Gen Y’s Best Sports Writing Of 2013

This is slowly becoming an annual tradition over here.  These were the best pieces I read this year, starting with the honorable mentions and finishing with the top ten. I openly admit a certain bias towards the pieces chosen.  The best pieces of sports writing, to me, involve one of two things.  The first is a personal element between the writer and the content.  The second is that the story involves a single piece of information that is so fascinating, so uniquely brilliant, that it vindicates the countless hours of life devoted to sports, the vast majority of which pay no dividends.  To the list…

Honorable Mentions:

The Trouble With Johnny – Wright Thompson [ESPN the Magazine]

Just a banner year all around for Wright Thompson, who asserted his place as the top longform sports writer on the planet.  You’ll see his name again on this list.  Thompson somehow talked his way into the Manziel family circle at the height of Johnny’s fame, before the disappointing season and close loss to Alabama.  It’s an interesting look at one of the most fascinating college football players of all time at his peak notoriety.  The reader walks away with a great understanding of why he is the way he is (hint: bloodline).

Jason Taylor’s Pain Shows NFL’s World Of Hurt – Dan Le Batard [Miami Herald]

We’ll always remember this point in history for the world finally waking up to the dangers of professional football.  This was the best story I read all year that delved into the topic.  It’s the kind of piece that is born out of years of covering a team and building relationships.  Le Batard has of course gained more fame for his on-air gigs at ESPN, but he reminds us all that he’s one hell of a writer too.

Man Up – Brian Phillips [Grantland]

Phillips’ declaration of war on NFL locker room culture is magnificent.  The diction and tone is likewise perfect.  There were several pieces written on the Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito conflict.  Phillips’ was easily the best.

Auburn Should Be Dead, Because We Watched It Die – Spencer Hall [Every Day Should Be Saturday]

Hall is the best college football writer and best sports blogger in the country.  There was no one better to write about the greatest ending to a college football game ever.  Hall’s wit, humor, and knowledge of the sport make him the perfect person to capture that perfect moment.

The Sports Cable Bubble – Patrick Hruby [Sports On Earth]

Hruby delivers with a superbly-reported piece on the reason this country’s cable bills have spiked so high in the last five years.  Can it last?  Will consumers somehow force the industry to change?  Hruby has all the details.

Qatar Chronicles – David Roth [SB Nation]

A five part series dealing with FIFA’s seemingly bizarre decision to award the World Cup to the wealthy Middle Eastern country.  If you don’t have time for all five parts, be sure to at least catch the first and the last parts which perfectly capture why the country was awarded the prized sporting event and just what it means to be Qatari.  Roth just absolutely crushed this.

Lost Soul – Chris Ballard [Sports Illustrated]

Perennial candidate on my lists.  He delivers with another great piece involving basketball, the sport that he loves.  Bison Dele, formerly Brian Williams, left the game during the prime of his career to explore other interests.  He then died under mysterious circumstances.  Dive into this story and see if you can figure out what happened to him.

Nick Saban: Sympathy For The Devil – Warren St. John [GQ]

Nick Saban just wants to coach football and doesn’t understand why we’re all so obsessed with cracking his code.  The way St. John uses the Rolling Stones to explain the enigma that is Coach Saban is perfect.

The Match Maker – Don Van Natta Jr. [Outside The Lines]

Was one of the most famous matches in tennis history actually fixed?  Yes.  Definitely yes.  Read about how Bobby Riggs put the fix in for The Battle of the Sexes.

Top Ten

(tie) 10. Nightmare In Maryville: Teens’ Sexual Encounter Ignites A Firestorm Against Family – Dugan Arnett [Kansas City Star]

This is a well-reported look into the evil side of sports.  A young girl is raped and abandoned on her own porch to freeze to death.  It seems an open-and-shut case until you learn that the accused is a football star in a football-obsessed town.  He also has political connections.  And somehow a helpless victim is characterized by her community as a dirty slut who had it coming to her.  Her family is driven out of town and her house mysteriously burns to the ground.  Travel to the dark side and feel the rage.  It’s amazing how those that we are supposed to trust can so thoroughly screw up in protecting the innocent.

(tie) 10. A Perfect Marathon Day-Then The Unimaginable – Kevin Cullen [Boston Globe]

Just the absolute perfect column on the tragic events that befell the city of Boston the day of the Boston Marathon bombing.  It captures everything wonderful about that city and its identity along with all the horror and tragedy that took place that day.  Boston Strong.

(tie) 10. Why NBA Center Jason Collins Is Coming Out Now – Jason Collins with Franz Lidz [Sports Illustrated]

One of the best sports stories in years.  This story merits a place solely for its courage and bravery.  Collins took a huge risk with this and he deserves all kinds of praise for being the first active player in one of the four major sports to out himself.  Bravo to him and Sports Illustrated for doing it the right way and completely owning the narrative.

9. When 772 Pitches Isn’t Enough – Chris Jones [ESPN the Magazine]

Jones is one of the top magazine writers in the game and I continue to love that ESPN convinced him to write for their magazine.  This piece on Japanese youth baseball gives a thoughtful look into the demands and pressures of youth sports through a lens we’re not at all familiar with.  If you ever played youth baseball or if you’re a parent who struggles with the demands modern youth sports place on children’s bodies, you cannot miss this one.

8. Peyton Manning On His Neck Surgeries Rehab-And How He Almost Didn’t Make It Back – Sally Jenkins [Washington Post]

I’ve had my issues with Jenkins, most notably her continued defense of Lance Armstrong. There’s no denying the greatness of this piece, though.  How a writer for a newspaper in D.C. finally got the full story on Peyton’s comeback is beyond me, but I tore through every single bit of information.  I think we all had an idea that Peyton’s career was at risk, but reading about him barely being able to throw a football is shocking.  Jenkins takes us all the way through each painstaking step in the recovery.  This story is a must-read, considering the record-breaking season and the beginning of the NFL playoffs.

7. Inside Major League Baseball’s Dominican Sweatshop System – Ian Gordon [Mother Jones]

One of the most important stories of the year.  It’s really kind of pathetic that most baseball writers in this country believe the great tragedy of that sport has to do with performance enhancing drugs.  Take a look inside the darker side of America’s pastime, one in which a team can get away with gross negligence, immoral labor practices, and even death.  Try to imagine everything wrong with the NCAA model and then amplify it times a billion and you’ll have an idea of just how poorly managed MLB’s relationship with the Dominican Republic is.  The muckraking done by Gordon for this story is worthy of all kinds of awards.

6.  Soccer Bleu – John Samuel Harphem [American Circus]

Most will probably skip over this article, given that it involves the sport of soccer and the country of France.  I beg you to read it.  It’s a great look at the danger of mixing sports and identity as told through the French national soccer team since their 1998 World Cup victory.  Harphem constructs a Hemingway-esque setting in which to tell the story of his experience of being an American following soccer in Paris.

5.  Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax – Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey [Deadspin]

This was one of the most fascinating sports stories of all time.  It’s kind of been forgotten about, given that the majority of Te’o’s games were played during the 2012 calendar year.  This story did technically break in January of 2013, though, and thus has to be included on the list.  That outlets like ESPN and the New York Times completely bought into the Te’o dead girlfriend story without fact checking is exactly why Deadspin has to exist.  Their ability to complete knock this story out of the park in a limited amount of time was remarkable.  The reporting, the writing–everything is just perfect here.  Standing ovation to Tommy Craggs for building Deadspin into a force.

4. The Pain And Pleasure Of Spring – Pat Jordan [SB Nation]

Remember when I said the best articles involve a personal element or a single piece of information that makes being a sports fan all worth it?  This one has both.  Jordan is a legend in the world of sports writing.  He recounts in detail his story of being a once prized baseball prospect who just didn’t make it.  The story about him making love with an elder woman is beautiful, but stay for the unbelievable description of what made Hank Aaron Hank Aaron.  I’m not qualified enough to critique a writer like Jordan. I do know that this piece about his love for spring training is beautiful.

3. The Book Of Coach – Seth Wickersham [ESPN the Magazine]

The biggest irony in all of sports is that Americans know almost nothing about the X’s and O’s of football.  This is partly intentional as the game of football has gone to great lengths to prevent fans from that sacred knowledge (likely in an attempt to avoid criticism, but I digress…).  So it’s really kind of awesome when we get a writer like Chris Brown over at Grantland or this story from Seth Wickersham which brought to light a book which almost no one outside of football coaches knew existed.  Did you know legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh attempted to write a complete manual to everything that was necessary to be a great football coach?  Neither did I.  Apparently it is the bible for football coaches, with very limited copies in existence.  Everyone from Bill Belichick to college graduate assistants profess its value.  While Walsh never really felt satisfied, this article gives a great look into the long, difficult road it takes to be a great football coach.  I love finding out about sports secrets like this book.  I’m guessing you will too.

2. Stroke Of Madness – Scott Eden [ESPN the Magazine]

All apologies to Dan Jenkins, but this might be the greatest golf-related article I’ve ever read.  Far too often the conversations in individual sports like golf comes down whether an athlete is “clutch.”  It’s a sad reality that most of us don’t spend any time with golfers beyond the four majors. We know of Tiger’s dominance and competitiveness, but is it possible that the single greatest accomplishment in his career was that he changed his swing THREE times while never really losing his place as the number one-ranked golfer?  It’s a worthy question and Eden does an otherworldly job of explaining just how difficult the process can be and why it’s so rarely attempted.  This story is packed with nuggets on the history of golf and the evolution of Tiger Woods’s swing.  Even if he never surpasses Jack’s major total, this article should do enough to explain why he is the greatest golfer who ever lived.  His obsession with the mechanics of golf and always improving are only surpassed by the subject of the final piece on this list…

1. Michael Jordan Has Not Left The Building – Wright Thompson [Outside The Lines]

Let’s end this list where we started it, with Mr. Wright Thompson and one of the single greatest years by a sports writer ever.  This story on Jordan was all types of fascinating, dealing with his post-retirement life.  It’s amazing how keenly aware Jordan is of himself and his image.  Read his quote about his inability to go back to living a normal life and the expectations he now has because he’s Michael Jordan.  You know the stories about the competitiveness, but I came away far more impressed with his ability to analyze.  The most fascinating aspect of this piece, though, involves LeBron James.  Jordan has a maniacal obssession to break down James and find his weaknesses.  It somehow seems impossible to feel pity for a guy like Michael Jordan, but even he is unable to escape the nasty habit that history has of forgetting its elders.  He’s determined to not let us forget.

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Gen Y’s Best Sports Writing Of 2012

We’re coming out of retirement this week to discuss one of the site’s pastimes: great sports writing. There are obviously several of these lists already out there (check here or here, if interested), but these were Gen Y’s top picks.

Honorable mentions:

Marathon Man – Mark Singer [New Yorker]

Bizarre story of a man caught lying about road race results.

The Beautiful Game – Patrick Symmes [Outside]

The lesson, as always: no one takes their sport more seriously than soccer fans.

The Fun In Funeral: 2011 College Football’s Dark New Orleans Sendoff – Spencer Hall [EDSBS]

Would have made the top ten if not for Hall writing an even better piece this year.

The Death’s-Head Of Wimbledon – Brian Phillips [Grantland]

Just remember being so impressed when I read this.  Read all five parts.

The Unfair Significance Of Jeremy Lin – Jay Kaspian Kang [Grantland]

An Asian-American writer explains why Jeremy Lin matters

Ultimate Glory – Dave Gessner [Bill & Dave’s Cocktail Hour]

The best stories always involve a personal element from the writer.  Gessner spills his guts out on the page here and the result is awesome.

Who Is Sarah Phillips? – John Koblin [Deadspin]

Deadspin at their best part I.

The Making Of Homer At The Bat – Erik Malinowski [Deadspin]

Deadspin  at their best part II.

ESPN Entertainment Writer Has A Bad Wikipedia Problem – Isaac Rauch [Deadpin]

Deadspin at their best part III.

How ESPN Ditched Journalism And Followed Skip Bayless To The Bottom: A Tim Tebow Story – John Koblin [Deadspin]

Deadspin at their best part IV.

Top Ten:

(tie) 10. 120 Reasons Why Football Will Last Forever – J.R. Moehringer [ESPN.com]

This was one of the most unique pieces of writing I read all year.  I can’t quite describe what I like so much about it, but I guarantee that you’ll like it as much as I did.  Given all the research and tragedies that have occurred in the past year in football, I’m almost angry at myself for including this piece in the top ten.  Well worth it though.  A great, great piece of writing.

(tie) 10. On The Trail Of The White Horse – Christopher McDougall [Outside]

It might not surprise you to learn that I spend almost all of my free time reading about sports.  One of the pleasant surprises of plunging down that rabbit hole was my discovery of Outside magazine.  It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like in that they cover stories of those brave souls who challenege the limits of the human body.  Whether it’s running, rock climbing, etc, Outside is the place to go to read about it and has a shockingly good stable of writers to tell their stories.  This was my favorite story from them this year.  It’s well worth the time.

(tie) 10. Man In Full – Chris Ballard [Sports Illustrated]

I still believe that Ballard is the best longform sports reporter in the country, even better than his longform whizkid colleague Thomas Lake.  “Man In Full” was his best piece of the year and tells the story of a high school wrestling coach who battles a rare disease and in the process inspires a generation of young men in his community.  Get the kleenex ready, this one will tug on the heart strings.

9. The Malice At The Palace: An Oral History – Jonathan Abrams [Grantland]

Abrams is doing an extraordinary job with his longform NBA dispatches over at Grantland.  This was his best one yet and easily the best Oral History of any sports subject in the last 12 months.  I think the thing that is most amazing about this story is how happy the participants were to finally discuss and process the events of that night.  They seem to find some kind of release that enabled them to finally move on.  It’s seems impossible, but literally no one has ever approached the athletes who were there that night about discussing what happened.  The Stephen Jackson portions in particular are so, so, so good.  I won’t spoil anything, but you’re probably not shocked to hear that the one person who refused to be interviewed was the man most responsible: Mr. Ron Artest.  Hearing Jackson’s side of things, well, let’s just say the story becomes clear.

8. Will You Still Medal In The Morning? – Sam Alipour [ESPN The Magazine]

You’ve probably heard the rumors about the rampant sex and partying inside the athletes’ village at the Olympics.  Now, for the first time, hear it straight from the mouths of the participants.  Just an all-around fun read on the debauchery that is the Olympics.  It’s also particularly fascinating to hear them explain how natural it all comes as a result of the intense amounts of time and training they put into getting to that point.  Can you really blame them for claiming their reward?

7. The Air Raid Offense: History, Evolution, Weirdness — From Mumme To Leach To Franklin To Holgorsen And Beyond – Chris Brown [Smart Football]

I think my favorite irony about sports in this country is the massive popularity of football and how little fans actually know about the game.  Sure, the casual NFL fan can tell you that Calvin Johnson is a better receiver than Chad Ocho Cinco, but very few could tell you the philosophy behind the Patriots passing attack or what exactly makes Jim Harbaugh’s teams so damn tough.  Enter Chris Brown who does the best job of any writer on the internet of explaining the X’s and O’s of football.  This piece in particular is one of his masterpieces as he draws on his wealth of knowledge and contacts inside the game to write the history of the most entertaining revolution in football of the last two decades.  A must-read if you are a fan of the rise of the spread offenses and passing in general.

6. Breakdown: Death and Disarray At America’s Racetracks – Walt Bogdanich, Joe Drape, Dara L. Miles, and Griffin Palmer [The New York Times]

I’m always a sucker for a good old-fashioned investigative piece, and there was none better this year than the Times’ look into the secret world of horse racing. Delve into this dark world and see the inhumane way in which horses are medicated and abused across this country to support a dying sport. It’s a sad but necessary wakeup call that action must be taken to protect the beautiful animals that make the sport possible.

5. Tom Brady’s Daze Of Disappointment – Dan Wetzel [Yahoo! Sports]

Wetzel is the best columnist in the country in the most traditional sense of the occupation. When you think of a classic sport writer capturing a game for his readers, Wetzel is the guy that should come to mind. In the minutes and hours following the Patriots loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl, watch him find a unique angle for a column and perfectly capture a moment in time, which is exactly what the columnist is supposed to do. So, so good if you’re a fan of old school sports writing.

4. Bury A Man, Keep A Statue – Spencer Hall [EDSBS]

The best sports blogger in the country is also the best college football writer in the country. I’ve said this many times, but it’s worth repeating again, Hall is this generation’s Dan Jenkins. Here is his best effort of the calendar year in which he tackles the delicate issue of Penn State following the Paterno/Sandusky scandal. Watch a master at work.

3. Poisonous Nostalgia – Brian Phillips [Grantland]

For all the writers with talent at Bill Simmons’ website, Brian Phillips is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch. Phillips made a name for himself at Slate and his popular soccer blog Run of Play, but watch him weave a perfect metaphor between Mad Men and Augusta National and what both of those entities teach us about society. When Bill Simmons popularized sports and pop culture writing over a decade ago, he had no idea that it could be done this beautifully.

2. The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever – Michael Mooney [D Magazine]

Just plain fun, and kind of sad in a Kingpin, Big Lebowski sort of way. Follow the story of a Plano, Texas man who nearly completed the holy grail of the sport of bowling (completing three perfect games in a row). I won’t ruin it, but trust me, time well spent sitting down for this one.  Did I mention that Mooney is a master of the craft?

1. The Truth Is Out There – Patrick Hruby [The PostGame]

By far the piece that left the biggest impression on me this year. It starts out as a fan’s look into all of the best conspiracy theories in every major sport until, by the end, you’re questioning the integrity of every single athletic accomplishment of the last 100 years. Did Stern rig the draft lottery? Duh. Did the NFL willingly let its owners fix games for decades? Probably. Did NBC fix the 2008 men’s Olympic swimming results? Yikes (and yes, yes they did). Take a step into the darker side of sports where the only constant is money.

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Golf Magazine’s Toughest 18 Holes in Golf

From Golf Magazine: “Every course has a somewhat easy hole, right? The one you can count on for a par, or maybe even the occasional birdie, to break up a ride on the bogey train (or worse). Not on this course. Josh Sens introduces 18 of the hardest holes in golf. Be glad you don’t have to play them all at once.”

via Toughest 18 Holes in Golf.

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A Short List Of Gen Y’s Favorite Poster Dunks Of All Time

In no particular order, except for the last one which is by far number one. Be sure to add your favorites in the comments if I missed any.

KJ over Hakeem:

Iverson over Camby:

John Starks over Horace Grant and MJ:

Kobe over Dwight:

Taj Gibson over D-Wade:

Jordan over Ewing:

Shaq over Chris Dudley:

Dominique over Larry Legend:

Kobe over Steve Nash:

Vince Carter over the Frenchie:

Baron Davis over AK47:

T-Mac over Shawn Bradley:

D-Wade over Varejao:

Shawn Kemp on Alton Lister:

Dr. J over Michael Cooper:

LeBron over KG:

Blake over Mozgov:

And finally, the uncontested number one poster dunk of all time, Scottie Pippen over Patrick Ewing, because of what he does afterwards:

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Gen Y’s Top Sports Writing Of 2011

I compiled a top ten for you. I used to do a weekly feature each Friday called “great sports writing,” but no one ever read it. Doesn’t mean I’m not still keeping track though! Here are my top ten sports articles of 2011.

Honorable Mentions:

“Bill Simmons And Grantland” by Mobutu

This is easily the most controversial piece you’ll find on the list.  In it, a writer using the pen name Mobutu unloads a brutal and, perhaps, 100% accurate, take down of ESPN’s number one writer/celebrity Bill Simmons.  It’s a tough read for any fan of Simmons but many of the points of the author reign true.  It presents the best arguments against the ESPN offshoot site, so good in fact that the criticism almost seems to morph into the realm of being personal.  Although the identity of the writer Mobutu remains a secret, this was undoubtedly one of the best articles of 2011, whether you agree or disagree with the content.  P.S. my bet is on Deadspin’s resident genius/notorious ESPN critic Tommy Craggs as the author.

The Last Act Of The Notorious Howie Spira” by Luke O’Brien

Fascinating story about the man who got George Steinbrenner banned from baseball.  Spira is a complex character, to say the least, and O’Brien’s story does an excellent job telling his tale.

“The Kiss” by Chris Ballard

This piece should probably crack the top ten but Ballard already finds himself on the list with another piece.  He’s probably my favorite long form sports writer alive right now and don’t miss the chance to read into finding out just how that infamous kissing picture from the Vancouver riots actually wound up occurring.  It was instantly one of the most famous sports photos of all-time and knowing its back story makes it 1,000 times more fascinating.

“A Day With Mike Leach: Sailing Key West’s High Seas With The Pirate Captain” by Spencer Hall

Want to read the best Hunter S. Thompson impression of 2011?  Go no further than this awesome piece where Spencer Hall goes fishing with Leach while the coach was still on the unemployment line.  Great piece for finding the origins of the pirate king of college football.

“Staying The Course” by Wright Thompson

Thompson is ESPN’s best long form writer and has a rightful claim to the throne of best long form sports writer on the planet.  Everyone comes across an individual like Thompson once in their life, a southern man who seems to know everything about everything, knows everyone worth knowing, and has enough tall tales to fill an encyclopedia series.  Thompson is that man but just so happens to be one hell of a writer as well.  Check out this piece detailing one golf pro’s attempts to save a course from “financial meltdowns, voodoo curses, and the inevitable power of the tides.”

And now the Top Ten:

10. “Welcome to the Far Eastern Conference” by Wells Tower

This piece chronicles Stephon Marbury’s bizarre exile/journey to China. It details his grand plans to build a world basketball, clothing, and branding empire and he’s so convinced by his Jordan-like dreams that at times you can’t help but believe he’ll actually accomplish it. It gives you an excellent glimpse into what makes the former NBA star tick and the steep price a person is willing to pay to continue living his dream.

9. “Renegade Miami Football Booster Spells Out Illicit Benefits To Players” by Charles Robinson

Robinson’s piece was arguably the biggest story in the history of college football until a certain school in Pennsylvania was revealed to have covered up child molestation later this year.  While I have personal disagreements with news outlets going after college athletes, there’s no denying the gravity of Robinson’s investigation.  The time and effort that went into reporting this piece is very evident as well.

8. “Immigrant Misappropriations: The Importance of Ichiro” by Jay Caspian Kang

My buddies and I were somewhat giddy about the launch of Grantland this year, Bill Simmons’ new sports and pop culture website.  I have to admit though that it was an early disappointment and that I thought it might actually fail.  This was the first piece on the site that made me sit back and think “wow”  and wonder about the potential of Simmons’ brain child idea for a website.  Kang does an excellent job capturing Ichiro’s cultural importance to Asian-Americans as well as how the Japanese ball player influenced his own life.

7. Blindsided: The Jerry Joseph Basketball Scandal” by Michael J. Mooney

You might know the small town of Odessa, TX because of its legendary high school football obsession as chronicled in Buzz Bissinger’s famous book Friday Night Lights.  Travel back to Odessa to learn of the perplexing tale of Jerry Joseph, a basketball player who may or may not have faked his age to play high school basketball.  It probably wouldn’t have been a big deal if it had only been about basketball, but then there’s the matter of his relationship with an underage cheerleader at the school.  Did Joseph pull this off for a missed chance at glory?  Is he really who he says he is?  You make the call.

6. “College Coachs, Drinking, And The Two Men At The Rail” by Spencer Hall

Spencer Hall is the best writer you’ve never heard of.  He’s currently the best sports blogger in the world, which somehow seems like a backhanded compliment, given his extraordinary talents.  He’s the spiritual descendant of famous SI writer Dan Jenkins and share’s Jenkins’ affinity for and knowledge of college football.  In this piece, Hall responds to a round of heavy drinking allegations that probed new West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen before the season started.  Watch as the writer weaves a fantastic story from the past between his thoughts on the present.  The surprise reveal at the end is one of the best you’ll ever find.  And oh yeah, his poetic analysis of the blessings and dangers of drinking is divine.  You can find more of his stuff at the sports blog “Every Day Should Be Saturday.”

5. “The Confessions Of A Former Adolescent Puck Tease” by Katie Baker

Every member of the Gen Y population probably has an embarrassing story about their early use of the internet.  Former Deadspin, now Grantland writer Katie Baker recounts her journey into the world of early internet hockey message boards and the awkward/scary encounter that came as a result of taking white lies a bit too far.  The brutal honesty and excellent storytelling combine for one of the best pieces I read this year.  Baker is an up-and-coming rockstar in the sports writing world, so much so that she left a job at Goldman Sachs after Bill Simmons pleaded with her to join Grantland.

4. “The Shame Of College Sports” by Taylor Branch

I used this piece as the basis of a semester long research/thesis in a masters course I completed a few weeks ago.  It’s the best ever look into the hypocrisy and sham that is college athletics, going into never before seen details about court cases, back stories, and people who shaped this world.  Branch is a Pullitzer Prize winner himself and that he feels this way about college sports should be all you need to know on the topic.  If ever you were against paying college athletes and keeping “amateur” athletics in place, this is the piece that will convince you otherwise.  A masterpiece.

3. “Punched Out: The Life And Death Of A Hockey Enforcer” by John Branch

Many readers out there could make the case that this three part series from the New York Times was the best sports writing of the year.  I’d have a hard time convincing you otherwise.  Follow the journey of Derek Boogaard, who was at one time the baddest man in the NHL.  Boogard made an unlikely career out of beating the crap out of people, but paid the ultimate price for it with his life.  Branch’s three parts tell the story of how the boy grew up into that role, how he made it to the big time, and how he eventually met his downfall.  It’s an extremely emotional look into the darker side of sports and the measures athletes will go to in order to stay in the professional ranks.  It’s also extremely timely because of the breakthrough research into brain-related injuries for football and hockey players that we learned about this year.  Do not miss out on this one (the three parts are easy to click through if you look at the top of the page).

2. “The Biggest Winner” by Joe Posnanski

My own personal opinion is that the best writing, not just sports writing, always has to involve an element of the writer bearing his soul to the reader.  I guess an easier way of saying that is that the writer either needs to be a part of the story or must speak in the first person in their writing.  The reason I feel this way is that no matter how excellent a person might be at capturing the feelings and emotions of characters in stories, the only truth we can really be certain of in life is what we feel inside ourselves.  The only meaning I can really glean from this life is what I feel, what I find to be true, what I experience.  With this in mind, here’s Joe Posnanski, my nominee for the best sports columnist on the planet right now.  Posnanski’s story focuses on the greatest sports story he ever encountered: Rulon Gardner’s upset gold medal victory at the 1996 Olympics.  Throw in Posnanski’s own personal experience and well, be prepared for the greatness that unfolds.

1. “What Was He Thinking?” by Chris Ballard

This is admittedly an extremely biased pick.  Ballard is one of my favorite sports writers right now and that he chose to do a story on a former Bronco, well, let’s just say he had me at hello.  Do you remember Jake Plummer?  Do you remember how he walked away from the game Barry Sanders-style when there were plenty of teams begging him to come quarterback them to the postseason and continue living the dream life as a starting NFL quarterback?  Well, meet the current version of Jake Plummer, resident of Sandpoint, Idaho.  He loves to play handball.  He loves to drink beer.  And he doesn’t miss the NFL at all.  Perhaps you won’t find this story as fascinating as I did, but you have to be at least a little curious as to how a man walked away from what many people would call the full American dream.  Plummer’s logic and reasoning for doing so are a lot more complex than you could ever imagine.

Happy New Year’s from Generation Y where we’d like to thank you for your continued support of the site.

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List Of The 2011-2012 Bowl Game Gifts To Players

This is one of my favorite lists every year.  From Sports Business Daily:

Gildan New Mexico Bowl
University Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.
Saturday, Dec. 17, 2 p.m., ESPN
Gift suite, Oakley Eyepatch 2, Oakley beanie, New Era cap, Oakley Flak Pack 3.0, pen with box, Christmas ornament

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Bronco Stadium, Boise, Idaho
Saturday, Dec. 17, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Gift suite, North End winter coat, Kombi gloves, Nike beanie, Ogio Fugitive backpack, Big Game souvenir football

 R+L Carriers
New Orleans
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Saturday, Dec. 17, 9 p.m., ESPN
Samsung Galaxy tablet

Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl
Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Tuesday, Dec. 20, 8 p.m., ESPN
Sony PlayStation 3, Oakley Eyepatch 2, Oakley backpack duffel, mini-helmet

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Wednesday, Dec. 21, 8 p.m., ESPN
Best Buy gift card*, Tourneau watch, hooded sweatshirt, FlexFit cap

MAACO Las Vegas Bowl
Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
Thursday, Dec. 22, 8 p.m., ESPN
Gift suite, cap

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu
Saturday, Dec. 24, 8 p.m., ESPN
Oakley sunglasses, Aloha shirt, Pro Athletics custom beach shorts, Oakley T-shirt, performance wear, cap or visor, backpack, beach towels, bowl calendar, playing cards

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl
Independence Stadium, Shreveport, La.
Monday, Dec. 26, 5 p.m., ESPN2
Gift suite, Timely Watch Co. watch, New Era cap, commemorative football

Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Ford Field, Detroit
Tuesday, Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Timely Watch Co. watch, leather duffel bag, commemorative football

Belk Bowl
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Tuesday, Dec. 27, 8 p.m., ESPN
Estimated $400 shopping trip to Belk’s flagship store in Charlotte, Fossil watch

Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, Dec. 28, 4:30 p.m., ESPN
Amazon Kindle Fire, Apple iPod nano, Deuce watch, LunaTik wristband (to hold iPod), beanie, Nike backpack

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl
Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Wednesday, Dec. 28, 8 p.m., ESPN
Best Buy gift card*, Tourneau watch, hooded sweatshirt, FlexFit cap

Champs Sports Bowl
Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando
Thursday, Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
$420 shopping trip to a local Best Buy, Timely Watch Co. watch

Valero Alamo Bowl
Alamodome, San Antonio
Thursday, Dec. 29, 9 p.m., ESPN
$400 Best Buy gift card, Fossil watch, Schutt mini-helmet, panoramic team photo

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl
Gerald J. Ford Stadium, Dallas**
Friday, Dec. 30, noon, ESPN
Sony Gift suite, Timely Watch Co. watch, camo knit beanie, Ogio backpack, Big Game souvenir football

New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Yankee Stadium, New York City
Friday, Dec. 30, 3:20 p.m., ESPN
Note: Bowl committee would not disclose details about participants’ gifts

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
LP Field, Nashville
Friday, Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m., ESPN
Gift suite, Reactor watch

Insight Bowl
Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
Friday, Dec. 30, 10 p.m., ESPN
Gift suite, Fossil watch, cap, Ogio Convoy backpack

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas
Reliant Stadium, Houston
Saturday, Dec. 31, noon, ESPN
Toshiba 32-inch flat-screen television, Fossil watch, belt buckle, T-shirt, backpack

Hyundai Sun Bowl
Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas
Saturday, Dec. 31, 2 p.m., CBS
Gift suite, Timely Watch Co. watch, Majestic Pro-Base fleece pullover, VP Sports cap, Ogio Politan backpack, Helen of Troy hair dryer, souvenir coin

AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis
Saturday, Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Best Buy gift card, Fossil watch, Nike training shoes, Nike sport sandals, Nike sunglasses, Nike Air Jordan backpack, commemorative game ball

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
AT&T Park, San Francisco
Saturday, Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Soundmatters Personal Audiophile loudspeaker, Fossil watch, cap, Timbuk2 custom messenger bag

Chick-fil-A Bowl
Georgia Dome, Atlanta
Saturday, Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
$250 Best Buy gift card, Fossil watch, Russell Athletic ski cap, Russell Athletic travel bag, $15 Chick-fil-A gift card, commemorative football

TicketCity Bowl
Cotton Bowl, Dallas
Monday, Jan. 2, noon, ESPNU
Gift suite, Timely Watch Co. watch

Capital One Bowl
Citrus Bowl, Orlando
Monday, Jan. 2, 1 p.m., ESPN
$420 shopping trip to a local Best Buy, Timely Watch Co. watch

Outback Bowl
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Monday, Jan. 2, 1 p.m., ABC
$150 Best Buy gift card, Fossil watch, Jostens ring, cap, $25 Outback Steakhouse gift certificate

TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl
EverBank Field, Jacksonville
Monday, Jan. 2, 1 p.m., ESPN2
Fossil watch, Gator Gear performance headwear, rolling luggage bag, Jostens ring, commemorative football

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Monday, Jan. 2, 5 p.m., ESPN
Gift suite, Fossil watch, New Era hat, Oakley Flak Pack 3.0

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Monday, Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Gift suite, Kenneth Cole watch, cap, Ogio Convoy backpack

Allstate Sugar Bowl
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Tuesday, Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Gift suite, Reactor watch, New Era cap, Majestic fleece pullover

Discover Orange Bowl
Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
Wednesday, Jan. 4, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Gift suite, Tourneau watch

AT&T Cotton Bowl
Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Friday, Jan. 6, 8 p.m., Fox
Fossil watch
Note: Bowl committee would not disclose additional details about participant gifts

BBVA Compass Bowl
Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
Saturday, Jan. 7, 1 p.m., ESPN
iBeats by Dr. Dre (ear buds), Reactor watch, Oakley Eyepatch 2, Oakley backpack duffel, Big Game commemorative football

GoDaddy.com Bowl
Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
Sunday, Jan. 8, 9 p.m., ESPN
Nikon S80, Timely Watch Co. watch, leather luggage bag, commemorative football

Allstate BCS National Championship Game
Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Monday, Jan. 9, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Gift suite, Fossil watch, New Era cap, Boxer and Stone shirt

* To be spent during the teams’ official store visit. Balance not used that day will be forfeited.
** The game is usually played at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. However, the 2011 matchup will be played in Dallas due to renovations at that facility.

Pretty dang cool.

[Sports Buiness Daily]

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Complete List Of The 2011-2012 Bowl Schedule

I’m totally not bitter about the hosing of TCU by the BCS, I swear.  From Flickr.com:

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 17th, 2 p.m. EST, ESPN
Temple vs. Wyoming

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Dec. 17th, 5:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
Ohio vs. Utah State

R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Dec. 17th, 9 p.m. EST, ESPN
San Diego State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl, Dec. 20th, 8 p.m. EST, ESPN
Florida International vs. Marshall

S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, Dec. 21st, 8 p.m. EST, ESPN
(18) TCU vs. Louisiana Tech

MAACO Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 22nd, 8 p.m. EST, ESPN
Arizona State vs. (7) Boise State

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, Dec. 24th, 8 p.m. EST, ESPN
Nevada vs. (21) Southern Miss

AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl, Dec. 26th, 5 p.m. EST, ESPN2
Missouri vs. North Carolina

Little Caesars Bowl, Dec. 27th, 4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
Western Michigan vs. Purdue

Belk Bowl, Dec. 27th, 8 p.m. EST, ESPN
Louisville vs. NC State

Military Bowl Presented By Northrop Grumman, Dec. 28th, 4:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
Toledo vs. Air Force

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, Dec. 28th, 8 p.m. EST, ESPN
California vs. (24) Texas

Champs Sports Bowl, Dec. 29th, 5:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
Florida State vs. Notre Dame

Valero Alamo Bowl, Dec. 29th, 9 p.m. EST, ESPN
Washington vs. (12) Baylor

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 30th, Noon EST, ESPN
BYU vs. Tulsa

New Era Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 30th, 3:20 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rutgers vs. Iowa State

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30th, 6:40 p.m. EST, ESPN
Mississippi State vs. Wake Forest

Insight Bowl, Dec. 30th, 10 p.m. EST, ESPN
Iowa vs. (14) Oklahoma

Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl, Dec. 31st, Noon EST, ESPN
Texas A&M vs. Northwestern

Hyundai Sun Bowl, Dec. 31st, 2 p.m. EST, CBS
Georgia Tech vs. Utah

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31st, 3:30 p.m. EST, ABC
Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt

Kraft Fight Hunger, Dec. 31st, 3:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
Illinois vs. UCLA

Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31st, 7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
Virginia vs. (25) Auburn

TicketCity Bowl, Jan. 2nd, Noon EST, ESPNU
(19) Houston vs. (22) Penn State

Outback Bowl, Jan. 2nd, 1 p.m. EST, ABC
(17) Michigan State vs. (16) Georgia

Capital One Bowl, Jan. 2nd, 1 p.m. EST, ESPN
(20) Nebraska vs. (9) South Carolina

Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 2nd, 1 p.m. EST, ESPN2
Ohio State vs. Florida

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, Jan. 2nd, 5 p.m. EST, ESPN
(10) Wisconsin vs. (5) Oregon

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 2nd, 8:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
(4) Stanford vs. (3) Oklahoma State

Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 3rd, 8:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
(13) Michigan vs. (11) Virginia Tech

Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 4th, 8:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
(23) West Virginia vs. (15) Clemson

AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 6th, 8 p.m. EST, FOX
(8) Kansas State vs. (6) Arkansas

BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 7th, 1 p.m. EST, ESPN
SMU vs. Pittsburgh

GoDaddy.com Bowl, Jan. 8th, 9 p.m. EST, ESPN
Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois

Allstate BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 9th, 8:30 p.m. EST, ESPN
(1) LSU vs. (2) Alabama

[Flickr]

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Gen Y’s Official NBA Free Agent Rankings

This is my first NBA post in regards to the upcoming season and man, does it feel great.  Many thanks to David Stern and the owners for agreeing to end the NBA lockout this weekend.  There is no “system” being used here other than my knowledge and bias, so you know it’s good.  I’m listing them in the order they should be valued and paid, although we all know that will in no way resemble this after free agency wraps up in a couple weeks. 

The Mike Miller “We’re Likely Going To Get Vastly Overpaid For A Singular Talent, Despite An NBA Lockout That Was Meant To Prevent My New Owner From Doing So” Division

26. Kris Humphries –

Mr. Kardashian just pulled off the classic “I overachieved in a contract year to get some dumb front office to sign me for $30 million too much” season.  Fearless prediction you can bank your mortgage on: Humphries’ numbers will drop across the board next year, and he’s going down with a knee injury by February.

25. Glen Davis – Capable big man, nothing more, nothing less.  That won’t prevent some NBA owner out there for following the time-honored NBA tradition of overpaying for size.  His departure from Boston will also make the Celtics bench more shallow than it already is going into what is likely the big three’s last shot at a title.

24. Carl Landry – Ditto.  Would be an excellent fit to stay in his current situation in New Orleans but there’s no way his team will be able to match the outlandish offer he’s bound to receive from someone like Mark Cuban.

23. Nick Young – Some NBA GM is sitting out there drooling over Young right now thinking he’s getting a steal in the young Wizards guard.  He averaged over 17 ppg last year, after all.  What that delusional front office guy is really getting is one of the least efficient players in the league (think: Iverson needing 30 shots to get 30 points, only Young needs 35 shots to get 25 points).

22. Jason Richardson – Again, some NBA GM is sitting out there right now thinking he’s getting the 2005 version of Richardson.  His actual thoughts: “ZOMG look it’s Jason Richardson!  Here’s a long-term midlevel exception, sign it quick!”  It’s unfortunate that he’s going to end up somewhere as the number two scorer, when he’d be best-utilized spending his last days in the association as a sixth man/three point specialist for a fringe NBA title contender.  This is why we can’t have nice things!

21.  J.J. Barea – If you want to see the best unintentional comedy of the NBA season, wait and see the ridiculous offer Barea is going to sign with a random team when free agency starts.  Mark my words, a useless GM is going to pay Barea like a number one point guard based on the previous season’s playoffs.  Everyone knows he’s a third guard, at best, and yet he will likely walk out with one of the five biggest contracts after it’s all said and done.

The “Daryl Morey Definitely Knows That We Are Undervalued Assets” Division

20. Grant Hill – Still an extremely useful piece, if only from a leadership/knowledge of the game standpoint.  I’m hoping OKC lands him or the next guy…

19. Shane Battier – The most intelligent player in the league.  He completely understands the advanced stats movement and would be a great chip for a Celtics, Bulls, or Thunder team looking to make a run at a title.  The good thing about Battier and Hill is that they’ll likely receive what they’re worth in the market because only the smart teams understand their true value.

The “Our Agents Need To Be Fired For Getting Us Stuck In China, Like Yesterday, Also: We All Just So Happen To Be Soon-To-Be Former Denver Nuggets” Division

18. Kenyon Martin – I feel bad for K-Mart, the Nuggets front office really screwed him over this past year.  There was allegedly a promise that if he played in the 2009-2010 playoffs against the Jazz, despite huge knee problems, that he would get a contract extension.  Martin played, and played well, but the Nuggets offer never came.  Now he’s likely lost a year off his career and will spend his last days on non-playoff teams.

17. Wilson Chandler – My least favorite Nugget from last year.  Clearly hated the idea of playing on Denver’s “we have no number one scoring option, which is exactly why we can win” squad in the post-Melo era.  The way he mailed in the last two games of the Thunder series is reason enough to let him walk and also to point a finger and laugh that he’s stuck in China till March.

16. J.R. Smith –

My biggest regret will be seeing J.R. sign with some unsuspecting team in March and the inevitable series of “did anybody have any idea J.R. Smith was this good?” columns that come as a result (this is me raising my hand).  Take me seriously when I say he has the talent to be a top twenty player in this league.  I don’t know if a coach will ever give him a chance to prove it, but watch out if he gets his shot.

The “We Hope We’re Not Getting Ourselves Into A Gilbert Arenas Situation With A Bad Long-Term Contract” Division

15. Mario Chalmers –

Call me crazy, but I saw something in Chalmers last year that I’d be willing to take a risk on in the upcoming season or three.  He’s definitely a starter on the “irrational confidence guy” squad, proving multiple times during last year’s playoffs that you could count on him for a big bucket.  I doubt he stays in Miami because they can’t afford him and might be worth the risk for a team looking for a solid point guard on the (relative) cheap.

14. Jeff Green – One thing I love about the NBA is that guys like Green make excellent pieces on championship squads, if they’re signed to their rookie contracts or contracts in which they agree to take far less money so they can be on a good team.  That’s the dilemma facing Green and the Celtics here.  He’s going to get paid, the only question is what team is willing to take the risk on him?  Or, can he be convinced by the veterans to take far less than his market value?   Boston would be banking that he’s the guy who can help the big three win one last title and would have no room to add any other player, should they sign him.  What if he fails though?  Also: can they afford not to sign him from a PR standpoint after trading Perkins for him?  Big decisions to make in Boston!

13. Thaddeus Young – Classic candidate for this class of player.  He’s got the physical tools to be a serviceable small forward in this league, but has been stuck behind Iguodala and Philly’s decision to draft Evan Turner.  Would you be willing to take a risk on Young?  He proved he can play in last year’s postseason.  Still a risk to spend middle class money on though.

12. Andrei Kirilenko – He would be higher on this list, except that he just signed a three-year deal to play for CSK Moscow back in Russia.  I am going to say there is no way he plays in the NBA again, unless Mutant Russian Mark Cuban in New Jersey pays him a max contract (which is totally possible).

11.  Tayshaun Prince – Another really intriguing free agent.  The reviews are mixed on whether Prince is just washed up or whether he only plays hard for teams that are good.  No NBA fan can forget the remarkable one-on-one defense he provided during the Pistons mini (emphasis on mini) dynasty during the mid 2000s.  No NBA fan can forget the seasons since that dynasty ended either though.

10. Jamal Crawford – To me, Crawford is the biggest risk in the entire free agent crop.  What this tells me is that teams should stay as far away as possible.  That won’t happen though.  It’s hard to resist a two guard capable of getting any shot he wants on the floor at any time, because there’s very few of them in the league (Kobe, Wade, Manu, and Tyreke are the only other shooting guards that come to mind).  But that team also takes on all the baggage Crawford brings.  I’m hoping Chicago doesn’t overpay for him, but that’s my guess at where he ends up right now.

The “Oh My God, You Never Know What In The Hell Can Happen With These Players’ Injury History” Division

9. Greg Oden – Portland is in a tough spot with this one.  They really never got a taste at what their number one overall pick could do.  It just doesn’t seem fair that he would be allowed to play somewhere else.  But then again, can you actually pay money to a guy that has only 82 games total under his belt?  Someone will take a risk on him.  I’m praying it’s not my team.

8. Caron Butler –

Coming off major knee surgery.  Before that though he was a more-than-proven number two scorer.  I have a feeling Cuban will re-sign him, wondering how much better the Mavs could have been last year with him on the team, despite the title.  It’s going to kill all the Dallas fans though when they commit major dollars over the next four years.

7. Tyson Chandler – Totally the reason Dallas was finally able to get over the hump last year and win the title.  He was the best defensive presence we’d seen since Kevin Garnett in the 2008 playoffs.  Unfortunately, it’s also hard to forget that this could have happened in New Orleans only a couple years prior, had he been able to stay healthy.  This is why it sucks to be an owner or a GM in the NBA.  Chandler deserves the big money, but I’d be willing to bet my entire salary in 2012 that he gets hurt before the playoffs this year.  Good luck, future NBA team that signs Tyson Chandler.

6. Yao Ming –

This is out of respect, I do realize he’s retired.  RIP to the second greatest career that never was allowed to happen (Walton is #1). Here’s hoping he tries to come back like Walton did with the ’86 Celtics.

The “You Need Not Worry, Your Money Is Well Spent” Division

5. Arron Afflalo – He’s secretly become the reincarnation of Shane Battier.  He’s an excellent one-on-one defender and quietly became one of the most efficient scorers in the league playing behind Melo all these years.  Luckily for the Nuggets, he’s a restricted free agent and I see no way in hell they let him walk.  It’s quite possible George Karl will rely on him as the number one scoring option next season, and given every interview/conversation I’ve read, he’s more than ready to rise to the occasion.

4. DeAndre Jordan – I don’t see how he’ll leave the Clippers.  It’s too much fun playing in the LA market and he’d be incredibly stupid to give up the opportunity to play with Blake Griffin the next couple years.  It doesn’t hurt the Clips that he’s also best friends with Blake off the court.  Jordan is secretly becoming one of the better defenders in the league and if he continues to develop his post game, it’s not inconceivable that he’s a top five center before the year is over.

3. David West – Only fell this low because of the injury this past season.  It also likely means that he’ll end up staying in New Orleans.  Watch out though, there are definitely teams out there that have money to spend, and one of them might unnecessarily splurge on him in the hopes of satisfying the fan base.  West will always be a fringe All-Star at power forward, and a guy you can rely on in the playoffs.  The injury risk is a necessary topic of conversation though now.

2. Marc Gasol – As far as true centers go, there’s only three or four better players in the league right now.  He’s going to get a max contract.  It’s one of those “it might not be worth it, but it really is” kind of deals where he’s going to be good for a 20-10 the next four years.  I don’t think Gasol is a guy you can rely on to win you a playoff game, but he’s just about as close as it gets.

1. Nene – The object of every GM’s affections right now.  Denver, Golden State, and Houston are going to woo him with everything they’ve got, knowing that he’s the greatest advanced stats player in the league that no one knows about.  To give you an example, Nene receives an And1 call on 9.9% of his attempted field goals, an absolutely impossible stat for a guy with his work load.  When you throw in the fact that a free throw is the most efficient shot on the floor, well, you can see why all the smart teams want him so badly.  I say a prayer every night that Denver is able to keep him.  Things we’ve got going for us right now: we can pay him more money over a longer term than any team, his wife is from Col