Braves' Hot Start, WrestleMania 34, and the WWE Superstar Shake-up With Cory McCartney of the Chopcast and William R. Washington of RBR Wrestling (Ep. 143)

Chase Thomas is joined by Fox Sports' Cory McCartney to talk about the Ronald Acuna call-up date (3:00), the rise of Ozzie Albies (10:00), a potential Chris Archer trade at the deadline (19:00), Dansby Swanson getting back on track in 2018 (25:00), and what they thought of WWE WrestleMania 34 and NXT TakeOver: New Orleans (30:00). Then, RBR Wrestling's William R. Washington jumps on the pod to talk about Gail Kim taking shots at Stephanie McMahon (45:00), the stacked Smackdown Live roster (55:00), Winners and Losers from the Superstar Shake-up (60:00), a new Roman Reigns idea (72:00), and the booking of John Cena and The Undertaker at WrestleMania 34 (78:00).

NBA Playoffs Round 1 With Jason Patt and Brooklyn Nets With Anthony Puccio (Ep. 142)

Chase Thomas is joined by Nets Daily's Anthony Puccio to talk about the 2017-18 season for the Brooklyn Nets (3:00), the development of D'Angelo Russell (8:00), the future of Jeremy Lin and Spencer Dinwiddie (16:00), and the rise of Jarrett Allen (23:00). Then, NBA writer Jason Patt jumps on the pod to talk about the Washington Wizards going down 2-0 against the Toronto Raptors (29:00), the possibility of Celtics vs. Heat in Round 2 (38:00), the weird Kawhi Leonard stuff with the Spurs (48:00), the problem with the Timberwolves (60:00), Jrue Holliday stepping up (66:00), and the New York Knicks disastrous coaching search (76:00). 

NBA Year End Awards With Sean Highkin and Wizards With Chris Thompson of Deadspin (Ep. 141)

Chase Thomas is joined by NBA writer Sean Highkin to talk about the offseason coaching changes (3:00), their Coach of the Year choices (14:00), Donovan Mitchell vs. Ben Simmons (20:00), Victor Oladipo winning Most Improved (30:00), and why everybody is over-thinking James Harden as MVP (39:00). Then, Deadspin's Chris Thompson jumps on the pod to talk about the Wizards (45:00), their chances of winning a first-round series (50:00), hypothetical John Wall trades (63:00), and Colin Cowherd vs. John Wall (70:00). 

Mike Budenholzer Has Found Himself in a Difficult Spot

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Mike Budenholzer is an odd spot. The Atlanta Hawks have the worst record in the Eastern Conference as of this writing, the team has committed to a long-term rebuild, the Hawks’ coach doesn’t have the front-office power he once had, and a new Sports Illustrated NBA mock draft had Michigan State star Jaren Jackson Jr. going to the Hawks at the No. 3 spot. Jackson would be fine in Atlanta, he would probably mesh well next to John Collins, and the Hawks will still be in prime position to be the worst team in the Eastern Conference again next season. Should any of this sound appetizing to a coach who won sixty games just a few seasons ago and waited almost twenty years to get a head-coaching gig in the NBA?

It shouldn't.

So it should come as no surprise that Budenholzer -- along with Doc Rivers, who, according to my very brief Google search, is already being linked to every potential head-coaching vacancy in the League --  is reportedly interested in the Bucks' job. For one, they still have Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Hawks do not. They also have Eric Bledsoe, Tony Snell, Jabari Parker, Thon Maker, Khris Middleton, John Henson, Malcolm Brogdon, and even Jason Terry because he’s apparently decided to play professional basketball for the rest of his life. The Hawks have made more G-League call-ups and assignments this season alone than every other NBA team has made ever. Seriously. Just ask Josh Magette, who hasn’t been able to look away from his phone for even a millisecond this season.

But then you think about Brett Brown in Philadelphia. He, too, left the comfortable situation in San Antonio and trusted a different process. Unlike Brown, though, Budenholzer won quickly and won a lot. Budenholzer didn’t have to be patient. Now? He’s where Brown was a few years ago, coaching a team with interesting pieces, a revolving door of G-League prospects, and hoping the process in Atlanta isn’t as painful as it had to have been for Brown in Philadelphia.

Brown has never had the same kind of power that Budenholzer previously had in Atlanta, but he did lose the man who hired him in Sam Hinkie. Now, the Colangelo family runs things, and you could have easily seen a scenario where the Sixers parted ways with Brown before now. Everybody would rather have their own guy. These situations are routinely awkward and seem to rarely work, but the Sixers are the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference right now. They’ve won fourteen-straight games. They’re the hottest team in the East and it’s somehow not absurd to think that with a healthy Joel Embiid this team could reach the Finals.

Budenholzer has been there before, his entire starting five was voted NBA Player of the Month at one point, he won Coach of the Year, and he was the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Nobody saw that 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks team winning sixty games before the season began, and nobody saw the Sixers putting it all together this fast in 2017-18. The year prior to that sixty-win team, Budenholzer’s club won just 38 games. The year prior to this fifty-win Sixer team, Brown’s club won 28 games.

This is what makes sports fun.

This is also what makes Budenholzer’s future so interesting. He’s already proven he’s a great head coach, so teams like Milwaukee should be blowing up his phone, and the Bucks have to nail this next hire. Antetokounmpo is 23 now, Parker is a restricted free agent this summer, and did I mention that just last summer there were already reports of “the clock is ticking” on building a winner around the Greek Freak? No pressure. The Bucks can’t bank on another unknown like Jason Kidd -- everybody knows Budenholzer is a good NBA head coach.

Perhaps what makes the Budenholzer-to-Milwaukee rumors so intriguing is the team’s wing depth -- Middleton, Antetokounmpo, Brogdon, Snell, Parker -- and his experience getting the most out of guys like that. Taurean Prince is casually dropping 33/8/5 lines down the stretch this season, Kent Bazemore has developed into an above-average wing under Coach Bud, DeMarre Carroll got paid, and then, of course, the Kawhi Leonard days in San Antonio. The Bucks may not have enough on the roster to ever get them to the Finals, but Budenholzer would get them the closest.

But what if the NBA Gods are big Travis Schlenk fans and Luka Doncic or DeAndre Ayton falls into the Hawks’ laps in the top-3 of the draft? Is that enough to calm Budenholzer’s nerves about the future of the club? If they land Ayton or Doncic, how could he leave? If they land Jackson Jr. or Colin Sexton, how could he stay? Right now, there is no Embiid or Ben Simmons or Markelle Fultz on this roster to get Budenholzer amped for the future. But this summer, there could be. But there’s also already one of those in Milwaukee and he seems destined to win at least one MVP trophy in his career.

In Milwaukee, Budenholzer would win a lot, he’d maximize the Bledsoe-Snell-Middleton-Giannis-Maker core, he’d finish in the top-4 in the East as long as Giannis is on the team, and they’d be right there with Toronto, Boston, Washington, Indiana and Cleveland for the foreseeable future.

In Atlanta, he’ll continue to lose a lot, he’d develop Collins, Prince and friends into reliable, valuable NBA players, and he might even stumble into the Hawks’ first franchise player since I was in diapers.

Easy choice, right?

Sopranos Season 5 With Todd VanDerWerff of Vox and MLB Early Season Analysis With Josh Nelson of Sox Machine (Ep. 140)

Chase Thomas is joined by Vox's critic at large Todd VanDerWerff to talk about The Sopranos (3:00), the Adrianna La Cerva storyline of Season 5 (8:00), Tony Soprano becoming a sociopath (15:00), the trapped characters in the show (20:00), and whether or not Furio is still alive and well (25:00). Then, Sox Machine's Josh Nelson jumps on the pod to talk about Shoehei Otani starting off hot for the Angels (34:00), the Indians benefiting from the terrible AL Central (40:00), the Red Sox and Mets hot start (50:00), Bryce Harper raking (58:00), and the Pirates coming out of nowhere (70:00).

WWE WrestleMania 34 Preview and Predictions With Eric Brady of RBR Wrestling (Ep. 139)

Chase Thomas is joined by RBR Wrestling's Eric Brady to talk ROH and NXT's big weekend PPVs (3:00), the debut of the North American title in NXT (13:00), the Undertaker and John Cena drama (20:00), the Sasha Banks vs. Bayley feud (27:00), Braun Strowman not needing a tag-team partner (40:00), the Ronda Rousey match (50:00), if Conor McGregor is next to make the jump (65:00), the Asuka vs. Charlotte Flair (73:00), and how the Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns and AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura title matches will go (83:00).

NBA Trade Machine Drama With Dan Favale of Bleacher Report and Mets With Matthew Cerrone of MetsBlog (Ep. 138)

Chase Thomas is joined by NBA Math and Bleacher Report's Dan Favale to talk about intriguing restricted free agent players this summer (3:00), the Kawhi Leonard trade rumors (13:00), why the Heat stuff doesn't make sense (20:00), Sixers and Wizards playoff odds (35:00), potential John Wall trades (45:00), and Hassan Whiteside potentially getting traded to the Lakers (50:00). Then, SNY TV MetsBlog's Matthew Cerrone to talk about the history of the site (56:00), Matt Harvey's resurgence (73:00), Michael Conforto's status (78:00), and whether or not the Mets can make the playoffs this year (83:00).

Fans of the Charlotte Hornets Can Take a Break Now, Seriously

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If you’re a fan of the Charlotte Hornets, I’ve got great news: You can stop caring about this franchise again.

Yes, the uniforms are cool again, the coach is solid, the Hornets name is back, and Kemba Walker just became the all-time leading scorer in franchise history. So, in theory, it should be an exciting time to be a fan of the Hornets in the Queen City.

It’s not.

As of this writing, the team is 34-44, will miss the playoffs in the East for back-to-back seasons and the team has a roster that’s slated to count for $117.9 million against the cap next year. Hope, this does not inspire.

It’s incredibly frustrating, as it’s not as though the Hornets are without talent. They’re not the Wizards’ bench on a grander scale. Walker just made his second-consecutive All-Star game, Malik Monk has started to show flashes down the stretch, Batum has struggled with his shot but he’s still contributing in other ways, Marvin Williams would be adored on the Houston Rockets, and the team is smack dab in the middle in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the NBA. Like so many other teams stuck in the middle, their rosters would look far more appetizing if it included a star or two.

That’s where Charlotte is right now, though. They’re average, but somehow not average enough to sneak into the playoffs in a suddenly interesting bottom half of the Eastern Conference. It seems like they should be right there with the Pacers, the Heat, the Bucks, but they’re closer to the Knicks who have been without Kristaps Porzingis for most of the season and are letting Emmanuel Mudiay lead their club to Tankathon glory. ( I’m not going to look, but I’m fairly confident the former Nugget is still dead-last in RPM for point guards.) The team’s most-used five-man lineup, Walker-Batum-MKG-Williams-Howard, have played 903 minutes together this season and boast a +/- of +71, per 82games.com. Does that five-man group really look all that worse than what the Heat and Pacers are trotting out every night? If you dig a bit deeper, any lineup that features Walker has continued be a rousing success, unless he’s saddled with trying to keep defenses honest with Howard, Frank Kaminsky and MKG on the floor together, of course. To put it a different way, Walker is Jon Snow at the Battle of the Bastards. (And yes, this *does* make Michael Carter-Williams the Rickon Stark in this analogy, which just feels right.)

This team has simply spent too much money to not be at the very least a consistent playoff team, similar to the starless-Hawks who went to 10-straight playoff appearances before they finally elected to chart a different course this past offseason. So you can understand why Jordan would part with Cho, but to replace the foodie with...Mitch Kupchak is mind-boggling. Bringing in Kupchak into a cap-situation like Charlotte’s is like calling in a fireman who thinks the only way to put out a fire is by adding just a little more fuel. (Michael Carter-Williams for four-years, $48 million this summer? Don’t rule it out!) Many don’t actually know this, but the “This Is Fine” dog meme was created in response to the first press conference by Kupchak revealing the details of the Deng and Mozgov contracts.

Kupchak is a Tar Heel, so it should come as no surprise that Jordan has offered him the general manager job, but outside of the university connection, what is the appeal of bringing in the former Laker general manager? Is it the history he has with Steve Clifford in Los Angeles? Is the fact that Kupchak called Clifford in 2016 to gush about how good Roy Hibbert was on offense after the Hornets signed him away from Los Angeles? Is Rod Higgins not returning Jordan’s phone calls anymore? I need to know.

In Kupchak’s defense, he did draft Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and D’Angelo Russell in the last few years. He sent the Wizards cash to draft Jordan Clarkson. He supported D’Antoni publicly after he resigned from the Lakers’ gig in what feels like a lifetime ago. He was even the guy who pried Luke Walton away from the Warriors.

But you just can’t block out the Deng and Mozgov contracts. And on a team that needs to shed salary and undergo another brutal, necessary rebuild, the stars don’t align. The Hornets may already have their own mini-Deng contract with Batum. They don’t need to bring in the guy who just may back up the Brinks truck for Isaiah Thomas this summer. They don’t need to bring in Sam Hinkie -- although, I’m still looking at you, Sacramento -- they just need a fresh voice. If you don’t want to do a full-roster teardown, that’s fine, pluck an executive that has excelled in building from the middle -- like the Rockets. Go snag a Neil Olshey disciple. Be creative. Just don’t hire Mitch Kupchak.

But maybe trade Kemba Walker?

The Hornets could have moved Walker prior to the trade deadline, but you can understand the hesitation from Charlotte’s perspective. Had he been moved, he wouldn’t have broken Dell Curry’s all-time scoring mark and given one of the best post-game interviews ever. (Seriously, just watch it and try not lose it as though you’re watching Matt Saracen ask why everybody leaves him.) And it’s still not out of the question this core could take a Portland-like leap with Walker and friends. Monk could very well become the former Huskies’ star C.J. McCollum. (They both even love the art of taking a bunch of difficult shots.) The parallels between the Hornets and Blazers are endless, from the Jusuf Nurkic and Dwight Howard comparisons, to the late-lottery-stretch-big-guy picks in Zach Collins and Frank Kaminsky, to the tantalizing long-term, offensive appeal of Damian Lillard and McCollum to Walker and Monk. None of that is to say the Hornets are on track to be the next Blazers, but it’s still a possibility. (Yes, I still like the potential in a five-man unit of Walker/Monk/MKG/Williams/Zeller with a side of Batum, Anybody But Dwight Howard and a backup point guard more like Shabazz Napier and less like Carter-Williams -- like Jeremy Lin, for instance. They should think about signing that guy at some point, he’d probably mesh well with Walker for stretches of games.)

The Hornets have options. They can trade Walker and go through another painful rebuild where they’d once again be relying on the Basketball Gods awarding them with the next Anthony Davis and not another Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. But there are no guarantees. They could reload by moving on from Williams, Zeller, and even MKG to see if a slight roster reconstruction adds new life to a roster on life support. Or they can hire Kupchak, double-down on bad contracts and send Charlotte fans back to their laptops to watch ‘90s Charlotte Hornets highlights on YouTube like it's the Larry Brown and Tyrus Thomas era in Charlotte again. Jordan is probably going to hire Kupchak.

So take a break Charlotte fans because we all will understand.

205 Live Rolling, Best and Worst WrestleMania 34 Feuds, and WWE's Ronda Rousey Problem With Chris Illuminati (Ep. 136)

Chase Thomas is joined by author Chris Illuminati to talk about why 205 Live is awesome now (3:00), the future of Braun Strowman (15:00), the Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar problem (25:00), the U.S. Title Fatal Four Way match at WrestleMania 34 (35:00), why John Cena vs. The Undertaker could close WrestleMania (42:00), the Ronda Rousey babyface problem (45:00), and Becky Lynch getting a win on Smackdown Live (60:00).

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Celtics Against the Eastern Conference, Timberwolves, Knicks With Tom Westerholm and Cardinals With Seth Cox (Ep. 135)

Chase Thomas is joined by MassLive.com's Tom Westerholm to talk about a controversial column aimed at Gordon Hayward leaving Utah (3:00), the Celtics getting hit with the injury bug with Marcus Smart and Kyrie Irving (10:00), Fultz vs. Tatum (20:00), Josh Jackson potentially being a Young Jimmy Butler (25:00), the Minnesota Timberwolves' tumble (28:00), why Chase loves Washington Wizards (38:00), and Doc Rivers and Mark Jackson being candidates to take over the Knicks (49:00). Then, Revenge of the Birds' Seth Cox jumps on the pod to talk about the Steve Keim era in Arizona (56:00), potentially trading up for a QB in the NFL Draft (65:00), the future of the NFC West (76:00), and how Carson Palmer will be remembered in Arizona (79:00).

Baker Mayfield in Denver, Potential Odell Beckham Jr. Trades, and NFL Free Agency With Ian St. Clair (Ep. 134)

Chase Thomas is joined by Mile High Report's Ian St. Clair to talk about the Denver Broncos signing Case Keenum (3:00), if the Broncos will trade up for Baker Mayfield (15:00), whether or not the Broncos defense is in trouble (25:00), why the AFC West will probably suck next year (30:00), the Giants potentially trading Odell Beckham Jr. (38:00), and who has had the best under-the-radar NFL free agent deals (54:00). 

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The Cardinals Just Have To Find a Quarterback

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A lot of NFL writers and analysts are already singing the praises of the offseason for the Indianapolis Colts, the Minnesota Vikings, the Green Bay Packers, and even the New York Jets, who have finally put themselves in a position for everyone to forget that the current brain trust actually drafted Christian Hackenberg. You will, however, be hard-pressed to find anyone brave enough to rave about the offseason that the Arizona Cardinals are having. Did you hear that the team gave Sam Bradford $20 million on a one-year deal, gave Mike Glennon another NFL contract to theoretically play behind the former Oklahoma star, and cut the Honey Badger. Outside of Larry Fitzgerald, I’m not entirely sure the team even has another living, breathing wide receiver on the roster. And yes, all of their tight-end options have probably already been placed on injured reserve knowing that it’s going to happen this fall anyway.

But none of that matters yet.

Yet.

The offseason, and, particularly free agency, is traditionally a happy time every fanbase is excited about which guys are coming in, and, perhaps, even more, excited about which guys are heading out. That’s not the case this offseason for Cardinals fans. They know the San Francisco 49ers haven’t lost a game with Jimmy Garoppolo under center, they know Russell Wilson is still in their division, and they know the Los Angeles Rams are signing and trading for every disgruntled star defensive player they can get their hands on.  And right now, they have Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon, so I get it.

But the Cardinals’ general manager Steve Keim has time.

The Jets came just short of stealing Kirk Cousins away from the Vikings, so they traded up to nab the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft. The New York Giants are clearly heading for a rebuild, the team just traded away Jason Pierre-Paul to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and if the team really does believe Eli Manning has a few more years in him, trading the No. 2 pick for a king’s ransom makes sense. We know how empty former general manager Jerry Reese left the cupboard for current general manager Dave Gettleman. With the Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and even the Dallas Cowboys -- winning a Super Bowl before they have to pay Dak Prescott puts them in this category --  in win-now mode, the Giants should move down and the Cardinals should strike.

The Cardinals head into the 2018 season with a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator, and an entirely different quarterback room. It’s easy to forget that Carson Palmer retired in January, as expected, but it’s also easy to forget that with a healthy Palmer this was a team that many felt could win the NFC just two seasons ago. Now, that quarterback is gone, Drew Stanton has gone to Backup Quarterback Heaven, and has anyone checked on Ryan Lindley? Bradford, like Palmer, comes with major durability concerns, and, like Stanton, Glennon is a nice guy to have as your team’s No. 2 option. Keim was obviously uneasy about heading into 2017 with Palmer and Stanton as his quarterback options, which is why Patrick Mahomes was close to wearing a very different shade of red to begin his pro career.

I find it hard to believe that if Keim was uneasy about heading into a season with a quarterback like Palmer, he’s solicitous at the idea of heading into the 2018 season with Bradford as his No. 1 option. If Keim lands Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, or even Lamar Jackson in the first round adding two veterans like Bradford and Glennon to new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s quarterback room looks a lot better.

Remind you of anyone?

You’re right, the Philadelphia Eagles under Howie Roseman did something similar when they traded for Sam Bradford, signed Basically Mike Glennon If We’re Being Honest Chase Daniel and still traded up for Carson Wentz. Roseman’s Eagles just won the Super Bowl, and they did it without any of the quarterbacks named in this paragraph -- Nick Foles. It took some time, but Roseman found his guy and found another guy and another guy and won the Super Bowl. The Vikings, another NFC championship representative, started the season with Bradford, missed their franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater whom they traded up for a few years prior, and came just one game short of being the first team to play in the Super Bowl in their own city with Case Keenum under center.

Why not Arizona?

It’d be costly, but it always is. It worked out for the Eagles, it worked out for the Rams, it may have even worked out for the Redskins if Robert Griffin III could have stayed on the field. The Cardinals still have too much talent to reach the point where they’ll be drafting No. 1 or No. 2 overall. To get their next franchise quarterback they’ll have to give up a lot of picks to get their next franchise quarterback. That’s just how this works, unless you stumble into a Wilson or Prescott, of course, but that’s a rarity. The Eagles traded away two first-round picks, a second-round pick, a third-round pick, and a fourth-round pick over the course of three drafts and something tells me Roseman would do it again every single time. For the Cardinals to get the Browns’ No. 4 pick, or even the Giants’ No. 2 pick, it’ll hurt, but if it results in Keim landing a franchise quarterback for the next fifteen years, it’ll hurt significantly less.

Right now, it’s fun to joke about Keim paying Bradford $20 million on a one-year deal. It’s fun to joke about Keim signing Glennon for, really, any amount of money. It’s not as fun to remember that Keim’s teams are 49-30-1 since he took over in Arizona, which makes him the most successful general manager in the history of the franchise.

Maybe Keim deserves the benefit of the doubt? Maybe the defense won’t fall apart without Tyrann Mathieu roaming the secondary. Maybe his decision to hire Steve Wilks away from Carolina turns out to be a home run. Maybe bringing in McCoy, who built successful offenses around Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning, was a sneaky, perfect hire. Maybe Keim knows what he’s doing. Actually, I’d bet that he does.

It could be Rosen, it could be Darnold, it could be Mayfield, who knows, but I know Keim isn’t finished. He had Mitch Trubisky on his “short list” of quarterbacks, he “loved” Mahomes, and he didn’t land any of them. It’s hard to see the best general manager in the history of the Arizona Cardinals going back-to-back drafts without landing their next quarterback of the future.

Keim is an aggressive general manager, and it’s paid off. But the Cardinals need to find their next “guy” under center, and they know that. Bradford and Glennon don’t signal that Keim is done. He’s got time, but he still has to deliver. The Cardinals are still a good football team, they just need a franchise quarterback.

Daniel Bryan's Return, Roman Reigns, and Asuka's Streak With Vaughn Johnson (Ep. 133)

Chase Thomas is joined by Philadelphia Eagles' digital platform producer Vaughn Johnson to talk about the return of Daniel Bryan to Smackdown Live (3:00), the potential of a CM Punk return (18:00), potential new Smackdown Live GMs (25:00), the booking of Roman Reigns on Raw (31:00), and the booking of the Women's division on both shows (46:00).

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NHL Regular Season Stretch Run With Broad Street Hockey's Stephanie Driver (Ep. 132)

Chase Thomas is joined by Broad Street Hockey's Stephanie Driver to talk about whether or not the Vegas Golden Knights are coming back down to Earth (3:00), what's going with the Flyers (10:00), Connor McDavid missing the playoffs again (22:00), the incoming Seattle NHL team (43:00), the Blackhawks failure (45:00) and the goalie interference changes (50:00).

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NBA with ESPN's Jovan Buha and MLB with Sporting News' Nick Stellini (Ep. 131)

Chase Thomas is joined by ESPN's Jovan Buha to talk about Ty Lue stepping away from the Cavaliers (3:00), Cleveland's playoff chances (10:00), the Denver Nuggets falling apart (22:00), the Pistons imploding even with Blake Griffin (30:00), and playoff matchups the duo want to see (40:00). Then, Sporting News' Nick Stellini jumps on the pod to talk about the Braves sending down Ronald Acuna (53:00), Shohei Otani's rocky Spring Training (64:00), and the Twins losing Jorge Polanco to a PED suspension (68:00).

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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?

***

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).

Support: www.patreon.com/chasethomaswriter

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Email: chasethomaspodcast@gmail.com

Show Page: www.chasethomaspodcast.com

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).

Support: https://www.patreon.com/chasethomaswriter

Twitter: @chase__thomas

Facebook: www.facebook.com/chasethomaswriter/

Email: chasethomaspodcast@gmail.com

Show Page: www.chasethomaspodcast.com

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).

Twitter: @chase__thomas

Facebook: www.facebook.com/chasethomaswriter/

Email: chasethomaspodcast@gmail.com

Show Page: www.chasethomaspodcast.com