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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Russell Westbrook Needs to Play More Like Joe Montana


Back when Joe Montana still played for the 49ers, a glance at his passing yards could tell you in an instant how the Niner offense functioned that day. If Montana threw for 250-290 yards in a game, then you knew that the offense had put together a well-balanced attacked, and the Niners probably won the game. However, if Montana threw for more than 300 yards, then it was likely that the offense struggled and the outcome of the game into doubt. In other words, the Niners were better as a team when Montana's personal stats were more modest.

I think the same could be said for Russell Westbrook. The Thunder play better when his personal contributions are more modest. He put up some incredible numbers this year for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but when he got his teammates involved and stopped trying to do it all by himself, that the Thunder played well. As Fox Sports columnist Brent Pollakoff recently noted ("5 Things the OKC Thunder Need to Fix"). Westbrook needs to "dial it back":
This is the most difficult task ahead for the Thunder, especially after Westbrook likely will be coming off of an MVP season. But his historically high individual usage rate didn't translate into any real team accomplishments, and as we saw in the fourth quarters throughout this playoff series, his insistence on taking seemingly every single shot (no matter what the defense was like or where he was on the floor) only hurt his team's chances down the stretch of close games. 
Westbrook proved his point in his first season without Kevin Durant by his side; we all know now that he can play as well as anyone in the league whenever he feels like it. But he needs to dial it back next season and get his teammates involved so he doesn't have to do it all alone. Only then will his team have a chance at true success.
This means, of course, that the Thunder need to upgrade the talent surrounding Westbrook, but, as Pollakoff points out, it also means that the Thunder need to use the regular season to develop the Thunder into a "team" so that Westbrook he doesn't feel like he has to do it all but instead can relax and play more like Joe Montana.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Trump and Syria

I think it was New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman who remarked a few years ago, "that just because George W. Bush says or does something, doesn't mean he's wrong." Friedman, of course, was criticizing those (primarily) on the left, who knee-jerkily opposed anything "W" did. Friedman's sentiments hold true for our current President. Just because Trump does or says something, doesn't mean he's wrong, which is probably why so many on the left are scrambling after he ordered missile attacks after Syria's President Assad used nerve gas on some of its citizens, including children.

In keeping with his tradition of never accepting responsibility for anything, Trump blamed Obama for Assad's use of chemical weapons, and he is probably correct that Obama's choice to use diplomacy rather than military force (something that Trump applauded at the time, by the way) didn't have any palpable effect in reigning in Assad. Trump deserves some of the blame, though. Just a week before the attack, Trump's Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and his ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, both stated that ousting Assad was no longer a goal of American policy, statements that Assad almost certainly saw as signals that he could do just about anything he wanted and Trump would look the other way.

My own take on the missile attack is somewhat mixed:
  1. If Trump was genuinely moved by the effects that the nerve gas had on children, then more power to him. President Jimmy Carter was derided by political conservatives for basing his foreign policy, in part, on human rights concerns, so it would be rather ironic if human rights play a large role in Trump's foreign policy. However, if Trump fired the missiles in Syria and dropped the MOAB in Afghanistan because it helps his approval ratings (see "Wag the Dog"), then we have something to worry about.
  2. If the missile attacks have successfully ended the bromance between Trump and Putin, even better. Trump's admiration for Putin is disturbing, and anything that can put an end to his hero worship can only be a good thing for America.
  3. It's unclear if the missile attacks will have any lasting impact on Assad's regime. Assad may go right on being Assad unless Trump makes it clear that he can't. Nevertheless, Trump seems to be more interested in stopping ISIS than he is removing Assad.
  4. I find it disturbing the glee with which Christians in particular, and Americans in general, greet the killing of others. Although the just war tradition does argue that under certain conditions war is permissible as long as it is conducted in a just manner, no where does it state that victors should revel in the suffering of others. Rather, it sees war as a necessary evil that should be conducted with humility and regret.