Time for me to make a few comments about each of the 4 major sports (although this is up for debate, I'm going to say that Basketball, Hockey, Football, and Baseball are these sports).
This is turning out to be a truly fantastic season for the NHL. Sadly, hockey doesn't have the same following as the other big three do, but seasons such as this one can only enhance the reputation of the sport. A list of teams that could challenge for the Stanley Cup? Sure! My hometown team, the Washington Capitals, must be considered dangerous. They have one of the best records in the league and have the best player in Brontosaurus Ovechkin. They're young, deep, and hungry. Let us also remember that they've been fully endorsed by BARRY MELROSE. The only thing stopping them is Jose Theodore, who has played fantastically so far, but doesn't inspire huge amounts of confidence. In addition, Brent Johnson going down hurts and leaves the team without an experienced backup. Still, it's tough to beat Ovie and the boys. Boston doesn't particularly scare me, but as long as Tim Thomas keeps playing like he has, this team can beat anyone at any time. The New York Rangers have buttloads of talent, but can't stay consistent. However, if they get hot come playoff time, there is no team in the East that can hang with them. The last Eastern team that could contend is the New Jersey Devils, who have played much of this season at a very high level without Martin Brodeur, arguably the best goalie of all time. We he gets healthy, watch out. Out west, it comes down to three teams. The Chicago Blackhawks are a similar team to the Caps and stand a similar chance, methinks. The San Jose Sharks have been one of the best teams in the league all year and should continue to be able to beat anybody on any given night. But the best team, in my mind, is, and always will be, the Detroit Red Wings. Quite literally the only good thing in Detroit right now, the Wings are loaded with tons of experienced talent, including 47 year old Chris Chelios. They are the most accomplished franchise in hockey in the past 20 years and I don't think that will change. There's a reason that Detroit is called Hockey Town, USA.
The NBA has had a truly bizarre season as we approach the All-Star break. There have been a lot of ups and downs. There has been complete dominance on one side (Cavs, Celts, Lakers) and complete futility on the other (Clippers, Wizards, Kings). There has been an emergence to greatness by some teams (Magic) and a return to the pack by others (Pistons). But when it comes down to it, there are 5 teams who can be seriously counted on to compete for the NBA Championship. First, the two half-teams involved. The Hornets are very frustrating, because they looked to be quite good last year, and added valuable James Posey to the rotation this year. But they haven't gotten any better, and perhaps even a bit worse. Still, CP3, David West, and Tyson Chandler is a pretty good threesome and they're the kind of team that could sneak up on you come playoff time. The other half-team is the Magic. I would have considered them real contenders until Jameer Nelson's injury. Easily the team's second best and most valuable player, Nelson made that team go as much as Beastman Howard does. Without Nelson, I don't see the Magic making it past the 2nd round of the playoffs. Some of you may wish for me to include the Nuggets and the Trail Blazers. Well the Nuggets make a living beating up on crappy teams and recently got blown out by 44 by the Nets and almost lost to the Spurs at home when 4 of the spurs top 6 players, including the entire Big 3, did not play. As for the Trail Blazers, they actually are a very intriguing team but for some reason they don't jump out at me as completely legitimate contenders. But who knows? Maybe I'm stupid. So the real contenders? Celtics, Cavs, Lakers, and Spurs. The Celtics and Lakers are the easiest to see why. They were the last two standing last year and haven't lost a step. The Celtics need to worry about their bench and the Lakers need to worry about being complacent. Otherwise, there is no reason that those two won't meet up again in the finals. The Cavaliers have finally stopped being the Fighting LeBrons and become a legitimate team, led by biggest All-Star snub Mo Williams. The team has a good flow and knows what it can and can't do well and pretty much everybody plays at least some modicum of defense. Oh, and LeBron is better than Kobe. There is no way you could convince me otherwise. Kobe's a great player...a really great player. But LeBron is simply better. Once again, the Spurs are going to challenge for the title. As long as Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan, one of the best coaches and one of the best players ever, are together, the Spurs will be serious contenders. The Spurs can do anything and it is and odd year, so really it should only be a matter of time before they lock up yet another NBA Championship.
NFL? Good Super Bowl, already looking forward to the Draft. Brett Favre? I don't care. If Gene Wojciechowski likes Brett Favre, I hate Brett Favre. Sorry, Brett. Biggest potential free agent pickup?Ray Lewis? Kurt Warner? Don't kid yourself. The three best players are the defensive trio of DT Albert Haynesworth, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, and DE Julius Peppers. Haynesworth is an absolute beast and the man that makes that great Tennessee defense go. When he cares, he is absolutely unstoppable one-on-one and often unstoppable two-on-one. Asomugha has a hard-to-pronounce name and has played in relative obscurity in Oakland, but he's the best cover corner in the NFL. He has reached the same level Champ Bailey was a few years ago where teams won't even throw to his side of the field anymore. Peppers is a freak. Anyone who saw him return an interception almost 100 yards a few years ago can attest to that. At 6'7" and 287 lbs, Peppers moves like a man half his size. Motivation is and always has been his problem though. When he's on, you're simply better off just taking a knee because he will bust up your play.
Baseball. What to say about baseball? To be honest, I don't know what to think about ARod and steroids and such. As anyone who knows me, or has read some of my stuff on this site can tell you, this is a rare occurrence. To be sure, I wasn't surprised at ARod's admission. I never really thought of him as a potential roids user but it didn't shock me. I thought ARod seemed very sincere in his apology and his interview with Peter Gammons (which I suggest watching if you haven't already). ARod made a great point about how it was a different culture even 8 years ago. Many of the supplements guys were taking in the late 90s and early 2000s weren't illegal back then but are now. The general public is far too quick to judge these players. Look at your own high school athletes. Drinking a protein shake before working out is taking a performance enhancer. To be sure, it's not the same as shooting HGH in your ass, but most serious athletes take some sort of performance enhancer (I never did, could that be why I was a terrible athlete?). What we can take from this however is this: Years of a murky steroids policy has led to a generation of roided up players. It would be impossible to penalize guys retroactively because we can never know the full scope of things and we can never fully say that somebody is 100% guilty as nobody could ever really say what was illegal. To punish ARod now would be like punishing Gaylord Perry for using a spitball back in the day. All baseball can do is move forward; you have a very solid policy in place now, punish players who violate it. What cannot happen is people retroactively punishing guys like ARod, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds in the public arena (although that clearly has already happened). Unfortunately, all we can judge these players by is their accomplishments on the field. If they were aided by something external, that's a shame perhaps, but it's not something that we can necessarily punish them for.
In other baseball news, ESPN has a great piece called Battle of the Budgets that I suggest you guys check out. It's a pretty neat little competition that endorses my theories that it's not always about how much money you can spend, but rather how you spend it. Also, Adam Dunn signed with the Nationals. This instantly makes the Nationals better...but not by much. Dunn is a very useful hitter, but he's the kind of player that need protection in the lineup, something the Nationals are simply incapably of giving him. Still, he gives the team a star of sorts and he certainly won't hurt the team (although at this point, I wouldn't really hurt the team). Finally, it looks like the Mariners are on the fast track to sign Ken Griffey Jr. From a purely baseball standpoint, this is not a smart move. Griffey can't get around on fastballs anymore and he's an average at best outfielder. Still, Griffey Jr. is the best player of the 90s, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and one of the best people to ever play the game. It'll be nice to see the man where he belongs and probably never should have left for at least one more season.