Evaluating the West

Imagine winning 48 games (more than all but three teams in the Eastern Conference) and missing the playoffs. That was the fate of last year’s Golden State Warriors. Imagine winning 55 games (two fewer than the conference champion) and finishing sixth in the conference, opening the playoffs on the road. That was the fate of last year’s Phoenix Suns.

Both teams had disappointing ends to their seasons in the fiercely competitive Western Conference. As a result, they will look different this season, though not necessarily better. Several teams in the West have added or subtracted from their 2007-08 rosters. It likely means some shuffling in the standings, but what doesn’t figure to change is a high level of competition for all eight playoff spots in the West.

A quick look at all 15 teams:

Los Angeles Lakers
Last year: 57-25 (1st in West, lost NBA Finals)
Significant roster changes: Lost F/C Ronny Turiaf via free agency

New Orleans Hornets
Last year: 56-26 (2nd in West, lost Western semifinals)
Significant roster changes: Signed F James Posey

San Antonio Spurs
Last year: 56-26 (3rd in West, lost Western Finals)
Significant roster changes: Lost G Brent Barry via free agency

Utah Jazz
Last year: 54-28 (4th in West, lost Western semifinals)
Significant roster changes: None

Houston Rockets
Last year: 55-27 (5th in West, lost Western quarterfinals)
Significant roster changes: Acquired G/F Ron Artest via trade, signed G Brent Barry

Phoenix Suns
Last year: 55-27 (6th in West, lost Western quarterfinals)
Significant roster changes: Signed G/F Matt Barnes (also signed new coach Terry Porter to replace the fired Mike D’Antoni)

Dallas Mavericks
Last year: 51-31 (7th in West, lost Western quarterfinals)
Significant roster changes: Signed C Desagana Diop and G Gerald Green

Denver Nuggets
Last year: 50-32 (8th in West, lost Western quarterfinals)
Significant roster changes: Lost F/C Marcus Camby and F Eduardo Najara, acquired F Renaldo Balkman via trade, signed F/C Chris Andersen

Golden State Warriors
Last year: 48-34 (9th in West)
Significant roster changes: Drafted F Anthony Randolph, signed G/F Corey Maggette, F/C Ronny Turiaf and traded for G Marcus Williams; lost G Baron Davis

Portland Trailblazers
Last year: 41-41 (10th in West)
Significant roster changes: Signed G Rudy Fernandez, acquired draft rights of G Jerryd Bayless

Sacramento Kings
Last year: 38-44 (11th in West)
Significant roster changes: Traded G/F Ron Artest, drafted F Jason Thompson

Los Angeles Clippers
Last year: 23-59 (12th in West)
Significant roster changes: Signed G Baron Davis and G/F Ricky Davis traded for F/C Marcus Camby, drafted G Eric Gordon, lost F Elton Brand and G/F Corey Maggette via free agency

Minnesota Timberwolves
Last year: 22-60 (13th in West)
Significant roster changes: Acquired draft rights of F Kevin Love, traded for G Mike Miller, C Calvin Booth and F Rodney Carney

Memphis Grizzlies
Last year: 22-60 (14th in West)
Significant roster changes: Acquired draft rights of G O.J. Mayo

Oklahoma City
Last year: 20-62 (15th in West)
Significant roster changes: Drafted G Russell Westbrook

If I had to pick a conference pecking order as of today, it would be as follows:
1. Lakers
2. Hornets
3. Rockets
4. Spurs
5. Jazz
6. Suns
7. Blazers
8. Mavericks
9. Clippers
10. Nuggets
11. Warriors
12. Timberwolves
13. Grizzlies
14. Kings
15. Oklahoma City

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Baseball’s All-Star Performance

It’s not often that baseball reaches “Sleep Can Wait” status, but it happened last night with the MLB all-star game. Major League Baseball’s hallowed grounds, Yankee Stadium, was a fitting venue for what truly turned out to be a midsummer classic (and I only tuned in starting in the 8th inning).

With home field advantage in the World Series at stake, players from the American League and National League played like the game really mattered. There were countless opportunities for players to half-ass their way to defeat, but that would have robbed the fans of a great showcase of the game’s talent.

Admittedly, I don’t watch a lot of baseball. In fact, I haven’t watched more than a scattering of innings all season long. I stay casually invested through daily SportsCenter highlights, but even I was surprised to realize how many all-stars I had never even heard of.

But in place of familiar names like Griffey and Bonds, new faces made an impact. Matt Holiday belted a homer. Evan Longoria showed that the upstart Tampa Bay Rays have some serious players. And longtime underachiever J.D. Drew took home MVP honors.

Justin Morneau, who won Monday’s Home Run Derby, scored the winning run in the bottom of the 15th, sliding in seconds before a tag was applied. It was one of at least a half dozen dramatic plays in extra innings that seemed to feature more stranded runners than a childhood game of pickle in the middle.

The pitching staffs were whittled down to the bone, and the Fox crew cautioned fans to prepare for the worst – another tie game being ended prematurely – as the managers didn’t want to overextend their players.

That problem was avoided, and for one night anyway, baseball lived up to its claim as America’s past time. I battled my eyes to stay awake past the 1:30 a.m. mark because the effort from the stars was something to behold. From Dan Uggla overcoming errors to Miguel Tejada showing age ain’t nothing but a number, this all-star game had it all. And it actually made me excited to watch baseball, even if I won’t get this excited again until October.

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Retire, Return, Re-unite: Favre and the Packers Together Again?

The big story in the NFL is that Brett Favre is contemplating a return to the NFL. He’s having second thoughts about his decision to retire from the Green Bay Packers a few months ago. Everyone is weighing in with their opinion: should he or shouldn’t he? Will Favre and the Packers re-establish their relationship or is it too late?

You can’t fault Favre for having second thoughts. Many of the best moments of his life came with the Packers. Sure, the Packers had a storied past before Favre. The Packers are a franchise steeped in tradition with one of the strongest fan bases in the NFL. But Favre added something to the mix. It’s quite possible Green Bay will never have another like him, and most of their fans wouldn’t hesitate to admit it.

A Super Bowl ring, three MVP awards and countless NFL records: Favre did it all as a member of the Packers. Still he was left wanting more. As the Packers’ roster changed around him, Favre wondered if his best days in Green Bay had passed him by, but his young teammates rallied around him and the Packers made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game last season. However, things did not go according to plan. Favre threw a costly interception and the Packers lost the game at home to the underdog New York Giants.

Things ended badly so you can’t blame Favre for throwing in the towel. The way things ended left a bad taste in his mouth heading into the off-season. Plus, it appeared that he and the Packers were going in two different directions. Favre was getting older and the roster around him was young and full of potential. Backup quarterback Aaron Rodgers was waiting in the wings. It looked like the Packers would have no problem moving on with life after Favre.

Favre still loved football and the Green Bay Packers, but at his retirement press conference he broke down and cried. Even though he knew he could still play and possibly lead the Packers to another Super Bowl, Favre was calling it quits. His body was still capable of delivering on Sundays, but the grueling toll the season took on his mind and body had become too much or so he thought at the time.

As the months went by and Favre began life after football, rumor has it that he got “an itch” to come back to play again. At this point it remains speculation, but don’t fault Favre as a flip-flopper. When he retired, he felt like that was what he had to do. Everything seemed to be pointing to his retirement, even if he still loved playing the game. Now that the season is growing nearer and Favre has realized that nothing else he does is going to compare to that experience, he’s probably wondering why he ever walked away.

The interesting thing is that many experts wonder what the Packers will do if Favre does make it known that he wants to return. They question if the Packers will take Favre back. As much as he’s meant to that franchise, they’ve spent the past several months talking themselves into the post-Favre era of football. They’ve been trying to sell their fans on Aaron Rodgers as the new face of the Packers, and some fans have hopped on that bandwagon, hoping that Favre stays retired. Other fans think Favre is still the best quarterback for Green Bay regardless of his age and would welcome him back with back with open arms. But what would the team do?

It’s hard to imagine Favre playing for a team other than the Packers. Sure, he began his career with Atlanta, but he saw very little action with the Falcons and that relationship was quickly terminated with a trade to Green Bay. Once he arrived with the Packers, though, Favre took off and became a new man in the NFL. A surefire Hall of Famer, Favre is the most recognizable Packer of all-time except for maybe legendary coach Vince Lombardi, who is essentially the father of the franchise.

Imagining Favre wearing colors other than green and yellow seems almost blasphemous at this point, but it’s a possibility. If he wants to come back and the Packers don’t want him, we could very well see Favre end his playing days in a different uniform.

Ultimately the decision will have to be made together. Favre has to state his intentions at some point. With the season only a couple of months away, the clock is ticking. Then, if he does announce a desire to return, the Packers have to decide if they want to re-commit to Favre or if they’ve moved on, in which case Favre will have to look for another suitor this season.

A legendary QB and a class-act franchise, Favre and the Packers will always be linked in NFL history. But can they settle their differences and make another run at a championship? Will they add another chapter to their epic tale? Not even the ghost of Curly Lambeau knows the answer.

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Can Baseball Fill the Gap During the Dead Season of Sports?

As a diehard basketball and football fan, I generally consider the time between the last pick of the NBA Draft and the first Saturday afternoon kickoff as the dead season of sports. But I’m trying a glass half-full approach this year. The Summer Olympics will take up a good chunk of sports time in August, so that helps.

In the mean time, I’m going to do my best to pretend I’m more than a casual baseball fan. The Midsummer Classic is just around the corner. The best part of baseball’s all-star break is the Home Run Derby. That’s an event worth watching.

And I have to be honest. As much as I love to give baseball a hard time, there are some storylines worth following in the Major Leagues this year. Here’s what I’m watching the rest of the way.

  • The Pittsburgh Pirates look to avoid making history. On the verge of tying a record with their 16th straight losing season, the Pirates currently sit at 39-44. Maybe they should bring back a player from their last division-winning team to help them fight for .500. Barry Bonds, anyone? Tell me that move wouldn’t fill some seats in Pittsburgh.

  • The best records in the American League belong to the Tampa Bay (Team Formerly Known as “Devil”) Rays and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What a heavenly ALCS pairing that would be (and not just because they’re not the Yankees and/or Red Sox).

  • In the National League, no one’s playing better than the Chicago Cubs. I’d love a World Series pairing where scores of lifelong suffering Cubs fans squared off against the one and only (insufferable?) Rays fan known to man, Dick Vitale.

  • Atlanta Braves third basemen Chipper Jones is batting a whopping .393 this season. Everyone will be following his chase for .400, but I’m more interested in how he’s kept the Fountain of Youth a secret. It seems like he’s been playing forever.

  • My team, the Oakland A’s are in contention again this year. Their crop of young pitchers have a 3.41 team ERA, second only to that of the Chicago White Sox.

  • The Yankees are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since the strike in 1994. They trail both Tampa Bay and Boston in the division.

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MattHubert.com Gets a Haircut: New look, same great writing

OK, so it’s not technically a haircut, but the site has been trimmed. I hope you like the new style, and I think you will.

Gone is the clunky, outdated Microsoft Frontpage Web site. In its place is a snazzy new blog format.

The rationale is simple.

I originally designed the site to keep the articles, columns and blog posts separate. My intention was to keep things from getting complicated, but in reality, the navigation structure had the opposite effect. As time went on, I realized there was no clear cut line between what merited “article,” “column,” or “blog post,” status. I wasted time creating an individual page for each article and column and linking to it from the respective contents pages.

The refreshed designed uses blogging technology to simplify everything.

  • I get to focus on writing without worrying about Web design. I write the post, categorize it appropriately and voila, the new post is available.
  • You, the reader, don’t have to navigate to different sites to find content. It’s all centralized and easily searchable by date or category.
  • We get to interact. Every post is now open to comments. Previously, articles and columns on MattHubert.com were static pages, but now you can free to comment on anything and everything I write. Agree, disagree, ask questions. The beauty of the Internet is its ability to allow the free sharing of ideas. If you’re here reading my views, I welcome yours. Just keep your comments civil and mature and we won’t have to get into a complicated list of rules.

All of the content from the original site has been carried over. So don’t worry, your favorite podcasts and columns are still accessible through the archives. And new content will automatically show up at the top of the page when it’s added.

Thanks for stopping by MattHubert.com. I hope you’ll check back regularly for updates and get involved in the comments section.

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