NBA balance of power has flipped

Hassan Whiteside
Whiteside leads the NBA with 4 blocks per game.

We are nearing the halfway point in the NBA season and certain things are abundantly clear. The Warriors are the best team in the NBA. The 76ers are still terrible. Oh and don’t try shooting near Hassan Whiteside. Those were pretty much expected coming into the season, but we have seen an interesting flip between the Eastern and Western conferences.

In years past, the East has been top heavy while the West has been a gauntlet. You could say with almost certainty which teams from the East would be in the conference final while the West was a toss up. This year has been a bit backwards. The teams in the Eastern Conference are all clumped together while the West is very spread out. Every team in a playoff spot for the East has a winning record, but the seventh and eighth seeds in the West are below .500.

The Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic are currently tied for the final spot in the Eastern conference playoffs. They sit just 5.5 games behind the Cavaliers, who are on top of the conference. The Utah Jazz have a losing record but hold the last spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. They sit 16.5 games behind the first place Warriors.

To further the point, the Oklahoma City Thunder missed the playoffs last season with a record of 45-37. That record would have made them the sixth seed in the East. The seventh-seeded Mavericks in the West had the same record as the third-seeded Bulls in the East. The Spurs were the sixth seed in the West but would’ve been second in the East. It was clear that the West was the much stronger of the conferences.

Sure it isn’t realistic to compare finishing spots across conferences, but they didn’t have inflated records because the bottom of the West was just that bad. The bottom of the East was actually worse.

The question now is why was there a switch. There weren’t too many big name free agents who left the West. The biggest ones were probably Aaron Afflalo, Robin Lopez and Monta Ellis. None of them are future Hall of Famers or even All-Stars for that matter.

New York Knicks
Lopez (8) and Porzingis (6) have been a part of a largely improved Knicks team from a season ago.

The draft has seemed to produce a couple of talented players. Kristaps Porzingis for the Knicks, Jahlil Okafor for the 76ers and Karl-Anthony Towns for the Timberwolves. None of those teams are even in the playoff picture though, so that doesn’t seem to explain it either.

Could it be that some trade deadline movements are finally starting to make an impact? Gorgan Dragic moved from Phoenix to Miami. Reggie Jackson also joined the Pistons from the Thunder. Thaddeus Young left Minnesota for Brooklyn. Boston landed Isiah Thomas in a deal with Phoenix. Thomas, Dragic and Jackson have all become very valuable pieces on their new teams.

There is no definite answer right now. The East has suddenly just turned itself around and become the more competitive of the two conferences. My best guess is that some combination of trades, draft picks and free agent signings combined have had some impact on the change. I really don’t think that explains it all.

It is still early enough that we could see the tables turn and the West could have a strong second half. To this point though, the East seems to be reigning supreme.

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Dos Santos rumors show us what the “core player” can mean to growing MLS

Another stepping stone in the continued growth of MLS.

ProSoccerTalk

Major League Soccer’s limiting of three Designated Players per team is a tool to allow marquee players to join the league without crushing competitive balance too much, but will the new “core player” be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to parity?

If the first expected use of the “core player” tag is any indication, it’s a distinct possibility.

[ MLS: Power Rankings | Player, Team of the Week ]

If you missed it, Mexican star Giovani dos Santos could be headed to the dynasty that is the Los Angeles Galaxy. Winners of three titles in four years, Bruce Arena is about to add Dos Santos to a lineup that includes Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and newcomer Steven Gerrard as DPs.

L.A. was already sixth in our power rankings with neither Gerrard nor Dos Santos, and the idea of an attack that could use…

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Stuart Scott’s legacy

I have written a bunch of tribute pieces on athletes this past year who are finishing their career in various sports. This one is a little different though. It is not for an athlete and no one is retiring. This is a tribute piece for a man who lost his life battling cancer. Stuart Scott spent the better part of the last 7 years fighting his cancer. Twice it went into remission, but both times, it came back worse than before. Yet, Scott never let it affect his life. He continued to work through the disease, refusing to let it take over his life. This is his story.

Stu and Alan
Scott passed away on January 4, 2015. He was 49.

Stuart Orlando Scott was born on July 19, 1965 in Chicago, Illinois. That was not where he called home though as his family moved to North Carolina, where Scott spent most of his childhood. He grew up with a brother Stephen and two sisters Synthia and Susan. Scott graduated from Richard J. Reynolds High School where he was not the only famous graduate. Former U.S. Senator Richard Burr, Hall of Fame sports writer Mary Garber and musician Ben Folds all spent their time at the Winston-Salem school. Scott then went on to study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a communications undergraduate student. This is where Scott honed his craft initially. Scott joined the student-run radio station WXYC and became an on-air talent.

After graduation, Scott started working for an ABC affiliate television station, WPDE in South Carolina. He only stayed rough a year before he jumped to a Raleigh station named WRAL in 1988. WRAL posted an article yesterday after the news of Stuart’s passing broke. Sports anchor Jeff Gravely said in the article that Scott had “a natural bond” with the sports department. Scott made his mark at WRAL and is still fondly remembered there today. Scott spent three years working in Raleigh before he made the move to Orlando, Florida and began working for an NBC affiliate WESH. It was at WESH where Scott made his connection to ESPN in producer Gus Ramsey.

By 1993, Scott had made a bit of a name for himself. Not a bad thing to do at the age of 28. He joined ESPN to help launch ESPN2 and Scott’s recognition shot up from there. He became a staple on the later editions of “Sportscenter” and introduced the rest of the world to his unique phrases, like “Booyah!” and “cooler than the other side of the pillow.” Scott is quoted talking about his start at ESPN in Those Guys Have All The Fun, a book written by James Miller and Tom Shales about the network’s rise to prominence. Scott said, “ESPN was my first full-time sports job. I don’t think any of it ever came easy, but that’s not to say it wasn’t fun back then. Something can be difficult and fun.” Scott embraced the change and set to work on becoming a facet of ESPN broadcasting.

Scott became one of the best-known faces in sport journalism. He also experienced some previously unheard of practices in journalism. In 2004, Scott joined a team of anchors and took Sportscenter on the road. The first stop they made was to Kuwait. To Scott, it was like nothing he had ever experienced in his professional career. He said in the same book, “The applause we got from the troops was thunderous.” He added, “I remember thinking, ‘This should be reversed. It should be me cheering for them.’” While this was his job, his career, his life work, Scott knew how to put it all in perspective.

Scott, in total, spent 21 years working for ESPN. He managed to be a part of an explosion in the sports world for delivering sports news. He found a way to touch so many different people in his time with the network. It all culminated at the 2014 ESPYs, where Scott received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and gave an incredible speech reminiscent of former ESPN mainstay Jim Valvano years before. The link is here and the fact that Scott made the trip is simply unbelievable. He brought the audience to tears as he finished his speech and embraced his daughter Sydni on stage. Just Scott showing the world that yes Stuart Scott is just a human as the rest of us.

Forget race, gender or anything else you want to categorize Stuart Scott by. Scott was one of the greatest sport journalists I have ever had the honor to watch at work. He has been a great component in broadening the boundaries of what is acceptable for professional behavior on the air. He was genuine and dedicated and he will be sorely missed. Thank you Stuart for all of the hard work you put into your career. It has been an inspiration to me and I am sure several others to continue pursuing one of the greatest jobs in the world. But more than that, you did your job with integrity. And all I can say to that is thank you. Rest in peace.