February 15, 2006
I was right in predicting a terrier would win Best in Show at Westminster. I just had the wrong dog. Congrats to Rufus (aka Ch. Rocky Top's Sundance Kid).
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

It's not Darko's fault he's an NBA punch line. In fact, riffing off the ESPN Classic show, here are "Five Reasons You Can't Blame Darko":

(1) Hype: Darko's draft status coincided with the height of Euro speculation, which had media and scouts salivating over the mysterious Eastern Euro big man with Dirk-ish skills. But how can you really question Pistons GM Joe Dumars?)

(2) Larry Brown: Brown hates rookies. He hates rookies without college experience even more. Dumars underestimated how much playing for Brown could (and would) constrain Darko's development.

(And if you want confirmation of Brown's contribution to Darko's problems, just take a look at the young Knicks this season, the NBA's worst team.)

(3) The 2003 Draft Class: LeBron. Wade. Bosh. Anthony. May go down as the most top-heavy class of all time, making Darko's unfulfilled potential all the more frustrating.

(Keep in mind, most fans howled when the Pistons didn't take Carmelo; today, those critics would be kicking themselves for not taking Wade or Bosh. The lesson? Hindsight is the best draft guru.)

(4) Pistons Starters: For Darko's 3 seasons in the NBA, Detroit has been a 3-time NBA Finalist. Four of the starters are All-Stars, with the 5th making a strong case. No young player would have wedged their way in, least of all one with as little experience as Darko.

(Make no mistake: If Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or Carmelo Anthony were drafted by Detroit, Brown would have parked them at the end of the bench, and they would have had as little chance to crack Detroit's lineup as Darko.)

(5) (Well, Maybe A Little.) There's no widespread perception that Darko is doing the things that make you believe he wants to fulfill his potential. He gripes a lot (but under Brown, wouldn't you?) -- yet those who watch him in practice say he is improving.

Hopefully, for Darko's sake, the Magic's deal with the Pistons gets done and he gets a fresh start in a promising young lineup with a defined position, low expectations and a coach willing to give him playing time.

It's not too late for Darko.

And it's not all his fault.

Bode Busted
I don't know what "straddling" is -- it sounds a little naughty, as far as sports fouls go -- but apparently Bode Miller did it, bouncing him from first place to DQ'ed entirely from the men's combined.

At least he was booted while competing; he wasn't eliminated for using hair-restoration formula or something equally ludicrous.

If I had to take a guess as to what "straddling" should mean, I'd say it has something to do with rooting for two different teams that play the same sport (i.e., rooting for Northwestern and Florida).

Meanwhile, teammate Ted Ligety finally scored a gold medal for the so-called "Best in the World." Olympic glory is looking more and more correlated to simple expectations management.

Olympics Wrap
(1) Wheaties Watch: Or should this be the Weir-ties Watch? The flamboyant figure skater is 2nd after the short program, with the long program coming Thursday. A silver would be golden for him.

(2) After Lindsey Kildow came back from her harrowing fall on Monday, she placed 8th overall in the women's downhill ski event. Forget the recovery; how about her nerve!

(3) Hockey: Oh Canada! Men's hockey sizes up as boring; the hottest Torino hockey story is asking players about the NHL gambling scandal.

The "Curl Guys": Women struggle, U.S. men plowing along
Kurt Warner: Signs 3-year deal to return as Cardinals QB
Ron Artest: Impact! 27/14 in Kings win over Chicago in OT
"Fire Mike Davis!": Says he'll remain through season's end
Larry Hughes: To miss rest of reg. season (finger surgery)
C. Pennington: If he doesn't take pay cut, will he be cut?
But on the women's side, the Canadian juggernaut (36-1 scoring advantage in 3 games) is on a course to meet the U.S. in a must-see final on Monday.

We'll see if the U.S. can keep it interesting ... you know, stay within 4 or 5 goals.

(4) Jeremy Bloom Watch: Hooray! A college football reference in an Olympics story! Bloom played for Colorado and has NFL aspirations. First, he's gotta justify his hype with a win in the men's moguls.

(5) Ohno to Oh yes! Apolo Ohno has a chance to redeem his slip-'n'-fall in the 1,500m with medal opportunities in the 1,000m and the 5,000m relay. He can put some distance between himself and Bode for "Dud of Torino."

(6) Two words: Doubles luge. If there's a more freaky-deaky sport on the planet, I don't know what it is. (Or, maybe, I don't want to know.) Doubles final today. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

College Hoops Wrap
J.J. Redick: Best shooter ever? Sets the NCAA career record for 3s, bolstering the argument that he's the best pure CBB shooter of the ESPN Era.

Big Ten Watch: There's a reason the league is No. 1 in the RPI: depth. Last night, top-tier Michigan St. lost to Iowa, the Hawkeyes' 5th straight win over a ranked team.

Coaching up: 'Nova's Jay Wright got a 7-year contract extension. Coincidence with win over No. 1 UConn? (Admit it, Nova: Maybe a little.)

Coaching down: Missouri will investigate Quin Snyder's resignation. Man, Snyder can't even quit without being investigated.

Every time I think I've got West Virginia figured out as a Final Four contender, it does something like lose to Seton Hall.

I've never been one of those fans who has an internal clock counting down the days until pitchers and catchers report. It's like a biological clock, except instead of a baby, you can't wait to see the first signs of doughy players working off a winter on the couch.

But with today's first day of "Pitchers and Catchers reporting!" what better time to begin tracking my Biggest Story of the Season: the amphetamines ban.

Oh sure, there's still caffeine, Ritalin, Adderall and Strattera to abuse -- no doubt prescriptions have been written -- but hopefully most players have spent the winter weaning themselves off the greenies.

WBC Roster Announced
Scanning the 30-player U.S. roster for the WBC, it's got some star power: A-Rod, Jeter, Damon, Griffey, Clemens and Willis.

I expected a little more oomph from our starting pitching: Clemens, Willis, Peavy and Sabathia? Don't we need more than 4 starters? (Our relief is deep -- it's not sexy, but the 'pen will be the MVP of the U.S. team.)

But this is no "Dream Team" analogue. Not even close. It's not even as good as some recent All-Star Game lineups. The batting order, while solid, isn't as good as the D.R.'s.

Meanwhile, MLB reportedly might allow ads on uniforms during the WBC. Maybe that will convince the hysterical, Henny-Penny purists that putting ads on MLB uniforms wouldn't be the end of baseball as we know it.

Cheney's "Sport"
I don't know if you can qualify one of Dick Cheney's hunting trips as sports. Not because hunting isn't sport -- that's what ESPN Outdoors is there to celebrate.

No, it's because this type of "hunting" -- where they set up hundreds of quail, bred to be stupid enough to sit there and get shot -- isn't "sport." It's not competition. (For most of us, it wouldn't even qualify as fun.)

I'm no PETA person; I've got reservations tomorrow night to eat one of the most luscious steaks in New York City. But I take my definitions of sport as seriously as you do, and picking off lemmings ain't it, pardner.

Shanoff Face-Off
A new recurring Quickie feature in which I give myself one quick question with an ESPN.com colleague who has written something provocative on the site.

Shanoff Face-Off versus...

If you haven't read it, Jayson Stark's list of the Top 25 innovations in baseball over the last 25 years is a must-read.

And his conclusion that the wild card is the No. 1 innovation begs the question: So why not add more playoff teams per league?

So I e-mailed to ask him.
His response:

"I'd support adding a second wild card in each league, but only if the first round of the playoffs was really short -- no more than best of three.

"The idea would be to force the lesser teams to use their best pitchers to try to advance and not be able to bring them back to win a best-of-five LDS almost single-handedly.

"I'd actually prefer one game, but players tell me they'd rather work for free than play a one-game, win-or-go-home game after sweating for six months just to get in."

I get the last word: The history of baseball innovations shows the innovators to be right way more than they are wrong -- and certainly more successful than the purists who stunt new ideas.

That's a rationale for more innovation (like expanded wild cards), not for letting the traditionalists continue to shackle the game.

"Curl Girls":
I love those fresh-faced Midwestern curlers, but they're 0-3 in Olympic competition and dangerously close to missing the medal round.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
Delonte West V-Day
Page 2 Index
Ranking 2003 NBA Draft Top 5
LeBron James
At 21, best player in NBA
Dwyane Wade
He's not far behind LeBron
Chris Bosh
Will be first-time All-Star
Carmelo Anthony
Less hype than rookie year
Boris Diaw
21st pick a steal (for PHX)

More NBA Trades: Steve Francis to the Knicks? Yeah, that Francis-Marbury backcourt will work out real nicely. Isiah strikes again!

NASCAR will increase monitoring of "bumping" at Daytona. No word on whether they'll be patrolling the stands and RVs for "grinding," too.

If the Knicks can't break their 10-game losing streak at home tonight vs. the lowly Raptors (ahead of NY in division, btw), someone must be fired.

NBA Trade: Sonics trade disgruntled 3-point shooter Vlad Radmanovic to the Clips for athletic big man Chris Wilcox. Both could use new scenery.

When Texas visited the White House on Tuesday, I was really hoping that Vince Young would re-enact the Rose Bowl in the Rose Garden. No such luck.

Rather than have his own show, I'd like to see T.O. host "Trading Spaces" (which his TV partner produces) with a twist: He wrecks homes he is supposed to fix.

Sponsored Links