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Travis Duncan

Travis Duncan has 245 articles published.

e-mail: editor at digitalsportsdaily.com

The Cubs are just average right now, but believe they have an answer

in Yardwork by

2016 was fun. Young talent.  A World Series.

The Cubs did lose, but mostly they won. And when they lost it was in momentary stretches.

The first three months of the 2017 season has been one big funk for the Cubs.

Last year 103 Wins. 159 days in first place. Beating the Giants easily in the National League Division Series, beating the Dodgers pretty easily in the National League Championship Series. Winning the World Series.

These days the Cubs are losing more than winning.  As of Friday the Cubs are one game under .500 but only 4.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

No one expected the Cubs struggle in 2017 but still, most don’t expect them to struggle the entire season.

The Cubs are just average right now. Going 12-12 in their last 24 games.

A few trades, or even a single trade for a starting pitcher and they are right there in September, most would reason.

 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon held a meeting this week with his team. This meeting was regularly scheduled to take place closer to the All-Star break but he moved it up.

He told the team that chemistry makes winning happen. They aren’t that far out of it. They haven’t played up to their abilities but they could sharpen the focus and the winning will come post-All-Star break.

“We’re kind of in good shape right now,” Maddon said Friday.

“We maybe have not played up to our capabilities. We are a bunch of humans, and we have had two long years. Now it is time to really sharpen our focus. I think this could kind of catapult us in the second half.”

Cubs general manager Theo Epstein, largely regarded as the genius behind the roster that brought the 2016 championship, told reporters this week that the Cubs are not looking as much to upgrading the roster as they believe the roster is talented enough as is.

“We’re just underperforming as a group and as an organization,” Epstein said this week. “I take full responsibility for that. To pull ourselves out of it, we just need to play better.”

His manager agreed Friday.

“I’m not concerned or interested about the trade market right now,” Maddon said.

“I believe the answers are in our room. We’ve just got to get that out of our guys.”

Adrian Wojnarowski to ESPN, what it means

in Sports Media by

Very rarely in the days of current 2017 Sports Media-19 years after the launch of ESPN.com-does any web sportswriter have a claim to fame purely on the basis of his reporting.

NFL reporter Adam Schefter of ESPN fame is highly regarded and quite recognizable purely on the basis of his reporting, but he is a TV reporter first, writer second.

Yahoo.com NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, affectionally known as “Woj” (pronounced “Woge”), will join ESPN in the coming months and you can bet you’ll see him all over your TV screens soon.

According to published reports, Woj will be on ESPN platforms sometime before the NBA opens its free agency floodgates July 1st. Re-code reports Wojnarowski will be on ESPN platforms after the NBA Draft which takes place June 22nd. He’ll cover the draft for Yahoo Sports.

If you are an NBA transaction junkie, and there are quite a few out there suffering from this affliction, Adrian Wojnarowski is the kingpin of all NBA news. News not gossip. As in the stuff he reports comes true and is factual to an alarming rate. As in if Wojnarowki reports it, it’s done. In the Woj era, so often breaking NBA news must be attached to “as first first reported by Yahoo Sports”.

In the wake of multiple ESPN layoffs, particularly on the dot com side of things, the network is going spread its top talent thin and eliminate fillers. So expect to see Woj everywhere.

For Yahoo, it is not quite a sign of their demise, as Verizon still values the company at $4.5 billion in an impending acquisition, but its not a good sign its top sports writer is leaving. Still, that $4.5 million price tag illustrates just how widespread the usage of Yahoo is across internet users in terms of the Yahoo homepage and Yahoo e-mail.

For Yahoo’s sports division it is hard to quantify what the impact will be. Wojnarowski is paid in the millions and only Yahoo knows just how much traffic and attention Yahoo Sports gets just solely on Wojnarowski’s rock solid reporting. What Yahoo probably knows less is just what kind of boost Woj gives the website in terms of online reputation.

ESPN canned a Woj rival and competitor last week, NBA writer Marc Stein. Stein might be considered second-in-command in terms of breaking NBA transaction news. But perhaps Wojnarowski’s role at ESPN will be more evolved as it was when he launched “The Vertical” recently on Yahoo. The Vertical is a subsection of the Yahoo Sports website dubbed as “a hub of breaking news, info and story telling” which is accompanied by popular podcast aptly titled “The Vertical”. According to published reports, some of Woj’s go-to-staff at Yahoo/The Vertical will join him at ESPN.

An Adrian Wojnowski-ESPN marriage has endless possibilities. He could bring a Vertical style show to ESPN’s TV platforms. The network’s current mid-day NBA show “The Jump” sounds an awful lot like “The Vertical” and quite frankly could use the pedigree of Woj.

 

Warriors-Thunder: Much ado about nothing

in HOOPS/Trending by

It’s the lull in the NBA season. March Madness grabbed the basketball spotlight and the playoff race seems even less interesting as the division between contenders and pretenders is clear.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are not contenders. The Golden State Warriors are yet. It was a simple story on a Sunday afternoon when the NBA was in the background to the NCAA tournament that kept the league abuzz this week.

ESPN reported that the Warriors were unhappy with Kevin Durant’s treatment upon his return to Oklahoma City a few months back.

The next day Warriors coach Steve Kerr said that was hogwash.

Kerr said, per ESPN:

“I don’t agree,” Kerr said. “[Thunder general manager] Sam Presti’s a friend of mine. I know [Thunder chairman] Clay Bennett, it’s a class organization all the way. So I don’t really pay any attention to a story like that unless there’s an actual name that’s put on, so, I assume it’s just sources? Sources? So I don’t know who that is. It’s nobody with the Warriors. So, we have great respect for the Thunder. Sam’s been a friend of mine forever. They’re first class, so I don’t know where that comes from.”

Stephen Curry was asked about the alleged mistreatment of Durant and he commented “Certain stories that don’t need to see the light of day, don’t need to have any kind of life breathed into them, are somehow the most popular. ”

Yes, the assembled NBA media and bloggers and NBA twitter is dying for a decent story line to fill the gap between March and May and it’s really meager out there.

The Knicks tragedy will fill only so many pixels.

Dear NBA we need something to talk about.

 

 

The quest to make every game matter

in Yardwork by

As the NBA All-Star game dutifully concluded a few weekends ago in New Orleans, an alarm went off among certain persons involved in the NBA.  This product was particularly bad.

A 192-182 shoot around was not the same product of the 80’s and 90’s where the NBA All-Star game on Sunday night on NBC was just something you watched. You would see the dunks and ally-oops, but there were stretches of actual basketball being played.

Meanwhile, as baseball hosts the World Baseball Classic in the coming weeks, a somewhat contrived form of Olympic baseball, where players may or may not direct origin from the country they represent, many are wondering why it can’t have more meaning.

The ironic current cultural reality is that as we have thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of different media sources (counting websites) and there is no shortage of media and entertainment to consume. Yet people are grasping for more meaningful events. An exhibition cannot be an exhibition simply anymore.

This was also apparent in spring training. In a not too distant time. About 15 years ago, you simply didn’t see your big league team on TV while they were in Florida or Arizona. The production trucks and crew and announcers simply weren’t there. Who would watch day baseball exhibitions in the middle of March to make it economically feasible. With the advent of DVR and many of us whose work schedule’s free us up in the daytime anyhow, it now becomes feasible for many, many, many more spring training games to be live television events.

The NFL and NBA are no different. The once strong line between exhibition and regular season is quickly fading as you see the commentary regarding performance and TV marketing of preseason games look almost exactly like the regular season product.

Call it old-fashioned but the year long baseball, football, basketball season, has the opposite effect of its intention. As we try to pump more and more out of sports the less meaningful they become.


Tom Izzo is exactly right about social media

in HOOPS by

Social media is a cancer to our society.

Tuesday night following Michigan State’s win over Ohio State in East Lansing, MI, Spartan head coach Tom Izzo took a moment in his introductory comments to say what many have been thinking, many have voiced, but it bears great weight on current sports and society.

Social media is making sports all the more popular but it’s also causing major problems.

No one probably believes the ill effects more than Tom Izzo. Who has in the past voiced his displeasure with the platform as a masquerade of real communication and a safe haven for so-called fans to take cheap shots and or harass his players.

Tuesday night Izzo made a deafening statement at least in college basketball circles. He let it be publically known that one Dan Dakich of ESPN had gone too far. Dakich who is an ESPN college basketball commentator also hosts a radio show in Indianapolis and is quite active on Twitter.  His style on both platforms is confrontational at best, insane at worst.

As Izzo pointed out, it’s not that people dislike Dan Dakich, but the former player and coach tends to take it too far.

Dakich called Michigan State whiners, and the like, via social media last week. Dakich has since deleted the Tweets.

Michigan State’s student section dubbed “The Izzone” responded by chanting “we hate Dakich” during Tuesday’s game against Ohio State. Izzo responded after the game.

Per the Detroit Free Press and CollegeBasketballTalk.com here are Izzo’s comments:

“I’ve got to be honest with you,” Izzo said. “I was kind of getting upset with the chants of Dakich until  I got in the locker room, and I asked what was that all about? Somebody read me his tweets. Social media. And if I would have known that before the game, I would have embarrassed myself almost as much as he embarrassed himself and I would have led the chants because calling us whiners and all that is kind of unprofessional.”

“Because calling us whiners and that is kind of unprofessional. Classy broadcasters, like George Blaha and everybody else, wouldn’t have even thought to do something like that on TV. But saying our students couldn’t get in there? And he’s doing games for Michigan when his son is there? That is a disappointment, and that is ridiculous.

“And I think it’s funny because I got no respect for him for that. And I am going to publicly say it – you can tweet it, you can read it, you can do whatever you want with it – but Twitter got him in trouble, and he earned it. I am surprised ESPN would let somebody say something like that, that works for them.”

 

 

A battle of eras

in HOOPS by

The war of words between 90’s superstars and the present day basketball elite rages on.

Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob stated he was genuinely hurt that during a recent dinner where many NBA owners attended, Michael Jordan said the Golden State Warriors 73-win record breaking season didn’t mean anything.

Last week an M.J. buddy, Charles Barkley, took LeBron James to task for allegedly pushing Cleveland management for more star power more players to further stack his NBA title winning Cavs.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson appear to have taken the high road, as it was none other than M.J. in the 90’s who crashed their high-flying must-see act in the 80s.

Larry Bird, growing up in a world in French Lick, Indiana that in many ways stayed in the past, and endured personal heartbreak is one who will never allow himself to get stuck in yesteryear.

Last June he told ESPN the guys who play now are just as good as they were in when he played. Perhaps the most honest assessment.

At the time he said,  “everybody that plays, no matter if it was ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, they think their era’s the best. Well, prove it to me. Like I said earlier, I think we have more stars than they do now. On every team, they had at least one, maybe two. I’m talking about Dominique Wilkins — you just go down the line. But in saying that, I don’t think our era’s any better than anyone else’s, when it comes right down to it.”

Bird may have a point. The truly dominant appear to have clustered together.

You have Kevin Durant and Steph Curry on the same team. And that’s what kicked this conversation into the same gear. Because in that era, there was not a lot of player movement for superstars in the prime of their career.

Larry stayed with Boston. Magic stayed with Los Angeles. Jordan stayed with Chicago. Dominique left for Boston well after his prime. Reggie Miller stayed at home. Patrick Ewing stayed in one place. David Robinson stayed in San Antonio. Chris Mullin spent his most productive years in Golden State. Karl Malone spent his most productive years in Utah. John Stockton never left Utah. Charles Barkley got traded.

LeBron has had an affair with Miami, now back home with Cleveland. Durant is in Golden State. Carmelo might be headed for his third team.

When speaking to ESPN back in June, one thing that Bird astutely noted was the money has changed.

Larry Bird’s highest salary per year came in 1991-92 season when he was paid $7.1 million per season. LeBron James is making $30.1 million this season and as it would follow, his endorsement money is higher.

The one constant in sports debate is that one can never correctly compare eras.

The one constant in the LeBron vs M.J. debate is that the eras seem to be so distinct. The era beginning with either Kobe Bryant or LeBron James began their NBA careers and the period either when Magic and Bird were doing their thing or the period when Jordan won his first championship to his last.

In the minds of those who debate such things, no other meaningful basketball has been played.

We wouldn’t trade Love for anything

in HOOPS by

If you ask LeBron James, the Cavs are happy with Kevin Love.

Of course, the fact that repeated published reports that the Cavs would in fact trade Kevin Love keeps getting reaction from LeBron fuels the fire.

Monday my good friend (he DM’ed me once on Twitter) Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, and of ESPN and of Sirius XM NBA Radio fame, reported that LeBron James is pushing for Carmelo Anthony for Kevin Love.

The golden sentence went as follows, “According to a league source, LeBron is the one pushing the Cleveland Cavaliers front office to acquire Carmelo even if it potentially means having to include Kevin Love in a deal, which is something Cavs management is opposed to doing.”

No doubt Phil Jackson has identified Anthony as the cancer to the Knicks core, and when Anthony was unresponsive when the Knicks President pushed him, that was that, he must be traded. Carmelo’s response was seeking guidance on how to deal with Phil Jackson. Whereas Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were motivated and achieved greater heights. Anthony and the Knicks have stayed mediocre.

Back to Isola. As it has been duly noted, the New York writer has been floating Kevin Love to the Knicks for some time, and quite likely, Isola himself loves him some Kevin Love.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue basically said there’s no chance they are giving up Kevin Love, LeBron James called the story “trash” and said the reporter who published it, minutes before tip-off against the Wizards Monday night was also “trash”, referring to our friend Frank Isola.

 

 

 

Isola for his part responded Tuesday morning with an appearance on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike.

He said in part, “It’s interesting too because some people who spoke to him afterward said he was mostly upset that the timing of the story and that it somehow done purposely to come out before the game against the Wizards had started, which is absurd.”

 

The NFL’s social media problem

in Pigskin by

When Twitter was just getting going, back in the stone-ages of social media, about five to seven years ago, ESPN sent a mandate on Twitter to one of its most famous writers at the time, Ric Bucher of tremendous NBA writing pedigree.

Bucher stated at the time that the worldwide leader is “prohibiting tweeting info unless it serves ESPN.”

The policy in actuality read in part, “If ESPN.com opts not to post sports related social media content created by ESPN talent, you are not permitted to report, speculate, discuss or give any opinions on sports related topics or personalities on your personal platforms.”

Of course, ESPN has loosened up in the seven or so years since then. ESPN thrives, lives and most of its live programming is tied directly with Twitter in some fashion.

The NFL on the other hand appears to have not loosened up. Earlier this season there was the mandate that NFL teams could not post video clips of game footage, only the official NFL Twitter account could. Of course, the NFL cannot control the posting of game footage by individual users, not today. So what was the point? Because fans would just post what teams could in high-def.  There are just too many platforms available for users to upload the video to and then share a link, but it can try. But that was the NFL ruling. A hard stance.

The least understood aspect of the NFL’s media stance is that of the established media. The NFL very, very, much works in step with the established print, radio and TV entities in the cities which have a franchise. It’s worked for 50 or more years in some cities and it works and works year after year. Press conference Monday after the game, story on the Monday evening news, story in the Tuesday edition of the paper. They never needed guys on the internet to help them get the story to the people. They probably still don’t.

If a certain internet website has the right stuff, audience, style, credibility or one of the latter, there’s a chance they could get the almighty credential from an NBA team or perhaps NHL team. MLB very much like the NBA may have a softer stance but it also draws a hard line on credentials for bloggers or “internet outlets”.

The NFL not only will turn down a blogger, they will blow the doors right open. They will make it perfectly clear that they’re not interested in internet entities. There are different strategies pro leagues can employ to work with an influential internet website, and by all accounts the NFL does not want to do that. Individual teams have employed strategies to work with websites and they are to be applauded for that. The league office is different.

Nothing was more clear this week as Barstool sports, an internet website, received just the kind of buzz, and “viralness” that it takes to turn a profit in the sports blogging world. The website mentions Barstool Sports and buzz this summer and into the fall reached a pinnacle so much that Comedy Central decided to give them a TV show.

None the less, when Barstool sports asked for a credential to the Super Bowl, they were turned down. As viral websites do, they turned the rejection into a story and then a reporter at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s press conference this week at the Super Bowl asked him about Barstool sports and the rejection. Goodell of course said ‘well it looks like we have plenty of media here’. And he was exactly right. Goodell then said he trusts that the people who make these sorts of decisions make the right decisions, that is who to credential and who not to.

At a basic level, the NFL made the right decision by not allowing an internet blog to be credentialed they protect existing media which usually much higher readership, but with a demographic that is approaching the AARP years. On a long term and general public affection level they made the wrong one. Here’s why

When an internet blogger gets rejected by the NFL, it’s a feeling that traditional media doesn’t have to handle. If traditional media is denied a credential then there’s retribution and negotiation.  For example, a radio station guy is barred or denied, then the general managers make calls etc. The blogger is the general manager, he can’t call on his own behalf. He could but it may not go anywhere. With traditional media, things get resolved. When a blogger who is working day-in-and day out for pennies just trying to make it gets rejected it’s very personal. So what happens?

Well, the next time the NFL is in the news for yet another short-sighted position, a player arrest, new data on head injuries, that blogger or internet phenom is going to have a field day. And believe it or not fans and other traditional media pick up on it. Then you see a headline in traditional news outlets that say to effect, “fans are not happy with the latest move by the NFL” or NFL receives backlash after new data on head injuries. That backlash is your resident blogger, charming, and very readable who moves fan sentiment in the direction they choose.

There’s a balance.  The NFL could open its doors a little more, but it should not be ridiculed for barring certain internet outlets from credentials as it is responsible and has the authority to decide who and who cannot attend certain events as press.

A New York Debacle

in HOOPS by

The old adage that sports represents the best values of society… well that may be long gone.

Hardwork, perseverance, teamwork, well that’s off the table in today’s professional sports.

Today, more likely sports represents big TV contracts, local marketing deals, apparel merchandising and ticket sales.

Carmelo Anthony has made a lot of money for the franchises he has played basketball for.

Syracuse University for that matter, made a killing off of ‘Melo.

He’s a money making machine, with what appears to be little effort.

He’s an internet star as well, with monthly searches for his name totally about 550,000 according to serps.com

Each year, he’s the center of the storm. He casually plays the martyr and rakes in the cash. He does it perfectly.

Of course, the 2016-17 New York Knicks season was doomed from the start. Please cite an example where two injury prone semi-star players (Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah) joined an ageing, also somewhat injury prone unsuccessful star (Anthony) and mashed it all together with a slew of unknown younger players and NBA magic happens?

It doesn’t happen. Especially with an unproven head coach (Jeff Hornacek).

That is the 2016-17 New York Knicks.constants chaos, no structure.

Constants chaos, no structure.

Phil Jackson as architect, and detached remote ringmaster, is not working.

The New York Knick soap opera continues as the biggest story in the N.B.A.  Something to keep January pro hoops interesting.

Word this week is that the Knicks would do anything to trade Carmelo Anthony, but can’t get a deal done. Knicks coach Jeff Hornaceck said that the decision is “his”, meaning Anthony.

Basketball diehards and a few media professionals alike dream of scenarios where Anthony’s talent is put to use, such as in Los Angeles with CP3 and the Clippers. Or headed to Boston for a shot in the east versus LeBron.

More than likely Carmelo isn’t going anywhere simply because no one is dying to have Carmelo on the team. He can score, but playoff series wins are not the legacy of Anthony.

So it appears the Knick drama will continue, as it should be, as it has been.

A real good way to get back to the Knicks of old is the homegrown way. Through the draft, and the Knicks at 21-28 on the year are headed straight for the lottery.

PGA Tour: Forget Tiger Woods, these young guns have all the talent

in Golf by

—Thursday afternoon in Hawaii there is a young man by the name of Justin Thomas 23-years old, Kentucky-bred, who is absolutely obliterating the course at Waialae Country Club on the island of Oahu.

Most have never heard of Thomas. For the most part he’s what you would expect from a guy who grew up in Louisville, KY and then played collegiately at Alabama where the golf team won back-to-back national championships. That is to say a little goofy off the course.

When I had a chance to see him play this summer at the BMW Championship, I wondered who was this kid with the mustache. And of course a few weeks later I realized the mustache was all part of the new Fratpack that has dominated the PGA Tour the last couple of years but no one quite knows what to make of it.

 

 

Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth have gotten enough attention, some might argue Spieth’s was the natural result begging for a young American to fill the spotlight left behind by an injured Tiger Woods. Johnson on the other hand, is dominant and helps that he is married to the daughter of perhaps one of the most famous athletes in human history Wayne Gretzky. But here’s Thomas a kid from Kentucky and I’m not so sure people are giving him his due.

Thursday he shot 59. That means drives, approaches, chips, putts they all totaled 59 across 18 holes while his nearest contemporary shot 64 this Thursday at the Sony Open.

Well here it is Friday night and Thomas just set the PGA Tour record for lowest score in an opening 36 with a 123 combined over rounds one and two at this week’s Sony Open. Thomas is now at 17-under after shooting 64 for his second round. He holds a five-shot lead over Gary Woodard.

The fact of the matter is Thomas is on fire. Last week he won the SBS Tournament of Champions in Maui.

Thomas is second in the FedEx Cup standings, the PGA Tour’s season-long points ranking, only rivaling another peer Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama who is 24-years of age.

One can look across both the PGA Tour rankings and the World Golf Rankings and see a plethora of young names.

Players who make a 27-year old Rory McIlroy look like an elder statesmen.

Jordan Spieth is 23 years of age.

Johnson is a bit over and has paid his dues so to speak at 32 years and dominant, having won his first major at the U.S. Open last year.

Patrick Reed who is ranked eighth in the world is 23.

Golf has not changed, its players have gotten more skilled. There is never going to be someone just exactly like Tiger Woods but there are enough dominant players in the game, that is not an issue.

Are they TV ready like Tiger, that is another subject. But there is no talent shortage in golf. Much like the period when Michael Jordan left the NBA, everyone is waiting for the next big thing. Well, a lot of next big things came along. Their names are Spieth, Johnson, Fowler, Rose, Thomas McIlroy and Day-to name a few.

 

 

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