Some sports takes from the long, holiday weekend.
Oh hell yes, the ladies got it done! In a tournament that proved that the women’s game is as strong as it has ever been, and getting stronger each year, the US had the toughest possible path to the title and still managed to win with a fair amount of comfort. Sure, they were a bit fortunate against England, but they were the better team in that game. Yes, it took them far too long to score in the final against the Dutch, but, again, they absolutely dominated play and were unlucky not to score at least four more goals.
It wasn’t always beautiful soccer. People who know more about the game and the US roster than I do have been taking shots at coach Jill Ellis for weeks about her lineup and strategic choices. When the team went undefeated and were never in danger of losing a knock-out game, I’m not sure it really matters.
Bottom line is the US won.
In the process Megan Rapinoe ascended as athlete of the moment. I saw a great line in a wrap-up I read this morning: I wish I could do anything with the confidence that Rapinoe places the ball on the penalty spot. Was there ever any doubt that her penalty attempts would not find the back of the net? She took on a lot this tournament, and many would have cracked under the pressure of the moment. But she embraced it, made the moment hers, and performed at well as anyone could have asked. Along the way she made sharp, eloquent comments about her views and the platform she had. Her name is now with Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, and Morgan’s as the best every to play for the US. She’s also placed her name with some of the giants who took strong social and political stands without fear of reprisal. All respect to ‘Pinoe.
L watched the entire final with me, although much of the game she was playing a game on her iPad and had headphones on. She was disappointed her hero Alex Morgan didn’t have a better tournament. I kept pointing out that it was hard to do much when each team’s strategy seemed to be to knocking Alex down as much as possible. Although no official word ever came, I thought that she was playing hurt during all the elimination games. She just never looked to be herself. Then again, all the attention opponents put on her opened things up for her teammates.
Rose Lavelle was my breakout star of the tournament. I watched a lot of the tune up games over the spring and she never really stuck out to me. She was just this tall, skinny, pale, very Irish looking woman who deserved less attention that the US’ vaunted stable of forwards. In the tournament she proved what a badass she is, and her goal in the final was a piece of individual brilliance. She and Mallory Pugh – another immense talent that could barely find minutes in France – are the young stars poised to step in as Rapinoe, Lloyd, and Tobin Heath begin to cycle out.
It was a good World Cup overall. Some fantastic games. Plenty of contrived controversy. A rapidly improving pool of teams. And the best team winning a deserved fourth World Cup.
OH MAH GAWD, KAWHI BROKE THE NBA!!!!
That was my first thought Saturday morning when I got up and saw Kawhi Leonard had signed with the LA Clippers and somehow managed to get Paul George traded to join him as well. Actually, my first thought was which George the headline I read was referring to, because it was way out of my level of comprehension that the Clippers might somehow work that trade out. Tate George? Jeff George? Boy George? Surely not Paul George.
But, man, what a cap to a pretty crazy week of free agency. While everyone seems to think the Lakers and Clippers are the two teams most likely to win the title, I think the league is actually full of really good teams. Throw in a handful of “too young to win but stupid entertaining to watch” teams and there is a really good argument for getting the NBA League Pass.
I mean, the Western conference could be an absolute bloodbath. The Nuggets and Jazz both made very smart moves that made them stronger. Houston seems bent on doing something big to try to stay in the mix as long as James Harden is in his prime. Portland isn’t really a title contender, but can hang with any of the elites on any night. The Warriors will still have Steph and Draymond along with D’Angelo Russell and some other nice parts that will keep them from being pushovers, and Klay Thompson could be back for the playoffs. New Orleans will be super young and likely pretty bad most nights, but also have a crazy talented roster that should be a lot of fun to watch.
The Eastern conference won’t be as stacked, and should come down to the Bucks and Sixers, with whichever team stays healthy being the favorite. Brooklyn made the biggest waves, although they will have to wait until Kevin Durant is healthy to reap the rewards. The Nets seem like the most interesting team to watch since Kyrie and KD together gives them the league lead in bitterness. Atlanta is a little like New Orleans: absolutely packed with young talent that will play amazing ball some nights and look terrible others.
The Pacers made some low-key great moves, although Victor Oladipo being out for at least the first third of the season probably means that they won’t be a factor this year. I really like just about every move they made. Malcolm Brogdon is a great compliment to Oladipo. Jeremy Lamb is a great addition for depth. Drafting a highly skilled big man from overseas was a head scratcher at first, but it gives them the freedom to move either Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis to add another part or draft picks.
Maybe the Finals are destined to be Lakers vs Bucks for the next few years. I see the league as being super deep all of a sudden, though, with no one filling the role the Warriors filled the past five years as clearly the best team. And LeBron isn’t the LeBron of four years ago, so you can’t just pencil his team in. I think it is going to be a faaaaaantastic season.
“It’s Not Fair”
A quick word about NBA player movement in general. There was some general butthurtedness1 here in Indy about how the players have taken control and rigged the league so franchises like Indiana don’t have a chance.
Although I understand the argument, I think it’s crap.
See, Indianapolis, Sacramento, Oklahoma City, etc have never been, and will never be destinations for the highest level free agents. It has nothing to do with the players having too much control. And it doesn’t mean those, and other cities, are bad cities. It just means athletes, who are young, physically gifted, and rich want to live where the night life never stops, where there are hundreds of thousands of beautiful women, and where other entertainers tend to congregate.
San Antonio built a dynasty in a second-tier NBA city. Denver is a great city, but it’s not a destination for elite talent. Hasn’t stopped them from building a monster roster. Salt Lake City might be the least NBA city in the league. They had one of the best off-seasons in the league and are poised to battle the LA squads.
Yes, the margin of error is razor-thin. Yes, you have to get extraordinarily lucky in the draft. You have to make astute trades. You might need a generational talent as the coach. And there are heaps of other good fortune that must bless your franchise.
Don’t blame the players, though, when you look at the odds. Those odds were about the same back when Reggie Miller was playing for the Pacers and the players had far less power than they do today.
- Spell check tells me this isn’t a word. I disagree. ↩