Back And Forth With Scott Rafferty: Should The Miami Heat Go For The Playoffs?

Editor's note: Welcome to Back And Forth, a weekly NBA email back-and-forth discussion with Chase Thomas and one of his favorite NBA writers and thinkers, Scott Rafferty, who is a writer at The Step Back, Rolling Stone and the Sporting News. This week, the duo tackled the question: Should the Miami Heat go for the playoffs?

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CT: Hey Scott,

It's been a few weeks, and I hope you've had a fulfilling, relaxing holiday break. But I'm excited to talk about another NBA question that I've been thinking a lot about over the break. 

As of this writing, the Miami Heat would qualify for the NBA playoffs, and I have to ask, should the Heat want to make the playoffs in 2018?

SR: Yes, they should. 

The Heat are in a tough position when it comes to their future. Their six highest paid players — Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Johnson — are all under contract until 2019-20 and the two first-round picks they traded to the Suns for Dragic still haven't conveyed. If this core doesn't make the playoffs this season, it's hard to see how it gets much better before 2020 considering how little cap room they'll have and how they won't have many opportunities to add talent in the NBA Draft. 

Plus, this team is good enough to make the playoffs. They proved it in the second half of last season and they are proving it again this season (although it helps that the 76ers, Knicks and Pacers have hit a rough patch).

CT: I can't stop thinking about the Tyler Johnson contract. Seeing $18 million next to his name on ESPN's Trade Machine next season is going to take some getting used to. I do wonder, though, do you think the Nets would still be interested in trading for him before the deadline this season? 

I think their other five highest-paid players are defensible, though. Olynyk makes sense both next to Whiteside and without him, especially when you consider how many threes Miami takes as a team; Whiteside is awesome and what they've gotten out of him is pretty remarkable; Johnson just works in Spo's system; Dragic is so much more valuable to them without Dwyane Wade; Waiters' issues this season should have been expected with his ankle issues that we all knew couldn't be resolved over the summer. Miami clearly doesn't have a star, but if they were able to pair this group with the right, above-average wing they'd be scary.

I think that's why I'm so annoyed with this team. As you point out, they're locked in with this group for the next couple of years with no real cap relief coming anytime soon. That's not ideal, but if they were able to land Gordon Hayward this summer wouldn't you love a five-man lineup of Dragic, Waiters, Hayward, Johnson and Whiteside? I don't think that'd be enough to win the East, but considering how well coached this group is, they'd be incredibly dangerous and just a thorn in the side of so many teams.

This roster would look *right* if they had a star wing, and that's why I'm hoping Paul George winds up here this summer, or the team tries to trade for Andrew Wiggins, or whoever, I just want Spo and Riley to add the right wing to pair with this core that'd look so much better with the right wing playmaker. 

SR: I'm not sure about the Nets trading for Johnson anymore. Signing him to the offer sheet they did was a smart move at the time because it would've given them a young player with two-way potential until 2019-20. Quite a lot has changed since then. They have some good young talent on their roster (D'Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen) as well as some veterans who fit in with their system (Jeremy Lin, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll). Unless they can get a draft pick in the same deal — which they probably wouldn't given how similar of a situation the Heat are in pick-wise — I'm not sure there's as much of a need for him anymore. 

I think you're right about the Heat being the best of the four, mainly because we sort of know what they are. The 76ers have a much higher potential, but they are still in their infancy. The Knicks started out the season strong, but they've hit a rough patch. It's a similar case with the Pacers, although I think they are a legitimate threat to make the playoffs when Victor Oladipo returns.

I'm not sure about the Nets trading for Johnson anymore. Signing him to the offer sheet they did was a smart move at the time because it would've given them a young player with two-way potential until 2019-20. Quite a lot has changed since then. They have some good young talent on their roster (D'Angelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen) as well as some veterans who fit in with their system (Jeremy Lin, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll). Unless they can get a draft pick in the same deal — which they probably wouldn't given how similar of a situation the Heat are in pick-wise — I'm not sure there's as much of a need for him anymore. 

I think you're right about the Heat being the best of the four, mainly because we sort of know what they are. The 76ers have a much higher potential, but they are still in their infancy. The Knicks started out the season strong, but they've hit a rough patch. It's a similar case with the Pacers, although I think they are a legitimate threat to make the playoffs when Victor Oladipo returns.

Maybe we should be asking if the Heat have the potential to upset anyone in the first round if they do make the playoffs. I have a hard time seeing them (or anyone else in the Eastern Conference) beating the Cavaliers, so who do they have a better chance of taking down out of the Celtics, Raptors and Wizards?

CT: Yeah, that's certainly true. It's fascinating how much is different about that Brooklyn team now. I suppose I floated the Johnson idea in response to the team's unfortunate injury luck with Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell this season. I love what Spencer Dinwiddie is doing with his opportunity now, but adding another guard to ease his burden along with Caris LeVert and Russell wouldn't hurt, I don't think. What do they do with Dinwiddie, Lin and Russell this summer, by the way? 

There's a very real argument to be made that the Pacers are still a better team, especially with a healthy Oladipo in the fold. They've obviously surprised, and although I don't totally understand how Nate McMillan is pulling this off, I should place this team ahead of Miami at this point. I'm just not there with Philadelphia and New York right now, though, and am leaning towards things getting worse for both clubs in January. 

I agree. I wouldn't bet on them over Cleveland or Washington, but they match-up so well with Boston and you never know with Toronto. I'm personally rooting for a first-round affair that includes Dragic going at Kyrie and Horford trying to deal with Whiteside. And I'd never say no to a playoff series that pits Spoelestra against Brad Stevens. This is not meant to be a hot take, but I think it'd go seven.

Who would you like to see them matched up with?

SR: Dinwiddie playing the way he has this season certainly makes things interesting because the Nets basically now have three starting-calibre point guards on their roster (although Lin has played plenty of shooting guard in his career and Russell has the skill set to do so). Fortunately for them, they still have a year to figure it out since they're all under contract for one more season. I think they'll need that season to determine who they want to keep as they take the next step in their rebuild, whether it's two of them (Dinwiddie and Lin?) or just one of them (Russell?).

I'm leaning towards that being the most entertaining matchup as well. If we got Celtics-Heat and Cavaliers-Bucks in the first round, I would be an extremely happy man. Celtics-Heat would be a hard-fought series and Cavaliers-Bucks would give us at least four games of LeBron vs. Giannis. It's a win-win for everyone.

CT: So do you think the plan would be to keep all three going into next season? If I'm Sean Marks, I'd be very tempted to sell high on a guy getting 'MVP' chants in Brooklyn right now. I'm not sure what is value is, or what you could get for him, but I'd probably aim to move him prior to the deadline. Either way, it should be interesting to see how Atkinson handles this trio if they're ever all healthy at the same time again.

Oh man.

Cavs-Bucks in Round 1 has to happen and I hadn't even really considered it to this point. I suppose seventh seed is still a possibility, but, if that's where they ultimately finish in a few months, that should be the end of Jason Kidd's tenure in Milwaukee, right? They might have an interim roaming the sidelines in that series, I'd suspect. 

But yes, a seven-game series with Giannis and LeBron that takes place in the first round would feel like basketball fans are getting away with something. That's a match-up, at this point, shouldn't possibly take place early in the postseason, but it would be a hard-fought series between two anxiety-riddled teams, which would be a delight.

Back to the Heat, though, now that we're in agreement that it'd be good for them to qualify for the postseason, that they'd be a thorn in the side of President Stevens and LeBron James in the opening round, what else can they do to ensure they make the playoffs? What would you like to see them do or what statistics would you like to see shift for this club in the next few months?

SR: Probably? There's just a lot of uncertainty given the injuries to Lin and Russell. Plus, are you certain you'd want one of them over Dinwiddie moving forward? It might have been a crazy question to ask three months ago, but Dinwiddie has been fantastic this season and he's only 24-years-old. Who's to say he isn't their point guard of the future?

I think it ultimately comes down to health for the Heat. They're not a team that relies on one player to get the job done, so health from top to bottom is a bigger deal to them than some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference. If they're healthier in the second half of the season, they should be in good shape to make the playoffs.

CT: I love that we've somehow allocated a significant portion of this conversation to discuss the Nets and their intriguing backcourt dynamics. 

In regards to your question, I'm comfortable with my belief that Dinwiddie is the right person to move if it comes to that. I think with the team trading for Russell and being without another Lottery pick this year, you have to do everything in your organization's power to propel the former Laker to stardom, and I think it's going to be difficult if they keep all three for the foreseeable future. 

If Whiteside and Dragic and James Johnson remain healthy, I think you're right. This might be a take of the hot variety, but I think Dragic is their player of most importance, especially when you take a gander at the other playmakers behind him on the depth chart along with his USG%. The Dragon hasn't missed a game this season, and if he can reach the 73-plus threshold like he has the last few seasons I suspect this team will reach the playoffs, and, hopefully, match up with Boston in the first round. 

Any final thoughts on this well-coached, prickly team?

SR: That's fair. I'm interested to see how the Nets look when Dinwiddie and Russell are on the floor together. Maybe that changes things if they complement each other well.

I'm just excited to see how the Heat do in the second half of the season. This is about when they went on their crazy win streak last season and they're starting to get healthy again. It's time to see how good this team really is.

MLB With Sox Machine's Josh Nelson and WWE With RBR Wrestling's Eric Brady (Ep. 108)

Chase Thomas is joined by Sox Machine's Josh Nelson to talk about the White Sox going after Manny Machado (3:00), Andrew McCutchen going to the Mets or Giants (20:00), and where Christian Yelich might be end up, including the Braves (40:00). Then, RBR Wrestling's Eric Brady jumps on the pod to talk about Jinder Mahal and Roman Reigns' booking in 2017 (48:00), Mike Bennett's awkward situation on Twitter (57:00), a potential Daniel Bryan heel turn (63:00), and what they're looking forward to in WWE in 2018 (77:00).

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NFL Wild Card Round Heat Index and Warriors With Eric Thompson and Andy Liu (Ep. 107)

Chase Thomas is joined by The Daily Norseman's Eric Thompson to talk about the Vikings playoff run (3:00), the Falcons weird season (13:00), surprising head-coaching changes (32:00), and preview the NFL Wild Card Weekend (35:00). Then, Warriors World and Light Years' Andy Liu joins Chase to talk the Warriors' dominance (61:00), Kevin Durant for MVP (69:00), and potential threats to Golden State in the not-too-distant future (84:00).

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Lakers' Problems, Raptors Surging, and Heat With ESPN's Jovan Buha (Ep. 106)

Chase Thomas is joined by ESPN's Jovan Buha to talk about the Clippers' fighting back in the Western Conference (3:00), the Lakers falling apart without Lonzo Ball and Brook Lopez (9:00), the Raptors putting it together (23:00), and the Heat finding a way to survive (32:00).

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NFL Week 17 Picks With Billy Marshall Of Cat Scratch Reader (Ep. 105)

Chase Thomas is joined by Cat Scratch Reader's Billy Marshall to talk about the Panthers and Falcons differences (3:00), the NFC Playoff Picture (10:00), 14 potential head-coaching changes (20:00), biggest Week 16 shockers (22:00) and preview Week 17 in the NFL (26:00).

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NFL Week 16 Picks With Ethan Hammerman (Ep. 103)

Chase Thomas is joined by Pats Pulpit's Ethan Hammerman to talk about the 49ers taking down the Titans on Sunday (3:00), the end of the Marvin Lewis era in Cincinnati (12:00), the crazy ending to Steelers vs. Patriots (24:00), the current NFL Playoff Picture (30:00), and preview Week 16 in the NFL (40:00).

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NBA With Tyler Conway and MLB With Nick Stellini (Ep. 102)

Chase Thomas is joined by Bleacher Report's Tyler Conway to talk about what the Charlotte Hornets should do with Kemba Walker (8:00), if the Rockets are real challengers to the Warriors (34:00), and who they've enjoyed watching this year (40:00). Then, Sporting News and Baseball Prospectus' Nick Stellini jumps on the pod to talk about the Braves trading Matt Kemp to the Dodgers (58:00), what the Orioles should do with Manny Machado (77:00), and where Yu Darvish should land (93:00).

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WWE Clash Of Champions 2017: Who Is Going to Turn?

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Tomorrow night at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, a wrestling pay-per-view will take place, Clash Of Champions, but, in classic WWE fashion, the biggest storyline heading into this event features exactly zero champions. I’m referring to the Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn with special guest referees Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan. If the Best Friends come up short against two of the top three babyfaces on Smackdown Live, they’re fired from WWE all together. It’s simple and compelling and, perhaps, most importantly, very hard to predict with so many moving parts. One might call this high-profile, December match armageddon for Owens and Zayn with their careers on the line.

Come to think of it, there might be something to this “Armageddon” word and dubbing an end-of-the-year PPV after it. It’d just make more sense, wouldn’t it?

Now, let’s dive into what makes this blue brand PPV interesting.

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Where are they going with Mojo Rawley

On the pre-show -- something you should never, ever watch -- Rawley will face off against his former tag team partner and hype bro, Zack Ryder. Both wrestlers are in an odd spot in the company and both could really use a win here. But Ryder can’t go over here, and it’s time for him to do something else somewhere else. Rawley should win, but does it matter? If you win a pre-show match, did you really win anything at all?

This really could be it for Ryder in the WWE. I don’t know how much time is left on his current contract, but if he can’t even go over Rawley here, why stick around? He already tried going back to NXT, he had his nice, brief WrestleMania moment and he’s in all likelihood never winning another WWE title in his career. Ryder is talented and he could be more in other companies -- I’m looking at you, Impact Wrestling, or whatever you’re calling yourself these days.

Wait, is there anyway they both can go?

Baron Corbin has to retain his US Title, right?

Corbin is just kind of there right now. For the most part, 2017 has been very kind to the Lone Wolf. He could have easily fallen into Chuck Palumbo 2.0 purgatory, but it’s clear somebody higher up likes him, as he’s gotten a new entrance, new music and is treated as a top guy on Smackdown Live. In a lot of ways, he’s like an unlikeable version of Braun Strowman; they both don’t seem to be prudent characters, they just want to destroy whoever gets in their way -- Strowman just does it in more impressive, hilarious fashion.

But his feud with Bobby Roode and Dolph Ziggler doesn’t have the same attractiveness his earlier U.S. title feud with AJ Styles and Tye Dillinger had. With Roode cleaning house on the go-show show Tuesday night, it seems likely that Corbin is retaining and he should. Corbin’s a strong enough heel where when the right babyface comes along to take his title, it could be a big moment. Roode and Ziggler don’t work here.

No matter what, Roode really needs a big showing here. (Perhaps a post-match beatdown and heel turn after Corbin steals it in clever, heel-like fashion?)

Is this the end of Jinder vs. AJ Styles?

I have to give the WWE credit here, as this feud ran out of juice weeks ago, but Road Dogg totally redeemed himself Tuesday night by putting together a fantastic opening segment with Styles, the Singh Brothers and Mahal. Adding more layers to the Singh Brothers and how it affects both Mahal and Styles is intriguing and has me now thinking: Will Randy Orton’s favorite punching bags turn on Mahal Sunday night?

This feud needed some sort of spice sprinkled in somewhere, anywhere, really, because the result has always seemed clear: Styles is the No. 1 babyface on the Smackdown Live and should be holding the title heading into WrestleMania next year. (And the match itself is almost certainly going to mirror 2017 as a whole -- trash.)

Who turns between Bryan and Shane?

Zayn and Owens aren’t going anywhere, so how are they leaving Boston with their jobs? Who is eating a pin between Orton and Nakamura? Who is going to be the one that ultimately counts 1-2-3 for either Zayn or Owens? These are the kinds of questions that make this match a must-see because we just don’t know.

Ultimately, I think a Shane turn would be the tougher sell, so I’d bet on Bryan being the one to give Owens and Zayn the victory. The Smackdown commissioner siding with the guy who viciously assaulted his father just a few months ago, which led to the former trying to kill the latter by jumping off a steel cage only to be foiled by another indie darling.

Either way, this match has all the makings of a memorable one with a finish that has all the potential in the world to be one of the best of the year.

The Nobody Asked Mailbag: So I Guess Tom Thibodeau Isn't Going To Change

I started a new, mysterious day job last week, so I missed Week 2 of my supposed weekly Friday column where I answer emails from people who definitely do not exist. It happens. I’ve had a lot going on, and I just couldn’t make it happen. In fact, this whole week has revolved around making adjustments to this fancy new schedule where I’ll be forced -- tragic, I know -- to be even more organized and focused if I want to accomplish everything I need to week in and week out. Squirrel!

But here I am, sitting in a very uncomfortable, wooden chair at a coffee shop that has more people wearing sweatpants than I can stand to answer emails from those that do not actually exist. Don’t call me a hero, but I won’t argue with you if you do.

Speaking of heroes, one NBA head coach, Tom Thibodeau, is living long enough to see himself to become the villain. Jimmy Butler has played roughly 963 minutes this week for the Timberwolves, Karl Anthony-Towns hasn’t become the plus-defender most expected when the former Chicago Bulls head coach took the job in Minnesota. During his year away from the League, Thibodeau Watch was a real thing -- there’d be reports he was visiting this team and that team, that he’d be different wherever he went next, and most NBA fans were chomping at the bit to have the defensive mastermind roam their sidelines at whatever the cost.

Not anymore.

It’s Year 2 in Minnesota, and although the team is winning, currently boasting a 17-12 record that is good for fourth place in the Western Conference, nobody is happy. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote a piece this week that included a paragraph in which he talked about the T’Wolves falling into the Good Team, Bad Chemistry category. They haven’t even played thirty games with their three tantalizing young pieces and these tidbits are already popping up. It’s weird.

A lot is weird in the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Twins are back to being good again, Case Keenum could be this year’s Trent Dilfer and the Timberwolves are winning games because of their offensive prowess. Before his arrival, Basketball Twitter, including me, expected the one thing we could count on with Thibs’ arrival was they’d be an elite defensive team. And then they added Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler? And yet, they’re 26th in defensive efficiency through thirty games.

I don’t get any of this.

Maybe things change, though. Maybe Thibs decides to play Tyus Jones and Jeff Teague together at some point this season. Maybe Shabazz Muhammad reemerges. Maybe somebody besides Gibson and Butler improves defensively to get this disastrous defense into the top-20 in defensive efficiency by season’s end? Any of this could happen and if you don’t believe me you should see take a gander at the insanity that is the 2017-18 Indiana Pacers. That’s what makes sports fun, storylines like this, where things just don’t go according to plan and we don’t know what to think anymore.

We do know, though, that Butler might be growing tired of playing all these minutes, man.

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Q: Should the Pelicans trade DeMarcus Cousins and punt on capturing the eighth seed?

- Derek, Decatur, Georgia

CT: No, they shouldn’t. The right guy to move has always been Anthony Davis, but they’re not going to do it. That front office and ownership situation is a mess -- serious question, is Danny Ferry still involved behind-the-scenes? Is Micky Loomis back to focusing on the Saints now that they’re good again? Does anyone know what’s going on there? ANYONE?

I’m also not sure Cousins has a lot of trade value even with how dominant he’s been this year. The Pelicans got him for Buddy Hield and scraps a few months ago. Why are we sure he’d bring in more for Dell Demps at the Trade Deadline? I don’t buy it. I’d either trade Davis for a king’s ransom, or ride out the Cousins-Brow combination until season’s end.

Q: Any chance Jinder Mahal wins back the WWE title at Clash of Champions on Sunday?

- John, Birmingham, Alabama

CT: Now you’ve got me worried. There’s always a chance, and I could see it for a couple of reasons: 1) This match isn’t going on last, so a quiet, morose crowd looking on with anguish as Mahal celebrates reclaiming the title as the show fades to black wouldn’t happen and they could stomach it at 9:30 EST. 2) Triple H went over him in India, which probably means nothing, or it means he took the loss for the Hunter to return the favor by granting him another title win. 3) They’re still feuding when this story was finished weeks ago.

Still, I don’t expect it to happen. Styles as champion just looks right, and Smackdown Live has been especially bad as of late and they need at least one major reason to tune in every Tuesday night.  

Q: Who do you think is the next coach fired in the NFL?

- Darryl, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

CT: It has to be Dirk Koetter in Tampa, right? There is too much talent for this team to have four wins in December. This will be Coach 3 for Jameis, and I’m starting to wonder if we’re reaching the point where it may be time to move on from Winston and go in a different direction. (Hello Eli Manning and Jon Gruden in 2018!)

A dark horse pick for me, not that you asked, is Jay Gruden in Washington. This team has been decimated by injuries, sure, but they should be better than 5-8. I loved the Greg Manusky promotion to defensive coordinator this offseason and their staff as a whole is still an impressive one. They just frustrate me and it’s only going to drive me more nuts in 2018 when Andy Dalton is under-center for this team.

Q: Where should Manny Machado end up? Should the Orioles trade him?

- Mallory, Queens, New York

CT: It’s amazing how quickly things have changed for Machado. Maybe it’s just that Baltimore is trending in the wrong direction, but he’s still just 24-years-old. The guy hit 100 home runs faster than any Oriole before him. His 2016 season had ESPN wondering if he was the best young player in baseball, but now somebody like the Philadelphia Phillies or Chicago White Sox trading for him feels like it won’t be treated as a huge thing.

I don’t get it.

Machado is fun and young and you could see an MVP or two in his future. Plus, adding him to a team like the Phillies or White Sox will be far more interesting than whatever Giancarlo Stanton does for the Yankees.

Personally, I want him in Atlanta and not Philadelphia, but Chicago has the pieces and he fits the timeline on the South Side perfectly.

Either way, the Orioles are screwed.

Chase Thomas is a freelance writer based out of Atlanta, Georgia. Follow him on Twitter @chase__thomas or email him at chasethomas0418@gmail.com.

Dolph Ziggler, Bray Wyatt, and Clash Of Champions With Connor Casey (Ep. 101)

Chase Thomas is joined by Pop Culture's Connor Casey to talk about Dolph Ziggler's fascinating interviews (3:00), if Bray Wyatt is on a similar trajectory (18:00), the horrible undercard for Smackdown Live's Clash of Champions PPV (26:00), and where they're going with AJ Styles and the WWE title over the next few months (45:00).

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NFL Week 15 Picks With Ethan Hammerman (Ep. 100)

Chase Thomas is joined by Pats Pulpit's Ethan Hammerman to talk about the Tennessee Titans' playoff dreams finally crashing (3:00), what the Giants should do with Eli Manning in 2018 (6:00), the Eagles' playoff chances with Nick Foles (15:00), the Steelers getting hot at the right time (22:00), why Alex Collins has made the Ravens a very offense (27:00) and preview the Week 15 slate of games in the NFL (37:00).

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Back And Forth With Scott Rafferty: What Does The Right Team Around Devin Booker Look Like

Editor's note: Welcome to the first edition of what will in all likelihood become a weekly email back-and-forth discussion with Chase Thomas and one of his favorite NBA writers and thinkers, Scott Rafferty, who is a writer at The Step Back, Rolling Stone and the Sporting News. This week, the duo tackled one of basketball's most interesting questions surrounding one of its most electric scorers: What does the right team around Devin Booker look like?

***

 

CT: OK, Scott, Devin Booker may have just strained his left adductor, which is apparently a real thing, so he's going to miss some time, but he did drop 46 in Philadelphia a few nights ago. The conversation surrounding the 21-year-old has always been polarizing. On one hand, he seems like he's playing in the wrong era, on the other, it's hard to find guys in today's game who can do what he does. Right now, his team is 9-17 -- 9-14 since Jay Triano took over for Earl Watson -- and he figures to be a cornerstone piece in Phoenix for a long time. If that's the case, what does Phoenix do going forward? What does the right team around Booker look like?

SR: The thing I keep coming back to with Devin Booker is that he was seen as a pure shooter entering the 2015 NBA Draft. He was basically expected to do one of two things as a freshman at Kentucky — either catch-and-shoot the ball or take a couple of dribbles into a pull-up. Outside of that, he didn't do much offensively.

So the fact that he's now averaging 24.3 points per game as a go-to scorer in the NBA as a 21-year-old is super impressive. He's developed much quicker than anyone expected, and he is making noticeable improvements to his game each season. While he does still have some flaws, I think it's easy to forget just how much his game has changed in such a short period of time.

Still, like you said, he's built differently from other shooting guards in today's NBA, which doesn't necessarily make him the easiest person to project. Is he best suited as some point guard's Bradley Beal? Is he on pace to become a more modern version of DeMar DeRozan? Or is he capable of being a primary scorer and facilitator on a competitive team? The problem is I don't think we'll get a clear answer until the Suns surround with him the right talent or trade him. The first option could take a while and the second is unlikely to happen considering Booker is the closest thing they have to a franchise player.

CT: You're right, which I think hurt his draft stock in a way. His role on that Kentucky team was just catch-and-shoot at an elite level, and he did that. I'm not looking at his collegiate numbers right now, but I'm pretty sure he shot 93 percent from deep in Lexington. So we only saw him as a shooter, not a playmaker, because that just wasn't his role on Coach Cal's team. Part of me wonders if he would have gone higher had he gone to Florida and had a Bradley Beal-type role where he was asked to do more and was seen as more of a well-rounded guard who could be a franchise guy rather than a complimentary player on a good team. 

I feel like we don't talk about his 24.3 PPG numbers enough. Like you said, he's getting better every season in an organization that can hardly be described as a functional one. (Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver would be a tad more harsh, I suspect.) He's shooting 38 percent from deep, has a 39.7 USG%, and you can almost guarantee he's going to get to at least twenty points with several treys every night. Just look at his game logs, where it's littered with thirty-plus-points nights. Just don't look at his DRPM. 

I love the Beal comparison, as I mentioned above, because I think there are a lot more similarities there. Even saying he's kind of like DeMar DeRozan if he shot threes would be fair -- super efficient, just from different spots on the floor. Beal is fortunate enough to play next to an All-Star, elite defender in John Wall, while Booker is, correct me if I'm wrong, playing next to Not Mike James most nights? Booker has already played with a lot of point guards, and Phoenix hasn't found him the right backcourt partner. Who is that? With Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender in the fold, you'd think the right guy for Booker at this point in his career is a long, defensive-minded lead guard with a pass-first instinct. With Eric Bledsoe in Milwaukee, I'd look at somebody like Malcolm Brogdon, or, perhaps more feasible, Dejounte Murray. It's just got to be somebody who can lower the Suns' defensive rating from 30th in the League.

SR: But I think that number is also the reason he is so polarizing. On one hand, Booker is a 21-year-old who is a threat to go off for 30 points on any given night, doing so as effortlessly as anyone in the league when he's rolling. On the other, he's an obviously talented scorer whose big numbers in the scoring column aren't overly impressive given his situation and the fact the Suns can't win games.

That's sort of what Golliver is getting at here:

"While he’s clearly talented, fresh and exciting, his shiny scoring exploits are dimmed by his ultra-green light and by the fact that he’s yet to play in a meaningful game because his team is so bad."

All of that is true. Booker is super talented, but he does have the ultra-green light in Phoenix and he hasn't yet played in a meaningful game, which may or may not be an indictment on him. (It isn't). So how do you evaluate someone like that? Does it matter as much that he continues to improve as a scorer if the rest of his game isn't progressing at a similar rate? Because, as Golliver also explained, he isn't the most complete player yet.

The reason I'm more optimistic than pessimistic about his potential is because nobody expected Booker to be as good as he is already this quickly. If he can go from spot-up shooter at Kentucky to being a three-level scorer in the NBA within three years, maybe he figures the rest out sooner rather than later as well. The question for me is if he develops more into the Beal-type of DeRozan-type in the coming years. Because as much as I love DeRozan and feel as though he gets more criticism than he deserves, he's not necessarily the easiest player to build around. The difference with Beal is he could fit into most teams because of how comfortable he is operating with and without the ball in his hands.

CT: So who do you think is the real Devin Booker? Or perhaps a better question: What will Booker have to change in his game for him to become less problematic and more appreciated?

The meaningful game point from Golliver is fair, although, I'm not going to hold that against the former Wildcat. Denver's unicorn NIkola Jokic may never play in a meaningful playoff game -- I should note, meaningful in the context of at least a Conference Finals appearance -- but basketball fans, for the most part, have rallied around him in spite of the cast of characters he's been surrounded with in Mile High City. Sidenote: By going down this rabbit hole, I'd like to pose a different question: Who would you rather have for the next decade leading your backcourt: Booker or Jamal Murray?

I completely agree on the Beal and DeRozan fronts, but what scares me for Phoenix is that neither of those players can be the best player on a contender. They're elite complimentary players on a contender, and, if that's where Booker ultimately gets to, that's still a huge win for Phoenix considering where they drafted him in the lottery. Perhaps for Booker to take his game to the next level he'll need McDonough to find his own Jokic or some other wing or big that can scale that 30 percent USG% down so that, maybe, just maybe, Booker can use decreased burden offensively on the defensive end of the floor.

Final thoughts on one of the most confident basketball players I've ever seen?

SR: To be honest, I still don't know the answer to that question because I think his game will continue to be nitpicked until he's in a situation where his team is competitive. Because as explosive as he has been this season, the Suns are still being outscored by 6.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. And they're only scoring at a rate of 103.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, which puts them between the Trail Blazers and Hornets in offensive efficiency.

Is that a cop-out answer? It probably is. I just feel like we won't know how good Booker really is until he's in a position where he can either complement an equally talented player or elevate slightly more capable teammates. (I'm not saying the Suns should trade Booker by the way. He was a fantastic pick by them and he's the closest thing they have to a star. I just hope they can surround him with the right talent sooner rather than later).

The Booker vs. Murray question is interesting to me because it's almost a discussion about uncertainty vs. certainty. We've seen more from Booker overall, but I think it's clearer what type of player Murray could develop in to, at least when it comes to how they fit into a given system. Still, I think I'd go with Booker because I like his long-term potential more. 

Who would you prefer to have?

CT: Yeah, that seems to be the inescapable conundrum for so many young, promising players drafted into subpar situations. (We're, like, three months away from just calling this The Victor Oladipo Theory, by the way.) 

We probably won't, and with the way the Suns have operated since drafting the kid, it wouldn't be wise to assume that he's going to experience that in Phoenix sooner rather than later. Remember, Phoenix hasn't been to the playoffs since the 2009-10 season. Booker on a playoff team would be fun, but it's so hard to forecast the future of this team with an interim coach in place, an odd cap situation, and a plethora of young players who just haven't hit the way Booker has thus far. 

To wrap this up, my brain says Murray, but my heart says Booker. I trust Murray more as a shooter, his ability to finish at the rim, and see him as a better bet to be a solid No. 2 Guy on a really good playoff team. Booker may never reach the playoffs in Phoenix, and I could totally see him excelling as a No. 3 or No. 4 option in his late 20s playing next to somebody like Giannis in Milwaukee. 

I will say, though, I'd prefer to watch both play basketball for the next decade.

MLB Winter Meetings Update With Evan Davis (Ep. 99)

Chase Thomas is joined by FanRagSports' Evan Davis to talk about the what J.D. Martinez is going to get this winter (3:00), the Yankees landing Giancarlo Stanton (6:00), other potential Miami Marlins moves under Derek Jeter (15:00), the Mets' poor situation (28:00), the Kansas City Royals losing Eric Hosmer (33:00), and the Los Angeles Angels winning the Shohei Otani (45:00).

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Ranting And Raving About Monday Night Raw: The Bar Is Still Set

Sasha Banks vs. Paige  photos   WWE.png

Earlier this week, I was listening to one of my favorite wrestling podcasts in the car, which is known as “Going In Raw”, and as Steve and Larson were previewing this week’s edition of Monday Night Raw, it seemed obvious to them that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose would be winning back the Raw tag team titles in Los Angeles. There logic was sound, as Roman Reigns had won the Intercontinental title a few weeks prior, and the creative team seemed to be going in the The Shield Wins All The Titles direction on the Road To WrestleMania. With Reigns likely to not get pinned before his Universal title match against Brock Lesnar, ending next year’s granddaddy of them all with the visual of The Shield carrying all the titles makes sense. (It may also be the only way the show doesn’t end on a dud.)

That’s not what happened last night.

Instead, The Bar survived in what was a wild finish that included not only Rollins and Ambrose but Reigns and Samoa Joe as well. The Shield can’t seem to shake heel trios -- last week it was Elias and The Miztourage, this week it was Joe and The Bar. At one point, Raw general manager Kurt Angle came out and restarted the match after Sheamus intentionally got himself disqualified after ten-plus minutes of in-ring action. (Logically, this didn't make a lot of sense.) Chaos ensued, similar to the way The New Day cost Rollins and Ambrose before Survivor Series to close out an episode of Raw, as The Bar escaped with the tag team titles in stunning fashion.

Still, it was surreal to see just how invested the crowd was in a feud that I’d previously thought hadn’t had any meat left on the bone for months. The near falls were electric, the match reset idea clicked, and the show ended with Joe, Cesaro and Sheamus celebrating in the crowd just like we all predicted.

Without further ado, let’s dive into some of the smaller things that caught my attention this week:

  1. I’m very much over Authority Figure Opens The Show routine on both shows, but this week was an exception. Jason Jordan attacking Reigns from behind was the right call, and the creative team has clearly changed gears with his character that’s now registering real heat with the crowd. The kid just needs a mouthpiece. What’s Wade Barrett up to?
  2. The Reigns and John Cena comparisons, for the most part, have never really coincided with reality -- just read Triple H’s quotes about the Big Dog he gave to The National this week -- but what does seem to be happening that was also true for Cena is elevating other talent by just feuding with the WWE’s top guy. By attacking Reigns, by staring bullets from the top of the ramp during his match with Jordan, by costing his brothers the tag team titles it made Joe look not only really cool, but, perhaps more importantly, made him look important. Elias seemed to still be glowing from his match with Reigns last week on Raw. Joe isn’t winning this feud with Reigns, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t helping him.
  3. Absolution is working, and it certainly looks like the crowd is definitely here for a Paige vs. Asuka pay-per-view match down the road, but tonight’s match that pitted Sasha Banks against Mandy Rose and Sonya Daville’s leader didn’t work. In a lot of ways, this match came off the same way Dolph Ziggler matches against Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura unfolded. The same sort of problems reappeared: far too long, too many rest holds, and an ending everyone expected. Banks and Ziggler have a lot in common right now.
  4. “Woken” Matt Hardy is here and the company isn’t wasting any time introducing the WWE audience to Hardy’s new persona. In a week’s time, his personality has drastically changed, his attire, his accent, just about everything about the nostalgia act that was the Hardy Boyz is gone. It was a risky play by WWE’s creative team to not slowly introduce fans to this niche character, but it looks as though Vince and company hit 21. While fans, myself included, groaned and grew droopy-eyed as Bray Wyatt spouted more nonsense and incoherent dribble, the Woken One flashed on the screen in delightful fashion. Wrestling fans’ appetite for this character’s return hasn’t subsided, and they’re going to get it in full for a while.

From The Digital Notepad:

  • “I have been woken.”

  • I think more people watched the Broken Matt Hardy Impact Wrestling shows than NXT.

  • Where does Alexa Bliss come into focus?

  • Nia Jax and Enzo is going to deliver some very memorable segments.

  • Can Alicia Fox finally get new theme music?

  • I don’t love Drew Gulak vs. Rich Swann next week.

  • That Mustafa Ali springboard spanish fly was nuts.

  • “Oh God.” - Kurt Angle to Elias.

  • Booker T and Corey Graves is never going to work.

  • Jason Jordan is three years younger than Roman Reigns.

  • I miss The Miz.

Wolves and Thunder Problems, DeAndre Jordan and Pacers With Dan Favale (Ep. 98)

Chase Thomas is joined by NBA Math and Bleacher Report's Dan Favale to catch up on who should be tanking (3:00), what's going on with the Thunder and Timberwolves (18:00), Anthony Davis still being awesome (25:00), the Clippers having to trade DeAndre Jordan (33:00), and how the Indiana Pacers are staying afloat (56:00).

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Why Am I Watching This Shit? SNF Seahawks vs. Eagles Edition

You’re not going to believe this, but I’m adding another column into my ever-growing list of Cool Shit That I Want To Write About.

The latest?

Like so many of you, I’m sure, you constantly find yourself wondering either aloud or in your Google search bar: “Why am I watching this?” With Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Amazon Video, and probably more streaming services that I’m forgetting, but only forgetting because there are just too many of these damn things popping up, there are more things to watch than ever. (I’m pretty sure I have the bonus Showtime add-on subscription on my Amazon Prime account? How does that happen? Could I love The Affair and Twin Peaks that much that I blacked out one night and rather than order a bunch of clothes I don’t need or make sports bets I shouldn’t go through with, I got real crazy and upped my subscription because I needed to see how the Bookhouse Boys were doing right now?) Point is, there is a lot of good television and sporting events and movies out there for all of us to consume, and I’ll be honest: I devour my fair share.

So why not write about what I’m watching while also thinking to myself more often than not: “Why am I watching this shit?”

It’s a fair question to ask, but it’s one that I’ll never really be able to answer because does anyone really know why we watch what we watch? Does it matter? I don’t know, but I watch a lot of things, so I’m going to write about the comical misuse of time that I exhibit on a daily basis.

Enjoy. Or don’t. I’m still writing this damn column.

***

Sunday night, the Philadelphia Eagles took their 10-1 record to Seattle in a game I was looking forward to all week. Yes, the Saints facing the Panthers at home was intriguing, the Falcons getting the opportunity to buy back the trust of its fans after a rocky start against the Vikings was interesting, but the Eagles are the favorites to come out of the NFC this year and the Seahawks were my preseason Super Bowl pick. In a year where it seems like so many teams are a quarterback away from contending, and, you know, actually being a fun watch, both of these two teams boast quarterbacks who are very much in the running for MVP this season.

Barring other unexpected commitments, I make time to watch Russell Wilson play quarterback. There aren’t many in the NFL like him. The guy is leading his team in rushing, just got a competent left tackle for the first time in 14 years Tom Cable has been the offensive line coach in Seattle, and is being asked to, really, do everything for the Pete Carroll’s team as the Legion Of Boom continues to evolve into more of a Legion Of Gloom. With the kind of injury luck the Seahawks have had this year, along with their revolving door at the running back position, your gut would tell you write this team off because the Football Injury Gods just didn’t like them this year. Instead, Wilson, in similar fashion to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, finds a way each week to keep his crippled team afloat with his arms and his legs. Too often in sports we take careers like Wilson’s for granted.

I will never take watching Russell Wilson on Sundays for granted.

Carson Wentz is already inching closer and closer to joining Wilson and Rodgers in the As Long As They’re Healthy And Playing They Can Win Any Game category. What works against the former North Dakota State star is something that’s entirely out of his control: experience. He’s still in just the second year of his NFL career, but he’s already rightfully in the MVP conversation, which is really all you want as an NFL fan -- to have a quarterback who at least belongs in the conversation. I think Wentz will get there, but Sunday night was a reminder that Wilson has been there for a while and isn’t going away anytime soon.

What’s better than debating whether or not Wentz or Wilson is the MVP favorite for quarterbacks not named Tom Brady right now?

An entertaining primetime Sunday Night Football with my favorite announcing duo of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth.

The Seahawks were up 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, and my prediction that they’d beat The Visor Guy's team on Sunday night that I'd made on my podcast earlier in the week was looking good. Wilson was moving around a fierce Philly pass rush, and finding Doug Baldwin for first downs on the sidelines seemingly every time the Seahawks needed to a big conversion. There is something different about this Seattle team, at least offensively, with Mike Davis -- who is somehow only 24-years-old and did not play at South Carolina with Stephen Garcia in 2008 -- backing up Wilson. It’s remarkable how much scarier the Seahawks look when Eddie Lacy or Thomas Rawls aren’t back there.

But the Seahawks never appeared to be phased by the Eagles. Wentz was forced to play from behind from the outset, after a Blair Walsh field goal on the opening drive for the Seahawks made it 3-0, and he had a tough time. The Seahawks secondary survived without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor this week against the best team in the NFC. Wentz had 45 attempts in this game, but it felt like attempted far less.

Still, it was interesting to see Wentz in a high-pressure environment, even if it was a regular season affair. In a lot of ways, his rise reminds me a lot of what happened with Dak Prescott in Dallas last year. Like Prescott, No. 11 has established himself as a franchise quarterback that you want come playoff time, but, considering the rash of injuries in Seattle, the Eagles should have lit up a Seattle defense that had already been roasted at home earlier in the year to both Matt Ryan and Deshaun Watson. On the plus side, Nelson Agholor’s transformation into a consistent, terrifying deep threat in Philadelphia is something I don’t think anybody saw coming.

This game didn't feature Wentz and Wilson throwing bomb after bomb to a final score of 45-38 that I had envisioned prior to the contest, but it was fun to see a Seattle team look like the Seattle team of old. While Arizona and San Francisco have fallen, the Seahawks have been more stubborn than Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. It was interesting to see how the Eagles responded when they were down 17-3 on the road against a potential playoff team -- they didn’t fold and we were treated with Wentz going no-huddle and throwing Four Verticals into the end zone until the clock hit 0:00. Like Wilson, the Eagles' quarterback is a leader who is just not going to crumble in big moments, no matter how clear it is that it’s just not his team’s day.

I’m glad I watched this one.

Introducing the Nobody Asked Mailbag

Could I already be out of writing ideas for the week?

Is that why I’m introducing a new, weekly column idea in which I answer emails from people who don’t actually exist each week?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do have answers to questions I’m asking myself that delve into the often insane world of sports and pop culture. Perhaps one day I’ll add a splash of politics into these mailbag-from-people-who-do-not-exist columns one day, but it’s Friday, and it’s been a peculiarly good week for me. Why get reckless in Week 1 and give my brief thoughts on things that will potentially alienate you, the reader, this early in the process? There is plenty of time for that later.

Anyway, this is another thing I’m going to try. I’m trying it because I want to experiment on my site because, well, why not? Like my podcast, all I can do is keep going and learning and hoping that, throughout the process, I’m getting better.

We’ll see.

So let’s get into your very made-up emails that you certainly did not submit to chasethomaspodcast@gmail.com.

***

Q: Will there ever come a time where Thursday Night Football in the NFL becomes etched in sports fans’ minds as appointment viewing?

- John, Dacula, Georgia

CT: Growing up, I watched a lot of college football on Thursday nights and I’d swear before the courts that I’ve seen Louisville and Wake Forest play a Thursday night game on ESPN thirty-six times in my life -- and I’m only 26-years-old! That is to say that it just organically became appointment viewing growing up. (Shoutout to random nights watching Riley Skinner and Brian Brohm!) So, do I think grown NFL fans will ever be sure to tune into a Jags vs. Titans mid-week affair on the NFL Network? No, I don’t. The kids who are staying up late on a school night to watch it right now, though? That’s certainly possible.

Q: What do you think of Tennessee reportedly hiring Phillip Fulmer as their next athletic director?

- Jeff, Troy, Alabama

CT: What a time to be alive. I’m not a texter, phone calls are better, I promise, but I am in a group text with multiple of family members who are big Tennessee fans and/or alums. Without looking at my phone to see how they’re reacting to the news as I’m typing this, I imagine that they’ll be pleased. They hated the last AD who self-destructed this week after trying to replace Butch Jones with Greg Schiano. Fulmer is 67-years-old, has no experience in this kind of role, but he’s beloved by Volunteer fans, so his hiring will probably be celebrated. Not looking good for Lane Kiffin’s return to Knoxville, though, which I was definitely here for. Thankfully, he still tweets.

Q: Will you be seeing the latest Pixar hit COCO in theaters?

- Jessica, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

CT: I think I might be done with animated movies. It may have finally happened. Growing up, I was never really into cartoons, as I was more focused on Thomas The Tank Engine and Power Rangers, and less on Pokemon, Rugrats, Duck Tales, etc. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been a huge comic-book person, either? Give me Drake & Josh over Rocket Power every day of the week.

Wait, what was the question again? Right, COCO. To be honest, the last Pixar movie I saw in theaters was INSIDE OUT, and that will probably be the last. (Sorry possible, future kids, I’m out!) I’ll be skipping COCO and watching too much football this weekend. Who knows, I may get crazy and start Season 2 of GILMORE GIRLS at some point? (I’ve been hooked ever since that episode where Emily Gilmore fixes Lorelai that foul banana sandwich. Seriously, what the hell was that?)

Q: Eli Manning got benched in favor Geno Smith this week. I don’t actually have a question, I just can’t get over that being a real sentence in 2017.

- Tim, Long Island, New York

CT: I can’t either, Tim. I’ve watched entirely too much of the Giants this season, and if you’re watching the games, it’s hard to come away thinking that Manning is responsible for this shit sandwich. Per Football Outsiders, his DYAR currently sits ahead of Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. It’s also hard to really rip Manning for all of his wide receivers dissipating early in the season. The G-Men won 11 games just one season ago with Manning at the helm, and it’s not like everyone saw this disaster movie coming in 2017. Manning can’t carry a team anymore, but I feel pretty confident the Ravens, Cardinals, Bucs, Jaguars, Texans, Browns and Dolphins would gladly take the future Hall-of-Famer right now. McAdoo can take his starting job, but he can’t take his two rings.

Q: Will a Roman Reigns Intercontinental Championship Open Challenge shift fans’ feelings on the Big Dog?

- Jack, Naples, Florida

CT: Week 1 of the Reigns Reset on Monday Night Raw wasn’t bad. His match versus Elias went over well, and they both came off looking better because of it. The John Cena United States Championship Open Challenge was extremely successful, but it didn’t change fans’ perspective of him. In a vacuum, the Reigns’ open challenge should be better because Reigns, especially at this point in his career, is a much better wrestler than Cena. His character and storylines may be not be all that compelling, but the guy can work. I’ll enjoy these matches as Brock Lesnar continues to hide away in the woods of Minnesota, but it’s not going to get him over as a babyface.

That’s it for this week. Could this be a staple on the site every Friday? Sure. We’ll see, though. Thanks to all the readers who didn’t write in and send me these emails because I wrote the questions and answered them.

Two Things from Smackdown Live: Randy Orton Needs a Direction

What is the end game for Smackdown Live’s biggest storyline involving Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan? After this storyline was placed on the backburner so that both Smackdown Live and Raw could focus on brand supremacy for a few weeks, the blue brand has changed gears and the complicated storyline is back at the forefront on Tuesday nights. But where are they going? How does this end? Who ultimately benefits from this?

I don’t have the answers, but I’m inching closer and closer to falling into the Nobody Is Winning This Feud camp.

For Bryan, it can only hurt. A few weeks ago he was verbally extinguished by the Best Friends, but now in the interest of the brand’s limited main event talent depth, has come to their defense. Bryan is trying to play both sides right now, and if he’s not getting cleared to compete anytime soon, I’m not sure why they’re going down this road.

For McMahon, he’s already gone to Hell with Owens only to be foiled by Zayn in a stunning finish at Hell In A Cell a few weeks back. Does anyone really want to see Shane go to war with Owens or Zayn again? If the goal is to eventually turn Shane-O-Mac, the Smackdown writers are doing a fantastic job doing it organically with these opening promos every week. (They’re awful and need to stop.)

For Owens and Zayn, it feels like they’re losing steam as the weeks go by. At some point, the WWE creative team has to decide what they’re going to do with these two going forward -- and it can’t be moving them to Raw. The red brand is too loaded to be able to absorb both Zayn and Owens, but with the duo being at severe odds with the blue brand’s figure heads the WWE has booked themselves into a corner. Oddly enough, an ending where Owens and Zayn somehow take control of Smackdown Live, at least for a time, from McMahon and Bryan may just be their best course of action.

With that, let’s jump into my two major takeaways from this week’s Smackdown Live:

  1. “Byron that is disgusting,” Corey Graves said in the best line of the show. As much as I fantacize hopping into a lion pit while listenting to Raw’s commentary team each week, the Graves and Byron Saxton dynamic will never cease to entertain me. But that’s not one of my major things I took away from this show -- I just needed to put that out into the world. (Stay strong, Byron.) Instead, I was mesmorized by Randy Orton’s sudden hair growth, for one, but Orton’s current place in the company is a mystery. His main event match with Owens was enjoyable, but it reminded me how irrelevant Orton is right now within the company, and that stinks. Orton, like John Cena, is moving into a new role in the company, but that new, minor role should still have a plan. For all of Orton’s shortcomings, one thing has always been true -- the guy is dependable. If you place him in the right situation -- ala in a blood feud against Brock Lesnar -- Orton can still be a very fun, interesting character. Who knows how much longer we have of Orton in the WWE, and for Smackdown Live’s creative team to not put him into a compelling storyline right now -- perhaps with Baron Corbin and/or Bobby Roode -- is insanely frustrating.

  2. Is it too late to pull the plug on the Riott Squad vs. Smackdown Live women’s division? Maybe it was just a bad week, but from a painful backstage promo between Charlotte Flair and Naomi, to Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan not getting disqualified for destroying Naomi, to Natalya’s insufferable over-acting, this is just not working. For the most part, though, it’s not the wrestlers’ fault, as they’re all talented, but they’ve been fed bad dialogue and a program that is eliciting crickets from the audience. It doesn’t help that Ruby Riott and Liv Morgan just come off as natural babyfaces, but, man, next week has to be better. Let's hope it is.

NFL Week 13 With Ethan Hammerman and Vikings With Eric Thompson (Ep. 97)

Chase Thomas is joined by Pats Pulpit's Ethan Hammerman to recap Week 12 in the NFL (3:00), the Chargers surging at the right time (7:00), the Aqib Talib vs. Michael Crabtree drama (16:00), how the Lions can still make the playoffs (21:00), why people should chill on the Dak Prescott hate (28:00), and preview Week 13 in the NFL (30:00). Then, The Daily Norseman's Eric Thompson returns to talk Vikings (63:00), the Teddy Bridgewater vs. Case Keenum issue (70:00), and preview the Falcons vs. Vikings game on Sunday (78:00).

Three Things: Monday Night Raw

Goodbye, The Miz. Hello, Roman Reigns.

For the past several months, Monday Night Raw has been carried by one man in particular, and it wasn’t Raw General Manager Kurt Angle, or Braun Strowman, or Finn Balor or even Roman Reigns, no, it was The Miz.

The Miz has been the MVP of Raw since claiming the Intercontinental title, as the former WWE champion has carried the load both in the promo and in-ring department while the brand’s Universal champion enjoys his part-time schedule, appearing just often enough so that fans don’t forget about his existence. When Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman are away, The Miz’s IC title has become the default main championship on the show, and, if you didn’t know the Universal title existed and just tuned into a random episode of Raw this fall, you would assume that The Miz was the main champion.

However, The Miz dropped his title to Reigns last week and as he is away filming The Marine 6 -- I hope these never end, honestly. Adam Cole is going to make The Marine 13 in 2023 the best yet. -- so the Big Dog has taken his place. Reigns opened this week’s show, alone, and was met with a mild version of what John Cena has experienced from most crowds for the better part of a decade. With no pay-per-view for Raw until the Royal Rumble, Lesnar isn’t needed and the Intercontinental champion is once again being the main focus of the weekly program. This time, it really is his yard.

Here are three things that I took away from this week’s edition of Monday Night Raw:

  1. Elias just might be a potential Guy on the red brand. Filling in for The Miztourage’s absent leader, the trio didn’t miss a beat. After weeks of bad segments and feuds -- remember when Jason Jordan was throwing celery at the Drifter a few weeks ago, and he was supposed to be the babyface? I love this company. -- the wanderer finally found a direction. At least temporarily, as Samoa Joe made it very clear later on in the night that he’s got his sights set on Reigns, and, perhaps, that shiny, white belt. Elias was given time in the ring against a serious opponent and it just worked. Elias looked like he belonged in the ring with the company’s biggest star, and that matters. The match itself wasn’t all that memorable, but I came away thinking that Elias’ ceiling may not be a mid-card act, but, in actuality, a potential top heel in a few years. For a roster littered with older talent, Elias is just 29-years-old, and he showed that he could be more if given the opportunity. I just wish he was two inches taller where he’d be kind of like Jinder Mahal but good.

  2. I had forgotten how good Paige is on the mic. Something that has plagued the Raw women’s division has been poor mic skills of its top workers outside of Alexa Bliss. She’s been in a league of her own since moving to Raw, but she finally has somebody on the roster who she can actually have an entertaining back-and-forth segment with. Paige’s explanation for her actions made sense, and her line about erasing the term “diva” from the WWE dictionary was a home run. There’s depth to the Paige character, and it’s only going to get better as time goes on. I’m not sure what I’m more excited for: her inevitable match against Asuka or her first Raw promo opposite of Alexa Bliss.

  3. Certain wrestlers have a natural aura of “cool” surrounding them. It’s natural and can’t be learned or developed much to the chagrin of Triple H who has tried to be a Cool Guy for close to two decades now. The Cerebral Assassin may never have had it, but Samoa Joe does. It may be the way he speedwalks to the ring, or it may be his natural look, or it may just be his propensity to put anyone and everyone into a coquina clutch whenever he feels like it. I’m not sure what it is, but the crowd wants to like him similar to the way they like Strowman -- except with Joe it just doesn’t feel quite as forced. Or maybe it’s just that Michael Cole hasn’t referred to him with his nickname thirteen times over the course of one episode of Raw yet. So why put him against Reigns now? This week’s Raw was about Vince McMahon’s crown jewel, but his decision to pit him against another wrestler that the crowd is going to get behind is a puzzling one. It isn’t cool to Actually Like Elias yet, but that is the case for the Samoan Submission Machine. We know how this story ends -- Reigns is going to get panned and Joe is going to get showered with cheers. This company, man.

Chase Thomas is freelance writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the host of “The Chase Thomas Podcast” and has written for VICE Sports, The Cauldron, Hardwood Paroxysm, and more. Email him: chasethomas0418@gmail.com.