NBA Playoff Preview: “NBA Jam” Edition

BY JORDAN O’DONNELL

LeBron's Miami Heat would probably be even tougher to defeat in "NBA Jam" than they are in real life, though they would be just as hated. (Credit: EA Sports)

The NBA Playoffs kick off this weekend, beginning a seemingly endless summer-long quest to crown this strange, lockout shortened season’s champion. Sixteen teams will battle in best-of-seven series until only one remains. The ratings will be high if some teams advance (Miami,New York) and low if others do (San Antonio,San Antonio). But due to the unorthodox nature of the regular season, it’s difficult to adequately preview the playoffs, as teams will be afforded more rest than they’ve had all season. Instead, I present a totally different, fictional preview: if the NBA Playoffs were “NBA Jam.”

In case you were born yesterday, “NBA Jam” was (technically, still is) an immensely popular arcade game that pitted hoops teams against each other in 2-on-2 games with three-minute quarters. Each squad had three players from which to choose. There was no out of bounds, nor were fouls called. There were dunks that involved jumping 30 feet in the air, turbo buttons and flammable basketballs. And there were Clintons (Hillary’s got a wicked cross-over).

resented below is how I would foresee the playoffs going this year if “NBA Jam” rules applied. Remember that the following skills are extremely valuable in this virtual world:

  • Dunking from extreme heights
  • Three-point shooting
  • Dribbling quickly without getting stripped
  • Rejecting a shot while coming out of nowhere
  • Basically nothing else involving defense

These skills are rather different from the actual playoffs, where team defense is king and 1080-degree tomahawk jams are less useful, though still appreciated.

*Note: This preview assumes we are playing traditional “NBA Jam” rules, and not “NBA Jam Tournament Edition,” which featured hot spots that could quadruple the value of any shot. I’m a civilized person, after all.

ROSTERS

EAST

1)     Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer – Rose can get to the rim and Deng is a decent long-range shooter, but the Bulls real-life strengths (defense and depth) are rendered useless. Not a good fit for the East’s No. 1 seed.

2)     Miami Heat: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh – The early favorites. If anyone ever chose to play with Bosh, he or she would be banned from video games for life.

3)     Indiana Pacers: Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, Paul George – I chose George because of his dunking skills. Hibbert is like playing with a young Patrick Ewing on “NBA Jam” (not a good thing). However, if he gets a flat top, I’m sold.

4)     Boston Celtics: Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett – Rajon Rondo, perhaps Boston’s best player, was left off because he can’t shoot and Garnett’s size was needed. Allen is a very dangerous player from long range. Unfortunately for Garnett, saying offensive things to opponents is not a part of this game.

5)     Atlanta Hawks: Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams – Al Horford would have easily made this roster, but he’s out for the first round, which is as far as the Hawks will go, despite Josh Smith’s awesome dunks.

6)     Orlando Magic: Ryan Anderson, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson – Good lord, this is a bad squad. With Dwight Howard out for the playoffs with a bad attitude back, the Magic’s big man here (Anderson) is someone who never crosses the three-point line.

7)     New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler – Jeremy Lin is out until at least the second round, so a tough roster decision is averted. Fortunately for the Knicks, Amare’s fragility is not factored into “NBA Jam” performance.

8)     Philadelphia 76ers: Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand – Yikes.

WEST

1)     San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili – This team will be as boring in “NBA Jam” as they are in real life.

2)     Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka – Even if James Harden didn’t suffer a concussion, I would stick with Ibaka because he is an athletic freak and Durant/Westbrook cover what Harden brings to the table. Another top squad.

3)     Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum – If you think Kobe is ever going to miss, then you’ve never played “NBA Jam” before. Metta World Peace is a hidden character, along with the Obamas, Kim and Kanye and two Jack Nicholsons. One is from “A Few Good Men,” and the other is from “Something’s Gotta Give.”

4)     Memphis Grizzlies: Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay – A scary team both in real life and in this simulation. Fortunately for the Grizz, Rudy Gay’s effort is always 100 percent in “NBA Jam.”

5)     Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Caron Butler – Your alley-oop button will get stuck with this team. Even though Vinny Del Negro can’t mess them up here, they can’t shoot all that well.

6)     Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Aaron Afflalo – Don’t sleep on this team. Lawson has wheels and Gallo can shoot.

7)     Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion – A team that would be much better if you could clone Dirk, which I’m sure Mark Cuban has tried before.

8)     Utah Jazz: Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward – My opinion of Haywardwould be immensely higher if he made that last-second heave in the 2010 NCAA title game to beat Duke.

FIRST ROUND

EAST

Chicago over Philadelphia – The Sixers just don’t have an advantage here. Brand is not stopping Rose from getting to the rim and Deng can shoot over Iguodala.

Miami over New York – Unfortunately, Melo’s midrange game doesn’t translate. LeBron yoking on Amare’s face does. New York would advance against any other Eastern team.

Indiana over Orlando – Howard would have changed this. Especially because his prima donna ways wouldn’t matter in a video game.

Boston over Atlanta – Josh Smith is the most fun to watch, but Joe Johnson is not stopping Ray Allen’s three-point barrage.

WEST

San Antonio over Utah – I feel asleep, what happened?

Oklahoma City over Dallas – The Dirk-Durant match-up is closer than you think, but Westbrook tortures Terry, and Marion can’t score enough to make up the difference.

L.A. Lakers over Denver – Lawson’s lack of size results in him getting repeatedly rejected by Gasol and Bynum. Kobe can’t miss. Bad match-up forDenver.

Memphis over L.A. Clippers – Even though in real life, Z-Bo would just deck Griffin, Blake successfully dunks on every attempt.  However, Memphis has the skill to shoot it from the outside (Gay) and the size to dunk with immunity (Gasol and Z-Bo).

SECOND ROUND

EAST

Boston over Chicago – Rose gets to the rim when KG is out of the game, but the Bulls’ team defensive skills matter not when Pierce and Allen catch fire.

Miami over Indiana – Bosh may even get some minutes here.

WEST

Memphis over San Antonio – Z-Bo + Gasol > Old Duncan. Gay torches Parker and Ginobili.

Oklahoma City over L.A. Lakers – Really close here, but Durant has the length to force Bynum and Gasol to do those boring, non-turbo, two-handed dunks. Westbrook is too fast for Kobe.

CONFERENCE FINALS

Miami over Boston

LeBron’s combination of size, skill and speed is the difference maker.

Memphis over Oklahoma City

Probably a shocker, but Gay can handle Durant to a degree while Westbrook’s outside shooting isn’t consistent enough to overcome his inability to get to the rim.

FINALS

Miami over Memphis

Since LeBron can’t disappear in this format, the Heat just outrun the Grizzlies (as they would have to do in real life). Wade gets beat by Gay’s size but no one can stop “NBA Jam” LeBron.

Miami is the champion? Not boomshockalocka.

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Stay Where You Are (Because Everywhere Else Is Really Weird)

BY EMILY VIVIANI

Things were weird before, during and after Roger and Jane took LSD on this week's "Mad Men." (Credit: AMC)

This Sunday Mad Men was chock-full, jam-packed and bursting-at-the-seams with Violet candy! Orange sherbet! Drugggggs! Everyone had somewhere to be, no one liked anything and all the girls cried.

The hour was divided into three overlapping stories about one day as it unfolded, first from the perspective of Peggy, then Roger and finally Don. The stories were unified by blatant plot similarities, but also convoluted by dramatic decadence and disorientation (dreams, memories, what time is it? etc.). Peggy jerked off a stranger at the movies. Roger took LSD and divorced his wife. Don lost Megan at a Howard Johnson’s in upstate New York.

Structurally, I think it worked, but thematically nothing seemed to fit. Maybe this was intentional, but I thought there was so much, too much other intentional stuff that in the end, everything felt like the band-aid for some disjointed message that Weiner seemed to be molesting with allusion.

People want to escape? Truth is irrelevant? Relationships are transient? So what? In an episode all about people going to “Far Away Places,” I found the episode’s clearest, most conclusive message came from Mars, via Ginsberg: stay where you are.

It was spoon-fed to us within the first 13 minutes of the episode, in a quiet, perfect scene between Peggy and Ginsberg at the office, after hours. Peggy, who had just come back from her day as Don, asks Ginsberg why he never mentioned he had a family, having met his father in the lobby earlier that day. Ginsberg responded with an explanation that the man she met wasn’t his father, since he, himself was from Mars. At this Peggy laughs, but Ginsberg continues in earnest:

“It’s fine if you don’t believe me, but that’s where I’m from. I’m a full-blooded Martian. Don’t worry, there’s no plot to take over earth, we’ve just been displaced. I can tell you don’t believe me and that’s okay, we’re a big secret. They even tried to hide it from me. That man, my father, told me a story that I was born in a concentration camp, but you know that’s impossible. And I’ve never met my mother cause she supposedly died there. That’s convenient. Next thing I know Morris there finds me in a Swedish orphanage. I was five, I remember it. [Peggy: “That’s incredible.”] Yea, and then I got this one communication. A simple order — stay where you are.”

In contrast to everything else that was said by everyone else in this episode, which seemed to be followed by either a gigantic exclamation point or an enormous question mark, Ginsberg ended everything he said in this scene with a simple, definitive, period.

The scene itself played with Ginsberg’s back to Peggy as he continues to scribble on his memo pad, head down while talking. Peggy in her desk chair is turned toward him, struck by the strange, sad story.  When it ends, Peggy asks if there are others like him and Ginsberg looks up at his reflection in the dark window, in front of his desk (so he is not really, but is looking at Peggy through a reflection of himself) and tells her he doesn’t know because he hasn’t been able to find any.

Maybe it was the mention of concentration camps in an episode where major plotlines pivoted around 27 flavors of ice cream, or maybe it was the look on Peggy’s face or in Ginsberg’s reflection, but what struck me most about the sad scene was how much I liked it compared to everything else this episode. The exchange felt genuine and ironically omniscient, in an hour that otherwise played like, well, a show.  The final scene, Bert Cooper reprimanding Don for his love leave and reminding him that while he had been going places, he hadn’t been doing anything, was similarly affecting.

“Stay where you are” is something your parents tell you to do when you’re little. It’s their guidance, if you should get lost in a crowded place where people are bustling around, going places. There is no way to know what Weiner was trying to have Ginsberg say, if anything, through his one communication, one simple order from Mars, but in an episode where all the adults were behaving like a bunch of kids running around in circles (Don and Megan, quite literally), I’m glad somebody said it.

The 2012 Ultimate Sports Draft

YI! SPORTS STAFF

Tennis sensation Novak Djokovic was the first athlete selected in yesterday's unique draft. (Credit: Getty Images)

The premise is simple. Four teams of eight. Each team must consist of a professional athlete in each of the following sports: football, basketball, baseball, hockey, golf and tennis. Each team also gets two “wild cards,” which can consist of an athlete in any of those six sports. The goal is to select a team of athletes that will win the most total MVP awards, team championships, Majors and Grand Slam titles during the next five years (May 1, 2012 to May 1, 2017). All achievements are considered equal.

This is how the draft shook out.

Round 1, Pick 1 (Byrnes)– Novak Djokovic – Byrnes keeps it simple with the most sensible first overall pick. The world’s No. 1 tennis player has won four of the last five Grand Slam events. It’s unlikely he will still be dominant in five years, but his likelihood of success in the short-term cannot currently be matched by any other individual athlete in the world.

Round 1, Pick 2 (The Sin) – LeBron James – Hate it or love it, LeBron James has been nothing short of great this season and is the odds-on favorite to be named the MVP for 2011-2012. Additionally, the Miami Heat are a legitimate threat to win the NBA title this season and for the next handful of years. Though the second overall pick is a high price to pay, King James gives The Sin a rock-solid athlete to build his squad around.

Round 1, Pick 3 ($hu) – Rory McIlroy – Golf is notoriously difficult to predict, but if you have to invest in one guy, you may as well take the world’s top-ranked player. $hu is thrilled the Northern Irishman and 2011 U.S. Open winner falls to him at No. 3, as McIlroy will be a favorite to win Majors for the next several years.

Round 1, Pick 4 (JOD) – Kevin Durant – With Lebron off the board, the Durantula is the most valuable NBA star left on the board. The potential 2011-2012 scoring champ has an outside chance to win this year’s MVP award and his Oklahoma City Thunder are probably the favorites to represent the Western Conference in the Finals. The media loves him, meaning MVPs are sure to come, and the Thunder’s young nucleus should translate to at least a few shots at the championship.

Round 2, Pick 1 – Rafael Nadal – The Spaniard is Djokovic’s main competition for the foreseeable future, so JOD pairs Durant with a safe and valuable pick. Nadal has won 10 Grand Slams and should threaten for more, so he offers potential and fills a shallow position.

Round 2, Pick 2 – Derrick Rose – The first semi-surprise of the draft, $hu fills his NBA slot with the reigning MVP. Much like Durant, Rose has a decent-sized window during which his relatively young Chicago Bulls should contend for a title. If he stays healthier than this year, another MVP award could be in his future. He’ll have an uphill battle though, having to knock off Lebron’s Heat in the East just to have the chance to challenge Durant’s Thunder (or whatever Western club can stop them) in the Finals.

Round 2, Pick 3 – Matt Kemp – The Sin, a baseball legend in his own right, takes the first MLB player off the board by nabbing the Los Angeles Dodgers’ stud centerfielder. Kemp nearly won last year’s National League MVP and is off to a torrid start to 2012. Though individual honors are more likely in the short-term, the Dodgers’ core of talent combined with new front office management could translate into realistic championship chances a few years down the road.

Round 2, Pick 4 – Aaron Rodgers – Though Byrnes was hoping for Kemp, he discount double-checks himself and settles for the 2011 NFL MVP. The amount of parody in the league is well-documented, but Rodgers represents as close as there is to safe pick for both personal and team accomplishments. Green Bay won the 2010 Super Bowl before winning 14 games in 2011, and given the QB-friendly environment in today’s game, Rodgers should have no problem producing statistically during the next few seasons.

Round 3, Pick 1 – Miguel Cabrera – Byrnes surprised himself with this pick to kick off Round 3, but later decided it made sense. Cabrera has finished in the top five in American League MVP voting for the past three seasons and, at age 29, should have many productive years left (he’s also not a New York Yankee, which bolsters his chance to win the award). There’s also a sizeable talent gap between the Detroit Tigers and anyone else in their division. That should give them a decent shot to at least advance to a World Series or two.

Round 3, Pick 2 – Keegan Bradley – The first “reach” of the draft, The Sin invests in potential and fills his golfer slot with the young American stud. Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship during a phenomenal rookie season, so Sin will be hoping for more of that to come.

Round 3, Pick 3 – Alexander Ovechkin – $hu takes the first hockey player in a group that knows nothing about hockey. The sensation still has an outside chance at this year’s Stanley Cup (Washington has to win one eventually, right?), and remains one of the league’s elite talents.

Round 3, Pick 4 – Robinson Cano – Somebody had to take the hometown favorite, and JOD fills his MLB slot with the New York Yankee second baseman. The Bronx Bombers are regular postseason visitors, so it’s reasonable to count on at least one World Series title during the next five years. Cano’s talent (3rd in A.L. MVP voting in 2010) will keep him in the MVP discussion, though it would take an overwhelming season by the Yankee (and an underwhelming season by the rest of the league) for Cano to win. There’s slight risk here: Cano is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2013 season. But even if he leaves New York – which he probably won’t – he could sign with the Dodgers or another team ready to compete.

Round 4, Pick 1 – Tom Brady – JOD grabs the second quarterback by reluctantly taking the Boston hero. It’s easy to think Brady is past his prime, but he’s coming off of another phenomenal season and was a few plays away from yet another Super Bowl title. He (probably) won’t be too much of a threat four years from now, but outside of Rodgers, Brady has the best combination of individual talent and team capability to compete in the short-term.

Round 4, Pick 2 – Ryan Braun – The reigning National League MVP had a tumultuous off-season, but that doesn’t stop $hu from making him the fourth slugger off the board. Braun’s locked into a contract well past 2017 and Milwaukee’s best chance to win the World Series probably passed them by last October (Prince Fielder left, Zach Greinke probably will too). Titles will be hard to come by. Braun’s talent should keep him among the league’s elite, but it’s somewhat risky to expect the media to award him anymore unless and until the dark shadow over his reputation disappears.

Round 4, Pick 3 – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – The Sin makes everyone reach for their spell-checkers when he takes the French tennis star. It’s a long-term pick, and he probably could have waited another round two for him, but when you want some Tsonga, you take some Tsonga.

Round 4, Pick 4 – Dwayne Wade – Byrnes is the last one to fill his NBA slot, but still fills it with elite talent. It’d probably take a significant Lebron injury for Wade to ever win an MVP award, but if King James is going to win a ring, Wade will almost definitely be standing on the champion’s podium next to him. His unlikelihood to win any individual honors to made up for by his legitimate shot at multiple titles.

Round 5, Pick 1 – Evgeni Malkin – Sources tell Byrnes that the Pittsburgh Penguins are no longer in contention for the 2012 Stanley Cup, but Malkin is the favorite to win the 2012 Hart Trophy. If Sidney Crosby ever returns to elite status, the Penguins could win another Cup. If he doesn’t, Malkin could still rack up individual awards.

Round 5, Pick 2 – Henrik Sedin – Lots of goals for this 2010 MVP. That’s a good start.

Round 5, Pick 3 – Andy Murray – He’s good at tennis, even if he’s not as good as Djokovic or Nadal. And Murray is a lot easier to spell than Tsonga. The three-time Grand Slam runner-up has to break through eventually.

Round 5, Pick 4 – Luke Donald – He’s currently the best golfer not named McIlroy. Though the Englishman has yet to win a Major, he’s seemingly always in contention. JOD figures to cash in when he finally does.

Round 6, Pick 1 – Claude Giroux – Dude is a beast.

Round 6, Pick 2 – Tiger Woods – $hu pairs McIlroy with Tiger by filling one of his wild card slots with the golfing legend. If Tiger is going to make one last run at Jack Nicklaus’ record, he will need to start soon.

Round 6, Pick 3 – Drew Brees – As recently as a few months ago, this pick would look like a steal. Brees and his New Orleans Saints had the most explosive offense in the NFL and seemed primed to contend for another Super Bowl. But you may have heard about this whole “bounty” and “eavesdropping” thing, which could dismantle the coaching and defensive units around Brees. However, Brees still does not have a contract beyond 2012, so if things really go south in the Big Easy, Brees could take his talents elsewhere and take one last shot at a title with another franchise.

Round 6, Pick 4 – Russell Westbrook – Byrnes takes a slight risk with his first wildcard spot, taking Durant’s Thunder sidekick. Westbrook probably won’t win any MVP awards, but if he is content being the Robin to Durant’s Batman, the Thunder could win multiple championships. He is under contract through the 2016-2017 season, so the group should have a number of chances to win it all.

Round 7, Pick 1 – Bubba Watson – The lack of deep golf knowledge in the Byrnes war room shows as he desperately takes Watson to fill his golf slot. The law of averages suggests the Masters winner won’t win another Major anytime soon, but…whatever. America.

Round 7, Pick 2 – Lee Westwood – The world’s No. 3 player has also yet to win a Major, but, like Donald, seems to be knocking on the door. His tee-to-green game is elite, but he will need to improve his putting to take the next step.

Round 7, Pick 3 – Cam NewtonWith Rodgers, Brady and Brees off the board, $hu looks a little farther down the road and grabs the 2011 Rookie of the Year. It’s nearly impossible to determine whether the Carolina Panthers will be Super Bowl contenders three years from now, but the sensation out of Auburn shows that they have the most important position taken care of. At the very least, Newton has a chance to be an eventual MVP.

Round 7, Pick 4 – Dwight Howard – A wild card in the truest sense. Howard has made a mess of things in Orlando and will be coming off of back surgery next season, but the best center in the game is always in MVP contention. More significantly, whether he eventually becomes a Net or a Maverick or a Laker, Dwight would have a strong chance to win a title.

Round 8, Pick 1 – Sidney Crosby – Another wild card for JOD. His team will give him a chance to win more titles. His health could give him a chance to do even more.

Round 8, Pick 2- Josh Hamilton – More risk in the final rounds.Hamilton’s hot start makes him the early (albeit extremely early) favorite for another MVP award and the Texas Rangers are set to compete for the next few seasons. But the risks forHamilton are well-documented – he is often injured, and relapses are a concern. He’s also a free agent after this season, which really makes this pick a wild card.

Round 8, Pick 3 – Prince Fielder – The recently paid Fielder will be in Detroit for more than five years, and Cabrera and Justin Verlander should give him his best chance at some titles. He’d probably have to crush 50 or so homers in a season to win any MVPs, since he will struggle to be even the most valuable player on his own team.

Round 8, Pick 4 – Hunter Mahan – Byrnes attempts to make up for Watson-gate with this last minute golf grab. But he really, really wanted to take Eli Manning.

Here’s a recap of how the teams shook out:

Team Byrnes

NFL: Aaron Rodgers

NBA: Dwayne Wade

MLB: Miguel Cabrera

NHL: Evegeni Malkin

Golf: Bubba Watson

Tennis: Novak Djokovic

Wild Card: Russell Westbrook

Wild Card: Hunter Mahan

Team Sin

NFL: Drew Brees

NBA: Lebron James

MLB: Matt Kemp

NHL: Henrik Sedin

Golf: Keegan Bradley

Tennis: Jo-Wilfried Songa

Wild Card: Lee Westwood

Wild Card: Prince Fielder

Team $hu

NFL: Cam Newton

NBA: Derrick Rose

MLB: Ryan Braun

NHL: Alexander Ovechkin

Golf: Rory McIlroy

Tennis: Andy Murray

Wild Card: Tiger Woods

Wild Card: Josh Hamilton

 

Team JOD

NFL: Tom Brady

NBA: Kevin Durant

MLB: Robinson Cano

NHL: Claude Giroux

Golf: Luke Donald

Tennis: Rafael Nadal

Wild Card: Sidney Crosby

Wild Card: Dwight Howard

 

 

Mocking 2012 NFL Draft Round 1

BY YI! SPORTS STAFF

Things should get interesting somewhere around the No. 3 pick in Thursday night's NFL draft.

You know the deal. This draft took place Tuesday. Let’s do the damn thang.

1. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford – The NFL told teams not to announce their picks in advance, so that’s just what the Colts did. In other news, Luck has already been sued.

2. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor – The Skins gave up a ton to move up to the No. 2 spot to grab the eclectic Heisman winner. The only question that remains is what number (3?) Griffin will be wearing Week 1.

3. Minnesota Vikings – Matt Kalil, T, USC – Lots of talk of the Vikings trading this pick away once the right offer presents itself. If they don’t, we think they’ll play it safe and pick up some protection for Christian Ponder, opting to wait until Round 2 to bulk up the secondary.

4. Cleveland Browns – Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama – Yi!’s resident Cleveland fan Brian Ruddock insists the Browns will trade down. They could swap with St. Louis and drop to No. 6. Regardless of who picks here, the best running back in the draft by a mile goes fourth overall.

5. Tampa Bay Bucs – Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU – The Vikings could get fancy at No. 3 and take this SEC stud, but if they don’t, count on the Bucs making Claiborne the first draft selection under the rule of new coach Greg Schiano.

6. St. Louis Rams – Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State – The Rams are sticking with Sam Bradford. It would be nice if he had someone to throw to this year.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars – Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina – If the consensus “top 6” are all off the board, the Jags will have plenty of options and could certainly trade down. Whether it’s them or someone else picking here, we’re feeling Ingram will be the selection.

8. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M – Owner Stephen Ross failed to make a splash with his head coaching hire or in free agency. The Fins reach a bit to grab a quarterback with potential, even if Tannehill is the Chris Bosh of this year’s Big 3 QBs.

9. Carolina Panthers – Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State – The Cats have a bunch of needs, but this is probably their biggest. The versatile defensive force would be a solid addition for Cam Newton and Co.

10. Buffalo Bills – Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa – The Bills could continue to bulk up their defense or even pair wide receiver Michael Floyd with Stevie Johnson. But improving their protection is key, even though Reiff might have to start on the right side of the offensive line.

11. Kansas City Chiefs – David DeCastro, G, Stanford – The Chiefs could go in a number of directions, and it will surely be tempting to consider pairing strong safety Mark Barron with Eric Berry. DeCastro is the option if they want to play it safe.

12. Seattle Seahawks – Luke Kuechly, ILB, BC – The Seahawks fill a need at linebacker, and at a great value.

13. Arizona Cardinals – Jonathan Martin, T, Stanford – Larry Fitzgerald would love another wide receiver to open up some space for him, but Kevin Kolb would really love to avoid another concussion. The Cards recognize this and take the best offensive lineman on the board.

14. Dallas Cowboys – Mark Barron, SS, Arkansas – The Cowboys secondary was shakier than Tony Romo playing Operation last year. Late reports suggested there was no way Barron will fall to Dallas at No. 14. I guess we will find out Thursday night.

15. Philadelphia Eagles – Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse – Given their success drafting players out of ‘Cuse in the past, the Eagles go all-in on trying to find the next Jason Pierre-Paul.

16. New York Jets – Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama – Not the most talented player left, but he fits the 3-4 well and can help on the defensive line. He can also help fill in for Bart Scott, who is older and angrier than Clint Eastwood.

17. Cincinnati Bengals – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama – Marijuana charges (since dropped)? Sign us up! The Bengals thank the Raiders for the extra pick and add a much needed piece to their secondary.

18. San Diego Chargers – Cordy Glenn, T, Georgia – The Chargers need to protect Phil Rivers so he can continue to yell at his teammates.

19. Chicago Bears – Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame – The Bears are both elated that the Fighting Irish receiver falls to them and immediately pissed they traded for Brandon Marshall.

20. Tennessee Titans – Stephen Gilmore, CB, South Carolina – After losing Andre Johnson’s punching bag, Cortland Finnegan, to free agency, the Titans grab a replacement.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina – Given the relative security of Kirkpatrick, Cincy takes a chance on the high-risk, high-reward on the pass rusher out of Chapel Hill.

22. Cleveland Browns – Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor – Assuming the Browns don’t trade down and grab Blackmon, they take Wright to improve a wide receiver corps that wouldn’t have any starters on the Dillon Panthers.

23. Detroit Lions – Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois – The Lions continue their recent trend of bulking up their defense, and Whitney is utterly mercy-less as he joins Ndamukong Suh in stomping on offensive linemen for many Thanksgivings to come.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama – Is it ominous that the Steelers are choosing between two players whose names start with “Dont”? Hightower is chosen over the upside but question marks of Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe. The Steelers love them some linebackers, especially ones who get fined a lot.

25. Denver Broncos – Michael Brockers, DT, LSU – In choosing between Brockers and Poe, the Broncos opt for the one who played best when the lights were brightest.

26. Houston Texans – Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech – Though tempted to replace Mario Williams, the Texans remember they did alright without him last season. They opt for the speedy receiver who can open things up for Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels and Arian Foster out of the backfield.

27. New England Patriots – Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State – It wouldn’t shock anyone to see the Patriots trade down, but we think they’re more likely to do that with the No. 31 pick. After Bill Belichick briefly flirts with Coby Fleener and  thoughts of a 3-TE offense, he remembers the Pats’ inability to rush the quarterback and chooses to address that instead.

28. Green Bay Packers – Nick Perry, DE, USC – The Packers hope to improve their pass rush so opposing quarterbacks won’t be able to do their own Aaron Rodgers impressions every Sunday.

29. Baltimore Ravens – Dontari Poe, DT, Memhpis – Nevermore! After years of having the franchise’s literary ties distorted by Michael Oher and Michael Lewis, the Ravens restore some order, grabbing this Poe so their fans don’t have to deal with that other one.

30. San Francisco 49ers – Rueben Randle, WR, LSU – With a stout defense, the Niners grab Randle to help the passing game. After all, Randy Moss is still a huge question mark and Michael Crabtree is in hiding from Gregg Williams.

31. New England Patriots – Harrison Smith, FS, Notre Dame – The Pats originally planned on trading down, but when Smith falls to them, they decide to stay put and grab him. Anything that might help avoid using Julian Edelman in the secondary again this year.

32. New York Giants – Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford – Jerry Reese almost always grabs the best available, and Fleener may not be here. An offensive line upgrade would be nice, but with Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum rehabbing knee injuries and Martellius Bennett still an unproven starter, the Giants grab the athletic tight end.

Boston Still Doesn’t Get It

BY RYAN BYRNES

For Millar and Pedro, it isn't possible to celebrate the Sox without pulling the Yankees into it. (Credit: NY Daily News)

Maybe it’s because the faces have changed. Maybe it’s because I view the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays as the most significant impediments standing in the way of the New York Yankees winning their next American League pennant. Maybe it’s because, during my law school era, Philadelphia has become my most reviled sports city (given Richmond’s already well-documented penchant for pink, those fair weather Sox Beantown hats fit in so well when my undergrad experience started in the fall of 2004) . But at some point during the past few years, I forgot just how much I hate the Boston Red Sox.

Then, on Friday afternoon, I remembered why.

As a genuine fan of the game of baseball, I was disappointed that my work schedule was not going to allow me to watch Friday’s tribute celebrating 100 years of Fenway Park. Though you might question why a Yankee fan would care about such an event, baseball remains our national past time and the histories and traditions of each franchise make the sport richer as a whole. After all, most of the former players introduced during what was by all accounts a fine pre-game ceremony played well before I became a fan of the game. In the world of sports, it’s silly to attribute such animosity to individuals you never actually witnessed playing for the team that forms the basis of such hostility. So it was unfortunate that I was going to miss out on a ceremony dedicated to the great history of Fenway Park and the legendary franchise that has inhabited  the stadium for the past century.

At least that’s what I thought the celebration was going to be about, and for the most part, it was. But then the Sox put 100 years of tradition and two microphones into the hands of Kevin Millar and Pedro Martinez, two former players who dubbed themselves “idiots” because the monikers others would bestow upon them would not have been so kind. This would roughly be equivalent of the Yankees letting Nick Swisher and Roger Clemens represent the history of the entire franchise, if Swisher was drunk and rocking frosted tips and Clemens was Dominican. Not surprisingly, the two former players wasted little time doing what the 25 active ones would do for the rest of the weekend: embarrass the franchise and remind the baseball world who the little brother is in the sport’s most over-hyped sibling rivalry.

“Drink,” Millar told a sold-out Fenway crowd as he and Martinez stood on the dugout (video here). “Let’s go,” he added, before Martinez spit out some barely audible commentary. A boozy toast to the Boston stadium was by no means out of place, but the event quickly turned into a train wreck, with Millar spending a little too much time on the mic.

“Karim Garcia who?” Millar bumbled, leading Martinez to follow with his infamous “Who is Karim Garcia?”  (twice to be exact).

(For those actually wondering, Garcia was a platoon outfielder for the Yankees during the 2003 season. He had a 111 OPS+ in 161 at-bats that year and drove in three runs in the ALCS. He was also the No. 8 hitter during Game 3 of that series and the player Martinez chose to throw at, partially leading to a few epic brawls breaking out later that afternoon. Oh, and the Yankees won that game. And that series.)

And so Boston was not able to make it through a ceremony about its own franchise without dragging the Yankees into it, hitting the Bronx Bombers where it really hurt by calling out their backup outfielder from nine years ago. This did not offend me because I am a Karim Garcia apologist; rather, it continued a trend that has been systemic in Sox – and fair weather fans of other cities – for some time: rooting against the opponent rather than for yourself.

The two idiots continued this at a press conference later that day. “We were the best team,” Millar said of the 2004 Sox, who – as you may have heard – had quite a legendary comeback against the Yankees in that year’s ALCS. “Look back at our team, from Pedro to David Roberts, from Curt Leskanic to Manny Ramirez, everybody contributed.

“You can’t replace what we had. You can’t buy it. The Yankees have tried to do that for years, but you can’t do it.”

I don’t even know what Millar is trying to say here. If he’s implying that the 2004 Red Sox were the first team to win a world championship by having everyone contribute, then he is delusional. Specifically, he should start by checking out these guys. If he’s implying that the Sox didn’t “buy” their 2004 title, than I guess the front office just donated this $125,208,542 to a charity of Bronson Arroyo’s choosing. If he is still clinging to the notion that the Yankees can’t spend and win, I guess he slept through the fall of 2009 (when his pal Pedro was really having some fun).

This isn’t about which franchise was better than the other in any given season. Friday was supposed to be a day about the Red Sox and their unique stadium’s history. The field was filled with Hall of Fame talent and players who have made New England fans smile for generations. The achievements of those in attendance spoke for itself. But like a “fan” who just purchased their first Sox jersey along with a “Yankees Suck” t-shirt at a 2-for-1 sale on Yawkey way, taking cheap shots at the rival was seen as part of being prideful in the home team. This is not how it should be. Michael Strahan called out the Patriots at the Giants’ Super Bowl celebration in 2008. This Phillies called out Jose Reyes later that year, after they won the World Series. These all disturbed me too – it’s a classless way to celebrate one’s achievements.

I thought the Sox were over that. I’ve always been told how 2004 ended “the curse” – hell, Boston won the World Series again just three years later. These victories did not make the Sox superior, but it perhaps at least made them equal. But Friday’s behavior by Millar and Martinez suggested that nothing has changed. The Yankees are the team that has gone to three straight postseasons, that went into Fenway and tore the Sox hearts out on consecutive afternoons. The Sox are the team that has not won a playoff game since 2008 and seems to be falling farther behind the pack in the American League each week. The Yankees compete with their rivals on the field; the Sox – whether it be their former first basemen who hit .274 for his career or their manager who has yet to win a career World Series – take weak jabs on the microphone.

I thought we were over that period in this great rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox. But as this weekend indicated, Boston just still doesn’t get it.

A Clash Of Kings

BY JOANNA HAYES

King Joffrey took things to a whole new level of disturbing during this week's episode of "Game of Thrones." (Credit: HBO)

Much has been made of the violence and sex on “Game of Thrones,” and if it was possible for the writers to push the envelope even further, they succeeded in doing just that this week. Torture, twisted sexual violence, heads nailed on spikes, rat buckets and the graphic birth of a shadow monster are just a few of the things we were treated to on Sunday night during “Garden of Bones,” the first episode of Season 2 to be written by a woman.

The theme of this chapter was the lack of honor among these would-be kings, and in no king is this more obvious than Joffrey Baratheon. After last night’s episode, even Ned Starks’s spontaneous beheading seemed rational by comparison to the Joffrey we see now. His crossbow has become an extension of his arm. I felt a chill watching him as he held Sansa in its sight for far too long and commanded her clothes be ripped off in court. This scene is downright haunting after what follows, a highly disturbing scene of sexual violence in Joffrey’s bedroom that I hardly wish to recap here (all I can say is prostitutes have had it rough this season). It becomes clear that this is a teenage boy with no apparent sexual desires, who lusts only for violence and control. He did not want to see Sansa stripped naked for any pleasure other than the violence and degradation she would experience, exposed before the whole court. Does everyone finally sympathize with her?

Sansa’s brother Robb, ever the humanist, is the least obvious example of the dishonor among these kings (he is a Stark, after all). Like it was with his father, you really get the sense that Robb takes the title of lord and protector seriously. Many noblemen in this series forget that last part, but not Robb. If any one side commands true loyalty from their people, it is the Northmen, and for good reason.

On the battlefield, it seems that Robb is the only lord who sees the devastation and destruction inherent in war. It has always been with a heavy heart that he has claimed his victories. In the ninth episode of Season 1 (“Baelor”), after the historic defeat and capture of Jaime Lannister, Robb remarks privately to Theon, “I sent two thousand men to their graves today.” Theon replies, “The bards will sing songs of their sacrifice.” “Aye,” Robb says, “but the dead won’t hear them.” In the start of “Garden of Bones,” we see the same Robb in horrified awe over the destruction he has wrought. He even shows a clear sensitivity towards the maimed and wounded of his enemy camp, and resists Roose Bolton’s cool insistence on torturing prisoners.

Despite this, Robb shows a real naivety when he declares that he would win the war against the Lannisters and then retreat simply to be King of the North. Perhaps his mother could tell him a thing or two about what might happen in the power vacuum he’d leave behind, and the suffering he would perpetuate.

Though we have seen relatively little of Stannis, it is clear that he was at one time a man who was honorable almost to a fault. As Renly makes clear, the eldest Baratheon has been corrupted by the red priestess. In the end, Stannis’ only friend, Davos, quietly pleads with him to remember his honor as he moves against his own brother. “Surely there are other ways,” he says. “Cleaner ways.”

Stannis replies coolly, with not a shred of sympathy for his own blood. “Cleaner ways don’t end wars,” he says. We have only a brief, albeit grotesque view of Stannis’ dishonor come to life in the form of a menacing shadow delivered by a suddenly-pregnant Melisandre, and we’ll have to wait an agonizing week to see the effects of this sorcery. Truly, the night is dark and full of terrors.

Other thoughts from “Garden of Bones”:

– We had our first real shot of the derelict and soulless Harrenhal: a castle so cursed and wretched that it’s no wonder the kind of men that set up shop there. From what looks to be ruinous material found around the castle, a makeshift torture chair and now-infamous rat bucket device are rigged for the prisoner interrogation. “Where’s the Brotherhood?” they ask, over and over. Clearly, if the Mountain’s rapists and torturers are so concerned about it, this Brotherhood is something we could get behind.

– Did you recognize that really tall guy with the bat-wing helmet picking out prisoners? That was the new Mountain That Rides, Gregor Clegane. Admittedly, I had no idea who that character was during the show. It was only after that I remembered they recast the part, with Ian Whyte in place of Conan Stevens (who fought that memorable duel against his brother, the Hound, in Season 1). While I am no purist, this is one of the few of the showrunners’ divergent choices that I disapprove of. If the Mountain is anything, he is defined by his great size: not just in height, but also in muscle. He is supposed to be unnaturally strong, which makes his inhumane character all the more menacing. Time will tell if Whyte can pull that off.

– Arya as cup bearer for Tywin Lannister? That is a fairly significant departure from the text, but is likely due to the necessary economy of the show.

– Who noticed that The Hound is the first to cover Sansa up? Remember, this is the guy who refuses to be knighted because he feels unworthy of it.

– Margaery continues to be the character who has benefited the most from her on-screen adaptation. “My husband is my king, and my king is my husband.” The Renly-Margaery-Loras triple power play has become a force to reckon with.

– Littlefinger’s love for Catelyn is a strange one. He preys upon her maternal instincts by claiming that the Lannisters have both her girls to trade, if only she would release Jaime. Just as it seems she is strong enough to resist the temptation of the unequal trade, Littlefinger presents her with Ned’s remains. It’s a cruelly clever ploy: how much longer can she keep sacrificing her family to this war?

Free Market vs. Pro Business: The Difference and Why It Matters

BY BRIAN RUDDOCK

The terms “free market” and “pro business” tend to get jumbled together as if they are one and the same. That is especially the case during a presidential election year, particularly one that pits a titan of business against a career politician/academic. Democratically aligned campaign staffers and left-leaning columnists conflate the two terms with shocking regularity. Republicans, meanwhile, have done themselves no favor by too often falling into the same trap when crafting policy; they assume that pro business policies can all be justified as free market.

The problem, of course, is that, while not technically mutually exclusive, the terms are in practice often opposed. Consider, for example, a recent article in Tech Crunch about Google’s growth in lobbying spending. As the article notes, Google’s Q1 2012 lobbying spend was three times higher than it was in Q1 2011. The piece listed many of the areas in which Google lobbied:

“…Google’s lobbying strategy focused on SOPA, patent reform, data privacy and accountability, online advertising regulation, intellectual property and trademark issues, cyber security and online privacy, renewable energy, freedom of expression and censorship, immigration reform and the Startup Visa Act, science, technology and math education, free trade, broadband access, freedom of expression and intellectual property in international trade agreements, “openness and competition in the online services market,” cloud computing, tax reform, internet standards of service and more[.]”

Two things struck me about this passage. First, Google probably pays more attention to public policy than most politicians. Second, though by definition pro business, this list is by no definition free market!

As a brief intellectual exercise, I listed out the policy areas mentioned in the article, the likely goals of Google in those areas and then whether the areas/goals were free market or pro-state. This is by no means an exact science; I have no inside knowledge of, nor do I speak for, Google – the policy goals were determined from my understanding of digital marketing and politics. Finally, each policy area has more goals than I was able to list.

Rather than methodological perfection, however, my point was to examine the diversity of “pro business” lobbying activities even within one (albeit giant) firm. The results can be seen in the chart at the top of the page (click to enlarge).

As you can see, some of what Google is lobbying for is free market: lower taxes, self-regulation, etc. But as a technology firm, Google also lobbies for many activities that are decidedly pro-state and anti free market: increasing federal funding for education (in subject areas where Google needs more educated employees), renewable energy initiatives that would ultimately lower their server maintenance costs, and more.

Google is acting as a self-interested person would, pushing for its specific needs rather than voting on principle. This makes Google the rule rather than the exception, and it is hardly surprising. The federal government has made it abundantly clear that to succeed, you have to play ball, both to avoid crippling prosecution and to receive taxpayer money. Thus, the most innovative firm in the world spends an annualized $20.1 million on costs that have nothing to do with actually improving their products or services.

Liberals may want to pause before lambasting big business, as they increasingly seem to support the growth of government. Conservatives should make a sharp distinction between pro business and free market policies if they are to ever be taken seriously as the party of limited government. All of us, meanwhile, should recognize the very real difference between the two descriptors.