Monthly Archive 27 February 2024


Draymond Green is the key to Warriors’ recent surge, but relying on him is a risky proposition

SAN FRANCISCO — Here it was. The moment we’d all been expecting, for better or for worse.

After weeks of abiding by the rules, biting his tongue and suppressing his urges, Draymond Green was met with a fork in the road as he and Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkic battled, both physically and verbally, for multiple trips down the court. Down one road was retaliation, aggression, intimidation — we know where that road leads, to a suspension even longer than the most recent one he served. Down the other road: inaction, humility, pacifism — the road most Golden State Warriors fans were probably hoping Green would take.

True to everything we know about the man, the basketball player and the competitor, Draymond Green chose to dismiss both paths, instead carving his own road right down the middle.

Green walked the proverbial line that the Warriors organization continually references when it comes to their emotional leader — getting in Nurkic’s face but not taking a swing. Dishing out trash talk without earning a technical (he would later receive one for arguing with the refs, not Nurkic). Going at the Suns center without taking himself or his team out of the game. It was a masterclass in what Green needs to be, both as a player and a leader, in order for Golden State to be successful.

“We did not want him to be Mr. Goody Two Shoes. We wanted him to be himself, but not go over the line,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of Green. “We want him to be on the officials, but not yell profanity at the official. That’s what he’s doing. He’s himself, but he’s not crossing the line.”

Green’s behavior is so important moving forward because of how essential he’s been to the Warriors’ recent resurgence. Since Kerr inserted Green as the starting center at the end of January, Golden State has gone 8-3 with a net rating of plus-8.6 — fourth in the NBA over that stretch.

The offense, dead in the water at times during the season, has been revitalized by Green’s energy and playmaking. It’s no coincidence that Stephen Curry’s best shooting stretch of the season has come with his longtime teammate alongside him. The synergy they’ve developed over 12 seasons is evident the second they step on the basketball court. Green ranks in the 94th percentile in offense including assists, according to Synergy Sports, and the eye test backs up the numbers with the way he orchestrates action and finds teammates.

Watch here as Green reads Curry’s off ball movement, dribbling toward him to create a passing angle before subtly blocking Vince Williams Jr.’s lane to defend Curry’s shot.

“Nobody understands how to get shooters shots better than Draymond Green,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said. “Whether it’s bullet passes to the corner playing the [dribble hand-off] game with these guys. … One of the best ever do it.”

The uncharacteristically slow Warriors pace to start the season has skyrocketed with Green at center. Prior to Jan. 27, Golden State played at a pace of 99.7 possessions per game — 13th in the league. Green has ratcheted that up to 102.4 (fifth in the NBA) over the last 11 games.

His presence has also unlocked the forward pairing of Andrew Wiggins and emerging star Jonathan Kuminga. On paper the Wiggins-Kuminga duo seems ideal, presenting long rangy defenders who can also score in a multitude of ways, but prior to Green’s return from suspension lineups featuring Wiggins and Kuminga had a catastrophic net rating of minus-25 in 171 minutes. In the 13 games since Green came back, when he’s on the floor with Wiggins and Kuminga the Warriors have a plus-18.3 net rating. It’s hard to overstate how crucial Green has been to allowing Golden State to play the way they want to play, with athleticism and force.

Defensively, Green’s work speaks for itself. His communication, positioning, verticality, switchability — those traits make him one of the greatest defenders in NBA history, so it’s no surprise that Golden State’s defense has gone from 24th to seventh since his return from suspension.

Put it all together, and the Warriors have a top-five offense and a top-five defense over the past 11 games — much closer to what Kerr expected than the mediocre start to the season. Chris Paul is on his way back, Klay Thompson thrived in his first game off the bench and rookie Brandin Podziemski has shined as a starter. All of those things help, but for Warriors to continue their momentum through the stretch run and into the playoffs, Green — because he’s so invaluable on the court — must continue to gracefully walk the line between passion and chaos.

In the past, Green has been able to do it — and the result is four titles. But the frequency of his indiscretions over the past couple of years has to at least have the Warriors questioning whether Green can be trusted to keep his cool when the next tussle presents itself.

“It’s been a delicate situation and he’s trying to figure that out and not let it spill over, because we can’t have that and he knows that — can’t afford to let it get out of control,” Curry said of Green. “But it fuels him because he lives for those moments … and you’ve seen that in the best of moments, for sure. So I want to encourage him to keep doing that.”


Inside Doc Rivers’ rocky first weeks with Bucks and where Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard go from here

MILWAUKEE — I was standing in my kitchen chopping a pepper when a text came in from my sister. “Bucks guy got fired?” And that’s how I learned that the Adrian Griffin era had come to an end.

The move was at once stunning and unsurprising. As a rule, coaches don’t get fired when their team has the second-best record in the league. But then, the Bucks’ situation was unique and their success was in spite of Griffin and his sometimes baffling tactics, not because of him.

From training camp, when he butted heads with assistant coach Terry Stotts, who later resigned, it was clear Griffin struggled to get everyone on the same page. Just a few days into the regular season, the veterans held an intervention with him to get him to change the defense. During the In-Season Tournament, Bobby Portis challenged him in the locker room after the loss to the Pacers, and early in January, Giannis Antetokounmpo told the media “we have to be coached better.”

The Bucks have a short window to maximize the Antetokounmpo-Damian Lillard pairing, and Griffin wasn’t going to be the coach to do that. A midseason change is a bold move, but the Bucks were willing to take the risk rather than potentially let this season go to waste.

The Doc is in
Almost immediately, it became apparent that the Bucks wanted to hire Doc Rivers to replace Griffin. Convincing him to come out of retirement and sorting out the details of a contract was going to take time, however, and no one knew exactly when the process would be complete.

The fallout from Griffin’s sudden ousting and the mystery surrounding the expected Rivers appointment set the stage for a whirlwind week. While all of the off-court drama was swirling about, the Bucks were set to play three games in four nights at home against strong competition.

Up first were the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers, who a week earlier had embarrassed the Bucks by 40 in front of their new co-owner, Jimmy Haslem. Before the rematch in Milwaukee on Jan. 24, just 24 hours after Griffin had been let go, general manager Jon Horst took the podium during what is usually the pre-game press conference for the head coach.

He acknowledged what everyone else had been seeing: despite their place in the standings, the Bucks’ defense was a disaster and they didn’t look like a championship team. The front office wanted someone more experienced, who could tighten things up and get the necessary buy-in from the players. Rivers fit the bill.

Until he was ready to take over, the Bucks handed the reins to Joe Prunty. Unknown to most fans, Prunty is the type of NBA lifer that makes the league tick. Straightforward, hard-working and carrying a true passion for the game, he’s beloved by players and the media. This was to be Prunty’s second stint as interim head coach with the Bucks, and his return to the role was a real treat for those of us who have been covering the team since his last spell in charge in 2018.

The entire Bucks roster put on a dance routine that night, then went out and cruised to a win behind another triple-double from Antetokounmpo. Even Prunty was on his A-game, giving us a classic digression during his post-game interview in which he started naming off the entire Cavaliers coaching staff.


— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) January 25, 2024
Two nights later on Jan. 26, the Bucks were set to face the Cavaliers again, still without a permanent resolution to their coaching situation.

Prior to that game, I swung open the doors separating the media workroom and media dining room at Fiserv Forum and was greeted by Rumble the Bison, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s mascot, filming a TikTok. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep or the sudden appearance of Jazz Bear, but I thought for a moment I had lost my mind.

Thankfully, I hadn’t. Those two were in town to celebrate Bucks mascot Bango’s birthday, and his party looked like it was going to be the most entertaining aspect of the night, as the Cavs controlled the second half. Then, with just a few minutes remaining, a press release hit the inbox of every media member: Doc Rivers had officially been hired as the 18th head coach in franchise history.

Suddenly, the result was irrelevant. While Antetokounmpo, Lillard and Khris Middleton all left without speaking to the media, other players did talk. They revealed that Rivers had actually met with the team earlier that day at shootaround. His first message, according to Pat Connaughton, was “teams should be a little bit more afraid to play us.” Across the board, there was excitement about playing for Rivers and the wealth of knowledge he brought.

Fourteen hours later, everyone crowded into the press conference room at Fiserv Forum to hear from Rivers and Horst, while Marquette, Rivers’ alma mater, prepared to play Seton Hall in the background. All in attendance were in a great mood as Rivers cracked jokes and explained why he was willing to come out of his recent retirement to take the job.

“I mean, c’mon. You know the answer,” Rivers said. “Giannis, Dame. Really, that’s the answer. Like, you look at their team. You know, I don’t ever know the list, right? What is it, eight teams that have a legitimate shot? And I don’t know if it’s that high, but the Bucks are one of them, right?”

Of course, Rivers was always going to “win” the press conference. His genial nature and sense of humor are a reporter’s dream. The real challenge was going to be winning on the court after arriving midseason.

“I’ve never done this. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” Rivers said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

Later that night, the Bucks were scheduled to take on the Pelicans, but though Rivers was now officially the team’s head coach, he was not ready to actually coach. Instead, Prunty got one last ride, and delivered a comfortable win over the Pelicans. And when Naji Marshall missed two consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter, he provided free chicken to every fan — and a star player who wanted in on the action.

Giannis scanning the QR code to get his free wings after the Pelicans miss two free throws

— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) January 28, 2024
Unfortunately, Antetokounmpo missed out. “I didn’t get my chicken. I wasn’t fast enough, I couldn’t get the barcode,” he lamented in the locker room afterward.

In the span of five days, the Bucks fired one coach, hired another, held two press conferences and played three games. At long last, everyone had a chance to relax — but not for long.

The most encouraging 1-4 road trip ever
Two days after plunging head-first back into the coaching world, Rivers was on the sideline in Denver for a matchup with the defending champion Nuggets. A five-game West Coast road trip was not an ideal way to begin his tenure.

The Bucks lost that first game in competitive fashion, then fell to the lowly Trail Blazers in Damian Lillard’s return to Portland, came back from a 25-point deficit to stun the Dallas Mavericks, collapsed in the fourth quarter against the Utah Jazz and never had much of a chance versus the Phoenix Suns in a game they played the majority of without three starters.

On paper, the trip was a disaster. When it began, the Bucks were 32-14, all alone in second place in the Eastern Conference and three games behind the Boston Celtics. Nine days later, they were 33-18, tied for third with the Cavaliers and six games back of the Celtics.

And yet, the vibes were tremendous.

“I feel like, from practice, because we’re adding stuff and everybody’s excited and everybody sees what we’re trying to accomplish here and, they’re excited for the things that we can do as a team and how better we can get,” Antetokounmpo said after the Bucks blew a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter to the Jazz.

“And like in practice, people are going faster and running up and down. And obviously, you know, having a new coaching staff you gotta kind of show what you’re made of and what you can do. In shootarounds, guys are more aggressive, shoot more, cut more, play harder. We have a longer shootaround because we’re adding stuff, and then you go to the game and you’re kind of a little bit gassed, I’m not going to lie.

“But, at the end of the day, you find that happy balance. Right now, it doesn’t matter and I hope everybody in this locker room feels the same way that I feel. It does not matter. There’s so many things that we’re doing right now that we are getting better. And the moment everything clicks and our legs are there and our minds are there and guys are healthy and everybody is locked in, I think it’s going to go very well. I really do believe.

“It’s a very, very hard, schedule, but when everything settles down, we are going to be very, very fine. I really do believe. I believe we are trending towards the right direction.”

Hello, Patrick Beverley; goodbye, Robin Lopez
Shortly before the trade deadline on Feb. 8, Patrick Beverley broke some news on a live episode of his podcast: he was being traded from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Bucks. Thirty-six hours later, after finishing with six points and four assists in a 36-point win over the Charlotte Hornets, Beverley ended his on-court interview by urging fans inside Fiserv Forum to subscribe to said pod.

If Beverley’s desire to play immediately — he sent a tweet begging Cam Payne to take his physical so the trade could be completed in time for the game against the Hornets — and his hard-working, defensive-minded style wasn’t enough to endear him to Bucks fans, he then showed up to his postgame interview drinking a Miller Lite.

Robin Lopez, who was also traded at the deadline, took the opposite approach. He logged on to Twitter and fired off a series of self-deferential jokes, including a wish that he’d have his jersey retired by the Sacramento Kings, who waived him immediately once the trade with the Bucks went through.

Robin Lopez reading a book at Bucks game after they traded him today 😂

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 9, 2024
He was in the building when the shorthanded Bucks were crushed by the Minnesota Timberwolves the night of the deadline, but didn’t seem to have much interest in the game. Instead, he sat courtside in a Groucho Marx t-shirt reading Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s by Patrick McGilligan. It was a fitting end to his second tour with the Bucks considering he began the season by killing time at media day with a biography of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

The Bucks are back…
With a few minutes remaining in the Bucks’ win over the Hornets, Thanasis Antetokounmpo sized up JT Thor, hit him with a “Shammgod” and a “Smitty,” then finished at the rim, sending the Bucks’ bench into euphoria. That’s all you need to know about that game.

Go to work, Thanasis!

— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) February 10, 2024
The Bucks’ stress-free win in a rematch with the Nuggets a few nights later was much more impressive. By the second half of that game, Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had been shut down, and I was sitting up in the nosebleeds with my parents and sister, who had come to watch Nikola Jokic.

Yes, the Nuggets had missed a bunch of open shots that night, but it was the second game in a row that the Bucks had held an opponent under 100 points. Finally, the results were matching the internal progress the Bucks had been touting in the first few weeks under Rivers, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

“Our intensity, we were flying around, we were into bodies, we’re running guys off of shots, we’re pulled in,” Rivers said. “A lot of deflections, that’s a thing that’s rose over the last four games. You can see the deflections rising, which means we’re actually close to a guy and guarding him, playing more physical, and that’s what we have to do.”

…Or maybe not
Everything was set up for the Bucks following the Nuggets win. Their final two games prior to the All-Star break were against a Miami Heat squad missing Jimmy Butler, Terry Rozier and Josh Richardson, and the Memphis Grizzlies’ “C” team. Take care of business and you could ride a four-game winning streak into the hiatus.

Or, you could drop both games and revert back to square one, which is what the Bucks did. The loss to the Heat was one thing, considering it was the second night of a back-to-back and Miami went 2023 playoffs mode from 3, but stumbling against the Grizzlies was inexplicable.

Doc Rivers summed it up by saying “we had some guys here, we had some guys in Cabo.”

Antetokounmpo was more expressive, and his utterances carried the same exasperation as the ones he was making regularly prior to Griffin’s firing.

“There’s so many things that we have to do in order for us to be better,” Antetokounmpo said. “And it starts with, we have to want it. We have to want it. We have to want it. Like, what can I — what else should I say? Do we want it? Do we really want to win? Do we want to win?

“We have to want it, man,” Antetokounmpo continued. “Like enough with the talking. Enough with the, ‘our shit-don’t-stink’ mentality. Do we really want it? Are we putting in the work? Are we going to put in the effort? Are we going to fight for what we think that we deserve or what our goals are trying to accomplish? That is the most important thing.

“Guys are tired, that’s an excuse. New coach, excuse. New system, excuse. New defense, excuse. All of it, it’s excuse. At the end of the day, you’re going to go out there and try to play basketball, try to compete and they competed harder than us today. They competed harder than us two days ago. We are not on track of what we are trying to do and I feel like the team feels it. The team feels it. I feel it.”

Hey now, you’re an All-Star MVP
The Bucks’ win over the Mavericks on Feb. 3 meant they maintained second place in the Eastern Conference by the cut-off date to determine All-Star Game coaching honors. With Boston’s Joe Mazzulla ineligible because he could not perform the duties two years in a row, that meant Rivers would be on the bench for the East squad in Indianapolis despite having the Bucks job for less than a month.

Rivers, to his credit, called the situation “hilariously bad” and said he would give his All-Star ring and bonus to Griffin. Nevertheless, he would be in Indy with the rest of the coaching staff, Antetokounmpo, Lillard and Malik Beasley (who was in the 3-point Contest).

As the only team with multiple starters in the All-Star Game — Antetokounmpo and Lillard were the first pair of Bucks teammates to pull off that feat since Bob Dandridge and Brian Winters in 1976 — and multiple contestants in the 3-Point Contest, the Bucks were already set to be front and center during the annual showcase. And that was before Lillard made history by becoming the first player to win the 3-Point Contest and All-Star MVP in the same weekend.

“I did come into the weekend, when I knew I was going to do the 3-Point, I was like I’m going to try to win,” Lillard said, after draining a pair of halfcourt shots en route to 39 points, and getting booed by the Pacers fans during the MVP trophy presentation. “I’m not going to be casual and cool about it. I’m going to try to win again. And I’m going to come into the All-Star Game, my first start, I know I’m going to be on the floor a lot. I’m a vet in the game at this point. Why not go and try to get an MVP?”

This has been a frustrating and inconsistent season for Lillard based on his sky-high standards. Could a historic All-Star Weekend be what gets him back on track? Perhaps, perhaps not. But a major confidence boost certainly doesn’t hurt.

What’s up, Doc?
The All-Star break was not all excitement and positivity for the Bucks, thanks to comments Rivers made during his press conference in Indianapolis, and then later during an appearance on Sirius XM Radio’s The Starting Lineup with Frank Isola and Ryan McDonough.

Here’s Rivers during the NBA’s All-Star Media Day:

“Taking a job when you’re about to go on the toughest road trip of the season is not the smartest decision. I even told them that: ‘Can we wait ’til All-Star break?’ You know, it would have been a lot nicer, Rivers said.

“The end game is what we’re playing for. And the organization felt strongly that a change needed to be made defensively and things like that, and that’s what we’re doing. The problem is, while you’re doing that, you’re in the middle of the season on the toughest trip. I’ve been in Milwaukee [for] four days. I’ve had the job for three weeks.”

Though not incorrect, many viewed those remarks as a series of excuses for why the team is 3-7 record since he took over. So much so that they sparked a multi-day media frenzy that led to a war of words between JJ Redick, Beverley and Rivers’ son, Austin.

That saga also overshadowed what he told Isola and McDonough.

“I’ll be honest, I told our owners when they called, ‘I don’t understand why you’re doing this,'” Rivers said of his first conversations with the Bucks. “One of the things they said to me was, ‘Well it doesn’t matter, we’ve done it now and we want you.’ So that was a tough one, that’s where you have the hesitation.”

The Bucks’ poor record and slide down the standings since Rivers took over is disappointing, but at least somewhat explainable. His press tour, on the other hand, is not. In recent days he has called out his players and questioned his front office and ownership. He was brought in to steady the ship, but has done exactly the opposite.


Celtics, Timberwolves lead new Power Rankings as NBA returns; Predicting expanded CFP field

🏀 Good morning to everyone but especially …
Getty Images

After a week away for the All-Star break, the NBA returns tonight, and Colin Ward-Henninger has new Power Rankings, complete with one reason for hope or concern. Here’s his top five:

Celtics (previous: 1) — “Reason for concern: The Celtics are obviously an excellent basketball team, but if the goal is a championship it’s time to nitpick. Boston simply doesn’t get to the rim.”
Timberwolves (2) — “Reason for hope: Minnesota has the best record in the NBA (23-11) against teams above .500.”
Thunder (9) — “Reason for concern: OKC’s offense has been downright bad without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the floor. They score a ridiculous 122 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, but that falls to 111 with him on the bench.”
Clippers (5) — “Reason for hope: When Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are on the floor the Clippers are virtually unstoppable. They score 122 points per 100 possessions in Leonard and George’s minutes, while allowing just 108.”
Cavaliers (3) — “Reason for concern: The Cavs have been the league’s hottest team since Jan. 1, rattling off an 18-3 record. But, if you look closely, you’ll see a lot of wins are over the NBA’s bottom-dwellers.”
As for five storylines to watch … here are mine:

Where do the Lakers and Warriors end up? They’re currently ninth and 10th in the Western Conference — the final two spots in the play-in — and a postseason without LeBron James and/or Stephen Curry would be odd. But the play (and emotional status) of Draymond Green may ultimately be the determining factor.
When does Joel Embiid return, if at all? The 76ers are fifth in the East but haven’t had Embiid since late January due to a meniscus injury. They’re 26-8 when he plays and 6-14 when he doesn’t.
Who wins the West? The Celtics are running away with the East, but in the West, the Timberwolves are up just 1.5 games on the Thunder, two games on the Clippers and three games on the defending champion Nuggets.
What’s up with the Bucks? They’re the elephant in the room. They fired Adrian Griffin despite a 30-13 start. Successor Doc Rivers is just 3-7. But, hey, at least he has the support of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Who wins MVP and the other individual honors? Remember, the 65-game minimum has already ruled out several potential candidates.
With under two months left in the regular season, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

😁 Honorable mentions
Five-star 2024 center Derik Queen committed to Maryland.
Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Luc Longley announced a “No Bull” tour. Michael Jordan will surely be a big talking point.
Jonny Brodzinski and the Rangers agreed to a two-year extension.
Eric Hosmer called it a career.
Speaking of former Royals, Kelvin Herrera was elected mayor of his hometown.
⚽ And not such a good morning for …
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Arsenal came into Wednesday’s match against Porto riding high, and rightfully so. The Gunners had won five straight Premier League matches, outscoring opponents 21-2 over the span. Surely that would carry over to the Champions League against a susceptible defense, right?


Galeno curled in a stunning effort in the 94th minute to beat the Gunners, 1-0. Arguably even more stunning? Arsenal put exactly zero shots on goal, a far, far cry from the attack that was running rampant recently. You can blame Gabriel Martinelli, who gave the ball away late, blame the attackers and blame manager Mikel Arteta. But at the end of the day, inexperience was a deciding factor, James Benge writes.

Benge: “This was Arsenal’s junior moment, a young side, many of whom were playing in their first Champions League knockout game, failing to appreciate that it was only halftime in the tie, as the old cliche goes. Better to preserve parity before you get them back on your ground.”
Chuck Booth dropped the Gunners from third to eighth in his Champions League Power Rankings. Here’s the top five:

Manchester City (previous: 1)
Real Madrid (2)
Inter (5)
PSG (8)
Lazio (14)
Meanwhile, Napoli and Barcelona drew, 1-1, with star strikers Robert Lewandowski and Victor Osimhen trading second-half goals.

😕 Not so honorable mentions
The Mavericks missed out on keeping Jalen Brunson for cheap … twice.
Sorry, Expos fans: Netflix is making a documentary about the team’s downfall.
🏈 Predicting the 12-team 2024 College Football Playoff
Now that the 5+7 model is official, it’s prediction time. Chip Patterson made his early prediction on the 2024 playoff field.

The first thing that caught my eye? In an even more loaded SEC, there’s a familiar name at No. 1.

Patterson: “1. Georgia (SEC champion): Pre-spring practice ratings of the top teams in college football have Georgia at No. 1, and then there’s a gap before you get to the more interesting discussions about teams Nos. 2-4. Quarterback Carson Beck returns after leading the Bulldogs offense to stellar and often overlooked results in 2023, and after missing the playoff due in part to some rough injury luck, there will be no motivational issues in the 2024 season.”
The SEC and Big Ten both put four teams in Chip’s predicted field.

Oh, and by the way, now that we’re finally expanding to 12 … the CFP Management Committee is exploring expanding to 14.

🏈 Pete Prisco’s Top 100 NFL free agents, ranked
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We’re officially inside of three weeks until the start of NFL free agency, and that means lots of big names potentially hitting the market. Pete Prisco has graciously ranked the top 100 players who could be available, and here’s his top six:

Kirk Cousins, QB, Vikings
Chris Jones, DE, Chiefs
Josh Allen, LB, Jaguars
Justin Madubuike, DT, Ravens
Danielle Hunter, DE, Vikings
L’Jarius Sneed, CB, Chiefs
You’ll notice I included six instead of my normal five, and that’s because Sneed is too good to not get a mention here. Plus, how Kansas City manages Jones’ and Sneed’s free agencies could play a major role in the Chiefs’ quest to be the first NFL team to achieve the elusive three-peat.

As for some other good players you should know who didn’t make the top six …

  1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants — His position didn’t help his ranking, but I’m convinced Barkley can have a Christian McCaffrey-esque impact on the right team. Imagine him surrounded by a legit passing attack and a legit offensive line.
  2. Bryce Huff, DE, Jets and 83. Josh Uche, LB, Patriots — Pass-rush specialists are always helpful. Neither Huff nor Uche play a ton of snaps, but they make them count: Only Micah Parsons had a better pressure rate than Huff last year (min. 200 pass-rush snaps), and Uche led the category in 2022.
    Here’s our free agency primer for all 32 teams.

⚾ Five MLB teams that could make the playoffs in 2024 after missing out in 2023
Getty Images
Believe it or not, there is baseball on TV today. The Dodgers and Padres open spring training game action, and while Shohei Ohtani won’t play, it’s a welcome reminder that Opening Day isn’t far away — and Ohtani is on track to be back by then.

Hope springs eternal — no pun intended — and Mike Axisa is feeling the good vibes with five teams that could make the 2024 playoffs after missing the postseason last year, including …

Axisa: “1. Yankees: That 82-80 finish prompted the Yankees to attack their weaknesses in a meaningful way. Juan Soto was the best hitter to change teams this offseason, and New York also added Alex Verdugo to improve an outfield that was very weak in the two non-Aaron Judge spots last year. Also, they are two high-contact lefty bats, something the Yankees sorely lacked. Marcus Stroman provides stability in the middle of the rotation and the ability to keep the ball in the park at homer-happy Yankee Stadium.”
Mike also mentions that the Yankees should be much healthier this year, and one of those players returning is among Mike’s 10 players whose return from injury could impact the playoff race.

R.J. Anderson, meanwhile, has teams that could miss the postseason after making it in 2023.

📺 What we’re watching Thursday
⚾ Dodgers vs. Padres, 3:10 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Rutgers at No. 3 Purdue (M), 7 p.m. on FS1
🏀 Alabama at No. 1 South Carolina (W), 7 p.m. on SEC Network
🏒 Capitals at Lightning, 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Suns at Mavericks, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 No. 4 Iowa at No. 14 Indiana (W), 8 p.m. on Peacock
🏀 No. 6 NC State at North Carolina (W), 8 p.m. on ACC Network
🏀 No. 18 Utah at No. 12 UCLA (W), 9:30 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Lakers at Warriors, 10 p.m. on TNT
🏀 No. 21 Washington State at No. 4 Arizona (M), 11 p.m. on FS1