Derek Fisher’s Cheap Shot Deserved a Longer Suspension

May 8, 2009

By The Daily Hurt… I have lost all respect for Derek Fisher as a basketball player.

His cheap shot on Houston Rockets forward Luis Scola was disgusting.

Fisher is a 13-year veteran and a three time champion. He is also the president of the Players’ Union. He’s been around long enough to know better.

Fisher was rightfully ejected for the hit and then suspended for Game Three, but the league should have been more severe. Fisher should have received further punishment for his stupidity.

Fisher’s act tipped a game that had been simmering over the edge.

Fisher has played in enough playoff games to know that postseason basketball gets tough and sometimes rough. Hard fouls are acceptable; cheap ones aren’t.

As expected, the Lakers increased their intensity for Game Two. They were surprised to be trailing their best-of-seven series 1-0. They couldn’t afford a second loss at home.

Houston are known to be a tough defensive team. Ron Artest and Shane Battier are hard-nosed and stifled Kobe Bryant in the series opener. Battier ended up with a severe gash to his head but didn’t complain. He knows that, if you play hard, occasionally, you have to take the knocks.

It’s part of the game.

Fisher’s pile driving slug into Scola was streetball style. You can get away with shots like that when there aren’t any referees or cameras watching. It was only made worse by TNT commentators Doug Collins and Kevin Harlan, who claimed that Fisher was being tough.

He wasn’t.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson also looked foolish protesting Fisher’s ejection. It’s one thing to stand up for your players, but it’s another to defend their brainless behaviour at a crucial point of the game.

Toughness isn’t about belting a guy who isn’t ready for it; toughness is remaining calm while others lose their cool.

Young guys look up to leaders to know what to do when things go wrong.

Fisher wasn’t even fighting his own war. Nor can he hide under the pretense of sticking up for his teammates. Lamar Odom and Scola had clashed on an earlier play, but there was nothing in it. Scola fouled Odom and had tugged away at his shirt and they exchanged words.

Both Scola and Odom managed to put their handbags away before any lipstick was spilt.

Then Fisher, trying to act like a tough guy, turned himself into a fool.

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Farewell to Dikembe Mutombo

April 23, 2009

By The Daily Hurt… Dikembe Mutombo knew straight away his basketball career was over.

On Tuesday night, when he came down hard after tangling with Greg Oden, the 18-year veteran had to be carried off the court on a stretcher.

It was a sad way for one of basketball’s most intriguing and lovable characters to sign off.

Mutombo will be remembered as one of the leagues best shot blockers ever. He blocked 3,289 shots over his career, second on the all time list to Nigerian superstar and former Rocket Hakeem Olajuwon.

What is truly remarkable about Mutombo is that in almost 1,200 career games, not once did he commit a personal foul.

At least in his own estimation.

Of course, he was called for several, but each time, Mutombo looked on in absolute wonderment at how the referees could possibly call him for an infraction?

It was adorable.

As his career went on and age caught up with him, Mutombo became less of a force on the glass and was never a great scorer, but blocking shots was what kept him effective.

Apart from the constant finger waggling, the other defining image of Mutombo’s career will be of him lying on the ground clutching the ball in the 1994 playoffs.

The number eight seed, Denver Nuggets, had upset the Seattle Supersonics in Game Five of the first round of the playoffs to win the series 3-2.

The Sonics were favoured to go to the finals that year and took a comfortable 2-0 series lead before the Nuggets stormed back.

Led by Mutombo who swatted 31 shots for the series, Denver caused one of the biggest shocks in NBA history.

Mutomobo arrived in the NBA via the fourth pick of the 1991 draft. Until Tuesday night, he was the only player from that year’s draft still active in the league.

His full name is Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo and he was born in the Congo.

Mutombo was playfully mocked at times for the way he spoke English. That said however, Mutombo is multi-lingual being fluent in Spanish, French, Portuguese, and several other African dialects and languages.

Mutombo’s career in the NBA has helped him bring awareness and help to his native Congo. He has helped fund and build a hospital in the Capital City of Kinshasa and named it after his mother who passed away from a stroke in 1997.

In this age of “me-first” athletics who often try to just build themselves houses the size of small castles, Mutombo was always more interested in building a facility to help as many people from his home town as he could.

While Mutombo’s career was coming to a close anyway, it was truly sad to see him leave on a stretcher. Hopefully, he recovers quickly and is back waggling his finger on the sidelines soon.

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Steve Nash Carries The Phoenix Suns Past The Flimsy Toronto Raptors

January 19, 2009

by The Daily Hurt… The Toronto Raptors decline is getting worse. Clueless on offense and weak on defense, the Raptors are spiraling out of control.

Sunday afternoon’s 117-113 loss to the Phoenix Suns was yet another flimsy performance from a team that lacks direction and leadership.

A quick scan of the box score suggests that the Raptors had kept up with one of the leagues top contenders from the Western Conference. Toronto shot 54-percent from the field and all five starters scored in double figures, three of them had 20 points or more.

Also, considering the Raptors were without starting point guard Jose Calderon, the 21 assists Toronto had sounds like a reasonable return.

Injuries to center Jermaine O’Neal and Jason Kapono didn’t help matters, but in reality, it is unlikely that either would have prevented Sunday’s loss, another at home, another when the Raptors simply couldn’t execute when they needed to.

Steve Nash scored nine points but dished out a season-high 18 assists to pace the Suns and Amare Stoudemire thrashed his way to 31 points. Shaquille O’Neal chipped in 16 points including connecting on all four free-throw attempts but he fouled out late in the fourth quarter.

Phoenix has now won nine consecutive games against Toronto.

Toronto’s ineptness on offense was glaring in the fourth quarter. Having rallied back from a 97-87 deficit after an Amare Stoudemire dunk, the Raptors had tied the game at 102 on a dunk from Joey Graham with 7:03 remaining.

Phoenix called a timeout and went to a high percentage play on the reset. While Shaq doesn’t impact games in the same way that he once did, he remains a handful to guard in the low post and his ability to hit the baby hook shot is still tough to defend and that’s what the Suns went to. This old dog doesn’t need new tricks.

The Raptors response was painful. Anthony Parker, the Raptors makeshift point guard in Calderon’s absence, pulled up for a 15-foot jump shot. It was hard to say if it was the play Raptors coach Jay Triano had wanted or if it was just a broken play because Toronto didn’t appear to have any idea what they wanted to do themselves.

Parker’s shot missed and Nash grabbed the rebound. On the ensuing play, Nash sucked Raptors rookie Roko Ukic into fouling him while trying for a three pointer. Nash calmly drained all three free throws and pushed Phoenix’s lead out to five.

Two more free throws from Nash after Ukic again fouled the Suns leader on the next play, this time after a miss from Andrea Bargnani. In a flash, Phoenix were quickly back out to a seven-point lead and out of reach.

The Raptors did manage to close the gap to within one point at 110-109 but once again, when Toronto needed calm leadership, nobody stepped up.

Chris Bosh, who had just moments earlier scored a basket and was fouled by O’Neal missed a crucial free throw, went missing. Whenever the Raptors look to their franchise man for a big play, Bosh seems to look elsewhere.

If Bosh does have the ball in his hands, his “move” consists of nothing more than a stutter step followed by a jump shot. Rarely does he attack the hoop and when he does, it’s without conviction.

Far too often, the Raptors gamble on offense and hope that it pays off, especially when the game is close. Just like it was against the Indiana Pacers on Friday night.

After doing all the hard work coming back from a 24-point deficit in the fourth quarter to get within one point, Toronto hoped and prayed that someone - anyone - could just hit a huge jump shot and save the day.

Unorganized and chaotic, the Raptors don’t seem to have any “go-to” move. Every play on offense differs from the last.

Not surprisingly, Parker’s three-point shot which would have given the Raptors the lead, missed. At the other end, Nash who had taken just five shots all day spun his way into the paint and scored a lay up. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Nash pierced Toronto’s defense, because it was hardly airtight. It never is.

The Raptors, needing a three-pointer to tie the game with less than 13 seconds remaining in the game, managed to get three shots off - all misses. Bosh, twice fumbled Parker’s botched lay up attempt.

Another groan from the crowd, another opportunity missed by the Raptors to show that they are making progress.

Sam Mitchell Fired

December 3, 2008

by The Daily Hurt… Sam Mitchell has been fired by the Toronto Raptors, General Manager Bryan Colangelo announced this afternoon.

After three straight wins to open the season, the Raptors have dropped to below .500 with an 8-9 record.

Toronto suffered their most humiliating defeat of the season on Tuesday night, getting hammered 132-93 by the Denver Nuggets.

Canadian Jay Triano will take over on an interim basis.

After what Colangelo said was the best playing roster he’s put together in his three-years in charge, Toronto had shown no significant improvement, if anything, they were regressing. It was the same problems that had been evident all throughout Mitchell’s time as coach that were causing problems again this year.

Soft and weak defensively combined with an inconsistent offense had made the Raptors never seemingly to be in control of a game.

Mitchell, an old-fashioned coach who preached the fundamentals of basketball first was regularly out coached this season and seem unsure of how to close out games. His strength was to motivate players, especially those who weren’t as strong mentally such as Joey Graham, but tactically Mitchell struggled badly.

He never knew how to defend a strong individual talent and the Raptors would often be beaten by one or two players. Often middle of the pack talent somehow seemed to look like All-Stars whenever they played the Raptors - I give you Corey Maggette as a prime example.

During Mitchell’s four-plus seasons in charge, he twice took the Raptors to the playoffs and was coach of the year in 2007. His record was 156-189 (.452).

The most embarrassing game of Mitchell’s tenure came on January 22, 2006 when Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in a 122-104 win over the Raptors. Mitchell seemed oblivious to what was happening and chose not to double-team Bryant.

The high point of Mitchell’s coaching came in 2007. Then, the Raptors tied a franchise best 47 wins and finished third in the Eastern Conference, though despite having home court advantage for the playoffs, Toronto was eliminated by the New Jersey Nets 4-2.

Last season, the Raptors were dumped by the the Orlando Magic in five games.

Mitchell was the sixth coach in Toronto Raptors history.

Toronto Sports Teams Safe in Richard Peddie’s Hands

December 2, 2008

by The Daily Hurt… For most of us, the closest we get to being the President of a basketball team is by taking part in our various fantasy pools. We like the pretend feeling it gives us that we are getting to have a go in the big chair for a change and that we are the ones actually calling the shots.

For Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) President and CEO Richard Peddie, there’s no fantasy in his job overseeing four professional sports franchises.

Young men in their early 20’s are often not thinking too deeply into their careers at that stage of their life. While many are more concerned about where and when the next party is happening, Peddie knew even way back then what he wanted to do with his life.

He wrote in a personal journal that he, “wanted to be President of a basketball team,” stated Peddie from his plush new offices overlooking Lake Ontario at the Air Canada Center, and in 1996 that dream came true.

A self-confessed basketball fan, Peddie says that, “the other three teams are a bonus,” referring to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Marlies and now MLSE’s newest baby, Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Toronto FC.

Not that he takes any of them less seriously than the others.

Depending on who you talk to in this city, you could be forgiven for thinking that Peddie is a real life version of The Simpsons’ Monty Burns.

Love him or hate him, in Toronto everyone knows him, or at least they think they know him. Certainly, there are many people who think at the very least that they could do a better job than him.

There are those who think he’s ruthless, uncaring and about making money first; winning championships is of secondary concern. Whether they know him or not, everyone in Toronto has an opinion about him.

“Winning is defined both on and off the playing field and we really can’t point to winning on the playing field,” said Peddie. “[However] off the playing field, we’re very much winners.”

While that first assessment is an unfair one, Peddie certainly is good at making money for MLSE.

Recently, Forbes Magazine valued the Toronto Maple Leafs at $448 million with revenues of $160 million, making them the most valuable franchise in the NHL.

What does all this money mean for Peddie and MLSE? Firstly, while other sport franchises lay employees off and look for ways to cut costs, the solid foundation and business model Peddie has built at MLSE means that they are well prepared for what is looming with the recent state of the economy.

“We’re not immune to this economic slowdown, this recession, but we’re a little more resistant than most,” said Peddie.

The organization is in good shape to survive the current harsh economic climate without resorting to drastic job losses.

It also allows MLSE to invest in improving the facilities for the teams it manages, and to maintain the Air Canada Center as a state-of-the-art arena. Most recently added was an $8 million high-definition video board to go along with new restaurants around the ACC and most importantly Peddie is always looking at ways to help its teams.

It cost MLSE $18 million just to start up Peddie’s latest gem, Toronto FC. Despite so-called “experts” dismissing the idea that a professional soccer team would work here. In a city full of immigrants, many from South America and Europe—soccer’s hotbeds—Peddie thought he knew better. He was right.

One of the main attractions of the MLS league was that Peddie felt it was a good league with a good Collective Bargaining Agreement, but he wouldn’t have done it without the construction of BMO field. Field sharing wasn’t an option. Peddie knew that to establish TFC, they needed their own stadium.

“[In the first two seasons TFC] has far exceeded our expectations,” said Peddie. “We had 97% renewal [of season ticket holders] first year, 95% renewal second year with13,000 [people] on the waiting list.”

Peddie believes that one day TFC could even be the hottest ticket in town due to soccer’s affordability and its recognition world wide.

Peddie and MLSE’s dalliance with Soccer almost extended to England’s Premier League. Last year, Peddie led executives on a mission to England to evaluate the prospects of perhaps buying a team in the world’s richest soccer league.

“It was a flawed model and we didn’t go near it,” said Peddie. “[But] I still get calls.” Newcastleand West Ham both tried to sell to MLSE, but Peddie swiftly told them that he was not interested.

Once again, Peddie made the right decision. In the Premiership, it’s either feast or famine and while teams like Manchester United enjoy all the trappings of fame and success, too many teams struggle to make money. Peddie knew it and that was the end of MLSE’s interest.

During Peddie’s time with MLSE, one of the athletes who attracted a lot of attention was ex-Toronto Raptor Vince Carter. Carter was important to the team, but the fate of the Raptors franchise didn’t rest on Carter’s shoulders alone.

There were other factors and one only needs to look at the way Carter’s career has gone since leaving the Raptors to know that when he retires, he’ll likely be a player thought to have squandered an opportunity, rather than be remembered as one of the greatest basketball players ever.

More significantly, Peddie managed to convince former Phoenix Suns General Manager, Bryan Colangelo, to come to Toronto.

“He looked [at our team] and thought he had a really good situation here,” said Peddie. “He looked at a very strong base, a strong ownership group and he [came] in and he’s done a heck of a job. The fans really like Bryan.”

In Colangelo’s first two full seasons in charge, the Raptors have made the playoffs. Now the challenge is to make a deep run into the postseason. Hiring Colangelo proved to be another masterstroke from Peddie.

So what does the future hold for Toronto’s sport franchises? While winning on the playing field will always be the goal, Peddie will continue to keep up with industry trends.

“Young people today want their sports instantly and we stream all of our games [on the internet,” said Peddie.

The success Peddie has had off the field puts Toronto’s teams in a strong position to succeed on the field. He can’t shoot hoops or kick goals, that’s up to the players, but one thing is for sure, they have everything they need to do just that.

While it is fair to say that Peddie is more popular with school teachers than he is with some Toronto Maple Leafs fans, he knows who he’d prefer to be stuck in a room with

“I’d rather be with the Leafs [fans] because they’re all passionate and they’d come with their faces painted,” joked Peddie.

Despite being one of the most powerful and influential people in all or Toronto, Peddie remains humble.

“I’ve been really blessed….I’ve far exceeded my business ambitions.”

Sam Mitchell’s Soft Toronto Raptors Embarrassed Yet Again

November 25, 2008

by The Daily Hurt… However much longer Sam Mitchell’s reign as head coach of the Toronto Raptors is only something that General Manager Bryan Colangelo knows the answer to. Not known to be someone who reacts impulsively, Colangelo must be starting to twitch after the Boston Celtics embarrassed his Raptors Sunday afternoon at home 118-103.

Typically, Toronto’s main problem again was that they were far too soft defensively and they were deservedly punished for it. No matter how many times it gets spoken about, the Raptors continue to leave shooters wide open and they continue to get burned. Ray Allen is one of the best shooters in the leagueEVERyet he was still somehow left alone far too often today and his line included 5-for-7 three-pointers and 21 points.

The Celtics shot 62 percent from the field. You won’t lose too many games shooting that percentage, but then again, if you get the looks that Boston did, it’s almost hard not to shoot at such a high rate.

It’s nothing new to Raptors fans. Toronto are still boys trying to compete with men and they are losing. If a man’s home is his castle, then the Raptors are the most accommodating of hosts.

The problem with that is in sport, it’s supposed to be the other way around. Home court, ground or field is supposed to be an intimidating and unwelcoming place for visitors, the Raptors might as well have gotten out the scones with cream today. “Excuse me, Mr. Pierce, can I fetch you another cup of tea?”.

If the scoreline wasn’t enough to humiliate the Raptors, late game footage of Pierce, Sam Cassell and Kevin Garnett among others practising their golf swings on the sideline certainly was. Even Brian Scalabrine contributed.

Yep, the Celtics were so bored by Toronto’s pathetic offerring of a “contest” that some of their players would have much rather spent the afternoon pursuing other, more challenging activities. The early afternoon stroll around the Air Canada Center just didn’t cut it.

Certainly, a round of golf would have been more competitive than what the Raptors offered them. It might have also induced a sweat. At least the Celts have still got plenty of energy left for 18-holes somewhere if they fancy it.

While the Raptors were never seriously in it at any stage, after a good start to the season, overall they are regressing and fast.

Sam Mitchell simply doesn’t know how to close out a game. Look at Friday night against the New Jersey Nets for example. Up 18 points in the third, New Jersey did nothing special to get back into it, Toronto simply let them back in by jacking up wild jump shots and then slacking off defensively.

The Nets got a lucky break on Vince Carter’s game-tying three-point bomb but still, New Jersey should never have been that close.

Mitchell’s Raptors are undisciplined defensively and they don’t stick to a plan. There is no consistency on offense and no matter how big a lead they build, they NEVER look comfortable.

This week has been typical of Sam Mitchell’s tenure as coach. Cruising early against the Orlando Magic and up by double figures, Toronto were all over the Magic until, once again, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu just did what they pleased offensively and weren’t put under pressure. Sure, the Raptors were without Jose Calderon but that’s no excuse for the rest of the team.

Then, one night laterwith Calderon back in the lineupthey managed to see off Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, but not without some incredibly good and lucky three-point shooting from Anthony Parker. It was more that Parker had a night out rather than Mitchell guided his team home. They got lucky and if Wade had any significant help on his team, the Raptors would have been in trouble.

Colangelo now faces an obvious dilemma. He can’t be happy with what he’s seeing but the problem is, who does he replace Mitchell with? This is going to be the biggest test of Colangelo’s time since coming to Toronto.