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Anthony Davis turns the Lakers back into the NBA’s premier free agent destination
There was no certainty the Lakers would land a star free agent. Trading for Davis absolutely changes that. The Lakers pulled off the deal everyone saw coming. They sent Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks — including the No. 4-overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft — to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Anthony Davis. Los Angeles also has enough cap space to offer a max contract to one of the premier free agents in this summer’s loaded open market, and they’re reportedly already shifting focus to signing Kemba Walker to complete their Big 3. This is a turn of events of epic proportions for the Lakers. They’ve gone from laughingstock to arguably the favorites to win the title next year. Before this trade, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Lakers weren’t the frontrunners “or even really a major consideration among any of the elite free agents.” Things, as you can imagine, are just a little bit different now. ESPN’s Woj - “If the #Lakers are drafting at No. 4 on draft night, they're in trouble because that means they didn't make an Anthony Davis trade done... Right now, they are not a frontrunner or even really a major consideration among any of the elite free agents.” #Pelicans pic.twitter.com/qVmbjs54sU— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) June 12, 2019 Los Angeles has been disarray all season — and really the last several seasons. Their 2018-19 campaign went up in flames after LeBron James suffered a groin injury, followed by Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka failing to publicly deal three-quarters of the team to New Orleans for Davis at the trade deadline. Tensions bubbled, teammates were frustrated, and James missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005. It got worse: to end the season, Johnson abruptly stepped down without informing team owner Jeanie Buss or any of the players. He then went on ESPN First Take and told the world his frightful experience running Lakers basketball operations. It was horrendous from an optics perspective. The dumpster fire outsiders saw was a dumpster fire Johnson lived. There was also the growing trend of many of the top free agents not want to play with James in Los Angeles. Kyrie Irving requested a trade from Cleveland for that very reason. Kawhi Leonard reportedly didn’t want to play with James on the Lakers and preferred the Clippers as a free agent destination this summer. The same can be said of Jimmy Butler, who requested a trade mid-season and listed the Clippers, not the Lakers, as a preferred destination. Kevin Durant has been tied to the New York market all year. Walker has maintained he wants to stay in Charlotte, who can give him $221 million. Had this fate panned out, and all the cream of the crop of available talent gone elsewhere, the Lakers would have been looking at Year 2 of LeBron James in Los Angeles without a real shot of title contention. That won’t be true with Anthony Davis as a running mate, and now the Lakers are significantly more attractive for those other max free agents. That’s because Davis will assuredly sign a five-year max contract extension next summer worth almost $200 million, and James has two more years on his current contract. The Lakers will have about $32.5 million in cap space this year, just enough to sign a free agent whose max contract begins at $32.7 million next season. This summer’s free agency pool took a hit with season-ending injuries to both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, but Leonard, Irving, Walker, Butler, Tobias Harris, Khris Middleton, DeMarcus Cousins, and D’Angelo Russell (OK, maybe not him) will each be on the market. Walker has already been connected to the Lakers, and Irving, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, has already had discussions with people about playing for the Lakers. Leonard is also from Los Angeles. Him joining the Lakers would break basketball and form the best Big 3 in the history of the game. Whichever star joins the Lakers is signing up for a future built around Anthony Davis, and a present alongside Davis and James in a role similar to the one Irving played in Cleveland. This was the only way the Lakers were going to become a superteam this summer. After signing their max player, the Lakers can then use their room mid-level exception of $4.5 million, along with minimum contracts, to round out the roster. It’s how they’ll build a championship contender, forming a team that could be the favorite to win it all next season. Los Angeles needed Davis to lure a marquee free agent. Now, they have him, and as an added bonus, they have the attention of the best free agents on market.
6 h
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After all that, Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers anyway
A five-month drama played out just to end how we thought it would. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are really going to play on the same team in the 2019-20 season. It’s really happening. After five months of nonstop negotiating and drama through the media, the Los Angeles Lakers agreed to trade Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and three first-round picks for Davis, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Ironically, the drama that started with Davis wanting to play in Los Angeles ends with the solution that felt inevitable all along. The Pelicans held out on a mid-season trade in hopes for a stronger offer — possibly from the Boston Celtics — over the summer, but ended up with a very similar deal to what they were offered in February. Per the New York Times’ Marc Stein, the Celtics refused to include Jayson Tatum in a deal. Any leverage the Pels had was lost because Davis, who has just one year left on his contract, had the ultimate say in where he would stay long-term. Had this deal been accepted months ago, loads of drama could’ve been avoided. But that’s not how the NBA works. Instead, the basketball world watched on as Pelicans GM Dell Demps was fired after a Davis trade wasn’t made, LeBron James became the center of attention for publicly voicing his desire to play with AD, and Davis joined the circus himself sporting a “That’s All Folks” t-shirt in his last game with New Orleans. Don’t forget the mess that was the Pels’ compromise to play Davis limited minutes to appease both him and the league, and the team scrubbing Davis from their intro videos. This was all messy. In the end, both sides were given what they wanted. Davis gets to team up with LeBron James in Los Angeles and the Pelicans get a fleet of prospects to quickly rebuild with around the presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson and All-Star caliber guard Jrue Holiday. But it took a lot of energy, embarrassment and sacrifices to get to this point.
7 h
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A former college basketball player is leading the U.S. Open. Seriously.
If you’re at least a casual golf fan, you know Gary Woodland. What you might not know? His winding path to leading the U.S. Open involves deep three-point range, Dana Altman, and an exhibition game at Kansas. Brooks Koepka might get all the buzz for his athleticism and honest desire that he’d play baseball over golf, but it’s actually a different name on this U.S. Open leaderboard that had the most successful career in another sport. You’d be forgiven if “Steph Curry lite” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you look at or think about Gary Woodland. A three-time winner on Tour and a consistent top-50 player for the past handful of seasons, he’s a known quantity — the type of fringe household name that at least every golf fan knows. He shows up on major leaderboards. He’s long, he’s an athlete, he hits it forever. It wouldn’t be a shock if you were told the burly, long-hitter used to be a great athlete in another sport, but you might first guess he were a linebacker, first baseman, something like that. You probably wouldn’t go for skinny point guard with tight handles and unlimited range. But, yes, that’s true. Once upon a time, the now 35-year-old stocky Woodland was a local point guard phenom in Topeka, Kansas that got told by Creighton’s Dana Altman that he was too dang small to play major Division I college basketball. And the chain of events that led to him teeing off with a two-shot lead at the U.S. Open this afternoon involve a self-reckoning at the hands of Bill Self, Wayne Simien, and Kansas basketball. Credit: Washburn Univeristy Gary Woodland averaged 6 points a game in the mid-2000s at D-II powerhouse Washburn, before transferring to play golf at Kansas. Fifteen-some years ago, Gary Woodland was a three-sport athlete and star at Shawnee Heights High in Topeka, Kansas — but he was best known 6-1 skinny, all-state point guard that started 75 games and led his team deep in the state basketball tournament three times. Described as a shooter that had the green light the second he crossed half court, Woodland’s slight frame prevented the larger schools from offering scholarships, and he headed to hometown, Division II powerhouse Washburn University with basketball as his top priority. It’s a fascinating story, and this ESPN piece from March has all the details, including this nugget where Creighton’s Dana Altman (now at Oregon) wasn’t interested in Woodland due to his frame — setting off the first kicker in the series of events that led to his pro golf career. Cox tried to help Woodland. He reached out to some of his college contacts, including Dana Altman, then at Creighton, and pitched the 6-foot-1 Woodland as a guard who could “shoot the lights out.” Cox said the response was standard: “Who can he guard? How’s he going to be on defense?” But Cox didn’t have a good answer. If Woodland was coming out of high school today, Cox believes, with the premium that colleges put on shooters, Woodland would have received more and better offers. In his first season at Washburn, Woodland was a backup point guard. His first ever game? An exhibition showdown with his beloved Kansas Jayhawks, that would become a reality check for the now-U.S. Open leader. “I realized I was good in the state but these guys on a national level were a little different,” Woodland told ESPN in March. “I wasn’t quick enough and that was a big deal. I could shoot the heck out of it. I could see. I could handle the basketball but I wasn’t quick enough to move defensively.” ”Offensively, I was fine. I could get around, I could do stuff, but defensively I wasn’t quick enough. I couldn’t keep up. That was the biggest thing. And that was at the Division II level. You talk about Division I level. Our first game was at KU and I learned quickly I needed to find something else.” Woodland averaged around 6 points a game his freshman season, transferred to his beloved KU to take a roster spot on the golf team that had been held open for him. Now, years later, he’s leading the U.S. Open — and he’s probably made more money in professional sports than any of those players on the Kansas roster at the time. Weird world, man.
9 h
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LIVEBLOG! It’s moving day at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open
Can Tiger pull into contention? Is this Phil’s last meaningful round at the U.S. Open ever? Will Brooks position himself for a threepeat? Or could Gary Woodland create separation? It’s one of the more fun days of the year in professional golf: moving day at the U.S. Open. Later this afternoon, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose, and the rest of a relatively stacked leaderboard will all take to a chilly, cold Pebble Beach to chase leader Gary Woodland on the Monterey Peninsula. At 9-under par, the Kansas native Woodland will have some room to put distance between he and the field if he takes it deep, but things are toughening up just enough that a couple of early bogeys could open things right back up for forty-plus players within a handful of shots of the lead. Maybe the biggest story of the day? Tiger and Phil aren’t out of things, either — but they’ll need to make hay today if they want to be in the conversation on Sunday. If the leaders don’t run away, a 4 or 5 under round from either could get them back into the conversation. One thing to watch: Today might be the last shot for Phil to complete the career grand slam. Joel Beall of Golfworld did a great analysis of some numbers on Phil’s strengths and winners over time — Pebble was Phil’s last shot realistically to win a US Open. 50-year-old Phil Mickelson likely can’t compete in a big ballpark like Winged Foot next year, and he’s already stopped playing his hometown event at Torrey because it doesn’t suit his strengths in older age. Enjoy Phil today. It could be the last, real meaningful round we get from him at the national championship. Pebble isn’t playing near as difficult as it has in previous opens, almost three shots easier thus far than the famed 2000 edition of this championship where Tiger won by 15 shots and was the only player to break par. That might start to change a bit today. No one on the course is exactly taking it low at the moment, and we’re expecting the sun to peek out and winds to pick up as we get into the afternoon. That could create the type of drying out & baking around the greens that might make this a far tougher weekend test. Paul Azinger mentioned on the broadcast a bit ago that the greens are already “completely different” today than they were Thursday & Friday. Who might that favor? There’s few better right now on difficult tracks than Brooks Koepka, and you’d expect guys like Justin Rose and Louis Oosthuizen to be well-positioned on Sunday. If we don’t dry out, things seem set up for elite drivers of the golf ball like Rory McIlroy and Gary Woodland. Here’s a link to the leaderboard. Strap in, order some Thai takeout, and settle in. The leaders tee off at 5:45, let’s LIVEBLOG. LIVEBLOG & UPDATES 3:26pm: If you’ve been watching the Fox broadcast for the past three hours, there hasn’t been much to see. Lots of Joel Klatt teeing up pieces about The Tap Room, occasionally Rafa Cabrera Bello chopping it around the front nine. Rickie’s had a nice, yet meaningless round. But finally, we’ve got some things to watch. Tiger and Phil are both out on the course, as is Jordan Spieth. All three aren’t out of it with 36 holes to go, but they’re hardly in it either. Depending on what goes with the leaders later, you’re probably looking at 67 or better from each of those guys if you’re trying to get in the conversation seriously for Sunday. Cat’s the deepest into his round, and after a couple early bogeys, he’s reeled off back-to-back birds headed to the par-5 6th. Stay tuned. Fireworks might be incoming. Two guys off to hot starts that have been out in the wilderness for awhile: Hideki and Danny Willett. They’ve got seven birdies and no bogeys between them already on their opening nines, and are to 3-under and 4-under respectively.
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It’s the weekend at a west coast U.S. Open. TIME FOR NIGHT GOLF.
Normally watching golf on TV involves surrendering entire weekend afternoons and calls from concerned family. Not this week. Rejoice, primetime golf is back. If you’re a devoted fan of watching golf on TV, there’s few things better than a west coast U.S. Open. On normal PGA Tour weeks — or really just any other event of the year, truly following all 18 holes for the leaders involves surrendering an entire weekend afternoon. That’s a bargain many are willing to make for big events, trading an April Sunday afternoon for a Tiger Woods Masters win is an easy transaction. Explaining to your significant other why you need to sit inside all day on a July Saturday afternoon to watch Ryan Moore stretch his lead to five at the John Deere Classic? (From experience, it’s a bit harder.) But this weekend, you don’t need to do that! No more weird excuses to cancel plans because you’re spending your entire Saturday watching Spencer Levin at the Sanderson Farms Championships cleaning the house. No more calls from concerned family members! When Justin Rose hits the final shot off the first tee today, it’ll be somewhere around 5:45pm if you’re reading this from the Eastern time zone. By the time the leaders turn to the back nine, you’ll be able to post up at a bar, your couch and follow your normal patterns of sports consumption you use for NBA games, nighttime college football, whatever. Golf, during primetime! For a sport filled with people that would really, really like you to Please Like Our Sport, this is the moment we prepare for years in advance. Prime time US Open golf is the best golf and possibly the best sporting event on television that we ever get. Cherish this.— Bachelorette Tweeter Hunter L. Johnson (@HunterLJohnson) June 15, 2019 Even regular west coast events aren’t able to give us this, because of the shorter winter days and TV partners desire to not give up valuable Sunday night primetime hours to, say, the Genesis Open. But as of late, both the USGA and Fox are leaning into timezones and extended summer daylight hours to maximize viewership — big time. Fox is providing a ridiculous 10-hour coverage window, starting at Noon ET and finally going off the air at 10pm. Man this sucks with no prime time sports on TV now that hockey and basketball are OH MY GOD GOLF IS ON— Ben Swain (@TheBenSwain) June 15, 2019 With that here are the definitive rankings for the best times to consume professional golf on television. We’ll take no questions at this time. Sunday Primetime golf Early morning golf (Euro Tour hive, get loud please.) Weekday late-evening finish (The NCAAs rule.) Saturday Primetime golf. Afternoon golf, back nine Afternoon golf, front nine A danged root canal infection One of those weird 1pm finishes where tee times are moved up because of weather and then CBS refuses to show the broadcast live. Oh, yeah, and here are some tee times for Saturday. 10:36 a.m. -- Justin Walters 10:47 a.m. -- Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed 10:58 a.m. -- Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton 11:09 a.m. -- Shane Lowry, Martin Kaymer 11:20 a.m. -- Kyle Stanley, Nick Taylor 11:31 a.m. -- Adri Arnaus, Tom Hoge 11:42 a.m. -- Clement Sordet, Erik Van Rooyen 11:53 a.m. -- Bernd Wiesberger, Alex Prugh 12:04 p.m. -- Andrew Putnam, Patrick Cantlay 12:15 p.m. -- Brandt Snedeker, Rafa Cabrera Bello 12:26 p.m. -- Michael Thorbjornsen, Chip McDaniel 12:37 p.m. -- Brian Stuard, Marcus Kinhult 12:48 p.m. -- Collin Morikawa, Andy Pope 12:59 p.m. -- Cameron Smith, Jason Day 1:10 p.m. -- Rickie Fowler, Bryson DeChambeau 1:21 p.m. -- Kevin Kisner, Marc Leishman 1:32 p.m. -- Billy Horschel, Billy Hurley III 1:43 p.m. -- Daniel Berger, Rory Sabbatini 1:54 p.m. -- Abraham Ancer, Hideki Matsuyama 2:05 p.m. -- Danny Willett, Luke Donald 2:16 p.m. -- Emiliano Grillo, Chandler Eaton 2:27 p.m. -- Tiger Woods, Ben An 2:38 p.m. -- Viktor Hovland, Webb Simpson 2:49 p.m. -- Paul Casey, Charles Howell III 3 p.m. -- Charlie Danielson, Phil Mickelson 3:11 p.m. -- Haotong Li, Jason Dufner 3:22 p.m. -- Jordan Spieth, Nate Lashley 3:33 p.m. -- Harris English, Brandon Wu 3:44 p.m. -- Dustin Johnson, Carlos Ortiz 3:55 p.m. -- Sepp Straka, Matt Fitzpatrick 4:06 p.m. -- Francesco Molinari, Jim Furyk 4:17 p.m. -- Xander Schauffele, Sergio Garcia 4:28 p.m. -- Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson 4:39 p.m. -- Jon Rahm, Scott Piercy 4:50 p.m. -- Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson 5:01 p.m. -- Matt Wallace, Brooks Koepka 5:12 p.m. -- Chesson Hadley, Matt Kuchar 5:23 p.m. -- Rory McIlroy, Chez Reavie 5:34 p.m. -- Aaron Wise, Louis Oosthuizen 5:45 p.m. -- Justin Rose, Gary Woodland
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The Music City Miracle needs a deep rewind
We remember the return, but what about everything that led us to that point? Couple of fun facts for the next party you attend (if it’s not in Buffalo) Kevin Dyson had never returned a kick of any sort in the NFL before the Music City Miracle Dyson was on the field because Derrick Mason had been banged up earlier in the game, and Mason’s backup Anthony Dorsett was suffering from cramps This was the first playoff win for Jeff Fisher. He’d win two more in these playoffs, then two more in the next 16 years of his career. That last one can be mentioned at Buffalo based parties and really don’t have much to do with the Music City Miracle, it’s just a fun Fisher fact. When the Titans and Bills met on Wild Card Weekend in 1999, they were franchises in very different places. Tennessee was not far removed from being the Oilers, and from being in Houston. Their new leaders were making their very first playoff appearance. And they had zero quarterback controversy. The Bills meanwhile were making their tenth trip to the playoffs in 12 seasons. They were looking to move past the major disappointments of the 90s, but to do so had just made a massive change at the quarterback position. We all know the Music City Miracle, but do you remember what got us to that point? For that, we need to rewind.
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The most exciting potential College World Series title matchups
Eight teams are in Omaha. Here are the most compelling championship matchups. The college baseball season always feels like it will last forever, but the 2019 edition is heading toward a dramatic climax at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb Eight teams remain vying for the College World Series trophy: Arkansas, Auburn, Florida State, Louisville, Michigan, Mississippi State, Texas Tech, and Vanderbilt. The Razorbacks and Commodores are far and away the betting favorites, but anything can happen in Omaha. There are many possible title matchups among those remaining — from SEC rivalries and a redemption tour to an iconic coach looking to end his career on a high note — but these are the ones I would most like to see because they have the greatest potential for excitement: Florida State vs. Anyone Any college baseball fan who doesn’t have a dog in the hunt is probably on the Florida State bandwagon and rooting for a Mike Martin victory in Omaha. Florida State’s coach is a no-doubt Hall of Famer with an NCAA-record 2,028 wins in 40 seasons but no national championships. Before the 2019 season, he announced that he would be retiring following this one last hurrah and here he is with a last crack at the title. The Seminoles rolled through the Athens regional and upset No. 7 overall seed Georgia. They then swept LSU in the Baton Rouge super regional the following week. The last three teams to eliminate LSU — Coastal Carolina in the 2016 super regional, Florida in the 2017 CWS final, and Oregon State in the 2018 regional — went on to win the title. Martin wants to ride off into the sunset on a high note. The players want to win it for their coach. The fans are along for the ride. Florida State has all the tools to win a title in Omaha. Arkansas vs Mississippi State This would be a battle of two recent Southeastern Conference superpowers. The two schools have 19 CWS appearances between them, but neither has lifted the trophy at the end of it. Arkansas is looking to redeem itself after a missed pop fly ruined the Razorbacks’ chance in the 2018 CWS final. Mississippi State, meanwhile, is hoping to win it all with its third coach in three years. LIFE.pic.twitter.com/reNs6CQaiJ— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 28, 2018 Led by SEC hits leader Jake Mangum and a dominant pitching combo in Ethan Small and JT Ginn, this is probably the most talented and deepest Mississippi State lineup Starkville has seen in years. This is by far the most exciting possible matchup, and I would expect a series between the two to go the full three games. Arkansas vs Vanderbilt Vanderbilt — the No. 2 overall seed — is the only team on its side of the bracket with the pitching and hitting to take down Mississippi State. That same pitching staff could possibly roll through the Razorbacks. The Commodores, who were the only team of the preseason top-three to make it to Omaha, took two of three games in the regular-season matchup back in April. With freshman right-hander Kumar Rocker — who pitched a no-hitter against Duke in the super regional round — on the mound and fourth-overall MLB draft pick JJ Bleday leading the offense, Vandy brings explosive potential to any series. This is the most likely matchup, and I would expect more excitement if they face each other again. Michigan vs Anybody Everybody loves a good Cinderella story. It happens in March Madness every year and we all find ourselves inexplicably cheering for whoever that may be. In this College World Series, the Michigan Wolverines are that team. Michigan went from one of the “last four in” teams to upsetting the reigning national champion Oregon State in the Corvallis regional and then No. 1-overall seed UCLA in the Los Angeles super regional on their way to Omaha. The Wolverines have proven they can beat anybody, but they will need to limit errors and walks in order to do so again. Timely hitting and pitching could carry them to their first national championship since 1962. Louisville vs Texas Tech Louisville and Tech Tech have been two of the most consistent teams all season, both entering the NCAA tournament as national seeds. Each team arrives in Omaha with one big star leading the way. Cardinals shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald believes this 2019 team is even deeper than Louisville’s 2017 lineup, the last time the program appeared in the CWS. “Once we get going, it’s kind of like a train,” Fitzgerald told The Courier Journal. “We just have guys that step up from top to bottom. And I think we’re a little bit deeper in our hitters (than) the ’17 team. Not that those guys weren’t good; they had some amazing hitters. But I think the gap between our bottom hitter and our top hitter is smaller than it was back then. We’re just pretty deep 1-through-9.” Similarly, Texas Tech has hit its stride as a program in recent seasons — reaching the CWS four times in the last five years — but has yet to lift the trophy. The Red Raiders, led by first-round MLB draft pick Josh Jung, have showed that they have what it takes to compete. Both teams are out to prove they are among the elite of college baseball to stay, and they would combine for a compelling matchup. Auburn vs Arkansas Auburn may be the biggest surprise of this year’s NCAA tournament. The Tigers went 14-16 in conference play and were bounced in two games in the SEC Tournament before sweeping through the Atlanta regional and upsetting North Carolina in the super regional. Auburn has turned around its offensive production and an injured pitching staff has persevered to close games. Arkansas took two of three games from Tigers during the regular-season series, including a 15-inning 6-9 victory. But, like Bruce Pearl’s basketball team, this Auburn team is peaking at the right time and has shown up in big games.
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Everything you need to know about the 2019 College World Series
Here is the bracket and schedule for all the action in Omaha. The 2019 college baseball season began with 297 Division I teams vying for the national championship and now just eight teams will battle for the College World Series title at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. The regional and super regional rounds have narrowed down the tournament field from 64 to these eight teams. Among those left standing is a team looking for redemption (Arkansas), an iconic coach looking for his first title (Florida State), and a Cinderella story (Michigan). Everyone in Omaha will be looking to take down the favorite (Vanderbilt). The Pac-12 sends no teams to Omaha after No. 1 overall seed UCLA was eliminated by Michigan, while the SEC sends four, including No. 2-overall seed Vanderbilt. Full Slate of Teams Arkansas Razorbacks Auburn Tigers Florida State Seminoles Louisville Cardinals Michigan Wolverines Mississippi State Bulldogs Texas Tech Red Raiders Vanderbilt Commodores Format The remaining eight teams will battle in two double-elimination brackets until two teams remain. The final two teams remaining will then play a best-of-three series from June 24-26. Television & online coverage All games in the CWS will be television on ESPN and its related networks — including ESPN2 and ESPNU. Online streaming is available through the WatchESPN app. Bracket THE OMAHA 8#CWS pic.twitter.com/N41YWA5n4c— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 10, 2019 Schedule and results All times ET Saturday, June 15 Game 1: Michigan vs Texas Tech at 2 p.m. Game 2: Florida State vs Arkansas at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 16 Game 3: Louisville vs Vanderbilt at 2 p.m. Game 4: Auburn vs Mississippi State at 7 p.m. Monday, June 17 Game 5: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2 at 2 p.m. Tuesday, June 18 Game 6: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2 at 7 p.m. Game 7: Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4 at 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 19 Game 8: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4 at 7 p.m. Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs. Loser Game 6 at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 20 Game 10: Winner Game 7 vs. Loser Game 8 at 8 p.m. Friday, June 21 Game 11: Winner Game 6 vs. Winner Game 9 at 2 p.m. Game 12: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 10 at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 22 Game 13 (if necessary): TBD vs. TBD at 2 p.m. Game 14 (if necessary): TBD vs. TBD at 7 p.m. College World Series Finals, June 24-26 Game 1: TBD vs. TBD at 7 p.m. Game 2: TBD vs. TBD at 7 p.m. Game 3 (if necessary): TBD vs. TBD at 7 p.m.
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Jordan Spieth chastising his caddie provokes support for Michael Greller at U.S. Open
The crowds following Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth got behind Michael Greller, which is exactly what he probably did not want. Whether he wants to be or not, Michael Greller has become a bit of a celebrity at the 119th U.S. Open. It’s a safe bet that Greller would prefer no one know his name, what he looks like, and who he is, but that anonymity is rarely afforded the looper for one of the most famous golfers on earth. The anonymity is further diminished when that uber-famous golfer also spends most of his rounds chatting you up, especially at a major championship with increased ears and eyes on the golf and an enhanced cache of FOX microphones there to catch it all. Greller became a part of the story of this U.S. Open on Thursday when his boss, the garrulous Jordan Spieth, let him have it walking along the cliffs of the 8th hole. It was there that the microphones caught Spieth bristling after hitting his ball in the ocean and then over the green. “Two perfect shots, Michael,” he said. “You got me in the water on one and over the green on the other.” Even to the hardcore golf fan accustomed to Spieth’s quips and challenges to his caddie, this felt a bit outside the boundary. Spieth hits the shots. The caddie can give the player advice, yardages, the clubs, and any other bit of mental encouragement, but the player always hits the shots. There’s a been a proliferation of the word “we” as a catch-all for pros to describe and give credit to the “teams” around them, which often include caddies, swing coaches, managers, mental gurus, and others. But golf distinguishes itself from most sports by being a solitary game. There are no team wins or Kobe-Shaq power struggles or locker room infighting. The caddie is there to carry the clubs and fade into the background. Greller is in the foreground this week, however, especially at the midpoint of a four-day championship that’s still feeling itself out and doesn’t have a superstar leader at Pebble Beach. Spieth’s remarks did feel like the sign of some infighting, or at least unrest. Neither will admit it and Greller will never say a negative word it in public. Spieth did not exactly exculpate Greller or sound like he regretted what he said or would have, in hindsight, re-worded anything. “When you hit a couple of shots exactly where you want to, and one’s in the water and the other’s dead over the green, I’m gonna be frustrated that, as a team, we didn’t figure out how to make sure that didn’t happen,” he told Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner. “I may have looked like the bad guy there, but my intentions there were that we should have been in play if the ball is hit solidly, and I was out of play on both shots.” The moment became viral, as much as a player-caddie conversation in golf can go viral. How do you feel about Jordan Spieth taking his frustrations out on long time caddie Michael Greller?#usopen2019 #USOpen #TeamGreller pic.twitter.com/csM5CGJ8V2— Play Bogey Golf (@playbogeygolfus) June 14, 2019 No one can win the U.S. Open on a Thursday first round, so this became the highlight of the early action at Pebble and the fans that came back on Friday acted like it. “You’re a good caddie, Michael!” one fan shouted as Greller descended off the 6th tee for his walk up that coastal par-5. The pair’s second loop through the 8th hole this week went slightly better than the miscommunications and misplays of the first round. Spieth hit it deep again, missing the minuscule green, but was able to get up-and-down to save a par. After he poured in the 11-foot putt for the save, someone screamed “That a way, Michael!” as if the caddie had rolled the putt himself. These shouts and calls for “Michael” cascaded throughout the day, which is exactly what both Spieth and Greller probably do not want. At the 15th hole, Spieth’s 6th of the day after going off the back nine, he asked Greller, “This won’t go over no matter what, right?” Greller promptly responded, “No.” Then Spieth struck the ball and blurted out a line at Greller we’ve heard before while the ball is in the air. “Hope you’re right.” Hearing that from your boss at a moment of truth would creates some real tension and would stress the hell out of anyone in any field. The ball bounced once and did, in fact, go over the green. Spieth attacked on social media yesterday but same thing today already!! I can see Spieth with a new caddie shortly. Club selection such an important role and looks like the trust is gone with Greller unfortunately who is top class.Time for a change. pic.twitter.com/SbOWwPx1zC— ian lawlor (@ianolawlor) June 14, 2019 These exchanges are, more or less, standard operating procedure in this relationship and how it’s been when Spieth was winning majors and also over the past year when the golf hasn’t been as successful. But after the Thursday dressing down, the exchange coming the very following day came with heightened scrutiny. “I think our communication has been very successful over the last six, seven years,” Spieth said after his second round and the full day of discussion of the viral moment. “It’s kind of all the stuff I used to hold in my head before, I’m able to kind of just let out now. It’s very important, especially when you’re trying to hit small greens here at Pebble Beach, it’s nice to have somebody looking out for you.” Spieth does know and believe that Greller is “looking out for him,” even if it doesn’t always sound like it as he articulates, questions, and critiques his way through a round. Spieth is a brilliant player and Greller is a great caddie. The partnership does not seem in peril, but Spieth has not played well over the past year and that moment of frustration on No. 8 felt more pointed than anything we’d heard before out of the relationship. You could feel the glares and examinations raining down on the partnership from the large crowds following Spieth’s group, which included Tiger Woods and all the attention and circus he brings both inside and outside the ropes. The relationship may be fine and they may never split, but it certainly felt elephant-in-the-roomy on Friday. The golf world had reacted to, digested, and discussed what the FOX mics had picked up on Thursday. As the two finished up the round, Spieth marched ahead to scoring while a worn-down and dour Greller lumbered behind with the bag alongside Spieth’s family and friends, one of whom wrapped his arms around the looper as they made the ascent. Then one of Greller’s colleagues marched past to begin his day on the 10th tee. The caddie threw him a quick line of encouragement and a “Love ya, buddy.” Again, there was an elephant-in-the-room tension at a major that’s not bubbling over with other high-profile stories yet to distract from the dressing down on Thursday. The subjects would rather this all go away and Greller ignored the colleague’s affection as he kept his head down and walked ahead to catch up with the boss.
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The Twins’ MLB-leading offense is powered by 4 key offseason acquisitions
Minnesota leads baseball in runs, home runs, and winning percentage. The Minnesota Twins have the best record in baseball and own the largest divisional lead in the sport, thanks largely in part to an offense that leads the world in runs scored and home runs, along with several other categories. The core of the burgeoning offense is young. Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and Miguel Sano are all 25 or 26 years old, and have combined for 64 doubles and 41 home runs this season, all well above average offensively. But the young Twins, who shocked baseball in 2017 with a Wild Card berth immediately following a 103-loss season, regressed in 2018, finishing under .500. The roller coaster in Minneapolis is back on the upswing in 2019, with that young offensive core supported by four very affordable upgrades made over the winter. C.J. Cron has been one of many Twins providing the power this season, hitting .275/.337/.541 with 15 home runs at first base. Cron had a breakout season with Tampa Bay in 2018, with his 30 home runs nearly double his previous career best. Set for his second go-around in salary arbitration, Cron was about to make some real money, which to the Rays is like turning 30 years old in Logan’s Run. Cron isn’t quite 30 yet, but at 29 he was placed on waivers by Tampa Bay, with the Twins happy to scoop up the freely available talent. Minnesota is getting production at first base at the reasonable cost of $4.8 million, while the Rays get lesser but still capable numbers at first base from Ji-Man Choi, whose $850,000 salary allows Tampa Bay to pat themselves on the back for possibly another dollars-per-WAR championship, and maybe even more — the Rays, who won 90 games in 2018 but was watching the playoffs from home, is on pace for 98 wins this year and begins the weekend just a half-game out of the division lead and comfortably in first Wild Card position. But the Twins are in a much more secure position, leading the American League Central by a stunning 11 games over the Cleveland Indians, the division champ for three years running and the prohibitive preseason favorite. Minnesota opens the weekend with a 95.2% chance to win the division and 98.2% chance to make the playoffs per FanGraphs, and a similarly rosy outlook — 95.6% for the division, 98.2% for the playoffs — from Baseball Prospectus. The aggressive offseason paid off for the Twins, setting them apart in an industry that has seen two consecutive dry winters for non-superstar free agents. This past season was especially tough for many, with several accomplished players — Adam Jones, Gio Gonzalez to name a few — settling for minor league deals, and two of the best free agents — Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel — waiting until June to sign because of teams’ unwillingness to forfeit a draft pick to improve their team. We saw a similar mid-market shrewdness lead to an NLCS trip last year for the Milwaukee Brewers, after trading for the eventual NL MVP Christian Yelich and signing Lorenzo Cain, two anchors of another division-leading team in Milwaukee again in 2019. In addition to signing Cron, the Twins this offseason fortified their lineup with not one, not two, but three free agent signings: Nelson Cruz for $14.3 million. He’s hitting .285/.370/.570 with 12 home runs Marwin Gonzalez for $21 million over two years. He’s hitting .259/.328/.421 with eight homers while starting games at five different defensive positions. Jonathan Schoop for $7.5 million. Schoop is hitting .251/.306/.488 with 12 home runs, one of seven players with double-digit home runs for Minnesota. They have two others with nine and Gonzalez with eight. It should be noted that the Twins found the money for these additions after the salaries of the retiring Joe Mauer ($23 million) and free agent Ervin Santana ($13.5 million) came off their books. The Twins’ opening day payroll of $119.7 million is actually lower than their $128.7 million mark in 2018, per Cot’s Contracts. Minnesota leads the majors with 132 home runs, and are likely to pass their full-season 2018 total (166) by this year’s All-Star break. They are hitting .275/.341/.517 as a team, leading the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Of their 13 players with the most plate appearances on the 2019 Twins, 12 are at least league average offensively by both OPS+ and wRC+. They are a lineup with no real weak spots, and enough depth to get by. Adjusted for league and park, the Twins as a team lead baseball in both OPS+ (126) and wRC+ (124). Nolan Arenado, the Rockies’ perennial MVP candidate, has a career OPS+ of 122, as a comparison. That has the Twins scoring six runs a game, fueling their fantastic start. All with a lineup nearly half-filled with newcomers added in a single offseason to team actually trying to improve. Imagine that.
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I’ve come to praise Kyle Lowry, not to slander him
Kyle Lowry is now vindicated. [Editor’s note: No, don’t pay attention to the meter, nerds.] Friends, NBA fans, and those from The Six. I’ve come to praise Kyle Lowry, not to slander him. A title is seen to validate a player; Their careers are often trashed without one. So, let it be with Lowry. My own brother told you that Lowry was trash: If Lowry was, it wasn’t without evidence, and he has been the butt of jokes because of it. Here, with my brother and the world as witnesses — because my brother is an honest man, like any other fan — I’m here to speak after the Raptors’ title victory. Told my little brother that Kyle Lowry signed back with the Raptors pic.twitter.com/DOx62EMw3U— Zito (@_Zeets) July 4, 2017 Lowry was just a player to me, good but flawed. But my brother said that he was trash, and my brother is an honest man. He scored 26 points and had 10 assists in game six, and helped the Raptors to their first ring. Was this the game of a trash player? The Raptors won because he was great, that doesn’t equate with being trash. Yet my brother said that he was trash; And my brother is an honest man. But you all saw in the Finals, Lowry could have collapsed after the first two games, yet he played well in the last four. Is that trash? Yet my brother said Lowry was trash; And sure, my brother is an honest man. I’m not here to say that my brother is wrong, just to talk about what I saw in the Finals. Many of us have slandered Lowry before, not without reason: what has changed then, that he’s no longer a joke? Could it be that the idea of players often overrides their reality? And our arguments are often too reductive? Or that players are not condemned in static narratives. I think there’s much to think about. Just a few weeks ago, Lowry’s failures were the embodiment of the old Raptors; Now he’s an NBA champion. And everyone is praising him. If I was to say that this change of attitude is dishonest and fickle, I would do my brother and NBA fans, who are all honest people, wrong. I will not do them wrong; I would rather be unfair to myself, to every other writer and the world, before I do wrong to such honest people. But I want to praise Lowry for what he did in these Finals, especially Game 6. When the Raptors needed him, he came through. In his first ever NBA Finals, in an elimination game, he scored the first 11 points for his team. First, he dribbled past Kevon Looney for a layup. Then he shot a three on the same defender. Draymond was switched on him next, and he hit another three. Against Stephen Curry, he drove, before pulling the ball back, yet Curry kept going backwards. As if to show the different directions public opinion on them was heading. Since Curry is beloved beforehand, and Lowry had been a villain. That three against Curry was the most brutal of Lowry’s points. When he pulled the ball back and shot, he elevated himself to the status of hero, while condemning Curry to be the failure. Lowry continued in the same fashion all game, until a Curry shot bounced off the rim with six seconds left. Under the rim, next to the bigger Demarcus Cousins, Lowry jumped and challenged him, forcing the big man to lose the rebound. The Warriors recovered, but called a phantom timeout, and the Raptors went on to win. In the last ever game at Oracle Arena, with millions of people watching, the Warriors lost. And what a loss it was, my friends! Then I, and you, and all of us, cheered, while the Toronto Raptors celebrated in the stadium. Now in the aftermath, I think we all feel compassion. When we look at Lowry holding the trophy, what else can we feel? Here is he, a champion, finally vindicated.
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Were the Eagles right to let Nick Foles leave?
This week, retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz weighs in on the risk of locking down Carson Wentz, as well as the Trent Williams situation in Washington. It’s our weekly NFL mailbag time! Now that the NBA season is over, the countdown to football is real. Before we know it, training camps will open up, the Hall of Fame Game will be played, and we are off and running! As always, if you have a question for next time, you can hit me up on Twitter or Instagram. What dirt does Carson Wentz have on the Eagles organization to have Nick Foles offloaded and get a monster contract (for a QB that isn’t often healthy come January)? — @PabloBison I know there’s some sarcasm here, but I totally understand the question. Let’s start with the first part. The Eagles made the right decision in letting Nick Foles leave in free agency. The two-game stretch to end the Eagles’ Super Bowl run by Foles will never be truly appreciated. Not only did a backup QB win a Super Bowl, but he dominated in his role. He was elite. He was the Super Bowl MVP. The Eagles did a marvelous job of creating a game plan that suits what Foles does best, and he executed it. All the credit to Foles for that. However, in the end, Foles has played mostly like a backup QB outside of those two games and one 400-yard game last season. Take out those three games (NFC Championship, Super Bowl, and against the Texans) and Foles has thrown for more than 270 yards once in the past two seasons. His yards per attempt number is below 7 in most of those games as well. He’s been a good backup and nothing more. The Eagles kept and extended the younger and extremely more talented Carson Wentz. Is there risk in signing Wentz to a long-term deal with his injury history? Heck yes. But when he’s been healthy, he’s been outstanding. He was going to win the 2017 MVP before getting injured. His numbers last season put him in the elite category. Does he need to be better within the flow of the offense? Yes. There’s much room for growth, and the Eagles believe they can get that out of him. Signing Wentz to a contract now will save the Eagles money on the back end. If Wentz can stay healthy and keep improving, this contract will be a steal in the years to come. Lastly, since we are here, I have my doubts that Foles will be able to duplicate his Eagles success in Jacksonville for some of the reasons I stated above. Doug Pederson and staff designed a game plan, with plenty of RPO use, that fit Foles perfectly: quick passes, play action, and not a bunch of processing the entire field. He was also helped out by a strong run game and offensive line. The Jaguars have the potential to be great along the offensive line (if healthy) and running the football. What Foles has going for him is he won’t be Blake Bortles. He won’t lose you a game and you trust him to make plays in big situations because he’s shown that can be done. That should make the Jaguars’ offense more confident in late-game situations, at least. What do you make of the Trent Williams situation? — @mmford10 Trent Williams, Washington’s longtime franchise left tackle, didn’t report to the offseason program and minicamp due to a reported dispute over medical care with the team doctors. According to coach Jay Gruden, Williams is upset over the handling of a benign tumor on his head. Williams recently posted a photo on Instagram that appeared to show him in the process of getting ready for surgery and it’s been reported this was a quick cosmetic procedure for that tumor. I’m never going to question how a player feels about his medical care within the facility. I know I’ve had my fair share of issues with doctors and trainers, so I understand how Williams could be upset. However, I think he’s using this opportunity to push for a new deal. This doesn’t mean he’s making up his disappointment in the medical staff. But since he’s got the attention of the franchise, he could use his leverage as a seven-time Pro Bowler to get paid. Williams knows the options in the building at left tackle are brutal and Washington just drafted a future franchise quarterback in Dwayne Haskins. On the other hand, he’s missed at least two games each season since 2015 and has a bum knee. He’s still elite and his play is deserving of a new deal, but that injury history could be the holdup for him getting one.
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The USWNT just beat my team 13-0, what do I do now?
In this week’s advice column: How to recover from public humiliation, even when it’s REALLY bad. Welcome to Couldn’t Be Me, a weekly advice column where I solicit your personal dilemmas and help out as best as I can. Have something I can help you with? Find me @_Zeets. This week we talk about humiliating losses. We’ve all gone through them, instances when you lose so badly at something that it makes you question your self-worth and whether you deserved to be competing on the same field in the first place. It can be a loss as visible as a historic defeat in an international tournament, or more innocuous like a college track meet where you just happened to be pitted against a future Olympic champion. Those losses can be tough to recover from, but taking losses is also inherent to being alive. And they never have to be fatal. Nuengrutai: I’m the coach of an international team that just competed in the biggest competition in the world. The fact that we made the tournament was a big success for us, but we really wanted to leave a good impression. The last time we were in the tournament, we lost by a historic number of goals. I don’t even want to mention how many. It was obscene. Unfortunately, not only did we not make the best impression again, but we lost by an even bigger margin this time. So much that there were arguments about whether our opponents should have been celebrating so much as they ran the score up. I don’t have too much time for whether what they did was right, but it is heartbreaking for me and for the players that this is how our adventure this summer has started. Our team isn’t the best, and a lot of that comes from institutional failures, so this may just be a case of growing pains, but that understanding doesn’t help with how bad it feels to be at the receiving end of such a decimation. We have at least two more games, but I’m not sure how to get the players up for them after such a disaster. CBM: International tournaments are so peculiar in that not only are results determined by talent and coaching, but gaps in funding and resources, as well. No matter the sport. Often when you see a team losing by a large margin, what you’re seeing is the on-field outcome of a lot of failures off-the-field. These failures occur for a combination of reasons that can include things like disinterest, lack of money, corruption, sexism, and a lack of leadership. The difficulty is that, even with all of this knowledge, players still want to win. And losing so badly will naturally dent one’s confidence. No matter how much players talk about moving on to the next match, no one forgets games like that. I still remember games from childhood tournaments that still hurt. I can’t imagine the pain that comes from experiencing that level of loss on the international stage. And then there’s also the pain of knowing that you’re part of the team that has to suffer in order for future generations to prosper. It’s your visible pain and historic defeats that will serve as motivation for the institutions around the team to take an interest in improvement. Your generation is the sacrificial lamb. What your team is doing, even in losing, will be an important step towards a brighter future. And hopefully one day you can look back at the loss and feel detached, and almost not recognize the experience, because things will be so much better. I think it’s important to remind the players that they deserve their place on the international stage. That the loss doesn’t diminish them nor their accomplishments thus far. They should know that even if feel like the butt of a bad joke, that for many of their own fans, and especially for children who have never seen themselves reflected on such a big stage, they are inspiring and beloved. Blade: I did decathlon and heptathlon in college. Because it’s a lot on your body, you can only do a couple a season, and for the most part, you just do individual events at meets to try and prepare for the full thing without the damage to your body that seven or ten events can do. So because of that, even if you’re a little banged up, coaches tend to make you do a full hept or dec if you can make it onto the track, because you only have a few chances. Senior year, I tweaked my hamstring and we thought I tore it, but it turned out to just be a strain. Since it wasn’t too bad, my coach still wanted me to do the full hept at the upcoming meet because it was the last one before conference, and it had a lot of elite competition which is good for scoring high. I proceed to have the shittiest meet of the year. Season lows in five out of seven events. Literally limping down the runway for the long jump and high jump. One of the other guys in the hept kept offering help, kept cheering me on, kept telling me that I can make it through, and that he knew I was hurting but he was proud of how hard I was competing. That guy? Ashton Eaton. Who, in the same event, as I had the worst meet of the year, broke the collegiate record all while being the nicest guy I’ve ever met. I didn’t know that made it worse. But it definitely does. You know what’s worse than getting washed in one event? Getting washed in six in a row, wearing a skin tight fucking unitard. CBM: I had to look up Ashton Eaton because of this question, and now I’m not sure if it’s heartwarming that such an incredible athlete took time to look after you, or if it only looks nice from a distance but felt condescending in the moment. I know when you’re in a competition, you don’t want people treating you as a charity case, even when you’re obviously struggling. Sometimes you’d rather push through it and suffer on your own, rather than have someone bring attention to your failings. That feeling is part of the warrior mentality that goes with being an athlete. I’m guessing that same mentality pushed you to compete even when you were obviously hurt. For some reason, the reality of being hurt always seems to lose to the idea that we can push through pain and still be great. The injury becomes part of the conflict of your eventual victory. It’s a challenge to be beaten. That is, until you get out there, and it’s much too late to bail on the competition, and you have to deal with the embarrassment of public failure. And some better, more healthy guy, saying that he is proud of you for trying. If nothing more, I think these cases are an argument for trainers and doctors who aren’t beholden to teams and schools. Athletes often have to be saved from themselves and their coaches. Your will is to compete, and the coach is often looking to do what’s best for his or her team, even if that means trotting you out there with a limp. A medical professional who could override the coach and yourself could have saved you from being washed in six events. And in stead, you could have used that time to laugh at other people in unitards being washed by a future Olympic gold medalist instead.
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The 7 best moments from ‘Hard Knocks’ we hope the Raiders can live up to
The Raiders were a perfect choice for “Hard Knocks” and give us the best chance at another signature moment in the show. The Oakland/soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders were announced as the subjects of HBO’s Hard Knocks, much to the delight of NFL fans everywhere. The Raiders have always been one of the more newsworthy organizations in NFL history, whether it be for good or bad reasons. Prior to their headline-grabbing moves this offseason, it seemed like the Raiders would have been the right choice for next year’s show, when their move to Las Vegas is set to begin. And yet, this couldn’t come at a better time for them. With characters like Jon Gruden, Antonio Brown, Vontaze Burfict, and Richie Incognito, the Raiders were a slam dunk choice. The show has always been a good bridge leading up to the season as something we can look forward to every week. It’s also produced some great moments — moments that we expect the Raiders to add to in their handful of weeks on the show. Let’s relive some of the most fun moments from the previous 12 seasons of Hard Knocks. 7. William Hayes’ belief in mermaids, and non-belief in dinosaurs When the Jeff Fisher-led Rams were on Hard Knocks in 2016 (I know, seems forever ago now), Hayes’ belief in mermaids was revealed to the masses. “I remember him getting real excited about the potential for moving out here because he knew he would be closer to mermaids here on the West Coast,” Jeff Fisher said on the show. One even came to visit him at practice: #HARDKNOCKS NOW: Spotted at @RamsNFL camp... pic.twitter.com/nZAi649FuB— NFL (@NFL) August 22, 2016 And he gave her a hug. Validation, I guess!: Will Hayes has a special visitor at practice today! #SaveTheMermaids pic.twitter.com/8Fr2HniahU— Dani Klupenger (@daniklup) August 22, 2016 The moment became funnier when Hayes added that he felt dinosaurs never existed. And honestly, it was the most interesting part of that Hard Knocks season, which was otherwise a big snoozer. Here’s what his one-time teammate Chris Long had to say about it to ESPN: “He thinks archaeologists place bones underground like a parent would place Easter eggs. They just planted them. It’s some large conspiracy. He does not believe that dinosaurs ever existed and he thinks that mermaids are real. I love dinosaurs, so we have a big point of contention.” The NFL are internet fun blockers, so you’ll have to view the entire clip here. Also, Hayes’ list of things he does and does not believe in goes beyond dinosaurs and mermaids. He doesn’t think man ever walked on the moon, and that there are aliens and other life forms in the universe. Pssst, he’s a free agent, Raiders. Sign him. 6. Antonio Cromartie naming all of his children, which there are a lot of Back in 2010, Cromartie was tasked with naming all nine of his kids at the time. It wasn’t exactly a quick process: As of the writing of this post, Cromartie has 14 kids, making Philip Rivers look rather chill. Cromartie had a vasectomy after having 10 kids, and yet here we are, four kids later. That’s a lot of kids. 5. Rex Ryan’s post-practice speech, with a surprise ending In 2010, then-Jets head coach Rex Ryan delivered the ending to a speech that we didn’t know we needed: Ryan told his players, “Let’s make sure we play like the fucking New York Jets and not some fucking slap dick team. That’s what I want to see tomorrow. Do we understand what the fuck I want to see tomorrow?” He concluded, “Now let’s go eat a goddamn snack.” If that ain’t a mood, I don’t know what is. 4. Bob Wylie’s bouncin’ tummy SET HUT! The @Browns part ways with Offensive Linesman coach Bob Wylie! His Set Hut stomach jiggle will always be legendary SET HUT! pic.twitter.com/X0lQ3baeUJ— NFL UK (@NFLUK) January 10, 2019 I mean, come on. That’s just wonderful. The Browns offensive line coach easily became the MVP of their Hard Knocks season, and it wasn’t just because of his bouncing stomach. 3. Bob Wylie’s stretching rant I would like to preface this video by acknowledging that what Wylie is saying here is ridiculous. That’s also why it’s hilarious: “Did you know, World War I and World War II, all those guys that fought in that war ... they did pushups, jumping jacks, situps, climb the rope and ran,” he says. “None of this fancy shit. And they won two World Wars. Two World Wars by doing jumping jacks, push ups, and situps! Do you think they were worried when they were running across Normandy about fuckin’ stretching?” For the record: no, I don’t think they were worried about stretching when they were running across Normandy. 2. Bernard Pollard werkin’ it in the locker room Versatility is important for NFL defensive backs, and Pollard displayed his in 2007 for his teammates in the locker room: The Chiefs went 4-12 that season, but at least they were entertaining leading up to that dud of a year, I suppose? 1. Vince Wilfork’s overalls For anybody who thought that Wilfork was gonna lose his spark after the Patriots declined his option in 2015 and he signed with the Texans, they were gravely mistaken. Wilfork showed up to Texans practice later that year in overalls, and it was the greatest moment that Hard Knocks had ever produced: It gave us this image, of an annoyed Bill O’Brien, shadowed by the beefy Wilfork in overalls (and NOTHING, but overalls): That’s a whole lotta man. There are endless possibilities of moments that the Raiders could give us in 2019. We can’t be sure how they’re going to look on the field during the season, but we know they’re going to perform well on Hard Knocks, and that’s enough for us.
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Anything from 4-8 to 11-1 is on the table for USC this year. Have fun with that, Clay Helton
Helton is overseeing tons of changes after USC’s first losing season in 18 years, and the schedule has nothing but tricky test after tricky test. Yikes. Bill C’s annual preview series of every FBS team in college football continues. Catch up here! In last year’s USC preview, I wrote about how a coach’s third year in charge of the Trojans tends to tell the tale. Clay Helton better hope that does not hold true. Helton saw success even more quickly than coaches like Tollner and Smith did. After a slow start to his first season (2016), his Trojans caught fire behind redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. They won 13 games in a row into 2017, and after a rickety 2-2 stretch, they finished 5-1 that season, too. Two years in, they were 21-6, with a conference title, two major bowl appearances, and a classic Rose Bowl victory. Not bad, right? Not great, either. USC won 11 games in 2017 due in part to both happy bounces (the Trojans were 4-1 in one-possession games) and a sketchy schedule (their S&P+ SOS ranking fell from eighth to 59th that year). In 2018, the schedule got tougher (44th), and the breaks went away (2-4 in one-score games). USC got worse, too. The offense was up-and-down under freshman quarterback JT Daniels, and the defense slid for the second straight year. The result was something unfathomable: a losing season. Lane Kiffin disappointed in his final seasons as USC’s head coach, but he went 7-6 in 2012 and was 3-2 in 2013 when he got dumped. Pete Carroll’s last season was pretty listless, in part because of a freshman quarterback. But the Trojans still went 9-4. USC finished 5-7 last year. Even for a team with a young QB, that’s mind-blowing. The Trojans had suffered one losing season in the last 28 years (5-7 in 2000). Helton had evidently built up just enough goodwill in his first two years to save his job, but he did quite bit of shuffling on his staff. He brought in fired Bowling Green head coach Mike Jinks as new RBs coach, hired journeyman Greg Burns as new DBs coach, brought Boise State defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a to town in the same role, and promoted former WVU defensive coordinator Joe DeForest from analyst to OLBs coach. He also made two offensive coordinator hires. First, he scooped up fired Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury in a move that appeared to be one of the offseason’s true home runs. USC desperately lacked a clear offensive identity last year with Tee Martin running the show, and few have stronger identities, or offensive track records, then Kingsbury. Kingsbury’s track record was so strong, in fact, that he was hired away to become the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach weeks later. Scrambling, Helton then took a chance on another former Texas Tech quarterback and potential spread mastermind: Graham Harrell. Harrell is basically a Younger Kliff. Both left Lubbock for journeyman pro careers, then quickly gathered steam in the coaching ranks. Kingsbury was a co-coordinator at Houston by his third year in the profession and became Texas A&M’s sole coordinator two years later. Harrell coached receivers under Mike Leach for two years, then became North Texas’ coordinator in 2016. He did well in Denton. He inherited a truly moribund offense, one that had ranked 126th in Off. S&P+ the year before his arrival and hadn’t ranked better than 80th since rejoining FBS in the 1990s. But the Mean Green were 65th by Harrell’s second year and held steady at 67th in his third. They went from averaging 15 points per game before his arrival, to 25 in his first year, to 35 in his next two. Harrell isn’t Kingsbury, but he’s got some chops, and he’s got a chance to save Helton’s USC tenure. Of course, it’s at least a little bit odd that Helton didn’t more fully address his flagging defense, too. But we’ll get to that. Offense USC’s offense had two major things going against it last year: The Trojans weren’t truly good at anything. Kind of an issue, yeah? They were 46th in standard downs success rate and 43rd in big-play rate in open-play situations, they were 53rd in passing marginal efficiency, they were 49th in third-and-medium success rate, etc. Those are decent. They were also among USC’s best rankings. They were also truly bad in specific situations. They were 103rd in blitz downs success rate and 107th in blitz downs sack rate. Anything beyond third-and-medium, and the drive was toast. Plus, they were truly horrific with points on the line: they averaged just 4.2 points per scoring opportunity (first downs inside the opponent’s 40), 101st in FBS. So basically, they didn’t have anything they knew they could lean on, and in key “gotta make a play” moments, they cratered. That was, shall we say, suboptimal. If nothing else, Harrell brings an identity to the table, even if it’s not necessarily the hardcore air raid identity you might be imagining. Harrell’s offense indeed threw the ball a lot, but this wasn’t necessarily an offense built around spreading you from sideline to sideline and creating space and solo tackles. The biggest defining factor for North Texas was variety. Eight players ended up with at least three intended touches (carries plus pass targets) per game. Three running backs combined to average 24.4 carries and 3.8 targets per game, two receivers finished with between 90 and 110 targets, and two more had between 50 and 70. Plus, the tight were targeted nearly four times per game, too. Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports Michael Pittman Jr. USC certainly has the skill corps for such variety. The receiving corps returns three heavy-usage receivers — Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Michael Pittman Jr. were all targeted at least 80 times last year — plus an interesting tight end in Josh Falo. St. Brown was a particularly efficient option, Pittman was all-or-nothing, and Vaughns was basically in-between. Leading rusher Aca’Cedric Ware, easily last season’s most efficient rusher, is gone, but returnees Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr combined for 174 carries and caught 23 of 27 passes last year, albeit for minimal yardage. Malepeai clears the efficiency bar, and Carr’s a former top-20 recruit. This being USC, there is the requisite batch of young blue-chippers: sophomore receiver Devon Williams, redshirt freshman back Markese Stepp, and incoming freshman receivers Bru McCoy (who had one of the strangest post-signing day recruitments you’ll ever see), Kyle Ford, and Drake London, plus tight end Ethan Rae. Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports JT Daniels Granted, you still need a quarterback delivering the ball to the skill corps. Harrell had a hell of a quarterback at North Texas in Mason Fine, and he at least has candidates here. Sophomore Jack Sears was efficient in his lone appearance, going 20-for-28 for 235 yards against Arizona State, but the assumption is obviously that Daniels will retain his job. Daniels’ freshman year was a roller coaster. He was overwhelmed in losses to Stanford and Texas, but he began to find a rhythm before a midseason concussion (which forced him to miss ASU) threw him off-track. Daniels’ first three games (1-2): 57% completion rate, 12.2 yards/completion, 113.8 passer rating Next three games (3-0): 60% completion rate, 14.1 yards/completion, 149.8 passer rating Last five games (1-4): 61% completion rate, 11.6 yards/completion, 128.1 passer rating One assumes Harrell and Daniels will form a nice bond, but we won’t know for sure until it happens. One thing that could get in the way of a happy QB-OC marriage: a rebuilt offensive line. Three starters are gone, including all-conference tackle Chuma Edoga. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that a lot of guys saw action on last year’s banged up line, so including Tennessee grad transfer Drew Richmond, there are six guys with starting experience. That’s something. Defense To be sure, the offense was the worse of USC’s two units last year. But the defense’s regression rang some alarm bells as well. Clancy Pendergast’s second stint as USC defensive coordinator continued where his first left off. The Trojans ranked sixth in Def. S&P+ in 2013, and after a two-year absence he returned and led them to ninth in 2016. But they slipped to 24th in 2017, and last fall they were an almost inexplicable 34th. As with the offense, USC just didn’t have any truly dominant strengths. They were pretty good at forcing third-and-longs, they created some negative run plays and limited your big pass plays, and they got their hands on a decent number of passes. They also ranked a thoroughly mediocre 51st in marginal efficiency (45th rushing, 56th passing), 93rd in marginal explosiveness, and 88th in points allowed per scoring opportunities. (USC sacrificed so damn many points with red zone failures on both ends.) Injuries didn’t help. Only one of six regular linebackers played in all 12 games — star linebacker Porter Gustin was on his way to a 20-TFL season but missed the last six contests — and the defensive backs rotation was a revolving door as well. Still, the bar’s high when you recruit like USC recruits. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images Talanoa Hufanga (15) and John Houston Jr. (10) The injuries may turn into a saving grace this year. While the Trojans rank 21st in offensive returning production, they are a woeful 118th on defense, primarily because of what they lose in the secondary. Five of last year’s top six DB tacklers are gone (including draftees Iman Marshall and Marvell Tell III), but at least the replacements saw decent playing time. There are quite a few exciting sophomores in the defensive back eight, but they’re still going to be sophomores. Corners Greg Johnson and Olaijah Griffin, safeties Talanoa Hufanga and Isaiah Pola-Mao, and linebackers Palaie Gaoteote IV and Kana’i Mauga were all well-touted recruits, and all flashed disruptive potential. But yikes, there’s some serious youth here. Senior inside linebackers John Houston Jr. and Jordan Iosefa are going to have to carry serious weight from a leadership perspective. Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports Brandon Pili (91) and Christian Rector (89) The line isn’t exactly full of veterans either; end Christian Rector is the only senior in the rotation. But sophomore tackles Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu were among last year’s best defenders, and junior nose Brandon Pili has been around the block. JUCO end Nick Figueroa and blue-chip freshman Drake Jackson will need to fill rotation spots pretty quickly, but the starting lineup up front will be strong. Special Teams At least one unit rebounded in 2018. After bombing from 19th to 89th in Special Teams S&P+, USC split the difference and ended up 50th last fall, thanks primarily to strong place-kicking from Chase McGrath and, after McGrath tore his ACL, Michael Brown. With Brown, McGrath, kickoffs specialist Alex Stadthaus, and return men Velus Jones Jr. and Tyler Vaughns, the unit returns mostly intact. The only loss comes at punter, but since USC ranked 112th in punt efficiency, new blood there probably isn’t a bad thing. 2019 outlook 2019 Schedule & Projection Factors Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability 31-Aug Fresno State 51 7.7 67% 7-Sep Stanford 32 3.2 57% 14-Sep at BYU 50 2.6 56% 20-Sep Utah 17 -2.1 45% 28-Sep at Washington 15 -9.4 29% 12-Oct at Notre Dame 12 -10.9 27% 19-Oct Arizona 52 7.8 67% 25-Oct at Colorado 68 6.5 65% 2-Nov Oregon 20 -0.6 49% 9-Nov at Arizona State 49 2.3 55% 26-Nov at California 60 4.8 61% 23-Nov UCLA 63 10.2 72% Projected S&P+ Rk 29 Proj. Off. / Def. Rk 26 / 45 Projected wins 6.5 Five-Year S&P+ Rk 17.0 (14) 2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 16 2018 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -10 / -6.4 2018 TO Luck/Game -1.5 Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 61% (79%, 43%) 2018 Second-order wins (difference) 7.0 (-2.0) Since Carroll’s peak ended in 2008, USC’s existence has been one of brief bursts and steady slides. Helton didn’t invent this phenomenon. Still, the rapidity of the regression is alarming, and again, it wasn’t just an offense problem last year. Helton did make some intriguing moves. Harrell might not be Kingsbury (yet), but he proved quite a bit at North Texas, and if the defensive issues were due more to all the shuffling in the back eight, and not any major structural or tactical issues, then maybe things will end up alright there. The turnover in the back is alarming, though. Helton is coaching for his job, and hoo boy, is the schedule packed with possible anxiety. The Trojans face nine games projected within one score, including each of the first four games of the year (Fresno State, Stanford, at BYU, Utah). With just a little bit of variation in play, the Trojans could be 4-0 or 1-3 when they head to Washington on September 28. If Harrell’s offense finds its rhythm quickly, a 10-win season is all sorts of conceivable. If it doesn’t, or if the defense falls off of an inexperience-driven cliff, 4-8 is on the table as well. Have fun with that, Trojan fans. Team preview stats All 2019 preview data to date.
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How Trevor Lawrence can be even more dangerous in year 2
That playoff run could’ve been just a tease. As ridiculous as it now sounds, the Fighting Irish initially appeared to be a really tough draw for the ACC champions. Notre Dame’s defense was spearheaded by first round defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, experienced linebackers Te’Von Coney and Drue Tranquill, and free safety Alohi Gilman, who had 94 tackles on the year, regularly in run support. Finding room to run the ball, Clemson’s specialty on the year (No. 2 in yards per carry), was going to be tough. The Tide looked even tougher. Instead, Trevor Lawrence took the wheel. On third-down pass attempts in Clemson’s two playoff games, the freshman went 14-of-23 with 343 yards at 14.9 ypa with three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and 13 first downs. Total domination. The title game’s flow has sparked a lot of debate over whether the Tigers are really now that far ahead of Alabama and how replicable their stunning third down success will be in future games. But what if the question isn’t whether the Tigers’ third down offense was a fluke, but whether it’s their new normal? For much of the season, Lawrence’s main job was to execute RPOs to keep defenses from loading the box to stop Travis Etienne. Lawrence did so with harder throws than your typical spread QB ... ... but he was primarily an adjunct to Etienne. For the last few years, Clemson has mostly been an 11 personnel team, using a tight end alongside three receivers. TEs can boost the spread run game and offer schematic versatility. In the Tigers’ previous championship appearances, they had Jordan Leggett. He wasn’t a particularly hard-nosed blocker, but he was an exceptional receiver who could punish the Tide and clear up the picture for Deshaun Watson, based on how Saban contorted his schemes to address Leggett’s size on the perimeter. The 2017-18 Tigers leaned more on Milan Richards, a 6’2/250-pound blocker who generally flexed out only to allow Clemson to play matchup games with more threatening receivers. For third downs and two-minute offense in 2018’s playoff run, Clemson had to lean on a different package. They’d play 10 personnel (one RB, zero TEs) and get Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers, Justyn Ross, and Hunter Renfrow on the field together. Without a TE blocking in the run game, this invited Notre Dame and Alabama to get more exotic with their pass defense packages. But on third-and-14 that didn’t much matter: Against Notre Dame, the Tigers hunted safety Gilman from these 10 personnel sets. They’d line up with a slot (either Ross or Renfrow) to the boundary, where Notre Dame parked the run-supporting safety, then they’d pick on his inability to flip his hips on vertical routes. In the above clip, he guessed Ross was aiming to win inside for a first down, only to watch the freshman blow by him on a go route. On this play, he bit on a Renfrow double move: Alabama tried to handle the Tigers with two-deep coverages, as Notre Dame had, and was victimized on third down to even greater extents. Look at how simple this process was for Lawrence. The Tide have to figure out how to match up to Richard, Renfrow, and Rodgers on one side of the field. They respond by shading the free safety (Gilman’s position) to that side, leaving their corner one-on-one vs Ross. Lawrence almost has the ball out as soon as he’s completed his drop. Probably, the Tide shouldn’t have shaded help to cover a Clemson tight end, but there’s little margin for error when a team is attacking you with multiple vertical threats. Later on that drive, Clemson motioned Renfrow to the boundary before zipping a flag route past him to Ross against overmatched freshman corner Josh Jobe. Lawrence’s ability to see everything unfolding and hit accurate throws deep is on another level. Guys like Ross give him a margin for error that he often doesn’t need. Once again Ross pulled in a one-handed catch, but at some point, you have to wonder if that’s just what the sophomore-to-be can offer regularly. Clemson has a knack for moving him around to hunt the weak spots before hitting him in high-pressures scenarios: Both Notre Dame and Alabama also had starting cornerbacks sustain injuries, which exacerbated the issue. And when Clemson is putting that many star receivers on the field, who has the depth to keep up? The Tigers had four features they’ll need to replace. Left tackle Mitch Hyatt helping protect Lawrence, Hunter “third and...” Renfrow, RB Adam Choice boosting the pass protection, and probably outside receiver Rodgers, who tore an ACL during spring practice. At left tackle, the Tigers have former five-star sophomore Jackson Carman (6’5, 340) joining four returning starters. Star RB Etienne will be a junior and better prepared to offer something in pass protection or flexed-out as yet another problem on the perimeter. At receiver, the Tigers have perhaps the best track record of consistency. In spring, senior receiver Cornell Powell looked ready to emerge as a dependable option in the middle. They have extra flexibility from the fact that while Ross is exceptional at winning deep balls, he can line up in a variety of alignments. With his ability to run routes from outside or the slot, combined with Lawrence’s cannon arm, there’s nowhere to hide a weak coverage defender. The scariest question is what will happen when hunting matchups for Ross becomes a more regular component. Ross “only” caught 46 balls for 1,000 yards and nine scores in 2018, and 12 of those catches came in the playoffs, producing 301 yards and three scores. What does this offense look like if he catches 80 balls? It’s entirely possible that the playoff passing game was merely a forerunner. Clemson’s ability to spread the field with receivers who can’t be covered solo, combined with Lawrence’s ability to hit them in stride, doesn’t have easy solutions. Back in 2016, Deshaun Watson threw 579 passes for 4,593 yards at 7.9 ypa with 41 TDs and 17 INT. In 2018, Lawrence threw just 397 passes for 3,280 yards at 8.3 ypa with 30 TDs to four INT. What could Clemson do with Lawrence throwing 35 times a game, rather than just 26? The age of blue-chip teams running hurry-up spread offenses with pro-caliber skill players is still young. We might not really know what’s realistically sustainable in this new era. There’s a chance that Lawrence’s absurd third down production in the playoff wasn’t just a timely break, but a peek into the future.
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What the Raptors’ NBA championship means for Drake
That OVO and that XO ... the Toronto Raptors at his next show? The Toronto Raptors secured their first NBA championship on Thursday night in Oracle Arena’s farewell, beating the Warriors in a fitting six games. Drake, who has been known to cheer for every team that has ever existed, finally had his hometown team win a title in his lifetime. Drake’s history with the Raptors runs deep: He was named an ambassador to the team in 2013, the Raptors have worn gold and black OVO alternate uniforms in his honor, both he and the Raptors have pledged more than $1 million to fix local community basketball courts, and he’s often seen courtside at games. He even almost VERY unwisely started a fight with Kendrick Perkins last year. He’s been all over the place with his sports fandom — which has given us all plenty to discuss over the years — but the Raptors’ title, in particular, means a lot for Drake. For starters, he’s probably going to try to make postgame Source Award Death Row-esque rants to the media happen more often in the future. Drake delivered one of these rants (which became a good meme) after the Raptors’ Game 5 win against the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. So after the Raptors secured the title, he was back for seconds on the biggest stage: .@drake says this is poetic. #WeTheNorth pic.twitter.com/hpMEwGmtm0— Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay) June 14, 2019 Now, just because you try to look and sound authoritative about something, doesn’t mean you are. Drake’s has always tried to show a hard, Tough Guy exterior, but we’ve known him to be otherwise in reality. Here’s a good chunk of what Drake said in bold, annotated in italics: Man listen, this is poetic. This is poetic, you just gotta watch it happen. OK, solid start. The six in six. Predictable, but fine. Kyle Lowry with a ring. Kawhi Leonard, bringing a chip to the city. Alright, still fine. I want my chips with the dip, that’s all I know. What lmao? I don’t want my chips plain. I want my chips with the dip. So bring them dips. [TFW you are an upset upper middle class citizen at a party.] That dynasty’s over. We did what we had to do. Praying for KD. Back on track! Praying for Big Papi. But tonight belongs to Toronto. OK, nope, definitely don’t wish well for Big Papi after this week’s incident and then throw a big ‘ol BUT on there! Perhaps he should get somebody to write these ahead of time as well, because this certainly won’t be the last time he does this. He’s less likely to claim other teams, now that his hometown Raptors have claim to a title. (OK, not sure about that one actually.) However, we are getting a couple of new songs. While Big Drunk on Instagram live after the Raptors’ win, Drake said he had two songs dropping Friday, and also posted the artwork on his IG: View this post on Instagram THE CHIP TO THE 6!!!!!!!!!!!! SEE YOU 2MRW WITH A 2 PACK LETS GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on Jun 13, 2019 at 9:50pm PDT The songs are nothing he couldn’t have had prepared and ready to fire off. As annoying and corny (among other things) as he can be, there’s no doubting he’s a talented artist. However, depending on his mood (read: does he want to be a try-hard), this could either be either great or awful. This may not be the only championship music we get from Drake, either. At least, it seems unlikely that would just forego using imagery from these Finals in his songs at some point. After all, this is the guy who used a picture of Joe Carter on his “Back to Back” diss of Meek Mill. Some of that imagery may very well appear on the tracks we hear Friday. Drake could use Kawhi’s postgame podium speech as an intro, similar to how he sampled “Jimmy Smith Rap” on “Pound Cake” with Jay-Z: “Last summer, man. I was going through a lot. I had a great support system and kept working hard, working hard. I had my mind set on this goal right here. I came to a team with a new coach. That mindset was the same as mine. Trying to get that Larry O’B over there. This is what I play basketball for, this is what I work out for all summer, and during the season. I’m glad my hard work paid off.” Depending on how #online Drake is, it could also be SB Nation writer Zito Madu’s brother, internet famous for his relatable feelings on Kyle Lowry: Told my little brother that Kyle Lowry signed back with the Raptors pic.twitter.com/DOx62EMw3U— Zito (@_Zeets) July 4, 2017 The outro to one of the tracks lies somewhere in here: Just did a really cool interview with Kawhi and Kyle Lowry, about how they got here and everything this title means, and here’s what happened before we even started rolling. Special. pic.twitter.com/jpZIBJlxdI— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 14, 2019 The artwork for the track can be either Pascal Siakam on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt: Pascal Siakim is a damn legend already pic.twitter.com/sUb2NfMqdk— Board Man Gets Paid (@cjzero) June 14, 2019 OR this image from Game 1 of the Finals with him and Stephen Curry, which seems preferable for Aubrey: drake’s absolutely making this the artwork for a single if the raptors win this series pic.twitter.com/Nj6YpsLrkj— Harry Lyles Jr. (@harrylylesjr) May 31, 2019 Also, because Drake got what he wanted in the end, you can expect him to throw some well-wishing bars in there for Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, who could both miss the 2019-20 season with their respective injuries. Of course, it’s still all love between him and the Warriors, as evidenced by his FaceTime chat with Curry after the series: .@StephenCurry30's full phone conversation with @Drake congratulating him on the @Raptors' championship—only on CloseUp360. #CU360 #NBAFinals pic.twitter.com/mKjAKHS3RS— CloseUp360 (@CloseUp360) June 14, 2019 The OVO ghostwriters are going to be busy this summer. Music aside, tattoo(s) are definitely on the way. No duh, right? If you look at Drake’s resume of tats, this is a safe bet. Drake has 34 tattoos, which include portraits of Lil Wayne, his dad, Sade, Rihanna eating ice cream (I know, jeez), his uncle Steve, grandmother Evelyn Sher, Aaliyah, and his mom Sandi. Of course, there’s also his Curry and Durant number tattoos as well. He kind of has to put something Raptors on there. Perhaps Kyle Lowry’s stat line from Game 6, or Zito’s brother. Many more Instagram posts are on the way as well. This is one of the most predictable posts ever: View this post on Instagram Got one. A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on Jun 14, 2019 at 12:19am PDT Photoshop is a gift and a curse. His last hurrah will be at the parade. Drake probably understands that his last chance to cement his legacy forever with this Raptors team is to do something at the parade. It’s why we remember Mark Madsen, it’s why we still yell in our best Shaq voice, “CAN YOU DIG IT!?”, and it’s why Jordan Bell is our Hennessy overlord. The thing with Drake is, we just don’t know how far he’ll take it. But we do know he has no problem pushing boundaries, which we’ve known to be good, and sometimes bad for him. The Summer of (NBA Champion Toronto Raptors Fan) Drake is upon us.
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Who was the biggest steal of the 2016 NFL Draft?
From Dak Prescott to Michael Thomas to Xavien Howard, there were some huge names that weren’t drafted in the first round. The 2016 NFL Draft, at least three years out, has produced some incredible players at the top end. Six of the first seven players drafted have already made the Pro Bowl, and both of the top quarterbacks — Jared Goff and Carson Wentz — are franchise guys. That draft class was more than just a stellar first round, though. It was a deeply talented draft, from second-round standouts like Michael Thomas and Xavien Howard to solid later-round contributors like Jordan Howard. The draft steal is sometimes a nebulous concept, but really it’s simple: a steal doesn’t have to come from the seventh round. Even first-round picks can be a steal if they’re a sure-fire Hall of Famer (and at least a couple players from 2016 could be on that trajectory, though it’s too early to make THAT judgment definitively). Tom Brady wasn’t a steal just because he was a sixth-round pick; he was a steal because he turned into a franchise quarterback (there’s also the small matter of him also being widely considered the best to ever throw a football). So, who is the biggest draft steal from 2016? I’ll run through a few candidates. Dak Prescott This is my personal pick for the biggest steal, and it’s a no-brainer given his position and where he was drafted in the fourth round. There are people who doubt Prescott’s skillset, but I’m not one of them. I think his somewhat middling numbers — though they are often exaggerated — are a product of the offense the Cowboys have run. When you look at his snap-to-snap ability, the way he commands the offense, his throwing motion, and his discipline in knowing when NOT to throw the ball, all the pieces of a franchise guy are there. With two Pro Bowls under his belt, a 66.1 career completion percentage, and 67 touchdowns against 25 interceptions, he’s already doing quite well, especially for being the 135th overall pick. With the Prescott-to-Amari Cooper connection heating up and a new Cowboys playcaller for 2019, Prescott could prove his doubters wrong this coming season. Yannick Ngakoue Another position that’s only growing in importance and value in the draft is defensive end. The best ones are often drafted in the top 10, alongside the quarterbacks and defensive tackles. Great defensive ends come from all over the draft, but to find one who already looks like a franchise player in the third round is pretty special. Ngakoue is still overlooked when the conversation turns to the dominant pass rushers in the league. He made the Pro Bowl in 2017 and has amassed 29.5 sacks in three seasons — the most in his draft class and top 10 in the league since then. He’s hoping for a new contract, and the Jaguars would be foolish to not give it to him. Xavien Howard For a steal a bit earlier in the draft, how about Dolphins corner Xavien Howard? The second-round pick led the NFL with seven interceptions last season, made the Pro Bowl, and was a second-team All-Pro. Howard was the sixth cornerback off the board in 2016, but he’s only one of two to make the Pro Bowl and was the first to get a big extension. He signed a five-year, $76.5 million contract with the Dolphins in May. Like Ngakoue, Howard has inexplicably flown under the radar. He’s got 11 picks, a defensive touchdown, and 31 pass deflections for his career, and is only improving. Michael Thomas Thomas, the sixth receiver drafted in 2016, has lapped the guys taken ahead of him. He is already among the best receivers in the league, eclipsing 1,100 yards in each of his three seasons, with 1,405 receiving yards last year alone. The 2018 All-Pro also has 23 touchdown catches, 321 receptions, and has made the Pro Bowl twice in his career. He holds four Saints franchise records in receptions and yards in both a single game and single season. Plus he did this: 12 catches, 171 yards and a TD.Every @Cantguardmike catch from the Divisional Round! #NFLPlayoffs #HomeInTheDome pic.twitter.com/uFkr4HTrQq— NFL (@NFL) January 14, 2019 Austin Hooper The Falcons have a high-flying offense, but Matt Ryan has often lacked a sure-handed safety net at the tight end position, especially in recent years. That’s changed with the addition of Hooper. It’s been something of a slow burn, but Hooper showcased that he’s a reliable weapon. Last season he had a catch rate of 80.7 percent, best among all tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus. He was also fourth among all tight ends with 71 receptions and seventh in receiving yards with 660. Most tight ends aren’t going to break the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a season, but Hooper has all the physical tools to do so in his fourth year. Even if he doesn’t, the 24-year-old’s numbers already make him a great value with the 81st overall pick. Jordan Howard Howard is with a new team just three seasons into his career and his numbers have declined, but since I personally believe Howard will bounce back, I think where he was picked — 150th overall — represents pretty significant value. He has two 1,000-yard seasons and even in his “down” 2018 season, he still managed 935 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. The Bears went in a different direction, but I expect Howard to do some good things with the Eagles, where he won’t be “the” workhorse and where he already feels he’s better utilized than he was in Matt Nagy’s offense. Maybe he’s no longer a draft steal for his old team, but he could easily wind up being a trade steal, considering the Eagles only gave up a 2020 sixth-round pick for him. So, who do you think is the biggest steal of the 2016 draft? For me, it’s Prescott hands down, but there are plenty of deserving candidates, beyond the players listed above.
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The Golden State Warriors changed the NBA forever
They are still the greatest dynasty since the 90s Bulls. They have no reason to be ashamed. We don’t know what’s next for the Golden State Warriors. They lost their chance at a three-peat on Thursday, as the Toronto Raptors closed out the 2019 NBA Finals and won the franchise’s first championship. Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles trying to come back from an injury to save the team, and he won’t play much next season whether he picks up his $31 million or splits. Klay Thompson suffered a torn ACL in Game 6 — his second game-ending injury of the series — and is now an unrestricted free agent. Draymond Green is one year away from a huge payday and might end up on the trade market. It would be real bloody expensive to keep everyone together, assuming everyone decided to come back. The dynasty just might be over. Regardless of whether it is or whether Stephen Curry and company find a way to keep it alive, it’s a great time to reflect on what an incredible run this has been over five years. The Warriors won the West for five straight seasons, and won three NBA championships after going dry for the prior four decades. The Splash Brothers redefined elite shooting in the NBA. Steve Kerr revolutionized how the game is played. Green perfected playing spot center at 6’6. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston fought Father Time repeatedly and usually won. We once ribbed the franchise’s management for claiming they were light years ahead of the rest of the league, but that was mostly true. They have been light years ahead, only caught by LeBron James at the peak of his powers and dynasty wrecker Kawhi Leonard. Pulling off five straight Finals and three titles in five years would be an amazing accomplishment for any franchise. But given how straight-up awful the Warriors had been for most of the 20 years prior to the 2015 title — at least prior to Curry’s 2013 ascendance — it’s especially impressive. Outside of the two-year We Believe! sprint led by Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson, the most recent generations of Warriors basketball involved memorably mediocre stars, a revolving door of coaches, and truckloads of losses. Let’s not name names here, but it was a rough two decades. And then this. This has been the greatest run since the ‘90s Bulls — that’s the only comparison in the modern era, period. Of course the Warriors are proud. They should be. This has been a monumental era. Curry had a shot — literally a shot, a classic Curry three from the right elbow off high-effort off-ball movement — to send this series to Game 7, and missed it. He’ll remember that shot. It might haunt him. The defensive stop that won the Toronto Raptors the NBA championship pic.twitter.com/7lMvK4eX9j— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 14, 2019 It shouldn’t, not after what he’s already accomplished. He’s the best shooter ever. You can’t hit them all. Steph has carried the Warriors for seven years, winning two NBA MVPs and earning those three championships. He should be proud every second of every day. Klay has nothing to regret. He gave the Warriors every ounce he had this series. Durant put his body on the line when his team needed him, and it will cost him pain, a brutal recovery, and a season at the peak of his career. Draymond fought to the bitter end, sliding across the court for the last time in Oakland with the game clock ticking down. The Warriors aren’t celebrating this June, but their fans and all of us who watched them these past five seasons should celebrate them, no matter what happens next. (They are totally going to find a way back into the Finals in 2020, aren’t they?)
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Sam Kerr and Australia really need ‘suck on that one’ to carry them through the World Cup
The Matildas have issues, but also a new rallying cry. Australia is having a disappointing World Cup, and looks nothing like the dark horse contender everyone thought it was coming into the tournament. The Matildas followed up their opening defeat to Italy with a wacky 3-2 win over Brazil on Thursday, taking advantage of some fortunate bounces and a poorly written offside rule. But superstar Sam Kerr doesn’t care how Australia got the win or what questions remain about its struggles in all areas of the pitch. She just has a message for the haters: “WE’RE BACK, SO SUCK ON THAT ONE.” Sam Kerr had some choice words for Australia's critics after their comeback win over Brazil. And @KathrynA_12 agrees. pic.twitter.com/OXLBZgdzBA— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 13, 2019 Kerr, herself, is struggling to find her best form. She has one goal in her first two games, but it came from the rebound of her missed penalty against Italy. She occupied defenders and influenced all of Australia’s goals against Brazil, but has yet to hit the back of the net with any of her own shots. It doesn’t matter, because Australia won. Suck on that one. The expected goals numbers don’t suggest Australia played meaningfully better against Brazil than it did against Italy. The Aussies struggled to create chances again, scoring their one great opportunity and getting very lucky on their other two goals. xG map for Australia - Brazil the Matildas didn't play that badly to go down 2-0 and didn't play that well to come back and win 3-2¯\_(ツ)_/¯ pic.twitter.com/fXau4U3Wg3— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) June 13, 2019 But Australia won, so suck on that one. Three points is three points, though. Suck on that one. The Australian defense has been tragically thin for a while now. Rather than planning for contingencies, the Matildas have rotated the same three veteran defenders in most of their games over the last couple of years. This came back to bite them hard when Laura Alleway picked up an injury before the tournament. It’s also not helping that Clare Polkinghorne played poorly in losses to the United States and the Netherlands ahead of the tournament, then had an error leading directly to a goal against Italy, before picking up an injury in training this week. Rather than take a chance on a young defender, Australia opted to bring just two central defenders to the World Cup. Without Polkinghorne, the Aussies were forced to play world class fullback Steph Catley in the middle, world class defensive midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight at fullback, and play a rather thin-looking midfield. Whether it uses this lineup or one with Polkinghorne in the future, Australia is going to have its MacGyver defense exposed by better tams. Beat Brazil, though. Suck on that one. Australia look poorly coached. This is especially relevant given the January sacking of manager Alen Stajčić, who had led the team since 2014. He was fired after surveys of players and staff revealed that he’d fostered a toxic environment, but to this date, no specifics have been given about why he was terminated. Australian FA CEO David Gallop said that “it’s difficult to go into specifics because of the confidentiality arrangement around the surveys.” None of Stajčić, Gallop, or any players have spoken publicly about specific reasons he was let go. Stajčić’s replacement is his former assistant, Ante Milicic, who has never been a head coach at senior professional level. Since he’s taken over, Australia seems to have forgotten how to get the ball to its two world class forwards, Kerr and Caitlin Foord. The Matildas have just kind of resorted to hoofing it. I do not understand having Caitlin Foord and Sam Kerr on your frontline and deciding the best way to score goals is lobbing crosses in the air. #FIFAWWC #AUSBRA— Claire Watkins (@ScoutRipley) June 13, 2019 I truly do not understand what the fuck their game plan is. They have two of the most dynamic forwards in the world—one of whom is literally the best player on earth—and they're trying to use them as target strikers— Katelyn Best (@BestKabest) June 13, 2019 Having no idea how to work the ball through the midfield to your two superstars who like the ball played into their feet is a huge problem. But the gameplan produced three goals, didn’t it? Suck. On. That. One. It’s very important to have an attitude like Kerr’s, and a catchphrase like “suck on that one” to resort to, when you are in a situation like Australia’s — it has designs on winning a World Cup, but isn’t actually good enough at the moment. There is enough talent on the Australian roster to win a World Cup, and the Matildas have shown themselves capable of beating every team in the world at their best, so it’s possible that they could turn their tournament around. Maybe beating Brazil will be the impetus for that change. What do you do when you’re not good enough to accomplish your goals, but you know you have the ability to accomplish them in the near future? Pretend! You might know this as “positive mental attitude,” “fake it ‘til you make it,” or “The Secret.” There’s no better tool in the pro athlete’s mental toolbox than convincing themselves that they’re definitely already the shit. Critics are just haters. Everyone wants to see you fail because they’re jealous. You already know you’re the best, and you’re going to make everyone else admit it soon. This isn’t a delusion. It’s a necessary way of thinking for a team and a star player if they’re going to overcome the problem of other teams having deeper squads and better gameplans. Pay no attention to the misfiring superstar, the broken defense, or the struggling coach. Australia is back, baby! SUCK ON THAT ONE.
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The Toronto Raptors are NBA champions because they refused to wait their turn
They are proof that bold moves pay off. OAKLAND -- The Toronto Raptors are NBA champions. Take a minute and let that thought marinate. The franchise that brought us the purple dinosaur and Zan Tabak is the best basketball team on the planet. They did it by beating the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in six games, winning all three at Oracle Arena. They were the better team throughout the series. They were more connected on defense and offered a more diverse attack on offense. Game 6 was a thing of beauty, a breathtaking thrill-ride of lead changes, clutch shotmaking, and one brilliant play after another. After a series in which the play could charitably be called uneven, the Raptors and Warriors offered up a classic that finally overshadowed events off the court and returned the spotlight to where it belonged. Longtime Raptor Kyle Lowry was sublime, scoring 26 points to go with 10 assists, seven rebounds, three steals, and a half dozen moments that can only be called Kyle Plays. One game after getting benched for the balance of the fourth quarter, young Pascal Siakam redeemed himself with 26-and-10. Gritty reserve Fred VanVleet continued his metamorphosis into a modern-day Sam Cassell with 22 points off the bench. Barring a third quarter meltdown in Game 2 and a late collapse in Game 5, they were clearly the better team in every respect. That they came back from both defeats only shows just how far this Raptor team has come. No more Raptoring. No more hoping things will turn out differently this time. The Raptors met every challenge and offered creative solutions to any problems that arose. “Two months of playoff basketball, they never seemed tired to me,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “Mentally they kept wanting film sessions, they kept wanting to walk through things, they kept wanting to keep learning and improving. And I think that was a big key. We had to do that in the playoff run because we really hadn’t had all that much time together.” Most of all, the Raptors won a championship because they refused to wait their turn. While the rest of the league bided their time and waited for Golden State’s run to die of natural causes, the Raptors took them on with a series of swift and decisive decisions. This is the ultimate shoot-your-shot team. They won by gambling on a franchise player who may not stick around to enjoy the title defense and a first-year head coach who worked the minors for more than two decades. This is the ultimate shoot-your-shot team. When general manager Masai Ujiri traded for Kawhi Leonard, he did so with the knowledge that Leonard offered no guarantees or assurances that he would remain in Toronto past the final year on his contract. When he hired Nurse to replace longtime coach Dwane Casey, he did so after the best regular season in franchise history and a year in which Casey won Coach of the Year honors. Throwing caution to the wind and abandoning a carefully constructed roster that had run its course, the Raptors had one chance to get it right. They nailed it with an inspired stretch of basketball that ranks among the finest runs in playoff history. Down 2-0 against the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, Toronto ran off four straight wins. Throw in an epic seven-game series in the second round against Philadelphia, one whose outcome literally hung on the rim, and the Raptors truly deserved their champagne moment. Because the Raptors appear to be an anomaly, they have naturally been compared to other one-year wonders. Like the 2004 Pistons, they combined a brutal defense with a roster full of smart and savvy veterans to take down a dynasty. Like the 2011 Mavericks, they clicked at exactly the right moment and earned a championship for a longtime franchise icon in Lowry. And like the 2014 Spurs, they made the defending champs crack on their home floor. It’s no accident that both the Spurs and the Raptors featured Leonard, whose two-way game has become the stuff of legend. There might be a better player somewhere in the league, but no one had a better postseason than Kawhi. The Finals may not have been as spectacular as his other playoff series, but he still averaged nearly 27 points and 10 rebounds en route to a second Finals MVP award. Kawhi brought the Raptors back from the brink of a 2-1 deficit against Philadelphia with a Game 4 for the ages, and finished that series with the most important shot in franchise history. In the conference finals, he put the clamps on presumptive league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and completely changed the outcome. Against the Warriors, Kawhi was simply there. He was faster and stronger to loose balls, and when shots needed to be made, he stuck them. The Raptors adopted his steely persona and made it their own. The most indelible image they created during the Finals was when they left the court in Game 4 wearing stone-cold expressions after taking two straight at Oracle. They came here expecting to win and they did, shutting the old concrete funhouse down with a giddy champagne bath. The series was lesser for the absence of Kevin Durant, who missed the first four games with a calf injury and then suffered a ruptured Achilles early in the second quarter of Game 5. KD’s injury hung ominously over everything, a grim reminder that nothing in this league is ever guaranteed and the game can be taken away at a moment’s notice. To a lesser extent, it suffered for the absence of Klay Thompson, who missed Game 3 and then tore his ACL in the third quarter of Game 6. No one knows that better than Leonard, who endured an injury-plagued campaign in San Antonio that brought about his desire to leave the only organization he had ever known. When it was all over, Kawhi finally addressed the circuitous route that took him north of the border. “Well, just the year, last year, a lot of people were doubting me,” Leonard said. “They thought I was either faking an injury or didn’t want to play for a team. That was disappointing to me that that was out in the media, because I love the game of basketball. Like I always say, if we’re not playing this game, if we’re hurt, I mean you’re down. So me just going through that, and I just knew that I would have to make myself happy and no one else. And I have to trust myself. And whatever, it doesn’t matter what anybody has to say about me. I know who I am as a person, I know how I feel, and always just trust yourself.” As Durant enters an uncertain phase of his career, he too will have to trust himself. He endured far too many slights and way too much ridicule for what in retrospect was a natural decision to marry his talents with the best team of this generation. They won two championships together and may have made it three in a row if not for cruel twist of fate. One only hopes that Durant not only finds good physical health in his future, but mental peace of mind in what has been a glorious career. Game 6 was also marred by Thompson suffering a torn ACL. Before he landed awkwardly on a drive, Thompson was once again burnishing his reputation as the best big-game player of his generation, with 30 points on just 12 shots. Had Klay not gone down, we might all be headed back to Canada for Game 7, but that’s the cruel nature of sports. “We can sit here and say, well, if this hadn’t happened or that hadn’t happened ... that doesn’t matter,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “What matters is Kevin Durant is going to miss next season with an Achilles tear and Klay suffered a knee injury. But it’s just brutal. It’s just brutal of what these guys have had to deal with and what they’re dealing with right now.”. It’s natural to wonder what might have been, but there are no asterisks here. Injuries are a part of the championship cycle and nearly every champion enjoyed the benefit of good medical fortune along the way. The Warriors began their five-year run beating a Cleveland Cavaliers team in 2015 that was without two All-Stars, and the Cavs repaid them the following year when Draymond Green was suspended for a game and Andrew Bogut was injured in Game 6. Once you win a championship, it doesn’t matter how it happens. You’re just a champ, now and forever. And the Raptors earned this title. They beat three excellent basketball teams in succession, each one offering a different and unique challenge. Theirs is a story of perseverance and opportunity, a glorious run that was made possible because they dared to believe it would only turn out differently by making bold moves and taking chances. The Raptors are NBA champs. What a world.
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YO CANADA
We have that and more in Friday’s NBA newsletter. The Toronto Raptors are NBA champions. What a wild sentence given the odd 24-year history of the franchise, the brutal knockouts the team had suffered the past four seasons of their renaissance, and that the foe they faced was the mighty, mighty Golden Sttate Warriors. The Toronto Raptors are NBA champions. What a world! Game 6 would be an instant classic if not for the tough third quarter injury to Klay Thompson, which is now reported to be a torn ACL. To lose Kevin Durant to a ruptured Achilles and in the next game lose Klay to a torn ACL is one of the toughest 1-2 punches of terrible misfortune any team has ever experienced. The Warriors still almost won Game 6 to force a winner-take-all engagement back in Toronto on Sunday. Stephen Curry had a clean take (by his standards) to give Golden State a two-point lead with this than 10 seconds left. He missed it, and Toronto got the ball back in a wild sequence in which the Warriors called a timeout they didn’t have. The Warriors fought valiantly through thick and mostly thin, and the Raptors can feel quite proud for having defeated them. Kawhi Leonard is your near-unanimous Finals MVP -- Hubie Brown gave his vote to Fred VanVleet, who was huge in Game 6 -- and still made no commitment to Toronto in various post-game forums. He did dance a little, though. Just a little. What a team. What a bizarre Finals. The Raptors are NBA champions. Anything is possible. Welcome to the NBA Offseason The end of the NBA Finals is the official beginning of the NBA’s true second season: the offseason. The NBA draft is less than a week away, and given Kawhi’s lack of commitment to the Raptors and the Warriors’ terrible injury misfortune, this is a summer that could really reset the whole league. Four of the 15 All-NBA players are free agents (Kawhi, Kevin Durant, Kemba Walker, and Kyrie Irving), and we’ve heard big names including Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Bradley Beal, Draymond Green, and Dion Waiters as being potentially on the trade market. Davis will almost certainly get traded, possibly in the next week as the Pelicans seek to refocus the team around presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. The timing of the Davis trade should set off some dominoes unless New Orleans waits too long. There’s also at least one team still looking for someone to make offseason decisions, and they are chasing the triumphant Masai Ujiri from the Raptors. Just minutes after the Finals ended, Woj reported that the Wizards are prepared to offer Ujiri up to $10 million a season to take over D.C. If Ujiri goes for it, that could set off a chain reaction in front offices across the league at the worst possible time for a chain reaction across the league. We have no clue what the Warriors are goin to do now with Durant and Klay injured seriously. We have no clue what Kawhi is going to do. (Here are six potential free agent destinations.) We don’t know where Davis will end up. Kyrie’s future is a total mystery (well, maybe not to Steve Bulpett, who reported that he’s signing with the Nets). And that’s just the top level. It’s going to get crazy over the next month or six weeks. After that Finals, we’re well primed for crazy. Links Folks, Pascal Siakam knows how to celebrate. Drake gave a de facto press conference from his watch party in Toronto after the victory. It included this absolutely true sentence: “Kawhi Leonard, bringing a chip to the city. I want my chips with the dip, that’s all I know. I don’t want my chips plain. I want my chips with the dip. So bring them dips.” Same. Zach Lowe on what the Raptors’ championship means for the rest of the NBA. No asterisk, writes Chris Herring. There’s no one better at the end of the shot clock than Fred VanVleet. Matt Ellentuck has a new WNBA column and he writes that Chelsea Gray is the heir apparent to the league’s great point guard mantle. Norman Powell, NBA champion. Kyle Lowry, NBA champion. Pascal Siakam, NBA champion. Marc Gasol, NBA champion. Serge Ibaka, NBA champion. Fred VanVleet, NBA champion. JEREMY LIN, NBA champion. Patrick McCaw, three-time NBA champion. David Roth on Mark Jackson. Where the Clippers will look outside of Durant and Kawhi. Interesting piece on Han Xu, the tallest player in the WNBA, and what she might want beyond being the next Yao Ming. Alex Wong and Sean Woodley have a book on the Raptors’ dream season coming out soon. What it’s like to be a beat writer from Iowa covering the NBA Finals because one of the coaches is a local. Ricky O’Donnell on Coby White, a likely lottery pick. James Herbert on what a championship means to basketball fans in Toronto and Canada. Thanks for hanging with us in your email inbox or on SBNation.com all season. On to the next. Be excellent to each other.
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6 huge questions the Warriors must address to keep their dynasty going
Is this the end of the Warriors, or is there more to come? For the latter to happen, these six questions must be answered. The Golden State Warriors dynasty may have just been put to bed by the (giant) hands of new NBA champion Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors. In a 4-2 NBA Finals defeat, Golden State looked to be a fraction of itself — partially due to injuries, and partially due to the aging and dilapidated shape of its salary capped-out roster. For the first time in half a decade, the Warriors are in flux. When the Warriors collapsed historically to LeBron James’ Cavaliers in 2016, the solution was to dial one of Kevin Durant’s burners and bring him to the Bay. But the summer of 2019 doesn’t bring such luxuries to the table. Instead of luring free agents, Golden State will spend time pleading to keep them. Kevin Durant’s free agency was on the forefront of the Warriors’ minds long before Draymond Green called him “a b*tch” at the end of a close game in November. His decision is the domino that will influence everything that happens next, and the torn Achilles he suffered in Game 5 of the NBA Finals makes life that much more complicated. But the post-KD list also includes free agent Klay Thompson, a top target for nearly every team with the money to sign him (barring injury results), as well as the looming retirement of Shaun Livingston, the future of DeMarcus Cousins, and more. Here’s what Warriors fans have to wait on this summer: 1. What will Kevin Durant decide? The one move that’s astronomically out of Golden State’s hands is where Durant will play next season and beyond. The two-time Finals MVP could miss the entirety of next year with his Achilles injury, but that doesn’t mean the Warriors won’t want to re-sign him long term. It also doesn’t mean Durant won’t sign elsewhere, or — and maybe even worse for Golden State — opt-in to the final year of his contract and become a free agent the following year without playing another game. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the latter a “last resort” for KD now, but that could change. How the Warriors handle the free agency of arguably the best player in the league after he suffered an injury this serious is unprecedented, to say nothing of the circumstances that may have caused him to return to play from his prior ailment. The answers are infinite and none more educated than the next. This summer won’t be easy for anyone involved. 2. What will Klay Thompson decide? Will Thompson, the sharpshooting, meme-friendly juggernaut next to Steph Curry in the backcourt, ultimately stay in Golden State for another lengthy tenure? With news that his knee injury from Game 6 was a torn ACL, is he going to command the max contract offer he was likely set up to? If so, only the Warriors can offer a five-year deal worth close to $190 million. There’s so much to sort out in such a short span of time. Before the season even began, Klay led us to believe he’d re-sign in Golden State. “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” he said in October. “I know what it feels like to win and win with some of your best friends. And that’s why it would be hard for me to leave just because I’ve put so much blood, sweat and tears in this building and with this franchise. I’ve had my ups and downs, but I couldn’t imagine myself being somewhere else.” He did say he could change his mind in the coming months, but hasn’t suggested anything publicly. The question is will the Warriors offer Klay a max deal? Will anyone else? The answer might depend on whether Durant’s on board to run things back. 3. What about that looming Draymond Green dilemma on the horizon? Draymond Green has one year left under contract, but that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to start the year with the Warriors. The 29-year-old is one Defensive Player of the Year or All-NBA honor from becoming “supermax” contract eligible, meaning the Warriors could pay him nearly $240 million over five seasons. Will Green demand that money? More importantly, has he proved his play is worth it to the Warriors? Though Green had a resurgent playoffs, he was poor by his standards during the regular season. Green had a tough shooting campaign, leading defenses to back off him and hover closer to his much better shooting counterparts. Green’s been an offensive liability at points, and he averaged just seven points on 45 percent shooting. Defensively, he didn’t play up to par either until the playoffs. The Warriors could cut bait early and sniff out potential suitors for Draymond before the season starts, especially if the dynasty is coming to its true close. They won’t want to see him potentially walk away for nothing like KD and Klay could this summer. 4. Will DeMarcus Cousins be back? Cousins could be July’s biggest bargain or risk. After tearing his Achilles last season, Cousins signed a one-year deal with Golden State over the summer. He played 30 games in the regular season, during which he looked fairly close to himself. Three-point shooting aside, Cousins met or neared his efficiency expectations from the year prior, and averaged 16 points, eight rebounds, and four assists in just 26 minutes per game. Then, he tore his quad in the second game of the playoffs, reminding the front office that he’s still prone to injury. He returned in the NBA Finals and had his moments, but also looked rusty at best. What length of contract and how much money he’ll command in the offseason is so hard to predict. Could a team like the Lakers offer him the big-money deal he wanted last year? Sure. Could teams also pass over him again, leaving him to stay in Golden State? That could happen, too. 5. Is Shaun Livingston going to retire? After rehabbing through a leg so shattered he was told it may have to be amputated in 2007, the 33-year-old Livingston has come back a three-time champion and important piece of the Warriors dynasty. But he’s coming off a season where his play declined and he missed 18 games, his most since 2010. In April, he hinted to The Athletic that this may be it. “It’s just all the signs on the wall,” he told Anthony Slater. “And just more so from a physical standpoint. If I’m healthy and having fun, then I want to play. But physically, if I’m not … Like, I put so much work in my body just to get back to playing basketball, let alone get to this point where I’m at.” With his contract not guaranteed for next season, this could actually be it for him. 6. What about the rest of the depth? Kevon Looney, Jonas Jerebko, and Andrew Bogut are all set to become unrestricted free agents, while Jordan Bell and Quinn Cook will become restricted free agents. Who stays and who goes will depend on the decisions made by Durant and Thompson. Looney has become an integral part to the Warriors defense, but his play may convince some team to spend more money than the Warriors are willing to pay. Back in April, Andre Iguodala already said he hopes Looney doesn’t come back to Golden State, because that means he will have gotten paid. Andre Iguodala on Kevon Looney this summer: “I hope he gets paid, so I hope he doesn’t come back because I hope he gets all the money.” pic.twitter.com/mZUI2Lm4JH— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 19, 2019 Jerebko and Bogut are both contenders to return on league minimum contracts, but Cook could earn a steeper offer sheet in July than Golden State wants to cough up. It’s unclear if Golden State even wants Bell, who’s hardly played in the postseason. He was suspended for one game after charging some hotel fees to assistant coach Mike Brown. The Warriors have nine moving pieces this summer and no guarantees from any of them. The Earth will stand still until KD speaks up. After that, the Warriors front office is in for a stressful few months to avoid all good things coming to a bitter end.
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Braves favorites hosting Phillies on Friday MLB odds board
The Atlanta Braves hope to add to their winning streak when they host the Philadelphia Phillies as home betting favorites at the sportsbooks on Friday. The Atlanta Braves are 10-2 over their last 12 games including a current stretch of seven straight wins. The Braves can extend their winning streak to eight with a victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in the first game of a three-game series on Friday night. Atlanta is a -137 home favorite on the MLB odds at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Max Fried takes the hill for the Braves going up against Nick Pivetta and the Phillies as +127 road underdogs. Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves When: Friday, June 14, 7:20 p.m. ET Where: SunTrust Park, Cobb County, Georgia Betting Line / Total: Atlanta -137 / 9.5 Runs Phillies at Braves OddsShark Matchup Report Atlanta Braves Betting Notes The Braves’ current seven-game winning streak has pushed the team 1.5 games ahead of Philadelphia for the top spot in the NL East. In back-to-back sweeps over the Miami Marlins and the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta’s offense has averaged seven runs per game including a whopping eight runs per game over the team’s last five. The offense has helped carry the team through what has been a down year of pitching so far with a Team ERA of 4.30, down significantly from last year’s 3.75 mark. Max Fried has been one of the bright spots on this pitching staff with a 3.75 ERA and 1.29 WHIP so far this season. The Braves are 5-1 in his last six starts. Philadelphia Phillies Betting Notes Philadelphia’s offense sits right in the middle of the pack in the majors ranking 16th with 4.87 runs per game. Bryce Harper has managed to rack up 46 RBI through his first 68 games in a Phillies uniform, but with only 11 home runs and a batting average of .250 he hasn’t quite been living up to his massive 13-year, $330 million deal. The Phillies are still in the thick of the playoff race with a 38-30 record overall, but of late are just 5-8 over their last 13 games. Phillies at Braves Betting Total Friday night’s total is set at 9.5 runs. The OVER is 11-2 in Atlanta’s last 13 games per the OddsShark MLB Database. The Phillies have won each of their last five games against the Braves, but the Braves were 5-0 against the Phillies before this current streak began. The series will continue through the weekend with a pitching matchup of Sean Newcomb vs. Aaron Nola on Saturday and Mike Foltynewicz taking on a currently undetermined Phillies pitcher on Sunday. For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.
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The 6 likeliest free-agent destinations for Kawhi Leonard, ranked
He just led the Raptors to their first title, but that doesn’t mean he’s staying. Where could he go? Kawhi Leonard eviscerated the Golden State Warriors to give the Toronto Raptors their first championship. He’s been then best player in an NBA Finals series against a two-time MVP, and looks every bit the sensational superstar teams are going to salivate over this summer. Yes, the summer. Remember: the Toronto Raptors traded the face of their franchise in DeMar DeRozan knowing full well Leonard can and very well might just leave for nothing this summer. That reality will officially arrive on July 1. Leonard has made no public comments about his long-term commitment to the Raptors organization or the city of Toronto. There was a report he had purchased a home out north. He responded, “Didn’t happen yet. No.” When he was asked what winning a championship could mean for the city of Toronto, Leonard replied: “I’m really not sure. I guess you’ve gotta ask somebody on the street or one of our fans ... or somebody that’s been living in Canada for awhile.” Leonard’s future is as up in the air as a helium balloon. Where could he go this summer? Here are his most logical potential destinations. 1. Los Angeles Clippers The persistent belief is that the L.A. native wants to play at home, but is not interested in being option No. 2 to anyone, including LeBron James. When Leonard first requested a trade from the San Antonio Spurs last summer, one team topped his list of preferred destinations: the Los Angeles Clippers. “He wants to go to the Clippers,” ESPN Spurs reporter Michael C. Wright said on a July 5, 2018 episode of the Back to Back Podcast with Tom Haberstroh. “He doesn’t want to go and be second fiddle to LeBron.” The Clippers are coming off an incredible season of their own. They were one of the West’s better teams to start the year, tapered off a little, traded their best player to the Sixers at the deadline, then still scrapped their way to the West’s eighth seed, winning two games against the full-strength Golden State Warriors in the first round. They have also sent scouts to numerous Raptors games, both home and away, presumably to keep an eye on Leonard and his progression. Imagine adding Leonard to this Clippers mix. Then imagine adding Leonard and another star. The Clippers only have six players with guaranteed salaries on the books for next season: Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Landry Shamet, and Jerome Robinson. They can easily create enough cap space to afford a second max player. That means if the Clippers sign Leonard, they can give him a blank contract as an invitation to bring whoever he wants with him. 2. Toronto Raptors The Raptors did everything they could have to convince Leonard to stay in Toronto. They managed his minutes to limit the risk of re-injury. They ran through the East, made a mockery of the conference-favorite Bucks, and won the first championship in franchise history. They built a great team around Leonard. Toronto has an opportunity to accomplish something rare: repeat as champions. Every player contributing in these finals — except Leonard and Danny Green — is expected to be under contract next season. If Toronto keeps them, the Raptors will be favorites to win it all again, regardless of whatever anyone else does this summer. The Raptors can offer him a longer contract that pays $48 million more than other teams, though Leonard could likely make up the difference in off-court endorsements. But the Raptors’ future becomes tricky after next season, and a 1-plus-1 deal for Leonard makes no sense due to his injury history. Norman Powell is the only player under contact in the 2020-21 season, and Pascal Siakam is due a raise. Toronto won’t be able to retain Leonard, then re-sign everyone next summer. There’s also this simple fact: Leonard didn’t choose Toronto. He wasn’t drafted by them, nor did he request be traded there. If the Raptors win a championship tonight, it’s job well done for Leonard. He kept a promise he never made. He owes no debts. 3. Brooklyn Nets Leonard has at least talked with other players about teaming up in Brooklyn this summer. The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur mentioned as much last summer, when Leonard had first been traded to Toronto. Reports out of Toronto about Kawhi Leonard calling other stars to gauge their willingness to join him in free agency — and including Brooklyn on that list — give the Nets fans something to salivate over. That was before Brooklyn completed its turnaround, making the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and even stealing a Game 1 victory in Philadelphia. The Nets currently have one max slot available, and Kyrie Irving has been the hot topic in recent weeks. It has been reported both Irving and Brooklyn have interest in teaming up. But the Nets could create a second max spot at the expense of D’Angelo Russell, who becomes a restricted free agent this summer. If Leonard wants to join Irving in Brooklyn, Brooklyn could very well make it happen. 4. New York Knicks Just like the Nets, Lakers and Clippers, the Knicks are also expected to have enough cap space to pursue two max free agents. They will also have interesting trade chips, including the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft (widely expected to be R.J. Barrett), and young players like Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, Dennis Smith Jr., and Allonzo Trier. That doesn’t sound like a very convincing trade package for a player of Anthony Davis‘s caliber, but Davis has only committed to a long-term future in New York or Los Angeles. If the Pelicans are hellbent on steering clear of a Lakers trade, a deal with the Knicks could be on the horizon. Kawhi could become part of a legitimate Big 3 if the Knicks land him and another star, be it Davis, Kevin Durant (despite his torn Achilles), or Irving. Maybe a Big 3 and the bright lights of a big city aren’t what Leonard wants. At this point, no one knows except Kawhi himself. 5. Los Angeles Lakers Who wants to play with LeBron James? That will be the question that dictates the next three seasons in Los Angeles. James has been unable to attract another star thus far, and neither James nor the Lakers can afford a second year of turmoil and dysfunction. Laker success is tied to who the put on the court, and James has been recruiting max players this season. One of those players was Jimmy Butler, whom Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times reported would join the Lakers in a heartbeat if they offered a max contract. Another was Leonard, whom James visited in Philadelphia during the Sixers’ first-round series against the Nets. 6. Philadelphia 76ers The Sixers wish Leonard made that fading, rim-tap-tap-tap-tapping buzzer-beater for them, not against them in the East Semifinals. Instead, that shot sent them packing, some would say far too soon. The interesting thing about Philadelphia, though, is they have two free agents who will be max contract candidates this summer: Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. If one, or both, leave in free agency, Philly will have cap space to sign anyone they want, Leonard included. The Sixers don’t appear to be a serious contender for Leonard’s services, but they will be an interesting player in free agency if their two max players sign elsewhere.
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The 9 injuries that doomed the Warriors’ attempt to three-peat
Golden State was banged up for most of the playoffs. It isn’t an excuse, but it is a reality. The Golden State Warriors will not complete their three-peat. Instead, they’ve watched the Toronto Raptors win the NBA Finals, 4-2, while dropping the last three games ever played at Oracle Arena. One thing is for sure: had the Warriors been at full strength, they would have put up a better fight. This is not a pity party for the Golden State Warriors, whose dynasty may come to an end on their own home floor. Before the series began, I picked the Raptors to win the NBA Finals in seven games. It’s a victory for a franchise that gambled with a monster trade last summer to rent Kawhi Leonard for a season. This is, however, a recap of the different injuries the Warriors have had to deal with this season. In Game 6, they missed two of their three best players once Klay Thompson went out with a knee injury. The banged up Warriors put up the best fight they could. Toronto, however, was too much to overcome. In chronological order, here’s what the Warriors dealt with over the past couple months. Stephen Curry: ankle sprain Curry suffered a mild foot sprain against the Pelicans on April 9, and the Warriors decided not to play him in the season finale against Memphis on April 10. Stephen Curry (mild right foot sprain) will not return to tonight's game for precautionary reasons.— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) April 10, 2019 He was mostly fine in the playoffs, but the rest of the stars weren’t. DeMarcus Cousins: torn left quad After spending the first half of the season recovering from his torn Achilles, Cousins tore his left quad in Game 2 of Golden State’s first-round series against the Clippers. He missed the remainder of the series, plus the Warriors’ second- and third-round playoff series against the Rockets and Trail Blazers. Cousins returned for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, well ahead of schedule, but it was clear for most of the series that he was limited in his mobility. Stephen Curry: dislocated finger Curry dislocated his finger in Game 2 of the West Semifinals against the Houston Rockets. He had a poor shooting outing in Game 3, but did not miss any time due to injury. Stephen Curry (dislocated left middle finger) has returned to the game. X-Rays were negative.— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) May 1, 2019 Kevin Durant: right calf strain Durant suffered a right calf strain on May 8, in Game 5 of Golden State’s Western Conference Semifinals series against Houston. The injury sidelined him for a month, and arguably should have kept him out longer. More on that later. Andre Iguodala: mild hamstring injury Iguodala suffered a hamstring injury in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. He exited and missed Game 4, but the Warriors were able to complete the sweep of the Trail Blazers without him. He returned and played in the Finals, but wasn’t 100 percent. #Warriors Andre Iguodala moments ago at morning shoot around with a compression sleeve on his left calf. #NBAFinals pic.twitter.com/zd9qoOAoFV— Mindi Bach (@MBachSports) June 2, 2019 Kevon Looney: sprained (and then fractured) collarbone Looney’s collarbone sprain was upgraded to a fracture after he absorbed a Kawhi Leonard body blow on a drive. He sat out Game 3, but returned for Game 4, at times unable to raise his arms over his shoulders. Klay Thompson: hamstring strain Thompson suffered a hamstring strain in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, and the Warriors opted to keep him out for Game 3. He returned as close to 100 percent as he could for Game 4. Holy crap was that an awkward landing by Klay. Lucky he’s okay. pic.twitter.com/r20e70Kujq— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) June 3, 2019 Kevin Durant: torn Achilles This was the most devastating injury of the season. Durant returned from his calf injury after a month of inactivity for Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Three minutes into the second quarter, he ruptured his Achilles attempting a crossover on Serge Ibaka. Kevin Durant appears to aggravate his calf injury and heads to the locker room early in the second quarter. pic.twitter.com/VXu3SmTS8Y— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 11, 2019 View this post on Instagram What’s good everybody I wanted to update you all: I did rupture my Achilles. Surgery was today and it was a success, EASY MONEY My road back starts now! I got my family and my loved ones by my side and we truly appreciate all the messages and support people have sent our way. Like I said Monday, I'm hurting deeply, but I'm OK. Basketball is my biggest love and I wanted to be out there that night because that’s what I do. I wanted to help my teammates on our quest for the three peat. Its just the way things go in this game and I'm proud that I gave it all I physically could, and I'm proud my brothers got the W. It's going to be a journey but I'm built for this. I’m a hooper I know my brothers can get this Game 6, and I will be cheering with dub nation while they do it. A post shared by 35 (@easymoneysniper) on Jun 12, 2019 at 12:54pm PDT Klay Thompson: TBD, but it looks bad Thompson went up for a dunk in Game 6 and Danny Green tried to block him from behind. It ended terribly. Thompson went one way and his knee went another. Klay goes down with an apparent leg injury, and all of Oracle holds its collective breath. pic.twitter.com/QGqNxvgYhY— ESPN (@espn) June 14, 2019 He walked off the court, then returned to action to shoot the free throws, but ultimately, the team examined him and deemed Thompson out for the remainder of the game. Klay turning around in the tunnel and coming back out to shoot free throws had Oracle going nuts. pic.twitter.com/T111U9aH8e— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 14, 2019 Thompson had 30 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from three at that point. The Warriors went on to lose the game without him and ultimately lose the series. Steve Kerr: "What matters is Kevin Durant is going to miss next season with an Achilles tear. What matters is Klay suffered a knee injury. We'll know more later. But it's just brutal, just brutal what these guys have had to deal with."— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) June 14, 2019
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