الثلاثاء، 3 يوليو 2012

Joe Johnson


Can Joe Johnson Save the Nets?

 It’s perhaps best to think of free agent season a dark, haunted and very loud forest. Admittedly, this is the sort of forest haunted by hypercritical comments, demanding message board-bound fans, and the shrieking mythical monster known as Skip Bayless, but the point is the darkness and depth. At some point, the NBA and NHL will emerge from this period transformed, with players on different teams and different teams on different trajectories. But for the time being, we’re all still deep in the woods.

    Getty Images
    You can’t put a price on nearly 19 points per game.

The biggest questions for the NBA have to do with the destination of Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams as a free agent and the ongoing saga of ill will and obliquely-phrased ultimatums that has been Dwight Howard’s long campaign to get traded out of Orlando. But Howard’s hometown Atlanta Hawks and the Nets, long seen as his top suitor, are not waiting for the All-Star center to get around to getting out of O-Town.

For the Hawks, being a perennial playoff also-ran had apparently begun to get old. On Monday evening, the team apparently reached a pair of deals—”apparently,” because neither is or will be official until the end of the league’s trade moratorium on July 11—that sent two of the team’s most recognizable and best-compensated players packing. Atlanta reportedly reached an agreement to send six-time All-Star Joe Johnson (and the four years and $89 million remaining on his contract) to the Brooklyn Nets for a handful of role players and small forward Marvin Williams to the Utah Jazz for point guard Devin Harris.

The moves break loose a ton of salary cap space for the Hawks—Atlanta shipped $100 million in salary commitments away and received $25 million in return—and announced that the team, and new G.M. Danny Ferry, were eager to break out of their status as a B-minus team that doesn’t truly scare contenders. “The Hawks [were] in the second round last year and gave the Boston Celtics all they could handle in the first round in 2012, and they’ll get absolutely nothing out of [the Johnson deal],” Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer writes. “And yet you still get the idea that the more mindful fans of Atlanta Hawk basketball are giddy. Should they be? Sometimes you have to dig down to pull yourself up from a middling level.”

The Nets, for their part, have very quickly executed a pretty remarkable franchise facelift, assuming Williams re-signs with the team. Some reports also have them, somewhat improbably, in the mix for Howard, although it will take some heroic roster shuffling. There are also plenty of other teams still jockeying to acquire the center, despite the dings to his reputation that have resulted from his long-running endgame in Orlando.

Meanwhile, the NHL’s annual flurry of activity is already in full swing, but the free agent season’s true outcome depends to a great degree on the decisions as yet unmade by the sport’s top two free agents, ace Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter and New Jersey Devils sniper Zach Parise. Suter and Parise do not seem inclined to rush into their decisions, which has left the rest of the league to alternate between negotiating a new labor agreement and spending wildly on free agents before terms of the new agreement are known.

“The big-market teams at the top [are] mostly waiting to see how things turn out with Parise and Suter,” Jesse Spector of the Sporting News writes. “After the top players sign, there should be a domino effect of trades and other free-agent signings as the league’s biggest spending forces look to throw their weight around and approach the $70.2 million cap for 2012-13 that may never actually exist.” This one might take a while. In other words, we’re not out of the woods yet.
* * *

The 100-meter run-off between Jeneba Tarmoh and Allyson Felix wasn’t ever supposed to happen. There wasn’t supposed to be a dead heat for the third spot on the U.S. Olympic team berth in the event, and there was supposed to be a tie-breaking protocol in the event of a dead heat happening. But there was, and there wasn’t, and the resulting run-off, which was scheduled for Monday night, became a big, if curious, deal. Until, late on Monday morning, Tarmoh announced that she wouldn’t be running in the event, for a complicated series of reasons that she has not yet fully enumerated.

The result was bad news for NBC, which had lucked into 11 or so seconds of potentially must-see television, and good news for Felix, who found herself locked into a spot in the event. But, as Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden writes, the whole story was fraught, weird and multiply complex from the moment the two sprinters crossed the finish line. Tarmoh has her family’s support, and a ticket to London as part of the U.S. 400 relay team. Felix has her own spot, plus a disputed third-place finish. And we have a resolution, of sorts, to something that probably shouldn’t ever have happened in the first place.
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It’s difficult to know just where we are in the comeback of Tiger Woods. Is this the beginning, with another golden age around the corner? Are we in the middle of a comeback that we’ve failed somehow to notice because he hasn’t won a major, despite winning his third tour event of the season on Sunday at the AT&T National at Congressional? Or is he already on the down-shoulder of what has been a brilliant career, with his historic talent—and the slightly easier fields at events like, well, the AT&T National—helping him to semi-regular tour wins?

This isn’t the sort of debate to which other golfers are subjected. For most anyone else on tour, three wins in 11 starts would count as a career-best hot streak, instead of an occasion to debate whether the only victories that Really Count are in majors. But Tiger Woods has never been easily mistaken for other golfers, which is why so much attention and so much speculation is devoted to how Tiger will do in his next major.

“He won his own event at Congressional, a PGA Tour-leading third win of the year, his 74th career tour win, passing Nicklaus for second on the all-time list (he needs eight more to equal Sam Snead) and all any cynics can ask is: How’s he going to do two weeks from Thursday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes at the British Open?” Yahoo’s Brian Murphy writes. “After all, to whom much is given—talent, hype, records, fame, riches, scrutiny—much is expected.”

Tiger’s ability and willingness to deal with those expectations has been the great question of his comeback, wherever we are in it. And at Congressional, as he has more and more frequently this season, Woods looked as hungry and focused as he has in some time. “Tiger’s shoulder chip is growing with each Tour win,” the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell writes. “It’s not just that winning at golf is his job or his passion or his lifelong gift. It’s also his only available choice. Get back on top. Then find out what that means.”

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