Why Lavar Ball Doesn’t Matter

Lavar Ball has been making far more headlines than his son lately. In the past week he has been hyping up the playing ability of his three sons, bragging about the Ball brand and claiming that he could have beaten Michael Jordan in a game of one on one. The media can’t get enough of him.

Unfortunately for his oldest son Lonzo, his father’s press seems to be having a negative impact on the perception towards him. It has now gotten to the point where some people are questioning whether Lonzo’s draft stock may be hurt by his father.

Quite simply, that is crazy. Lavar Ball has been overzealous, arrogant and flat out wrong over the past few weeks. But, there is no reason that the comments he made should impact how Lonzo is viewed as an NBA prospect.

Lavar Ball (Photo courtesy: youtube.com)

Suns head coach and former UCLA point guard Earl Watson made some interesting comments about the Balls. Watson claimed that Lonzo is the exact opposite of his father, and that he just wants to play basketball. Lonzo himself made a similar comment when he stated, “My dad is who he is, I just got play basketball, I can’t worry about who he is.”

Ball’s teammate Bryce Alford had high praise about Lonzo’s mindset and off court presence earlier in the season. Alford said, “For someone who has that kind of hype around him, he does an unbelievable job of handling it and keeping himself humble.” Lonzo also started the season by stating his mindset when he said, “Just basically play like you haven’t made it yet . . . I haven’t made a name for myself yet, so I have to go out there and prove myself.”

Despite his father’s comments, Lonzo Ball has done nothing but prove that he is a humble guy, and that his focus is foremost on basketball. He has helped execute a swift turnaround of the UCLA basketball program and has been leading am outstanding team into the tournament. Regardless of the buzz surrounding his father, teams should not hesitate to add Ball come draft day.

However, players are already saying that they want to face Lonzo, and there is always a risk of his teammates not getting along with him. If he truly is as humble as his UCLA teammates say he is, that should not be a problem. Also, there’s nothing that can’t be proven with hard work and talent. Those are two things that Lonzo seems to possess.

Of course, there is always the problem of the hype surrounding Lavar Ball to create unnecessary attention for an NBA team. Guys in other sports like Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel have created attention that has caused trouble for their teams.

If Lonzo truly possesses NBA level talent, that problem won’t persist. Proof of that lies in somebody like Bryce Harper. Harper came into the league with a lot of hype surrounding him, and his attitude and arrogance drew even more attention to him and his team. After two outstanding seasons and an MVP award, all criticisms of Harper’s attitude seem to have faded.

In the case of Lonzo Ball, teams will be quick to forget about his father if he can prove his talent. No matter how much Lavar Ball runs his mouth, Lonzo can leave it on the court.

 

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The Prickly Grapefruit: Spring Training Watch 2017

The long wait is over baseball fans. Spring training action kicked off in full force this past weekend and not a moment too soon.

Fans from all over the country flocked to the warmth of Arizona and Florida to catch the start of camp. The rest of us stayed glued to the television and began speculating about the meaning behind these exhibition games. Whatever your reason for watching, hardcore baseball junkies and casual fans can agree that the crack of the bat sounds so good after a long winter.

The Game Haus is committed to ensuring fans don’t miss any of the key storylines taking place this camp. The Prickly Grapefruit series will provide a weekly recap of the action surrounding the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues this preseason.

An Apple a Day

The Prickly Grapefruit: Spring Training Watch 2017

Kevin Plawecki during Mets vs. Nationals Saturday (Image Courtesy of Anthony J. Causi)

Take a multivitamin, do some stretching, rub a lucky rabbits foot, whatever it takes to stay off that disabled list. It never fails that players find new ways to injure themselves prior to the regular season and this season is no different.

Award for most innovative goes to Royals pitcher Brian Flynn, who is nursing broken ribs after falling through the roof of his barn. Fortunately, he is only projected to be out eight weeks. Michael Bourn suffered a broken finger playing catch with a football, further demonstrating the difficulty of being a multi-sport athlete.

On the less dramatic side, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis is dealing with rotator cuff soreness and is sidelined for approximately five days. The Mets’ injury woes continue as first baseman Lucas Duda appears unready with continued hip soreness. Finally, Mets’ catcher Kevin Plawecki is undergoing X-Rays after a collision at the plate in Saturday’s game against the Nationals.

Bryce is Back

Bryce Harper wasted no time silencing critics of 2016 campaign by smashing a home run in his first at-bat Saturday. The 2012 NL Rookie of the Year and 2015 NL MVP had difficulty in 2016, batting an uncharacteristic .243 for the season. A mix of rumors stemming from a mental block caused by Joe Maddon’s Walk-A-Thon last May to playing hurt have all been attributed to the poor performance.

Whatever the reason, it clearly hasn’t diminished his ability to hit the long ball. One year it’s Trout vs. Harper as the best young player in the MLB. The next it’s wondering if Harper will ever be the same. Both sides of the spectrum are undoubtedly overreactions, but regardless Harper has all the tools to reestablish himself as one of the top players in baseball.

Tebow Mania

The Prickly Grapefruit: Spring Training Watch 2017

Tim Tebow (Image Courtesy of Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

Alright so perhaps an invite to minor league camp doesn’t exactly qualify as “mania” in the world of baseball. That said, it doesn’t take away from the intrigue surrounding a former Heisman winner attempting to crack the big leagues. Never mind the fact he’s trying to do it at 29 years of age after essentially a decade away from the game.

Regardless of opinions of the topic, Tebow will receive highly coveted spring plate appearances for the Mets organization. So far those Minor’s attempts have equated to a .194 average in 70 plate appearances.

These early numbers haven’t dissuaded New York as they maintain plans to utilize Tebow in Grapefruit league action. From an overall impact standpoint, this is likely a non-story, but Tebow’s progress will be fun to keep an eye on this preseason.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tony Romo

For Some Teams, Not Signing Romo is a Bigger Risk Than Doing So

Despite Cowboys owner Jerry Jones not sounding fully ready to move on, reports emerged earlier this week that quarterback Tony Romo will be released. Assuming these reports are true, the market for the often injured 36-year-old quarterback is not being viewed correctly. For three teams in particular, he would not be a risk, but rather a lifeline.

Before we get there, let’s trim the field a little bit. By his own admission, Romo only has two or three years left. Thus, being part of a total rebuild in Cleveland or San Francisco is out of the question. Carson Palmer is coming back in 2017 for another season with the Cardinals. The Broncos continue to articulate their commitment to Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.

The Jets and Bills are hoarding young quarterbacks in the hopes that one might stick. Adding a veteran like Romo just does not seem to be on their radar, but perhaps it should be.

All these teams seem poised to either stand pat, add a quarterback through the draft, or look for a longer-term solution in free agency. If he is released and not traded, the teams that should be beating down Romo’s door are as follows.

Bears: Chicago is not as far away as last year’s 3-13 record suggests. They lost six games by one possession. Despite not being highly thought of by fans, John Fox is actually a heck of a coach. He got to a Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme and won a division title with Tim Tebow.

Jay Cutler John Fox

Photo: twitimes.com

The organization seems poised to move on from the temperamental enigma that is Jay Cutler. Romo is the kind of upgrade Fox needs to improve upon his 9-23 mark with the Bears and keep his job beyond this year.

 

Pair Romo with emerging running back Jordan Howard and an improving defense that ranked seventh against the pass last year, and the playoffs are not a stretch. Romo has roots in Illinois. The same can be said of Jimmy Garoppolo, who could be a fallback option for the Bears. Regardless, Chicago will likely add a quarterback at some point in the draft as well.

Texans: These next two teams would be tricky from a financial perspective, but I am not an accountant. It took winning a playoff game with Brock Osweiler for Texans head coach Bill O’Brien to receive confirmation from ownership that he would return in 2017.

O’Brien is a fine coach who had nothing to do with the ridiculous $72 million contract Osweiler was given. Rest assured though, O’Brien will take the fall if quarterback play continues to hold the rest of this championship caliber roster back. A completion percentage under 60 and more interceptions than touchdowns should be enough to give up on Osweiler after one year, despite his contract.

Romo would bring quarterback stability to Houston, something the franchise has never had. If he gets hurt, the Texans would be right back where they are now. However, at least he would offer a potential off-ramp from the path to nowhere they are on with their current quarterback options.

Vikings: I am on an island here, but Minnesota is loaded. With guys like Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen and Xavier Rhodes on defense, the Vikings are a notch below the 2015 Broncos. The defense cannot win a title by itself, but a slightly more balanced Vikings team would be lethal.

After his devastating training camp injury last year, questions continue to linger about Teddy Bridgewater’s future. Mike Zimmer seems strangely stubborn about sticking with Sam Bradford. Granted, the Vikings did give up a lot to bring him in. As good as his record completion percentage and four to one touchdown to interception ratio made him look last year, there is one very important thing Bradford has never done all that well: win games.

sam bradford

Photo: foxnews.com

In 78 career starts for three different franchises, Bradford has posted a winning percentage of 41 percent and has never lead a team to the playoffs. In the words of a very wise Canadian songstress, “that don’t impress me much.” Yes, football is the ultimate team sport. However, the blame has to start going on the quarterback and not the supporting cast.

After fading down the stretch behind Bradford last year and putting up only nine points in a home playoff loss with Bidgewater the year before, Zimmer needs to start winning big quick or whispers will start about his job security. With the talent on this roster, a healthy Romo makes the Vikings instant Super Bowl contenders. Sticking with Bradford makes Zimmer being unemployed within two years a virtual certainty.

Understandably, there is real skepticism about Romo’s ability to stay healthy for an entire season. He has not done so since 2014. Even so, for these three coaching staffs under varying degrees of pressure to win now, his career winning percentage (61 percent) makes him a chance worth taking. In fact, recycling average veteran or unseasoned young quarterbacks that will get them nowhere is a much bigger risk.

 

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NFL Conference Championship Picks Against the Spread

The NFL’s version of the Final Four is here. We have two solid matchups featuring incredibly hot and gifted quarterbacks. This will be my last week of picks against the spread. Expect something different for the Super Bowl. I was 2-2 straight up last week and just 1-3 against the spread. Given the year I have had, fans should be begging me not to pick their team, but here it goes anyway.

Atlanta (-5) at Green Bay- Aaron Rodgers is incredible. Up until his current hot streak, I always thought he was a lot closer to Joe Flacco than Joe Montana. Him carrying a below average defense and an offense with injuries everywhere except for the offensive line to this point is the football equivalent of what LeBron did with some of his Cavs teams.

Photo Courtesy of bloggingdirty.com

Regardless of what wide receivers Rodgers ends up having to throw to, he will keep his team in the game. The dilemma for Rodgers is a familiar one. Matt Ryan and the opposing offense will have no problem scoring on the Packers defense. At the end of the day, Atlanta is just a more complete football team. Their late-season defensive emergence is what made them a legitimate Super Bowl contender. NFL sack leader Vic Beasley has slowly developed into a monster and even seldom used elder statesman Dwight Freeney was making plays last week. As good as Rodgers and his offensive line are, I trust Atlanta’s defense to get a late stop more than Green Bay’s.

 

The Packers cover, but the Falcons send the Georgia Dome out in style with a trip to the Super Bowl. Atl 34 GB 31

Pittsburgh at New England (-6) – Let’s review a few of the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, and thou shalt not give Bill Belichick and the Patriots bulletin-board material the week before a big game. No matter his intentions, that is exactly what Antonio Brown did. Anyone who thinks New England is not using Brown’s Facebook live gaffe as a little extra motivational fuel is kidding themselves.

Photo Courtesy of pittsburghpostgazette.com

As talented as the Steelers are on offense, Belichick and his staff will make Pittsburgh beat them without Le’Veon Bell running wild. Also, do not be fooled by the Steelers success. Mike Tomlin is a few steps behind coaches like Belichick when it comes to X’s and O’s. He is mostly successful because he handles the emotional and motivational aspects of the game so well. Never forget that Tim Tebow lit up a Tomlin coached team in the playoffs. Even at 39 and coming off a clunker, I will take my chances with Tom Brady.

The Steelers were probably going to lose this game no matter what, but the Brown situation ensures a bloodbath. NE 34 Pit 20.

 

 

 

 

 

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NFL Myths Busted

Everyone thinks they know everything about the NFL, myself included, but that is just not the case. There are a few ridiculous myths/theories out there that have always made me belly laugh. Time for me to rip them apart.

Tony Romo isn’t any good- Yes, his career is marked by playoff failures, but no quarterback alone is to blame. Undrafted out of Eastern Illinois, Romo became the Cowboys starter midway through the 2006 season. Since then, Dallas has not had a losing record in any season where Romo has started at least ten games. Romo has thrown for over 34,000 yards and posted a passer rating of over 95. Yet, fans, media, and more recently ownership, who flirted with Paxton Lynch during the draft, seem to try and tear Romo down at every turn. The 2-4 postseason mark and frequent late season collapses make me understand why, but the Cowboys are always in contention with Romo, despite never coming through. This is better than going 4-12 every year like the Browns. Romo’s value was never more obvious than last year. He only played in five games due to injury. Dallas literally could not win a game without him. The inconvenient truth is that Romo’s 78-49 career record as a starter and his stats make him a borderline Hall of Famer. Also, he is one great playoff run away from deleting the borderline from that statement.

photo from insidethestar.com

The running game is not important in the modern era- Believe it or not, 4000 yards used to be an incredible season for an NFL quarterback. John Elway only had one such season in his illustrious career. However, given the offensive friendly rules of today. It is much easier to rip off big chunks of yards through the air. 4000 yards is now commonplace. 12 quarterbacks broke the barrier last year. All this has in theory decreased the importance of running the ball effectively. Quarterbacks throw 50 times a game like it is nothing today. Also, it is rare to see running backs drafted in the first round anymore. So, most think running the ball is not necessary for big time success today. The truth is to win a championship you have to be at least capable at moving the ball on the ground. The Broncos were in the middle of the pack in rushing last year, but C.J. Anderson had 234 postseason rushing yards during Denver’s Super Bowl run. Seattle had Marshawn Lynch for both trips to the Super Bowl. Even the Packers, who were last in the league in rushing in 2010 had multiple 100+ yard rushing games from James Starks in the playoffs on their way to a Super Bowl title. Do not believe the chatter. There is absolutely still a place for “smash mouth” football.

Photo from ghettyimages.com

Photo from ghettyimages.com

God helped Tim Tebow and the Broncos win in 2011- Okay maybe I can’t totally debunk this one, but while the Tebow was leading the Broncos to miracle wins in 2011, this actually became a real thing. I get a kick out of it to this day. Faith is such a huge part of the Tebow package, but this was ridiculous. It was never Tebow’s fault. Look, I believe in God. That being said, I think he has bigger fish to fry than who wins the AFC West.

photo from bleacherreport.com

photo from bleacherreport.com

Manziel and Tebow: Different Kinds of the Same?

This week, several media outlets including NBC Sports Pro Football Talk are reporting Johnny Manziel’s drug and alcohol issues are continuing to escalate. I felt compelled to remind folks how good this kid can be when he has his act together. I will detail his problems and also address his football future. In preparing to write this piece, I ended up drawing a parallel that surprised even myself.

First off, no one should lose sight of the fact that we’re dealing with a human being here. He clearly has substance abuse as well as other issues. I hope he gets the help he needs.

Manziel took college football by storm during his freshman 2012 season. He accounted for 47 total touchdowns and led Texas A&M to an upset win over top-ranked Alabama. He became the first ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. His schoolyard style of play was simply mesmerizing to watch. Feel free to relive some of it below courtesy of the vetnameseguy YouTube channel. I sure enjoyed doing so.

By his sophomore season, his “Johnny Football” nickname was a regular part of American vocabulary. For me, it was the Chick-fil-A Bowl comeback victory led by Manziel that made me a believer. The win over Duke would turn out to be his final college game. Despite questions about his size and style of play translating to the NFL, he declared for the draft with two years of college eligibility left. He was selected by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd overall pick in the 2014 draft.

Photo from usatoday.con

Photo from usatoday.con

Manziel’s rookie season was disastrous. Allegations of being late to practice and skipping film study prevented him from seeing the field until late in the season. He was shut out by the Bengals in his first career start, injured early the following week against Carolina, and missed the season finale due to that injury.

The Browns continued to play quarterback carousel the following season before naming Manziel the starter for the remainder of the season in November. From there though, it all unraveled very quickly. He was demoted back to third string days after the starter announcement when video of him partying in Texas during the team’s bye week surfaced online.

This was the latest in a long line of off the field issues for Manziel dating back to his college days. The details are well documented. He has dealt with everything from skipping injury treatment to gambling in Vegas to trips to rehab, and more recently domestic violence allegations. Following this past season, he was released by the Browns in March after another legal dispute.

The following month, well-known agent Drew Rosenhaus took the unenviable task of representing the embattled star. That partnership never got off the ground. Rosenhaus dropped Manziel after less than two months, saying he needed to seek help for his issues. Subsequently, Nike also dropped the former Aggie.

Since then, Manziel has continued partying in the public eye. No other NFL team has given him a look. However, if he can get his act together I feel he is deserving of another shot. I realize it is a massive if. Manziel’s football career most resembles that of his polar opposite in terms of character, Tim Tebow.

There really are so many similarities. They both are Heisman Trophy winners who dominated college football. They both became cultural phenomenon for time. Tebow’s name even became a verb during his streak of miracle wins with the Broncos. Also, there are questions about how their unorthodox playing styles translate to the NFL. The most important similarity may be that teams are scared away from signing either guy due to the media circus that follows them everywhere, although each circus exist for vastly different reasons,

Tebow missed wide-open throws and struggled to complete half of his throws in the NFL. He got four shots in the leauge. Keep in mind that it took Peyton Manning to unseat Tebow in Denver, the best chance he ever got. From a football standpoint, the only significant difference may be that Tebow had a small taste of success in the NFL thanks to a fantastic organization and top-flight coaching. Manziel has not had that success yet. Think about it though, if Tebow got four shots, isn’t Johnny Football deserving of the second? Like I said before though, his first priority needs to be getting his life together. If he can somehow manage that, I believe there is still a phenomenal athlete they can be successful in the NFL somewhere in there.