The NBA Western Conference is absolutely stacked this year. The San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder are all off to strong starts while the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets are beginning to catch up. Let’s not forget, the Los Angeles Lakers just got back Kobe Bryant and there are a handful of other teams dealing with injuries, but have the potential to be contenders.
The balance of power in the Association has once again slanted toward the West.
Oklahoma City flexed its muscles a bit as they blew out the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night, 116-100, but this victory has a flaw. The Grizzlies were down two key players and their absences really showed. Marc Gasol and Tony Allen missed yet another game. Gasol is recovering from a sprained MCL and Allen has a hip contusion. Both are crucial to the offensive and defensive production of Memphis.
Russel Westbrook terrorized the Grizzlies with 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists. He went 7-of-12 from the field and shot perfectly from the charity stripe, going 11-of-11. If Allen had played, I’d expect him to guard Westbrook for some of the game and limit his production. Allen isn’t afraid to body up and get rough; after all, he did kick Chris Paul in the face.
The matchup between Serge Ibaka and Gasol would have been fun to watch. Ibaka has come out of his shell and is averaging a modest 15 points and 9.9 rebounds, but Gasol is a proven interior beast who will drop a shoulder into your chest.
This victory deserves an asterisk like Alex Rodriguez‘s career. Memphis is actually a good team trying to cope with some injuries. They can really cause some problems in the West and for the Thunder. The Grizzlies and Thunder will meet again in January and February. Allen should be healthy by the January matchup, but Gasol’s recovery period is unknown. I won’t rule him out of the January game, but he should be a guarantee for February.
Barring any other injuries to either team between now and then, those two matchups should be much better barometers.
The New York Yankees rejected an offer from the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday that involved second baseman Brandon Phillips. Most Yankee fans are probably holding their heads at the fact that the team passed on a gold glove-winning three-time All-Star just days after losing Robinson Cano. However, the Yankees made the right move.
Despite putting up 103 RBIs last season, Phillips has regressed in nearly every hitting category over the last two seasons. At 32 years of age, the career-high RBI total for Phillips is not something that will become a trend in years to come.
Phillips’ batting average has diminished from .300 in 2011, to .281 in 2012 and .261 in 2013. His on-base-percentage, slugging percentage, runs and hits all have similar trends. Phillips’ glove is undoubtedly one of the best in the game, but after securing both Kelly Johnson and Brendan Ryan, the Yankees don’t have a special need for defense.
The proposed trade reportedly involved the Yankees sending Brett Gardner to the Reds. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman stated that he has no desire to trade Gardner, despite receiving numerous phone calls regarding the outfielder since the arrival of Jacoby Ellsbury in the Bronx.
This proves to me that the Yankees are continuing to think long-term this offseason, something the fans can appreciate. Cashman stated on Wednesday that the plan was always to keep Gardner and Ellsbury together in the outfield and create the fastest and most dynamic outfield in MLB. He also said that while he has no desire to move Gardner, he will listen to potential offers.
The Yankees’ primary concern is starting pitching, and they should focus on just that. Losing a crucial piece like Gardner wouldn’t be worth the benefits offered by Phillips. Plus, the Yankees would have to take on a pretty hefty contract if they were to acquire Phillips, who signed an extension last year that will give him $50 million over the next four seasons. If the Yankees are going to break the bank in a trade, it ought to be for pitching and not for an infielder on the decline.
The Winter Meetings have been off to a blistering start packed with unexpected trades, rumors and speculation. The Milwaukee Brewers felt confident in their chances of bringing back Corey Hart heading into the offseason. Well … that all changed when the Seattle Mariners made an offer the former All-Star couldn’t refuse.
With Hart heading to the Mariners on a one-year deal, the Brewers are on the prowl for a first baseman. Many believed the backup plan would’ve been to trade for Logan Morrison of the Miami Marlins if Hart left. Well … the Mariners gobbled him up as well. So what’s next for the Brewers?
Doug Melvin has met with James Loney‘s agent, and it appears Loney is seeking a three-year deal. Do the Brewers want to commit that long? The New York Mets have made it no secret Ike Davis is also available. Although, it appears the Mets want young pitching in return, which Melvin isn’t willing to do. Could the Brewers look at Justin Smoak, who is now part of a logjam in Seattle, or perhaps Mitch Moreland for the Texas Rangers?
The right move for the beer makers is to bring in Loney. He brings a consistent approach and steadiness to the lineup that is craving a left-handed hitter. The 29-year-old Loney is a tremendous defender and boasts a career .994 fielding percentage. The Brewers’ first base position produced a pitiful .979 fielding percentage last season and the team ranked 28th overall fielding percentage.
The Brewers are an aggressive bunch on the basepaths and led the NL in stolen bases last season, so Loney’s situational hitting approach would pay dividends. Worth mentioning is that Loney has a respectable career .285 batting average. The real question is does Melvin want to pony up the dough to bring him in for three years, or would he prefer to acquire someone via trade and spend money on improving the pitching staff?
Whatever Melvin decides to do won’t surprise anyone as he has never been one to shy away from pulling the trigger on a trade opportunity. He’s always one to keep his cards close to his chest, but won’t hesitate to strike a deal. We all remember the infamous C.C. Sabathia acquisition to bring in the lefty who ultimately carried the Brewers into the 2008 Playoffs.
Also, when the Brewers recognized they couldn’t afford to re-sign Zack Greinke, they shipped him to the Angels to acquire star shortstop Jean Segura. With first base being the only defensive position with uncertainty, look for the Brewers to go after Loney, Davis or Moreland. All three hitters bat from the left side and could jump into the meat of their already-potent lineup.