Mavericks will Retire No. 24 in Honor of Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant spent all 20 of his seasons in the NBA as one of the fiercest rivals of the Dallas Mavericks. That included the Los Angeles Lakers great winning five NBA titles.

None of that matters on this Sunday. Hours after Bryant’s tragic passing at the age of 41 in a helicopter accident that also claimed the life of his daughter, among others, the Mavericks are paying their respects.

Owner Mark Cuban announced Sunday evening that no Mavericks player from here on out will wear No. 24, a number made famous by Bryant. The team has decided to retire said number.

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Originally posted on Sportsnaut  |  By Vincent Frank  |  Last updated 1/26/20

Relentless and revered: How I will remember Kobe Bryant

To young basketball fans who came of age in Southern California in the mid-1990s, Kobe Bryant was not a basketball player, but a young god. Our prince. We watched him grow up with the Los Angeles Lakers, as sure of his potential as we were of our own. When he won, we won.

Now he’s gone, and with him, our childhoods.

Dead at 41 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., along with eight others, including his precious 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

He died on the way to a girls basketball tournament at his namesake Mamba Academy, in my hometown of Thousand Oaks, Calif., roughly an hour’s drive from the Great Western Forum, Bryant’s first professional home. The tragedy has taken on added meaning for those I know best. After the news broke, I almost immediately received texts as well as anguished phone calls. Our hero, gone, and so close to our home.

Part of his future was in Thousand Oaks, where the next generation of Kobe acolytes were to be infused with the Mamba Mentality. He also was involved in creative endeavors, technology businesses and a venture capital partnership.

An hour after Bryant’s death, I commiserated with my longtime friend Justin Taylor, Nike’s former director of digital marketing. He worked closely with Bryant toward the end of his professional basketball career and saw the beginnings of a burgeoning empire.

“I remember asking him, ‘It’s your last year, what do you want to accomplish?’ The Lakers were not winning the title that year, it’s his last year, what were his goals,” Taylor said. “He was not a guy to rest on his laurels. He looked at me and said, “Every single morning, I wake up and I work to get better at every single thing in my life. Whether it be making eggs or basketball. And I’ll do that every single day, for the rest of my life.’ ”

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By Jon Gold  |  Last updated 1/26/20

Should The Panthers Tank For Trevor Lawrence?

The Carolina Panthers were seemingly having themselves a nice month of January. 

Doling out big bucks to former Baylor head coach Matt Rhule added another layer to that, as did hiring former LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady to be the team’s offensive coordinator

Unfortunately, Luke Kuechly’s shocking retirement immediately after the end of the regular season changed the landscape here. Without their team leader and with Cam Newton likely headed out of town, the Panthers are in the midst of dramatic change.

It leads us to this theory. Is it time for the Panthers to tank for Trevor Lawrence?

The idea: It might seem a bit ridiculous on the surface. Give up on an entire season to target a quarterback in the draft one year later. But there’s certainly something to this. We will lay it out below.

The Matt Rhule impact: Baylor’s former head coach signed a seven-year contract to replace Ron Rivera in Carolina. It’s a long-term strategy.

  • Carolina made sure that Rhule knew it was not expecting a quick fix when the team signed him to an absurd seven-year contract. Owner David Tepper is in it for the long haul.
  • The idea here is to build up a foundation that was missing under former owner Jerry Richardson. That started in the front office, and it is now going to continue on the field.
  • The expectation here is that Rhule will be given a mulligan for his first season or two, somewhat similar to what we saw with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco.
  • Does this mean a full-scale teardown to build back up? It’s more than likely, and it leads us to believe Tepper and Co. are in it for the long haul.

Cam Newton: Despite his injury issues, the Panthers could get something for Newton on the trade block.

  • It goes without saying that this former NFL MVP has played his final game in a Panthers uniform. Newton suited up for two games this past season before suffering a Lisfranc injury.
  • The Panthers have not come close to committing to the 30-year-old signal-caller. In fact, suggestions during the season were that former undrafted free agent Kyle Allen was the long-term solution.
  • Given Allen’s struggles, that’s unlikely to be the case. However, Newton will be dealt in March. At the very least, that’s what the most recent reports from Carolina suggest.
  • With quarterback-needy teams all up and down the NFL, the Panthers should be able to get a decent bounty for Newton in a trade. His smallish $21.1 million cap hit in 2020 adds more credence to this idea.

Luke Kuechly’s retirement: This shocking move has left a major leadership void throughout the Panthers’ roster.

  • Not only was Kuechly one of the best defensive players in the NFL, he was right up there with Newton as the face of the franchise. A true leader if there ever was one.
  • Sure the future Hall of Famer could return to the Panthers as a coach. In no way does that mean his on-field leadership won’t be missed. It will.
  • Without Kuechly in the mix to both call plays and act as an inspirational figure, the expectation here is that Carolina’s defense is going to take a step back.

Trevor Lawrence: Generational talent. There’s no other way to go about it, the 2020 Heisman favorite is one of the most truly talented college prospect in a generation.

  • Lawrence’s struggles in the National Championship Game didn’t seem to turn teams off. The Clemson product, who is only a sophomore, showed himself to be an elite talent.
  • Lawrence has the frame, accuracy and arm that makes scouts drool. He added tremendous running ability to the mix this past season, something that is needed in today’s NFL.
  • Barring a major injury or regression as a junior, Lawrence is the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Carolina won’t be the only team seriously considering tanking in 2020 for the Clemson star.

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Originally posted on Sportsnaut  |  By Vincent Frank  |  Last updated 1/25/20

Luka Doncic, Trae Young Make History With All-Star Game Selections

The starters for this season’s NBA All-Star Game were announced on Thursday. There really weren’t too many surprises as it relates to the starting 10.

However, the additions of second-year studs Luka Doncic and Trae Young among the game’s elite was pretty eye-opening.

Both young stars earned starting roles in the annual exhibition game, marking the first time a pair of players under 22-years-old were selected as starters since Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett back in 1998.

That’s some amazing company to keep right there. It’s also pretty awesome in that Young and Doncic were pretty much traded for one another during the 2018 NBA Draft.

Already an MVP candidate, Doncic is averaging 29.1 points, 9.7 rebounds and 9.0 assists for the Mavericks this season.

Despite playing on one of the worst teams in the Association, Young is averaging 29.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 8.6 assists for the Atlanta Hawks.

Doncic will be joined by LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden as starters for the Western Conference.

Back east, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam, Joel Embiid and Kemba Walker join Young as starters.

The All-Star draft show with LeBron and Giannis selecting for their respective squads will be held Feb. 6.

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Originally posted on Sportsnaut  |  By Vincent Frank  |  Last updated 1/23/20

10 Things We Learned From Zion Williamson’s NBA Debut

Almost eight months after the New Orleans Pelicans won the lottery and the right to select Duke’s Zion Williamson, the chosen one finally made his NBA debut in a Wednesday night game against the San Antonio Spurs. Media converged on the Smoothie King Arena, ESPN assigned its grumpiest broadcast team of Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson and Zion was in the starting lineup at power forward. He started slowly, and the game the game was sloppy at first — and Van Gundy was ignoring the game and talking about hot dog eating records early on. 

But in an electric stretch of the fourth quarter, Zion put up 17 points, three rebounds and two assists to remind everyone exactly why he’s the most hyped NBA prospect since LeBron James. He finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists in just 18 minutes, and while the Spurs held off a furious Pelicans comeback, it felt like Zion was the winner of the night.
Here’s 10 things we learned from Zion’s debut:

1. Nine months off makes you rusty: Zion’s last competitive basketball game was March 31 of last year, not counting the earthquake-interrupted Summer League game during which Zion didn’t play in the second half. You could see it in little things, like his five turnovers, some from simply mishandling passes on the move. But he also got comfortable by the fourth quarter, grabbing rebounds, finishing lobs, hitting teammates for easy buckets and knocking down effortless threes from the top of the arc. After two straight threes, he had perhaps his most impressive play, missing a layup against Jakob Poeltl, but using his speed and strength to zip around Poeltl, rebound his own miss and put it back. Not only did he get more comfortable throughout the game, he got far more comfortable through the fourth quarter when coach Alvin Gentry let him stay in the matchup for an extended stretch.

2. The Pelicans are going to have tremendous spacing: We knew that Zion could have similar gravity to Giannis Antetokounmpo, with defenses forced to pack the paint to stop him down low. Gregg Popovich, a pretty smart NBA coach, had defenders dropping way back on Zion, daring him to shoot. And while the Pelicans had trouble knocking them down, Zion’s gravity led to a lot of open shots on the perimeter. New Orleans is already third in the NBA in three-pointers — and fifth in percentage — and that should only improve. Especially if Zion is drilling outside shots with ease like he was in the fourth quarter.

3. Zion took a lot of outside shots during rehab: Zion had never made more than three three-pointers in a game before Wednesday night, when he hit four in a row in a fourth-quarter explosion. Clearly his restrictions on running didn’t keep him from putting up outside shots. Yes, his shot looks flat, but he’s shooting it with tremendous confidence. And if a defender is playing off him, it doesn’t matter if the shot has any arc to it, because there’s no one there to block it.

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Originally Posted on Yardbarker | By Sean Keane  |  Last updated 1/23/20

So Long, Eli Manning. Your Next Stop Is The Hall of Fame.

Eli Manning’s Hall of Fame debate will be one of the more complicated in pro football history. 

Responsible for two of the greatest quarterback runs in playoff history, Manning — who Wednesday announced his retirement — ranks seventh all time in touchdown passes (366) and passing yards (57,023). From 2004-17, he started 210 straight games, the third-best QB streak of all time.

But Manning, replaced by rookie Daniel Jones as Giants starter in 2019, trails 2004 classmates Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers in accolades (four Pro Bowls to Big Ben’s six and Rivers’ eight). A strong argument also can be made that Manning was never considered a top-five quarterback during his career. And, of course, his last four seasons were, ah, sub-optimal.

That said, an Eli Manning bust will appear in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. His performance during the 2007 and 2011 playoffs should seal his HOF case with voters.

We cannot live in an era when fans are flooded with shallow-dive “Tom Brady, six rings, GOAT” proclamations while Manning’s postseason success is treated as secondary to his lesser regular-season work. Brady does not quite boast the regular-season numbers of Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and, from an efficiency standpoint, Aaron Rodgers. His first three championships came when he was not yet a perennial Pro Bowler, but more the New England defense’s copilot. These topics are glossed over because of the Patriots’ playoff dominance.

It would then stand to reason the player most responsible for twice derailing Brady at his peak, in two of this century’s biggest games, should be appropriately credited for his high-end postseasons. (Note: Brady vs. the younger Manning is obviously not a debate; this is merely a perception point.)

Manning didn’t just toss in two Super Bowl flukes. Considering his underdog teams and quality of opposition, Manning conquered postseason gauntlets unlike those of almost any other championship-winning quarterback. He led the Giants to road victories over four NFC Nos. 1 or 2 seeds. 

In addition to ruining the 2007 Patriots’ “greatest team ever” coronation in Super Bowl XLII, Manning ended Brett Favre’s Packers career by throwing for 251 yards and no interceptions in that season’s NFC title game — the fifth-coldest game in NFL history. Four seasons later, he ended Rodgers’ first MVP season, passing for 330 yards and three touchdown passes in a divisional-round romp over 15-1 Green Bay. In the NFC Championship Game a week later, he threw for 316 yards and two TDs to beat the 49ers and their No. 2-ranked defense. 

Manning’s 296 yards passing in a 21-17 Super Bowl XLVI win against New England gave him the most (1,219) in one playoffs. The two-time Super Bowl MVP’s 87.4 playoff passer rating betters Roethlisberger’s and Rivers’. These are not all-encompassing measurement tools, with Mark Sanchez’s playoff rating (94.3) sitting higher than many Hall of Famers’, but Manning did not have as much help as you might think. 

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Originally posted on Yardbarker | By Sam Robinson  |  Last updated 9/17/19

Super Bowl Moments That Still Make Us Cringe

Wally McNamee/Getty Images

The Super Bowl is full of wonderful feats of athleticism, toughness and bravery. It’s the world’s top athletes competing on the biggest stage, which means when they make terrible mistakes, we remember them forever. 

In honor of the “Game of Games,” let’s look back at some moments from past Super Bowls that, years later, still make us cringe.

1 of 25

Leon Lett’s touchdown-turned-touchback

Leon Lett's touchdown-turned-touchback
Gin Ellis/Getty Images

The Cowboys were leading, 52-17, in Super Bowl XXVII when Leon Lett recovered a Buffalo fumble and headed for the end zone that was 65 yards away. Seeing no one in front of him, Lett stretched out the ball and began to celebrate as he crossed the 10-yard line. However, Bills receiver Don Beebe sprinted back and managed to knock the ball out of the back of the end zone before Lett could score. The touchdown-turned-touchback didn’t cost Dallas the game…only the record for most points in a Super Bowl. Still, it’s hard to watch Lett watching himself on the Jumbotron but still failing to see the tiny receiver charging from behind.

2 of 25

Seahawks inexplicably throw away the game

Seahawks inexplicably throw away the game
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Trailing 28-24 in Super Bowl XLIX, Russell Wilson completed a miracle 33-yard pass to Jermaine Kearse. The ball was tipped multiple times and even went off Kearse’s leg, but he caught it. One play later, Seattle was on the 1-yard line, at which point coach Pete Carroll apparently forgot Marshawn Lynch was on his team. Lynch had taken the ball inches away from the goal line on the previous play, but Carroll inexplicably called a pass. Malcolm Butler picked it off, the Patriots won and Carroll had another improbable collapse to ponder. 

3 of 25

Tim Krumrie suffers gruesome injury

Tim Krumrie suffers gruesome injury
Gin Ellis/Getty Images

Early in Super Bowl XXIII, Bengals nose tackle Tim Krumrie went to tackle Roger Craig and suffered the most gruesome injury in Super Bowl history. He planted his foot awkwardly, and his lower leg simply snapped. Horrified viewers saw his left foot spin around. (Don’t click if you’re squeamish!) Krumrie broke his ankle, tibia and fibula, and after being carted off the field, he got a 15-inch titanium rod implanted in his leg. Somehow he came back and played six more seasons after that.

4 of 25

Charles Woodson‘s broken collarbone

Charles Woodson's broken collarbone
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

By 2010, Charles Woodson had a college national championship, a Heisman Trophy, a Defensive Player of the Year Award and seven Pro Bowl appearances. However, in his career, Woodson had never won a Super Bowl. When he finally had his shot, he was anguished when he dove to defend a pass in Super Bowl XLV and broke his collarbone. Woodson left the game, but the remaining Green Bay defenders managed to hold off the Steelers enough to preserve a 31-25 win. After the game, Woodson had one arm in a sling — and the Lombardi Trophy in the other.

5 of 25

Miami’s imperfect field goal attempt

Miami's imperfect field goal attempt
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins are the only 17-0 team in NFL history, and they nearly finished the season with a 17-0 Super Bowl VII win. With just over two minutes left, leading 14-0, coach Don Shula sent in Garo Yepremian to kick a field goal. The kick was blocked, but instead of falling on the loose ball, Yepremian tried to pass. The ball slipped out of his hands, and the kicker batted the ball in the air — right into the hands of a Redskins cornerback. He ran it in for a touchdown, and suddenly the Dolphins had to sweat out a one-possession lead. They held on, so Garo didn’t have to face his teammates’ wrath for long.

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Originally post on Yardbarker | Posted 2 days ago  |  By Sean Keane

Brawls And Pain: Potential Ripple Effects Of Astros’ Sign-Stealing Scandal

The Astros’ sign-stealing scandal has shaken Major League Baseball to its core. 

After a lengthy investigation, MLB came down hard on Houston, suspending manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for a season, taking away first- and second-round draft picks over the next two years, and fining the team $5 million. Subsequently, Astros owner Jim Crane fired Hinch and Luhnow. The fallout wasn’t limited to Houston: Managers Alex Cora of the Red Sox and Carlos Beltran of the Mets were fired. Both were with the Astros in 2017 — Cora as a bench coach and Beltran as a player — and each was implicated in MLB’s investigation.

The Astros’ illegal scheme raises numerous questions, among them:

What’s next?

Here are potential ripple effects:

Veterans Buck Showalter, Dusty Baker may get managing jobs

In today’s age of analytics, with more game-day decisions coming from upstairs in the front office rather than in the dugout, the job of Major League manager has evolved. Baseball lifers are being phased out, replaced by advocates for analytics. Four rookie managers were hired over the winter:  Jayce Tingler (Padres), David Ross (Cubs), Derek Shelton (Pirates) and Beltran (Mets). Showalter and Baker have impressive resumes, but neither has landed another MLB position since recent exits from the game. More than ever, the Astros, Red Sox and Mets need the calming influence of an experienced manager. Either Showalter or Baker would be ideal. Showalter has interviewed with the Astros; Baker will soon. 

Houston will face extreme pressure

The scandal will be an epic distraction all season for the defending American League champion Astros, who lost ace Gerrit Cole to the Yankees in free agency in the off-season. His defection tilted the balance of power in the American League toward New York. Houston still may be the best team in the West, but it will face a stiff challenge from the Angels, who have added superstar third baseman Anthony Rendon and get back pitcher/DH Shohei Ohtani and outfielder Justin Upton from injuries. Allegations the Astros were stealing signs last season opens up even more issues. What happens if Houston stars  Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Yuli Gurriel regress? Accusations they benefited from sign-stealing will be omnipresent.

Bench-clearing brawls

Opposing players, particularly pitchers, are pissed. When Houston was alleged to have transitioned from trash can banging to the use of buzzers in 2019 to signal pitches, the league collectively lost its mind. The outrage will manifest itself with pitchers throwing at Astros hitters. Prediction: This will get very ugly.

Cora won’t get a baseball job

According to the commissioner’s report on the scandal, the sign-stealing camera in center field in Houston was Cora’s idea. He allegedly came up with trash can banging as a way to communicate pitches to Houston hitters. Following the 2017 season, he became Red Sox manager, and Boston won the World Series in 2018. Now the league is in the midst of an investigation into whether Boston was sign stealing then. Hinch got a year’s suspension; what will the ringleader face? Cora could go down as one of the greatest cheaters in the sport’s history. No matter the length of his suspension, he’ll be radioactive.

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Originally Posted on Yardbarker | By Justin Mears  |  Last updated 1/22/20

Five Teams That Could Become Cinderella Stories In March Madness

Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports | January 21, 2020 by Shane McNichol

The four days between Selection Sunday and the round of 64 games of the NCAA Tournament is one of the most fun periods for sports fans. Brackets are distributed, analyzed and agonized over. Everyone has a common goal: find the Cinderella team.

There are few joys as sweet as predicting an upset, especially when the team you stood up for makes a run past the first weekend.

Finding the teams capable of an upset is certainly easier once the field is set, yet there is some real value to checking in on possible Cinderellas earlier on in the schedule. Let’s take a look at teams with a chance to make waves in March, limiting our search to mid-major teams currently rated no higher than a 11 seed in ESPN’s most recent bracket projection.

5. Duquesne

Before this season, the Dukes would not have figured into a list like this one. The program has been in a nearly permanent downturn, winning more than 20 games in a season just twice in the last 40 years. It came as a surprise then when the Dukes started 10-0, with just three teams left unbeaten when they suffered their first loss on December 22. Duquesne’s early schedule helped. The Dukes played no true road games and didn’t face a KenPom top-100 team in their first 10 games.

Even after losing two games, Duquesne looks like a team to fear in the Atlantic 10. Wins over Davidson and Saint Louis has the Dukes tied atop the conference standings. Defense has been a strong point, as Duquesne leads the nation in block rate. Junior big man Michael Hughes swats 5.2 shots per 40 minutes, and Duquesne only allows a conference-low 60.0 points per game in A-10 play.

The case against Duquesne comes from their competition atop the conference standings. Dayton is a true top-10 team and Final Four contender, meaning Duquesne likely needs to beat the Flyers (or pick up crucial quality wins over Richmond or VCU) or win the A-10 Tournament to reach the Big Dance.

4. Stephen F. Austin

While Duquesne might have a prayer at an at-large bid, Stephen F. Austin does not. The Lumberjacks are the only KenPom top-150 team in the Southland and only played three power conference teams in their nonconference schedule. The Lumberjacks’ play against top competition was positive, though. Stephen F. Austin played Rutgers and Alabama tough, and most memorably, topped Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium at the buzzer in overtime.

Stephen F. Austin has a history of NCAA Tournament success, appearing in four of the last six tourneys. The Lumberjacks won first-round games in 2014 and 2016, with a last second tip-in from Notre Dame stealing a spot in the Sweet Sixteen away from SFA.

All of those Lumberjack teams shared one common trait: fierce pressure defense. The Jacks have led the nation in forcing turnovers in three of the last five seasons and haven’t ranked outside of the top 30 in that stat since 2013. Division I teams are averaging about 13 turnovers per game this year. Just one of Stephen F. Austin’s opponents was able to stay south of 15 turnovers, while 12 teams have coughed it up more than 20 times against the Jacks. In the pressure of the Big Dance, that makes for a terrifying opponent.

3. Akron

The only thing as scary as meeting a high-octane defense in the NCAA Tournament? Facing a team that can score from all over the court.

The Zips shoot the 9th-best 3-point percentage in Division I and lead the Mid-American Conference in points and 3-pointers made. Junior guard Loren Cristian Jackson is sinking 45 percent from long range against DI opponents and scoring 17.5 points per game. Three other Zips hoist more than four threes per game and make better than 36 percent from outside the arc. Akron can space and attack a defense as well as any team in college basketball.

The Zips gave Louisville and West Virginia tough tests on the road, but Akron had two of its worst shooting performances in those games. If they catch fire in March, they can upend their portion of the bracket.

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Damian Lillard Joins Exclusive List With Second 60-point Game

Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports | January 20, 2020 by Larry Brown

Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard went nuts on Monday night leading his Portland Trail Blazers to a 129-124 overtime win over the Golden State Warriors.

Lillard was great from long range and made all his free throws while scoring a franchise record 61 points in the ballgame. This marked Lillard’s second career 60-point game (his first came in November against Brooklyn). 

Lillard joins Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, James Harden and Elgin Baylor as the only players in NBA history with more than one 60-point game.

That’s some exclusive company.

Lillard was 17/37 from the field, 11/20 on threes, and went 16/16 from the line. He entered the game sixth in the league with 27.1 points per game this season.

This particular bucket stood out: