The deal should be this: Losing season means no playoff spot

Random thoughts, stray observations, and gratuitous wisecracks on a glut of sporting questions while awaiting the next skate to fall on the Bruins and the clock to strike twelve for the Celtics.

I’ve no idea whether the Celts would have been better off in the long run by tanking their way into the lottery instead of over-achieving their way into the playoffs for what resident experts are insisting will be no more than a token appearance. But I do know this much: They shouldn’t be there for reasons that have nothing to do with any lottery.

No team in any sport ought be allowed to sneak into any post-season with a losing record. It should be an iron law applying to all games. All playoff qualifiers in every league should have more wins than losses in the endlessly grueling regular seasons to achieve true validity. Even if it’s only one more. In the case of the deeply imbalanced NBA – still something of the “bush league” Wilt Chamberlain complained about generations ago – this season that would have eliminated three teams now very much alive: 38-44 Brooklyn, 41-41 Milwaukee, and, of course, 40-42 Boston, with an astounding 13-26 against teams with winning records. 

Experts formerly rooting for them to tank to advance the cause of the draft scenario seem now gleeful they’ll have at least a moment in the sun this spring as expectations inch inexorably in the dangerous direction of the unrealistic. Playoffs pump up the adrenalin in the press box as well as the locker room.

Brother Bob Ryan, the last word on all things pertaining to Celtic basketball, warns us not to lose our wits on this issue. This Celtic team Bob terms “fine” but “far from great.” Good enough for me. Suspicions confirmed! They should have tanked.

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Speaking of sports media experts and their dubious wisdom, it should be recalled that Sports Illustrated –which should know whereof it speaks if anyone in this dodge does – predicted at the start of the hockey season that the Bruins would meet the LA Kings for the Stanley Cup at the end. Like the Bruins, the only place you’ll find the Kings competing these days is on the golf course. Always bear in mind that prophecy is the least of our limited skills.  

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Further on the subject of false expectations, try this note pertaining to the Red Sox. The last time they hit five homers on opening day, as they did against the Phillies, was in 1965. They finished ninth, 40 games out. The last time they won the first three series they played, as they have lately done at the expense of the Phils, Nats, and Yanks, was in 1952. They finished sixth, 19 out. The last time their starting pitching staff had a higher ERA after a dozen games was probably in 1929, when they finished last, 46 games out. Beware of April, baseball’s most deceiving month.

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Moving on:
• With the college football draft but days off, it’s reasonable to expect a momentary decision on the Patriots “Deflategate” fiasco, which caused such a curious ruckus in January. Having devoted near three months to the inquiry, it’s hard to believe the eminent barrister Ted Wells will come up empty. While our football sachems have wisely remained mum, this can’t be going down well in Foxborough. Presumably, the draft is the deadline, with any penalty imposed almost certainly having to do with picks.  

• You might say the even more curious movement to draft the city of Boston to serve as the International Olympic Committee’s latest pigeon peaked at least three years too early. The issue, hot in December, looks cold in April. If there’s optimism left in this dubious cause, it’s hard to discern.

One respects the spirit of proponents who seem sincerely to believe a great city should be equal to the effort. But in the end, having to sell blind trust in the IOC is just too tough to sell. The horror stories are too persuasive. For every London, there’s a Montreal, an Athens, a Sochi. It would be no surprise if the campaign officially fizzles by summer’s end.

• On the assumption it’s never too late to take pot shots at March Madness, one offers this final note on the recent extravaganza won by Duke, one of the very few remaining academic heavyweights still flexible enough to field a contender for these highly questionable collegiate distinctions.

Duke’s learned coach, Mike Krzyzewski , has always played the high road, dutifully paying lip service to all the lofty canons of ethical correctness. In that comfortable pose, he has disdained the renting of teenage mercenaries for one-year runs at championships. It’s called “One and Done” and it violates everything college sport once professed to stand for.

Tired of seeing the likes of Kentucky run roughshod doing as it darn well pleases, Coach K clearly compromised this year and went out and rented himself a champ. He went “One and Done.” He has “seen the light,” he says.  Accordingly, a couple of his foremost stars, only freshman, will soon drift off to the NBA with Coach K’s sincerest blessings. No problem! There are more one-year wonders to be found where they came from. His many happy admirers claim he has not lost his soul. We’re not so sure.

• If the new NBA commissioner – who also talks a good game – is the real deal, he’ll do something about “One and Done.”  Adam Silver has hinted some interest in requiring collegians to have completed two years of schooling before entering the NBA draft, or perhaps making 20 the minimum age for entering the league. The betting here is nothing will come of any of that. It might be bad for business.   

• For comic relief, it’s hard to beat the off-season free agent sweepstakes in all the major games. They’re becoming almost as entertaining as the seasons themselves. Top prize in the on-going NFL extravaganza goes to D-back Antrel Rolle, ex of the NY Giants. When he signed with Chicago’s Bears he declared he was doing so in obedience to “a sign from God.” By all accounts, he said that with a straight face. He made no mention of the 14 million other reasons he had, that being the amount of dollars in the deal the Bears gave him. Only in America. Heaven help us.

• In roughly the same vein, one senses a vague feeling of dread at the prospect of Charley Jacobs and Cam Neely being entirely in charge of the re-orchestrating of the Boston Bruins, which they apparently intend even if anything so sweeping is hardly necessary. Simply put, there is no way these guys are up to the task, even if it were necessary. Might this be the Original Amateur Hour that’s now in charge?

What, pray tell, qualifies young Jacobs, No. 3 son of Owner Jeremy, who, while hardly a charmer in his four decades here, was a fellow you under-estimated at your peril? Indeed, it’s reasonable to wonder if the shakiest decision Jeremy has ever made in his long ownership tenure was to put Charlie in charge.  One holds to that notion until Charlie proves otherwise. At a minimum, it’s reasonable to point out that if his last name were Jones, Charlie would not be in charge of the Boston Bruins.

Nor does Neely, to whom young Jacobs clearly looks for guidance, inspire much more confidence. Granted, he was a wonderful player, a true warrior, and a great Bruin whose career was shamelessly curtailed by that nasty fellow, Ulfie Samuelson, whom Cam, for all his brawn and bluster, never found a way to subdue. But are we indebted to him for all that forever?

Neely seems to have wandered into his present eminence largely by accident, having no other meaningful alternative. It’s been a cushy post, short on challenges, with his main claim of late ostensibly being a gift for second-guessing. But has he coached anywhere, scouted, drafted, trained, negotiated, dealt with agents, been charged with grooming and motivating players – other than by threats, that is.
These seem to me important questions that have not been satisfactorily asked, let alone answered.

And it’s only the beginning. Hang on!