This just in from the ‘It’s never too early to worry’ department: There are two ways to view the fact that Josh Donaldson’s first year of free-agency just happens to fall in what is already being billed as the best free-agent class of all time – the winter following the 2018 season, when Donaldson joins Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Manny Machado, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Dallas Keuchel and, if they opt out, David Price, Jason Heyward and Clayton Kershaw.
First, although it’s a long ways away, the guess here is some of the game’s traditional big spenders will start squirrelling away their nuts for that nuclear winter, and that it’s one reason that clubs such as the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers are starting to hang on to prospects like they’ve never done before.
There could, in other words, be a ton of money in the system and whenever a feeding frenzy is created a team or two is usually left on the outside and might panic into over-paying.
Second, the depth of talent could lead Donaldson to consider signing another extension with the Toronto Blue Jays that delays his free-agency until the season after – he will turn 34 years of age at that point – and effectively allow the Blue Jays to buy out a year of free agency while allowing him to hit the market at a time when it might be less crowded.
It’s just another complicating factor to an already-complex situation. As the game skews younger and younger, more players will be in position to make their first big free-agent kill at the age of 26, which will have an impact on older free agents.
A big deal again?
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said at his state-of-the-league news conference that he is contemplating bringing back the ‘centre’ designation on the all-star ballot, something that disappeared four years ago.
Based on the performance of the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis and other big men in the Rising Stars Challenge – not to mention the way Towns won the Skills Competition – it might be a timely idea.
“The change was generated by the fact that it seemed unfair to a certain group of players that there was a special centre designation, and in years where there were seemingly better players who were front-court players but not designated centers, that they were being unfairly left off the team,” said Silver. “It’s a bit cyclical in terms of the centre and the emergence of centres.”
Silver also said the league was monitoring organized social media campaigns for players.
Not sure what the fuss is about. I think the NBA has struck the right balance with its all-star process. Based on this weekend, I wouldn’t change anything. The big men will have their day again; it will just be big men like Towns who have adapted their game to the perimeter reality of the NBA.
As Toronto Raptors TV play-by-play man Matt Devlin noted on my show on Monday it’s created an interesting dynamic: Big men from Europe, once derided because they favoured playing farther away from the basket than North Americans, now find their skills fitting in nicely with the game. North American bigs are starting to adapt, and the result has been a creation of space that makes for a more open game.
Quibbles and bits
• My colleague Michael Grange wrote in January that the Boston Celtics are shadowing the Raptors’ rise to prominence, noting the young, professional core and the fact that Celtics general manager Danny Ainge essentially controls the player market because he has five first-round picks in the next three drafts. Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs and Western Conference All-Stars, likes the guy Ainge has coaching the team, too: 39-year-old Brad Stevens.
“Among basketball people, it was common knowledge that he was a heck of a coach. But to bring this young-looking guy into the NBA and say, ‘Okay, you’re going to have to command the respect of these guys … that took some courage.
“And it’s turned out to be the right choice because Brad is one of the top coaches in the league. He’s a clinician, he’s a technician, he’s detailed. He knows what he’s doing with his demeanour, and for how young he is, he’s unbelievable the way he carries himself. He’s truthful and straight up with players, and in this league that’s the biggest thing they respect: That you’re comfortable in your own skin. You don’t try to trick them. You just tell it like it is, and he did that and gained their respect very quickly.”
• This is probably the biggest steaming pile of the week: The notion that LSU might have to shelve its football program due to a state budget deficit.
In a televised address Thursday, Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has run into opposition because he wants to raise taxes, said LSU’s main campus could run out of money by April 30 – meaning all students would be marked as having “incomplete grades,” which would result in eligibility issues for student-athletes. Yeah, right. Feel free to insert punch-line here.
• Three things I now know: Stephen Curry picks up the second ball from the front for his first shot at each rack in the three-point competition … LeBron James referred to the NBA ‘shield’ on at least two occasions this weekend, no doubt a reflection of his appreciation of his role as perhaps the most powerful individual athlete in any pro sport. But, man, it was tough hearing him sound like Roger Goodell – and it’s a logo more than a shield, no? … and after exhaustive research, I’ve come to the conclusion that Matt Bonner is basketball’s version of John McDonald in this city. That is all.
The end game
This was the week that the Toronto Maple Leafs ditched Dion Phaneuf, but it’s important that this is said: Most of what made him unpopular in this city was other people’s doing, particularly former general manager Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson. They were complicit in the unbelievably short-sighted decision to make him captain of a team that didn’t need one and that, even moreso than his contract, was the root of his issues here.
It was unnecessary pressure, a gross misread of the climate at the time, and a reflection of a brain trust in love with itself. Watching Phaneuf read from a prepared statement when he was named captain was a tip-off.
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-12:00 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The FAN