Category Archives: BLOCK

Why Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani Must Leave Liverpool This Summer

The reasons are pretty clear. I’m not rooting against them if they do stay at LFC—I hope they can make a strong impact in the starting XI rotation. I’m just saying that it’s improbable given their history, so I want them out because their wages are too high. Fully explained in the video.

EDITORS NOTE: I say that Aquilani didn’t play much for AC Milan last season due to injury. I was incorrect. He didn’t play because a clause in his contract limited his appearances. Regardless, my point about him being injury-prone still holds true.

I actually advocated for Aquilani’s departure last summer using the same reasons. Has he done anything on the field to counteract my argument? NO! Video from the summer of 2011:

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The Curious Case of Brendan Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers is in a peculiar position at Liverpool FC. Aside from the fact that he’s replacing the Liverpudlian Jesus, has to evaluate a strange mix of players bought by three different managers over the past five years, and represents the final buck between LFC fading into mid-table obscurity till the end of time, he has to accomplish another monumental task that 95% of incoming managers either don’t have or simply don’t take on. He has to instill his very specific footballing philosophy at the club with no time to lose.

Rodgers’ philosophy is so specific, so systematic, that he’s now faced with the challenge of forcing it upon his players. Whereas most new managers—while coming in with their own plans on how their side will play—will usually take the players at hand and adapt to them, Rodgers is handcuffed to a degree. The men who’ve run Chelsea the past decade are the best examples of managers altering their tactics to the players at hand. Because of their willing flexibility (and Abramovich’s pockets), Chelsea has been competitive, finishing either first or second in the League seven times since 2004. Only when a manager has come in and tried to overhaul the team from top to bottom and control players has Chelsea finished poorly, as Andre Villas-Boas and Frank Lampard can attest. But failing to make an imprint has led to Chelsea managers being sacked on an almost yearly basis.

Every manager has their own overarching philosophy on how the game should be played, and plenty of tactics to use game-to-game (in Rafa’s case, a notebook of tactics). Mourinho likes to keep the game tight defensively and then strike on the counter. Wenger employs a neat possession side that generates the easiest of chances down the middle of the penalty box. Guardiola unleashed the most perfect form of Tiki-Taka and with the best false 9 ever put on this planet in Lionel Messi. Much has been made of Brendan Rodgers’ own version of Tiki-Taka (This article and this article from EPLIndex.com explains how he’ll operate at LFC).

There are a million different ways to play counter-attacking football—there’s only one Tiki-Taka, altered here and there to mesh the strengths of the players together. Rodgers will still have to rewire his players brains to conform to his passing patterns and movements. Liverpool’s players have never played in a system like this before, and they’re all essentially starting from ground zero. Like AVB, Rodgers will stamp his brand onto the club immediately. Doing anything else would be selling himself short. It takes time for a side to come together under any manager, but Rodgers is a man who will need more time if he’s to seize total control over the club.

Aside from the keeper, the back four, two midfield slots (Gerrard and Lucas), and one attacker (Suarez), nobody knows how the team will look come opening day. That leaves three crucial spots either in midfield or in attack that have to be decided upon and employed to a wide range of players (Henderson, Carroll, Adam, Downing, Shelvey, possibly Maxi, Cole, or Aquilani, and maybe even Sterling). In that mixture, there’s a true #9 (Carroll), an English-style winger (Downing), a modern winger (Sterling), a fake Xabi Alonso (Adam), two idealistic #10s (Cole and Aquilani), a midfielder of some trade (Henderson), and a Maxi. How those players will fit into Rodgers’ system is only known to Rodgers himself. He’s handcuffed with the squad he has—a squad that doesn’t look much like a Tiki-Taka one at present state.

If Rodgers is afforded enough patience by LFC (there will be lots of growing pains), the club will resemble Barcelona in style and execution one day at every level. Check out this video of the Barcelona U-11s:

While they don’t have a transcendent player like Messi to break down defenses down the middle (these kids are 11 years old, mind you), they play exactly how a Barcelona side would. Lots of passing triangles, intelligent off the ball movement, and a total stranglehold on the game. These kids could beat the best American high school sides. It takes years and years for an organization to be that well drilled from the 1st team all the way down to the U-11s. Give Rodgers that time, even through the darkest of results, and he will achieve that. Patience is the name of the game for Rodgers’ sides, and it’ll be the hot-button word for LFC fans the world over this year. Patience.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The New “Big Three” In English Football

Less than a day after Arsenal chairman Peter Hillwood said, “As far as I am aware, nobody has made any offer for him [Robin van Persie] and he is away so we are not in any dialogue at all. We are not in the remotest bit interested in selling him,” RVP has come out of the woodwork and declared that he would not be renewing his contract with the Gunners, opening the door for him to leave.

It’s already being reported that a £22 million transfer fee with Manchester City for RVP has been agreed upon, with RVP making £225,000 a week in wages. [Editor’s note 8/15: Arsenal have agreed to sell RVP to Manchester United for £24 million. The points below still hold true.] It’s a huge blow for Arsenal on and off the pitch, but for footballing reasons, selling RVP now is the right move. Although he was the English Premier League’s Player of the Year last campaign, he’ll be 29 in August and has only had one injury-free season with the club. Wenger has a knack for selling players right as their descending from their peak (Henry, Campbell, Vieira), and this transfer is one that he’ll probably feel comfortable with.

As for RVP, nobody can blame him for wanting to leave. He knows his own mortality, and that he can only play at this level for 1-2 more years if injury-free. He needs to win now, and Manchester City United can gift-wrap him a medal next year. Can Arsenal? No, because they’ve joined the second-tier of English Football. Not the literal 2nd division, but the second-level of football clubs. They’ve lost their best player three-straight seasons (Fabregas to Barcelona, Nasri and RVP to Man United), have over £70 million to reinvest in player sales that hasn’t been touched (RVP’s transfer fee essentially pays for the Podolski and Giroud buys), and went another season without a trophy.

Once the RVP transfer goes through, Man United will have officially cemented English football’s new “Big Three.” Along with Manchester United and Chelsea, they’re now part of a Big Three that can outspend every other team. Let’s examine the Big Three, and where the other members of the old “Big Four” now lay.

THE BIG THREE

Manchester United
Forbes has listed the club as the most valuable sports organization in the world. Valued at over $2 billion, they’re worth more than the New York Yankees. Despite debts of over £400 million laid upon the club by the Glazer family, and despite the lack of big money buys the past few years, the team still has incredible spending power. A $100 million IPO on Wall Street doesn’t hurt either. Aside from their financial strength, Manchester United is always the odds-on favorite to win the League. Big Three material.

Chelsea
Winning the Champions League was nice, but they finished 6th in the League last season. Even with their floundering League form, Chelsea joins the Big Three because of owner Roman Abramovich’s billions. Realistically, he’s the only man who can compete with Man City’s spending. They’ve already fought off Man City for Eden Hazard’s signature this summer, so constant reinvestment into the squad to win titles will never be a problem for Abramovich’s Chelsea.

Manchester City
They’ve bought every star player imaginable. Owner Sheikh Mansour has spent nearly a billion pounds to since he bought the club, with roughly £565 million supplied solely by Mansour (the rest generated through Man City’s own operations). In September 2008, £500 million was set aside just for player investment—Man City has spent roughly £300 million of that in four years. They can’t spend quickly enough! All of that money finally returned something tangible last season, as they won the League title. Like it or not, Man City is now the most powerful club in world football.

THE “OTHER” BIG THREE

Arsenal
No trophies in over six years, no reinvestment into the squad, and watching their best players leave has caused a real split between Arsenal and the new Big Three. They just can’t compete on the same level so long as Arsenal’s board refuses to spend until Financial Fair Play regulations come in.

Liverpool
Still recovering from the financial and sporting calamity that was the Hicks and Gillett Era at Anfield, Liverpool finished 8th last season. New owners John Henry and Fenway Sports Group have the financial muscle to get Liverpool back into the Big Three’s zone (they’ve spent over £100 million out of pocket since their takeover), but the right mixture of coaching, players, and organizational principles will be needed to return Liverpool to glory. John Henry has to rebuild the organization from the staff to the stadium while trying to compete for Champions League spots. A difficult task that makes them a member of the second-tier.

Tottenham
They’ve only recently competed with the likes of the old Big Four and Manchester City, largely in part to the emergence of youngsters like Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon stars. Coupled with a bargain buy in Rafael Van der Vaart, and the loan of the season in 17-goal man (and former Arsenal striker) Emmanuel Adebayor, Tottenham has assembled a quality, top-four side. Where they’ll ultimately fail is their lack of cash. Adebayor may have to leave because the club can’t pay his wage-demands, and they haven’t spent more than £10 million on a player since 2009. Their record buy was four years ago in the form of £17 million David Bentley. At present state, they simply don’t have the investment to compete long-term.

With the new Big Three, and the “Other” Big Three being laid out, who do you think will finish in the top four next season?

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The Newsroom Briefing: Will McAvoy vs. Will McAvoy

The Newsroom picked up the pace in it’s second week. It was dramatic, had moments of humor, and some great characters were unwrapped. There were no bullshit speeches or overwritten dialogues this week. Prompted by this good episode, I’ve decided to write Newsroom recaps every week, or until I decide the show isn’t worth the time to write about. Whatever comes first.

This episode was based on events in the world from April 23, 2010.

We all know somebody like this: A person who’s grumpy, unfriendly, and condescending to everyone, but actually quite caring, sensitive, and oddly insecure deep down. You don’t simply “know” a person like this to be in touch with all of their external and internal modes of thought and reason—you know them as well as you know your telephone number. After “News Night 2.0,” Will McAvoy became just as transparent as our telephone numbers.

Will began the episode by internalizing profiles of every person in his office. He learned names, titles, previous accomplishments, and inter-office feuds. He wasn’t shy to share his newfound knowledge either—he began the morning pitch meeting by declaring, “I learned everyone’s names last night,” followed by, “Seriously, I know everyone’s name… I care. I’m nice.” Will then spent the entire meeting by listing facts about people in the room, and calling them by their first and last names with perfect pronunciation. Instead of subtly and gradually having people find out that he had taken the time to learn about them like a normal person would through casual, energizing conversation, he wanted his office to immediately feel indebted to him for his little personal homework assignment. (Aside from employers armed with resumes and freshmen in college researching their new roommate through Facebook stalking, who actually reads P.I profiles on people to get to know them? The impersonal but not really impersonal Will McAvoy does.)

The one person on the planet who knows Will like a telephone number is his ex-girlfriend, and new Executive Producer Mackenzie McHale. After offering Sloan Sabbath (FINALLY we get some Olivia Munn action)—economic analyst at the network—a small nightly segment on the show, Mackenzie dove right into her about how the office views Will. Sloan told her that the general view was that Will is an ass who cheated on Mackenzie three years ago. Mackenzie fiercely defended Will, saying that he has the “heart the size of a Range Rover.” Later, Mackenzie would again try and defend Will in a staff meeting. After nobody would believe her, she hurriedly try to email Will about his perception in the office. That email was accidentally sent to the entire company, exposing some very delicate details about their relationship. The lowdown: Mackenzie actually cheated on Will.

After that bit of gossip was thrown out there, the two sides of Will McAvoy kept popping up. Maggie was convinced she would be fired after botching a pre-interview with the Governor of Arizona’s office, leading to the Governor choosing to take her interview on a new immigration bill to a different network. Mackenzie was adamant that Will wouldn’t fire anyone, which quelled nobody’s fears of a pink slip. Even after Maggie confessed to Will that she was responsible for the Governor, and offered her resignation, Will showed as much compassion as publicly capable from him by saying, “I hope you don’t do that. I hope you stay here.”

But to stay “true” to himself, Will tortured Maggie by driving the mistake into hell on purpose. The Governor was replaced on the show by a prejudiced academic from the University of Phoenix, a red-neck border patrol officer, and a beauty contestant. He kept pressing and pressing for non-answers from this horribly unqualified panel, turning the segment into a laughing-stock. To punish Mackenzie, because, well, in his mind everything is her fault—he defended Sarah Palin’s famous Holland-Norwegian misquote against Mackenzie’s script, just to satisfy his conservative viewers who were driving his ratings. For a show that vowed to “drive ratings through content” and not “content through ratings” while under Mackenzie, this was a blow.

After the show, Mackenzie offered Will an ultimatum: either he was in 100% with he changes for the following show, or out, implying that she would leave. At the end of “News Room 2.0,” Will would find his mind and his heart. He decided that he was “in,” and even did a good deed (before the Karma Police would nab him). In that ill-fated morning pitch meeting, Neal Sampat (played by Dev Patel, who’s spent more time looking annoyed/worried in the background of dialogues than acting), proposed to interview a man who’s drivers license was revoked in his state because it was discovered that he was an ilegal immigrant. He couldn’t drive to his job or pick up his kids from school because of it. In the closing scene, Will called Neal and ordered him to tell the man to take a taxi to for his job and kids—Will would foot the bill. Neal insisted on posting the act of charity to Will’s personal blog, but Will wanted the whole thing to be done anonymously.

In “News Room 2.0” we were introduced to a man who gloats and frustrates others for the wrong reasons, but does the right things in secrecy. He hides behind his veil of arrogance, while inside he’s exactly the man Mackenzie wanted everyone to think he is—he just doesn’t want everyone to think that way just yet.

Will told Mackenzie his decision and Neal his orders over the phone. He had memorized Neal’s personal telephone number from the profiles. Will learned about his co-workers, and we learned about Will. Whether his co-workers will get to know the real Will is a different story for a different newsroom.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Deron Williams Would Be An Idiot To Turn Down the Nets

Tomorrow, Deron Williams will be meeting with representatives from both the Brooklyn Nets and the Dallas Mavericks. Today, he became the biggest free agent in basketball, but one who’s limited his options. Does he return home to Dallas and compete for a championship next season? Or does he stay in Brooklyn, seize the basketball business opportunity of the decade, and help build the Nets into a legitimate threat in the Eastern conference? Let’s hash out a few myths and facts for Deron as he wavers between the red and blue pill.

MYTH #1: He can win a championship in Dallas
In tandem with Deron’s ties to home, the biggest factor that’s seemingly sealing his move to Dallas is the Maverick’s perceived ability to win championships. Deron has repeatedly said that he wants to sign with a team that’s going to compete immediately. He’s 28 years old, and for any athlete, it’s a mystery what your body will do when you turn 30. He needs to win now. With Mark Cuban as his owner, he’d be in bed with a man who’s willing to bend and break the cap to contend, and Rick Carlisle, a championship winning coach.

But what can the Mavericks seriously offer Deron? They have Dirk Nowitzki, who lead the Mavericks to a championship two seasons ago after finally saying, “This might be my last chance to win it all. I don’t want to be the Charles Barkely of my generation. Eat my jump-shot, Miami Heat.” Nowitzki’s 34 years old, is getting worse at rebounding (how a 7 footer only grabs 6.8 rebounds a game is fraudulent), and may not have that burning desire to grab a 2nd title. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt: he’s still good for an efficient 20-25 points a game, and could maintain that level for years with Williams passing him the ball.

Is there anything else around Nowitzki? Jason Terry, Delonte West, and Ian Mahinmi are free agents, either Brendan Haywood or Shawn Marion will need to be amnestied to make room for Deron’s contract, and there’s a team option on Vince Carter. If Deron were to join the Mavericks, based on salary cap-decisions, he’d be surrounded by, most notably: Nowitzki, Marion, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Jared Cunningham, and Brandan Wright. They’d be about $7 million under the cap after that, but Jason Kidd said he’d join Deron wherever. The two are a package deal. If Kidd takes a massive pay-cut and accepts $3 million, then the Mavericks could fill out their rotation with either West or Mahinmi. Deron’s “championship” starting 5 would be: himself, Jones, Marion, Nowitzki, and Mahinmi (assuming he signs over West). That makes them challengers for… the 5th best team in the West, fighting alongside Chris Paul and the Clippers for that distinction. That’s championship pedigree right there.

MYTH #2: The Nets are a lame franchise
I’ve discussed at great-length why the Nets are actually one of the coolest franchises in the NBA right now, despite what NBA fans would say. Here’s an abbreviated version of my argument: The Nets are now residing in the hippest place in the United States, as well as this country’s 4th largest city (pretending that Brooklyn was never annexed by New York City). They’ve seized upon hip-hop branding principles, making the logo fashionable and their apparel suitable for streetwear shops in SoHo. Whereas Manhattan and the New York Knicks are symbolic of the old, established powers of today, the Brooklyn Nets are a young, exciting, trendy team. Untold love and marketing opportunities await.

MYTH #3: Dwight Howard will not be a Net
Apparently, Deron won’t sign with the Nets unless Dwight Howard will be in uniform with him. Last night, Chris Broussard reported for the billionth time, that Dwight Howard requested a trade to the Nets for the billionth time. Deron’s impending free agency and Dwight’s demands are timed perfectly. Both will be a Net this time next week, even though I’m not taking Chris Broussard AKA the TMZ of Sports Reporting for anything. Even though Dwight did sign that ridiculous I Promise To Stay With The Magic One More Year contract at the trade deadline, that piece of paper matters very little. In the NBA, players always get what they want, and the Magic would be insane to hold onto him. Best case, he stays and walks after 2013. Worst case, he poisons the team with his irrational behavior next season—why not get something in return while they still can? Reality: he’s a head case, and the Magic are tired of being held hostage. The Packers got tired of Brett Favre. The Nuggets got tired of Carmelo Anthony. Today, the Magic get tired of Dwight.

FACT #1: Agents run this league
When it comes to taking the money over the better team, agents will always steer their clients to the most money on the table. The Nets can offer Deron a full year and $25 million more than the Mavericks can. We’ve already debunked that the Mavericks can contend for anything significant next season, but even if that perception is still in place, it won’t matter. People will point to LeBron, Wade, and Bosh’s decision to take pay-cuts to join forces and say, “Deron’s the same way. He wants to win like those guys. Money isn’t an option.” Well, money means a lot to those agents who take commission checks, and guess what? LeBron, Wade, and Bosh all share the same agent. Their agent, Henry Thomas, is collecting a commission off a total of $300 million in combined contracts for the three. I’m sure he was okay with their pay-cuts. Deron will follow the money.

FACT #2: The Nets will contend for more than the Mavericks will next season
They’re certainly in a better position to. By adding Dwight Howard, and then Deron Williams, they maybe become the 2nd or 3rd best team in the Eastern conference. If the Magic finished 6th last season, then the Nets can finish above them, the Boston Celtics (old, old, old, and old), the Atlanta Hawks (a team that will never make the leap), and maybe the Chicago Bulls (in flux with Derrick Rose injured) or the Indiana Pacers (now Larry Bird-less). The Heat have two big weaknesses: their ability to guard elite point guards, and their defense in the post. A team with one of the three best point guards in basketball and the best real center in the game could give the Heat some trouble.

FACT #3: Beyonce will be courtside to your games. Beyonce, Jay-Z, AND Blue Ivy! Maybe even Kim Kardashian, and Kanye West. Jay-Z is totally ready to step into that Jack Nicholson role, and Kanye’s the next Spike Lee of fans.

Deron the choice is yours. Do you really want to play for a pretender in Dallas and have old “friends” hit you up for money and tickets back home? (I’m guessing there’s a reason why he doesn’t live there in the offseason. His “home.”) Or do you want to play for the next coolest thing in the NBA with Dwight Howard and make an extra $25 million in the process? The Decision sounds easy enough to me. But what do I know? It’s not my life.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

An Uneventful NBA Draft: Talking Points and Non-Trades

I used to follow all the NBA mock drafts religiously. For years, I’d dive into every Chad Ford mock column, reading up on how the draft should go. Year after year, I’d be disappointed that the mock drafts would almost never match the real thing. It was silly of me to assume that things would work out that way—after all, what’s the point in watching the draft if the whole thing is scripted (in Stern’s NBA, it wouldn’t surprise me if it actually was)? Mock drafts usually get blown up because of trades, or the simple stupidity of most NBA GMs. Teams would swap draft picks for cash, other players, “future considerations,” and picks in the distant future. It was a mess to keep track of. This year, however, there was no chaos. There was only one first round trade compared to 7 in 2011, 7 in 2010, and 3 in 2009. There was a predictable dryness to the 2012 draft, but some major talking points still popped up.

The biggest moves were perhaps the ones that didn’t happen. The Bobcats refused the Cavaliers advances to trade up to the #2 pick. That led to Bobcats taking Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a player who’s now expected to shoot the ball 15 times a game, despite not being a great scorer. He only averaged 11.2 points a game on 8 shots at the University of Kentucky, and now has to carry the Bobcats. Yikes. But if there’s a player who’s prepared to step-up and lead immediately, it’s Kidd-Gilchrist.

Because the Bobcats refused to give up their pick, Cavs ended up missing out on Bradley Beal, who landed in the Wizard’s lap at the #3 pick. He’ll now battle John Wall for touches in the back-court. The Cavs, desperate to add a scoring threat, reached for Syracuse guard Dion Waiters at the #4 pick—someone who never started a collegiate game. Curious move.

Two other non-trades that are likely to have an impact on offseason proceedings: potential Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard trades. The Rockets had been stockpiling picks in an attempt to trade for either of them. Dwight Howard was a small possibility, as he changed his mind (for about the 10,000th time) and has spent the past few days trying to force a move, preferably to the Nets. The Nets had flipped their first round pick for Gerald Wallace, so how Howard was going to get his desired move before the draft was beyond me. The Rockets failed to land either big man, or move up into the top 10 to grab Andre Drummond. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has got to be thinking, “Great, now I have three rookie 1st round picks on my roster, none of whom are lottery picks. I wonder if Paul Millsap is available?!”

The Kings managed to not screw up their pick, taking Thomas Robinson at the #5 spot. He’ll spend the year tag-teaming the boards with Demarcus Cousins while the rest of the team jacks up shots and plays no defense. NBA fans in Seattle light candles of hope.

Harrison Barnes slid down the draft like everyone pre-workouts expected him to. Yet after he tested so well, he was expected to be a top-5 pick. He fell to the Warriors at #7, giving them a 1-3 that looks like this: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes. It’ll be raining 3s in the Bay next season! With David Lee and Andrew Bogut in the front-court, the Warriors look promising. (Sorry for giving Warriors fans false hope!) But since they’re the Warriors, they’ll probably be in the lottery again next year. Hey, at least they’ll be a fun team to play with in 2K.

The Pistons took Andre Drummond/Kwame Brown 2.0 at #9 overall, giving him a chance to team up with Greg Monroe in a front-court that’ll get the fans buzzing for about a week.

The most controversial pick of the whole draft, and the worst one in my estimation, was the Hornets pick of Duke guard Austin Rivers at #10. There’s an inherent problem with Rivers: he thinks he’s Kobe but he’s not Kobe. Imagine if Kobe Bryant was still himself mentally but wasn’t nearly as talented—he’d basically be a member of the Kings, but with chemistry-killing tenacity. Rivers is a fake point guard who had more turnovers than assists last season. He’s got a chance to average 15 points a night in the NBA, but the Hornets already have a big-time scoring guard in Eric Gordon, who’s arguably the 4th best shooting guard in the league. (Think about it. After Wade, Kobe, Harden, and Joe Johnson, who’s left? Monta Ellis? DeMar DeRozan?) Why take away shots from Gordon when there was an opportunity to draft Kendall Marshall? He’s the best passer in the draft, who the Suns eventually snapped up to be Steve Nash’s successor. It would make too much sense to pair the draft’s best passer with Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon.

Of all the teams that stood pat, the Thunder came away strong. They were making a push to trade up to grab Bradley Beal, but were unwilling to part with James Harden in a deal. Instead, Baylor forward Perry Jones III fell to them at #29. Once seen as a potential lottery pick (New York Times Magazine profiled him in March 2011. They compared him to Magic Johnson and Tracy McGrady. Remember though: it’s the New York Times Magazine with a sports feature not written by either Michael Lewis or Malcolm Gladwell), Jones III vastly underachieved at Baylor. He’s a slender, athletic big man who’s very raw, but that’s just what the Thunder need: athletic bigs. He can run the court better than any forward in the draft, and he’ll thrive in the Thunder’s track-paced transition offense.

The Celtics walked away with easily the best draft (outside of getting Anthony Davis, of course). Jared Sullinger fell all the way to them at #21. Sullinger had been red flagged by NBA teams for his back troubles, but at #21, he’s a steal. He averaged nearly 17 and 10 at The Ohio State last season, and was rated as the best low-post player in the entire draft. A player that productive at a major basketball program should never fall that far for injury worries. (See: DeJuan Blair and his lack of ACLs.) For a team that lacked any post presence whatsoever in 2012, Sullinger is a huge boost. The Celtics took Fab Melo at #22, landing a defensive weapon who’ll own the offensive glass. The Celtics got bigger to protect Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass. Throw in center Greg Stiemsma to that rotation, and the Celtics all of a sudden have a very versatile and deep front-court. One more run at the title? With Rondo, Pierce, and Garnett, anything’s possible.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

So We Meet Again…

So sports blogging, we meet again. It’s been a while since we’ve crossed paths. I met you back in 2007, when I began rambling in broken Middle School English on SportingNews.com. A lack of passion and lack of time (high school is more work than college), caused me to abandon you. It was like raising a child until your baby teeth started falling out and then putting you up for adoption.

Well I’m back, and with gifts for you.

Through the time I’ve spent writing for BrilliantlyBlunt.com, and the viewership gained from JLBSportsTV, I’ve matured as a writer, fan, and observer of the world. Your micro-blogging brother Twitter was fun, but 140 characters and timeline-drowning rants isn’t the way to properly express sports and pop culture opinions. It just loses me followers.

I give to you JLBSports.tv—a fully-fledged online magazine covering sports from every sideline and pop culture from every couch. Sports blogging, you’ve now mutated into something greater—or really, you’ve just gotten fatter. Let’s go for a workout.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Bert Van Marwijk’s Dutch Undelight: Why the Oranje Crashed Out

Bert Van Marwijk’s Holland came into the European Championships as one of the tournament’s favorites. Despite landing in the “Group of Death” with heavyweights Germany and Portugal, the Oranje were still tipped to come out of the group and steal Spain’s thunder. Instead, the Dutch crashed out miserably, losing all three group matches and only scoring two goals.

Rumors of infighting between winger Arjen Robben and the rest of the squad were rampant all tournament, and were put on full display against Germany. Robben was substituted for Dirk Kuyt in the 83th minute, and instead of running to the bench, hi-fiving his teammate and getting a pat on the head from his coach (like every normal player would), he chose to hop a fence on the opposite side of the field, take his shirt off, and walk the long-way back to the bench. Imagine a pitcher in baseball getting taken out, and instead of walking back to the dugout, he chose to take a lap around the outfield, give the finger to the relief pitcher coming in for him, and toss his jersey into the crowd. By European football equivalents, that’s exactly what Robben did. If his message wasn’t clear then, when cameras caught him telling Van Marwijk to “shut up” after Van Marwijk wanted him to track Ronaldo’s runs in defense, Robben’s selfish disgust was put on display for the world to see. After that moment, Van Marwijk was never going to come back to the Oranje sidelines.

Van Marwijk is getting out at a perfect time for his career, meaning a bad time for Dutch football. His contract ran until 2016, but did he really want to oversee another World Cup and Euro? This was supposed to be the major tournament that the Dutch finally put it all together and won. It was the perfect time. This generation’s Dutch stars had reached their career peak. Current English Premier League Player of the Year Robin van Persie is at the height of his powers at 28, and is injury-free for once. Attacking midfielder Wesley Sneijder is 28 and linked with a huge move to one of the Manchester clubs. Robben is, you guessed it, also 28 and fresh off an 18 goal season for Bayern Munich. Striker Klass Jan-Huntelaar was the most efficient striker in Europe this year, notching 44 goals in 47 games for Schalke at a ripe age of 28. These are four of the best footballers in the world, and top-8 in the world at their positions—yet they can only manage 1 goal between them at Euros? Now, the Dutch are a team trending down, as their top 4 players will be 30 by the next World Cup, and will surely be in decline. It’ll probably be hard for Robben and RVP—two injury-plagued players—to even be healthy enough.

Holland’s horrendous Euro display surprised many pundits, but should it have? Remembering their World Cup run in 2010, it’s easy for a finals appearance to gloss over what was a poor tournament by Dutch style standards. They had the easiest path to the finals, were incredibly lucky, Sneijder bailed them out of games, RVP was a black hole at central striker, and they played one of the ugliest games in World Cup history against an overpowering Spanish side in the finals. Let’s look back at each game in the 2010 World Cup for the Dutch:

Win over Denmark, 2-0
A Daniel Agger own goal and a Dirk Kuyt tap-in off a rebound (CLASSIC Kuyt) notches 3 points for Holland. Van Marwijk said after the game: “We wanted to play beautiful soccer but we lost the ball.” An ugly win. (This same Denmark side beat them in their opening Euro match.)

Win over Japan, 1-0
Sneijder scores after the Japanese keeper deflects the shot off his hand and into the net. RVP misses a ton of easy chances. Said Van Marwijk after the game: “Let me assure you that we really, really want to win and if we can do that in style, then great. But you have to be able to win ugly games.” The coach said it himself: an ugly win.

Win over Cameroon, 2-1
RVP and Huntelaar finally get on the score sheet against a Cameroon side that hadn’t won it’s previous 10 matches. Ho-hum.

Win over Slovakia, 2-1
Robben and Sneijder score, but the Dutch only complete 335 passes—their lowest total all tournament and only the 6th time since 1978 it had completed less than 350 passes in a match. So much for Total Football.

Win over Brazil, 2-1
A Brazilian side in transition fails to capitalize on an early Robinho goal. Sneijder reinvigorates the Dutch in the 53rd minute, scoring a free-kick 30 yards out from a crossing area after Melo deflects the ball into his own goal. Sneijder heads home the winner from a corner kick after Kuyt flicks it on at the near post. Again, not much beautiful football being played. Plenty of lucky football though.

Win over Uruguay, 3-2
A Suarez-less Uruguayan side just misses out. Captain Giovanni Van Bronckhorst scored his 6th goal in 106 total matches for the Dutch from a miracle Jabulani-powered strike. Has to be seen to be believed:

Sneijder scores a close-range shot after it was deflected off a defender, and Robben tapped home the third goal. Diego Forlan’s free-kick in the closing seconds goes off the crossbar. A thrilling win, but hardly an artistically appealing one. More Oranje luck.

Loss to Spain, 1-0.
Robben misses a 1v1 chance, and blows another 1v1 by somehow shrugging off a challenge and missing. The one time he could’ve gone down for a penalty because he was legitimately fouled, he decides to keep on going. De Jong gets away with the most blatant red card in the history of football, setting the tone for a flop and foul fest. Total bloodbath.

Although the Dutch had to bully Spain if they had any chance of winning, it still upset legend Johan Cruyff: “This ugly, vulgar, hard, hermetic, hardly eye-catching, hardly football style, yes it served the Dutch to unsettle Spain. If with this they got satisfaction, fine, but they ended up losing. They were playing anti-football.”

RVP had one goal all tournament, the back-four continued to look confused, and Sneijder’s 2010 luck with Inter carried over. As a whole, the team didn’t play like a team. The ugliness of the 2010 World Cup carried over to the 2012 Euros, except Sneijder’s luck wasn’t there to bail the Dutch out every time. The Dutch are an overrated side with star players who are poor for their national team. The Euros disaster can be attributed to Van Marwijk’s insane decision to start two defensive midfielders in an unbalanced 4-2-3-1, and to start an 18 year old at left-back (there are honestly no better Dutch defenders available?), while the rest of the blame can be bestowed upon a wasted generation of Dutch talent. They were just never that good to begin with. Better on paper than in practice.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Making Sense of HBO’s The Newsroom

HBO’s newest series, The Newsroom, debuted last Sunday. Slammed by critics in the pilot’s run-up, viewers were in one of three mindsets before watching: a) I’m going to exaggerate every hateful feeling towards this show because it can’t possibly be good after all of the awful reviews, b) I liked The Social Network, or c) Game of Thrones isn’t on anymore, it’s a Sunday night, and I’m bored.

Aaron Sorkin, who has been riding a screenplay hot-streak (Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, Moneyball) since The West Wing ended, is The Newsroom’s creator, executive producer, writer, costume designer, key grip, and set caterer. (The last three aren’t true, but seriously, every piece of HBO promo for this show has Sorkin’s name and/or face attached to it. Also, Sorkin apparently made everyone involved with the show sign a contract vowing that they won’t change a word of his script. No improv allowed. Talk about an ego trip.) Sorkin has become a household name for movie goers for his snappy writing, dramatic overtures, and complex characters.

With the first episode of The Newsroom, everything that Sorkin has become known for displayed itself. The show began with news anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) participating in a panel at Northwestern University. Flanked by two of his news anchor peers—a stereotypical condescending liberal know-it-all to his right, and a flag-waving, pompous conservative to his left—McAvoy snaps after a student’s question causes him to break from his introverted character. The question, “Why is America the greatest country in the world?” brought McAvoy over the edge (he had previously responded with “the New York Jets,” but the moderator wouldn’t let him get off that easily), starting a long diatribe of UN rankings pointing to why the United States isn’t the greatest country in the world. McAvoy lists about ten different statistics, each building momentum to, “So when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.” Within that first scene, all three of Sorkin’s calling cards popped up: a head-turning monologue, a stunning climax to a moment, and the introduction to a complex character who has kept his feelings to himself his entire career.

It was a stunning start. But when every single scene seemed to repeat that same formula, the episode became annoying. About half-way through, Mackenzie MacHale (played by Emily Mortimer), gives a speech to McAvoy in an effort to convince him to hire her as executive producer for his news show, in turn letting her the change the direction of the program. She uses America as the crux of her argument, spewing an idealistic, cliché-filled rant capped off by this mushy-gushy line: “America is the only country on the planet that since it’s birth that’s said over, and over, and over, that we can do better. It’s part of our DNA.” Ironic that a woman with a distinct British accent was chosen to deliver that line. At that point I turned the episode off, only to return to finish it a day later. I’m sure even the U-S-A chanting Americans with Reagan-Bush bumperstickers on the back of their Ford F-150s wanted to throw-up at the corniness of that entire spiel.

In Charlie Wilson’s War, Tom Hanks played the charming Senator Wilson. In The Social Network, portrayals of Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker handled most of the dialectic quips. Moneyball had the baseball version of Charlie Wilson in Brad Pitt’s iteration of Billy Beane. All three of Sorkin’s recent screenplays had one or two characters dishing out verbal mayhem—in The Newsroom, someone in every scene is fighting for some sort of public speaking/debate award. It’s enjoyable, but overwhelming. Is overwritten the right word?

The Newsroom isn’t a show that should be left for dead after one episode though. The strength of the series is it’s historical setting. It’s based a few years in the past, allowing Sorkin to write around major news events. The first episode dealt with the BP Oil Spill, and commercials for future episodes drop hints that the Bin Laden death will be covered. Insight into how a busy newsroom would handle year-defining stories will undoubtedly make for great drama.

Despite the reviews, The Newsroom’s first episode has got to be considered a success. I hated some parts and loved others, and because it was the first episode, I can’t place a definitive judgement on the series yet. In short, I’ll be tuning in again. Sorkin has won this week. Good thing I have a clause in my viewing contract that allows me to fire The Newsroom next week.

In a related note, GQ editor Sean Fennessey lost 3,700 followers on Twitter for a pro-Newsroom tweet. C’mon folks, it’s not THAT bad.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

How Hip-Hop Saved the Brooklyn Nets

Hip-hop and sports have dovetailed naturally since hip-hop’s birth in the 1970s. Basketball, in particular, has been the sport of choice for rappers. Ever since Kurtis Blow fanatically chanted “Basketball is my favorite sport, I like the way they dribble up and down the court,” in his 1984 hit “Basketball,” the game has become an easy name-check for rappers (I can’t remember the last time at least one mixtape or album didn’t have at least ONE basketball-related metaphor or punchline).

Basketball and hip-hop are both dominated by young African-American men from urban environments, making it no surprise that the two frequently cross-paths. There’s a confluence between them in the rhymes, friendships, and culture of the people operating within each industry, and it’s certainly something that businessmen have taken advantage of.

Rappers wear the shoes of Jordan, LeBron, Kobe, and Durant for fashion, pushing Nike Basketball’s sales. Kanye West, who has a design/endorsement contract with Nike, has been known to make any sneaker he wears a hot item. He’s the world’s Trendsetter-In-Chief. ‘Ye recently wore the Nike Air Flight ’89 basketball sneaker while out on a date with Kim Kardashian in London. The next day, the shoe, which had sold poorly since it’s release, had sold out on Nike’s website. Did Nike give Kanye a pair to wear in public so they could clear stock? Kanye would probably deny it and say something along the lines of, “Every outfit I wear is art. It’s, it’s, it’s an expression of me, and I would never let, uh, such high-level art—of me be corrupted.” *theoretically says the man who’s causing streetwear worldwide chaos with his painfully limited, self-designed, $245 Nike Air Yeezy II. Nike Basketball is smart enough to put their biggest celebrity (yes, bigger than Jordan) at the forefront of their street and viral marketing efforts. Nike Basketball commonly gives rappers pairs of sneakers in advance of a release so they can be Instagrammed, photographed, and publicly seen in them to increase hype.

The NBA, however, rarely takes advantage of the relationship between their sport and hip-hop. Their players pal around with rappers, while rappers frequent court-side seats at games, and publicly root for their teams on Twitter, Facebook, and in their lyrics. But has the NBA ever partnered with a rapper for commercial reasons? There’s one exception (getting to that), but David Stern’s NBA will probably never be caught dead holding the meaty hands of Rick Ross or DJ Khaled. After 2004’s Malice at the Palace, Stern’s NBA has sanitized itself of anything remotely criminal (Gilbert Arenas’s 2009-10 gun suspension was certainly in the spirit of the Palace). It doesn’t help that much of popular hip-hop is full of ex-cons, and rappers with a charge, spitting lyrics concerning matters that Stern would find offensive. He even banned “chains” from being worn into the arena by players—a fashion trend made popular by the hip-hop community.

Despite Stern’s resentment of the stereotypical hip-hop image, the NBA has been infiltrated by one rapper. Where there’s a D-Will, there’s a Jay. Jay-Z is a minority owner of the newly christened Brooklyn Nets—a position that makes him hip-hop’s most powerful man in the NBA. The former New Jersey Nets, one of the NBA’s most beleaguered franchises, has been reborn by their move. Although the Nets calculated that the “Nets” brand equity (all those memorable Finals losses in the sports-forsaken Meadowlands must’ve been worth so much) was too valuable to rename the team after their Brooklyn move, the organization has begun to totally rebrand the team, with hip-hop’s real image—not the one in Stern’s mind—as the guiding force.

Hip-hop takes on the appearance of whomever’s creating it. If a hustler from Philadelphia raps about spending money and trapping, that’s hip-hop. If a pyro from Los Angeles raps with his friends about doing hard drugs and killing Bruno Mars, that’s hip-hop. The versatility of the genre is what makes it so universally appealing. What has always driven the genre, topically and culturally, is one’s sense of self. The need to boast and project coolness onto listeners is something that all rappers have in common—from the first MCs at 1970s Bronx house parties to rappers just picking up the mic today—they all want to talk about themselves. Who they sleep with, what they wear, who/what they support, what they buy, what they regularly do or don’t do. They brand themselves just as much as athletes do. Ice Cube is seen as a loud thug, so he gets to yell at Coors Light cans in commercials. Diddy knows luxury and a good time, so he’s the face of Ciroc vodka. Jay-Z is the epitome of cool: he’s a properly dressed, self-made rap legend who went from drug dealing to running corporations, who also happens to be married to our generation’s greatest sex symbol. Oh, and he’s a family man now too thanks to little Blue Ivy.

Here’s where the Brooklyn part of the Nets come in. The boroughs most famous son, Jay-Z, is effectively the face of the franchise (sorry Deron Williams and Dwight Howard). Jay-Z is taking his superstar coolness and making what was one of the lamest franchises in the NBA into a cool team to root for. Brooklyn is the fourth largest city in the United States (just pretend that New York City never annexed it for a moment), and is undergoing a major youth movement. Around New York City, Brooklyn is perceived as the place to be. Hipsters (“hipsters” in the sense of anyone who’s young, independently dressed, and a follower of culture) reign supreme, helping give Brooklyn a certain aura to it. There’s a reason that when DJs and MCs shout the obligatory “Is Brooklyn in the house?” or most likely, “WHERE BROOKLYN AT?” *dodges a Flex bomb* that EVERYONE at the concert is suddenly from Brooklyn. (Hell, I’m Manhattan born and New Jersey raised but I pretend that I’m from Brooklyn at those moments. It just feels good to be a part of something.)

With the premiere celebrity/rapper on the planet, the coolest city in the United States, and a young fan base (56% of NBA fans are from either Generation X or Y), the Nets are all hip-hop. Their logo speaks to hip-hop fans even more. Hip-hop heads are also into fashion—rappers talk about how well they dress and what brands they wear constantly, so fans naturally follow suit and style up.

The new Brooklyn Nets logo. Clean and classic.
The old New Jersey Nets logo. A graphic, unappealing mess.

The new Nets logo has been highly criticized for being too boring, too plain, and just straight-up ugly. But what really puts people off is that doesn’t look like most NBA logos. While every NBA logo is a gaudy, overly-graphic, corny, colorful cartoon, the new Nets logo looks more like a streetwear brand’s symbol. It’s simple, clean, classic design, and colors make it look more like an urban lifestyle brand than an NBA logo. More importantly, the black and white coloring makes it highly fashionable—their apparel goes with anything. The Nets have made the first lines of NBA apparel that can legitimately be “dressed up” to go out in. Not surprising, considering it’s designer, Jay-Z, started his own clothing company in Rocawear, which went on to do over $700 million in annual sales.

Streetwear or Nets gear?

It makes more sense to have Nets gear sold at some small shop in SoHo than the NBA store in midtown. Their logo is by far their biggest branding achievement, and their apparel will sell through the roof. After all, what casual fan wants to root for a team if they can’t look good doing it? Getting casual, would-be NBA fans to don a Nets snapback is what the organization wants, and what it will get. (Another personal experience aside: the day after the New York Knicks were able to beat the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden, I saw more people wearing new Nets gear in the street than Knicks gear. The Knicks had just won their first playoff game in over a decade, and no fans could be seen basking in their reflective glory. Everyone wanted to be a Nets fan, because they looked cooler being one, even though the Knicks were the toast of the town. It feels good being a part of something new, cool, and revolutionary.)

The Nets and their revitalized franchise couldn’t be more hip-hop. They’ve got hip-hop’s #1 borough and rapper, hip-hop’s youthful audience, and hip-hop’s street savvy style. Although the music industry is in the tank, hip-hop’s branding strategies couldn’t be more valuable. Just don’t tell David Stern, or he might send the Nets back to New Jersey.

Hello Brooklyn.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49