Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Mailbag

How many steps are you actually allowed in NBA Basketball without dribbling before you are called for a travel? And jumping? I watched a highlight of the Bulls-Magic game last night on ESPN, and a top ten play was Dwight Howard making a bucket from the paint… after he stopped dribbling… pivoted… jumped to a new location… pivoted again… then made a jump shot. Seriously? – Trucker D., San Francisco, CA

The NBA. Where Traveling Happens. Ok, this is how the rule ACTUALLY reads...

Section XIII—Traveling

a. A player who receives the ball while standing still may pivot, using either foot as the pivot foot.

b. A player who receives the ball while he is progressing or upon completion of a dribble, may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball. A player who receives the ball while he is progressing must release the ball to start his dribble before his second step. The first step occurs when a foot, or both feet, touch the floor after gaining control of the ball. The second step occurs after the first step when the other foot touches the floor, or both feet touch the floor simultaneously. A player who comes to a stop on step one when both feet are on the floor or touch the floor simultaneously may pivot using either foot as his pivot. If he jumps with both feet he must release the ball before either foot touches the floor. A player who lands with one foot first may only pivot using that foot. A progressing player who jumps off one foot on the first step may land with both feet simultaneously for the second step. In this situation, the player may not pivot with either foot and if one or both feet leave the floor the ball must be released before either returns to the floor.

c. In starting a dribble after (1) receiving the ball while standing still, or (2) coming to a legal stop, the ball must be out of the player’s hand before the pivot foot is raised off the floor.

d. If a player, with the ball in his possession, raises his pivot foot off the floor, he must pass or shoot before his pivot foot returns to the floor. If he drops the ball while in the air, he may not be the first to touch the ball.

e. A player who falls to the floor while holding the ball, or while coming to a stop, may not gain an advantage by sliding.

f. A player who attempts a field goal may not be the first to touch the ball if it fails to touch the backboard, basket ring or another player.

g. A player may not be the first to touch his own pass unless the ball touches his backboard, basket ring or another player.

h. Upon ending his dribble or gaining control of the ball, a player may not touch the
floor consecutively with the same foot (hop).

So it's pretty clear that the answer is never more than two steps. That said, I don't have any idea what standard NBA referees use. It's particularly disturbing when you have the Vice President of Referee Operations explaining to ESPN's Henry Abbott a few years back that "We really don't reference the rulebook." Oh... of course... why would you do that?? Rulebooks are stupid anyway. Don't even know why we have them... Huh?!?!?

Look, I get it that basketball is a fast game and when you have one look at a play at breakneck speed, you're going to miss some stuff. But when you're talking about 3-4 steps on a dunk without a dribble, or multiple switching pivot foots (pivot feet?)... I mean come on. So I didn't see the Howard play, but in this day and age of basketball, it doesn't really surprise me to hear that's what it looked like. I mean check out some of these gems:

Thunder Dan Majerle Taking 8 Steps

Chauncey Billups Going 4 steps for 3 (wait for it)

Shaq Changing Pivot Foot Like 23 Times

So yeah, honestly I don't know what to tell you. Maybe we should just eliminate dribbling all together. It's only getting in the way.

It seems that the New York Red Bulls are going after Stephen Ireland and passing on Michael Ballack. While Ballack's agent reportedly called the move "clueless," Ireland Is 25 and Ballack is 35. Does this seem like a good move for both the Red Bulls and MLS in general? Going after the younger talent and trying to improve the level of competition instead of maybe picking up players who are big names, but may be past their prime? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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I think you could make an argument for both players being good for the league as a whole. Both of these guys are big names and big talents, and that not only improves the quality of play in the league, but it improves the league's popularity. The more fans in the stands, the more money the league generates, and the more it can grow. The real question though, is which guy - Stephen Ireland or Michael Ballack - is a better fit in New York right now as an attacking central midfielder.

Now Michael Ballack is a legend. This guy scored over 40 goals for the German National Team including the one that knocked the U.S. out of the 2002 World Cup. He's been successful everywhere he's gone and he's a phenomenal passer. The problem, as you stated though, is that he's 35 years old. He's dealt with injuries since leaving Chelsea and has scored just three goals and tallied just three assists in 21 matches for Bayer Leverkusen this season. Will Ballack be an impact player in MLS? Absolutely. But he's not going to have the impact that the Red Bulls are looking for and he's certainly not a long term solution.

Stephen Ireland is 10 years Ballack's junior, but he comes with baggage. Few in Ireland (the country not the player) have forgotten the incident involving Ireland (the person not the country) lying about the death of his grandmother, He's had clashes with coaches, he's been a distraction, and lately he hasn't made up for that on the field. With Aston Villa this season, he's managed just one goal and three assists in 21 matches. Now, it's possible that what Ireland needs is a fresh start, and MLS would certainly give that to him. No one is questioning Ireland's talent. Heck, just a few seasons ago he had 13 goals and 13 assists for Manchester City en route to being named Manchester City's Senior Player of the Year. But the question is whether or not he's able to tap into that.

So what do you do? Do you bring in the legend who's past his prime or do you go after the polarizing distraction who still offers you a tremendous upside? Personally I'd love to have Michael Ballack on my team because let's face it, he's Michael Ballack. But I think Ireland is the better fit for the Red Bulls, both in the short term and in the long term. The Red Bulls are trying to establish themselves as one of the elite MLS franchises, and they can't do that if they keep bringing in older players. A player at Ireland's age has the potential to help out New York for the rest of the decade. That's huge. If you take Ballack, you're not going to have that same continuity. So maybe the Red Bulls aren't as "clueless" as Ballack's agent thinks.

Drew Carey, who is one of the owners of the Seattle Sounders, has said that they have ambitious hopes... He not only wants to win the MLS Cup, but wants to be competitive worldwide, even be the top team in the world. What kind of changes are going to have to be made in the MLS (and possibly the U.S. in regards to soccer in general) to be able to realize such lofty aspirations? - Cory L., Raceland, LA

Obviously Major League Soccer isn't ready to be called one of the world's elite leagues just yet, but they're taking steps in the right direction. The ability to bring in star players IN THEIR PRIMES from other countries (Robbie Keane, Terrence Boyd, Rafa Marquez, Blas Pérez, etc) shows you that players around the world are beginning to take MLS more seriously. And one of the big reasons for that is the continued tapping into the player pools of our South and Central American neighbors (for the purpose of this discussion I'm lumping the Caribbean in with Central America). Of the 28 players who scored 8 goals or more in MLS last year, 20 weren't from the U.S., and 12 of them came from Central or South American nations (Grenada, Guatemala, Venezuela, Uruguay, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru).
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Seattle specifically has been very adept at bringing in impact players from South and Central America: Osvaldo Alonso (Cuba), Servando Carrasco (Mexico), Cordell Cato (Trinidad), Álvaro Fernández (Uruguay), Leonardo Gonzalez (Costa Rica), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (Colombia), Fredy Montero (Colombia) and Mauro Rosales (Argentina). It shouldn't come as a surprise that as a result Seattle has reeled off three straight U.S. Open Cup Championships (earning them an automatic berth to the CONCACAF Champions League), but also that they've seen their league wins go from 12 to 14 to 18 over the past three seasons. Now don't get me wrong, they still have a ways to go as evidenced by their recent 6-1 Champions League loss to Mexico's Santos Laguna, but we're seeing progress and it's not just in Seattle, it's across the board. Our good teams continue to get better, and if these trends continue, we'll keep seeing better and better results and the cycle will perpetuate itself.
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That said, I'm not sure Drew Carey's going to be around long enough to see an MLS team become the top team in the world. It's good to have goals though. Dare to dream, right?

Okay, so the NFL just handed down their penalty for the whole "bountygate" thing. With no deal done for Drew Brees yet, how is this gonna affect our chances of keeping him in New Orleans long-term? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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Honestly, I think this all but guarantees that Brees is going to get whatever deal he wants to stay in the Crescent City. With everything else in the organization in turmoil right now, the Saints need some good PR. The fans wants Brees to stay, the players want Brees to stay, Brees wants to stay, the organization NEEDS him to stay... This deal has to happen, now more than ever and if you think the New Orleans Saints were dumb for handling Bountygate the way they did, that'll be nothing compared to if they somehow let Brees walk.

How important is it for Caleb Porter, the coach of the USMNT U-23's and Jurgen Klinsman to be on the same page as far as coaching strategies and philosophies are concerned? - Cory L., Raceland, LA

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I think it's important for those two to be on the same page when it comes to evaluating talent more than anything else. It'd be neat if we could bring up an entire generation of players all in the same formation, but the reality is, strategies change based on what best suits your team in the moment, and players will adjust to whatever the situation dictates. These guys play in unique formations with their club teams year round, so the adjustment from a 4-4-2 on the youth team to a 4-3-3 on the senior team, or whatever the case may be, shouldn't hurt them. Conversely, you would hope that Porter is bringing in guys that Klinsmann thinks can help the Senior National Team down the road, because otherwise what's the point in even having a Youth National Team?

Special thanks as always to everyone who wrote in this week. And remember, as the great G$ Meyer says Reading is for Winners, especially when you read Smitty's Mailbag.

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