A new look for NBA, where amazing happens

Bria Brown

Web Copyeditor

This year’s NBA season started off with a bang. There was the Kyrie and LeBron saga, landing Kyrie a spot on the Boston Celtics, the unfortunate Gordon Haywood injury, and the long-awaited Carmelo Anthony trade to Oklahoma City.

(Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Dwyane Wade reunites with the Celevand Cavaliers alongside his tag-team brother LeBron James, and we can’t forget Russell Westbrook, signing his 205-million dollar contract extension on Kevin Durant’s Birthday.

In the midst of all the drama, my wow moment of the season, so far has been the Golden State Warriors dropping 141 points on the Portland Trail Blazers. Another team that is doing surprisingly well this season is the Minnesota Timberwolves. They already have two close wins over the OKC Thunder, and an overtime win against the Miami Heat—games that maybe they didn’t win last season.

It would be nice for Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins to go to the playoffs and even bring a ring to New Orleans. Philadelphia 76ers are the underdogs and a team, I want to see do well this season. I like what they have going on with a young core. Philly, Orlando, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and New York, all have young teams with a lot of potential. The NBA is in great hands.

Speaking of great hands, Kyrie is in the right spot with Boston. The players have so much lead way to operate as individual entities. Kyrie walked away from ‘the easy route,’ the type of decision that creates or destroys legacies. Choosing your own destiny takes courage and belief in self, and I respect Kyrie for his decision. Do you know how much faith you have to have in yourself to leave LeBron’s Cavs? At this point LeBron is a first class ticket to the finals each and every year. Beat the Warriors and you get another ring. But that goes to show, everything that glitters isn’t gold. Who knows what goes on in the locker room, what type of pressure that is, the commotion, the situation behind closed doors? A lot of times we look at people and question, ‘how could you turn that down, how could you walk away from this or that, stop complaining,’ but at the end of the day, everyone is just working from their own perspective and playing the cards they were given.

The league is pretty top heavy now, but I think in the long run, it will be good for future success. I think it raises competition for teams, they know they have to be really good to win a championship, because all of the champion teams are stacked. I think now we won’t just see players emerging as great but we will see teams rise up as great teams, dynasties so to speak. And with less teams having one proven superstar to cater to on each team, they have room to give the rookies a chance to develop and become leaders. The teams late in the draft will typically be the teams with the superstars, and the early draft teams will typically be the young teams, adding more top picks.

 

Photo Credit: Slam Online

Free agency leaves Ravens with more questions than answers

Free agency in the NFL got off to a busy start when it began on March 10. As a result, the Baltimore Ravens have lost several popular players who’ve been keys to their success over the last several seasons, providing several players from last year’s draft class with an opportunity to play a bigger role in 2015.

Just before free agency began, the Ravens released receiver/kickreturner Jacoby Jones. Jones had been a game- changer with his ability to make big plays in the kick return game. He was also on the receiving end of“The Mile-High Miracle,” catching Joe Flacco’s 70-yard touchdown pass to tie the game in the 2013 AFC Divisional Round at Denver, which the Ravens won in double overtime. However, Jones struggled with catching the ball in the passing game, and as a returner muffed several kicks. Jones signed a two-year contract with San Diego.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith, a 2011 graduate from the University of Maryland, has also left the Ravens as an unrestricted free agent. He signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers, where he’ll join another former Raven in Anquan Boldin. Last year with the Ravens, Smith caught 49 passes for 767 yards, and was 10th in the NFL with 11 touchdown catches. However, he’s been knocked for his perceived inability to run more complex routes. Baltimore is also down a tight end after Owen Daniels joined former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak by signing with Denver. Free safety Darian Stewart also signed with the Broncos.

DefensivetackleHalotiNgatawas scheduled to make $16 million this season, and was going to count for $8.5 million against the salary cap. On March 11, the Ravens traded Ngata to Detroit for the Lions’ fourth and fifth-round picks in this year’s draft. Ngata thanked the Ravens and their fans with a full-page ad in the March 15 edition of The Baltimore Sun. He ended the letter with the Samoan phrase “Ofa Lahi Atu,” which means “Love you.” The Ravens also released defensive tackle Terrence “Mount Cody,” who’s been charged with animal cruelty in Baltimore County. Meanwhile, linebacker Terrell Suggs did agree to restructure his contract to give the team some space under the salary cap, and cornerback Lardarius Webb took a pay cut to re-sign with the Ravens. Cornerback Anthony Levine has also re-signed with Baltimore, and defensive end Chris Canty has signed a new two-year, $4.65 million contract with the team after being released in late February.

In the backfield, running back Justin Forsett agreed to terms on a three-year, $9 million contract to stay in Baltimore. Baltimore will be looking for a new backup quarterback after Tyrod Taylor signed with the Buffalo Bills.

The Ravens are once again dealing with players who’ve had run-ins with the law. Running back Bernard Pierce was pulled over by Baltimore County Police for speeding after allegedly being clocked going 55 mph in a 30 mph zone near the Beltway on St. Patrick’s Day. He reportedly failed a field sobriety test. Pierce has been charged with DUI and exceeding maximum speed, among other charges, and has since been released by the team. He’s the second Raven to be released after being arrested for DUI this offseason, joining cornerback Victor Hampton.

Orioles looking to fill holes in outfield

The Orioles have added depth in their middle infield and bullpen, but will have a pair of large holes to fill in their outfield this season.

After nine seasons, right fielder Nick Markakis left via free agency and signed a four-year, $44 million contract with the Atlanta Braves. The Braves offered Markakis the contract even though he had surgery on his neck during this offseason. Left fielder/designated hitter Nelson Cruz also left via free agency after leading Major League Baseball with 40 home runs last season. He signed a four-year, $57 million contract with the Seattle Mariners in December. The Orioles also lost a key arm in their bullpen after left-hander Andrew Miller signed a four-year, $36 million contract with the New York Yankees,the largest contract ever fora reliever. The Orioles acquired Miller from Boston at the trade deadline last summer, and was a valuable weapon coming out of the bullpen during Baltimore’s postseason run. Baltimore did re-sign closer Zach Britton and left-hander Brian Matusz to avoid salary arbitration.

Travis Snider has previously played for both Toronto & Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy of Flickr user James G. under a Creative Commons license.
Travis Snider has previously played for both Toronto & Pittsburgh.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user James G. under a Creative Commons license.

Baltimore still has a waiver-wire pickup from last season in Alejandra de Aza, and the Orioles also re- signed outfielder/DH Delmon Young to a one-year, $2.25 million contract.

Young could also earn an additional $750,000 in incentives. The Orioles traded Class A pitcher Stephen Tarpley to Pittsburgh for right fielder Travis Snider. Snider hit .264 with 14 homers and a career-high 38 RBIs.

The Orioles will have an abundance of catchers heading into Opening Day. Matt Wieters continues to recover from Tommy John surgery last season, and his status for the start of the season is still uncertain. If Wieters isn’t ready for Opening Day, Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger will be the Orioles’ catchers, and a roster move will have to be made once Wieters returns.

Baltimore continues to add depth to its middle infield. The Orioles signed infielder Everth Cabrera to a one-year contract. Cabrera hit .232 with 18 stolen bases for San Diego last year. Cabrera has played for the Padres since 2008, and has 136 steals in his career, including a Major League- high 99 over the last three seasons. However, Cabrera has struggled defensively in Spring Training has he looks to join last season’s platoon of Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop. As for the corner infield spots, Manny Machado will be back at third base after recovering from knee surgery that abruptly ended his 2014 season. Chris Davis has received a therapeutic use exemption from Major League Baseball, allowing him to use Adderall, but he’ll still have to sit out Opening Day to serve the final game of his 25-game drug suspension.

The Orioles’ depth in their starting rotation is also helping them cushion the blow from the struggles of right- hander Ubaldo Jiminez this spring. This follows his demotion to mop-up duty out of the bullpen after signing a four-year, $50 million contract at the start of Spring Training last year, and then posting a record of 6-9 with a 4.81 earned-run average. Wei-Yin Chen had 16 wins to lead four starters who had double-digit wins last season.

Baltimore will open the season with three games at Tampa Bay April 6-8. The Orioles will open their home schedule on April 10 with the first of three games against Toronto, followed by three more against the Yankees and Boston Red Socks. The Chicago White Sox will also come to Baltimore for three-game series during April.

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Ngata Suspended For Rest of Regular Season

Another Baltimore player has been suspended for using Adderall.

Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was suspended for four games by the NFL after testing positive for the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug, which is considered a performance-enhancing drug, and is banned under the league’s PED policy. The suspension was announced on Dec. 4, and comes at the start of a critical final month of the regular season, with half a dozen teams, including Baltimore and two of its upcoming opponents in December – Miami and Cleveland – sitting at 7-5. Ngata will be able to play again if the Ravens make the playoffs.

Ngata, a five-time Pro Bowler, is the second player on one of Baltimore’s pro teams to be suspended for using Adderall. Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was suspended in September after testing positive for the drug, and will have to sit out Opening Day 2015 for the final game of his 25-game suspension. Ngata also isn’t the first Raven to be suspended for Adderall. Cornerback Asa Jackson was suspended for the final four games of his rookie season in 2012 after testing positive, and again for the first half of the 2013 season after a second positive test.

Orioles Hot Stove: Markakis, Cruz leave on free agent market

A key player on this year’s Orioles team, and a long-time outfielder who helped the team return from the doldrums to relevance in Major League Baseball have both left Baltimore via the free agent market.

Left fielder and designated hitter Nelson Cruz has returned to the American League West after signing a four-year, $57 million contract with the Seattle Mariners on Dec. 1. Cruz was named the team’s MVP after hitting .271 with 40 home runs and 108 runs batted in. He added two home runs and five RBI during the Orioles’ playoff run. He rejected Baltimore’s $15.3 million, one-year qualifying offer before signing with the Mariners. As a result, the Orioles will receive a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds of the MLB Entry Draft next June.

Long-time right fielder Nick Markakis has also left Baltimore. Markakis, who debuted with the Orioles in 2006 after coming up through their minor league system, signed a four-year contract valued at $44-45 million with the Atlanta Braves on Dec. 3. Just days earlier, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez and assistant general manager John Coppolella flew up to Maryland to meet with Markakis and his agent for dinner. Atlanta was in the market for a right fielder after trading Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals back in November. Markakis hit .276 with 14 home runs, 50 RBI and a .344 on-base percentage, and also won the American League Gold Glove in right field. He played in college at Young Harris Junior College before being drafted by the Orioles in 2003. Baltimore declined its half of a mutual option on Markakis at the end of October. In his nine seasons with the Orioles, he hit .290 with 141 homers.

Meanwhile, the Orioles have made contract offers to 11 players who are eligible for salary arbitration, including first baseman Chris Davis, catcher Matt Wieters, utility players Ryan Flaherty and Steve Pearce, starting pitchers Chris Tillman, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez, and relievers Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz and closer Zach Britton.

In addition to Markakis, shortstop J.J. Hardy and center fielder Adam Jones were announces as American League Gold Glove winners on Nov. 4. Hardy edged out Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox and Alcides Escobar of the A..L. champion Kansas City Royals to win the award at shortstop for the third straight year. Jones also won his third straight Gold Glove in center.

Manager Buck Showalter was named A..L. Manager of the Year for a third time. He also won the award in 1994 with the New York Yankees and in 2004 with the Texas Rangers. General Manager Dan Duquette was the consensus A.L. Executive of the Year, receiving honors from both The Sporting News and Baseball America. However, Duquette has his work cut out for him this offseason, as he now has to fill out a 40-man roster that currently stands at 32 players. According to MLB.com Orioles reporter Brittany Ghiroli, the Orioles’ top priorities will be adding depth to its outfield and bullpen during the upcoming Winter Meetings in Phoenix.

Turnovers and inconsistent offense continue to hurt Terrapins

After getting blown out by #20 Ohio State and a Wisconsin team that’s now ranked in the top 15, the Maryland Terrapins were looking to bounce back with a statement win in Big Ten play. They got it in Happy Valley, but appear to be reverting back to their old ways.

After Melvin Gordon ran for 122 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Badgers to a 52-7 win in Madison on Oct. 25, Maryland went to Penn State with a chip on its shoulder. A scuffle broke out during pregame warmups, with star receiver Stefon Diggs in the middle of the action. After order was restored, Diggs and the other two Maryland captains refused to shake hands with the Penn State captains at the opening coin toss, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Maryland had the last laugh at the end as the defense held the Nittany Lions to 42 yards rushing, and Brad Craddock kicked a 43-yard field goal with 51 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give the Terrapins a 20-19 win. However, after the game, the Big Ten fined Maryland $10,000, and suspended Diggs for the Terrapins’ next game against Michigan State.

Two weeks later, the 12th-ranked Spartans came to College Park looking to bounce back from a loss at home to Ohio State. They were welcomed by a Terps team and a Byrd Stadium crowd that was dressed in black for a cold nighttime matchup. Maryland, playing without Diggs, went three-and-out on two out of first three possessions, and C.J. Brown threw an interception, but the defense was able to hold Michigan State to three field goals. After Michael Geiger gave Michigan State a 9-0 lead with 10:33 left in the first half, Will Likely returned the ensuing kickoff 52 yards to the Spartans’ 41-yard line. Five plays and 1:52 later, Brown connected with Daniel Adams for a 20-yard touchdown pass to pull Maryland to within 9-7. However, Jeremy Langford seized the momentum back for Michigan State with an eight-yard touchdown run to make it 16-7 at halftime.

The Spartans would start to pull away in the second half. With 1:14 left in the third quarter, R.J. Williamson picked off a Brown pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown to give Michigan State a 23-7 lead. In the fourth quarter, after Maryland was unable to put a drive together after getting the ball at its own 48 and had to punt, Spartans quarterback Connor Cook engineered an eight-play, 77-yard drive that ended when Langford scored his second touchdown of the night on a 25-yard run with just over seven minutes left. Three minutes later, Brown hit receiver Juwan Winfree for a 31-yard touchdown pass, and then found freshman tight end Derrick Hayward for the two- point conversion to pull Maryland within two scores at 30-15. Less than a minute later, Spartans running back Nick Hill scored on a 33-yard run to close out the scoring in a 37-15 win for Michigan State (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten). The Spartans held the Terrapins to just six yards rushing, and Brown had three interceptions in another game where he struggled with consistency throwing the ball. Likely had 228 return yards for Maryland (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten).

Maryland will close out the season at a struggling Michigan Wolverines team at The Big House in Ann Arbor on Nov. 22, followed by the regular season finale at home against Rutgers on Nov. 29.