Excitement for the return of Isaiah Thomas: While We’re Waiting

Like last week and many times before it, I’m back here again today with The Boots. A Boot Up means a good thing. A Boot Down means a bad thing. You know the drill. Let’s talk some Cleveland sports this morning.

Boot Up: Isaiah Thomas’ potential impact. ESPN.com ran an article yesterday where it polled NBA writers Brian Windhorst, Jackie MacMullan, Chris Herring, Dave McMenamin and Kevin Pelton about the fate of the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers. One specific question within the article: “On a scale of 1-10, how much of the Cavs’ issues will be solved by the return of Isaiah Thomas?”

The responses were 4, 6, 6 with a question mark, another 4, and a “No clue” from the infamously prediction-shy Windhorst. To me, the responses just seemed to fall short of how impactful Thomas, despite his 5-foot-9 stature and defensive limitations, could be for this team. Recall, he averaged 28.9 points per game last season! And was second-team All-NBA! And he was pretty darn efficient, clutch and valuable!

The Cavaliers entered Wednesday night as the league’s worst defensive team with a 113.9 defensive rating, per Basketball-Reference.com. Better offense – in the form of taking away 30-ish minutes of Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert and giving those to Isaiah Thomas ASAP – will help to breed better defense. The Cavs won’t be forced into as many defensive transition situations. They won’t commit as many bad turnovers. They won’t go through as many lulls of downright abysmal offensive gameplay.

Sure, all five ESPN.com panelists still seemed fairly confident in the Cavs’ ability to get to the NBA Finals for a fourth straight season, despite this early season malaise. And maybe the numbers here were just low because maybe it may not matter in an ultimate Warriors rematch. That’s a fair middle ground, I suppose. But I think folks are just under-selling how much better IT is over Rose and Shumpert offensively. It’s like they play a different sport practically. It’s not even close.

Boot Down: Hall of Fame … just yet for Corey Kluber. On Wednesday, the 31-year-old Texan won his second career Cy Young award. The list of multiple-time Cy Young award winners is a prestigious, remarkable list of some of the best pitchers in modern baseball history. But doing so alone leads to no type of shoe-in for the stingy Baseball Hall of Fame.

Notable two-time Cy Young winners who are out, unlikely or at least not certain to reach the fabled halls of Cooperstown: Bret Saberhagen, Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum and Denny McClain. (Active stars Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer seem well on their way to Cooperstown … and Roy Halladay, who tragically passed in a plane crash at the age of 40 last week, likely will make his way in somehow, someway.)

Because Kluber only has pitched in 168 career games – just a tad over five healthy full season’s worth – his counting stats are nowhere near Hall of Fame standards. His rate stats are elite, especially the strikeouts and walks. But when you consider that his career Wins Above Replacement level (27.0) is in the ballpark of active veterans like James Shields, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo, you can see there is a lot of work still left to do.

A third career Cy Young award would likely put Kluber over the hump, perhaps no matter the usual necessary stat-accumulation. Without some additional hardware, another three-or-more good-to-great seasons would likely be a baseline starting point. There are just too many other recent modern players with 50-plus WAR (Mike Mussina, Andy Pettite, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, etc.) for Kluber to slide in so quickly.

Boot Up: In continued appreciation of Carlos Santana. I debated putting this in a Boot Down because the odds seem lower and lower by the day that the Cleveland Indians will re-sign the slugging 31-year-old free agent this offseason. Fans – and apparently the front office? – maybe just don’t recognize Santana’s value on the baseball diamond.

Above, I noted how Corey Kluber has 27.0 WAR in just over five full season’s worth of play. Santana has 25.4 WAR (also via Baseball-Reference.com) in 1,116 career games (just under the equivalent of seven full seasons for a position player). Kluber’s average MLB season has been a quite good ace starting pitcher and borderline Cy Young candidate. Santana’s average season has been a clearly above average starter and legitimate All-Star contender (despite zero career All-Star nods). The difference between the two values is important; the context of the value of durable All-Star-worthy players also is important, too.

Carlos Santana has been one of baseball’s better everyday position players since he arrived in the majors in 2010. He has had just one below-average season – an anomalous 2015 season where he batted only .231/.357/.395 – and has played in all but 62 regular season games over the last seven seasons. His career offensive line is .249/.365/.445, which shows his incredible batting eye and above-average power. He also has improved to become a darn good defensive first baseman, winning the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award at the position.

Michael Bode wrote a great post three weeks ago starting “I hope this is not good-bye.” The two of us have written a large number of posts over the years about why fans may not appreciate Santana as much as they should. It’d be a huge bummer if he wears a different baseball uniform in 2018. But man, I’m trying to just focus on how much of a joy it has been to watch him play for Cleveland for all these years.

Boot Down: Talks of a larger College Football Playoff. Shoot me. I actually like the four-team College Football Playoff and think it’s the best format possible. Everyone is always itching for a change and a year filled with parity – where we theoretically could have multiple two-loss semifinalists – has sparked continued debate on the ideal format for postseason college football.

In a six- or eight-team playoff environment, we’d have meaningless conference championships, a guarantee of multiple two-loss participants each season, and a long, drawn-out playoff schedule that would equal the length of the entire non-conference schedule for some teams. There wouldn’t be as much drama in the mid-to-late November climax of the year. It would sap the excitement of Any Given Saturday.

Of course, college basketball’s March Madness is a money-making behemoth of a spectacle. There are 65 teams, three weekend’s worth of games and billions of dollars coughed up for office pools by even the most casual of sports fans. March Madness also means that the best team doesn’t win it all every given season and for a moderate-to-diehard sports fan, the regular season conference basketball circuit doesn’t mean a ton.

Sure, any playoff or ranking system means that it won’t always be “decided on the field” in the most concrete of fashions. But I genuinely think the four-team playoff is the best of both worlds. It rewards play from September-through-November. It ensures end-to-end competitiveness among the Power Five conferences for a finite number of spots. And it just feels like the right amount of do-or-die contests. Sorry for being in the minority on that one.

  • RGB

    Every other level of football in the nation uses a 16+ team playoff. Every single one.
    But, DI seems to think they are special. Mostly due to the old codgers that like the archaic bowl system, among other things.
    8 teams would be great, but 16 would be best.
    10 DI conference champions + 6 at-large.
    Once the NCAA power-brokers figure out how to squeeze even more money out of the 8-team format, it will happen.

  • MartyDaVille

    I’m with you, Andrew, on keeping the four-team playoff the way it is. College football is the last big-time sport where every game in the regular season is matters, and that is a good thing. Besides, expanding to eight wouldn’t end any arguments as to who should and shouldn’t have gotten in.

    Dwayne Wade came in to start the second quarter last night and made three beautiful plays: a spin move for a lay-up, an assist to a cutting teammate in the lane while laying on his back, and a back-door block on defense. Yeah, he didn’t have a good night shooting, but he’s still fun to watch.

  • KFunk

    I think the CFP got it wrong from the beginning. Do you remember what the bowl games used to look like? Rose Bowl was always B10 vs P10, then wheeling & dealing to get the best games beyond that. Then when it was all said and done, there was sometimes an argument as to who deserved to be crowned the National Champion based on polls. That left everyone dissatisfied.

    What would have solved the problem is to play bowl games just like they used to. THEN have the 4-team playoff. So you have to win your bowl game just to have a chance @ the playoff. The bowl games would really matter again. And there would be incentive to play strong opponents to make your case for top-4 status. Usually it was abundantly clear who the top teams were after the bowls. And we wished we could see them play each other to settle the discussion. The only arguments would be who gets the last spot among potentially ~3 bowl winners. That level of controversy I could live with.

    Let the top 4 teams play it our AFTER the bowl games. It’s only 3 extra games, and a complete no-brainer.

  • Harv

    Cavs: I’m getting close to closing the book on Shump. In ’15 he played with hunger and figured to improve. Now, post-$40m contract. when he’s healthy he only sometimes plays with that former intensity. And all the wide open 3s he gets go for naught, since he doesn’t seem to spend the off-season working on his game in a meaningful way. Shump should be the youngish legs off the bench everyone says the Cavs need. But at age 27 he probably is what he is: a surprisingly low offensive ceiling and a guy who now swipes more than moves on defense.

    Re Kluber: last summer I tried but could not come up with another Tribe pitcher with such sustained excellence in my lifetime. You’d have to go early ’50s to the end of Feller’s career. Weird thing is that local fans loved Sam McDowell and Gaylord and Tiant and maybe even C.C. more. Kluber’s personality reminds me of Brian Sipe: despite the heroics, he’s just not fan worship accessible. Never going out to be seen and chased.

  • Chris

    I’m with Jacob. The four team is pretty damn good. Who the hell wants to see Alabama play Toledo?

    However… going back to when this was being discussed and finally implemented, I really liked an 8-team format. I wish they used the traditional affiliations of the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange as the quarterfinals. The semi-finals could be at rotating neutral sites at pro stadiums like they are now. This rewards the power conference champions, leaves room for multiple teams from a conference, and allows for the old Boise States of the world.

    I hate that the playoffs killed the Rose Bowl.

  • Chris

    I posted above, but I would have liked the top four bowls to have served as the quarterfinals while maintaining their traditional affiliations.

  • MartyDaVille

    Yeah, I also hate what’s happened to the Rose Bowl. The B1G champ vs. the PAC champ was college football tradition at its finest. Even when the outcome didn’t have national championship implications, winning that game was huge. Ah well.

  • Chris

    And with the death of the Rose Bowl, these iconic moments are gone.
    (although the B1G Champ Game shares much of the blame)

  • RGB

    I would have rather played Nebraska in 97 rather than Washington State.


  • Corey Barnes

    I’m with Jacob on the four team playoff system. Knowing that at least one Power Conference will get boxed out every year raises the suspense and stakes.

  • Garry_Owen

    You love the CFP. It is everything that college football should be. Stop thinking for yourself. Those in charge of us know best. Oh, and Twitter is great.


  • scripty

    Using my unoffical fan gear popularity rating, there’s a lot of Kluber gear at the prog during games, IMO.

  • scripty

    Put me in the minority that would love to see CFB slayed and there be professional minor league football. I am also for killing off college hoops and other revenue sports too.

  • RGB

    “Put me in the minority that would love to see CFB slayed and there be professional minor league football.”

    You can have both (e.g. baseball, hockey), but why would the NFL fund minor leagues when they already have the NCAA for free?

  • scripty

    It would be a third party ownership. if the NFLPA was wise they’d self-fund it.

  • Harv

    and everyone had a Sipe jersey in the late ’70s/early ’80s. I’m talking about something more ethereal, a fan gut feel, a warm and fuzzy hero factor not reflected in merch sales. Bernie was all that.

  • JM85

    I could see possibly making it 6 teams but I like the current format. Who wants to see blowouts in the playoffs?

  • RGB

    Of the 9 games played in the current 4-team format, 5 have been decided by 20 or more points, and 1 by 17.
    Blowouts are going to happen no matter how many teams you use.

  • Natedawg86

    I am not opposed to a six team format

  • Natedawg86

    Ever since Shump lost the flat top his game has declined

  • Chris
  • Garry_Owen
  • mgbode

    The NFLPA cannot even organize a proper strike and you want them to run a league?

  • scripty

    No, I wouldn’t want them to run it. I would say it could be an investment vehicle for them though, and establish a broader relationship for improving their union.

  • tsm

    Agree and would like to see Shump dealt as part of a package to get a rim protector such as Dedmon. Once IT and Rose are both healthy, there is no need for Shump as JR and Korver can handle the off guard duties along with Wade. Would like to get rid of Calderon while we’re at it. I do expect a move such as this will be made at the deadline.

  • JM85

    I’d still rather not see a top 4 team destroy a #16 seed. Or are we talking about having 6 or 8 in?

  • Harv

    why would another team want Shump in a trade as he’s been playing and at that salary through 2019?

  • tsm

    I have no idea. I am simply hoping that Kobe can work something out. Perhaps a 3 way.

  • Steve

    “Once the NCAA power-brokers figure out how to squeeze even more money out of the 8-team format, it will happen.”

    That may not be as easy as you think. Us hayseed flyover-staters love ourselves some New Year’s vacation to somewhere warm. Asking for two or three trips in consecutive weeks might start pushing it too far.

  • mgbode

    NCAA also has stated they are fearful of destroying bowl season. I think they are being truthful there (though not for the reasons fans would want). Even minor bowls do really, really well in ratings vs other content in similar time slots those lead-up weeks.

  • mgbode

    it’s be a risky venture because the NCAA wouldn’t go down w/o a fight and who knows what the NFL does to combat such a league. but, I get where you’re head is at.

  • mgbode

    Bama struggled with MissSt in that type of scenario. Never know how the matchups are going to work out.

  • RGB

    Like they care about us.
    But, I actually think a way to lessen that to some extent, would be to let the higher seed host the game in the first round,

  • RGB

    Destroy the bowl season? That’s rich.
    Aren’t they already inviting EVERY 6-win team to bowl already?
    I think another couple of games featuring top-ranked teams that people care about would be an improvement over 6-7 South Tech vs 6-6 North State.

  • RGB

    I’m fine with 8.
    I hate 6. I hate tournaments with weird numbers that let teams have byes.

  • mgbode

    Oh, I agree but all these networks want quantity to fill air time too.

    Maybe we could also hold a NIT bracket!

  • RGB

    “Oh, I agree but all these networks want quantity to fill air time too.”

    I’m not saying eliminate the Participation Trophy Bowls.
    But, if they want quantity, wouldn’t an 8 team playoff create more quantity.

  • mgbode

    I’m saying the bigger the actual tournament gets, the more worried they get that the Participation Trophy Bowls will die off.

    We need a 16 team tournament for the real prize & a 16 NIT. The only issue then is the regular season is meaningless for all but a few teams on the fringes between those tournaments.

  • RGB

    “The only issue then is the regular season is meaningless for all but a few teams on the fringes between those tournaments.”

    I find that reasoning to be self-serving and disingenuous at best. No other sport at any level says that concerning their playoff. It’s used exclusively by the DI Bowl proponents.

  • mgbode

    I like things being unique. And, there is an argument for soccer falling into that boat depending on how you view some of their qualfiers.

  • RGB

    Ok, I’ll just come out and say it…
    Reorganize DI, get rid of half the teams, shitcan the Bowls, and have a proper playoff.

  • mgbode

    64 team D1, four game “regular season” followed by a 64-team tournament. Boom!

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  • RGB

    I propose 8, 12-team leagues. (96 teams total.)
    Each team plays every team in their league.(11 games.)
    The 8 league winners, plus 8 at-large, get a bid to the 16-team playoff.
    The remaining 64 teams can play in Participation Trophy Bowls.
    Problem solved.

  • Saggy

    As long as Participation Trophy Bowl is on Monday December 11th at 7pm people will watch it. I don’t think that’s a true worry. I used to watch sailing on ESPN in the 80’s; you’re telling me I won’t watch Northern South Canada U vs. Conjunction Junction State?

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