Let the Battle for Beltran Begin

Free-agent slugger Carlos Beltran is in Kansas City meeting with the Royals front office. The club is hoping for a big-bang reunion with Beltran, who began his career in Kansas City in 1998. He was traded to the Astros during the 2004 season. He batted .287 and compiled a .835 OPS for the Royals. Most impressively he produced four seasons of 100 runs and 100 RBI in a five-year span from 1999-2003. Beltran arrived in Kansas City on Monday and is staying through Tuesday to meet with club officials and listen to the Royals’ pitch to have a homecoming with the right fielder. The Royals most likely will need to be willing to go to three years to sign Beltran. The Mariners also have a big interest in adding a bat like Beltran’s and are expected to make a serious offer to Beltran to get him to be their designated hitter. ESPN reported Beltran has a three-year offer on the table for $48 million, though it did not specify which team made such an offer.

Bringing Back Beltran
Bringing Back Beltran

The leader in the Beltran sweepstakes is the Yankees because of their payroll and chances to make the playoffs. The main reason Beltran is still a major free agent at the ago of 36 is because he brings a clutch bat that can push these teams into the playoffs. The Royals have seen in first hand how important Beltran can be in a lineup. One thing they haven’t been able to see is what he can do with hitters around him such as Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. Signing Beltran will help Butler and Gordon’s RBI numbers because Beltran gives protection to the middle of the lineup. At some point fans and front office executives will have to worry about carrying two designated hitters on the same team in aging Beltran and Butler. The Royals may be able to play Beltran in right field for this season but in 2015 he will be most effective as a DH. I personally wanted the Royals to pull the trigger for Dexter Fowler for one of the relievers. This trade made sense because the Royals needed another outfielder and had a surplus of relievers. The Astros were able to jump on the low asking price the Rockies put out there on Fowler. The best-case scenario would be the Royals sign Beltran and in 2015 they decide to move Butler for a needed piece at that time. The only way this signing makes the Royals better is if both Butler and Beltran are in the lineup together for the first two years. In addition, if the Royals can’t make that work, the return for Butler should be high because of his consistency at the plate. While the Royals will lose their draft pick to the Cardinals for signing Beltran, they will gain a draft pick from who ever signs Ervin Santana. Lastly, The Royals lineup next year will look like this… LF Gordon, RF Beltran, 1B Hosmer, DH Butler, C Perez, CF Cain, 3B Moustakas, SS Escobar, 2B TBD. This lineup now puts fear in opposing pitching staffs.  If the Royals are able to sign Carlos Beltran it will most likely be their biggest free agent signing since David Cone. The cheers at opening day when Beltran takes the field will be the loudest I will hear at the K in my short life so far.

Spencer Montgomery

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The NBA Lottery 2013

After going back and watching last night’s draft in its entirety, I could only come up with one word to describe it: Awkward. From Anthony Bennett going number one overall to the Cavaliers, to the awkward exchange between Doc Rivers and Bill Simmons , it was a draft night that I want to forget. For starters, let’s never have Rece Davis and Jay Bilas work a draft night with Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons again. The commentary was all over the place and the two pairs clearly have a different style on covering the draft. The whole night was one big awkward mess.  It certainly did not get any better after the news of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce’s trade to Brooklyn either.  Next year’s broadcast just has to be better.  Based on the talent in this draft it is certainly a weak one, but by no means is it the worst in history. That award goes to the 2000 NBA Draft whose top three picks were Kenyon Martin, Stromile Swift (who reportedly hated basketball), and Darius Miles (who is probably best remembered for his cameo in Van Wilder). Nevertheless, here is my breakdown and grades of the lottery picks in 2013.

Cleveland Cavaliers, Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV

anthony Bennett

No one saw Anthony Bennett going number one.  And I mean no one. With the speculation and predictions about the 2013 Draft seemingly changing every minute since March, not one mock draft I saw had Bennett going number one, as tweeners (between the 3 and the 4 positions) rarely do. However, I’ve long believed that Bennett was one of the top 5 players in this draft and was one of the best bets in this draft as long as he could stay healthy. I think that Bennett’s size and versatility can really help Cleveland on the offensive end, especially if he can improve on his jump shot and keep the extra pounds off. Imagine Bennett and Kyrie Irving in a high screen pick and pop scenario. Bennett could 20 and 10 guy. Cleveland fans have reason to be excited.                   Draft grade: A-

Orlando Magic, Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana

Oladipo is a guy with a motor that’s always running and that is exactly what the Magic will need down the road. He appears to be one of the most NBA ready prospects and will make a difference on the defensive end from day 1. If the Magic want to truly get the most out of this pick they do have to be patient with the way his offensive game develops. Oladipo is one of the few players I could see becoming a legitimate superstar in this draft. I love Bill Simmons’ worst case scenario of Oladipo as a Tony Allen type player with a better offensive game.                    Draft grade: A

Washington Wizards, Otto Porter, SF, Georgetown

This seemed to be the only predictable pick of the entire night. Porter has immense upside and with his 6’9” frame, he can be plugged in right away at the 3 and help John Wall and Co. make a push for the playoffs. He’s a perfect fit for the Wizards from a basketball standpoint and from a personality standpoint. Look for Porter to have a long career in the capital.                   Draft grade: A+

Charlotte Bobcats, Cody Zeller, PF/C, Indiana

After the Bennett pick, this was my next biggest WTF moment of night. The Bobcats need help all over the floor and with potential All-Stars like McClemore, Noel and even Len still available, this move just left most scratching their head. Zeller will have to make the transition from the 5 to the 4 and will have to improve his toughness and motor if he wants be effective. Here are some other “notable” first round picks by the Bobcats: Sean May, Adam Morrison, DJ Augustin, and Bismack Biyombo. I think Zeller will soon join this list of misfits. The Bobcats miss the mark for yet another year. The Bobcats will continue to have the worst roster in basketball. All Charlotte fans can do now is cross their fingers for the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes. P.S. Adam, wherever you are, I’m sorry.                   Draft grade: D

Phoenix Suns, Alex Len, C, Maryland

This is an OK pick for the Suns considering what was left on the board. Beyond the top 6-8 picks there were really no clear cut choices remaining, so Phoenix went with one of the few options they had and chose Len. However, once again, McClemore and Noel were still on the board. I can see Len becoming a future version of Brook Lopez, so long as he works on his positioning and moves with his back to the basket. He also needs to improve on his consistency. There were times last year for Maryland in which Len would disappear for game long stretches and be a non-factor. Phoenix can’t afford another poor draft pick if they intend on rebuilding in the near future.                   Draft grade: C+

nerlens-noel

New Orleans Pelicans (traded to Philadelphia) Nerlens Noel, PF/C, Kentucky

You always feel bad for the guys who slide. In this case, I felt like much of Nerlens Noel’s slide could have been avoided.  In a lot of pre-draft reports, it was said that Nerlens Noel and his camp had been difficult to get ahold of for pre-draft interviews and no one really knew who was representing Noel. That’s never a good sign. Those issues, combined with his injured knee, caused concern to grow and thus his slide to number 6. I think it was a stretch for Philadelphia to trade their young All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for a young, potentially damaged 7 footer, who apparently weighed in at 206 lbs at a pre-draft camp. Noel will have to add muscle to his wiry frame and an offensive game if he wants to validate his potential as a prospect.                                    Draft grade for PHI: B                   Trade grade for NO: A+

Sacramento Kings, Ben McClemore, SG, Kansas

By far the best value pick in the 1st round of the draft. McClemore, who had been projected as going as high as 1, fell right into the Kings lap at pick 7. While there are some concerns about McClemore’s desire and killer instinct, there is no denying his fantastic shooting stroke and superb athleticism. I think he has one of the highest ceilings of any player in the draft given those attributes. Hopefully McClemore can help the Kings franchise steer the ship in the right direction.                  Draft grade: A

Detroit Pistons, Kentavious Caldwell Pope, SG, Georgia

Not many people saw Caldwell Pope in action last year at Georgia. While I thought that the Pistons might stretch and take McCollum with the 8th pick, this one makes sense too. The Pistons have been back and forth on where to slot Brandon Knight in the future and this pick all but solidifies his spot and the PG position. Caldwell Pope will provide a great shooter for the Pistons and will combine with Knight for one of the better young back courts in the league in the future.                  Draft grade: B

Minnesota Timberwolves (traded to Utah), Trey Burke, PG, Michigan

I think that this pick/trade worked out great for both sides. Minnesota got the guy they wanted in Shabazz Muhammed and Trey Burke found his ideal situation with Utah. The Jazz gives Burke the opportunity to start right away with a young and talented team. There will certainly be some growing pains along the way, but Burke, the best point guard in the draft will have no problems with the learning curve. He was arguably the fiercest competitor in the country last year and will continue to put that competitiveness into his game at the pro level. As a guy playing with a chip on his shoulder, Burke should be feared.                   Draft grade for MIN: B+                                    Draft grade for UTA: A+

Portland Trailblazers, CJ McCollum, PG/SG, Lehigh

This pick left me scratching my head a bit. The Blazers currently have a very talented combo guard in Damian Lillard, who is very proficient on the offensive end. My feelings tell me that they just drafted the same guy in McCollum. Starting those two together gives the Blazers a pretty undersized backcourt and has virtually two PGs on the floor at the same time, given that McCollum starts right away. With issues at the center position, Steven Adams made more sense here. From a talent standpoint it’s a good pick, but from a needs standpoint, not so much.  Draft grade: B

Philadelphia 76ers, Michael Carter Williams, PG, Syracuse

After the trade sending Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans, this pick made the most sense for the 76ers. They are now clearly committed to a rebuilding effort around the young core of Noel, Turner and Carter Williams. Carter Williams will get big minutes right away, but will need to work on his scoring if he wants to join the ranks of the upper echelon of point guards in the NBA. I still think it was a stupid trade to give up a talent like Holiday especially for someone as unproven as Noel. We’ll just have to wait and see.                   Draft grade: B-

 Oklahoma City Thunder, Steven Adams, C, Pittsburgh

Given what this pick was supposed to be, I’m not happy. The Thunder gave up Harden for this?! A raw 7 foot big man who is still clearly learning the game of basketball (see Bismack Biyombo)?! This must be what it’s like to be a Charlotte fan (again, sorry Adam). I’m not buying that trade nor will I ever. Now, time to be logical. At this point in the draft, with the talent remaining, I’m OK with this pick. I desperately wanted to see Sam Presti and the Thunder front office go out on a limb and take Jamaal Franklin, who will end up being the steal of this draft, but that was wishful thinking. Giving Adams some time in the D-League to get a better feel for the game will be beneficial and hopefully he develops enough to find a spot in the Thunder’s starting 5 (I’m still hoping the same about Jeremy Lamb).                   Draft grade: B-

James Harden trade: F—- (bitter much?)

Dallas Mavericks (traded to Boston), Kelly Olynyk, PF/C, Gonzaga

There’s not a whole lot to say about Olynyk. He’s a decent big man who can run the floor, face up in the high post and get to the basket. His game lacks in almost every other area. While it is the “sensible pick” at 14 and might have been the best available for the Celtics, I don’t see Olynyk making much of a splash in Boston or anywhere.  Picture Raef Lafrentz, but not as tough (if you can imagine that).

shabbazz muhhamad

Utah Jazz (traded to Minnesota), Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA

I think this is a decent fit for both parties. The combination of Rubio, Love and Pekovic will hopefully allow for Muhammad to feel less pressure on the offensive end and just do what comes naturally, something he was seldom allowed to do at UCLA, being the primary scoring option. He’s offensive rebounding prowess will also continue to bolster the Minnesota front court and add more size to their rotation. I think if Muhammad can grow up a little bit more, he may turn some heads in Minnesota.  Draft grade: B+

So that wraps my take on the lottery picks of the 1st round. Before I wrap up I figured I should give some credit where credit is due. Today, I applaud David Stern. Stern turned the NBA into the marketing monster it is today. While many were critical of his methods and approach to handling players, he grew the NBA more than arguably any other professional sport during his 30 year tenure. The NBA and its players owe him gratitude. Even more so, we, the fans, owe him thanks. Thank you, David Stern. How’s about you bring back that killer stash for retirement?

Tommy Randolph

Cardinals Recap

Over the past three weeks or so, the Cardinals have kept up their great style of play.  They have gone 13-7 in their last twenty games, with a big three game sweep of the Washington Nationals.  In addition to picking up key wins against the Nationals, the Cards have played solid, fundamental baseball against their division rivals.  In the last twelve NL Central games, the Cardinals are 8-4.  As I begin this recap, they have just completed their four game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.  They put up a ridiculous twenty-nine runs in those four games, while only giving up thirteen.  As play concluded on Sunday, the Cards held a two and a half game lead over the Reds for the lead in the NL Central.  St. Louis is on a six game winning streak, with good timing, too, because the Reds are on a three game streak of their own.

yadier-molina-cleats-shot

As the season is progressing, player statistics are becoming more realistic.  Unsurprisingly, Yadier Molina is the offensive MVP of the team so far.  Through thirty games played, Yadi is hitting an impressive .328, with two bombs and seventeen runs batted in.  Allen Craig is also proving himself as an everyday, middle of the lineup hitter.  Through twenty-nine games played, Craig is batting .291, with one home run and twenty-five RBI’s.  Once Craig gets the long ball going, watch out.

On the defensive side, the starting rotation has been nothing short of phenomenal.  Jake Westbrook is the only starter that doesn’t have at least four wins.  Wainwright, Miller, and Garcia each have four, while Lance Lynn of all people leads the team with five.  Lynn, also, has yet to lose a start.  The story of the rotation (again) is Mr. Adam Wainwright.  Since I last wrote about him, almost nothing has changed.  Through almost fifty innings of work, Wainwright has only three walks.  THREE! That’s unheard of!  Things tend to go well when you avoid walks and record an average of at least one strikeout per inning pitched.  That’s exactly what Wainwright does.

The Cards should have at least two more wins coming up in the next few days.  They have a two game series coming up against the Cubs, which unfortunately for me being from Chicago, should mean two easy wins against the Cubbies.  Other key upcoming series include the Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, and the surprisingly good Kansas City Royals.

Christian Biondi 

AFC South Draft Grades

Tennessee Titans 
Tennessee Titans have been disappointed for awhile with the team a performance of late. Even the rushing stats took a hit under the first year head coach Mike Munchak. I think they addressed the odfensive line with big Chance Warmack from Alabama. Kid is massive and if anyone saw Manti Teo’s lowlights on ESPN, Warmack was the guy continuously climbing up on him every play. He moves well for his size and is accustomed to the zone rushing attack Tennessee will use with Chris Johnson. He has opened the way for guys like Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Lacy. Warmack has the ability to be a consistent staple on the Titans line for years to come. They added former Volunteer wideout, Justin Hunter to a decent receiving core headed by Justin Britt. Hunter has the ability to go up and get the ball at its highest point and beat corners deep. They addressed needs at corner and linebacker with Blidi Breh-Wilson and Zavier Gooden, respectively. Brian Schwenke will help out the center position, while Lavar Edwards will be looked upon to add depth to the defensive line.
Overall Grade: B

Indianapolis Colts 
The Colts became firm that the Peyton Manning era was over, after they selected Luck with the second pick in last years draft. After a surprising playoff birth, the Colts looked to build upon last years success with a couple of intricate picks. Colts added German born Seminole, Bjoern Wergner. I was impressed with his athletic ability at Florida State and has real high motor. I believe he will add a decent pass rush to team that had a hard time getting to the quarterback in 2012. One of the biggest problems the colts had was not the ability to get to the quarterback, but to protect their own. They added depth with selections of Khaled Holmes and Hugh Thornton who both can play multiple positions on the line. Montorri Hughes can be a huge asset if he proves he has matured after being dismissed from Tennessee, which forced him into the FCS. If developed, can be a nice piece at a 4-3 nose tackle spot.

Overall Grade: C

luke-joeckel

Jacksonville Jaguars 
The Jaguars had one of my favorite drafts this year. They added a franchise building player with Joeckel, who I thought would go number one, and they added plenty of speed to one of the slowest rosters in the league. Hopefully with a stable left tackle, the Jags can develop Gabbert the way they want too. I’m still not sold on Gabbert and many looked for them to take a quarterback, which they kind of did when they drafted Dennard Robinson. He was announced as a runningback/returner but don’t be surprised if  he ales a couple of snaps at quarterback in the Pre-season. Remember, the Jags went through the same process with matt Jones who was a quarterback at Arkansas, before becoming a capable wideout for them. They also added dynamic returner Ace Sanders, who is guy I liked watching at South Carolina. Denfensively, they added plenty of secondary ep and tremendous ball hawker in FIU standout, Johnathan Cyprien. He can cover like a corner on slots, and play a the eighth man in the box. They drafted two corners, another safety to add depth. They are probably nowhere near contending for the AFC South crown, but this draft seems (for the moment) to be a promising start.
Overall Grade: B

Houston Texans 
The Texans finally broke last year and headed into this off season in a unfamiliar role, adding assets not rebuilding. They add DeAndre Hopkins to an already explosive offense. He will line up opposite of perennial All-Pro, Andre Johnson at receiver. Safety DJ Swearinger from South Carolina, is a hard hitter who will eventually replace Ed Reed but look for him to make an impact on all special teams. Texans also add a potential pass rusher with Sam Montgomery from LSU. great player, great athleticism but (along with Mingo) was listed by Les Miles as someone who does not always work hard. Trevardo Williams at linebackers gives them great value for the 124th pick as a linebacker. I also like Quessenberry from San Jose St. At the guard/tackle spot.
Overall Grade: B

AFC North Draft Grades

Pittsburgh Steelers 
The Steelers went about their business this draft as usual, but with more holes than we are used to seeing. They lose Mike Wallace, Jamie Harrison, and they have been lacking a quality running back. They added toughness and playmaking at Harrison’s spot, by drafting Georgia Bulldog standout Jarvis Jones. Many were pushed away after his pro day, but he was coming off an injury but he is a guy that fits the Steelers tough, hard-nosed culture. Markus Wheaton form Oregon St., will provide a possible slot threat and a guy who can take a five yard under route, for a big gain. I really like the pick up of  Le’Veon Bell because he has never been seriously injured in college, which has plagued the Steelers recently, and he is a workhorse. He is a big guy, again like Jones, and very tough and  a hard nosed runner. Shamarko Thomas is an enforcer at safety but lacks ideal height for a defensive back (5’9″). However, kid has a tremendous grit after losing both parents in college and now has his six siblings to look after, he will  definitely be someone to root for. Landry Jones could be the possible predecessor of Big Ben but he maybe counted on early due to Roethelisberger  consistently being injured throughout the season. Hawthorne adds value for them as a corner and look for them through rookie free agency to help out the aging secondary.
Overall Grade: B

Matt Elam

Baltimore Ravens
Many were left confused when the Super Bowl champion Ravens decided to let the perceived successor of Ray Lewis’ spot in the middle, Dan Ellerbe and playoff standout, Paul Kruger leave for other teams during free agency. Bernard Pollard was also released in the off-season. To make matters worst, they traded Anquan Boldin to the 49ers and lost future Hall of Famer Ed Reed to the Texans. They did however, resign quarterback Joe Flacco to what was the top contract for any quarterback in the league, until Aaron Rogers contract extension this weekend ($40 million /year). To fill the void of Reed, they drafted Matt Elam, an undersized but heavy hitter at safety who displayed play making abilities that they will miss without Reed. They followed that pick with a great choice in grabbing Arthur Brown from K-State. A sideline to sideline guy, who can make plays in the backfield and in the passing game. They add nose tackle Brandon Williams and fullback Kyle Juszczyk who will likely replace Vonta Leach. They do pick up a Boldin type of player in FCS WR Aaron Mallette. A big bodied wide out with great quickness and strong hands, but he will not beat most NFL corners deep.
Overall Grade: B+

Cleveland Browns
The Browns were without many choices this draft, as they only had 5 picks in this year draft. They did pick up Barkevious Mingo from LSU who has the potential to be a premier pass rusher. However, former head coach Les Miles listed him, and numerous other LSU players, as troublesome and reluctant to work hard everyday. He will have to be consistent to be productive in the NFL. They pick up a cornerback in Leon McFadden who will start outside, but is better suited as the nickel. Fighting Irish safety Jamoris Slaughter, provides depth depth, and value as a sixth round pick. He is more comfortable playing in the box, then covering bigger TE’s and quicker receivers.
Overall Grade: B-

Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers went about their business this draft as usual, but with more holes than we are used to seeing. They lose Mike Wallace, Jamie Harrison, and they have been lacking a quality running back. They added toughness and playmaking at Harrison’s spot, by drafting Georgia Bulldog standout Jarvis Jones. Many were pushed away after his pro day, but he was coming off an injury but he is a guy that fits the Steelers tough, hard-nosed culture. Markus Wheaton form Oregon St., will provide a possible slot threat and a guy who can take a five yard under route, for a big gain. I really like the pick up of  Le’Veon Bell because he has never been seriously injured in college, which has plagued the Steelers recently, and he is a workhorse. He is a big guy, again like Jones, and very tough and  a hard nosed runner. Shamarko Thomas is an enforcer at safety but lacks ideal height for a defensive back (5’9″). However, kid has a tremendous grit after losing both parents in college and now has his six siblings to look after, he will  definitely be someone to root for. Landry Jones could be the possible predecessor of Big Ben but he maybe counted on early due to Roethelisberger  consistently being injured throughout the season. Hawthorne adds value for them as a corner and look for them through rookie free agency to help out the aging secondary.
Overall Grade: B

AFC East Draft Grades

New England Patriots 
The Patriots are my favorite team to watch draft because even when it seems like the guy they wanted is gone, they still get the guy they want. They always have a well, devised plan and they execute it like no other. More praise goes to Belichick than the front office, after witnessing the failed “Patriot Project” by Scott Pioli with the Chiefs. I digress, the Patriots added two quality receivers in Marshall’s Aaron Dobson (Look up his one handed catch, SICK!) and TCU’s Josh Boyce. Dobson provides a big leaper with deep threat ability, kind of like another former Patriot and Marshall player…. I won’t do it. Boyce will provide a speedy, quick threat in the slot and we know Brady loves his slot receivers. Rutger teammates Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan will provide depth to an often inconsistent Patriots secondary. Scouts believe Harmon has an above average amount of potential. Many experts believe one of the best valued picks for the Patriots was Fighting Illini, Michael Buchanan. Buchanan will play the hybrid linebacker/rush end and hopefully provide a pass rush to a middle of the pack sack team last season.

Overall grade: B

Geno Smith draft

New York Jets
The circus in the New Yorks Jet’s quarterback meeting room added another act, when Geno Smith was selected in the second round. Talk about a rough drop by Smith. New York is a mess. Rex Ryan is searching for tattoo removal services, Mark Sanchez ran into another one of his linemen’s bumber in the parking lot, he fumbled his phone and Tim Tebow is still running through the sprinklers shirtless. Where is the clown? By the way they just traded Darrelle Revis, its not looking good. They add Alabama cornerback Dee Millner, who’s injuries seemed to stack up as his career ended in Tuscaloosa. Sheldon Richardson , who was the only glimmer of light in Mizzou’s SEC debut year, will provide quality depth at the defensive line. Brian Winters has the ability to be quality asset as a starter, or provide much needed depth. A lot of talk will be about what to do with Sanchez and Tebow and Geno and veteran David Garrad joins the Jets organization.
Overall Grade: D+

Miami Dolphins
The Dolphin will be remembered initially in the draft for not what they did get, but what they did not. It was publicly announced that the Chiefs were trying to send Brandon Alberts to Miami, in exchange for their second round pick and other picks possibly. The dolphins refused and opted for the services of Former Volunteer Dallas Thomas. Scouts praised him for his versatility and the ability to play more than one spot on the offensive line . However, many questioned his ability to fill the void left by All-Pro tackle Jake Long (STL). He will definitely need development and time. I do like what they did defensively in adding a potential game changer in Dion Jordan, who will become the sack-mate of current Dolphin, Chris Wake. They add two corners and Florida linebacker, Jelani Jenkins who provide depth.
Overall Grade: C-

Buffalo Bills
The Bills pulled one of the first controversial moves in the draft by taking a quarterback at the sixteen spot. That’s not the surprising thing, most heads jerked when not Smith, not Nassib, nor Jones, Bray, but Manuel. The former signal caller joins the Bills, to become what they believe to be the future of the dismantled franchise. With Kevin Kolb there already, look for Manuel to sit and learn early. Robert Woods and former Texas track/football standout Marquise Goodwin as potential weapons for Kolb/Manuel. Also, they get a quality pass threat in Arkansas Tight End Chris Gragg. Defensively, they address the need for linebacker with the pick up of Kiko Alonso, who showed flashes of play making ability at Oregon. Also, they add two safeties in Duke Williams and Johnathan Meeks in back to back rounds. Manuel and Woods can be big pick ups if developed properly, however the bills have had a tough time of late doing so. Big risk with both.
Overall Grade: C+

Michael Rose

NBA Playoffs

Tomorrow night marks the beginning of the NBA’s “second season”. The NBA playoffs begin the flow of casual basketball fans starting to watch and pay attention again, because as they justify it, “These games actually matter.” The stakes are raised, the contenders rise to the occasion, superstars are born and pretenders are sent packing. While the Heat, Thunder and Spurs are the obvious favorites for the title, there always seems to be a dark horse that emerges in the postseason. With the regular season over, the storylines are set for the first round. Here’s a break down of each match-up.

Eastern Conference
(1) Miami Heat vs (8) Milwaukee Bucks
We’ll start with the easiest match-up to predict this postseason. Here are some of the facts. The Bucks finished with a sub-.500 record at 38-44 in a depleted Eastern Conference including a 24-28 conference record. Miami just completed one of the most impressive regular seasons in the history of the league. They also have the best player in the world right now, possibly ever, in LeBron James. If the Bucks look like anything less than a deer in the headlights throughout this series, Jennings deserves a max deal and Jim Boylan deserves an extension. This scenario is about as likely as Gary Busey winning an Oscar for Best Actor (I know, I know, he was nominated in 1978). Prediction: Heat in 4.

(2) New York Knicks vs (7) Boston Celtics
Live by the three, die like a fly. That was the philosophy taught by my father to all the teams he coached back during his stint as a grade school head basketball coach. This series features a team that has based its entire season on living or dying from beyond the arc. Mike Woodson is an excellent coach, but Knicks fan should be fearful of a series in which 2 or more of their 3-point specialists get cold for any extent of this series. The Celtics defend and rebound the ball incredibly well and could cause fits for the Knicks, especially if Jeff Green can maintain a steady motor throughout the series. Look for the Celtics to push this series to at least 6 games. Prediction: Knicks in 7.

(3) Indiana Pacers vs (6) Atlanta Hawks
Frank Vogel needs the Paul George from 2 months ago back if the Pacers want any hope of making a deep playoff run. In fact, Vogel will need a consistent Paul George if they want to advance past the Hawks, who are deceptively very good. George is averaging only 12.8 per contest during the month of April and the whole team has certainly felt the lack of production. With the core of Josh Smith, Al Horford and Jeff Teague, the Hawks are certainly capable of pulling off the upset. George Hill’s health will also be crucial to the Pacer’s returning to mid-season form. The teams split the series during the regular season. Look for this one to be a dogfight. Prediction: Pacers in 6.

(4) Brooklyn Nets vs (5) Chicago Bulls
The Nets have quietly been a very strong team down the stretch. At he beginning of the season almost no one would have predicted that the Nets would be one of the better defensive squads in the league, ranking 6th in points per game allowed. Deron Williams has also come on strong recently and has morphed back into the Deron Williams we had seen in the past, a top tier point guard. With both Rose and potentially Noah out for the series, I don’t see anyway the Bulls compete with the Nets in this series especially when it comes to matching up against Williams and All-Star Center Brook Lopez. The Nets are my dark horse selection for the 2013 postseason. Prediction: Nets in 5.
Kevin-Durant

Western Conference
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (8) Houston Rockets
This is the match-up most NBA fans wanted to see. With Kevin Martin and James Harden squaring off in this opening round, it appears as if the exes have both been invited to the same party, and it makes for a awkward yet great story. Aside from Harden, the Thunder are better at nearly every single position including a deeper bench. While the Rockets are certainly a talented team, they’re still a year or two away from being a legitimate strength in the West. They may have enough in the tank to steal one, possibly two from the Thunder, but don’t expect an upset here. This is Durant and Westbrook’s conference to lose. It won’t happen in this round. Prediction: Thunder in 5.

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Believe it or not, of all the series in the first round this one has the most upset potential. For starters, the Spurs have been shaky down the stretch this season, including a loss to Los Angeles post Kobe Bryan injury. With Parker and Duncan’s limits being limited all season due to health concerns, and Ginobili potentially our for the whole series, the Spurs rotation is greatly depleted. Look for the Lakers to try to pound the ball inside like they did in their recent win over the Spurs on Sunday. Expect the Lakers to take try to take advantage of spots in the series when Duncan is off the floor and Poppovich is managing his minutes. This series will go to the brink but look for the Spurs to come out on top. Prediction: Spurs in 7.

(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Golden State Warriors
NBA statisticians could be reaching for the record books during this series, because this one will be a shootout. Both the Warriors and the Nuggets have two of the most high-powered offenses in the game (7 and 1 in scoring respectively). Both have very young and incredibly talented point guards in Ty Lawson for the Nuggets and Stephen Curry for the Warriors, who are both arguably their teams best players. Curry, though has been playing at an unbelievably high level in the last half of the season. It’s often said that the team with the best player wins the series, and if Curry maintains his high level of play through the first round, they could find themselves in the quarterfinals. Prediction: Warriors in 6.

(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
There’s a lot of bad blood between these two teams, especially with this being a repeat of these teams’ first round series last year. It’s been made very clear Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph don’t take to kindly to one another and their physicality towards one another will certainly rub off on their teammates. While the Clippers appear to have the edge in overall talent, the Grizzles superior post play of Marc Gasol and Randolph could give the Clippers fits. They may not be able to play small ball as much as they did in the regular season, at least during this series. The Clippers, still, are a much deeper team than the Grizzlies and are 3-1 in the season series between the two. They will rely heavily on DeAndre Jordan and Griffin and their athleticism to limit Gasol and Randolph. Look for the Grizzlies to make yet another early postseason exit. Prediction: Clippers in 6.

Award Predictions
Rookie of the Year: Damian Lillard, Trailblazers
Sixth Man of the Year: J.R. Smith, Knicks
Defensive Player of the Year: Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Most Improved Player: Paul George, Pacers
Coach of the Year: Mike Woodson, Knicks
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Heat

Breaking down sports, one post at a time