In Hindsight: Good and Bad Sports Moves in 2013

By: Chris Dagonas and Dan Grant

Grant: Hello Christopher! How are you feeling after the 12 Pubs?

Dagonas: I have to say, it’s been several days and I’m still trying to put my life back together. Um, have you seen my shirt?

Grant: Why don’t we take a look at some sports moments from 2013, maybe that’ll cheer you up?

Dagonas: I don’t know. I mean, a lot of cool stuff happened this past year, but a lot of terrible stuff went down too.

Grant: Yeah I guess you’re right. You don’t need to find something that rhymes with Sharon Fernandez to realize 2013 had its ups and downs.

Dagonas: Why don’t we take a look at both? We’ll celebrate the year in style, warts and all!

Grant: I like your moxie!

Dagonas: What does that mean? And where are my shoes?

Grant: It means you go first!

Good: The NHL settled their labour dispute, and momentum is strong for the league going forward.

Dagonas: Around this time last year I was really worried that the NHL would not even return from the lockout at all. By early January, a deal had been announced, and TV ratings soared all season, culminating in record ratings for the Stanley Cup Finals in June. This current season has continued the trend, and Wednesday’s Winter Classic (Go Leafs Go!) had the highest viewership for any regular-season NHL game, ever.

The HBO 24/7 series following the Leafs and Wings was also well-produced and well-received. Yes, there should still not be teams in Florida and Columbus, and the new division alignments still make absolutely no sense. But, boneheaded executive decisions aside, the NHL has rebounded nicely from the lockout in terms of fan support. With Gary Bettman still at the helm, however, goodwill may be short-lived, as the league continues to try and find a way to collect a larger share of the North American sports market.

Bad: Knicks trade for Andrea Bargnani, become laughingstock.

Grant: Masai Ujiri made it no secret that he wanted to deal Andrea Bargnani. He could have been had for a song. I don’t know how he sold the acquisition of the Italian forward/centre to the Knicks. It’s so ridiculous that I can’t even make up a fake line of reasoning! He must have gone down the ‘change of scenery’ route or something. Maybe the Knicks still thought they won the Carmelo Anthony trade (debatable at best) and thought they owed Ujiri some good will? Really, I’m grasping at straws here.

Regardless, this is all you need to know about Bargnani’s tenure as a Knick. Shocking that the season isn’t going exactly swimmingly. It hasn’t helped that Amar’e Stoudemire is on the books for 20 million and looks like a shell of his former self, J.R. Smith has followed up his 6th Man of the Year campaign with an abysmal shooting campaign, Carmelo looks more me-first than ever and Tyson Chandler has missed significant time with injuries. But your favourite Primo Pasta salesman isn’t helping anything. The Knicks still have an outside chance to win the division because of the poor play of their peers, but personally I don’t see that happening. What a smelly mess of a team.

Masai Ujiri, Raptors Saviour

Masai Ujiri, Raptors Saviour

Dagonas: I spent my New Year’s Day watching two Toronto sports teams do some serious damage on a large platform. First, the Leafs won the Winter Classic in a shootout over Detroit, then later I ventured through the Neptunian cold weather to the Air Canada Centre, and saw the DeMar DeRozans beat down the Eastern Conference big shots, the Indiana Pacers. Ujiri has built a competitive, fiery, lightning-fast team, (John Salmons notwithstanding) and it began with the Bargnani trade in July. Excitement for this team is building towards March-2013-Blue Jays fervour. We might be home to the third-best team in the Eastern Conference by the time the snows melt, and, while that may not have been the plan at the start of the Wiggins-Parker-Randle draft year, it’s still pretty damn exciting.

Good: Ray Allen lives up to reputation, helps Miami Heat win their second consecutive NBA title.

Grant: I’ve always loved Ray Allen. Back in university, my friends and I had a competitive NBA Live 2004 league in which we drafted players, kind of like a fantasy draft. Each player had icons beside their name. A ball with a 3 meant – you guessed it – a good three point shooter, a shoe with wings was a big dunker and a lock signified a great defensive player. Young Ray was always my first pick. Shooting, dunking, he had everything you’d want in an offensive player.

As he’s gotten older in real life, he’s essentially become a DH in the sense that he’s invisible defensively but his most defining characteristic – that sweet jumper – is still just as good as ever. This past spring he hit what amounted to the most clutch shot in NBA history and won his second ring. If the Heat three-peat this year, I could see the man they call once called ‘Jesus’ hanging them up while on top. What a way to finish.

Dagonas: I kind of like the faux-rivalry this created between Allen and former Celtics teammates Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who slammed Allen for moving on, only to do the same thing a season later. Allen knew which way the wind was blowing, and followed that wind to Miami. Pierce and Garnett stayed on with the Celtics a year too long, and now are part of the disgusting Brooklyn Nets, and will likely not be around after next season. Allen has written himself the perfect ending, unlike that Spike Lee joint.

Bad: Baltimore Ravens sign Joe Flacco to league’s biggest contract in history. Ravens go 8-8, miss the playoffs.

Dagonas: It’s hard to slam this decision too much, since we have the benefit of hindsight, and Flacco’s 2013 was his worst ever season, statistically speaking. The Ravens also failed to receive much help from the combination of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, which forced Flacco into many come-from-behind situations. But Flacco had the chance, entering week 16, to drag the Ravens into the weak AFC playoffs with one win in their final two games. He proceeded to throw one touchdown pass and five interceptions in those final two games.

Ravens fans and NFL critics alike could have forgiven a sub-par statistical season if it led to some playoff heroics (I mean, people have been doing it to Eli Manning for almost a decade now.) But Flacco just did not look worth the money this season, and the Ravens are now stuck with what may be a falling quarterback with an albatross of a contract for another five seasons. I know I’m a Dolphins fan, but that looks like a bad long-term plan, even to me!

Good: Chicago Blackhawks win Stanley Cup, give Bears/Cubs/Bulls fans reason to keep living.

Dagonas: I’m from Toronto! Don’t talk to me about cities with championship droughts! Chicago has had it rough lately, I suppose, but the Blackhawks have won two Stanley Cup championships in this decade, and are in a good position to challenge for at least a couple more before their window starts to close. But among hard-luck sports cities, Chicago is near the top of the list. I would rank Cleveland at the top, followed by Buffalo, San Diego, Cincinnati and Seattle. That being said, though, there are plenty of reasons for Chicago sports-heads to bemoan their fates.

First and foremost, Derrick Rose suffered another knee injury this season, so the Bulls are pretty much driftwood at this point. The Chicago Bears had a very strong chance to make the playoffs as NFC North division champions, only to falter while the Matt Flynn-Packers went on a hot streak, and in Week 17, Aaron Rodgers returned to the lineup and led the Packers to a victory over the Bears to win the division. The Cubs and White Sox were involved in a season-long battle of the basement, with the Cubs “winning out” with a 66-96 record, versus the White Sox’s 63-99. Baseball in America’s second city has a loooooong way to go before being respectable. But the Blackhawks helped keep the city happy. Let’s all bow our heads and pray that the Leafs can do the same for the Big Smoke.

Bad: The Cleveland Cavaliers take Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick. Bennett has asthma, would rather dress well than win a championship.

Grant: Personally, I think that the Anthony Bennett criticism is a bit overblown, though I do understand that it’s the kind of thing that comes with being the first overall draft pick. Let’s not forget that the Cavs surprised everyone by taking Bennett in the first place; most thought they would go with Nerlens Noel, who fell all the way to 6th because of a knee injury, or Victor Oladipo, who has looked solid for the rebuilding Orlando Magic.

Bennett is still just 19, he’s had to deal with playing for Mike Brown, he’s playing out of position – small forward because of the glut of NBA power forwards on the Cavs: Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Earl Clark, not to mention Andrew Bynum and Tyler Zeller at the centre spot. The minutes just aren’t there for him and he’s always looking over his shoulder if he makes a mistake. Most NBA power forwards take a year or two to develop a reliable mid-range game (look at Chris Bosh as an example) and some take even longer to find their feet. Look at the first four years of Jermaine O’Neal’s career, after he came to the NBA directly out of high school. He later called Portland his ‘college years’ and admitted he could have used more seasoning before jumping to the NBA. Look at the people who called James Harden and Evan Turner busts after they struggled as 2nd overall picks. They took some time to improve and eventually got going. I think Anthony Bennett is in the same mold.

All that defense aside, the Cavs have now officially either blown or treaded water with three consecutive top 5 picks after landing Kyrie Irving. How do you have four top five picks in three years and wind up with Irving, Thompson, Dion Waiters and Bennett? It’s pretty indefensible. Remember, Stromile Swift was a 2nd overall pick too.

Anthony Bennett is fatigued

Anthony Bennett is fatigued.

Dagonas: Scary stuff. But how about the fact that Bennett and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins will likely be back-to-back Canadian first overall picks, a boon to the basketball culture in this country. Of course, if Bennett turns out to be a gigantic bust, that may not be something we will want to brag about in a few years.

Good: Boston Red Sox go from worst to first, win the World Series.

Grant: This might not seem like a particularly ‘good’ thing to us here in Toronto, as the ill will displayed towards former Jays and current Red Sox manager John Farrell is rivaled only by that shown to real villains such as Vince Carter. But honestly, going from worst to first, capturing the division crown over the rival Yankees and winning their first World Series at Fenway since 1918 was a huge accomplishment. The last time it happened was 1991, when both the Twins and the Braves managed it, with the Twins beating the Braves in the series, on the heels of Jack Morris’ legendary Game 7 start.

On the heels of the Boston Marathon bombings, the Red Sox gave the people of Boston something to cheer for, a figurehead, an underdog rising up against impossible odds. It basically reminded Boston what it was like to be a Boston sports fan before 2000, when the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics had all gone at almost 15 years without a championship. I’ll never enjoy Farrell, but I do respect the job he did in Boston.

Dagonas: Plus, it gives Blue Jays fans hope that just because we had one very disappointing season in 2013, it does not mean that we are doomed to another bad season in 2014.

Bad: Alex Rodriguez and everything about him.

Dagonas: Yuck. Do I have to?

Grant: Yes.

Reynolds (from a distance): Yes.

Dagonas: Fine. Alex Rodriguez is the face of the Performance Enhancing Drug era of major league baseball. He is also the chief scapegoat, and he is seen by many, including commissioner Bud Selig, as the last remaining member of some secret PED society from the late 90’s and early 2000’s. With Rodriguez, one of the game’s most major violators, away from the game for two seasons, the hope is that he will retire and that baseball can move out from under the shadow of the steroid era. Rodriguez had a very strange summer, and it seems that everyone, from the Yankees organization to Selig to fans and writers, just want him to go away. The arbitration case between MLB and A-Rod should be settled some time in the next couple of weeks, and we’ll know whether Rodriguez will be playing next season or not. But please, just make him go away. I hear there is a league in Italy. He can go there.

Good: LeBron James wins his 2nd ring and fourth MVP award, officially catapulting himself into the top ten players of all time.

Dagonas: Jordan, Magic, Kareem, Russell, Larry, and that’s it. LeBron would probably drop right in at number 6 right now! With maybe 8-9 more seasons still to go! Plus, LeBron biking through Miami may have just made biking cool again. And that’s what we’re talking about here. James is indisputably the king of the NBA at the moment. But more than that, he has the kind of universal appeal that takes athletes from merely MVP’s to international superstars. Since Jordan retired, there was nobody in the NBA that had that appeal. Kobe Bryant was the league’s best player, but never did much outside of basketball to make the case. Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki didn’t do it either, and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were much too interested in winning a title to devote too much time to commercials and the like. We are living in the era of LeBron, and we should all be grateful for that. Only in the past year did LeBron fully take up the Jordan mantle and make it his own. 

Bad: Aaron Hernandez.

Dagonas: This isn’t the first time that an athlete has been arrested and thrown away their career. But Hernandez is just 24 years old, and was looking likely to have a massive influence on the Patriots’ passing game, if not the league. He was a Connecticut boy, playing for his local New England Patriots. But of course, he is currently in prison on first-degree murder charges. There is no scenario where things could have gone wronger for him.

Hernandez has a well-documented history of violence, and a family legacy that seems to be hard to escape. But his actions are his own, and he will have to own them now. Of course, there are cases where athletes are falsely accused, as the Jameis Winston case seems to have shown us. But this seems too extensive, there are too many details and witnesses, to believe that Hernandez has some sort of alibi or reasonable defense. Most of the things we write about in the sports world are fairly trivial; a bad trade here, a poor performance there. Aaron Hernandez may have the rest of his life to regret his choices in 2013.

—————

Grant: Well, I think that was a pretty good recap.

Dagonas: We missed some stories, though. How about an “Honourable Mentions” section?

Grant: NO!! YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT THAT!!

Dagonas: All right, then. Hey, is that my shirt over there?

Happy 2014, everyone.

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