George Karl and DeMarcus Cousins getting along Better

demarcus-cousins-george-karlJust three weeks ago, the Sacramento Kings looked like one of the NBA’s biggest trainwrecks. They were sitting at 1-7 and dealing with a number of reports about DeMarcus Cousins’ verbal tirade against head coach George Karl. Fast-forward to now and things are going much better for the Kings, with a 7-12 record and, more importantly, a star player and head coach who can coexist. So how did things turn around in a matter of weeks?

According to Marc J. Spears, the relationship has been helped immensely thanks to a two-hour meeting between Karl, Cousins and Rajon Rondo. The meeting was only supposed to last 15 minutes, but it ended up going much longer because it was so productive.

“It was a powerful meeting for all three of us,” Rondo said.

Rondo continued by telling Spears that he had been looking forward to a meeting with Karl for a while. And he said that the talk felt “natural” because Karl was both open-minded and positive.

“We asked him to just sit with us so we can pick his brain and share our thoughts,” Rondo explained. “What I love about [Karl] is he’s very open. George is not a dictator. ‘What can we do positively? What can we do to improve? If you can come into a meeting with no egos and everyone was humble, it just works out for the better.”

Karl was willing to listen to advice from Cousins and Rondo, who both said that the 64-year-old coach could do more teaching and be more critical during film sessions. The star players also volunteered to be the first to accept Karl’s criticisms during the sessions.

Rajon Rondo“I told him to start with me. Whatever I can do to help the team,” Rondo told Spears. “If you have to bully me or call me out, I can accept that. I’m a 10-year vet. I learned from [former Boston Celtics coach] Doc [Rivers] and the past guys that it has to start with the vets who have the most leeway on the team or the most responsibility. [Cousins and I] are both trying to change the culture, change the organization.”

Cousins discussed the purpose of meeting with Karl as well.

“We’re just trying to correct every mistake we have. We want to be a winning team,” said Cousins, “and I feel it starts with myself on down to Rondo as well.”

One thing that all three agreed on was slowing down the offense a little – but it came with a condition from Karl.

“I said, ‘OK, I will slow it down if you do what I want.’ That’s not fighting each other. That’s mutually coming together,” Karl explained. “If we have to compromise something, we will compromise something.”

After a successful first meeting with Rondo and Cousins, Karl said that he thinks communication is much more open between he and players. And now he wants to have weekly meetings with Cousins and Rondo.

“We are going to continue to communicate on a weekly basis, good or bad,” Karl explained to Yahoo Sports. “If we are in a good stretch, we are going to still communicate.”

It’s definitely good that Karl and Cousins are getting along now because the latter is key to Sacramento’s chances of winning. Cousins is averaging 28.2 PPG, 11.0 RBP and 1.5 BPG this season in 11 games. The Kings have only gone 1-7 in the eight contests that Cousins has missed, so it’s highly important that they keep him on the court.

And Rondo hopes to keep Cousins performing at a high level by giving him the same advice that he received from Kevin Garnett on the Celtics.

“He will do his own thing,” said Rondo. “I’m not trying to be his daddy. But I want to be his big brother like K.G. was to me, showing me the ropes and helping me along the way. Everything that I’m telling him, K.G. told me. Experience is everything. If someone has it and is willing to share it, I was always trying to soak in as much knowledge as possible.”

With two elite players and a coach who are all getting along, Sacramento appears headed in the right direction. But will it all culminate in a playoff appearance this season? The Kings are within striking distance, sitting 1.5 games behind Phoenix for the 8th seed in the Western Conference, so perhaps we’ll see this trio in the postseason come May.

Can Mets keep Harvey, Cespedes in the Future?

matt-harvey-mets2015 has marked the New York Mets’ return to relevancy, as they’ve all but sewn up the NL East with an 8.5-game lead over second-place Washington. The Mets’ immediate focus is no doubt on capping their division crown and preparing for the playoffs. But the futures of staff ace Matt Harvey and center fielder Yoenis Cespedes are probably in the back of management’s minds too.

The 26-year-old Harvey has had another outstanding season, going 12-7 with a 2.88 ERA thus far. Cespedes has absolutely crushed the second half of this year, now batting .299 with 33 homers and 100 RBIs. More than that, he proved to be a team player by agreeing to man center field this year.

It seems the Mets have two cornerstones that can lead the franchise into the future, given that veteran David Wright looks to be past the point of stardom. But the problem is that Cespedes will be a free agent this summer while some have pondered if New York would be better off trading Harvey.

Regarding the latter, Harvey rubbed fans and the organization the wrong way when he agreed with a doctor that he should take the field a little less to protect his career. He’s coming off a year where he had Tommy John surgery and originally said that he still wanted to pitch every fifth day. However, that’s no longer the case as he’s looking more towards rest to prevent future injuries.

yoenis-cespedes-metsAs for Cespedes, he’s a free agent this offseason and has played his way into a large future contract. So if the Mets want to keep him, they’re going to have to ante up some money. But that’s easier said than done when considering that this is a franchise which has tightened its pocketbook following the Madoff fiasco that had them on the books for hundreds of millions.

Meanwhile, there are many potential suitors for Cespedes, with Chicago, Los Angeles, San Frandisco, Philadelphia and Seattle all rumored to be in the market. It wouldn’t even be a total stretch to see the crosstown and deep-pocketed Yankees make a play for Cespedes too, although they already have Carlos Beltran hitting well and need pitching more than anything.

The 29-year-old has been called a “businessman” at heart, and he’s likely to take the biggest and best offer available. Cespedes should fetch at least $175 million on the free agent market – a price that the Mets ‘could’ pay, but will they?

Going back to Harvey, he’s at least locked up for a few more years. The question is only if New York would ship him out to start fresh with new players and prospects. After all, he’s complained about everything from wanting to rehab in Port St. Lucie instead of New York, to when the team suggested a six-man rotation that he worried would throw off his routine.

Things only got further out of whack when Harvey considered following the advice of a doctor and skipping the postseason over fears of a second Tommy John surgery. This of course brought up the hypocrisy of his six-man rotation complaints, which further added fuel to the fire.

But for the time being, New York has reason to celebrate their approaching playoff appearance. They have a strong chance to make the World Series if things go right. However, when it’s all over, win or lose, they have some big decisions to make regarding the futures of Cespedes and Harvey. Both are proven winners, but both provide their own dilemmas for New York management to work through.

2015 Michigan Wolverines may take a While to return to Glory

michigan-jim-harbaughWhen Lloyd Carr retired as Michigan head coach in 2007, it didn’t seem like there would be much drop off when Rich Rodriguez assumed the reigns. But since then, Michigan football has been plagued by six years of mediocrity, and one 11-2 season thanks to Brady Hoke’s best year during an otherwise forgetful 4-year tenure. So fans of the Wolverines owe little apology to anyone for their unbridled enthusiasm with Jim Harbaugh now coaching the team. Unfortunately, this enthusiasm may be a bit low key for the remainder of the 2015 season.

The unranked Utah Utes delivered sobering reality for the program last Thursday. Utah grabbed the lead early and never looked as threatened as the 24-17 final score might suggest. But perhaps the Wolverines could have threatened if not for some crucial mistakes.

The most-obvious mistakes are owed to Iowa transfer quarterback Jake Rudock, who had three interceptions on the afternoon. One was a painful red-zone interception while the other was a pick-six that hurt any chance of a comeback.

However, this loss was more than just about one guy tossing picks. The Michigan running game only managed a paltry 76 yards on 29 carries – good for 2.6 yards per carry. The offensive line didn’t do the greatest job of creating holes and the running backs didn’t offer any sort of explosion, with the longest run being just 7 yards.

jim-harbuagh-utan“[Offensive line play] improved in the second half,” Harbaugh said. “I think we played a little bit tentative in the first half, not coming off the ball like we need to.”

It’s not like the offense can look towards the receivers for big-play potential either; after all, there’s not one pass catcher on the roster who tallied a reception for 35 yards or more last season.

Moving to the other side of the ball, Michigan doesn’t feature a defense with big-play potential. This unit only forced 10 turnovers last year – good for 126th in Division 1A – and they got just one turnover against the Utes. It was a mere interception on a half-time Hail Mary attempt by Utah.

If there’s one thing that the defense did good, it was holding star running back Devontae Booker to 69 yards on 22 carries. But on the downside, QB Travis Wilson burned them for 53 yards while they were trying to contain Booker.

One takeaway from the Utah game is that college football’s winningest program won’t be restored to glory overnight – even with a fiery Harbaugh screaming into his headset. This team is coming off a 5-7 season under Hoke and they’ve lost at least seven games in five of the past season seasons.

This wouldn’t be Harbaugh’s first time taking over a reclamation project since he did so at Stanford before making the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers relevant again. Success with the Niners came quick, with Harbaugh going 13-3 in just his first season. But at Stanford, he was just 4-8 and 5-7 before engineering a big turnaround. Based on Michigan’s 2015 schedule, the Stanford scenario might be a little more realistic. Games at Maryland, vs. Michigan State, vs. Northwestern, at Minnesota, at Penn State and vs. Ohio State all figure to test this team greatly.

But it appears that Harbaugh is more than prepared to deal with the ups and downs. He said that overall he was “impressed” with his team’s effort in the first outing. And if Harbaugh seems pretty lenient about his school’s losing effort, it’s probably because he knows better days are coming in the future.

Oakland A’s 2015 Season gets Worse: Time to dismantle Team?

2015-oakland-asComing into the 2015 MLB season, the Oakland A’s were by no means considered a favorite to win the World Series. But given that they were coming off three straight trips to the postseason, the A’s were at least expected to be competitive in the AL West. Fast-forward to now, 51 games into the season, and they have the worst record in the American league at 19-32.

On paper, this doesn’t look like such a bad team, with a 3.25 ERA from starters and ninth-place rank among AL teams in runs and OPS – not bad for a non-offensive team. However, where this goes downhill is the bullpen, which is pitching a league-worst 4.91 ERA. Their defense hasn’t helped matters either with 45 errors already.

There are some encouraging signs since top reliever Sean Doolittle is back from injury and should help lower that 4.91 ERA mark. Plus infielder Ben Zobrist is now healthy after a knee injury forced him out of action. And manager Bob Melvin pointed out just how badly these guys were missed by saying the following:

“These are very important guys for us. You lose your No. 3 hitter and closer, it’s going to take its toll on you. Not only production-wise should we be better but also psychologically, two of our better players complementing 25 guys, making us feel better about who you are.”

oakland-scott-kazmirIt’s definitely nice to have these two back, however, Zobrist and Doolittle are hardly enough to right the ship. This is especially the case when CF Coco Crisp, 1B Ike Davis and pitchers Drew Pomeranz, Eric O’Flaherty and Jarrod Parker are still hurt. Assuming Oakland could start the season over and get these guys healthy, they certainly would be a competitive team. But the unfortunate reality is that you can’t just hit a reset button, and the A’s may want to consider thinking about the future.

Assuming Oakland doesn’t pull the trigger now and trade for prospects, they could be mired at the bottom of the AL West for years to come. After all, they have one of the league’s worst farm systems, and they’re not a big-market team that can just shell out millions to quickly get contender pieces.

In reality, other contenders are already looking at what they could get from Oakland, including left-hander Scott Kazmir, Tyler Clippard and Zobrist. Kazmir is especially an attractive option because he’s good enough to start in any rotation, and he makes a reasonable $13 million per season. Clippard has been one of the few brights spots among Oakland relievers with his 2.25 ERA. The only holdup here is his $8.3 million salary, which is a fair amount for a reliever. As for Zobrist, he’s still a good-hitting infielder who could be an upgrade at second base for playoff contenders.

There are still over 100 games left in this season, which makes it fathomable that Oakland could make up the 12 games that they currently sit behind AL leader Houston. However, the much-better alternative is ushering in the future now by getting rid of some attractive assets that could fetch big-time prospects.

Los Angeles Lakers Betting: Back Injury sidelines Steve Nash for 2014-15 Season

steve-nash-out-2015As we discussed last spring, many Los Angeles Lakers fans were already angry that Steve Nash chose to come back this season, rather than retire. After all, he’s been paid $18.2 million for two seasons that he barely played in. And fans especially won’t be happy now that he’ll get another $9.8 million to sit out the entire 2014-15 season.

Now in his 19th season, Nash won’t even make the Lakers’ opening tip-off as the team announced the bad news. The two-time league MVP was hoping for one more chance to flash the play-making skills that have made him an NBA legend. A nerve root irritation in his back sidelined him for all but 15 games last season. He then rehabbed his back for several months in the offseason and hoped that this would do the trick. However, Nash began feeling more pain in the preseason and even strained his back while carrying travel bags.

”Being on the court this season has been my top priority, and it is disappointing to not be able to do that right now,” Nash told the media. ”I work very hard to stay healthy, and unfortunately my recent setback makes performing at full capacity difficult. I will continue to support my team during this period of rest, and will focus on my long-term health.”

steve-nash-contract-retire-1A Lakers’ news release claims that Nash will continue to “focus on rest and rehabilitation” during the remainder of the season. Interestingly enough, there was no mention of retirement, despite the fact that the Canadian is in the final year of his three-year contract. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak praised Nash’s efforts to try and get back on the court as he stated:

As disappointed as we are for ourselves and our fans, we’re even more disappointed for Steve. We know how hard he’s worked the last two years to try to get his body right for the rigors of the NBA, and how badly he wants to play, but unfortunately he simply hasn’t been able to get there up to this point in time. Steve has been a consummate professional, and we greatly appreciate his efforts.

Bringing Nash over from the Phoenix Suns in 2012 has proven to be a very costly and damaging move. L.A. gave up four draft picks for him in addition to adding $27.8 million to their salary cap for the next three years. Los Angeles will be taking a $9.8 million cap hit this season for a guy who won’t play a single minute. Barring any miracle comeback, Nash will likely end his stint with L.A. having played 65 games in three seasons.

The injury won’t really have much impact on the team from an overall perspective. The Lakers are in a strange transitional phase where Kobe Bryant is at the tail-end of his career and the organization needs to develop young talent. If Nash does indeed retire or play somewhere else next season, it will mark the end of a disastrous 2012 attempt to surround Bryant with a strong supporting cast. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol have since moved on while Nash will miss the 2014-15 season.

Switching to Los Angeles Lakers betting, the team is projected to miss the playoffs for a second straight season. They added Jeremy Lin and veteran Ronnie Price at point guard, so the loss of Nash won’t hurt too badly. However, L.A. is too young and unproven to be considered a serious postseason threat this year. And Bryant may be at an age where injuries have taken their toll and will make it hard for him to carry a team.

NFL Power Rankings for Week 1 (Sept. 4th, 2014)

seattle-seahawks-packers-2014With the preseason officially out of the way, the 2014 NFL regular season is set to kick off tonight. The Green Bay Packers travel to Seattle to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Seattle is the favorite here, but the way that the Packers can score, there’s no telling how this game will go.

The same could be said of who’ll be accepting the Lombardi Trophy this year. Again, many people like the Seahawks, however, the 49ers, Broncos, Packers Patriots, Saints and others will all have something to say about this. So who’s our pick for the NFL’s best team as of now? You can see for yourself in our first NFL power rankings of 2014.

1. Seattle Seahawks – Yeah, this isn’t exactly original. But what reason do we have to doubt the champs since they return all of their key starters? QB Russell Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch will once again be heading up the offense while shutdown-corner Richard Sherman is said to be more focused than ever. He’s going to need this focus since Seattle will have the unenviable target on their backs all season.

2. Denver Broncos – The Broncos may have been humiliated in last year’s Super Bowl, but they figure to be better on both sides of the ball. First off, the pass rush will be nastier with both LB Von Miller and DE DeMarcus Ware coming after the quarterback. And Montee Ball’s ascension provides an upgrade over last year’s starting running back, Knowshon Moreno.

colin-kaepernick3. San Francisco 49ers – LB Aldon Smith’s 9-game suspension is a big blow to the 49ers’ regular season. However, the rest of the San Francisco team is more than solid. And if Colin Kaepernick keeps up his strong play from last year – where he threw for 10 TD’s and one interception over the final six regular season games – the Niners will be completely fine without Smith.

4. New England Patriots – The offense will be even less reliant on Tom Brady this season with a talented group of ball carriers. Shane Vereen headlines the group with his dual abilities, while rookie James White, Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley add lots of depth.

5. New Orleans Saints – It will be strange not seeing Darren Sproles catching passes out of the backfield this year. But that could leave Pierre Thomas with an even bigger role. Rookie receiver Brandin Cooks got a lot of press this offseason. If he’s as good as the hype, then Drew Brees will have no trouble finding him.

6. Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers missed seven games last year and Green Bay still made the postseason. Plus, Eddie Lacy got a chance to shine in his rookie season. Together, this pair forms one of the toughest QB-RB tandems in the league. Even in the opener against Seattle’s tough defense tonight, these two should work well off of each other.

nick-foles-eagles7. Philadelphia Eagles – It’s almost impossible to see Nick Foles duplicating 27 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions for a second straight year. But even though we expect this ratio to change, it’s hard to see him not being great once again in the weak NFC East. If receiver Jeremy Maclin can stay healthy, this has the potential to be the league’s best offense.

8. Cincinnati Bengals – You have to like Cincinnati’s chances of improving this year with Geno Atkins back. The All-Pro defensive tackle missed seven games last season and the defense was still stout. QB Andy Dalton got a big offseason deal. Will he prove that he’s worth it this year?

9. Indianapolis Colts – Much is made about the unsettled backfield in Indy, but having Andrew Luck under center guarantees the offense of remaining dangerous. Signing LB D’Qwell Jackson and DE Arthur Jones will bring much-needed help to a defense that gave up 125.1 rushing yards per game in 2013.

10. Chicago Bears – The Bears offense should have no trouble scoring points in their second year under coach Marc Trestman. But the defense will determine how far this team goes. Signing defensive ends Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen and Willie Young definitely helps, as does getting linebackers D.J. Williams and Lance Briggs back from injury. But the results certainly didn’t show up in the third preseason game, when starters play the majority of snaps.

ryan-shazier-steelers11. Pittsburgh Steelers – Pittsburgh might finally have their traditional power running game back with Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount heading up the backfield. Rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier will bring some nice explosiveness to a defensive unit that had aged far too much last season.

12. Carolina Panthers – Last year was a breakthrough season for the Panthers. But can they repeat that performance, or possibly do better? Every receiver from last season’s roster is gone, meaning Cam Newton will be meshing with a completely new unit. So far, rookie Kelvin Benjamin is looking like a pretty reliable target for Newton.

13. San Diego Chargers – San Diego was one of three AFC West teams that made the playoffs in 2013. The offense again looks capable of leading the Chargers back to the postseason – especially with rookie sensation Keenan Allen coming off a surprise 1,046-yard year. The defense is the only thing that could hold this team back from more success.

14. Baltimore Ravens – Gary Kubiak has been brought in as offensive coordinator to shore up the mess here. The key will be figuring out how to use Bernard Pierce and an aging Ray Rice in tandem. A lot is riding on how linebacker C.J. Mosley and end Timmy Jernigan carry this historically good defense, which has never allowed 4.0 yards per rush in franchise history.

15. Arizona Cardinals – The running game should be a lot more explosive with Andre Ellington stepping into a featured role. But the line needs to do a much better job of protecting Carson Palmer, who was sacked a career-high 41 times. Also, the defense will definitely miss Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington from last season’s 10-6 team.

ryan-tannehill16. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill is developing into a star quarterback. However, the new offensive line needs to ensure that this continues. The combination of Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno should guarantee that the running game is better this time around.

17. Kansas City Chiefs – It’s hard to see the Chiefs duplicating last year’s performance, where they benefited from one of the league’s weakest schedules. The defense should once again be good, and Jamaal Charles showed that he’s a bonafide star when healthy. But a lack of explosion in the receiving corp coupled with Alex Smith’s weak arm will limit the offense.

18. Detroit Lions – There are plenty of weapons on this team with QB Matthew Stafford, wideouts Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, TE Eric Ebron, and running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. Switching to defense, Ziggy Ansah and Ndamukong Suh need to put lots of pressure on opposing quarterbacks to keep a weak secondary from being exposed.

19. Atlanta Falcons – Many are picking the Falcons to far exceed the dismal 4-12 record from their last campaign. But we think that a few more regular season games are in order before predicting a return to NFC South dominance. Regardless, Atlanta should be much better with offensive line additions and a healthy Roddy White and Julio Jones.

20. St. Louis Rams – The Sam Bradford loss hurts, there’s no way around that. But tailback Zac Stacy still gives this offense one weapon that opposing defenses will have trouble dealing with. Unfortunately, playing in the league’s toughest division, the NFC West, will ensure that St. Louis doesn’t make the playoffs.

geno-smith-jets21. New York Jets – The situation under center isn’t as dire this season, with Geno Smith looking more polished in the preseason. And even if he fails, at least they have Michael Vick to fall back on. The secondary is much more of a concern because Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson are the only truly experienced cornerbacks on the roster.

22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Everything from the Doug Martin injury to the Josh Freeman situation was a disaster for this team. But now they start fresh with Martin back and Josh McCown under center. Acquiring guard Logan Mankins in a trade with the Patriots was definitely a smart move for this team because their offensive line is unstable.

23. New York Giants – You wouldn’t think that the offense would be as bad as it was in 2013, when Eli Manning threw nine more interceptions than touchdowns. But under new offensive coordinator Bob McAdoo, the team looks atrocious. Let’s hope in this case that the preseason really doesn’t mean anything.

24. Tennessee Titans – The passing game could really click this year with Jake Locker throwing to playmakers like Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter. But it’s a little unsettling that heralded rookie Bishop Sankey hasn’t been able to take the starting job away from plodding veteran Shonn Greene. Once Sankey breaks out, this team will start experiencing success.

dez-bryant25. Dallas Cowboys – Dallas is saved from being the worst team by an offense that features Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray. But their defense is even worse from a year ago, when they allowed the third-most yards in NFL history. The losses of DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee spell doom for the Boys.

26. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Cassel better hope that he can continue playing as strongly as he did in the preseason. Otherwise the Teddy Bridgewater era will be ushered in sooner, rather than later. Regardless of what happens at QB, though, Adrian Peterson looks to have yet another strong year running the ball.

27. Houston Texans – Jadeveon Clowney looked pretty explosive in preseason games and should have a long career of terrorizing opposing passers. As for the Texans’ own quarterback situation, Ryan Fitzpatrick starts with the reigns. But with Ryan Mallet coming over in a trade, should we expect a future QB battle?

28. Buffalo Bills – The Bills had one of the NFL’s most-underrated defenses last season after holding quarterbacks to the second-lowest rating (behind Seattle). But much like Houston, Buffalo needs to worry about their own passer since E.J. Manuel has shown little progression in his second year. It’s no coincidence that the Bills recently signed Kyle Orton to a two-year, $11 million contract, making him the league’s highest-paid backup.

robert-griffin-knee29. Washington Redskins – This preseason was highlighted by Joe Theismann’s comments that Kirk Cousins (4 TD’s, 1 INT) was badly outplaying Robert Griffin III (0 TD’s, 2 INT’s). It doesn’t matter, though, because coach Jay Gruden has handed Griffin the ball. He’ll now hope to get back to his rookie success, rather than last season’s debacle.

30. Cleveland Browns – Brian Hoyer didn’t look overly sharp while winning the starting job over Johnny Manziel. But he does boast a 3-0 career record as a starter. It’s almost impossible to see this mark remaining intact with Cleveland traveling to Pittsburgh, especially since the suspended WR Josh Gordon won’t be available this game – or any game in 2014 for that matter.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jacksonville didn’t win a game until Week 10; then they went 4-4 after that point. We certainly don’t think that this indicates a .500 or better Jaguars club this season. But rookie Blake Bortles should take over at QB soon and start a new and better era in Jacksonville football.

32. Oakland Raiders – Oakland has been in rebuilding mode for over a decade. This season doesn’t look to be any different, with a quarterback controversy already due to Matt Schaub’s poor performance. The Raiders wanted Derek Carr to hold the clipboard for his first season, however, this doesn’t seem so likely now.