Sports Outside the Beltway

NBA Mock Draft

ESPN’s Chad Ford offers the Sports Leader’s take on the impending NBA Draft.

It’s almost draft day, and the picture is getting clearer and fuzzier simultaneously.

We’ve been able to narrow down the list of prospects that each team is considering, but two things stand in the way of getting a complete picture.

One, this is a time when many GMs are notorious for dropping smoke screens. A source in Memphis swears the team is taking Joakim Noah. Another says to bank on the Grizzlies’ taking Mike Conley. Someone is misinformed or bluffing.

Two, there is a flurry of trade conversation, starting with Memphis, Boston, Charlotte and Chicago all talking about trading away their lottery picks. Meanwhile teams such as Golden State, Phoenix and the Lakers are trying hard to move up. Others — like Portland, Indiana and Toronto — are trying to get in or grab another pick.

The talk in Phoenix about trading up in the draft has gotten so hot that the Suns have gotten Noah, Jeff Green and Corey Brewer to agree to a workout on Tuesday. They’ll try to add Brandan Wright as a fourth. That shows you how much players want to play in Phoenix — they’ll drop everything just for the chance. It could be the most competitive workout of the draft.

Their consensus draft board:

    1. Portland TrailblazersGreg Oden – C
    2. Portland TrailblazersKevin Durant – SF – Texas
    3. Atlanta HawksAl Horford – PF – Florida
    4. Memphis GrizzliesMike Conley – PG- Ohio State
    5. Boston CelticsYi Jianlian – PF – China
    6. Milwaukee BucksJeff Green – SF – Georgetown
    7. Minnesota TimberwolvesJoakim Noah – PF – Florida
    8. Charlotte BobcatsCorey Brewer – SG – Florida
    9. Chicago Bulls (via New York Knicks) – Spencer Hawes – C- Washington
    10. Sacramento Kings- Brandan Wright – PF – North Carolina
    11. Atlanta Hawks (via Indiana Pacers) – Acie Law – PG – Texas A&M
    12. Philadelphia 76ersAl Thornton – SF – Florida State
    13. New Orleans Hornets – Nick Young – SG- USC
    14. L.A. ClippersJulian Wright – SF – Kansas
    15. Detroit Pistons (via Orlando Magic) – Rodney Stuckey SG – Eastern Wash.

Click the link for more in-depth analysis and for the second half of the draft.


Chris Benoit, WWE Wrestler, Kills Family, Self

Professional wrestler Chris Benoit apparently murdered his wife and son before killing himself.

Chris Benoit Photo In this undated photo released by World Wrestling Entertainment, pro wrestler Chris Benoit is seen. Benoit, his wife and 7-year-old son were found slain Monday, June 25, 2007, at their home in Fayetteville, Ga., authorities said. (AP Photo/John Giamundo, WWE) WWE wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife and son were found dead Monday, and police said they were investigating the deaths as a murder-suicide.

Detective Bo Turner told WAGA-TV the case was being treated as a murder-suicide, but said that couldn’t be confirmed until evidence was examined by a crime lab. The station said investigators believe the 40-year-old Benoit killed his wife, Nancy, and 7-year-old son, Daniel, over the weekend, then himself on Monday. The bodies were found in three rooms.

World Wrestling Entertainment said on its Web site that it asked authorities to check on Benoit and his family after being alerted by friends who received “several curious text messages sent by Benoit early Sunday morning.”

Lead investigator Lt. Tommy Pope of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department told The Associated Press the deaths were being investigated as homicides, and that autopsies were to be performed Tuesday. Pope said the bodies were discovered about 2:30 p.m., but refused to release details.

The house is in a secluded neighborhood set back about 60 yards off a gravel road, surrounded by stacked stone wall and a double-iron gate. On Monday night, the house was dark except for a few outside lights. There was a police car in front, along with two uniformed officers.

Benoit was a former world heavyweight and Intercontinental champion. He also held several tag-team titles during his career.


UPDATE: The story keeps getting worse.

Pro wrestler Chris Benoit strangled his wife and smothered his son before hanging himself in his weight room, a law enforcement official close to the investigation told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Authorities also said they are investigating whether steroids may have been a factor in the deaths of Benoit, his wife and their 7-year-old son. Steroid abuse has been linked to depression, paranoia, and aggressive behavior or angry outbursts known as “roid rage.”

“We don’t know yet. That’s one of the things we’ll be looking at,” said Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard. He said test results may not be back for weeks.



Kevin Garnett to the Lakers

Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant could be on the same team if talks currently underway bear fruit. Mike Bresnahan reports:

Kevin Garnett to the Lakers Photo The owners of the Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves have begun talks for a trade that would involve sending Kevin Garnett to the Lakers, league sources said Monday. (Ann Heisenfelt / AP)

The owners of the Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves have begun talks for a trade that would involve sending Kevin Garnett to the Lakers, league sources said today. A multi-team trade discussion is underway involving the Lakers, Indiana, Minnesota and possibly a fourth team, with the Lakers getting Garnett and the Pacers getting Lamar Odom and teenage center Andrew Bynum from the Lakers. Another minor player will probably be added to make the deal work financially.


Garnett can opt out of his contract after next season. He wants an extension, which Buss reportedly told Taylor he was willing to offer. Garnett is due to earn $22 million next season and $23 million in 2008-09, the last year of his contract.

Garnett, a 10-time All-Star, averaged 22.4 points, 12.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.7 blocked shots last season while showing few signs of slowing down, other than spending the last five games of the season in Los Angeles — he has a home in Malibu — to rest a sore right quadriceps.

Bynum, 19, started his second NBA season with a flurry, including a memorable game against Minnesota in November in which he had 20 points,14 rebounds and three blocked shots. But Bynum struggled during the second half of the season and finished with averages of 7.8 points and 5.9 rebounds a game. The Lakers have been criticized by Bryant for not trading Bynum at the February trade deadline to get Jason Kidd from New Jersey.

Odom, 27, was acquired three years ago as part of the trade that sent Shaquille O’Neal to Miami. Odom averaged 15.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists last season and missed 26 games because of knee and shoulder injuries. He had a torn labrum in his left shoulder repaired last month and is expected to return in time for training camp in October.

While Bynum has tremendous upside at his age and Odom is a solid player, this would be a windfall for the Lakers. Maybe this time Kobe will appreciate that having a second superstar player on his team is a good thing.


Bears Waive Tank Johnson

The Chicago Bears have waived Tank Johnson, ending their ties with the perpetual criminal, ESPN reports.

Tank Johnson Mugshot The Bears waived troubled defensive tackle Tank Johnson on Monday after he was pulled over for speeding in Arizona last Friday. Johnson already is suspended for the first eight games of the 2007 NFL season after violating probation on a gun violation.

“We are upset and embarrassed by Tank’s actions last week,” Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. “He compromised the credibility of our organization. We made it clear to him that he had no room for error. Our goal was to help someone through a difficult period in his life, but the effort needs to come from both sides. It didn’t and we have decided to move on.”


Earlier this month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Johnson for half of the regular season for violating the league’s toughened personal conduct policy. At the time Johnson, who recently spent two months in the Cook County jail for violating probation, called his suspension an “opportunity for me to move forward.” Goodell said the suspension could be reduced to six games if Johnson has no further involvement with law enforcement and undergoes counseling.

Last December, police raided the 300-pound defensive tackle’s suburban Chicago home and found six unregistered firearms — a violation of his probation on an earlier gun charge. That charge stemmed from Johnson’s 2005 arrest after a Chicago nightclub valet reported seeing Johnson with a handgun in his SUV. He subsequently pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

Two days after last December’s raid, Willie B. Posey, Johnson’s bodyguard, was shot and killed in an early morning fight while he and Johnson were at a Chicago nightclub. Johnson was suspended by the Bears for one game for being at the club. He played in the Super Bowl as the Bears lost to Indianapolis.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Goodell increased the suspension to a full season or even banned Johnson for life. He’s an embarrassment to the League.


Chipper Jones and John Smoltz Make Up

The brief public spat between Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones and pitcher John Smoltz is over after skipper Bobby Cox stepped in to mediate.

Braves manager Bobby Cox arranged and attended a meeting between John Smoltz and Chipper Jones on Sunday, one day after Jones accused the pitcher of questioning his integrity.

Jones said hitting coach Terry Pendleton also attended the meeting, and Jones said he apologized to Smoltz. “Obviously there was a misunderstanding,” Jones told The Associated Press on Sunday. “I apologized to him for my comments in yesterday’s interviews. He assured me he wasn’t singling me out. That was it.”


On Sunday, Smoltz called the incident a “total misunderstanding.” “It’s over with and there won’t be a problem the rest of the time we’re teammates,” Smoltz said. He did not answer any questions.

After Sunday’s meeting, Cox struck a characteristically positive tone. “Everything is as good as it can be,” Cox said. “Chipper thought he was singled out or something and John had no intention of doing that at all. It fact it was just the opposite. He was trying to tell the fans how important it is we have Chipper out there because Chipper plays when he’s hurt.”

Said general manager John Schuerholz: “It’s done. It’s finished and onward we go.”

Smoltz’s comments, and Jones’ response Saturday, were notable in an Atlanta clubhouse that under Cox’s watch has consistently kept such problems out of the public eye. “I think we’re both a little embarrassed that it got outside this clubhouse,” Jones said. “It shouldn’t have. I should have squashed it yesterday. Even if I did think it was directed at me, which yesterday obviously I did, I still shouldn’t have discussed that with you guys. It wasn’t a good example to set forth by either one of us.”

Jones said he should have approached Smoltz on Saturday. “I’m apologizing for my actions, regardless of how many people misinterpreted what he said or what he insinuated,” Jones said. “I should have squashed it right there by going to him and saying ‘Look are you talking about me? If you were, let’s handle this now.’ Instead of assuming what he was saying and firing back through the media.”

Jones acknowledged Smoltz touched a tender nerve because of his numerous injuries in recent years. “If you question whether somebody is hurt, you’re questioning their heart, their integrity, their dignity,” Jones said. “I can assure you that at no time in my career have I missed a game when I felt I could go out there and do a better job than anybody else on the team. It’s hard for me to sit out of games. It’s not an easy process. I fight like crazy to be in there and Bobby has to sit me down and say ‘Look we’re in this for the longer haul.’ ”

Jones said Smoltz did not apologize in the meeting but said the two shook hands. “Our friendship will be fine,” Jones said. “We’ve had disagreements before. We’ve been through riffs before. He and I have not seen eye to eye on things before. We get over it. If I hit a home run to win one of his games, he will love me.”


I can’t imagine that Smoltzie though Chipper was dogging it but it’s not unreasonable that he took it that way. My guess is that Chipper is just a little sensitive about the subject. Probably any high level competitor feels a little guilty and that he’s letting his teammates down when he can’t play.


Former MLB pitcher Rod Beck dead at 38

He died this morning in Arizona.

Rod Beck, a relief pitcher who wore a bushy mustache while earning 286 career saves, was found dead Saturday. He was 38. Beck was found by police officers responding to a call to his home in suburban Phoenix, according to police department spokesman Andy Hill. Foul play is not suspected, though the cause of death might not be known for several days.

With long hair framing a menacing stare and an aggressive arm swing before delivering a pitch, the outgoing right-hander was a memorable baseball personality and a three-time All-Star who twice led the NL in saves. He spent the first seven of his 13 major league season with the San Francisco Giants.

Beck was popular with his teammates, reporters and fans, but battled personal demons late in his life. He abruptly left the San Diego Padres for a two-month stint in drug rehabilitation during his final season in 2004.

“He was having some problems, and I just knew he went into rehab and joined us later that year,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, the Padres’ manager at the time. “It’s so sad when you see healthy players go at such a young age. This is a bad day in baseball to lose a guy who did so much for the game.”

Nicknamed “Shooter,” Beck played for the Giants (1991-97), the Chicago Cubs (1998-99) and the Boston Red Sox (1999-2001) before finishing his career with the Padres (2003-04). Beck reportedly was living in a camper behind the Iowa Cubs’ center-field fence when San Diego called.

Beck led the majors in saves in 1993, when he set the Giants’ single-season record with 48. He was San Francisco’s career saves leader with 199 until Robb Nen passed him in 2002.

Beck led the majors again in 1998 with 51 saves for Chicago, helping the Cubs win the NL wild card. He had a career record of 38-45 in 704 games, with a 3.30 ERA.

Beck was a solid relief pitcher. RIP.


The Eagle has flown- Eddie Belfour no longer wanted by the Florida Panthers

In the wake of the Tomas Vokoun deal, Florida management has decided they no longer need the veteran goaltender.

General manager/coach Jacques Martin said Friday it will not be Ed Belfour, 42. Belfour played in 58 games last season and set the franchise record for consecutive starts, but he will not be invited back.

Look for Florida to re-sign Alex Auld and Craig Anderson, and have them compete for the spot in training camp. The loser will have to look for work elsewhere.

Eddie did a good job in goal last year before tiring near season’s end. Besides Auld and Anderson, do the Panthers’ have anyone in the minors worth giving a shot to? I don’t much about Florida’s farm system, but what I know of Auld and looking at Anderson’s stats, don’t make me confident in their ability to be an adequate backup. Who knows I could be wrong.

The Panthers chose Keaton Ellerby in the first round of this weekend’s NHL Draft. One scouting expert wasn’t impressed.

But draft guru Kyle Woodlief isn’t so sure.

Woodlief, who publishes the independent Red Line Report and is considered hockey’s answer to Mel Kiper Jr., said Ellerby failed to progress in his third season of junior hockey last season and had enough conflicts with Kamloops coach Dean Clark that he was benched for a time.

“I just think he lacks hockey sense,” Woodlief said. “He’s a big kid, he skates well … (but) I expected him to step up and take a dominant position this year and he didn’t do that.”

Woodlief said Clark almost never disciplines a player, but decided he had no option with Ellerby.

“He wasn’t listening to the coaches, (he was) really full of himself. Dean Clark had to sit him for a game or two. And it’s tough to get on Dean Clark’s bad side.”

Woodlief rated Ellerby the No. 21 prospect in the draft, while the NHL’s Central Scouting had him No. 5. In his comment on Ellerby, Woodlief wrote: “Has even less hockey sense than (NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman.”

Ouch! A player with a big head before turning pro is liable to only have it increase in size. We’ll have to wait a few years to see if Florida management or Woodlief is right about Ellerby.


Chipper Jones – John Smoltz Feud Brings Disharmony to Braves Clubhouse

The Atlanta Braves‘ recent struggles have two of its veteran leaders, John Smoltz and Chipper Jones, feuding.

As the Atlanta Braves continue to struggle on the field, there is an unusual sign of disharmony among the team’s most established veterans.

Chipper Jones was back in the Braves’ lineup Saturday, saying he felt pressured by pitcher John Smoltz to rush back from a groin injury. The Braves had suffered three straight shutout losses for the first time since 1988 entering the game, which they lost 2-1 to Detroit — despite Jones’ homer.

When asked before the game if he is rushing his return, Jones said, “Probably. But I feel a little backed into a corner.” Asked to elaborate, Jones indicated some doubted he was injured enough to miss games. “Let’s just say there are people who don’t believe me,” Jones said. “Let’s just say that and leave it at that.”

After Friday night’s 5-0 loss to the Tigers, Smoltz said, “You can’t worry about who’s in the lineup and who isn’t. You can’t worry about that stuff anymore.” Added Smoltz: “I certainly appreciate the effort of the guys who are on the field busting it.”

Smoltz didn’t identify Jones as a player not in the lineup, but Jones said after Saturday’s game that he got the message. “I’d be stupid if I didn’t take it the same way,” Jones said, adding he planned to “play the rest of the games this year and do whatever I can. Somebody I know better not miss a start.”

Smoltz, asked Saturday if he was referring to Jones, said, “I have no comment. I’m not even going to address that.”

When asked Friday about his sore shoulder, Smoltz said: “We all could wish we were feeling better, but that’s the way it goes.”

Jones said he hasn’t talked with Smoltz about the pitcher’s comments. “I got nothing to say,” Jones said. “He made his point through the media. Now I’m going to make my point through the media. If he doesn’t want to do it man to man, then fine.”

The Braves have experienced very little clubhouse turmoil in Bobby Cox‘s tenure as manager, but Cox may have been aware of building tensions on Saturday. “It’s no time to start pointing fingers at people,” Cox said before the game. “We’ll stay in this together.”

Both Smoltz and Jones have missed a lot of games in recent years due to injury but nobody has questioned either’s desire to contribute. Playing 162 games a year, plus spring training and the playoffs, takes a toll.

Hopefully, Cox will get a handle on this soon.


Bobby Cox Ties All-Time Ejections Record

Atlanta Braves skipper Bobby Cox has been ejected as many times as anyone in Major League history.

Major League Baseball Most EjectionsBraves manager Bobby Cox wasn’t going to argue with plate umpire Chad Fairchild, and he ended up with a record-tying ejection anyway. Cox was tossed from Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the bottom of the ninth inning. He ran onto the field too late to save Brian McCann from being ejected by Fairchild.

Cox’s ejection gave him 131 for his career, tying the record set by John McGraw. He already has the record for most ejections by a manager, since 14 of McGraw’s came as a player.

“That means you’ve managed a long time,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.

McCann argued with Fairchild about a called third strike from Todd Jones. The pitch appeared to be low. Cox said he didn’t come onto the field to argue; he was only trying to keep McCann in the game in case of extra innings. He ended up arguing up with Fairchild after McCann was ejected. “He was the only catcher I had left,” Cox said.


Cox has been reluctant to say much about the record, and Braves general manager John Schuerholz said there would be no public recognition of a milestone that his manager would rather ignore. “It’s kind of embarrassing,” Cox said recently.


Leyland said Cox doesn’t need to worry about the record clouding his career. “The guy has been doing this better than anybody for a long time,” Leyland said.

High praise, indeed, coming from Jim Leyland.


Cowboys Claim Colts Center Matt Tarullo

The Dallas Cowboys are trying to add depth at center by claiming Matt Tarullo off waivers from the Indianapolis Colts, Todd Archer reports.

The Cowboys connected with a familiar face Friday, claiming center Matt Tarullo off waivers from Indianapolis. Originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse, Tarullo spent the 2005 season on the Cowboys’ practice squad and had a six-week spell there in 2006 after failing to make the team out of training camp.

Inexperienced at center behind starter Andre Gurode with Cory Procter, Joe Berger and rookie Steve Rissler, Tarullo gives the Cowboys another option along the offensive line entering training camp in late July.

With Tarullo, the Cowboys have 87 players on the roster and can take only 85 to training camp. Once draft picks begin to sign, they will have to release two players.

I wouldn’t hold out much hope for a guy who is getting cut before camp even starts making the roster, much less being a major contributor. Still, it makes sense to, as Big Bill used to put it, “churn the bottom of the roster” in hopes of getting a little better.


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