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Kobe’s Injury Could Mean Change of Plans in Lakerland

Photo by Mark Terrill/Associated Press
Kobe Bryant injured his Achilles last night at the Staple Center. Will the Lakers star ever be the same?

One of the toughest players that the NBA has ever seen tore his Achilles tendon last night at the Staples Center.  Kobe Bryant, who is universally recognized throughout the sports world as one of the grittiest, toughest guys around, will not be able to play through this injury.

Earlier this season, Kobe admitted to the media that next season would probably be his last in the NBA however this injury has now put that in jeopardy. Although he is only 34 years old, this is his 17th NBA regular season to go along with another 236 combined playoff and Olympic contests. Kobe has played over 54,000 minutes in his career. He’s been able to play through some tough injuries in his career and has an incredible amount of “mileage” on his body. Whether this injury hinders Bryant’s availability for next season remains to be seen, however, the much more important question is whether or not Kobe will ever be able to get back to being the same player that we all remember and revere. If he doesn’t then there could be a complete shift in thinking for Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak.

This injury to Kobe effectively ends the Lakers chances of making any type of noise in the playoffs (if they even get there now), however, call me crazy, but this may be a blessing in disguise for a Lakers franchise that has some crucial decisions to make this offseason in regards to their future.

It’s been blatantly obvious to anyone who is paying attention that Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant don’t get along.  Kobe is old school; Dwight is new school.  Kobe is tough minded; Dwight is weak minded.  Kobe is always serious about his craft; Dwight just wants to have fun.  Kobe is the ultimate Alpha-Male; Dwight just ain’t about that life.

With all that being said; Kobe may never be the same player again and Dwight is currently entering what should be the prime years of his career. Think about it…what NBA Center is competing with a healthy Dwight Howard on a nightly basis? We all know damn well that the answer is nobody and so do the Lakers.   Would the Lakers really be willing to lose Howard to free agency in order to keep Kobe Bryant, a player who has meant so much to the franchise but whose future is unclear? To me, the answer is yes because there is another possible scenario in Lakerland that is much less obvious and much more likely.

The Lakers allow Kobe to leave on his own terms, which means rehab and return from a major injury, in effect keeping their relationship in tact with the player  who some consider the greatest Laker of them all. This also means losing Dwight Howard in free agency to a team like Houston who will have the available cap space to offer the maximum 4 year, $87 million dollar contract that Dwight most certainly desires.  This seems like a dumb move right?

Wrong!

Photoshop via http://www.fantasy-sports.com
Could LeBron James end up on the Lakers? It’s a reasonable thought.

What ends up happening is after 2014, Kobe retires and LeBron James becomes a free agent if he chooses to opt out of his contract with Miami.  If the Lakers let Howard leave and Kobe retire on his own terms, they will have enough cap space to max out LeBron next summer.  Don’t rule out this very reasonable and likely possibility because LeBron has goals that reach far beyond basketball and Los Angeles is a place where he can obtain those goals.

There is no such thing as good timing when it comes to an injury from a player’s perspective, but from a management perspective, I can see this being the catalyst for much needed change in Lakerland.

Someone’s Gonna Steal Matt Barkley

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Matt Barkley has spend his whole life preparing for the NFL Draft.

The Kansas City Chiefs own the top pick in this year’s NFL Draft and they probably have no clue as to what they want to do with it.  Should they pick consensus future All-Pro in Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel and trade their franchised left tackle Brandon Albert? Is former number one overall pick Alex Smith the long term solution at quarterback? Should they trade the pick for more picks in what is considered a mediocre to weak draft class?

The answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO!

I am 100 percent certain that Matt Barkley should be the number one pick in the NFL Draft. He has been training to be an NFL quarterback since he was in grade school and has had incredible success at every level of play thus far.

Barkley went to Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California. Let’s just say the resumes of some of the alumni from this school would blow your mind, not only sports, but entertainment, government, and even religious leadership. Mater Dei has a rich football history that boasts not one, but two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks.  He was only the second player in the storied history of that football program to start at quarterback as a freshman.  The only other freshman to start for MDHS was “Robo-QB” Todd Marinovich (who has an incredible story that was brilliantly documented by ESPN’s 30 for 30 series).  Barkley started all four years in high school and broke Marinovich’s all-time school and county record for passing yards. Barkley is the only player to call his own plays since current Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson took over in 1989. Barkley was a top recruit, committed to USC after his junior season, and was named Gatorade National Male High School Athlete of the Year in 2007. My point is that it’s safe to say that Matt Barkley has spent his formative years preparing for success in an environment that has a track record of breeding it.

The story doesn’t get much different when it comes to his career at USC.  Again, Barkley started as a freshman, and with the help of some really good teammates, dominated CFB from the jump.  Barkley was extremely impressive as a freshman, garnering praise from evaluators such as Mel Kiper Jr. who dubbed Barkley “the number one pick in the draft three years from now”.  It’s still fresh in the minds of college football fans, so I don’t have to go over all of Barkley’s incredible numbers and accomplishments at USC.  He stayed and started all four years and played brilliantly. There is enough tape on this kid to be able to see that he can make plays with the right talent around him.

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Andy Reid takes over a Kansas City Chiefs team with three times as many Pro-Bowlers as they had wins last season.

The Kansas City Chiefs have some outstanding players on their roster.  Dwayne Bowe is an elite receiver when motivated and former first round pick Jon Baldwin has potential to be a nice compliment.  Jamaal Charles is a quality running back with big play capabilities, as is Dexter McCluster in a variety of roles. The Chiefs employ a Pro-Bowl player at each level of their defense with Eric Berry at safety, Derrick Johnson and Justin Houston at linebacker, and Tamba Hali at defensive end.  Dustin Colquitt made the Pro-Bowl as the best punter in the AFC, and believe me when I tell you that field position means a great deal in the NFL.

It’s incredible that the Chiefs won a mere two games last year with six Pro-Bowl players on the roster.  This goes to show you what a franchise quarterback means to an NFL team’s success. The Chiefs traded for Alex Smith this offseason.  I know better than most as to what Smith can and cannot do, for I’m a lifelong 49ers fan.  I supported the decision to draft Smith number one overall in ’05 and I still do to this day.  He is a fantastic football player, a very good NFL athlete, and a leader who takes care of the ball and makes quality football decisions.  He’s a quiet guy who had all the respect in the world from his former teammates and coaches. He’s faced and conquered adversity that most NFL players would never dream that they would have to deal with. He’s got heart and he’s tough.

But he’s not the answer the Chiefs are looking for moving forward.  The Chiefs should draft Matt Barkley number one overall and let him sit behind Smith for his rookie season.  Smith is the perfect transitional quarterback for Andy Reid because of his experiences in San Francisco, and I can guarantee he will win more than two games next season. This will allow Barkley to completely heal and strengthen his throwing shoulder (which is his number one “red flag” according to evaluators) in preparation to take over for KC in his second season NFL season.  I don’t know Matt Barkley personally, so maybe something about this kid’s personality doesn’t sit well with NFL brass, but from everything I’ve read about him and his brief history on this planet, to me, this is a no-brainer.  Barkley is the truth and one screwed up season in college doesn’t take away from everything else that he’s done to this point.  All signs points to greatness for Matt Barkley. Whoever lands him will have the most important position in sports locked up for years to come.

NHL: If you can play, you can play!

YouCanPlay-thumbnail

Over the past couple decades, lockouts have given the NHL’s management and leadership a terrible reputation in the eyes of their fans. Well, they finally did something right. Yesterday, the NHL became the first North American sports league to officially partner with the You Can Play Project, a movement dedicated to the eradication of homophobia in sports. 

In fact, since its launch, the You Can Play Project has been publicly backed by numerous NHL players, including stars Henrik Lundqvist, Claude Giroux, Rick Nash, Zdeno Chara, and Daniel Alfredsson. To me, this is a no-brainer for all sports leagues, but especially for the NHL.

One of You Can Play’s founders, Patrick Burke, the son of hockey management legend Brian Burke, started the project last year in memory of his brother Brendan. In 2009, Brendan, who was the student manager of Miami of Ohio men’s hockey program, publicly came out of the closet with the unwavering support of the RedHawks team.

Brendan told the Toronto Sports Network, “I think it’s important my story is told to people because there are a lot of gay athletes out there and gay people working in pro sports that deserve to know there are safe environments where people are supportive regardless of your sexual orientation.”

It’s nice to know that the hockey will be on the right side of history. I’d like to also point out that Major League Soccer publicly supported the movement this past fall. I hope more leagues follow suit. 

Simply stated, barriers do not belong in the sporting world. Participating in sports provided me with countless friendships, priceless memories, and personal development. Everyone should have access to those great experiences.

If you can play, you’re welcome to play. 

Brunch: The Other Side Of The Coin

CK7 is all smiles 10 games into his career (Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

CK7 is all smiles 10 games into his career (Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

In today’s NFL, the hardest thing to do is to not win, but win consistently. To sustain success over multiple years. As team success grows, players feel they deserve more, and so naturally it becomes harder for a team to retain their best talent. So my question is, over the next five years, is anybody better prepared than the 49ers?

I think Jim Harbaugh is a great coach, one of my top 5 favorites in fact. But he came into the NFL with a stacked deck. A solid defense, an all-pro back in Frank Gore, and all-world tight end Vernon Davis were already on the roster upon arrival. Give Harbaugh credit for on-field success, but Mike Singletary was the skipper while this team gelled, and it was Singletary, not Harbaugh, who was crucial in the maturation of Vernon Davis.

What Harbaugh did not have was a lanky kid from Nevada. Colin Kaepernick elevated the Niners in a way Alex Smith never could, and his skill set is undeniable. CK is quick, he is smart, and he has a laser cannon attached to his right shoulder. If Kaepernick can stay healthy, he could lead this team for a long time to come.

So it comes as no surprise that Kaepernick’s friend and former mentor Alex Smith was shipped to Kansas City on Tuesday for two draft picks. This brings San Fran’s total to a whopping fifteen picks in April’s draft, 7 of which are in the first four rounds. 15 Picks! Talk about burning a hole in your pocket; Trent Baalke’s phone must be ringing off the hook. The 49ers are in the unique position of controlling their own destiny in the offseason. If there is a specific player they want in the draft, they will be able to offer any number of packages to teams if they would like to move up in the order.

The 49ers are stacked, but they are by no means perfect. There are still issues to be taken care of for this team before September. Namely, a few big names that need to be paid. Dashon Goldson has been a rock for this team since the moment he put a uniform on, and Harbaugh has said in the past that Goldson deserves a long-term contract. But Delanie Walker, Randy Moss, and others on the interior line are all poised to walk this summer, and it’s fair to say that some will walk for greener pastures.

What to do with the draft picks? As the big days get closer, we’ll break it down and see who the 49ers should be targeting. But with a package like that, many analysts are looking towards blockbuster trades. And if the Jets are willing to part with Darelle Revis, it might be something for the Niners to consider. Having a dynamic shutdown corner added to that defense would prompt me to make a phone call to Mr. Goodell’s office: it’s just not fair.

Although the 49ers would have loved to have kept Alex Smith, it simply was not a sound business decision. Harbaugh made it clear Week 10 that he was turning the page on the Alex Smith era, and Colin is now the Guy. And through 10 games, he’s a pretty good Guy to have. But as the film builds, and coordinators spend the summer strategizing, Kaepernick’s toughest test is yet to come. Because now if he struggles, or takes a hard hit on a designed run, there is no proven backup to turn to. If you’re willing to take that risk, the reward might be a San Francisco team ready to contend for a very long time.

Dinner: Combine Wrap-Up…Who’s Hot, Who’s Not

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, the path to the NFL draft is officially upon us.

The scouting combine in Indianapolis that we here at The Orange Wedge have been covering every step of the combine, previewing who the top players and who to look out for as a potential surprise.  Now that the combine has come to a finish, the next steps are individual pro days and the draft itself.  The combine truly is the biggest test leading up to the draft and after this past weekend it is clear which players are on the rise and which players are on the fall heading towards April.

Players on the rise:

Tavon Austin's blazing 40 (Ben Liebenberg/AP)

Tavon Austin’s blazing 40 (Ben Liebenberg/AP)

Tavon Austin, WR West Virginia

Blazing speed, great hands, and a productive season have catapulted this diminutive wide out to potentially the top half of the first round of the draft.  Austin turned heads with his official 4.34 40 time and impressed the scouts with his ability to catch the ball away from his body.  Look for a rise much like Kendall Wright from Baylor who had a second or third round grade going into the combine and ended up as the 20th overall selection by the Tennessee Titans after a strong showing in the combine.  Teams are looking at Austin as a potential number 2 or slot receiver threat, and a dangerous option in the return game.  Look for his name to be called early on day 1.

Dion Jordan (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Dion Jordan (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Dion Jordan, DE/OLB Oregon

When people talk about tough, Dion Jordan’s name and face should come to mind.  The Oregon defensive end who turned heads in Indy showed great speed, running a 4.60 40, and athletic ability while standing up, something that he should get used to as he will most likely be playing rush linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme.  Prior to the draft Jordan looked like he was slotted in between picks 7 and 15 but now I believe he shot himself way up to pick #1 or #2 consideration (most likely second, though).  As far as his toughness goes, he did all of this with a shoulder injury that will force him to get surgery next week and will knock him out for 3-4 months.

Terron Armstead (AP)

Terron Armstead (AP)

Terron Armstead, OT Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Raise your hand if you have ever heard of Arkansas-Pine Bluff before this.  No seriously, I’ll wait.  I expect all arms to be down and in the locked position next to your sides because as Lebron James would say:

GET THAT S*** OUTTA HERE!

Armstead took the field by storm running a 4.71 40, an all time high for an offensive tackle and made what I believe will be the greatest jump, moving from fringe 5th round consideration all the way up to a solid 2nd round pick, potentially a first rounder if a team truly falls in love with his athletic ability.  He had a great senior bowl prior to this weekend and looks to be telling teams “Don’t be scared of the small school, heck where did Jerry Rice go to college?”  Exactly.  This kid’s a baller.

 

Players on the decline:

Star Lotulelei (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Star Lotulelei (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Star Lotulelei, DT Utah

You really have to feel bad for this kid here as this knock has nothing to do whatsoever with talent, athletic ability, or how he performed at the combine.  The night before the defensive line workouts Lotulelei was diagnosed with a serious heart condition that kept him out of working out at the combine and led to further testing.  This drops him to middle of the first round to possibly out completely depending on the results from his medical visit.  I am really hoping that the news is not terribly serious as he is a great talent and I would love to see him strap it up on Sundays and not have his career derailed because of medical reasons.

Damontre Moore (USA Today)

Damontre Moore (USA Today)

Damontre Moore, OLB Texas A&M

Damontre Moore all season long looked to be and played at the level of a top OLB , another rush linebacker from A&M much in the mold of a Von Miller, and his senior bowl performance only added to his acclaim.  His performance in Indy, though, left a lot to be desired and he looks to have dropped himself to the middle or end of the first round, running his way out of a potential $3 million clocking in at 4.95 and only posting 12 reps on the bench.  He really needs to impress at his pro day and believe me teams will be taking notice.  With a strong pro day he can push his stock back up towards the top, but he has clearly been surpassed by other players who put in strong showings in Indy.

Manti Te'o (USA Today)

Manti Te’o (USA Today)

Manti Te’o

You didn’t think we would be talking combine and not talking about Te’o did you?  Wheres Katie Couric when you need her?  Te’o was the talk of the weekend after his Catfish incident and teams put a target on his back in the hope that he would not only interview well but would also test well.  Prior to his on field workouts, it was reported that teams were elated with his interviews and that he really created a positive buzz, but all of that was erased when he laced it up and hit the track.  Te’o as an inside linebacker needed to run below or at a 4.7 4o time in order to keep his arrow pointing upwards, but his 4.85 stinker dropped him solidly out of the first round, and with the media hype surrounding him, teams may be wary of spending even a second round pick on him, instead looking for a player with equal or greater talent that won’t  be surrounded by the media circus.  It is obvious then, that the Jets will be selecting Te’o.  Could you imagine the Tebow/Te’o show?  I can just picture it now, one won’t get laid cause of Jesus, while the other made it up the whole time.  Classic!  Seriously, though, I could see  Te’o sliding into the 3rd round unless he shows tremendous improvement at his pro day.

All of this could change in the coming weeks with the pro days, and the draft still is a while away.  Think of any other players you think are rising or falling?  Comment or send us a tweet @theorangewedge and let us know your thoughts!

The Orange Wedge

Welcome to The Orange Wedge sports blog. Amidst transitional times in the lives of young graduates, we decided to throw our sports stories up on a blog. Daily sports blogging done right.