Four Downs – June 19th

This is the column I plan to write each Monday this Fall recapping the football weekend…so might as well start a few months early. Let’s call it the Monday equivalent to Friday’s Quick Hitters. Here I’ll recap four hot topics from the weekend with detailed thoughts and opinions regarding what’s going on in the sports world.

FIRST DOWN: Erin Hills was a joke of a U.S. Open course this weekend. It was WAY…and I mean WAY too easy. Congrats to Brooks Koepka for shooting 16 under for the tournament but it’s NOT how the U.S. Open should be won. When I wrote my picks column last week, I was expecting the winning score to be around -3 or -4. Had I known the setup would play so favorably, I never would’ve made some of the bets and predictions that I did. By the way for those of you scoring at home, yes they were all losers.

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As I wrote then, “It’s the one tournament that makes a lousy golfer like me (21 handicap) feel better about my game. Now I have no doubt that I’d probably shoot a 150 at Erin Hills…but it’s fun watching players struggle to make par on most holes…like I do for an average 18 holes.” But this time it really didn’t. Yes the course was extraordinarily long and no doubt would’ve eaten me alive considering I can’t hit a drive straight right now, but the tournament wasn’t nearly as fun to watch compared to other years. Too bad.

SECOND DOWN: The 76ers are smart while the Celtics are brilliant. Philly acquired the #1 pick in this week’s NBA Draft for the #3 overall pick and a future 1st rounder, which they had already stockpiled plenty of for the coming drafts. The 76ers wanted Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and they’ll get their wish. They will have a nice young core of players who are young, far-from-seasoned, and exciting to watch. Yet they won’t sniff the Eastern Conference playoffs this year barring a true surprise. It’s great to have a bunch of young talent but the Sixers will never win without a solid group of veterans around them. And sorry, Robert Covington doesn’t count. Philly is 2-3 years away from contending in the East…IF Boston doesn’t rule the conference by then.

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The Celtics made a phenomenal deal. They were an Eastern Conference finalist this season and actually won the conference’s regular season title. They also have a bunch of draft picks for the future…but unlike Philadelphia, the Celtics should and WILL trade them for experienced players. I’d be very surprised if Boston doesn’t move the #3 pick this year for a star player such as Jimmy Butler of the Bulls. That deal makes a ton of sense for both sides. The Bulls aren’t close to contending and they need a young superstar to build around going forward. They tried doing that with Butler and it didn’t work. The best rumor I heard this weekend was Boston offering up to FOUR first round draft picks to New Orleans for the elite Anthony Davis. I can’t imagine the Pelicans would make the deal considering they have an interesting duo with Davis and DeMarcus Cousins now. Butler to Boston makes the Celtics best in the East, Davis would put them on Golden State’s level.

THIRD DOWN: A friend whose sports knowledge I highly respect told me yesterday that he thinks the National League playoff teams are already set. The Dodgers, Nationals, Cubs, Rockies, and Diamondbacks are virtual locks in his opinion. But after thinking about it further, is he correct? Maybe with four of the teams but not a 5th. It’s hard to argue that any of the three teams from the NL West will falter considering the sizable distance they are record-wise from any team behind them in the Wild Card race. The Nationals are 100% a lock to win the East. But in the Central my beloved Cubbies still trail the Brewers by 2.5 games. I’m not too worried yet, of course, since there still are 94 more regular season games to play, yet the Cubs are a tremendously flawed team compared to last year’s version. The pitching staff is a disaster and last year’s #3 hitter, Anthony Rizzo, is now hitting leadoff because no one else could get on base consistently at the top of the order. While I don’t doubt that Chicago will make a move to improve its starting pitching, will the hitting warm up as the ivy grows back on the Wrigley Field outfield wall? Considering the state of the competition in the weakest division in baseball, my friend’s prediction of the five NL Playoff teams looks to be a very good bet at this stage.

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FOURTH DOWN: Save this prediction: the Vegas Golden Knights will make the NHL’s Western Conference playoffs within their first two years. This Wednesday marks the league’s expansion draft where the brand new team will select a player from each of the NHL’s other 30 teams. And while I’m sure there is some fine talent to be had in that draft, tell me why, if you were a marquee free agent, wouldn’t you want to play in Las Vegas? You would be playing in a brand-new 18,000+ seat arena and living in the party capital of the USA! I have to think Vegas becomes a top-5 place to live, especially if you’re a mid-20s bachelor who wants to play hockey and have some fun on the side. This isn’t your average expansion city.

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In terms of attractiveness to live, only Phoenix comes close as far as recent expansion teams in the last 20 years. Remember the 1998 Diamondbacks? They stunk but the next offseason they added ace and future Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson, made the playoffs, and went on to win the World Series 2 years later. Same thing for the then-Florida Marlins who debuted in 1993 and won a World Series in 1997. One other advantage that Vegas has over most cities is no state income tax in Nevada. Those reasons add up to why the Golden Knights will be playing for a Stanley Cup sooner than you think.

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