Wade second only to LeBron in my book

As I watched Dwayne Wade nearly singlehandedly dismantle the Pistons (again) last night, I found myself really hoping he becomes the first of the new generation of NBA superstars to win a title.

It's nothing really against LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony or any of the other young stars in the league; it's just that Wade is the rarest of professional athletes: A guy you can cheer for and actually feel good about it.

It goes beyond the sickly acrobatic finishes, the dagger-like jumpers and spectacular defensive plays. (If you haven't seen the shot to the right in real-time, get yourself ESPN Motion and WATCH IT.) There's just something about the way he goes about his business -- both on and off the court -- that makes it so that you can't help but root for him.

Take, for example, his news conference interview last night after the game.

Question: "Coach Riley has said that he hasn't seen anyone quite like you, that you're very special. Shaq actually mentioned the Magic word. When you hear those things, how do you respond to that? Do you even believe it?"

Wade: "No, not really (laughing). I mean, I'm just a kid inside of me that loves to play the game of basketball, getting the opportunity to on the highest level, and I'm just trying to do my best job at it. Those guys, their names, Magic Johnson is a great player, I'm not even close to that. I've got to win a lot of championships to get there. I'm just a kid in a candy store right now trying to have one. We're one of the best teams in the NBA and I'm getting a chance to show my ability and my talent."

On and on, question after question, he smiled, deflected the spotlight, constantly deferred to his teammates. Not the kind of thing we're used to hearing from an NBA player who just polished off a 31-point, 6-rebound, 5-assist, 2-steal, 2-block night to take a 3-1 series lead against the defending conference champs.

However a game needs to be won, he does it. He can score, pass, rebound, defend ... and do it all with a flair and humility that makes you jump out of your seat and cheer -- not just because he's a spectacular basketball player, but because he's a spectacular human being as well.

That's what makes him so special. Whatever "it" is that great players seem to have, he's got "it." Say what you want about Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan or any of those other guys; outside of LeBron James, I'd take Wade every time.

Some of my favorite stories of the day:


Welcome back, NBA

It's been a long time since I've been much of an NBA fan, but I might finally be coming back around thanks to this year's playoffs.

When I was a kid, I was in awe of Magic and Larry -- the skill, the rivalry, the pace of the game ... it all was so spectacular to me. But starting with the Detroit Bad Boys of the late '80s, the game began to change. It got slower. Defense was at a premium. And over the next 15 years, nowhere was that more evident than in the playoffs.

You'd hear it over and over again: "A team can fastbreak and score points in the regular season, but it better know how to slow it down and play defense in the postseason." And that's what we saw, year after year. While most people reveled in the MJ heyday, all I saw was the denegration of the game I loved into a parade of isolation sets full of pick-and-rolls and two-man post up/kick out. (It was about this time that I turned to college basketball -- the skill level might be lower, but at least the team concept is not lost.)

To the NBA's credit they recognized this, and the makeover might finally be complete.

Anyone who's watched the playoffs this year can't help but be compelled. As I write this, I'm watching the Suns play the Clippers in a game seven of the second round. THE CLIPPERS! This followed up a game seven between the two best teams in the Western Conference, which followed a game seven featuring some guy named LeBron trying to will his vastly undermanned team past the team the won the title two years ago.

The games have been exciting, and not just because they've been close. To my eyes, the product is better. It's not just that scoring is up; the changes the NBA has made to its rules has made it a more aesthetically pleasing game. Teamwork is at more of a premium, and the changes in defensive rules have allowed offenses to flow more freely.

The regular season is still WAY too long, and their economic model is busted, but kudos to NBA commish David Stern for having the foresight to see what needed to be done to continue to make the NBA on-floor product relevant in the post-MJ era and for recognizing that star power alone was not going to carry the league.


Huskies' messiah confirms he'll play football

If you haven't seen it yet, the Seattle Times is reporting that Ferndale football/baseball star Jake Locker has spurned a potentially lucrative baseball contract to play football for the Huskies this fall, giving the Huskies their first win of 2006 before camp even starts.

For those keeping track of such things, that's the Huskies' fourth win in the past three years.

Additionally, this now makes the Huskies 1-for-3 on superstar football/baseball prospects after Grady Sizemore and Matt Tuiasosopo decided they'd rather get paid by baseball teams rather than UW boosters. That's 33 percent -- or, for those who need a comparison, roughly the same rate at which Isaiah Stanback completes his passes.

Maybe that will change with Locker. Husky fans sure hope so.

Did I mention in my profile that I'm a '99 WSU grad who bleeds Crimson?


Beltre turning things around? Wake me up when he actually gets there ...

Everyone knows just how horrendous Adrian Beltre was to start the year -- things tend to get magnified a bit when a guy is making close to $13 million in the second year of an eight-year contract.

The Seattle Times has a story today that shows things might be turning around for Beltre. After his .189, two extra-base hit debacle of an April, it seems that May has been a bit better to "The Great Wall." He's batting .265 two weeks into this month with four doubles and a homer.

The problem? He's still not driving in any runs -- he's got only three RBIs over those two weeks to give him a grand total of nine on the year.

One might argue that it has at least something to do with runners being on base in front of him; after all, Richie Sexson is batting .201 and Carl Everett is batting .242. However, the numbers don't back it up. Get this: He's batting .128 in 39 at bats this year with runners in scoring position and -- this is really bad, so prepare yourself -- .091 in 22 at bats with runners in scoring position and two outs. This is a larger scale problem than just getting to be a little better hitter.

Those kinds of situations are precisely what Beltre was brought here for. He was supposed to be the centerpiece of the offense. He was brought in to be the No. 3 hitter, the kind of guy opposing managers and pitchers fear with the game on the line. What we've got instead is a below-average No. 6 hitter who we're all getting excited about because he seems to be "hitting the ball harder."

I won't be excited until I see him become the No. 3 hitter we're paying him to be. I haven't completely given up hope, and I do love watching him play defense -- his vastly underrated scoop in the 12th inning last night saved the game -- but it'll take more than a few hard hit balls and a stretch where he bats .265 with three RBIs to get me excited.

Some of my other favorite stories of the day:


Attention Seahawks fans: Coolest site on the Web

Being a former journalist, I'm also going to use this space from time to time to turn my readers on to some of the best sports sites and stories on the Internet, and one of those happens to be brought to us by friend of the blog Mike Sando, a former colleague of mine at The News Tribune.

While the design of their sports site is rather lame (belying the great content), Mike's blog -- Seahawks Insider -- is, without a doubt, the most comprehensive site for Seahawks news on the Web. It supplements Mike's outstanding everyday coverage with breaking news, tidbits that don't find their way into the paper, audio files from interviews, sortable spreadsheets and more. The comments section also provides a forum for Seahawks fans to analyze their favorite football team and ask Mike questions, which he does his best to answer. He actually checks the comments very often, and engages in running dialogue with readers.

It really is an invaluable source of information if you are a die-hard Seahawks fan, and it's far better than either of the blogs on the Seattle Times or Seattle P-I Web sites. If you're like me and you're already counting down the days until training camp -- I secured my season tickets last week -- it definitely does a great job of feeding your Seahawks jones in the meantime.

Oddly enough, as I'm writing this, Mike has posted a message letting us all know that we can expect the info to slow down for a while, so my timing might seem a little strange. But there's a great archive, as well as a very cool search tool that will allow you to find exactly what you're looking for. Want to hear audio from Matt Hasselbeck? Looking for any and all information on the signing of Julian Peterson? All the messages containing those are just a couple of clicks away.

Some of my other favorite stories of the day:


Devil Rays series only magnifies Mariners' problems

A lot of Mariners fans probably are going to feel pretty good about this Devil Rays series, Wednesday afternoon shutout notwithstanding.

I won't be one of them.

Yes, the M's won the series 2-1. The pitching was outstanding -- including the return of King Felix -- and was culminated by Jamie Moyer pitching eight innings of one-run ball on Wednesday. Even Eddie Guardado worked his second consecutive scoreless inning! Offensively, they scored 14 runs on 24 hits in the first two games, getting the clutch base hits they'd been lacking all season long.

And therein lies the problem.

Don't be fooled by those that would lead you to believe that this was some kind of "offensive explosion." It wasn't. In those two games, the Mariners had exactly one extra-base hit. ONE! Out of 24 hits, 23 were singles. It's almost mind-boggling to consider. (The one extra-base hit? A solo homer by Carl Everett.) A Major League Baseball team simply cannot win consistently if it needs 24 hits to score 14 runs.

Need examples? Consider this game: Yesterday, the Red Sox whalloped the Yankees 14-3. In scoring their 14 runs, the Red Sox needed only 16 hits. Five of them went for extra bases -- three doubles and two homers -- and it was done against Randy Johnson and one of the better bullpens in baseball. Or how about this one: The Twins beat up on the Rangers 15-5, scoring thoe runs on 19 hits. They had eight extra base hits, leaving 10 guys on base in the process.

Yes, the Mariners do a decent job of making up for that with the way they run -- stealing, taking extra bases, etc. -- and the young guys, specifically Jose Lopez, have been a very pleasant surprise. But the bottom line is that it just won't be enough to make up for the aboslute power outage in the middle of the order.

If you're still encouraged by Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday should have driven home the point home for you: How different would that game have been with just a single and a home run? It's the difference between a win and a loss, because that's how you get to a guy who's got his best stuff. The Mariners never were going to get to Kazmir with a four- or five-hit rally in that game -- he's simply not going to miss with that many pitches when he's on. A single, a walk, an error ... and a bomb. I'm not saying you rely on it -- we all know how that worked for most of the '90s -- but you've still got to get one once in a while.

It cost us in the playoffs in 2001, and it will continue to cost us now.

The Mariners front office, Hargrove, and even some of the players will tell you that the team is close, that they just need to put it all together. But the reality is they're only waiting on one thing from three guys. Until Richie Sexson, Everett and Adrian Beltre start doing what they're being paid to do -- hitting some homers (or at least some doubles) -- the Mariners will be what they've been for three years: A bad team that will struggle to score many runs on its way to 90 losses.