency (4.2 YPC, including 1.6 after contact) is far from ideal, but he more than made up for it with volume; Johnson registered a top-10 fantasy week during a position-best 75 percent of his outings. Johnson is in his prime at age 25 and positioned well to again see 22-24 touches every week.
3. Antonio Brown, Pit WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 155 106 1284 12.1 12 3 9 0 307.3
2017 Projections 159.3 107.7 1420.1 13.2 7.6 4 22.3 0.1 302.2
2017 Outlook: How high were expectations for Brown last season? His 106-catch, 1,284-yard, 12-touchdown season was widely regarded as a letdown. Brown missed a game, but still topped wide receivers in fantasy points for the third consecutive season. He finished top-five in targets, receptions and receiving yards for the fourth straight year. Brown turns 29 this year, so he still figures to have a few years of top-end production left in the tank. Ben Roethlisberger’s top target and fantasy’s most consistently dominant wide receiver should be off the board early in the first round of your draft.
4. Julio Jones, Atl WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 129 83 1409 17.0 6 0 0 0 259.9
2017 Projections 142.2 95.7 1434.4 15.0 7.4 0 0 0 284.1
2017 Outlook: Jones missed two games with a toe injury, but still managed to finish sixth among wide receivers in fantasy points last season. Jones’ target share dipped a bit, but Matt Ryan’s top target thrived in the breakout offense of the year. Despite eclipsing eight touchdowns in a season just once in his career, Jones has finished as a top-11 fantasy receiver during four of the past five seasons. Durability continues to be an issue for Jones, as he’s missed at least one game during four of his six NFL seasons. The Atlanta offense will surely come back to earth a bit this season, but 28-year-old Jones is arguably the game’s best talent at the position. Select him in the middle of the first round.
5. Odell Beckham Jr., NYG WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 169 101 1367 13.5 10 1 9 0 296.6
2017 Projections 159.8 97.4 1312.4 13.5 8.1 0 0 0 276.5
2017 Outlook: Beckham’s 2016 season started slowly, but he ended up posting career bests in both targets (167) and receptions (101). Beckham has now managed at least 91 receptions, 1,305 yards and 10 touchdowns during each of his first three pro seasons. He’s finished as a top-seven fantasy wide receiver each of those years. Beckham is known more for his highlight reel catches, but he also ranked seventh in the NFL with 15 end zone targets last season (up from 11 in 2015). The 24-year-old superstar is just getting started and should only benefit from New York’s offseason addition of Brandon Marshall and first-round pick Evan Engram. Beckham is a low-risk, high-ceiling pick early in the first round of fantasy drafts.
6. Mike Evans, TB WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 175 96 1321 13.8 12 0 0 0 304.1
2017 Projections 159.5 86.8 1202.1 13.8 8.7 0 0 0 260.2
2017 Outlook: Evans was terrific during his first two years in the NFL, but he took his game to a new level in 2016. Evans paced the NFL with 170 targets, a league-high 20 of which came in the end zone, and ranked top-six in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. A 6-foot-5 downfield weapon, Evans has ranked top-10 at the position in average depth of target each of his first three seasons in the NFL, which justifies his substandard 54 percent catch rate. Fantasy’s No. 4-scoring wideout was consistent but not dominant, posting only four top-10 fantasy weeks, which tied for ninth. The additions of DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard will take some heat off of Evans and won’t cost him many targets and scoring opportunities. Evans is a solid WR1.
7. LeSean McCoy, Buf RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 234 1267 5.4 13 50 356 1 298.3
2017 Projections 240.8 1191.6 4.9 7.4 51.7 416.5 1.7 264.4
2017 Outlook: McCoy turns 29 this summer, but his age and hefty career volume of work didn’t seem to slow him in 2016. Far from it, in fact. McCoy ranked in the top six in rushing yards for the fourth time in six years and, thanks in part to elite run blocking, his 5.4 YPC ranked fifth among backs. McCoy posted a top-10 fantasy week during 53 percent of his 15 outings (sixth best) and finished fourth at the position in fantasy points. McCoy also caught an incredible 50 of 55 targets (91 percent). Buffalo won’t be quite as run heavy with Rex Ryan gone, but McCoy is an explosive lead back in an offense that ranked seventh in touchdowns per game last year. He’s a quality RB1 option.
8. A.J. Green, Cin WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 100 66 964 14.6 4 0 0 0 186.4
2017 Projections 151.6 96.1 1312.7 13.7 7.6 0 0 0 273.1
2017 Outlook: The Bengals’ 2016 season was marred by injuries and Green was caught up in the onslaught. After posting at least 1,000 receiving yards during his first six seasons, Green caught 66 passes for 964 yards and four scores in 10 games in 2016. He finished an NFL-best 70 percent of his 10 starts as a top-30 non-PPR fantasy receiver. He’s finished top-nine at the position in PPR during three of the past five seasons, but has missed a total of nine games due to injury over the past three seasons. Green turns 29 years old this year and remains one of the best and most heavily targeted wideouts in the league.
9. Jordy Nelson, GB WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 152 97 1257 13.0 14 0 0 0 304.7
2017 Projections 140.5 92.2 1276.5 13.8 9.9 0 0 0 279.4
2017 Outlook: Considering that he missed his entire age-30 season with a torn ACL, it was fair to wonder just how effective Nelson would be in 2016. It turns out the answer was ‘very,’ as Nelson caught 97 passes for 1,257 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to finishing second among wide receivers in fantasy points. Nelson’s seven top-10 fantasy weeks were second-most at the position and he finished 35th or better during all but two of his 16 outings. Nelson has finished second, third, 13th and fourth during the past four seasons in which he’s appeared in all 16 games. He scored 13-plus touchdowns during three of those campaigns. Nelson’s age (32) is enough to knock him down a few spots, but he’s still a quality target near the first/second-round turn.
10. Devonta Freeman, Atl RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 227 1079 4.8 11 54 462 2 284.1
2017 Projections 202.3 858.9 4.2 9.5 52.2 446.9 3.3 259.6
2017 Outlook: Freeman registered 57 fewer touches in 2016 than he did when he led all running backs in fantasy points in 2015, but the dynamic young back produced only 32 fewer fantasy points. Freeman posted a healthy 4.8 YPC, thanks, in part, to terrific blocking (3.2 yards before contact per attempt ranked seventh) and high-value carries (his 16 carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line ranked fifth). Freeman ranked ninth in rushing yards and fifth in receiving yards at the position. He posted seven top-10 fantasy weeks. The presence of Tevin Coleman, departure of Kyle Shanahan and some offensive regression to the mean will lead to a statistical step back for Freeman, but he’s still a back-end RB1 option in all formats.
11. T.Y. Hilton, Ind WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 156 91 1448 15.9 6 0 0 0 273.8
2017 Projections 146.8 84.1 1292.6 15.4 7.4 0 0 0 258.2
2017 Outlook: Following four years as essentially a solid No. 2 fantasy receiver, Hilton took his game to a new level in 2016. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound playmaker caught 91 of 153 targets for 1,448 yards, all of which were career highs. Hilton averaged 9.5 yards per target (10th best) and finished as a top-10 fantasy receiver during 38 percent of his outings (sixth best). Hilton isn’t a great source of touchdowns, averaging exactly six per season since entering the league, but he makes up for it with heavy volume and high-end efficiency in the Colts’ pass-heavy, Andrew Luck-led offense.
12. Melvin Gordon, LAC RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 254 997 3.9 10 41 419 2 250.6
2017 Projections 295.7 1196.6 4.0 6.9 42.6 341.3 1.9 245.9
2017 Outlook: Gordon enjoyed a breakout 2016 season, but it would’ve been even better if not for a season-ending hip injury suffered in Week 14. Gordon entered that game with 12 touchdowns and third at the position in fantasy points. Gordon was limited to 3.9 YPC on the season but was good after contact (his 2.0 YAC ranked 16th). Gordon registered 17 carries inside the opponent’s 5-yard line (third most) and his 419 receiving yards ranked ninth. Gordon is entering his prime years at age 24 and will again be the clear feature back for an emerging Los Angeles franchise. Select him in the second round of your draft.
13. Michael Thomas, NO WR YEAR TAR REC YDS AVG TD RUSH YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 122 92 1137 12.4 9 0 0 0 255.7
2017 Projections 131.9 94.2 1171.6 12.4 8 0 0 0 258.7
2017 Outlook: Thomas was fantasy’s No. 7 wide receiver despite missing one game as a rookie. The Ohio State product caught 77 percent of his targets (third best among wideouts) and averaged 9.5 yards per target (ninth). He posted an impressive nine top-30 fantasy weeks during his final 13 games of the season. New Orleans’ second-round pick from 2016 is obviously in the WR1 mix, especially with Brandin Cooks gone, but keep in mind that a Saints wide receiver has exceeded a 20 percent target share only once during the Sean Payton/Drew Brees era (Thomas averaged a 20 percent share as a rookie). Nonetheless, Brees will back under center in 2017, so the 24-year-old Thomas is a great bet for a huge second season.
14. Jordan Howard, Chi RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 252 1313 5.2 6 29 298 1 230.1
2017 Projections 273.4 1245.5 4.6 8 31.8 258.8 1.4 236.7
2017 Outlook: Howard opened his rookie season third on Chicago’s depth chart, but it didn’t take the intriguing fifth-round pick long to work his way into workhorse duties. The big man ranked 11th in the league in carries, but his terrific effectiveness (5.2 YPC, 2.2 YAC) allowed him the second-most rushing yards. Howard’s hands (position-high eight drops) are a concern, but he still managed 48 targets and averaged a healthy 10.3 yards per reception. Touchdowns may elude Howard in Chicago’s underwhelming offense, but the 22-year-old emerging star will push for 20 touches every week. Upgrade him slightly in non-PPR.
15. DeMarco Murray, Ten RB YEAR RUSH YDS AVG TD REC YDS TD PTS
2016 Statistics 293 1287 4.4 9 53 377 3 293.8
2017 Projections 248.4 1088.6 4.4 8 43.5 310 1.8 239.7
2017 Outlook: Following a rough year in Philadelphia, Murray reassumed his spot as one of the game’s top tailbacks with 1,664 yards from scrimmage in Tennessee last year. Murray averaged a healthy 4.4 yards per carry despite facing an average of 8.1 in-box defenders (fourth highest). Murray ranked third at the position in carries and sixth in receptions, which helped him to his third top-six fantasy season in four years. Once labeled as injury prone, Murray has missed one game in the past three seasons. Murray is now 29, and Derrick Henry’s role only figures to expand, but the veteran remains the lead back and a three-down contributor in one of the game’s most run-heavy offenses.
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The NBA Off-Season Fraternity Battle

ESPN’s corporate stronghold on the sports reporting business is growing stronger and stronger by the second, even with massive budget cuts, overall revenues taking a dive recently and lay-offs of SEVERAL high ranking “analysits”.  ESPN as a brand is still going strong, replacing the popular and (occassionally overly) well-paid talking heads with younger unknown talking hairdos almost regularly.

One of the NBA mainstayers is Tom Haberstroh, an extremely knowledgable NBA beat-writer who I would guess has a lot of phone numbers in his cell’s contact list.  He’s probably so cool.

But even the greats can falter at times, like Tyson against Buster Douglas or Lebron James against Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan again, Tony Parker again, Kawhi Leonard, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry again, Klay Thompson again, Kevin Durant and of course Javale McGee.

The NBA preseason jibberish writing is of the fullest abundance currently, Mr. Haberstroh has briefly lost his way in an article posing the question of “Who’s the next Super Team?”.  After discussing the obvious (although not-probable) possibilitites: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers (big “IF” on this one) and San Antonio Spurs, the list became hilarious, ficticious and even more fleeting than Anthony Scaramucci.

Haberstroh writes:

Darkhorse: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have essentially cleared the decks for the future. By trading Jimmy Butler and officially hitting the reset button on the Tom Thibodeau era, Chicago has only about $23 million in guaranteed contracts in 2018 and another $16.4 million in non-guaranteed money. Zach LaVine has a free agent cap hold at nearly $10 million, but the expectation here is they’ll wait on extension talks until they see his recovery from a torn ACL. That would be the smart move.

The Bulls should have $52 million in cap space next summer and a big-time market to lure free agents, but unlike L.A. and San Antonio, Chicago lacks a magnetic star like Kawhi or Lonzo. Maybe Kris DunnLauri Markkanen or LaVine can prove us wrong, but we’re not betting on a star rising in Chicago anytime soon.

Runner-up: Phoenix Suns

Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough knows what it takes to get this done. The 36-year-old was an assistant GM under Danny Ainge when they brought in Garnett and Allen in 2007. The chest is full of assets in Phoenix. The Suns have four top-10 picks on the roster who aren’t even of drinking age yet: Devin Booker (20 years old), Josh Jackson (20), Dragan Bender (19) and Marquese Chriss (20).

Not only that, the Suns have the Heat’s 2018 first-rounder (protected Nos. 1-7) and their unprotected 2021 first-rounder to toss in a deal, in addition to their own first-round picks going forward. Assuming the Suns don’t attach any of those long-term prizes in a deal for Kyrie Irving, the Suns are set to be prime candidates for a superteam via trade.

There’s no doubt that the Suns will be lurking in case a disgruntled star makes noise next season. Like Boston, the Suns figure to keep a close eye on New Orleans, but Kristaps PorzingisBlake Griffin and Klay Thompson are all names to watch down the line.

Dark horse: Philadelphia 76ers

The process is starting to turn into results. By signing JJ Redick and Amir Johnson to big one-year deals, Bryan Colangelo sent a clear message: overspend now but retain flexibility later. Philadelphia is set up for the future with $48 million in cap space to spend in 2018 while retaining a core of Markelle FultzBen SimmonsDario SaricJoel Embiid and Robert Covington (the latter two’s free-agent cap holds are factored in here).

Even with a max contract for Embiid, the 76ers would have $50 million in cap space for 2019 to go after Klay Thompson or Kevin Love. Of course, with all the young talent, they could flip their bundle of assets for ready-made stars, a la the 2008 Celtics. Colangelo isn’t shy about fast-tracking a contender. Remember, in Phoenix, Colangelo in 2004 signed a 30-year-old Steve Nash to pair with a 21-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire and a 23-year-old Joe Johnson. And the rest is history.

The next ’14 Warriors: Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have quietly built an offensive machine in Denver. Fact: After Nikola Jokic joined the starting lineup in Dec. 15, the Nuggets — not the KD edition of the Warriors, nor the LeBron-led Cavs — owned the NBA’s best offensive rating for the rest of the season (113.3 points pre 100 possessions). Yeah, that caught the rest of the NBA by surprise too.

And just like the Warriors, the Nuggets built an offensive juggernaut largely through the draft without needing a top-five pick. Like Draymond Green, Jokic was a gem found in the second round back in 2014. Talented guard Jamal Murray was the No. 7 selection in 2016, and Gary Harris was a sweet-shooting steal at No. 19 in 2014. Kenneth Faried was the No. 22 pick in 2011 during the Masai Ujiri regime.

Under the leadership of president Tim Connelly and Arturas Karnisovas, the Nuggets have nailed their draft picks lately. And like Golden State a few years ago, they’ve begun adding from the outside. This summer, the Nuggets acquired their version of Andre Iguodala in Paul Millsap, a star team-first veteran who can anchor both sides of the floor.

And they may not be done. With some cap creativity, the Nuggets could have up to $45 million in cap space (good enough for a max player) to add to an already strong core of Millsap, Jokic, Murray and Harris. If Denver declines Jokic’s team option, he would join Harris in next summer’s restricted free-agent class, giving Denver more flexibility next summer.

So who would be the Nuggets’ KD? Don’t overlook Chris Paul as a target. Denver’s head honcho, Connelly, was the assistant GM in New Orleans in 2010 while Paul was there. And the Los Angeles Times reported that Denver was on Paul’s short list of planned free agency meetings this summer before Houston pried him away. No team may ever replicate the Warriors’ success through the draft, but Denver could have the best shot of anyone.

Runner-up: Milwaukee Bucks

This is another stud core built through the draft. Giannis AntetokounmpoJabari ParkerMalcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker were all Bucks’ selections, and only one (Parker) was a top-nine pick. (Milwaukee also traded for Khris Middleton after his rookie season in Detroit.) The Bucks have indeed hit the jackpot in the draft, but the Bucks’ “own the future” slogan could be soon running on fumes.

Look at the cap sheet and you’ll see that the Bucks in 2018 have $100 million in salary, just $2 million below the cap, thanks to some questionable long-term free agent signings in Mirza TeletovicMatthew Dellavedova and John Henson(an extension, technically). A tough question for the retooled front office will be whether to pay up for Parker after two ACL tears when he becomes a restricted free agent.

As of now, it seems as if the only way to build a superteam is from within. The Bucks could be a tax team next summer if Parker’s new contract commands a salary north of $20 million, limiting their options in free agency.

Still, if the core continues to develop like its has, the Bucks will be in prime position to take over the Eastern Conference when (if?) LeBron James heads West or begins to decline.

Dark horse: Sacramento Kings

Look, we can’t believe we’re mentioning Sacramento and Golden State in the same breath either. But the young core in Sacramento is tantalizing. Youngsters De’Aaron FoxBuddy HieldWillie Cauley-SteinSkal LabissiereJustin Jackson and Harry Giles represent a sky-high ceiling in Sacramento. With George HillZach Randolph and Vince Carter presenting some much-needed veteran infrastructure, the kids could bring trouble to the rest of the NBA in a few years.

We’re a long ways away from seeing if the Kings have something that resembles a playoff team, but the seeds have been planted. Look for the Kings to pounce in 2019 free agency with as much as $55 million in cap space with nine players under contract (all first- or second-round picks).

If they hit a couple home runs in the draft and manage the cap shrewdly, could they steal Klay Thompson in 2019? We like what’s brewing up the coast in Sacramento.

Even in Trump’s America, where an appointed communications director doesn’t last 10 days, I STILL never thought I’d see the words “Super Team” combined with Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Denver Nuggets and the real kicker: the Sacramento DAMNIT, NO Kings!

First to address the obvious:  No star worth his weight in gummy bears is purposefully going to Sacramento.  Sorry, it’s not happening.  In a league that’s built around multi-top tier players in order to compete, there’s just no shot at Sacramento luring a Golden God.  They’d have to build from within by drafting young talent, which I’ll admit openly: they’ve ve done well so far, on paper.  BUT in order to dethrone the Warriors, Spurs or future Lebron-Lakers 100% of the players drafted would have to come to fruition and contribute almost immediately.

Next up:  Ok, Chicago and Philly make a little more sense in a perfect, utopian basketball world where everything goes according to plan.  Chicago has a destination-pull for young talent as a city in general and now that they’ve parted ways with Jimmy Butler there is an opening for the alpha-dog position.  It makes sense that through a trade or free agency they could make a move in the next 2 years.  The same can be said for Philly, in addition to the amount of “potential” talent they already possess, not to mention the amount of cap space available.  Although, does anyone else get a Greg Oden-vibe about Joel Embiid?  Just sayin…

 

And lastly:  The Nuggets and Suns are both respectable mid-level franchises with pros and cons to playing in both locations.  Denver offers a great city life and a strong fanbase, as does Phoenix.  Both franchises have had mid-level success over the last 10 years, playoff appearances, some young talent, good moves and BAD moves by the front offices respecitvely.

From an objective viewpoint, all of these mentioned franchises (except Chicago and Philly) have relatively the same issues:  mid-level market, mid-level franchise with very little lure for big names and very little room for a strong playoff run due to road-blocks; The Spurs, The Warriors, The eventual Lebron to the Western Conference scenario, and not to mention The OKC Thunder.  Franchises like Denver, Phoenix and Sacramento are AT BEST a 5-seed in the West and more than likely eliminated in the first round.  Today’s NBA is the most robust version of AAU basketball we’ve ever seen, the top 10 players in the league have 99% of the pull when it comes to player movement and franchise-changing transactions.  This generation of superstar wants to be on the court with their high-level talented friends, and it takes 3 stars on a roster to even compete for the top spot in either conference.

Sidenote:  The Kyrie Irving situation in Cleveland.  I understand Kyrie’s desire to be “The Man”, but where and how is there any scenario that will be better than what he already has?  ANY team he goes to will have a lesser chance of making the NBA Finals!  Go ask Russell Westbrook how many “The Man” moments will make up for consistent first or second round exits in the playoffs for the next 5 years?  Winning is what matters, winning solves all problems.  And the major problem is that the NBA may as well be fraternity row right now, the biggest, richest house on campus (Golden State) has all the best parties, the most recognition and the most pledges knocking down the door to join.  Until Delta Delta Delta can figure out how to beat Alpha Beta at their own game, no one else stands a chance.

Annonymous NBA Front Office Executive:

When lovable nerds (name retracted) and (name retracted) embark on their freshman year at Adams College, little do they realize the dangers that await them. They are beset by taunting from the jocks of Alpha Beta fraternity, which only worsens when the jocks accidentally burn down their house and toss the freshmen out of the freshmen dorm. To make matters more problematic, (name retracted) develops a crush on pretty Betty Childs, popular sorority sister and quarterback’s girlfriend. Joined by the aptly named Booger and the violin-playing Poindexter, the nerds soon realize they must form their own fraternity in self-defense. Soon the tables are turned as the nerds employ high-tech warfare against the jocks…. but can they really succeed and make a difference?

 

 

ESPN Is Bored As Hell – National Spelling Bee Coverage

The Quiet Darkness Of The National Spelling Bee

Alex Brandon/AP Images

OXON HILL, Md. — A row of metal detectors guards the hotel ballroom that stages the Scripps National Spelling Bee. There’s less than an hour until the final day kicks off with Round 4, but this main entrance is nearly empty—a trio of security guards are the only people here. I ask the woman who searches my bag if they check for dictionaries or giant flash cards with letters on them.

She looks at me blankly. No, she says. “Mostly knives and pepper spray, stuff like that.”

All of the bee’s latter rounds receive the same slickly produced high-stakes treatment on ESPN each year. For the very final rounds, at night, this seems to make sense—it’s the most intense competition, the biggest crowd, the primetime broadcast. But right now, it is 9:30 a.m. with 40 spellers remaining and Fall Out Boy blasting to pump up rows of empty seats. There are anxious parents, bored-looking siblings, and hardly anyone else apart from staffers and television crewmembers.

I’d been amazed a few days earlier when I looked up “national spelling bee tickets” on a whim only to discover that there were no tickets. No tickets at all! Anyone could just walk right in to this prestigious nationally broadcast event featuring our nation’s most talented youth! Wild! How blessed was I to be only a moderately-priced cab ride away from such glory? I couldn’t find anything on the process of securing a seat, but I imagined it would be difficult. A line that started forming hours in advance, probably, or adults holding their own spell-offs to decide line priority, or something. I decided to leave at least 90 minutes early to give myself a chance at getting in.

I left an hour early because I am incapable of getting ready efficiently, but I soon discovered that I could have been three hours late and been completely fine. I should not have been amazed that the National Spelling Bee is not a ticketed event, because it should have been self-evident that there is little-to-no demand to spend a beautiful spring day inside watching unfamiliar preteens melt under pressure over your morning coffee.

Family members are easily identified, both by a tag that declares their speller of choice and also by their conspicuous stress levels. There are very, very few people who seem to be here for anything so ordinary as entertainment. I ask a bee staff member if it’s really so weird to attend simply because you want to. She cheerfully informs me that plenty of people come to watch solely as spelling enthusiasts. I don’t see any of them now. The staff member notes that the majority of these people come for the evening rounds.

It’s only after the better part of a round that I realize that entertainment was the wrong foundation for the question. The bee is captivating, but there is nothing entertaining here. It is extraordinarily uncomfortable peeling back the sheen of production to watch it unfold live during the day—an awkward intimacy in seeing just how tiny the spellers are in person, how harsh the lights and how big the stage for a half-empty room made to seem full on a television broadcast. There are pre-recorded introductions for the kids who are favored or who have the most compelling stories, and their tape plays on an enormous screen above their heads as they stand alone on center-stage below.

The pre-taped versions of the children flash their braces with big smiles and talk about how much they love the Hamilton soundtrack while their real-life counterparts fidget anxiously under the spotlight and wait to be given a word. Each makes the other feel wrong, and it’s hard to know which one to look at.

NBA Finals Game 3 “A Must Win” For Cleveland (no kidding)

click here for the full story.


LeBron James says Game 3 is ‘do or die’ for Cavaliers

CLEVELAND — Trailing the Golden State Warriors 2-0 in the NBA Finals and dealing with uncertainty regarding Kevin Love‘s playing status, LeBron James projected an aura of urgency when he spoke to the media Tuesday.

“It’s going to be the next man up,” James said in advance of Wednesday’s Game 3. “We’re down 0-2, and we can’t afford to look and say, ‘Wow, Kev’s not playing. What are we going to do?’ It’s next man up, because it’s a must-win for us.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was noncommittal about Love’s status, sharing only that the star forward was “feeling better” after suffering a concussion in Game 2. Lue said the Cavaliers wouldn’t know whether Love could play until Wednesday…………click here for more.

Blame Billy Donovan For OKC’s Success (Said a Warriors Fan)

–originally posted on espn:


Billy Donovan’s leadership earning Thunder players’ respect

May 22, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY — Billy Donovan has a line he likes to repeat when he’s talking about his philosophy with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

How can I bring value?

Donovan said that line a number of times in his introductory news conference last summer and has dropped it periodically throughout his first season as Thunder coach. His focus from the moment he was hired until now — three victories from an NBA Finals appearance heading into Sunday’s Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors — hasn’t been in how he could overhaul the Thunder to fit his style. He wanted to refine them, to elevate them to a higher level of basketball. He has hammered home offensive concepts of ball movement and spacing. He has talked incessantly to players about discipline and composure. And he has been a keen observer and listener, soliciting the constant advice of his stars while flexing on defensive schemes, verbiage and rotation patterns.

There were plenty of question marks — NBA inexperience being the biggest one — when general manager Sam Presti made the decision to fire Scott Brooks and hire Donovan, who spent the previous 19 seasons at the University of Florida. He was thrust into an ideal, but difficult, situation from the start. A ready-made title contender with superstar talent, but with inclusion of win-now pressure.

And on top of it, Donovan started in Kevin Durant‘s free-agency season, in which every move and decision would be critiqued and catalogued for possible future reference. To help with that, Donovan rounded out his staff last summer with plenty of NBA experience, adding Monty Williams and Maurice Cheeks as his top two assistants. Williams hasn’t been with the team since February, when his wife, Ingrid, died tragically in a car accident. And Cheeks was away from the bench for six weeks late in the season due to hip-replacement surgery.

During the time when both were away, the Thunder hit their low point of the season, losing eight of 12 games following the All-Star break, a stretch which featured back-breaking lost leads. (As well as the deaths of minority owner Aubrey McClendon and the brother of Thunder guard Dion Waiters.) With Donovan’s top two assistants away, it was all on the first-year NBA coach to guide the Thunder as they tried to navigate a rocky time. Players have since lauded Donovan for his leadership during those weeks, noting his poise and focus helped keep the team from teetering.

“He’s gotten better,” Durant said. “He’s definitely gotten better.”

The question, though: Has Donovan actually made the Thunder better? Or has he just picked up the baton from Brooks and carried it on? Brooks took the Thunder to three Western Conference finals in his five seasons, the two he missed coming after Russell Westbrook‘s knee injury in 2013 and Durant’s foot injury last season. Donovan has the Thunder back, but Westbrook and Durant are back, too.

You can’t deny Donovan this: He has beaten maybe the two most well-respected coaches in the league this postseason in Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich. Against the San Antonio Spurs, Donovan deployed a super-big lineup that swung the series. He has acquitted himself and won respect along the way, primarily from the Thunder’s superstars.

“It’s not about that for him, it’s about how we’re going to grow together as a team,” Durant said about Donovan getting credit. “Everybody is loving you when you win a game, but as soon as you lose a game, he doesn’t belong here. So it’s up and down on the outside how people feel about him, but we know throughout the whole season he’s poised and definitely giving us that confidence that we can play well every single night. He’s been a great motivator for us.”

With Donovan coming from college, there was the assumption he was going to have to earn the trust of his players, especially Durant and Westbrook.

“It shouldn’t even be that way. It’s vice-versa,” Durant said of that line of thinking. “He’s the coach, he’s the leader. He’s going to be here. So we’ve got to prove to him that we’re going to go out there and follow the game plan from training camp. From Day 1, we’re going to follow what he wants us to do. That’s how he weeds out the players who doesn’t. In this league, we tend to think of it as the coach has to earn the players’ respect, but really the players have to earn the coach’s respect when you’ve got to go out there and play for him. Professional sports are a little different, but growing up as a kid, it was all about following the leader, and that’s the coach.”

 Film sessions have been different under Donovan. Brooks didn’t let players slide in the film room, necessarily, but there was a lack of application. Donovan is much more intentional with accountability, according to players. Problems and issues are being directly addressed; the process was inconsistent before.

Durant values coaching, telling those around him last summer he thinks it makes a significant difference. When Donovan was hired, Durant spent time researching his new coach, talking to former Florida players and reading articles about him. Durant came away impressed and excited to start work. And through a regular season and now deep into the playoffs, Durant has some firsthand evidence.

Boston’s Brad Stevens is hailed as the principal college-to-NBA success story, but he also had the advantage of not being in a high-profile situation his first season with the Celtics. Donovan has stepped into a team that was featured on national television close to 30 times in the regular season and now has the burning interrogation lamp of the Western Conference finals on him. He has already won seven more playoff games and two more playoff series than Stevens. He has had his struggles, from timeout management to questionable roster choices (benching rookie Cameron Payne during the regular season, then playing him randomly against the Spurs) to overcomplicating the defensive scheme earlier in the season.

But Donovan has reacted, adapted and adjusted well, improving throughout the season and really finding a voice in the playoffs. He has his work cut out for him in trying to level the playing field against the 73-win Warriors, but with a road victory already, the Thunder are positioned well. Not only in the series, though, because Donovan’s development serves as yet another piece in the recruiting cupboard the Thunder will throw at Durant this summer. That would be some real value.

Skip Bayless Is Leaving First Take, Stephen A Smith Will Continue The Shit-Show

Skip Bayless announced that he is leaving ESPN’s fake-ass debate show, “First Take” after the conclusion of the NBA Finals.  Reportedly he is making the jump over to FOX Sports One to be with the other most hated and un-likeable sports-troll, loud-mouthed Uncle, Colin Cowherd.

I can’t even get 1 minute into this sincere goodbye and thank you from Skip Bayless without wanting to choke myself with a bag of soiled underwear.  Both of these two sports-debate-manikans make my skin crawl, which is why i haven’t watched “First Take” consistently in several years.

Their opinions are forced and always have an over produced agenda, they talk about themselves more than any actual intelligent sports commentary and the amount of undying man-love tennis match of compliments that go back and forth between the two would make a sappy romantic novel writer want to gouge their eyes out with a rusty spoon.  Seriously, these two guys jerk each other off more than a prison yard bread-game session after a long, hard winter and 30 days in the hole (so many pseudo-sexual references there, just pick one).

In a sports version game of “Do one, Kill one, Marry one” with Stephen A Smith, Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd…..I’d kill myself and just be done with it.  Get the picture?

Now I’m sure that these guys are all great human beings behind closed doors and I hope to god they don’t actually believe all the bullshit they’re constantly shoveling (they absolutely do), but they’ve never shown it to me or anyone who’s watched a second of their “on-air personas”.  In a sports media world where we want truth and facts in everything reported both from the athletes and from the media, these guys excelled at bull-shit politicizing and selfishly rhetoric-ing us to death on a daily basis.

Is there anything worse than Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd recreating Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”?  Seriously, thanks for ruining that for us all.

We beg the athletes to be honest and candid but then the information is diluted and opinion-ized to death by ego-driven talking heads like the geniuses behind “First Take”.

Best of luck Skip Bayless, FOX Sports One is slowly becoming the overpaid and over-egoed, ESPN-sloppy seconds sports Network.  I’m sure you’ll do incredibly well there.

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OK, now for something positive about Skip Bayless.

ESPN Should Suspend Cari Champion Immediately From All Further NBA Discussions

cari-champion

In her defense, up until recently she was sitting desk-side at the “Two Morons At A Desk” show in the early mornings starring Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless which HAD to have an insurmountable affect on not only her psyche but her common sense.  I mean, you sit in close proximity to that kind of bat-shit crazy on a daily basis for several hours, it’s bound to rub off on you in some way shape or form…..kinda like the flu…..or the bubonic plague.

Apparently more of that Mountain Dew-Extreme, donut shop baker-sports opinion rubbed off on her than anyone realized, as she decided to take that dumpster-fire of a shock-jock-opinion based logic to NBA tonight on ESPN.  Pay attention to what this insane person says at the .33 second mark and watch Chris Broussard almost loose his collective NBA-analyst shit:

Go sit down somewhere Cari Champion, just go take five minutes and collect your thoughts.  Much like Dion Waiters, you’re tryin’ to do a little too much.

And while I’m at it, David Lloyd can go take a seat as well since he put Draymond Green and Russell Westbrook above Kevin Durant on this ridiculous list of stupidity.

WHY DO I HAVE TO GET ANGRY ABOUT THIS STUFF MANNNNNNN!?!?!?!

I heard Zoolander 2 really sucked

I heard Zoolander 2 really sucked

Star Wars Has Officially Taken Over EVERYTHING

–originally posted on espn.com—

If MLB players were Star Wars characters …

Written by:

TODD DETWEILEr

The Star Wars saga might have taken place a long time ago — before even Jamie Moyer was pitching — and in a galaxy far, far away, but it still has parallels with the current baseball universe. The Force is strong between these 10 big leaguers and their Star Wars doppelgangers.

Darth Vader/Alex Rodriguez

Like Anakin Skywalker, A-Rod overcame a tough background to achieve early success and reach Jedi-like status. Unfortunately, like Anakin, he also gave in to the Dark Side (in his case, PEDs and Scott Boras).

Luke Skywalker/Mike Trout

Just as Luke did, Trout became a heroic master of his craft at a young age because the Force is strong with this one. Plus, he has all five tools, including the ability to swing a bat with the speed, precision and power of a light saber.

Han Solo/Bryce Harper

He’s multi-talented, daring and a little cocky but he’s the guy you want on your side rather than in the opposing dugout. And as Greedo or Jonathan Papelbon could tell you, he’s not the type to mess with either when you’re sitting close to each other in the same dugout or the wretched Mos Eisley space cantina. Note: Harper might be able to do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs but his hyper-drive to first base sometimes conks out on routine grounders.

Chewbacca/Jayson Werth

Like the Wookie, Werth is big, powerful and very, very hairy.

Princess Leia/Mo’Ne Davis

Young and powerful like Leia, Davis clearly has the Force within her. She’s used to being a rebel and challenging an evil empire — or the status quo. And she doesn’t keep her hair in cinnamon buns either.

Obi-Wan Kenobi/Joe Maddon

Joe not only has the wisdom of Obi-Wan, he also can connect with his players through the most creative means, channeling the Force via his thoughts, music and wild road-trip rituals. “These Jedi master robes are the travel clothes you are looking for.”

C-3PO/Chris Colabello

The Blue Jays’ first baseman may not speak as many languages as the six million that C-3PO knows (yet), but he is fluent in English, Italian and Spanish, and is also learning Japanese. Plus, he moves more quickly than the robot.

R2-D2/Jose Altuve

Like the squat R2, the undersized (at 5-foot-6) Altuve makes up for his lack of stature with his considerable talent and performance. This is the guy you want at second base . . . or sitting behind you in an X-wing fighter.

Yoda/Ichiro Suzuki

They aren’t big, and they’re both elderly by their colleagues’ standards — Yoda is 900-something while Ichiro, 42, is the oldest position player in the majors. But they have talent and wisdom and a gift for delivering memorable quotes. “Swing or swing not. There is no bunt.”

Emperor Palpatine/Jeffrey Loria

Like the dark Sith lord who built the Galactic empire, Loria reached early success (2003 World Series title) at the expense of others (Montreal). But like Palpatine, it fell apart because of his evil rule (forcing Miami to pay for a bad stadium, signing players to huge contracts and then trading them away, firing Joe Girardi, making his GM his manager, etc.). We can only hope that he falls from power and, like the Death Star, the Home Run Sculpture will be blown up one day.