Friday, September 22, 2017

Questionable late Penalty Derails 49ers Comeback

Week 3 - With the (0-2) 49ers returning home on short rest to host the division rival (1-1) Los Angeles Rams on Thursday Night Football in their only game scheduled in prime time this season, San Francisco would hope to continue their recent dominance of the only team they were able to beat a season ago when they claimed both wins against the Rams in their first season back in southern California. Boasting a record of 7-wins, 1-loss and 1-tie in their last 9 home meetings against the Rams, the 49ers would put that streak to the test under rookie head coach Kyle Shanahan. And after failing to score a single touchdown in each of their first two games this year, the 49ers offense would finally show signs of life while wearing their blacked-out Color Rush uniforms. Expected by many to be another lackluster showcase on Thursday night, this NFC West battle between northern and southern California would instead evolve into one of the more exciting and action packed Thursday Night Football games we've seen in years as the two rebuilding teams in search of their identities went blow for blow in a high-scoring affair.

After scoring a combined 12-points through their first two games of the season, the 49ers offense erupted for 39-points on Thursday night. But before their five touchdown barrage, San Francisco QB Brian Hoyer would get off to as bad a start as you could ask for as he saw his first pass attempt on the first play of the ballgame intercepted and nearly taken to the house by Nickell Robey-Coleman before a shoestring-tackle by Niners tight-end Garrett Celek helped save a touchdown. Unfortunately, the Rams would need only one play and a total of 12 seconds to capitalize as running back Todd Gurley took it in from three yards out to begin what would ultimately be a busy day for both he and the L.A. offense. The early pick-off would catch everyone on the San Francisco side by surprise, including Hoyer who entered the game with the third lowest interception rate among active QB's (70 passes), trailing only Tom Brady (126 passes) and Aaron Rodgers (75 passes). Oddly enough, the interception on the first play from scrimmage would serve as a wake up call for Hoyer as he would help the 49ers march down the field to tie the game on their ensuing possession. Aided by an offsides call during a punt that gave the offense another chance, Hoyer took advantage by taking matters into his own hands and scoring with his feet to give San Francisco their first touchdown of the season some 23 possessions later on a 9-yard scramble.
Second-year quarterback Jared Goff who was drafted first overall a year ago just a stones throw away from Levi's Stadium at nearby Cal, would look rather comfortable under center as a visitor while facing the team he grew up rooting for. With many of his friends and family in attendance watching from the stands, the game would serve as a homecoming for Goff who threw three touchdowns in a game for just the second time in his career and the first without recording an interception. The former Golden Bear and his receivers would feast on a banged up Niners secondary that was without Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid, to the tune of 292 passing yards, with both Robert Woods (108) and Sammy Watkins (106) each eclipsing the century mark in receiving yards. After receiving a gift on their first score, Goff and company would prove that they too could create scoring chances as they answered Hoyer's touchdown with one of their own on the ensuing possession as Gurley struck pay dirt for the second time in the opening quarter, this time of the receiving variety.

Both teams would turn turnovers into points in the second quarter as the two exchanged field goals with both 49ers third-string running back Raheem Mostert (fumble) and Rams return man Tavon Austin (muffed punt) serving as the guilty parties. Gurley's third and final touchdown on the evening, a 2-yard rush, would allow the Rams to take a 24-13 lead into the locker room at halftime. Receiving the ball to open the second half, the Rams nearly made it a three-score game before a goal-line stand by the San Francisco defense held them to another Greg Zuerlein field goal. Trailing 27-13, the 49ers would spark a streak of four consecutive touchdown-scoring drives between both teams as running back Carlos Hyde shook off an early hip injury by rushing for his first of two 1-yard touchdowns on 4th down. Rams receiver Sammy Watkins would match Hyde's pair of touchdowns with two scores of his own including a 1-yard score on L.A.'s ensuing drive. One drive later, Hoyer would connect with Marquise Goodwin for a 50-yard completion just before the end of the third quarter, setting up Hoyer's first passing touchdown as a Niner -- a 1-yard strike to Garrett Celek, and a very wacky 4th quarter.
Following a crucial missed extra-point by 49ers kicker Robbie Gould, L.A. would answer with the second touchdown connection between Goff and Watkins -- a 13-yard strike as Watkins fought off defenders and muscled his way over the goal-line. It would also be the fifth touchdown pass of the season for Goff, tying the mark he threw all of last year while needing four fewer starts. From there, both teams would exchange punts before another big gainer from Hoyer. Receiver Pierre Garcon who entered Thursday's game with 573 career receptions, the most by any active player without a single Pro Bowl selection, would haul in seven more catches including this one for 59-yards to set up another score. It would prove to be a game of firsts as Garcon finished with a game-high 142-yards receiving for his first big game in a 49er uniform. Three plays later, rookie wide-out Trent Taylor would haul in his first career touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Hoyer, making it an 8-point game with just over 5 minutes remaining in regulation. In need of another break, the 49ers would get one on the ensuing kickoff as Victor Bolden forced a fumble on return man Pharoh Cooper. Capitalizing on yet another Ram fumble, Hyde would once again rumble into the end zone on a do or die 4th and 1 call from the 1-yard line.

Electing to go for the game-tying 2-point conversion, Hoyer would have nobody to throw to as his receivers were blanketed and the pass was intercepted. But an excellent recovery on a surprise onside-kick would allow San Francisco one final chance to pull off the comeback victory. Facing third and 10 with the ball at their own 40 yard line, Hoyer would connect with Taylor for an 11-yard pickup for the first down. But a controversial offensive pass-interference call against Taylor would negate the first down and pin the 49ers back another 10-yards. With the fans already out of their seats in hopes of witnessing a comeback victory of epic proportions, the Levi's Stadium faithful was none too pleased as the replay of the heinous call resembled nothing remotely close to what would normally warrant an offensive pass-interference call. And on an all or nothing 4th and 20 two plays later, Pro Bowl defensive-end Aaron Donald would come up with a game-sealing sack as the 49ers turned the ball over on downs. With under two minutes remaining, Goff and co. would milk the clock as San Francisco's last-ditch effort fell just short, 41-39. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first game in NFL history to end with a final score of 41-39.
The loss would be painful one for San Francisco as it marked their second defeat in four days by a combined five points. However, the team finally showed that they're more than capable of lighting up the scoreboard. Or was the 80-point outburst between the two teams simply a product of two tired defenses playing on short rest? 49ers All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman admitted after the game that he didn't feel like he normally would have had the game been on Sunday and it definitely showed on the field as he missed a handful of tackles he usually makes in his sleep. Whether or not that sentiment was felt from the entire 49er defense, they would look the part as their inability to get to the quarterback resulted in their second game this season without recording a single sack. This while watching their guy go down a total of four times. As for the offense, Hoyer completed 23 of 37 passes for 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while also getting some help from Hyde who rushed the ball 25 times for 84 yards and two TD's.

Los Angeles' first-year head coach Sean McVay who happens to be the youngest head coach in modern NFL history at 31 years of age, has the Rams trending in the right direction, especially on offense which has been their Achilles heal the past few seasons as they've now scored 107 points thru their first three games, the franchise's most thru 3 games since 2000 (119 scored). He also appears to have been able to breathe life back into the running game as Todd Gurley set a career-high with 33 touches (28 carries, 5 receptions) while logging his first 100-yard rushing performance since 2015. Only 3 games in and the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year has already matched his touchdown total from a season ago with six. Hopefully this will serve as a preview for what will be an exciting rivalry for many years to come between two inner-division, rebuilding teams with rookie head coaches who're quite familiar with one another having served on the same Washington Redskins staff from 2010-2013. These two teams will meet again in Los Angeles on New Year's Eve for Week 17.
Week 4 Preview: The (0-3) 49ers will continue their play against the NFC West in Week 4 when they take a trip to the desert and face the (1-1) Arizona Cardinals for the first of three consecutive road games for San Francisco. With Carson Palmer and the Cards off to a sluggish start without their All-Pro running back from a season ago as David Johnson will miss an extensive amount of time while nursing a dislocated wrist, the 49ers will hope to take advantage of his absence. But once again they'll be hitting the field without yet another key player on defense as defensive-end Tank Carradine sustained a high ankle sprain in Thursday's loss which will sideline him for 4 to 6 weeks, thus adding to the pressure on San Francisco's D-line.


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Monday, September 18, 2017

49ers, Hyde put up a Fight but Fall short in Seattle

Week 2 - Entering San Francisco's Week 2 meeting with the division rival Seahawks, the 49ers were given the daunting task of having to face a Seattle team that not only has had their number over the past few years (6-0 since 2014), but has also been a perfect 12-0 at home in the month of September since 2010. Though Kyle Shanahan's squad would put up much more of a fight in the latest chapter of the rivalry, it would end up being the same old same when it was all said and done. With neither team scoring a touchdown in their season-openers (both losses), both teams would struggle to find the end zone for a majority of this one as well.

Making his first career start at rainy CenturyLink Field, known as one of the toughest stadium's in the NFL for an opposing team, 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer looked a lot like he was making his first NFL start as he was stymied and held in check virtually all afternoon long. Throwing for only 99-yards passing, the offense was forced to ride the coattail of Carlos Hyde who had himself quite a game while supplying most of the offense. Coming into 2017 as the only visiting player to rush for 100 yards in Seattle since 2015, Hyde doubled down on that feat and was at it again, rushing for a game-high 124-yards on 15 carries on the afternoon. After falling behind 6-0 in the first quarter following a pair of Blair Walsh field goals, one of which set up by a Brian Hoyer interception, Hyde would break off a career-long 61-yard run to help get the 49ers in field goal range as kicker Robbie Gould cut the deficit in half. Another nice rush by Hyde this time for 27-yards with a 15-yard face mask penalty tacked on at the end of it during San Francisco's next possession would again get them in field goal range and allow them to tie the game at 6 just before the half.
With neither team scoring in the third quarter, both squads would witness their touchdown scoring drought reach seven quarters to start the season. Unfortunately for the Niners, that's where Seattle's dry spell would end. As the 49ers took a 9-6 lead in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter with their third field goal of the day, the Seattle offense would respond in a big way. After struggling in the season-opener at Green Bay's Lambeau Field a week ago and suffering from a poor offensive-line, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson once again failed to resemble a comfortable quarterback in the pocket as he was constantly under pressure and was sacked three times on Sunday. However, he still managed to throw for twice the amount of yards as his counterpart (198 yards) and came through in the clutch when he was needed most. Helping march the Seattle offense inside the red zone, a crucial third and seven play on the 9-yard line would spell doom for San Francisco. With the pocket collapsing, Wilson managed to weave around four 49er defenders and toss the ball into the end zone where he found a leaping Paul Richardson for the touchdown. Blair Walsh would miss the extra point to give the 49ers at least a sliver of hope, but Seattle's defense would clamp down and force a punt with a much needed three and out which allowed Wilson and company to milk the clock from there, sealing the 12-9 victory and handing San Francisco their seventh consecutive loss to their northern rival.

With another nice showing on defense, the loss again falls on the hands of the offense which has now been held out of the end zone for each of the team's first two games and has been virtually nonexistent through the air as the most productive 49er receiver would net only 26 yards (Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin). On a much brighter note, the defense has already appeared to turn the corner after suffering both a league and franchise worst in multiple categories just a season ago. After failing to record a single sack in Week 1, the San Francisco defense tallied three sacks in their second performance, albeit against a below-average Seattle o-line as Tank Carradine, Arik Armstead and Aaron Lynch each supplied a QB sack.
Week 3 Preview: Carlos Hyde and company will have a short week to prepare for the Los Angeles Rams (1-1), the only team the 49ers were able to collect wins against a season ago as San Francisco plays host on Thursday Night Football. Like the 49ers, the Rams are looking to bounce back from a disappointing season a year ago and went out and hired a new coach of their own during the offseason in Sean McVay. The Rams are coming off a 27-20 defeat to the Redskins after serving up a 46-7 shellacking of the Colts in Week 1. Looking to get back into the win column, second-year quarterback Jared Goff will look to claim his first victory in two career tries against the team he grew up rooting for as the 49ers look to continue their recent dominance of the rival Rams. And they'll be doing so with a banged up defense that has already been without starting rookie linebacker Reuben Foster and will now be without one of their key cogs in the secondary as safety Eric Reid is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Fellow safety Jaquiski Tartt is also nursing an injury (neck) and will most likely be a game-time decision, leaving plenty of concern in the Niners' secondary for their only prime time match-up of the season. Rookies Lorenzo Jerome and Adrian Colbert could see some playing time in the absence of both players as they compete for the starting job.


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Monday, September 11, 2017

49ers Sloppy to open 2017, Avoid Scare with Foster in Loss to Panthers

Week 1 - With NFL Sunday officially underway in 2017, the new-look San Francisco 49ers were one of many teams excited to kick start a new regime. Though the John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan era began in the off-season, the two finally got to see their work in progress hit the field in a meaningful game for a first time. And while many are expecting this season to be nothing but a rebuild or trial run, the team might be even further from contending than initially expected after their mistake-filled performance on Sunday. Making his head coaching debut, Kyle Shanahan would be greeted by a familiar foe in the Carolina Panthers. And while his offenses boast a 3-1 record and have scored an average of 33.7 points per game against the Panthers entering this one, Sunday's opener would be a much different story.

For the 49ers who entered 2017 having won each of their last six season-openers including the last two by a combined score of 48-3, San Francisco saw the roles reversed in Week 1. With both teams struggling to get anything going offensively on their first two drives, the 49ers had a golden opportunity slip through the hands of speedy receiver Marquise Goodwin as a deep third down pass by quarterback Brian Hoyer was dropped by the former Olympian, forcing them to punt. The big time completion would've given the Niners a touchdown or at the very least put them inside the 10-yard line and in position to take an early lead. Hoping for a much better second possession, the 49ers saw their second drive near midfield go up in flames after Hoyer was sacked from behind, causing a fumble which was recovered by the defense. It would be the first of four sacks allowed by San Francisco's offensive-line and by far the most costly as it put the Carolina offense within striking distance.
Adding insult to injury, first-round draft pick and 2016 Butkus Award winner Reuben Foster would have to be carted off the field less than 12 minutes into his NFL debut after having his right leg tweaked beneath him as he was blocked from the side by the 320 lb. Matt Kalil. His absence would be felt immediately as the Panthers scored on the very next play as Cam Newton found a wide-open Russell Shepard down the sideline who scored on a 40-yard touchdown after shaking off a poor tackle attempt by free-safety Jaquiski Tartt. Though Foster would later return from the locker room under his own power, he would be ruled out for the game and forced to watch from the sideline. Following the trio of Goodwin's drop, Foster's injury and Shepard's touchdown, it was almost as if someone had let all the air out of Levi's Stadium as the team struggled to get anything going for the rest of the half. The lone highlight of the half would come in the second quarter on an acrobatic interception by Tartt. With Newton looking to connect with Kelvin Benjamin on the home run pass, Tartt leaped into the air and cradled the ball with one hand, making a highlight worthy catch that even Odell Beckham Jr. would appreciate. Electing to go for it on 4th and 1 near midfield with under a minute remaining, San Francisco's failed attempt would be a gift for the Panthers as they were able to march into field goal range and increase their lead.

Staring down a 13-0 deficit to open the second half, any hopes of a hot start for the 49er offense would be erased rather quickly as they were snake bitten by another turnover just two plays in. Hoyer who entered the game with 200 pass attempts without an interception, saw that streak come to an end on the second play of the third quarter as a pass intended for rookie tight-end George Kittle was intercepted by Pro-Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly. The pick would set up Newton's second touchdown pass of the day, giving Carolina a commanding lead. They would add a Graham Gano field goal on their following possession to make it 23-0 before San Francisco was finally able to get on the board with a field goal of their own, a 44-yarder to give Robbie Gould his first in a 49er uniform. The San Francisco defense would do their part once again by forcing a turnover to open the fourth quarter as second-year corner back Rashard Robinson forced and recovered a fumble on rookie running back Christian McCaffrey who was stripped of the ball. Needing 11 plays to move the ball 30-yards, the 49ers would find themselves on the doorstep of the end zone before being stuffed on the 1-yard line as Carlos Hyde was unable to break the plain.
It would be just one of many squandered opportunities by San Francisco who watched the Panthers milk the last 8:48 on the clock on their way to a 23-3 victory as Cam Newton bounced back from career-low numbers and off-season shoulder surgery. Though he didn't look like his normal self, missing a number of wide-open targets, he kept his team in the game by avoiding costly mistakes against a pass defense that looked decent and held Newton to 171 yards thru the air despite failing to log a single sack against him. McCaffrey who played his collegiate ball just a stones throw away at Stanford, totaled 47 yards on the ground and 38 thru the air, providing a headache for the Niner defense virtually all day long as the Panthers won their sixth consecutive regular season meeting against SF. As for the San Francisco offense, Hoyer who made his fourth consecutive opening-day start for a different team, a feat only surpassed by Jeff Garcia who has five, threw for 193 yards and was held touchdown-less while being sacked four times. Running back Carlos Hyde who provided much of the offense in the first half finished the game with 45 rushing yards and another 32 yards on a game-high 6 receptions. With 44 of Hyde's 45 rushing yards coming in the first quarter, the offense was forced to abandon the run after falling behind by multiple scores to open the second half.

Sweet 16: With only 16 players remaining from last year's 53-man opening-day roster, the 49ers tied a mark for the fewest returning players since 1992 (2012 Rams). Also, the 23-points surrendered by the 49er defense marks the 16th consecutive game in which they've allowed 20-points or more, the second longest streak in franchise history since allowing 17 straight in 1963-64.

Week 2 Preview: With four of their next five games away from Levi's Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers (0-1) will hit the road for the first time in 2017 as they head north to take on the division rival Seattle Seahawks (0-1) who are coming off a loss of their own, a 17-9 defeat to the Packers at Lambeau where Seattle QB Russell Wilson threw for only 158 yards on Sunday. Seeking their first win at Seattle's CenturyLink Field since 2011 and their first win overall against the Seahawks since 2013, both teams will look to avoid falling to 0-2 on the season. The Niners will have to do it without rookie Reuben Foster who's expected to be out at least a month with a high-ankle sprain. 


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Friday, September 1, 2017

Giants' Struggles Continue with Sloppy August

The nightmarish 2017 season took another step towards finally being over for the San Francisco Giants as the month of August came to a close. An even 40-games behind the division-leading Dodgers entering September has left the Giants officially mathematically eliminated from Postseason contention. And though the month of August was once again filled with more bad than good, the first two weeks looked rather promising. 

After taking 2 of 3 against their Bay Area rivals in Oakland, the Giants would pull off a winning homestand by notching back-to-back series wins for the first time since May, doing so against two teams vying for a playoff spot no less in the Diamondbacks and Cubs. Unfortunately, they would follow up that homestand with a losing road trip by dropping two of three in both Washington and Miami, including a crushing defeat in the rubber-match of a double-header against the Nationals as Nats left fielder Howie Kendrick delivered a walk-off Grand Slam in the 11th inning to hand the Giants the series loss. In that Washington series, San Francisco's lone win would be recorded by right-handed starter and former first round pick Chris Stratton. In what would be a fine month of August for the Giants farmhand, the 27-year old would have his most impressive outing yet against the Nats as he struck out 10 Washington hitters over 6 2/3 shutout innings. Going 2-1 in the month with an earned run average of 1.52 in four August starts, Stratton would watch his season ERA dip from 6.63 to 3.82. And his only loss suffered would be a tough one as he allowed only two runs against Arizona but wasn't given a single run of support. With a solid September to finish off 2017, Stratton could make a strong case for a spot in the Giants' starting rotation next season.
Seeking their first winning month since June of last season when the Giants went 17-10, Bruce Bochy's ball club appeared to be headed in the right direction after a seven game homestand in which they split four games against the lowly Phillies and took two of three from the Brewers. But losses in 6 of their last 7 games including a sweep at the hands of the D-Backs in Arizona would put a dent in those hopes. Another pair of losses to the Padres and a series-opening loss at home on the final day of August would spell yet another losing month as the Giants fell to 13-16 in August and 53-83 overall. By losing two of three in San Diego, the Giants dropped their fifth consecutive series against the Padres who have owned their Bay Area counterparts to the tune of an 11-5 record this season. What stood out most in their lackluster series at Petco Park was the Giants' inability to deliver with runners in scoring position as they went a dismal 4-for-33 and were shutout in the series finale. As for the one game the Giants did prevail in, it would take one of the better pitching performances of the year from a Giants starters as Jeff Samardzija went the distance and tossed a complete-game shutout while allowing only three hits, no walks and striking out five. It would be the fourth shutout of Samardzija's career and only the second by a Giants hurler all year.

From one pitcher to another, staff ace Madison Bumgarner who was slated to start in the series-opener against St. Louis was scratched just hours before game time with flu-like symptoms. Making the spot start in MadBum's place was Matt Cain who suffered a career-high 10th consecutive loss. But it wasn't for a lack of trying as the Giants offense simply failed to back him as he gave up a pair of runs over five innings pitched. What started off as a rebound season for Cain who notched an impressive April, has now taken a nosedive as he suffered his worst calendar month of the season (7.90 ERA) and his streak of 10 consecutive losses is the longest active streak of its kind in the Majors. 
For the final calendar month of the regular season, the Giants will try to fend off becoming the first team in franchise history since 1985 to record 100-losses. But with seven of the team's nine remaining series against teams jockeying for position in the pennant race, it's unlikely they'll be able to avoid that dubious feat. With 26 games remaining, the Giants must win at least 10 of those to avoid the dreadful 100-loss mark. Needing every bit of help they can get, San Francisco will open September with three more games against the Cardinals and for whatever reason the NL Central is the lone division the Giants have had success against this season having gone 17-14 against NL Central opponents. And next on the mound to face them will be Johnny Cueto who last pitched in a Giants uniform on July 14 after missing all of August with a strained right flexor tendon suffered while making a rehab start on July 31. The Giants will surely welcome him back with open arms as he looks to finish strong in what's been a disappointing 2017 campaign for Cueto who led the team in wins a season ago with 18.


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Monday, August 7, 2017

Blackballed

The topic of Colin Kaepernick still being without a job in the NFL a month before kickoff is one that has been weighing on my mind and one I've thought about writing about for awhile now, but the recent signing by the Miami Dolphins to bring in Jay Cutler, a guy who had to be talked out of retirement, was the final straw. Whether you like the guy or not, defend or oppose his decision to kneel during the national anthem, it's now become very obvious that the guy is being blackballed from the league. Need I remind you that Colin Kaepernick who never once has been arrested for anything, did absolutely nothing illegal when he peacefully protested by taking a stand against social injustices for the victims who aren't fortunate enough to have the outlet or stepping stone to do so and yet he's been treated like a felon.

Kaepernick, now at the ripe age of 29, has garnered very little interest from teams despite putting up solid numbers in 2016 and having very little to work with on an anemic 49ers offense. With a career record of 32 wins and 32 losses, including four playoffs wins and a trip to the Super Bowl in which Kaepernick was the deciding factor that helped San Francisco get over the hump and claim their first NFC Championship since a guy named Steve Young manned the position, the former quarterback out of Nevada boasts a resume that most players at the position could only dream about, including Cutler. And while Kaepernick might not be that same mysterious yet dominant quarterback that ran amok in the 2012 playoffs and put up record-setting numbers against the Green Bay Packers that still has cheese heads waking up in the middle of the night with cold sweats, the man still possesses more than enough talent to earn himself a job in the NFL, albeit as a starter or backup.

Even before Cutler and the Dolphins agreed on their one-year, $10 Million pact, Miami head coach Adam Gase considered both Tim Tebow who isn't even playing football these days and Kyle Orton who's last snap came in 2014, over Kaepernick. Two names that are rather laughable and who's success in the NFL pales in comparison to Kaepernick's. But hey, if a guy who's heart for the game has been questioned on multiple occasions walked away from the game of football to become a broadcaster, is known for being soft, has been much more injury prone, tends to rub his teammates the wrong way and throws for more interceptions is what Adam Gase and the Dolphins wanted and didn't mind overpaying for, then they definitely found their man in Cutler. I get it, the two spent time together in Chicago and Cutler, now 34-years of age, is familiar with the system in place, but if we're going off of numbers alone, those are tilted in Kaepernick's favor as well.

When comparing the production of the two quarterbacks since Kaepernick's first full year at the helm in 2013, Cutler has Kaepernick beat in passing touchdowns, 71 to 62, but he's also thrown almost twenty more interceptions than Kaepernick during that span, 46 to 27. And while Cutler has amassed more passing yards than Kaepernick, 11,151 to 10,422, Kaepernick more than makes up for it with his legs with 1,887 rushing yards compared to Cutler's 534, bringing the total to 14,196 total yards to 11,685 in favor of Kaepernick. Cutler who went 51-51 in his 8-year stint with the Bears, also has more fumbles lost (16), despite Kaepernick (13) having the ball in his hands a lot more as he's rushed for 8 touchdowns compared to only 3 from Cutler. Though Cutler narrowly edges Kaepernick in completion percentage by just over two percentage points, 61.9 to 59.8, Kaepernick's passer rating is more than three percentage points better at 88.9 to 85.7. Then again Kaepernick doesn't do himself any favors because he's got an afro. You know, because looks and hair styles matter in the NFL even if they'll be covered with a helmet, right?
Unfortunately, the Dolphins aren't the first team to scoff at the idea of bringing Kaepernick aboard and the guys those teams chose to sign instead are just as laughable. Before Ryan Tannehill suffered a knee injury in training camp which triggered Miami's need for a QB, the Baltimore Ravens had shown interest in Kaepernick for similar reasons as quarterback Joe Flacco has had to watch his team practice without him while he recovers from an ailing back. But once again, Kaepernick was passed on this time for a guy from the Arena Football League named David Olson. And then there's the Seattle Seahawks, a team that needs no introduction to Kaepernick or the tools he possesses having faced him several times while with the rival 49ers. Though Seattle would show Kaepernick the most interest of all and even flew him out to meet with the team personally, they would end up signing a guy who's thrown one fewer interception (12) than he has games played (13) in Austin Davis. What makes even less sense is their reasoning for signing Davis over Kaepernick as Seattle head coach Pete Carroll praised him by saying, "He's a starter in this league... I can't imagine that someone won't give him a chance to play." So apparently Carroll thinks Kaepernick's good enough to be a starting quarterback in the NFL but not good enough to be a backup. I think all that rain and precipitation Seattle is known for has clouded Carroll's head... And then there's teams like the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets, both of whom have been in need of a quarterback for years but for whatever reason aren't pounding on Kaepernick's door or willing to at least kick the tires on the QB who has more career playoff wins since he's been in the league than either team has appearances.

For a league that's been known to give second chances, a la Michael Vick who actually committed a crime but had little to no problem finding a job in the NFL after being released from prison for his involvement in an illegal dog fighting ring, Kaepernick's case is a little fishy and is blackballing in its purest form. Though NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his panel of team owners will never admit it, it's very clear that they're trying to send a message to the rest of the league and its players that if you use their platform to protest, no matter if it's legal, you'll suffer the consequences whether fair or not.


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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Giants get back their Ace but can't shake Struggles in July

At the start of the 2017 MLB season, San Francisco Giants fans and team officials entered the year hopeful that they had a team that would compete with the best in the National League. Those fans would be sadly mistaken as a handful of injuries and a number of under-performers would spell the exact opposite as we would witness the franchise's worst record through the season's first 100 games since 1956 when the ball club still called New York its home. After entering the month on a 4-game win streak and starting July off by completing a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates to give them six straight victories in the Steel City for the first time since 1953, the Giants would limp into the All-Star break after dropping two of three on the road in Detroit and being swept at home by Miami.

After being voted to his fifth career All-Star game, catcher Buster Posey would be the Giants' only representative as he became the first catcher to start in three consecutive Mid-Summer Classic's since the 1990's when Mike Piazza got the nod in six straight. Slotted to bat fourth in the lineup, it would also mark the first time a Giants hitter would bat cleanup in an All-Star Game since Barry Bonds did so in 2003. Posey would finish 0-for-1 in the game while also drawing a walk in what would eventually be a 2-1 victory in extra-innings for the American League. Following the All-Star break, the Giants would get back a key cog in their rotation that they've desperately missed since the opening month of the season, as ace Madison Bumgarner returned to the playing field after missing nearly three months due to a dirt-bike accident on April 20. Though he wouldn't factor in the decision in his first start since April 19, surrendering 3 earned runs over 7 innings, his return alone would mark the ultimate highlight of the month. And in his last two starts he would resemble the Bumgarner of old by notching his first win of the season and allowing only 1 earned run over 12 innings pitched, including 7 shutout innings in L.A. against the archrival Dodgers.
Unfortunately, the return of MadBum alone wouldn't sprout any signs of a comeback from the Giants this season as their struggles against division foes would only get worse. Losses in two of three in San Diego and in three of four at home to the Padres would give the Friars victories in 16 of the 22 meetings between the two clubs as San Diego has turned the tide against the Giants who've had the Padres number in the past. As for the division-leading Dodgers, a three-game sweep of the Giants would give them an MLB-leading 34.5 game advantage over San Francisco in the NL West, dropping the Giants to 17-30 against the division this season. Surprisingly, the Giants would claim series victories over the visiting Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates during the club's 10 game homestand, their longest of 2017. The Giants' ugly display of baseball this season also resulted in the team's home sellout streak coming to an end as the series-opener against the visiting Indians marked the first non-sellout for the Giants in seven years, a streak of 555 consecutive games (including Postseason). The streak is the longest in National League history and is second-most all-time, behind only Boston's streak of 820 consecutive sellouts from 2003-2013.

But San Francisco's sellout streak wouldn't be the only thing that came to an end in July as the tenure of third baseman Eduardo Nunez also ended. After being acquired from the Minnesota Twins near the trade deadline almost a year ago, the 30-year old found himself on the move once again in a deadline deal that lands him with a team looking to make a Postseason push. Primarily a third baseman with the Giants while also spending time in the outfield, Nunez, who reached base safely in 40 of his last 42 games in a Giants uniform, looks to help the Red Sox any way he can in a crowded but banged up infield. Upon receiving news that he had been dealt mid-game, cameras caught Nunez heading to the clubhouse where he exchanged handshakes and hugs with his Giants teammates who he described as his, "family." While Nunez had nothing but kind words to say regarding his time with the Giants, manager Bruce Bochy felt the same way about his now former player and both sides mentioned a possible return to the Giants in the future. The move would come just days after Boston released Pablo Sandoval who would eventually end up signing a Minor League contract to return to the Giants organization.
One chip the Giants were at least hoping to kick the tires on as a possible trade candidate was right-handed pitcher Johnny Cueto who has a player option after 2017 and is likely to opt out of his contract. Any possibility of dealing Cueto before the July 31 trade deadline would be halted by an injury he sustained during a July 14 outing in which he exited after only four innings against the Padres. What would be labeled as "hot spots" or blisters in the three middle fingers of his throwing hand would ultimately result in Cueto heading to the disabled-list and down to Class A San Jose where he would pitch a rehab start on the final day of the month. In a season where everything that could go wrong for the Giants pretty much has, Cueto's outing would be added to that list as the former All-Star and team-leader in wins for the Giants a season ago (18-5) pitched just three innings and threw 34 of the targeted 70 pitches before departing the game with tightness in his forearm. Though Cueto will be evaluated in the coming days, it's likely he'll need more time to recover than initially expected before returning to the big club.

With the month of July coming to a close, the Giants who finished the month with 9-wins and 16-losses, currently stand at 40-67 on the season, dead last in the National League West. Though San Francisco has one more win than the Philadelphia Phillies (39-64), they own the worst winning percentage in all of baseball at .374 and are on pace to lose 100 games for only the second time in franchise history (1985). Hoping to finish the season strong and steer clear of that dubious mark of 100-losses will be a tough task, especially considering three of the Giants' first four opponents in August will be the Diamondbacks (60-45), Cubs (56-48) and Nationals (63-41), all of whom are either atop their respected division or leading the Wild Card race (Arizona).


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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Boston parts ways with struggling Panda

In the winter of 2014, third baseman Pablo Sandoval was the hottest commodity at the hot corner on the free-agent market. After helping the San Francisco Giants claim their third World Series championship in five years in what would be the closest thing we've seen to a baseball dynasty since the New York Yankees of the mid to late 1990's and into the year 2000, the former World Series MVP inked a five-year, $95 Million dollar deal with the Boston Red Sox. And while his time in Boston began nightmarish for the 2-time All-Star, it would eventually be cut short as he was designated for assignment over the weekend.

Though staying healthy and in shape has never been a strong suit of Sandoval's, his ability to hit coupled with the defense he showed while with the Giants was virtually nonexistent during his time in Boston as he's been a shadow of his former self. In his first full year with the Red Sox, Sandoval struggled mightily, hitting a mediocre .245 on the season with career lows in both home runs (10) and RBI's (47) since breaking into the bigs in 2008. Hoping to bounce back with a solid 2016, his Sophomore year in Boston would be anything but as he was limited to only six at-bats in 3 games after straining his left shoulder which would require season-ending surgery. Following the injury, 2017 seemed to be promising for the 30-year old Sandoval who appeared in Spring Training close to 40 lbs. lighter and hitting much better at the plate as his .338 batting average and 5 home runs helped him win back the job as Boston's Opening Day starting third baseman. Instead, the struggles both offensively and defensively would continue as soon as the season started, as he hit just .212 with 4 HR and 12 RBI in 99 at-bats.
Adding to his frustration, Sandoval was plagued by injuries once more which eventually contributed to his designation despite still being owed over $48 Million dollars. That amount marks the second-highest total of money owed to a player, trailing only Josh Hamilton's $68.4 Million owed by the Angels after being cut by Los Angeles only two years into his five-year contract. While many around the baseball world would point to his former ball club in San Francisco as being an ideal landing spot for Sandoval, it's easier said than done and rather unlikely that he'll be reunited in the Bay Area. Though Sandoval became an instant favorite among Giants fans and players alike who embraced him with such nicknames as "Pandaval" and "Kung-fu Panda", he didn't leave on the best of terms with the Giants front-office. Not to mention the Giants appear to already have their third baseman of the future in 22-year old Christian Arroyo. Whether or not we'll be seeing fans at AT&T Park dusting off their old panda hats is anybodies guess at this point, but given the Giants could sign him to the prorated league minimum after Friday if the Red Sox fail to trade his rights, it wouldn't be the biggest of surprises if they decided to kick the tires on an old friend. In just 161 games with Boston over the past two and half seasons, Sandoval hit a sub par .237 at the dish with 14 homers and 59 RBI's. 


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Saturday, July 1, 2017

June full of Gloom for struggling Giants

Hoping to put the first two months of the season behind them, the San Francisco Giants cruised into the month of June with a blowout 10-0 road victory over the Phillies. Sadly, the post-game high fives and celebratory handshakes would be held to a minimum in June as well as the Giants followed up their 10-run shellacking in the city of Brotherly Love by dropping the next two games to the lowly Phillies who hadn't won a series in over a month. Though it doesn't get much worse than dropping a series to the worst team in all of baseball, it would be the beginning of another free-fall for Bruce Bochy's struggling ballclub.

After receiving a series-split in Milwaukee which saw each of the Giants and Brewers claim a pair of victories in their four-game set, the Giants would lose each of the next five series, including sweeps in three of those. Following a rare visit to AT&T Park by the first-place Minnesota Twins in which the Giants dropped the first two games of the series, San Francisco's offense would erupt for a season-high in hits (17) and runs (13) as they managed to salvage the series finale with a 13-8 victory. But any hopes of that being the starting point of something positive for the G-Men would go up in flames rather quickly as they were swept in back-to-back series by the Royals and Rockies. A trip to Atlanta would witness the Giants drop three of four before returning home where they were swept in three by the New York Mets, making it 12 losses in 13 games for the Giants. Just when all hope seemed to be lost, the Giants pulled a rabbit from their hat by stringing together not only their first winning-streak of the month, but also their first sweep of the season. Less than two weeks after being swept in Colorado, the Giants returned the favor by pulling out their brooms against the Rockies. In that series, the Giants bullpen would log 13 1/3 scoreless-innings, a far cry from anything we had seen this season up until then.
Following a day off, the Giants would hit the road for a series in Pittsburgh with the first of three games falling on the final day of June. Looking forward to turning the page to a new calendar month, the Giants made it four straight victories to close out June with a 13-5 drubbing of the Pirates. While the San Francisco offense would tie a season-high in runs, they would collect a new season-high in hits with 18, 10 of which coming from the top of the order as the first three batters (Span, Panik and Pence) combined to go 10-for-14 at the plate, along with seven RBIs and seven runs scored. The offensive outburst would be much appreciated by Johnny Cueto who started the game for the Giants and got off on the wrong foot, giving up his only 3 runs in the outing in the first inning. That aforementioned trio of Denard Span, Hunter Pence and Joe Panik would all finish the month of June swinging a hot stick, hitting well over .300 at the dish to help contribute to the Giants placing in the top 3 with the third best team batting average in all of June. And no one other than Andrew McCutchen (.411) of the Pirates would swing a hotter bat for the month than Span who was a scorching .374 at the plate in June. It would be a month of firsts for the Giants as a few players made franchise history and another made Major League history.

Adding to his red-hot month, Span also led the National League in hits for the month of June with 40 base knocks, becoming the first Giants player with a 40-hit June since Moises Alou in 2005. We would also see the first Korean player in Giants franchise history when third baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang made his Major League debut on June 28 against the Rockies. After turning down a big contract to play ball in his native South Korea to pursuit his dreams of playing in the Majors, Hwang turned some heads and showcased some power during Spring Training. That power would be witnessed immediately following his call-up from Triple-A Sacramento as he made quite the impression in his first game in a Giants uniform by connecting for a home run and driving in a pair of runs. At the age of 29 years and 335 days, he became the oldest Giants player to homer in his MLB debut since at least 1913, crushing a solo shot to left in his third at-bat. Giants pitchers would also get some love as starter Jeff Samardzija made the record books by becoming the first Major League pitcher since 1900 to record 50 or more strikeouts and 1 or fewer walks over a span of seven starts after compiling 10 K's and 0 walks in a win in Milwaukee. Not to be forgotten, an evening game in Denver on June 15 would witness the first 3-run homer of the season for the Giants, a forgotten art as the Giants finally shook off their reputation for only hitting solo dingers this year.
After giving us a glimpse of the future with the April call-up of 22-year old Christian Arroyo, the Giants' third baseman of the future was sent back down to the Minors after struggling mightily at the plate (.192 batting average). And soon after the demotion of Arroyo came the promotion of Austin Slater who has finally provided some decent production from the left field position for the Giants. Since being called up and making his Major League debut on June 2 in Philly, Slater has hit .338 in 23 games for the Giants, notching a pair of homers and 12 RBIs. With several failed experiments in left field already this year and the injury to Jarrett Parker who can't seem to produce in the Majors the same way he has in the Minors, the Giants just might have something in Slater if he can continue to produce. Despite finishing the month on a strong note with a 4-game winning-streak, their longest since winning five consecutive during the middle of May, the Giants compiled a record of 9-18 for the month of June and still sit in last place in the NL West at 31-51 on the season, 20-game below .500 for the first time since 2008. With less than two weeks until the All-Star break and baseball's trade deadline on the horizon, it'll be interesting to see just how long the Giants can ride this win-streak and just how busy they'll be in trade talks. While it's almost certain they'll be sellers this time around, there's no telling to what degree or who they'll field offers for.


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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Lakers Fulfill a Dream, Draft Lonzo Ball

With the 2017 NBA Draft officially in the books, the Los Angeles Lakers are one step closer to finishing their rebuilding process and competing for an NBA title, or at least they hope. After landing the second overall pick in the NBA Draft Lottery for the third consecutive year, the brain trust of Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka made UCLA point-guard Lonzo Ball the newest member of the Lakers. Chosen as the first player under the Lakers' new regime, Magic is putting all of his eggs into Lonzo's basket in hopes of him being the new face of the franchise a season after the former UCLA Bruin helped lead the program to the Sweet 16 and compiled the most assists in a single-season in UCLA history as a one and done freshman.

Though its been widely speculated that many including Lonzo's outspoken father LaVar Ball saw the pick coming months ago, nothing was set in stone until NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced L.A.'s selection on Draft night Thursday evening. Despite the rumor of it being a foregone conclusion that the Lakers would take Ball, Magic and company still did their due diligence by working out other players and at least listening to trade offers. Not to mention a few boulders needed to be shifted along the way to make room for their "new leader" as Johnson called him. Having grown up in Southern California and playing collegiately just a stones throw away from his new home in Staples Center, Lonzo did take a gamble by working out exclusively for the hometown Lakers. And though he would consider working out for other clubs once the Lakers announced they had sent out invites to several other players in the Draft, the Lakers remained the only team he would meet with after both parties scheduled a second workout which solidified L.A.'s decision and proved to pay dividends for the 19-year old Ball. 

Having drawn comparisons to future Hall of Fame point-guard Jason Kidd, the Lakers are getting an elite passer who is dynamic in transition and is an excellent shooter, something Kidd was not. When comparing their college numbers, Ball shot a 73% field goal percentage from within the three-point line compared to Kidd's 54% at Cal Berkeley. He also had him beat from behind the arch as Ball shot 41% from three compared to Kidd's 33%. So if Lonzo can pan out to be a better shooting version of Jason Kidd, I'd say the Lakers made out alright and have their leader Magic coveted.
If Lonzo can succeed in a Laker uniform, he'll deserve all the praise in the world as he enters the league with lofty expectations set by the constant chatter and sound bytes from his loudmouth father, coupled with playing under the bright lights of his hometown in L.A. And then there's the void left by the now departed D'Angelo Russell who the Lakers decided to trade in order to make room for Lonzo. Two days prior to the Draft, the Lakers packaged Russell who was selected second overall just two years ago and the expensive contract of Timofey Mozgov to Brooklyn in exchange for center Brook Lopez and the 27th Pick in Thursday's Draft which they would then use to select power-forward Kyle Kuzma out of Utah. While critics and fans alike praised the move which now free's the Lakers of Mozgov's terrible four-year, $64 Million dollar contract, they also expressed their disappointment in the Lakers' front-office for giving up on Russell so early into his career. Coming out of College at Ohio State University, Russell was touted as being the best passing point-guard since Magic Johnson. And though he would often times show flashes of brilliance, mostly with his shooting, he struggled to rack up the assists and failed to even resemble Kevin Johnson, much less Magic Johnson.

With the trade being just as much a salary dump as it was a chance to make room for Ball, the Lakers have now freed up nearly $60 Million in cap space for the chance of potentially luring two big name free-agents with such names as Paul George and LeBron James expected to hit the free-agent market in 2017-18. With lots of money to play with in the coming seasons comes plenty of intrigue. But that's not to say this season isn't worth forgetting about according to one person. Just when you hoped the annoying interviews and quotes from Lonzo's father LaVar Ball were through, out he comes with another batch freshly brewed from that relentless mouth of his. After his son was introduced by the team during a press-conference on Friday, LaVar made sure to add at least one more pressure-filled prediction on his son's shoulders by claiming, "Lonzo Ball is going to take the Lakers to the playoffs this year." While I hope he isn't wrong with that one, if Lonzo and company can deliver on LaVar's latest promise, it'll end the Lakers' four-year playoff drought, the longest in franchise history.


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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Kevin Gets a Ring

Finally. At last. It's about time. Just a few expressions that had to be running through the mind of former NBA MVP and 4-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant who can now be regarded as a champion after finally getting the monkey off his back by adding a Larry O'Brien Trophy to an already impressive resume following Golden State's 129-120 win over the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers last night in front of a max capacity crowd. After being on the losing end to a LeBron James-led team in his first NBA Finals experience back in 2012, Durant appeared much hungrier in his second go around, leading his team in scoring in all five games and averaging 35.2 Points Per Game, 8.4 Rebounds and 5.4 Assists, while shooting 60 for 102 from the floor (.588) and earning Finals MVP honors in his first year with the team. Something only Moses Malone (1983) and Magic Johnson (1980) had done before him. By pouring in 39-points in last night's series-clincher, the 28-year old Durant joined an elite class of players as only Jerry West, LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki managed to average more career playoff points at the time of their first NBA title.

Avenging last year's heart-wrenching loss in which the Warriors became the first team in NBA Finals history to blow a 3-1 series lead, Golden State made quick work of their counterparts, needing only five games to seal the series and claim their second title in three years. Though he wasn't with the team at the time, the heartbreak of blowing that 3-1 lead was also shared by Durant who saw the Warriors storm back from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference Finals against Durant's then Oklahoma City Thunder. Both collapses would prompt Durant to leave and the Warriors to pursue him, making for what would ultimately be a mach made in heaven as evident by their remarkable run in this year's playoffs. Finishing 16-1 along their chase to the title, this year's Golden State team has to be up there among the greatest runs in NBA history for their pure dominance. And had it not been for a blowout defeat at Cleveland in Game 4, the Warriors would've been the first to go a perfect 16-0 in the postseason. But it's not just this postseason that's been impressive.

Led by head coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors have stringed together one of the greatest three year stretches of all-time. After claiming the franchise's first NBA title since 1975 in 2015, the Warriors followed that up with an all-time great regular season record of 74-9 as well as another trip to the Finals and managed to bookend it with another NBA title. Had it not been for the 3-1 collapse in which the Cavs climbed their way back to pry the championship away from Golden State's grasp just a season ago, we'd be looking at the first three-peat since the Kobe-Shaq Lakers of the early 2000's. In what's become somewhat of a rivalry, Cavs-Warriors has certainly become must-watch TV over the past few seasons and last night's Game 5 was no different and the viewers would agree as it gained the highest rating for an NBA game since Game 5 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Generating a 16.0 metered market rating, ratings shot up 13 percent from the Game 5's of each of the past two years when these two teams met.
The Real MVP - Immediately following the game, it was only appropriate that Durant was greeted on the floor by his mother Wanda who Kevin based much of his memorable MVP speech around after the 2014 season. The two shared a moment and were brought to tears as confetti fell from the rafters at Oakland's Oracle Arena. Not shying away from his emotions, Durant hasn't been one to shy away on the game's biggest stage either as he became one of only three players to score 25 points or more in each of his first 10 NBA Finals games, joining only Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal. Durant also received a congratulatory hug and handshake from LeBron who Durant told they're, "tied up now" at an even 1-1 against one another in the Finals and that they'll, "have to do this again." Assuming Durant returns to play for the Warriors next season and chooses not to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, both teams are perennial favorites to make it back to a fourth consecutive NBA Finals next year. And I'm sure we'd be treated to yet another show between LeBron and Durant if they met up as both players were equally good against one another when guarding each other in this series. While Durant scored 43 points and shot 18-for-30 from the floor including 4-for-11 from three with James guarding him, LeBron scored 44 points on 18-for-32 shooting and an identical 4-for-11 from three with Durant guarding him.

Despite becoming the fourth player and first NBA MVP to lose in five NBA Finals, the 32-year old LeBron averaged the first triple-double in NBA Finals history by posting 33.6 Points Per Game, 12.0 Rebounds and 10.0 Assists to further his claim for the greatest of all-time in his seventh consecutive Finals appearance. Sure it's another Finals loss to his belt, but like LeBron said in his post-game presser, "I left everything I had out on the floor every single game for all five games", doing all he could while receiving minimal help from his teammates. A much different approach than the one he took two years ago when he sat at his locker for nearly an hour with a towel over his head. Even when LeBron was on the sideline getting the little rest he received (28 minutes), the Cavs were outscored by 27 points in the series.
With another ring to his resume, Warriors coach Steve Kerr adds ring No. 7 to his mantle after winning 5 as a player with the Bulls and Spurs. As for someone else destined for the Hall of Fame who waited even longer than Durant for his first Championship ring, Steve Nash can finally say he's got one. After playing 20 seasons with the Mavericks, Suns and Lakers and never making it past the Conference Finals, 2-time league MVP Steve Nash joined the Warriors following their 2015 title run as a player development consultant as was one of the first people to receive a hug from Kevin Durant in the tunnel as the players made it from the floor towards the locker room. With Durant being one of the players Nash worked the most with during the season, the two can now share in common that they've got a Championship ring on the way, regardless of how they got it. With the sole mission of winning a ring being the reason Durant signed with Golden State during the offseason which sparked plenty of criticism, he can finally sleep well knowing his decision payed off as a success. 


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