Chase Thomas is joined by NBA.com's Scott Rafferty to talk about Year 2 of OG Anunoby in Toronto with new head coach Nick Nurse (3:00), how Kawhi Leonard and Anunoby are similar (15:00), whether or not the Raptors can win the East this season (25:00), the Pacers having back-to-back awesome seasons (36:00), Victor Oladpio as an MVP candidate (40:00), whether or not Myles Turner could turn into a star (45:00), the Spurs winning 50 games with DeMar DeRozan (48:00), the role players around DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge (53:00), and whether or not Coach Pop can make it all work with this group (60:00).
Did you know that Carmelo Anthony signed with the Houston Rockets this summer? Did you know that Luc Richard Mbah A Moute and Trevor Ariza did not re-sign with the Rockets this summer? Did you know that the Rockets, after being up three-games-to-two on the Golden State Warriors, may have missed their shot to win an NBA championship with the Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela core? If you’re reading this article, chances are, you knew all of these things. You knew that depth may be an issue next season; you knew that Anthony may not agree to come on the bench and a plus-player for the Rockets; you knew that the Ryan Anderson contract is something hoop heads will be talking about years from now. Did you know, though, that the Rockets signed Bruno Caboclo, excuse me, Brazilian Kevin Durant, this week?
Unless you’re an insane person, like myself, who refreshes RealGM multiple times a day, you may have missed this. Thankfully, here I am.
The Houston Rockets signed Bruno Caboclo to a contract that I one-hundred percent believe was made up by general manager Daryl Morey. The deal has been reported as an “Exhibit 10” deal, which sounds significantly cooler than it actually is. It may have a fun name, but, in reality, it’s a very, very brief, risk-free flyer on the guy who two years away from being two years away. Great news, though! Caboclo was drafted in the first round by the Toronto Raptors four years ago.
The Raptors were a team when they drafted him years ago that could afford to take a chance on a unknown player with an extremely high ceiling and an extremely low floor. It obviously didn’t work out, but Caboclo was drafted to a team that sat atop the conference year after year while he dabbled in the G-League with brief stints on the main roster. Young NBA players need to play NBA games to become better NBA players --the importance of the trial-and-error idea really can’t be understated in sports. At some point, somebody has to toss you in the pool. If Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri could have signed him to a ten-year contract in 2014, would it really be all that surprising that he would have? What if Caboclo got to play extended G-League minutes under the tutelage of Jerry Stackhouse for years and years with the Toronto brass not having to make a decision on him when they did? Ujiri rarely misses on this kind of thing dating back to Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, and the list goes on. When Ujiri drafted Caboclo, it was really the only time during his tenure in Toronto where the collective response was, “Are you sure about this, Masai?” Still, for every Bruno Caboclo there is a Giannis Antetokounmpo. Outside of the top-10, you take those kinds of chances.
Like Ujiri, Morey has had to find a way to build a serious contender from the middle. When you never have a high lottery pick, it’s almost impossible to piece together a roster that can win a championship. The Indiana Pacers have been this team, the Miami Heat have become this team, and even if you find yourself picking in the top of the lottery for a couple of seasons you could still end up being the Orlando Magic or Charlotte Hornets. Winning in the NBA is hard, but that’s what makes what Ujiri and Morey have done over the last few years so impressive -- they have found a way to not hand out multiple bad free-agent deals, draft extremely well late, develop the role players they have and maximize their B-plus players to the point where they can flip them for A-plus players when the opportunity presents itself. Somehow and someway the Rockets and Raptors have found themselves with three top-10 players, when healthy, in the NBA.
Gathering superstars is the name of the game in the NBA, if you don’t have them you can’t win an NBA title. But you also need depth, you need guys you can trust to not kill you in five-minute stretches in the playoffs when your superstar is resting. You need your Trevor Ariza's, your Mbah A Moute’s, your VanVleet’s, your Siakim’s, you need those guys. Caboclo is not going to be a superstar at this point in his NBA career, but what if we could be a corner-three shooting, stretch-five playing pest for a couple of minutes a night for Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets this season?
Before he got traded to the Sacramento Kings for Malachi Richardson, Caboclo was on the floor for 107 minutes for the Raptors, which, checks notes, was 107 more minutes than Zhou Qi played for the Rockets last year, and he came away a plus/minus of plus-5.4 per 100 possessions. The best part? He was averaging 10.4 threes a game per 36 minutes in that very limited sample. The Rockets shoot a lot of threes, in case you didn’t know. Is it really crazy to think Caboclo could spend half the season with the Vipers in the G-League, launch a bunch of 3s, play 38 minutes a night, and be a fun, fringe wing in D’Antoni’s rotation come January? It’s not like Gerald Green, who just re-upped with the team, was expected to become a big-time contributor for his hometown team last season. Morey excels in finding guys like this. Joe Johnson is still on this roster, Michael Carter-Williams is somehow on this roster, a player named Markel Brown is on this roster, and if this Exhibit 10 deal works out Bruno Caboclo will be on this roster.
For the number of minutes spent watching those Caboclo highlights those years ago, to the Toronto fans chanting “Bruno! Bruno! Bruno” when he would get some time in garbage time every now and then on the main roster, for just the simple fact that Ujiri had to trade him to the Kings, I want Caboclo to stick on a team like Houston. If the Brazilian Kevin Durant isn’t going to ever actually become the Brazilian Kevin Durant, I’d settle for Brazilian Wesley Johnson. Keep him around, Morey. It could be fun. I have the very short YouTube clips to prove it.
The last time I checked, there were 13 matches on the SummerSlam card in Brooklyn. (As of right now, that doesn’t include another Bobby Roode vs. Mojo Rawley barnburner, but you never know.) If you watched Raw this week, you might think Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar for the Universal title is the biggest storyline heading into the WWE Network special -- I lost count of the advertisements hyping the matchup while tuning in this week -- but if you watched Smackdown Live this week, you might think The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan is the biggest storyline heading into the WWE Network special. The latter is the correct answer, while the former is being dishonestly presented as the most highly anticipated match of the summer. Nobody asked for another go-around of Reigns vs. Lesnar; everybody has asked, for months and months, for Daniel Bryan to finally get his hands on The Miz.
This company just can’t seem to get out of its own way, though. They really, really want you to want Reigns to be the one who finally dethrones the never-present WWE Universal champion. You can understand the company’s perspective here -- they have invested years and years into making this rivalry one of the biggest in the company’s history. (They both beat The Undertaker at WrestleMania!) They don’t want Seth Rollins, they don’t want AJ Styles, they don’t want Dean Ambrose, they don’t want Braun Strowman, no, this company wants you to want Roman Reigns. Instead, on the go-home show for Raw this week, Lesnar made a surprise return, the fans popped, and, much to the dismay of those in the back, made it known they wanted Lesnar to take out Reigns one more time. It was a disaster.
They don’t have to Reigns vs. Lesnar last, and they shouldn’t. They have options. Unlike past years, the hottest feud in the company isn’t a title match. It’s not Ronda Rousey vs. Alexa Bliss, or Styles vs. Samoa Joe, or Rollins vs. Dolph Ziggler, no, it’s Bryan vs. The Miz. On the go-home show for Smackdown Live this week, the company went above-and-beyond in showcasing just how personal and important this match is for both competitors. Their animosity towards one another feels genuine, and they both need this win. Reigns doesn’t need to beat Lesnar because nothing changes if Reigns beats Lesnar. If The Miz beats Bryan, everything changes. He’ll have that forever. He’ll move up a level on the WWE totem pole. Beating Bryan means everything for The Miz, it also means everything for Bryan.
Bryan, since his return, has feuded with Big Cass, and, umm, The Bludgeon Brothers? Sure, he’s had matches with Styles, Jeff Hardy, Shelton Benjamin, etc., but nobody is going to remember that. Nobody is going to remember that brief Team Hell No return. Nobody is going to remember that the company paired him with Big Cass in his return program after not wrestling for three years. No, what they’ll remember is how this Sunday goes for Bryan. If Bryan takes down The Miz, he’s back, he can move on to bigger and better things, he can finally say he shut up The Miz. As important as this match is for The Miz, it’s just as important for Bryan.
Put it on last, you cowards.
Here are some other things I’m interested in for this Sunday’s nine-and-a-half-hour show.
Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship has been good, but nobody really cares. You can make the case the crowd is more interested in the Lana and Rusev vs. Zelina Vega and Andrade “Cien” Almas feud heading into Sunday. To be clear, it’s through no fault of their own. Joe, to his credit, has been sensational on the mic since this feud began. Everything the company has asked, he has delivered. You know this match is going to be good, but you also know Joe isn’t winning the belt. Maybe this indifference comes from Styles’ infrequent appearances on Smackdown Live, or maybe it’s just that there are bigger things going on right now -- like The Miz vs. Bryan. Either way, this feud has been solid. Sometimes, though, fans just don’t connect. It happens.
I have no idea how Carmella vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch for the Smackdown Live Women’s title is going to go. You can sell me on all three deserving the victory and title here. For Carmella, she has tapped out to both already, sure, but she’s been exemplary on the mic in recent months, this week being no exception, and if you weren’t going to have her drop it to the best wrestler on the brand in Asuka, is it really a good idea to have her drop it to Flair or Lynch? Still, it may take another year or more for Lynch to get back into the title fold, do you waste this opportunity? If you put it on Flair, then what? Another heel turn and a long blood feud with Lynch? This match should excel in the psychology department, at the very least. It does feel like Flair is winning, though, right?
Finn Balor is facing Baron Corbin, again, and it’s time for my guy to consider heading back to Japan. How did we get here?
Braun Strowman should lose the Money in the Bank briefcase to Kevin Owens. Strowman, from an on-screen perspective, is a very stupid character. He lied about cashing on Lesnar the first time he had the chance, he doesn’t understand that even if Owens runs away with the briefcase he’s still Mr. MITB, and the list goes on. He’s still over, though, which makes this match so interesting. For Owens, he spent the early part of the summer being tormented by the Hands Guy, but now, he’s had the upper hand. In a match like this, doesn’t it make more sense for this feud to end with Owens outsmarting Strowman once and for all because the character of Kevin Owens *should* outsmart the character of Strowman? Owens has it all -- he can talk, he can wrestle, he can sell, he can do everything required of a top guy in professional wrestling. If the plan is still for Reigns and Lesnar to go on last, the company has options. They could have Strowman cash-in on Lesnar after another stunning victory, or they could have Owens steal Reigns’ moment after defeating Lesnar to the cheers of everyone in attendance and watching it at home. How this match goes is important and it should be interesting to see if the winner plays a role in the main event. Let’s hope so.
Chase Thomas is joined by JacketsOnline's Jared Halus to talk about Georgia Tech's Quon Marshall at QB (3:00), what went wrong for the Jackets in 2017 (10:00), the addition of Nate Woody as defensive coordinator (20:00), and how the 2018 season will go for Paul Johnson (30:00). Then, Knights247's Jason Beede jumps on the pod to talk about UCF's undefeated 2017 (36:00), Scott Frost jumping to Nebraska (40:00), Josh Heupel taking over in Orlando (54:00), and McKenzie Milton as Baker Mayfield 2.0 (60:00). Then, RBR Wrestling's Maxwell Baumbach comes on to talk about NJPW's G1 Climax (67:00), Kota Ibushi as the next guy in New Japan (70:00), Zack Sabre Jr.'s upside (80:00), how Matt Riddle fits in NXT (84:00), Reigns and Rollins place on Raw and the WWE (90:00), what's interesting about SummerSlam (98:00), Adam Cole vs. Ricochet (110:00), and Elias' place in WWE (120:00).
Chase Thomas is joined by The Athletic's Matthew Kory to talk about the Red Sox's Mookie Betts winning AL MVP (4:00), Boston staying on a 115-win pace (10:00), Xander Bogarts falling into the background (20:00), Craig Kimbrel's post-All-Star game struggles (26:00), and how they should fair in the postseason (30:00). Then, The Athletic's Eno Sarris jumps on the pod to talk about Ronald Acuna catching while Ozzie Albies struggles (36:00), whether or not Dansby Swanson could still be a star (42:00), Matt Carpenter's NL MVP case for the Cardinals (48:00), Freddie Freeman being the favorite (53:00), the terrible AL Central (65:00) and the Rays having to be competitive going forward (70:00).
First it was the Georgia Bulldogs, then it was the Alabama Crimson Tide, then it was the Bulldogs again, then it was the UCF Knights and in a few weeks it will be the Washington Huskies for the Auburn Tigers. The first two games, the Tigers took care of business and earned their way into the SEC Championship game in Atlanta to face --- the Georgia Bulldogs. Beating Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs and Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide in succession was impressive, but to then take down the former again on a neutral site to guarantee a spot in the College Football Playoff? It was hard to imagine in the moment that even a team as talented as Auburn on both sides of the ball could survive that sort of murder’s row. We know how the rest of this story goes, the Tigers lose and the College Football National Championship pitted two teams the Tigers beat earlier in the year. Unlike the Kick Six season, another year where Auburn defeated a good Georgia and Alabama team late in the season, the Tigers played the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Title game, dropped 59 on them, and lost to the Florida State Seminoles in heartbreaking fashion. Would Auburn have taken down Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl like the Bulldogs? Would Auburn have survived Tua Time in the College Football National Championship? Who knows? What we do know is that the Tigers’ schedule remains their biggest enemy.
Just by playing in the SEC West, not the L(East), the mountain is steeper for Gus Malzahn’s team. The SEC West is a bloodbath, and this fall will be no different. Mississippi State hired an offensive genius to pick up where Dan Mullen left on, Jimbo Fisher arrived at College Station, LSU may have their first competent quarterback since Zach Mettenberger, Arkansas remains a wild card, and Ole Miss has too much talent on both sides of the ball to not be win at least six games. In the West, there are no Commodores or Tigers -- of the Missouri variety -- or Wildcats. The schedule will always be difficult for teams in the SEC West, so the need or interest in scheduling a team CFB Playoff contender like the Washington Huskies in Week 1 is indefensible. If Auburn wins the SEC West without playing anyone of note in the out-of-conference schedule, Malzahn’s team is still going to make it into the playoff. They don’t need to play Washington in Atlanta like the Boise State Broncos needed to play Georgia in Atlanta. The Tigers recruit, Kevin Steele will churn out top-5 defenses until he retires, and whenever the team has competent quarterback play they belong in the conversation. They don’t need to go to visit a juggernaut like Clemson to start the season to strut their stuff. They should schedule Liberty -- twice in the same season if they can.
Just look the 2018 Georgia Bulldogs’ schedule. Anything short of 11-1 would be an objective disaster for the team. There is no Notre Dame or Clemson or Washington or Oregon or Boise or whoever on their schedule this year. You could argue the toughest game on their schedule is World’s Largest Cocktail Party in Jacksonville against the Florida Gators who have a new head coach and serious questions at the quarterback position. This isn’t a critique, it’s a compliment. Schools obviously craft their schedules years and years in advance, but if the goal is to win national championships and you already play in the toughest conference in the country, why would you not schedule as many Patriot League schools as possible? Georgia can sleepwalk their way to the SEC championship game against Alabama in December, Auburn will be lucky to only have two losses under their belt by that point.
It starts, of course, with a reshuffling for when and where the Tigers play the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide. In March, Malzahn didn’t shy away from ending this disastrous gauntlet for Auburn of seasons ending in Athens and Tuscaloosa. Malzahn remembers the 2010 championship season where the Georgia and Alabama games were split. Sure, playing both the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide at home worked out for the Tigers in 2017 and 2014, but is it worth the dark cloud that hovers over the following season? Last year, the Tigers had a realistic shot at a national title, this year that is no longer the case.
It’s a sad ending to what should be Jarrett Stidham’s last year at Auburn. Like his rival Jake Fromm at Georgia, Stidham has come into his own as the leader of a SEC behemoth. Fromm’s Bulldogs average 35.4 points per game in 2017 with Stidham’s Tigers right there at 33.9 points per game. Stidham will find himself in the Heisman conversation this fall -- he even opens the season against another potential Heisman hopeful in Jake Browning -- but Stidham is in a brutal spot. Auburn has to travel Mississippi State, Georgia, Alabama, Atlanta for Washington, and dance with Jimbo’s Aggies and Oregon’s pesky Tigers at home. Auburn is too talented and too well-coached to go 7-5, but 8-4 isn’t out of the question. (It’s easy to forget this team did finish 9-4 last year.) They have to replace four starters on the offensive line, the dynamic backfield combination of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway, and pray Stidham can survive the full season.
The best-case scenario for the Tigers is 9-3, maybe 10-2, and it will be fine. With the kind of schedule in front of them, that’s perfectly acceptable. Everything is about perspective, though, as the Tigers would be favored in every single game this fall were they playing Georgia’s schedule. Then 9-3 or 10-2 looks like a disaster. Georgia is replacing essentially their entire secondary, one of the best running back combos in the school’s history, and it won’t be an issue for Kirby and the Bulldogs. If Georgia were opening with Washington and playing out Auburn’s schedule would the expectation still be 11-1 or 12-0? Maybe, but a record similar to what Auburn will likely finish with in 2018 wouldn’t be surprising. So it goes. 11-1 or 12-0, with Auburn’s schedule, and you just have to give Gus Malzahn a lifetime contract and the opportunity for Mrs. Malzahn to have a 45-minute spot on the Paul Finebaum Show the Monday after they stun Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Maybe that will happen. Probably not. I’d happily settle for a Mizzou-for-Auburn divisional trade. Who says no? Hey, Mizzou, where are you going?
Chase Thomas is joined by BBallBreakdown's James Holas to talk about the Bucks' chances of getting to the NBA Finals (3:00), Markelle Fultz' future in Philadelphia (13:00), the Raptors with Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard (25:00), the Wizards running it back with Wall and Beal along with signing Dwight Howard (35:00), the sad state of the Hornets (45:00), if people are overreacting to the Rockets losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute (55:00), and why the Blazers had the worst offseason in the NBA (60:00). Then, the OC Register's Kyle Goon jumps on the pod to talk about LeBron James joining the Lakers, how it affects Brandon Ingram, and if they can win 50 games this season in the Western Conference (70:00).
Chase Thomas is joined by 247sports' Andrew Ivins to talk about Miami's 2018 season (3:00), Mark Richt's success recruiting in south Florida (10:00), Malik Rosier's status at QB (15:00), and whether or not the Hurricanes can ever catch Clemson in the ACC (20:00). Then, The Steel Cage's Derek Montilla jumps on the pod to talk about the problems with Monday Night Raw (40:00), Kevin Owens' excellent promo work (45:00), the problems with Braun Strowman (50:00), the excellence of Alicia Fox (60:00), Matt Riddle debuting at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn (70:00), The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan at SummerSlam (75:00) and the Dean Ambrose chants on Raw (80:00).
Chase Thomas is joined by Blogging The Boys' RJ Ochoa to talk about the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season (3:00), Dez Bryant moving on (10:00), the Cowboys' young secondary highlighted Chidobe Awuzie (15:00), who will replace Jason Witten at tight end (22:00), and how the 2018 season will go for Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot (30:00). Then, The Athletic's Nick Stellini jumps on the pod to talk about the suddenly struggling New York Yankees (35:00), Brian Cashman's moves at the trade deadline (40:00), the Oakland Athletics surprising starting rotation (50:00), Matt Chapman becoming a superstar (55:00), and the Washington Nationals dysfunction with Bryce Harper down the stretch (60:00).
A few days ago I was listening to Colin Cowherd on his radio show talk about former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s comments about his former teammate Cam Newton. Benjamin is on the Buffalo Bills now, and the former first-round pick probably hasn’t had quite the career he envisioned for himself when he decided to leave the Florida State Seminoles and enter the NFL Draft. His comments were harsh, but you can understand where Benjamin is coming from -- it certainly seems like it would be easier and more fun to have Andrew Luck or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers throwing you the football each week than Newton. The former Auburn Tiger is an incredible athlete, won an MVP award, guided his team to the Super Bowl and is clearly a top-10 QB in the NFL. ( It’s easy to overlook how impressive it was for Newton to drag that 2017 Panthers team to the playoffs last considering the rash of injuries and the severe lack of talent around Newton to make it all work. He then almost beat the New Orleans Saints in their stadium in the Wild Card round.) Cowherd compared Newton to Russell Westbrook, which I don’t agree with, but his larger point can be attributed to the WWE and their handling of Brock Lesnar: You can’t be the soft parent first and then try and play tough later. It never works. It never will.
Lesnar has been treated like royalty ever since his return to the WWE. It started with an F-5 to John Cena and it may end with a sixteenth spear from Roman Reigns. No matter how Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar ends at SummerSlam, the storyline the WWE creative team and Vince McMahon have elected to follow doesn’t hold up. Vince gave Lesnar this unnecessarily long WWE Universal title reign; Vince gave Lesnar the contract that doesn’t require him to ever actually appear or wrestle on Monday Night Raw; Vince gave the go-ahead to Lesnar being the guy to end The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak. Lesnar defeated Cena; Lesnar defeated; Lesnar defeated CM Punk; Lesnar defeated Braun Strowman; Lesnar defeated Goldberg; Lesnar defeated Roman Reigns. Lesnar, outside of Ronda Rousey and Cena, is the only actual superstar in the WWE. When he or Rousey or Cena are in the building, everything feels more important because while the rest of the roster aren’t actual superstars the Big 3 are.
Now, fans and Angle -- kayfabe-wise, of course -- are fed up with Lesnar’s indifference towards the fans, professional wrestling, Paul Heyman and anything that doesn’t involve an outdoorsman magazine. This could have all ended months ago, as expected, when Reigns took on Lesnar in the main event of WrestleMania 34. Instead, Vince enabled Lesnar’s reign of terror to continue because Lesnar has that sort of negotiating pull. Since his return, the WWE has enabled Brock Lesnar to operate in a manner that is just now starting to really rub Angle and Reigns and everybody else in the back the wrong way. It doesn’t fly because this has been the case for half a decade now, and the powers that be gave Lesnar this kind of power, not the other way around. Lesnar has played this perfectly, and if/when he returns to UFC to face Daniel Cormier, he’ll be surrounded by enablers once again where he’ll get what he wants because he’s earned it.
Brock Lesnar isn’t the villain in the biggest storyline of the summer in the WWE, it’s the WWE themselves.
So what else happened on this week’s episode of Monday Night Raw?
Let’s dig in.
Ronda Rousey vs. Alicia Fox was everything it needed to be and more.
Before the actual Raw debut match for Rousey, we had a promo with Alicia Fox and Alexa Bliss that hit every note it needed to. There were only a handful of promos on this episode of Raw, but I’m glad we were gifted with this one. Fox’s quirkiness is both endearing and genuine, but she can talk -- really talk. Bliss, outside of Smackdown Live Women’s champion Carmella, is the best talker in the division, but maybe that isn’t the case after listening to Fox have her moment in her town of Jacksonville, Florida. Fox hasn’t been in the limelight in what feels like a decade, so it was always going to be tough to present her as a worthy first opponent for Rousey on Raw. This could have gone the other way, quite easily, but Fox was perfect from her talking points to her mannerisms to her actual match with Rousey. Yes, Rousey had another spectacular, entertaining match, but Fox was on fire and showed she not only still belongs in the division, but that she should be treated as one of the best talents in the division as a whole.
Kevin Owens is always a step ahead of the game.
Kevin Owens is a very good professional wrestler. Unlike Braun Strowman, he checks every box for what you want in a top guy -- he can talk, he can wrestle, he can work as a face or a heel, but, perhaps most importantly, he can generate something out of just about anything.
Strowman’s on-screen character isn’t the brightest one, as he’s lost to the Actually Bad Jinder Mahal in back-to-back weeks in embarrassing fashion because Owens has run off with a briefcase that doesn’t actually hold any value. It’s not a situation like the It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia episode where Mac eats Dee’s contract making it null and void because she didn’t make copies. Strowman is the Monster In The Bank with or without the physical briefcase -- somebody should explain that to him. (Not to mention Strowman failed to deliver on his promise to cash-in on Lesnar the next time the latter was around. Lesnar sat on a sofa for almost three hours reading every outdoorsman magazine available and Strowman never confronted him. Shame.) The MITB briefcase was meant for a wrestler like Owens, a heel who is always five steps ahead of the competition.
Owens vs. Strowman for the MITB briefcase shouldn’t be as interesting as it has been, but Owens finding unique ways to outsmart Strowman to get what he wants and become Universal champion again his way has worked. I could see either man walking out of Brooklyn with the briefcase, and while I hope it’s Owens, the fact that I’m this emotionally invested in this feud is a testament to just how good Owens is at his job.
Elias has a documentary crew now and other stuff.
They really are walking a fine line with Elias, aren’t they? The “Walk With Elias” catchphrase is over, he gets consistent promo time on Raw each week, but at some point, and some point soon, doesn’t he have to do something? Sure, Elias unsuccessfully tried to take the Intercontinental title from Seth Rollins a few months back, but, outside of that, Elias has been drifting. He now has an album that you can apparently listen to on Spotify, he had a documentary crew follow him around this week, and he’s not Mojo Rawley. All of these things work to Elias’s favor, but the company stumbled onto something real and potentially lasting in Elias. The Drifter is comfortable on the mic, has the look and has shown flashes in the ring. He needs a real feud or title run or something; he doesn’t need to be working trying to help Bobby Lashley get over in 2018.
Lifted from the Legal Pad:
- Kurt Angle remains the worst general manager imaginable.
- Baron Corbin was the best talker in the opening segment with Reigns and Angle. His match with the Big Dog was fun, the crowd was into it, and he’s fine.
- “I came to see Roman Reigns” sign appeared and I can’t believe that’s a decision people are making in 2018.
- Roode defeating Mojo Rawley clean was...odd.
- Why doesn’t Lashley care about the Reigns and Lesnar stuff?
- Poor Authors of Pain, but at least Rezar got the win here.
- Also, Titus O’Neil should not be wrestling ever. Just about everybody on the roster can wrestle in the WWE nowadays, but man, O’Neil cannot and should not.
- Kevin Owens Show should be a weekly staple.
- I lost track of how many times Owens cut off Mahal in that segment, but it was the best. Turning Mahal back into a comedy jobber is the right move. It just took too long.
- “We want Ambrose” chant was delightful. Raw needs him.
- Finn Balor got added to the SummerSlam card in the form of a WWE.com blip. Yikes.
- The Ziggler and Drew McIntyre vs. Rollins feud was running on empty a month ago. This should not be happening again at SummerSlam.
- B-Team’s new theme is...delightful? (The Revival should win the titles next week on Raw.)
- Everything about Ronda Rousey, Professional Wrestler is perfect, except for the constant hugging of her friend Natalya. The hugs have got to stop, especially after delivering the kind of quick, heated promo Rousey did after Bliss tried to blindside her after her victory over Fox.
Chase Thomas is joined by The Athletic's Jovan Buha to talk about the Los Angeles Clippers starting Montrezl Harrell over Marcin Gortat this season (3:00), Danillo Gallinari's trade potential (15:00), Sam Dekker getting traded the Cavaliers (20:00), Collin Sexton's ROTY potential (30:00), Andre Drummond shooting 3s for the Pistons (40:00), uncertainty surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers (55:00), and the Miami Heat placing Hassan Whiteside, Dion Waiters and Tyler Johnson on the trade market (65:00).
The Pittsburgh Pirates were active at the trade deadline this year. General manager Neal Huntington found himself in a weird spot: It would have been defensible to sell, to stand pat or buy. Not many general managers find themselves in that kind of grey area where there is no right answer. In Washington, the answer was clear: You buy. General manager Mike Rizzo and ownership stood pat in what looks to be the last year of the Bryce Harper era in D.C. If there was ever a more obvious buyer at the trade deadline than the Washington Nationals in 2018 I’d love to know. The Pirates traded for Chris Archer less than a year after moving ace Gerrit Cole in an obvious attempt to rebuild and reset after several seasons of pseudo contention. Huntington found a way to not only to be a buyer at the trade deadline but be a buyer in a controlled, prudent way. That rarely happens.
On my podcast this week, SI’s Jon Tayler and I spent twenty-plus minutes debating the subject as to whether or not what the Pirates did at the deadline was smart, and, you’re not going to believe this, but we didn’t come to a consensus on the matter. The haul Huntington and the Pirates got for Cole was a disappointing one, especially when you consider just how thin the starting-pitcher market is at the moment. There is a premium on quality relievers, but starters like Cole aren’t available for contenders to acquire every season. As it stands now, the Rays got more intriguing talent for Archer than the Pirates got for Cole from the Astros. Had the Pirates kept him on the roster for the first half of this season, and he pitched closely to how he has in 2018 for the Astros, it’s fair to assume that the Pirates could have received a far more exciting haul from a contender than what they received months ago.
But what about this season?
The Pirates shouldn’t be here and Huntington shouldn’t be having to make these difficult choices. By trading Cole and Pirate legend Andrew McCutchen, it was clear the team had no interest in trying to make another postseason run after the way the previous two seasons had played out. Instead, the team clicked everywhere like the death of the 2018 St. Louis Cardinals season kicked them into gear, their lineup had the No. 1 WRC+ from July 11-24, their starters and relievers forgot they were Pirates and suddenly this team was only three games back of a Wild Card spot in the NL.
Huntington didn’t want to cannonball his way into the deep end of the pool, but he did want to get his feet wet. He wanted to touch the rim, not dunk the basketball. When you don’t expect to be contending for a playoff spot, and you suddenly find yourself contending for a playoff spot it’s easy to go overboard and give up too much for a rental when you’re not really a contender to begin with. So Huntington traded for a starter he’s loved for a decade now, a guy on a great contract wants to be there and can help them make a serious Wild Card push. The needle has been moved slightly in Pittsburgh through Huntington’s moves, but not enough to contend and not enough for fans to revolt at ownership being unfathomably cheap once again.
Point is: I like what Pittsburgh did, I like that they acquired a starter who makes sense for them right now and for the future and I like that they added more bullpen help while also moving guys like Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow into a new location where they’ll have the chance to flip the script on their disappointing starts to their MLB careers.
Now, let’s get to this week’s Nobody Asked Mailbag, which is, of course, a column where I answer my own questions that I’ve been thinking about this week. I talk to myself a lot, I get it from my dad, so how I could I not turn this into a weekly column?
Let’s do this.
Chase’s mind asks, “Am I crazy for thinking Florida is winning the SEC East this year?”
It’s plausible. Georgia is stacked, their schedule is an absolute joke -- Football Outsiders recently declared that Auburn has the toughest 2018 schedule, which, damn it! -- and it’s very silly to say that this team is not going to win the East. Kirby Smart is 8-0 against Dan Mullen-coached teams after all. Maybe I just can’t shake the feeling that losing the National Championship the way Georgia did to Alabama, how right everything went for the Bulldogs in 2017-18, that there has to be a regression to the mean coming in 2018-19. That they’re going to drop a game or two they shouldn’t -- I’m looking at you, South Carolina -- that the team that was heading towards disaster against Appalachian State to start the season rears its ugly head again now that teams are more prepared for Jake Fromm.
Then again, Mullen did joke earlier this year about a blind squirrel finding a nut every once in a while. That’s the kind of motivation a team coming off a one-of-a-kind season that ended in disaster needs -- there is nothing more powerful in sports than a team with the “nobody believes in us” attitude.
Crap. Georgia is winning back-to-back SEC East titles, aren’t they?
Chase’s mind asks, “ Did that crowd at Monday Night Raw this week really chant, “We want Roman!” as Brock Lesnar attacked fan-favorite Paul Heyman to close the show?”
I think they did and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. ( And yes, I do find myself thinking about professional wrestling far too much on a daily and even hourly basis. It’s the dumbest thing in the world, but I love it and want it to be good. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do if there is ever a point in time where both Smackdown Live and Raw are good at the same time. Do I retire? Do I just retire my exhausting cynicism? Who knows. Actually, we do know that will never ever happen. Phew.)
Back to Reigns and this mind-boggling crowd. Earlier in the night, they chant for CM Punk, but their closing act calls for Reigns saving the day? What? How does this happen? Are there really wrestling fans out there that chant “CM Punk” at wrestling shows but also really like Roman Reigns?
To be fair to this crowd, Reigns had a good week when you compare it to most episodes of Raw. He got to utter his favorite big-boy word, he got escorted out of the arena because ostensibly Stephanie McMahon is no fan of the Big Dog, and Braun Strowman, the World’s Biggest Liar, didn’t cash-in on Lesnar when he had the chance. (Seriously, Lesnar spent three hours in the back reading hunting magazines, alone, and Strowman didn’t surprise him with an attack and subsequent cash-in? Weak move, Hands Man.)
This was the kind of reaction Triple H, Vince McMahon and the rest of the authority figures in the WWE have craved for years now. To end this week’s Raw, the crowd threw them a bone. They actually wanted Reigns. That happened.
Unfortunately, SummerSlam is in Brooklyn. Instead of cheering Reigns, the main event will feature two professional wrestlers who fans in attendance do not want to be Universal champion. WWE’s attempt to turn the fans against the Beast has worked, although Lesnar scoffing at the mere thought of watching this wretched three-hour program was maybe the best babyface line of the year, but the idea that this betrayal from Lesnar would lead to overarching support for Reigns was a foolish one. It’s not happening. Sorry, Vince.
Chase’s mind asks, “ Can we appreciate how good of a football coach Paul Johnson is while also admitting how awful it is to watch his teams play football?”
Georgia Tech might be good again in 2018, or they might not. Vegas pegged the Yellow Jackets over/under at 6 wins in 2018.
I hope it’s less. It’s not that I want the Yellow Jackets to fail, I just don’t want to watch the triple-option anymore. Actually, I’ve never wanted to watch it.
Let me explain. Sometimes, I make bad decisions. Like in 2017, where I sat on my couch with one of my roommates at the time and watched the Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee game in its entirety. It was truly awful. Tech had the ball for what felt like 34 hours in the first half, were in total control while Tennessee was trying to beat the Jackets with a quarterback who may have been worse than Rick Clausen. Still, the Jackets did what they do -- hold the ball, have ninety-three play drives, and run the clock. It’s a sound strategy for a team struggling in the talent department. It wins Georgia Tech some games they shouldn’t. They won the ACC once upon a time with it!
It still sucks. It’s easy to forget sports exist to give us all an escape. Watching Georgia Tech makes you long for those hours hunched over in your cubicle. I’m sure there are Georgia Tech fans who watch every game, and I’ll never fathom as to how that’s possible. Give me the North Texas air raid, give me the Auburn spread, or give me the Stanford pro-style, but don’t you dare give me the Georgia Tech triple-option.
So, yes, I’m rooting for an eleven-loss season in Atlanta this year. I don’t want George Godsey back roaming the sidelines at Bobby Dodd, but Blake Anderson from Arkansas State or Rhett Lashlee from SMU or whoever is willing to come to Atlanta and Make The Jackets Fun Again. This will be Year 11 for Johnson at Georgia Tech and I just need this to stop. They dropped Russell Athletics, now drop the triple-option. Please?
Chase Thomas is joined by SI's Jon Tayler to talk about the Braves trading for Adam Duvall from the Reds (3:00), the Red Sox not adding a reliever (6:00), the Pirates trading for Chris Archer from the Rays (10:00), how it all goes back to the Gerrit Cole trade to the Astros (20:00), the Brewers trading for Jonathan Schoop (30:00), the Nationals' dysfunction (40:00), and the future of Bryce Harper in Washington (50:00). Then, The Ringer's Michael Baumann comes on the pod to talk about the Indians not giving up Shane Bieber for Harper (60:00), JT Realmuto not getting moved by Miami (70:00), and the New York Mets' incompetence (73:00) and why the Dodgers won the MLB Trade Deadline (80:00). Then, The Daily Norseman's Eric Thompson comes on to preview the NFC North Division and how it will all go for the Vikings, Packers, Lions and Bears (85:00).
Chase Thomas is joined by A Wolf Among Wolves and The Athletic Minnesota's Tim Faklis to talk about the Minnesota Timberwolves situation with Tom Thibodeau (3:00), Andrew Wiggins' development (10:00), the sneaky Anthony Tolliver signing (13:00), Glen Taylor vs. Thibs (20:00), Jimmy Butler vs. Karl-Anthony Towns (25:00), Butler declining the extension (33:00), tension being a normal part of great teams (35:00), the Houston Rockets signing Carmelo Anthony (40:00), re-signing Chris Paul and Clint Capela (41:00), Daryl Morey adding more guys later (45:00), and why Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are gearing up for a Finals run in the East (50:00).
Chase Thomas is joined by Chris "The Bear" Fallica to talk about offseason CFB coaching changes (3:00), possibility Jimbo Fisher bombs at Texas A&M (10:00), Ed Orgeron's future at LSU (15:00), best offseason head-coaching changes (20:00), Kansas State's amazing run under Bill Snyder (30:00), their early CFB Playoff picks (31:00), the problems with Washington (35:00), Michigan breaking out with Shea Patterson (40:00) and what makes ESPN College GameDay special (45:00).
Chase Thomas is joined by The Athletic's Levi Weaver to talk about the Rangers' awful 2018 season (3:00), Adrian Beltre to the Braves (6:00), the Delino DeShields demotion (20:00), Cole Hamels' trades (28:00), the Pittsburgh Pirates hot streak (30:00), and the San Francisco Giants hanging around in the NL West (32:00). Then, Luis Davila of Fish Stripes jumps on the pod to talk about the Miami Marlins 2018 season (45:00), JT Realmuto trades (47:00), Brian Anderson hype (54:00) and Lewis Brinson drama (60:00). Then, the Rich Eisen Show's Chris Brockman comes on the pod to talk about working in radio and now television, knowing too much about athletes in 2018, NFL summer storylines, moving from sportswriting to sports radio, and Jay Cutler's brilliance on Very Cavallari (60:00).
Sam Presti has been busy this offseason. Carmelo Anthony became an Atlanta Hawk; Paul George remained in Oklahoma City; Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton re-signed with the Thunder; Nerlens Noel even joined the club. Outside of surprising us all in succeeding in keeping George in Oklahoma City, the most interesting risk Presti took this summer was acquiring Dennis Schroder from the Hawks so Atlanta could pay Anthony a lot of money to not play in Philips Arena this season. Trading for Schroder isn’t as flashy as signing Noel, or retaining Grant, or even retaining Felton -- but it could be the most interesting. Since trading James Harden, Presti has been on a seemingly never-ending search to find the right backcourt partner for the enigmatic Russell Westbrook; he has looked at Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, D.J. Augustin, Dion Waiters, Victor Oladipo, Ish Smith, and, perhaps most notably, Cameron Payne, who Presti took in the backend of the lottery in 2015. (You can definitely make the case the answer is Oladipo, but Presti acquired the Indiana Hoosier via trade not through the lottery.) The offcourt, handshake compatibility never found its way onto an on-court, basketball compatibility. Maybe Schroder can be the backcourt partner Presti has been searching for. Maybe.
Finding the right partner to play off Westbrook is a difficult task, what makes Westbrook great is what makes Westbrook hard to play with -- if you’re the other guard. Steven Adams, Grant, Enes Kanter, Andre Roberson, George, etc., all have benefited from Westbrook’s unique, Tasmanian devil style approach to the point-guard position because they’re never asked to do too much. Unfortunately, if you’re a guard trying to contribute next to Westbrook, the proposition becomes increasingly difficult because what helps George have one of his best seasons of his career, is a detriment to a player like Oladipo who has shown with the Pacers that he could have done more, but it couldn’t have come to fruition next to Westbrook. Therein lies the dilemma for Presti and Westbrook -- the Thunder need another capable, competent guard to pair next to Westbrook for thirty-plus minutes in the playoffs, but you also don’t want them to be as old as Felton or as bad as Payne. You want to find a guy who doesn’t have Oladipo or Harden-level upside, but you also don’t want a guy teams just completely ignore come playoff time. You want a combo guard who can do a little of everything without ever doing too much. Maybe you want a Dennis Schroder.
Schroder, after years and years of denial, is not good enough to be the lead guard on a good team in the NBA. Schroder is 24-years-old now, will turn 25 before the 2018-19 season starts, and he’s just as much as a mystery now as he was when the Hawks drafted him years ago. He has the length and look of a guard who can defend multiple positions at a high level, but he’s not a good defender; he has the vision and skill set to attack the paint at will, but he averaged 4.0 FTAs a game in 2017-18; he has become a passable deep threat, but he shot 29 percent from deep last season. Nothing about Schroder makes sense, but he’s a player you can’t quit.
The best-case scenario for Schroder, now is a player the Hawks just replaced with: Jeremy Lin. At first glance, this is an odd comparison. Oddly enough, though, these combo guards have a lot in common. Lin has always struggled defensively, has never had an above-average outside shot, and will never be good enough to be the lead guard on a contender. However, Lin found his niche in Charlotte, playing off high-usage guard Kemba Walker for one season before bolting to Brooklyn. Five-man lineups that included both Walker and Lin in 2015-16 for the Hornets routinely posted positive point-differentials -- the Walker/Lin/Batum/Williams/Jefferson lineup was a +63 in 90 minutes together that season. When you watched that Hornets team, it made sense. Courtney Lee was the perfect off-ball guy to have next to Walker to start, but the team didn’t fall off a cliff when Walker played with a true combo guard in Lin, either. In Oklahoma City, Roberson will continue to be the starter next to Westbrook, but instead of inserting an Alex Abrines here or a Raymond Felton there, the Thunder can go close to 48 minutes of a guard rotation of Westbrook, Roberson, and Schroder. Come playoff time, that matters. (See, Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder First Round Series, 2018).
Once it was clear that Schroder was going to be playing in Oklahoma City next to Westbrook, NBA Twitter rejoiced. On the surface, this doesn’t appear to be the best fit. Adding another, high-usage, chaotic guard next to a player like Westbrook just doesn’t seem like an idea destined to work. But then you hear about Westbrook being Schroder’s favorite player; then you hear about Presti and Billy Donovan meeting with Schroder to hash out his role on the team next season; then you think about the kind of guard best-suited to come into the game late in the first quarter to relieve a player like Westbrook -- it’s Dennis Schroder. If there was ever a guard who would instantly fall in love with the Cult of Westbrook, it’s Dennis Schroder.
But it’s important to temper expectations. When the Thunder drafted Payne, they had Augustin and Westbrook in place, and Payne had a chance to develop. It didn’t work out, for a variety of reasons, but the rationale for taking a player like Payne at No. 14 in 2015 was sound -- he was an efficient, low-usage guy who could theoretically play off Westbrook for twenty-to-twenty-four minutes a night. There was no James Harden upside, there was just the hope that he could be a third guard who kept the team afloat when Westbrook needed to rest. Schroder is 24, and still has the potential to do all of those things. In Oklahoma City in a decreased role, he can pick his spots better, he can dominate the pick-and-roll with Grant and Noel, he can play the Your-Turn-My-Turn game with Westbrook when necessary. He can be the kind of NBA player he was always meant to be -- a third guard on a contender that did a lot of things, but never did anything extremely well.
On a team like Oklahoma City, that’s fine. The team has Westbrook, the team has Roberson, the team even has Abrines and Felton, and now they have Schroder. He isn’t the missing piece to dethrone the Warriors, no, but he does have all the makings of a guard who should thrive in a more limited, confined role in Oklahoma City. Presti continues adding intriguing pieces to surround George and Westbrook and Schroder is the most-intriguing piece yet.
Chase Thomas is joined by Football Outsiders and ESPN Insider contributor Rivers McCown to talk about the retirement of DeMarco Murray (3:00), the LeVeon Bell contract talks with the Steelers (6:00), the Bucs future with Jameis Winston (10:00), Packers vs. Vikings (17:00), the AFC South becoming a powerhouse (20:00), Josh Rosen rising early for the Cardinals (25:00), the Raiders' disastrous offseason (27:00), and the 2018 Los Angeles Chargers (30:00). Then, MLive's Benjamin Raven jumps on the pod to talk about Hulk Hogan back in the WWE (35:00), The New Day (43:00), Extreme Rules analysis (47:00), AJ Styles vs. Rusev (54:00), and the future of the WWE Universal title with Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley and Roman Reigns (60:00).
Chase Thomas is joined by Fangraph's Meg Rowley to talk about MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred calling out Mike Trout (3:00), whether or not it matters for a superstar to be on a good team for the MLB (10:00), Manny Machado getting traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers (16:00), why it's a weird fit for 2019 (20:00), Mike Moustakas getting moved following the blockbuster deal (30:00), the Mariners surprising 2018 (40:00), whether or not the Nationals should be worried (48:00), and why the Athletics and Mariners competing for the final AL Wild Card spot should be fun (54:00). Then, NBA writer Jason Patt jumps on the pod to talk about the Bulls signing Jabari Parker (60:00), the Wendell Carter pick (66:00), Jabari's defense comments (74:00), Denzel Valentine's future (86:00), Kris Dunn's upside (88:00), and what to expect from the team in 2018-19 (95:00).
Chase Thomas is joined by Jon Acuff to talk about Tom Brady and being a Boston sports fan (3:00), speaking to the NFLPA (6:00), the NBA offseason (10:00), public speaking (13:00), trying stand-up comedy (15:00), finishing your goals (20:00), his book 'Finish', social media (24:00), and whether or not he has found his dream job (28:00).