I love the Kentucky Derby.
I have been lucky enough to attend a few times and it is a slice of Americana — from the frat party on the infield to the celebrities on up in the boxes to drunk guys in seersucker suits, what is not to love? The whole city of Louisville is alive for the weekend. I miss it. With young kids in tow we haven’t been in years, but my wife and I throw a big Derby party every year complete with plenty of ladies in hats, smoked ribs, good beer and mint juleps.
You can watch the race on NBC today or you can live stream it right here on NBCSports.com.
And in a tradition that dates back to my blog before this one, on Derby day I make my picks for the race. So here we go (I am assuming a dry, fast track).
WIN: Verrazano. He’s undefeated — 4-for-4 with those wins by a combined 28 lengths. He’s had great Beyers (not in the Wood, though he still won). Yes, he was unraced as a two year old but in a “what have you done for me lately” world he’s been impressive. Also, in what should be a slow pace (for the Derby) I like stalkers and he is one of those.
PLACE: Itsmyluckyday. He had an eight-week layoff, came out and blew a lead (to Orb) in the Florid Derby, but I think the Derby becomes his second race back bounce where he puts together a good run. We know he can flat out run from past races like the Holy Bull. Also, another stalker who should be just off the pace and able to make a move.
SHOW: Goldencents. Unless some horse just decides to break form and put up blistering early fractions, there’s a good chance the winner of the Santa Anita Derby has the lead as they head for home — and he’s capable of holding off the charge that will come. He’s had good outings every race he’s been in. Plus, I just like trainer Doug O’Neill.
There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.
It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.
White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).
Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.
Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.
That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.
In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.
Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.
Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.
Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.
Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.
It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.
Kobe Bryant’s work ethic is legend.
It takes talent to become an MVP, 15-time All-NBA, 18-time All-Star, and lock future Hall of Famer. However, it was how Kobe got the most out of his talent that separated him from his peers. Long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti retired a couple of years ago and will soon publish an autobiography, “32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science.”
Vitti joined Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, and he talked about Kobe (hat tip to CNBC).
“He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn’t the most talented guy out there? I’m telling you, and I’ve had them all, there’s nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he’s a big guy, but he’s not that big. He was quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s fast, he wasn’t that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn’t that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?…
“He was tough in the sense that he took ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it. Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it’s what you do with your talent.”
Nobody in NBA history did as much with the talent they had as Kobe.
On Mamba Day, enjoy his ultimate mixtape highlights above and remember what it took for Kobe to get there.
Thunder fans are going to love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The Clippers did not want to give him up in the Paul George trade but had no real choice — Gilgeous-Alexander was a prize get for OKC. As a rookie last season he started 73 games, averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 assists per game for a 48-win playoff team. Playing the most difficult position to learn in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander grew as the season wore on and has a promising future.
But he is taking over for Russell Westbrook as the point guard for the Thunder, so the comparisons are inevitable. Even though they have radically different games. Gilgeous-Alexander handled the question well when asked, as reported by Erik Horne at The Oklahoman.
Gilgeous-Alexander smiled and said he could compete with Westbrook’s fashion sense. He also deflected any notion of pressure to live up to the legacy of the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. “He set the bar pretty high,” Gilgeous-Alexander said…
“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with no malice. “I do not have the same name, same body type, stuff like that. So, I’m just going to try to be myself and be the best me and everything else will take care of itself.
“I’m just a basketball player. Regardless of the situation, I’m going to continue to work hard and play my game. I know that eventually it will come out. I don’t worry about starting. I’m not worried about accolades or things like that. I just work hard, keep my head down and (stay) true to who I am.”
That attitude is part of why Thunder fans will love him. Gilgeous-Alexander is confident but not cocky, and he knows his game.
That game is more traditional point guard, more game manager, than the dynamic and explosive Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander learned for a season under a smart, player-friendly coach in Doc Rivers, who built his point guard’s confidence up as the season wore on. Rivers showed the rookie how to be a professional, how to prepare, and most of all trusted Gilgeous-Alexander — and that trust included being matched up on Stephen Curry in a playoff series. Through it all, Gilgeous-Alexander showed real promise.
Whatever is next in Oklahoma City — and there is a lot of rebuilding to do with that roster, a lot of picks to be made still — Gilgeous-Alexander can help lead it. He will be at the heart of what is next for the Thunder.
Just don’t expect him to be Westbrook. There is only one of those.