Alonso ready to ditch McLaren; Final race to decide F1 season

The speculation that current McLaren Formula One driver and two time defending world champion Fernando Alonso is going back to team Renault could soon become a reality. Alonso, who has made it an art of looking out for self, met secretly with Renault front-men Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds two weeks back during the Japanese Grand Prix. During the meeting Alonso discussed a two or three year contract with Renault starting next season. Sure, Alonso is under contract with McLaren for 2008, but given the fact that he essentially snitched on his team during the “spygate” scandal and has been bickering all season with teammate Lewis Hamilton, McLaren will probably be all too happy to terminate the remaining year on his contract.

While Alonso looks ahead to his future, there’s the matter of the current Formula One season, which got a lot more interesting when points leader Hamilton failed to finish at the Chinese Grand Prix. Going into the final race of the season in Brazil, the top 3 drivers – Hamilton, Alonso and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen – is separated by a mere 7 points. The first place finisher at the Brazilian grand prix has a chance to win a precious 10 points, meaning that the race for the driver’s championship will come down to the final race of the season, as it should.

So, what’s the ideal scenario for Ferrari and Raikkonen? For Kimi to finish first, teammate Felipe Massa to finish second, Alonso to finish anywhere from third on down and Hamilton to finish no higher than fifth. It’s a long-shot for sure, but that’s why they run the races.


Yao Ming, the new Brad Miller

Yao Ming is a gentle giant, one of the nicest people in the NBA. And, on the basketball court, he has considerable skill sporting a sweet jumper, deft passing skills for a big man and a nice fadeaway in the post. If there’s a weakness in Yao’s game it’s that he is seriously soft in the paint. Apparently, new Houston Rockets head coach wants to play to Yao’s strengths and hide his one major weakness by turning him into a high-post finesse center. Makes sense to us.

"I do not think it's hard to get used to the new style," Yao said before the Rockets first pre-season game. "I have been learning his offense throughout the off-season. I know I need some time to get fully involved. But it will not be a problem."
Word out of Houston is that Yao will essentially assume the Brad Miller role in Adelman’s offense, with a pinch of post play thrown in. So, this season expect to see Yao spend a good chunk of his floor time running perimeter pick and rolls and directing traffic from the top of the key. Should be interesting to watch how Yao adapts to his new role as shooter and perimeter passer, but our take is that Adelman’s motion based offense, along with Yao’s new perimeter-friendly role, should seriously improve the Rockets’ scoring average from a year ago.

Gilbert Arenas caught cheating

Gilbert Arenas PwOns at Teh Halo 3! Or, at least that’s what he’d like the Xbox Live community to believe. Apparently, Agent Zero has been setting up fake online games of Halo 3 to boost his game stats and Xbox Live game rankings. But, of course the gaming community wasn’t having that, as some gamers on Halo 3 developer Bungie’s online forums pulled out their pocket protractor and ruler to triangulate the deviousness of Arena’s cheating ways. Word spread like wildfire, as it’s prone to do on the Internets, prompting Washington Post sports blogger Dan Steinberg to pose the question to Gil himself.

Steinberg wrote on his blog:
"Gilbert," I asked, approximately," Are you creating dummy games with two fake friends and using the wins to rack up experience points?"

"Yeah," he said, laughing. "Yeah."

"It's a glitch," he explained. "It's a glitch in the game. I seen some kids that were like 600s, they won 600 Halo games and we only had that game for two weeks. And all the kids go to school. So I'm like, 'What the hell you all doing?' And they said that's what they doing, two-on-two."
If Gilbert Arenas cared as much about winning at basketball as he does about winning in Halo 3, maybe he’d learn to play defense instead of playing video games all day.

Lakers saga continues, owner Jerry Buss comments on Kobe's future

Wow, that didn’t take long. Mere days after we had posted about Kobe Bryant and the Lakers being all smiles on the first day of training camp, Lakers owner Jerry Buss interviews with the Los Angeles Times and proceeds to throw gasoline on what was becoming a relatively slow-burning flame. Buss confirmed that the Lakers did consider some available trade options involving Kobe Bryant this past summer, and when the player is able to opt out in 2 seasons, or even before then if the Lakers don’t have significant success, he could once again entertain similar trade discussions. Not that any of his revelations are particularly groundbreaking or newsworthy, but the timing of the interview did peak our curiosity.

"I would certainly listen," Buss said, when asked if he would consider trade offers for Kobe. "At any time, I think you have to do that with anybody. It's just part of the game, to listen to somebody who has a dissatisfied player that you think is going to fit. You can't keep too many loyalties. You've got to look at it as a business. He looks at it the same way I look at it."

"I tend not to think in basketball terms that many years down the road because things change so dramatically, but he could test the waters at that point," Buss continued. "If he still is in that frame of mind, then hopefully we can do a sign-and-trade and get some comparable talent. I would like to think that we win between now and then so that it doesn't come up."

There really are only two explanations on why Buss would even do this type of interview, only days removed from Bryant showing up at Lakers training camp with a seemingly renewed commitment. Either Jerry Buss, who is known for his partying, was seriously inebriated while speaking with Mike Bresnahan of the Times, or, as we had speculated, while Bryant is putting on the fa├žade of a satisfied employee, his underlying ultimatum of “get better, or else” is still very much in play.

Buss, for his part, is simply setting the media table and crafting public perception in preparation for the day that Kobe may act up and ask out of the Lakers once again. He can then throw up his hands and say, “What? Me?” Can’t wait, it should be a very emotionally up and down, highly interesting season in Lakerland.

Etan Thomas' injury could derail Wizards promising season

It’s not often that a player averaging 6.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in 19.2 minutes per game can have such a huge impact on a team’s fortunes going into a new season, but given the injury to Etan Thomas that just might be the case with the otherwise promising Washington Wizards squad. Thomas, in case you didn’t hear, had open heart surgery today to repair a leak of the Aortic valve. Word out of Wizards camp is that the ailment will cause the big man to miss the upcoming season and may jeopardize his playing career. For a Wizards team coming off a playoff bound season, the loss of Etan Thomas is a major blow, which, unless one of their young players step up, could keep the team from making a repeat trip back to the postseason.

Thomas to the Wizards roster, as it is currently constituted, is as important as Manu Ginobili is to the Spurs or Peja Stojakovic is to the Hornets. Not saying that Thomas’ individual skills approach the level of those two near all-star caliber players, but like Ginobili and Stojakovic, Thomas, with his interior toughness, shot-blocking and hard-nosed offensive rebounding, brings skills to the Wizards team that really no-one else on the roster has shown they can replicate. Incumbent starting center Brendan Haywood is soft and is generally about as motivated as a high-school dropout. Behind him are 6’11”/248 pound Andray Blatche and European import 7’0”/234 pound Oleksiy Pecherov. Both players are perimeter-oriented big men and have little post game to speak of – though Blatche has shown that he can be a decent weak-side shot blocker. And behind them? Possibly, 6’9”/250 pound, 40-year-old Tony Massenberg, who is at Wizards camp and, given Thomas’ injury, is now almost a lock to make the squad. If a 40-year-old journeyman is your best power option up front, as a team, you’ve got some issues.

Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Eddie Jordan have done a pretty solid job over the past few seasons turning around the fortunes of a franchise generally crawling along the bottom of the NBA standings. But while busy collecting trophy pieces like Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas on the perimeter, they’ve generally been unsuccessful in finding tough big men that can give them a solid presence on the blocks and the boards. Etan was one of those guys, but now he’s gone for the season. The lack of depth behind Haywood will really hurt the Wizards this year, particularly with the massive improvements that some Eastern Conference teams have made this summer.

The Wizards frontcourt depth was already rather thin, but now it’s downright anorexic. Unless they make some roster moves to solve the problem, the occasional scoring outbursts from “Hibachi” won’t be nearly enough to keep the team’s season from heading south in a hurry.