Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On the Brink of Underachievement

"That's the priority. S---, I'm betting $30 million on it. That's the priority. That's what I want.That's the reason why I play. I have fun, but that's my goal. ... I might have fun, I might joke a lot, but I'm serious about winning a championship."

Those words were spoken by Dwight Howard right after he chose the Houston Rockets last summer during free agency. The move was the highest scrutinized signing since LeBron James chose the Miami Heat in 2010. But with the signing came expectations, not only for Howard- but for the Rockets as a whole. And not just any expectations. 

Championship ones.

Last season saw the Rockets scrape by on the back of James Harden to make the playoffs as an eighth seed at 45-37. They were matched up against the West's top seed, the Oklahoma City Thunder. After going down 0-3, Houston managed to string together two wins in a row before succumbing to elimination in Game 6. While a disappointment, it was still a great result for a team thought of as an afterthought heading into the season...especially before the arrival of James Harden. The predominant thought afterwards was that they'd regroup and get better this season. Daryl Morey would work his magic and put his team in the best possible position to challenge in the uber-competitive West. 

A first round playoff exit was not what fans or anyone in the organization had in mind. It might have been cute and cuddly last year as a sort of "feel good" progressive step- but not this year. Now down to the Portland Trailblazers three games to one, it's a very real possibility.

Once Howard came along after a drama-filled courting process, basketball heads all over the country wondered how the signing changed the culture in Houston. Would they become legitimate challengers? Would Harden and Howard be able to coexist? Could they be one of the best duos in recent NBA history? 

The Rockets would bounce around the top third of the West all season, finishing fourth at 55-27, ten wins up from 2012-13. During one stretch, they beat the Heat, Spurs and Pacers in one week which caused people to wonder just how good this team could be. They cooled off eventually, battling the Portland Trailblazers for the home court advantage as the fourth seed.That had to be a huge coup, right? I mean the Rockets went 3-1 against the Blazers during the regular season. Surely, it was their time to make a move. 

I'm not saying Houston was in any way a shoe-in to win the West, or even a lock to be in the Western Conference Finals. But to not make it out of the first round would be a surefire way to underachieve for a team chalk full of lofty expectations.

Here Houston is, scrapping to stay alive to fight another day. They not only have to win three games in a row. "One game at a time" people say- and they are right. It just never had to be this way, though. Too many turnovers, missed free throws and late game gaffes have led to this moment. I don't want to take away from what Portland has accomplished, though. 

LaMarcus Aldridge was thought of as a match-up nightmare heading into this series- and he's been that and a bag of chips. Damian Lillard has given Houston's defense fits, weaving in and out at will, especially when Patrick Beverley is on the bench. He creates his own shots, as well as opportunities for others. Wesley Matthews and Nicholas Batum have shredded the Rockets from deep, and been crucial late in games. Hell, even Robin Lopez has been a factor on the boards and affected many an important possession during the series. 

If it wasn't bad enough, I stumbled upon this nugget of information: 

 courtesy of @ESPNStatsInfo

That's not out of thirty teams. It's out of sixteen. Pretty much, if the team gets into deep water...they're screwed. Yes, Troy Daniels did this:

But can they expect that every time? No. The veterans such as Harden and Parsons need to take control. I'd mention Howard, but late in these games with the way Portland shoots, Houston needs quick shots- not back-to-the-basket time-wasters. They need to be smarter and hold on to the ball (I'm looking at you, Jeremy Lin) and give themselves the best possible shot. Daniels is very good with his shot selection. Harden and Parsons can become suspect and rely on luck a lot of times, and at other times they shy away and pump fake then pass off. They need to be assertive and decisive. Patrick Beverley is actually very reliable, but late in games he simply hasn't had the ball in his hands.

Houston will need to fight for their lives tonight at home, a place that has been good to them all season. Yet in the postseason, it's a toss of the coin for playoff teams at home. While the Rockets would settle to win merely at all even by just one point, that should not be their goal. Every game in this series has been relatively close and decided in the waning minutes of  the fourth or overtime. A lopsided victory at home can restore faith in the team and confidence in the players and would provide quite a shot to the arm in dire need of it. 

If the Rockets don't get that much-needed shot, their season will flat-line and a ton of new questions will follow. Right now stand out most- can Houston win when they're backs are against the wall Wednesday night?

If they want any chance to live up to the preseason hype, they are going to have to. 

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Donald Sterling: Facepalm

Donald Sterling is rich. He’s crass. He’s old school. He’s into younger chicks. You can’t blame him for these things. It’s just what he is. There’s just one more thing that the man is. 


When you are young, parents and teachers ask you what you want to be when you grow up. An astronaut, a fireman, a doctor- those are accepted answers. “Backward-thinking bigoted racist” is not what anyone aspires to be. There are many factors that have led to Sterling’s way of thinking, but none of which make it acceptable at all, especially in 2014. This is a time where social media rules all, and it was never more evident than yesterday. It began with people reminding everyone about this 2009 ESPN piece on Sterling’s sketchy ways. 

Up until the last few years, Sterling's biggest crime was being one of the worst owners in sports. He was the head of a franchise that seemed cursed at times, drafting and whiffing on so many highly-rated lottery picks it became passe. The culture of losing cultivated bad attitudes by many a player, and then it changed. Blake Griffin was drafted in 2009, and Chris Paul made his way to the Clippers in  2011. Since then the team has been molded into a contender, and this year finished with the team's best record in its entire history. 

But Sterling hadn't changed- and that might have been his biggest crime of all.

The piece by Peter Keating is damning to say the least and an eye opener. If you knew anything about Sterling, this revelation was not very surprising. It's just the simple fact that he actually had this discussion with his girlfriend in 2014 was surprising.  It's not  even a quick quote, or one word- or anything that can be misconstrued. It's a nine minute and twenty-six second noose that goes in circles. Sterling says his girlfriend has every right to be around people of African-American ethnicity all day and all night. He brings up Instagram, causing her to reference Magic Johnson who she had taken a picture with. He tells her she can feed him -and in gentler words- sleep with him. She just can't take African American people with her to Clippers' games. 

It's not like Sterling is an owner in a league that is made up predominantly of black men. Oh wait- he is. 

What is infuriating is not only what he says, but how much conviction lies behind each and every nonsensical word. They go back and forth, with the problem apparently being his girlfriend's need to "broadcast" her association with people of color:

"It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?"

Forget the fact that Sterling is still married, separated from his wife for years, yet dating another female. Forget the fact that he is a ruthless and tactless real estate mogul who has been known to profile his tenants. Forget the fact that he had been known to berate and insult former Clippers guard Baron Davis during practices and games. His girlfriend's Instagram is the "end all/be all" of wrongdoing. It's even a far greater sin to him than adultery, or so he implies. 

Any time she begins to reason with Sterling, he simply huffs and puffs and tells her how her words are "painful", or how she  is a "born fighter". Sterling wants to play the victim here, but he's far from it. His argument is flimsier than balsa wood, yet he continues to try and make her feel guilty. 

Twitter exploded yesterday into a mix of scorn, disgust and shock. Magic Johnson was quick to respond, citing he and his wife would never attend a Clippers' game as long as Sterling owned the team, and noted that Sterling's comments are a black eye for the NBA. Cue Adam Silver, the league's brand-new commissioner. 
This is his first big test as head of the league. How will he respond to it? What will the penalty be for Sterling? He has already said Sterling will not attend Game 4 between the Clippers and Warriors, but also showed restraint in his next statement, courtesy of
"All members of the NBA family should be afforded due process and a fair opportunity to present their side of any controversy," Silver said. "The core of the investigation is understanding whether the tape is authentic, interviewing Mr. Sterling and interviewing the woman as well and understanding the context in which it was recorded."
Yet even with the fair method, Silver admitted the process would move "extraordinarily quickly". And it must. The Clippers don't need this distraction in midst of their finest season, one which saw Blake Griffin grow by leaps and bounds behind the tutelage of head coach Doc Rivers and leadership of Chris Paul. 
Most importantly, society doesn't need it. The uproar to the recording has been powerful and swift, and if the public's opinion decided the penalty, Sterling would lose ownership in a heartbeat and be condemned to his own personal Corsica.

The difference between him and Napoleon? Napoleon was remembered for his days of glory even after his exile. The general public will try and forget Sterling ever existed, and for that I don't blame them. 

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Should, Will, and Might: A Wrestlemania 30 Preview

The finale. The show of shows. The grandest stage of them all. The "Super Bowl" of wrestling. Those are just a few terms for the piece of Americana that is known as Wrestlemania. It started almost thirty years ago in 1985 with Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, the event isn't just one night for a few hours. It's a week long extravaganza that people from all over the world come to see. You have the opportunity to interact with stars from the past (legends), present (current stars) and future (NXT). Wrestlemania just doesn't add a few bucks to Vince McMahon's wallet. It adds tens of millions of dollars o the city's economy, thus starting bidding wars similar to a small scale Olympics.

With all that being said, the card is usually packed to the gills to get the most buys. This year is different and intriguing, as the WWE's new online network (available on game consoles, tablets, phones and computers) makes the show available for the monthly price of $9.99. It is a definite steal to the usual $45 to $55 you would pay on cable. After the marquee portion of the card, this year's slate of matches takes a little looking into to find the substance and what to expect in terms of outcomes. I will look at what should happen, what will happen and what might happen based on rumors, etc.

Pre Show Tag Team Title Match: The Real Americans vs. Rybaxel vs. Los Matadores vs The Usos (c) 

What Should Happen: This should be a triple threat tag match ON THE MAIN CARD: The Real Americans, Rhodes Brothers and Usos. Los Matadors and Rybaxel shouldn't even be in this match. They add nothing in the ring with very generic moves and no connection to the audience outside their small, gimmicky "bull". The Real Americans should look strong here, as they - like the Rhodes- have put on incredible matches week in and week out. Regardless of the tension teased between the duo and Zeb Coulter, the RA's should remain a tight knit team after the Prime Time Players' recent break-up. If they do not win the straps, they should be teased as the lone challengers following Mania to keep the Usos busy.

What Will Happen: The Usos will go over to give the fans a feel good moment before the actual pay-per-view.

What Might Happen: The Real Americans will eat the pin and tease even more dissension, leading to a break-up. Cesaro gets booked strong while Swagger is sent into a directionless singles run leading to his eventual release in eight months.

Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational: AJ versus the field

What Should Happen: AJ Lee should be in a singles match versus Naomi that goes ten minutes on the mainstream stage and shows everyone that divas can wrestle and look good doing so. The added Vickie Guerrero Divas Championship Invitational title should be changed to "Divas Championship Clusterf***".

What Will Happen: The divas will wrestle for all of 7 minutes in a match where finishers begin almost immediately. One does an aerial move to a bunch on the outside, and Naomi does her ass-based offense on AJ for the win, failing to showcase the actual talent of the two stars.

What Might Happen: AJ loses in record time to Nikki Bella with a female attitude adjustment, because of her relationship with CM Punk and Bella's with John Cena.

The Shield versus Kane and the New Age Outlaws

What Should Happen: The Shield should win in convincing fashion, with all three made to look like stars in a 15 minute match against younger opponents. In a perfect world, they would face the Wyatt Family again in an absolute classic. But Bray Wyatt's showcase against Cena is too important for that to happen.

What Will Happen: The Shield will look dominant, being put over by the old guard. Gunn will gas out early, Road Dogg will do just enough to entertain the crowd and Kane will carry the load for his team. The match ironically won't do the Shield any justice by not being as long as it should, but the trio will end the night on the winning side.

What Might Happen: The Shield implode and either lose, or come dangerously close to doing so. They have it out and break up within the next few weeks, unraveling a very dynamic and intriguing stable the wrestling world has never seen before.

The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal:

What Should Happen: As mentioned above, the Rhodes brothers should be nowhere near this match, and switched out for Rybaxel. That being said, whoever wins this needs to look like a star and help propel them for bigger things. 30 men make this essentially a second Royal Rumble with a far lesser prize, so the field should be cut to twenty. Dolph Ziggler, Fandango, Cody Rhodes, the Miz, and Big E Langston could all benefit from a win here. Ziggler has been on a roll lately, so I believe he should "show off" and win the inaugural event. The remaining three open slots should be used on stars who can offer a little something different. Evan Bourne, anyone? Also, Big E should be excluded and defending the IC title against a heel midcarder.

What Will Happen:  Cody Rhodes will win and remind everyone why he is ready for the main event. He will eliminate Goldust and cause a rift between the two leading to a feud next month.

What Might Happen: Big Show might win in predictable fashion and eliminate all the other 29 superstars over the rope with the WMD, one by one.

The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar  

What Should Happen: I'd love to say Lesnar should break the streak and prove everyone wrong, as well as making the most of his very big paydays...but I can't. The streak is so transcendent that it shouldn't be broken- especially not for a part-timer. Undertaker should win the match in a physical classic with multiple F-5, chokeslam and Tombstone kickouts.

What Will Happen: The Undertaker will look more fragile than ever and it will be a 20 minute match with lots of rest spots for the deadman. Lesnar will grow frustrated and leave himself open to a Tombstone on the ringsteps for the 1-2-3.

What Might Happen: CM Punk interferes and causes Lesnar the match, building off last year's feud and his history with Heyman. But we can have pipe dreams, right?

John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt

What Should Happen: The Wyatts should be banned from ringside early to make this a true one-on-one matchup. The two should battle for 20 minutes with Wyatt kicking out of at least one Attitude Adjustment, while taking multiple Sister Abigail's to put away Cena for the statement win.

What Will Happen: The Wyatts will get banned, and Bray Wyatt will have to fend for himself. He'll be put over Cena, leading to bigger and better things for the young star.

What Might Happen: Cena wins with his terrible STF after taking multiple Wyatt finishers after 15 minutes.

Daniel Bryan vs. HHH

What Should Happen: Bryan should go over HHH in a long match. He should kickout of at least one pedigree and continue to play his underdog role. HHH should target an area on Bryan's body, weakening him for the title match. Bryan should win with his YES lock, causing HHH not to tap but to pass out.

What Will Happen: Bryan wins with his running knee after HHH throws the kitchen sink at him with help from Stephanie and/or Kane.

What Might Happen: HHH immediately pedigrees Bryan and enters the title match fresher than a daisy.

WWE WHC Match: Batista vs. Randy Orton (C) vs ???

What Should Happen: Bryan should be the third party, and cap off his quest for the title by pinning Randy Orton with a running knee. Batista should play a minor role due to his small gas tank and limited abilities. HHH should try and interfere to cause Bryan to lose, but should ultimately be unsuccessful.

What Will Happen: Daniel Bryan will win with a running knee on Batista following  Batista Bomb to Orton. Bryan will capitalize and pin the champ.

What Might Happen Part 1: HHH will beat Bryan and win the WWE WHC title to troll the IWC/WWE Universe.

What Might Happen Part 2: Bryan wins and celebrates. After the match, CM Punk attacks his former Ring of Honor foe and sets up a feud between the two internet darlings.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

So the IWC Gets Its Way- Now What?

The IWC stands for a few things: international whale committee,  international watch collection and most relative to this article, the internet wrestling community. I discussed last week what the IWC contingency is made up of. The know-it-alls. The fantasy bookers. The woe is me, Vince McMahon -hate- wrestling "victims". Essentially- nothing can make them happy.

But every now and then, the stars align and the mainstream fans along with the IWC'ers are under one umbrella of happiness. They all get what they want. It's rare, but possible. Think when Edge beat John Cena in 2006 after cashing in the Money in the Bank. Or RVD later that same year at Extreme Rules against Cena. In 2011, Punk would beat Cena to solidify himself amongst the top tier of superstars at Money in the Bank. Notice a pattern here? Money in the Bank against Cena seems to work- but last year also showed it works with different pairs, too.

Most recently on the RAW after Wrestlemania 29, Dolph Ziggler cashed in his MITB contract against Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship in New Jersey amidst a raucous crowd. The energy was electric all night, and as ADR lay there "writhing" in pain, the crowd was seething for a Ziggler cash-in. When he came in, the place came "unglued" as announcer Michael Cole loves to say. That is how to do it, folks. All the right pieces come together to create a truly special moment. I still get goosebumps watching it.

But even when the events appeal to everyone, the honeymoon period quickly loses its luster. The star might lose the belt weeks after, causing the IWC to throw fits that "Cena always has the belt." Or Wrestler X doesn't deserve it. It's a delicate balance, trying to make everyone happy- which is pretty much impossible.

With less than a week to go until Wrestlemania 30 in New Orleans, the mainstream fans and IWC are headed for an impasse of sorts. Daniel Bryan, beloved by almost- if not all- fans will look to not win once but twice  in the same night. First against HHH, and potentially against Batista and Randy Orton. That is, if HHH doesn't decide to Pedigree Bryan 45 times and do the finger poke of doom to both Batista and Orton.

The feud between Bryan and HHH (with Stephanie adding a little flavor) along with Cena/Wyatt has been the best built one leading to a Mania card that leaves much to be desired. A lot of it stems from the perception the IWC has of HHH from years past, and how he "lucked" into his position of power by marrying the boss's daughter. The power couple not only addressed that situation, but expanded on it with a brilliant promo, feeding off each other. The cherry on top was a video package that portrays the "YES!" Movement as a flavor of the month- one that HHH will look to dispatch in quick fashion.

The other reason this feud is one of the best built for the thirtieth edition of Wrestlemania is the fact that it's gone on for a long time. Some may point to last Summer, when Bryan got his shot at the title. He beat Cena, and lost it to Orton right away, thanks in part to HHH and a Pedigree. But if you really want to trace it back to the beginning, go back to 2010. Bryan was an NXT rookie, on a one hour show that seemed more of a gimmick than what it is now: a farm system. Making it to WWE was the accomplishment many thought, but not to Bryan. He had bigger visions, but none of which could be attained right away. For years, Vince and WWE management dared Bryan to break out, when they thought it wasn't possible. Bryan was a "vanilla midget", as Kevin Nash once called Chris Benoit and others in WCW. Bryan was just a superb technical wrestler, but not thought of as a wizard on the mic.

And he still isn't. But his willingness to do whatever is asked is what makes him special. He  could have folded a while back and taken his ball and gone home. But he didn't. Bryan put up with an 18 second loss to Sheamus at Wrestlemania 28 in Miami. He carried Kane to a successful run as Team Hell No. And for the last 8 months or so he has been on the wrong end of the stick more often than not. But 'Mania looks to change things for the bearded one.

If it goes as thought, Bryan will finally wrap up his feud with HHH before winning the title in grand fashion later on. Some speculate Batista is still a realistic chance, but I would fear for the safety of everyone involved. With the reactions Bryan is getting, him as champion only make sense- storyline-wise  and business-wise.

"What happens next?"

So let's say Bryan wins the belt  and leaves everyone in New Orleans ecstatic and elated.  The IWC would have gotten what it wanted, as would the mainstream/casual fans. As HHH suggested, will they get sick of Bryan after a few weeks and "throw him out" per say? Will he just be a flavor of the month? All signs point to no, but still begs the question....

"What happens to Bryan after he reaches the top?"

The easiest answer is simple: he stays there. The fact that the title is now unified makes it less likely it would be hot-potatoed to a new wrestler soon after. That would make the WWE WHC lose some of its prestige, and would also make the journey of Bryan's feel that it yearned for more. Give him new wrestlers to feud with. If CM Punk ever comes back, revisit Ring of Honor history and the WWE could easily slide him in as a new villian. Have Bryan feud with Lesnar in the summer. Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt will be ripe later in 2014, and after their many battles- they have all proven to have great chemistry in the ring.

"How long should Bryan have it to make it seem like a successful reign?"

To that I say as long as he's over to this extent. If people are willing to shill out the big dollars to see him, why rip it away from him? They already did that before. There are plenty of avenues to take, like the ones mentioned above. Have him retain the belt, add to its prestige. The last few months have really seen Orton as a lame duck champion. Him retaining the belt at Mania is not even a glimmer in the eye of WWE fans. Which leads to my next question.

What is the biggest potential feud for Bryan?

Outside of Lesnar, Wyatt, Punk and would be a sort of twisted re-visitation. John Cena, but as a bad guy. Bryan has done the heel thing before, and in 2014 is at the top of his face game. There's just no way "the little engine that could" can be a bad guy- at least not for a while. Plenty of people doubt the chances that Cena would turn (mainly because of Make-A-Wish and merchandise) but the need to evolve one's character always provides for new ideas and storyline branches. So it's always a possibility.

These are just a few ideas of what could be in store for Bryan. But at some point, the IWC's run will fizzle out and they'll be frustrated about something or someone again. Not everyone can be pleased all the time, and wrestling fans are more fickle than almost anyone. But for now, let's enjoy the ride that culminates on Sunday at Wrestlemania.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron.