How to lavishly spend the 2017 college football season on the road and in the doghouse

 

With unlimited funds and unlimited time, wouldn’t it be fun to attend as many games involving Florida’s college football teams as possible?

Something to think about on a lazy summer day, with a preferred list of 2017 games to follow.

New South Florida head coach Charlie Strong  (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Don’t think about it too long, however. My guess is that merely committing to watch each and every one of these games on the man cave’s big screen would be the end to most marriages.

 

Saturday, Aug. 26 – South Florida at San Jose State (Charlie Strong’s USF debut)

Thursday, Aug. 31 – Florida International at Central Florida (Butch Davis’ FIU debut)

Friday, Sept. 1 – Navy at Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin’s FAU debut)

Saturday, Sept. 2 – Florida State vs. Alabama at Atlanta (Why, oh why, does Florida-Michigan have to be on the same day?)

Saturday, Sept. 9 – Miami at Arkansas State (Red Wolves crushed UCF in bowl game last year)

Friday, Sept. 15 – Illinois at USF (Illini went 3-9 last year but beating Big Ten team has certain cachet)

Saturday, Sept. 16 – Miami at FSU (Catch first half of Tennessee at Florida on the way to Tallahassee)

Thursday, Sept. 21 – Temple at USF (Weeknight games good for Bulls’ exposure)

Saturday, Sept. 23 – North Carolina State at FSU (Seminoles needed late rally for 24-20 win last year)

Friday, Sept. 29 – Miami at Duke (Division rival and often a pain in the ACC for Miami)

Saturday, Sept. 30 – Florida State at Wake Forest (End-zone interception secured close win on Seminoles’ last trip there)

Saturday, Oct. 7 – LSU at Florida (Goal-line stand against Tigers clinched SEC East for Gators in 2016)

Thursday, Oct. 12 – Georgia Tech at Miami (2nd straight week on ESPN national telecast for Mark Richt)

Saturday, Oct. 14 – Texas A&M at Florida (First trip to Swamp for Aggies, who joined SEC in 2012)

Saturday, Oct. 21 – Louisville at FSU (Cardinals put 63 points on Seminoles behind Heisman winner Lamar Jackson last year)

Friday, Oct. 27 – FSU at Boston College (Short week after Louisville showdown)

Saturday, Oct. 28 – Florida vs. Georgia at Jacksonville (Sooner or later Bulldogs are going to be good)

Saturday, Nov. 4 – Virginia Tech at Miami (If Miami ever wins the Coastal, it will be a game like this that does it)

Saturday, Nov. 11 – FSU at Clemson (Tigers are defending national champions)

Thursday, Nov. 16 – Tulsa at USF (Will Charlie Strong have the Bulls in the Top Ten by this point?)

Saturday, Nov. 18 – FIU at FAU (Butch vs. Kiffin in battle for major recruiting coup)

Friday, Nov. 24 – Miami at Pittsburgh (Stop grumbling about Thanksgiving travel and get to the airport)

Saturday, Nov. 25 – FSU at Florida (Would be nice to see this game mean a lot to both teams again)

 

That’s all of the schedule we know right now. The conference champions follow in December and then the College Football Playoff and the bowls.

Would you be sick of college football after traveling to all of those games? No problem. Just switch to the NFL in 2018.

 

 

 

Palm Beach County pipeline leads to national baseball championship for Florida Gators

 

The Florida Gators won their first national championship in baseball Tuesday night and the program’s long ties to Palm Beach County athletes and coaches had a lot to do with it.

Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan played at Jupiter High School and was an assistant coach at Florida Atlantic University.

OMAHA, NE – First basemen J.J. Schwarz of the Florida Gators celebrates after beating the LSU Tigers 6-1 to win the National Championship at the College World Series on June 27, 2017 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

One Florida assistant, Craig Bell, was the Palm Beach Post’s Coach of the Year during a nine-year-stretch at Palm Beach Lakes High School and was an assistant coach on Wellington’s 1999 state title team.

Another Gator assistant, Brad Weitzel, played at Palm Beach State College for former Palm Beach High School star Dusty Rhodes, who is generally acknowledged as the originator of the pipeline of top players from Palm Beach County to Gainesville.

Two of the mainstays in Florida’s championship effort at the College World Series in Omaha and all season long were former Palm Beach Gardens High teammates JJ Schwarz and Nick Horvath.

Schwarz made a great defensive play to preserve the Gators’ one-run lead late in Tuesday’s championship clincher against at LSU. He backhanded a sharply hit ball at first base and was right on target with a throw to catch a Tiger baserunner at home plate. That play helped to stop an LSU rally and Florida added four runs in the bottom eighth inning to win 6-1.

Horvath scored twice and drove in a run Tuesday and for a moment was warming up in the bullpen in case O’Sullivan needed him to pitch in relief. Horvath also came racing in to make a sliding catch in center field to end an LSU rally.

Combined, Schwarz and Horvath drove in half of Florida’s runs in the title-clinching game.

Gators third baseman Jonathan India is another product of Palm Beach County high schools. He was the Palm Beach Post’s 2015 Small Schools Player of the Year at Delray Beach American Heritage.

The championship gives Florida national titles in football, basketball and baseball. The Gators are the first program in 50 years to join that elite list.

It wasn’t easy. Florida won 19 games by a single run, the most in the nation. Other Gator teams have gone to Omaha with bigger reputations and achieved less.

An on-campus championship celebration is scheduled Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. at Florida’s baseball field, McKethan Stadium. Wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see a bunch of Palm Beach County license plates in the parking lot. Seems like it’s a natural.

 

Batting eighth for your St. Lucie Mets, Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow went shopping at a Port St. Lucie Publix Tuesday morning, stocking up on power bars, taking photos with fans who instantly recognized him. The usual.

“I’m always thankful to be in Florida,” said Tebow, suddenly a member of the minor-league Port St. Lucie Mets but forevermore the Heisman Trophy legend of Florida Gators football lore. “I’m close to home and playing with a lot of guys I played with in the spring.

In this April 30, 2017 photo, Columbia Fireflies’ Tim Tebow accommodates some lucky fans with an autograph before a minor league baseball game against the Hickory Crawdads at L.P. Frans Stadium in Hickory, N.C.  (Ernie Masche/Record/The Hickory Daily Record via AP)

“I’m looking forward to this opportunity starting tonight. I’ll try to make the most of it, but I also understand I’ve got a long way to go.”

All the way, some fine day, to Citi Field and the New York Mets?

“That’s a great question and it would be a great headline,” he said with a laugh during a pregame media session at First Data Field, “but that’s not something I’m focused on. Although I root for the Mets and watch their games, and I got to be friends with a lot of guys on the team, I’m playing for the St. Lucie Mets right now, and that’s where my focus has got to be.”

It’s always a balancing act, building self-confidence high enough to see above the critics and tamping down expectations that a 29-year-old athlete playing his first full season of baseball since high school could jet past the completion.

Tebow is a special case in every way, the way he thinks about this follow-up to a three-year NFL career and the way fans respond to his continued adventures. The Mets promoted him to St. Lucie of the Class-A Florida State League from his original posting with the Columbia Fireflies in South Carolina. Tebow hit. 220 with three homers in 64 games at Columbia, which is considered a lesser league than this one, but attendance soured wherever he played, home or away.

Two hours before Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. first pitch, it wasn’t exactly an avalanche of fans at First Data Field. A couple of customers stood at the windows buying tickets, and a fresh rack of Tebow T-shirts hung in the stadium gift shop, still available at $28 for adult sizes and $20 for kids.

Team officials were expecting a crowd of about 2,000 during the game, a slight bump from St. Lucie’s season average of 1,745 per home date. Everyone will just have to wait and see about the Tebow effect.

He’s building a succesful career as a broadcaster on the SEC Network, talking college football, and is sought by charitable organizations everywhere for the energy he brings to philanthropic efforts. The Florida State League, however, is not a huge draw in the torrid South Florida summertime. Even the Miami Marlins, who play indoors, struggle to build their customer base.

[Remember 2003 before you try to predict Heat’s offseason moves]

[LeBron may be 3-5 in NBA Finals but he’s a long way from a loser]

[Players on ice and coaches on hot seats, the thermodynamics of NHL life]

“Just being able to get some at-bats on this field always helps a little bit,” said Tebow, who played some spring training games with the major-league Mets and started his pro baseball career in the Instructional League at Port St. Lucie. “You understand the background and know the fence a little bit, which gives comfort.”

Tebow is scheduled to bat eighth for St. Lucie against the Palm Beach Cardinals Tuesday night and play left field

Think you can predict the Heat’s offseason moves? Remember 2003 before answering

You think you know what will  happen with the Miami Heat in Thursday’s NBA draft and the free-agency period beyond?

Nobody knows. Nobody could.

There are too many moving parts in this process, especially with Pat Riley in charge of it.

Dwyane Wade and his son with Pat Riley after the Heat selected Wade with the No. 5 pick in the 2003 draft.
(File photo)

Look back to 2003, the year that Miami made its most successful first-round pick ever – Dwyane Wade. The followed happened that offseason, one seismic step after another, and the most astonishing news of all broke just days before the start of the regular season. Remember?

Well, here it all is, with the blockbuster headline buried near the bottom of the list, startling enough to make Wade wonder if he was even starting his career with a stable franchise.

  • Junior Dwyane Wade leads Marquette to the Final Four but the Golden Eagles get blown out by Kansas 94-61 by Kansas. Wade, who was married with a 1-year-old son at the time, said “I’m known for having a great season but I didn’t go out a winner, so it will be a tough decision.” Luckily for the Heat, he decides to leave college one year early and enter the draft.
  • Wade works out in June for at least nine teams, including Miami, which is coming off a 25-57 season and has the No. 5 overall pick.
  • Certain stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh come off the draft board before the Heat can act but Riley takes Wade and says “we feel like we have, contrary to what people might think and other than LeBron, one of the best players, if not the best player in the draft.”
  • The agent for Heat point guard Anthony Carter blows it by failing to inform the team that his player wants to exercise his option for the coming season. When the deadline passes without notification, Riley no longer is obligated to pay Carter his salary and the option on keeping him becomes the team’s instead. The Heat let Carter go and gain an additional $4 million to spend on free agents.
  • Riley speaks generally with reporters about the possibility of saving his money for the next offseason, when Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett might be available as free agents.
  • Riley makes a one-year offer to Alonzo Mourning, who missed the previous season with a kidney ailment, but is satisfied to let the greatest player in Heat history go. The New Jersey Nets sign Zo to a four-year deal and he says he is going because he is trying to get a ring and can’t wait for the Heat to get better.
  • Riley signs Elton Brand to a six-year offer sheet but the Los Angeles Clippers match the offer and keep the free agent.
  • Riley goes after the Clippers again, signing Lamar Odom to an offer sheet for six years and $65 million. This time the Clippers can’t match and Odom joins Miami.
  • Wade plays his first exhibition game in Puerto Rico against the Philadelphia 76ers and shows immediate promise with 18 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four blocked shots.
  • Wade signs his rookie contract for three years at $8.5 million with a team option for a fourth year.
  • Riley quits as Heat coach four days before the regular-season opener and names assistant Stan Van Gundy to replace him. Riley says he will remain as team president for the final two years of his 10-year Heat contract, adding “I feel the time is right because this team is headed in another direction. It’s turned around. It’s fresh. It needs another voice.” Riley is 58.
  • Miami goes 42-40 and makes the playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. After beating the Hornets in the first round, the season ends in the conference semifinals against Indiana.
  • Riley tears it all up and rebuilds the following summer, trading Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for Shaquille O’Neal.

 

It couldn’t possibly be as dramatic as all that this offseason, right?

Well, I’m not predicting anything. Riley won’t let me or anybody else do that, and he likes it that way.

[Koepka and Berger make it two wins in a row for PB County high school products]

[LeBron may be 3-5 in NBA Finals but he’s a long way from being a loser]

[Thermodynamics of NHL life: Players on ice and coaches on hot seats]

 

Tebow’s promotion to St. Lucie could be a summer happening

Tim Tebow isn’t exactly killing it in the South Atlantic League but he might be almost due for a promotion anyway.

Does it matter when and where that happens? Well, of course it does, whether you believe in the potential of the former Heisman Trophy winner’s baseball career or not.

 

Tim Tebow signs autographs with fans before the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox spring training game at First Data Field in Pt. St. Lucie on March 8, 2017. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The New York Post reported a month ago, with information provided by a source within the New York Mets organization, that Tebow could join the St. Lucie Mets by midseason.

Interpret that any way you want. The halfway point of the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies season is already here, for instance, and Tebow, batting .224 with 66 strikeouts in 201 at-bats, is not getting any younger. As for whatever constitutes the midseason at the major-league level, the All-Star Game comes to Marlins Park on July 11.

The promotion from low Class-A competition to what is considered High A could come at any time, in other words, if it is coming at all. I believe we will see Tebow in Port St. Lucie this summer for a couple of reasons.

First, the Mets need to find out if a player nearing his 30th birthday has any hope of being a September call-up to the major-league team some day, for promotional purposes at least.

Second, Tebow has been a sensational draw for the Fireflies at home and for their opponents on the road. He’s been playing in SEC country, which helps, but a relocation to the Florida State League would ring the bell even louder for Florida Gators fans in particular.

How many extra people would come to a St. Lucie Mets game in the middle of a South Florida summer if Tebow were in uniform? Well, we certainly wouldn’t be talking sellouts, but there would have to be a significant improvement over the following numbers.

The St. Lucie Mets are averaging 1,727 fans per home game at First Data Field. That’s fifth-best in the league and more than 5,000 below capacity.

Put him on a bus and every Florida State League team will be planning promotions around Tebow. Think of the Jupiter Hammerheads, averaging 883 customers per home game, and the Palm Beach Cardinals, averaging 717, or the Dunedin Blue Jays, who are dragging bottom at 540.

The Mets were selling Tebow uniform tops on his first day of Instructional League workouts at Port St. Lucie last September, and he did his usual duty signing autographs and making friends. This is not a small matter for minor-league baseball operators.

[Themodynamics of NHL life: Players on ice and coaches on hot seats]

[LeBron 3-5 in NBA Finals but he’s a long way from being a loser]

[Koepka and Berger make it two in a row for genuine PB county products]

Columbia is a close second in its league this season with an average attendance of 5,210 and a rollicking run on Tebow memorabilia. Last year the team’s average attendance was 3,785.

Last weekend in Charleston the Riverdogs, a Yankees farm club, paid plenty of attention to Tebow by mocking him on the stadium’s video board. Images of him crying on the Gator sidelines near the end of an SEC Championship game loss to Alabama got lots of play. When Tebow’s teammates were at the plate, their names and stats were shown on the board with an additional notation in large letters – “NOT TIM TEBOW.”

Was the promotional staff angry to have Tebow in Charleston or something?

Certainly not. Charleston sold out its stadium for all three of the weekend games featuring Tebow. Crowds ranged between 6,557 and 7,331 for a franchise with an average home attendance of 4,311.

This is how it works. Tebow sells, which would be good for the St. Lucie Mets or any other team that gets him.

If it’s not them, the Class AA team in the Mets’ system are his next possible landing spot. They are the Binghamton Rumble Ponies of the Eastern League, and their opponents include the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Akron RubberDucks and the Hartford Yard Goats.

This is the minor league game and make no mistake. Tebow is a major player in it.

 

Koepka and Berger make it two golf wins in a row for genuine Palm Beach County products

As if there weren’t already reason enough for golf fans to zero in on Palm Beach County, how do you like this magnetic trend?

Brooks Koepka reacts after he shoots a -16 under par to win the 2017 U.S. Open Championship on Sunday, June 18, 2017 at Erin Hills in Hartford, Wis. (Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/TNS)

Brooks Koepka’s dominant U.S. Open victory at Erin Hills makes it two wins in a row on the PGA Tour for Palm Beach County high school products.

[RELATED: Photo gallery of area native Brooks Koepka through the years]

Daniel Berger, who played high school golf at William T. Dwyer, won on tour the previous week at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis. He and Koepka, a Cardinal Newman High School graduate, were teammates at Florida State, too.

Now I don’t mean to put undue pressure on Berger but the last seven of golf’s Grand Slam events have been won by first-time major winners and he looks like a good candidate to join the party in the near future.

Already this season Berger has four top-10 finishes on tour. In 2016, he tied for 10th at the Masters. He’s sneaking up on it, just like Koepka did. Brooks’ first close call at a major was a tie for fourth at the 2014 U.S. Open.

Koepka was 24 then, just like Berger is now.

Daniel Berger answers questions at a press conference during the practice round of the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens on February 21, 2017. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Matter of fact, Berger nearly won the Honda Classic at 21. Commuting to PGA National from his Jupiter home, he forced a playoff with eventual winner Padraig Harrington by shooting a Sunday 64.

Setting aside any local bias, the best bet overall to be the next first-time major winner is Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama. He tied for second behind Koepka at Erin Hills Sunday and has been close a couple of times the last few years at the Masters and the PGA Championship.

It’s just a matter of time for 2017 Honda classic champion Rickie Fowler, too, right?

Any way you slice it, seven consecutive first-time winners in golf’s majors is the perfect demonstration of how the game is waiting for somebody to soak up all the glory in the absence of Tiger Woods. Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlory and Dustin Johnson have had their hot streaks but there are so many other great young talents pushing to win.

The last time there was a streak anywhere similar to this was nine first-time major winners in a row between the 2010 U.S. Open and the 2012 U.S. Open.

[LeBron is 3-5 in NBA Finals but he’s a long way from being a loser]

[Thermodynamics of NHL life: Players on ice and coaches on hot seats]

[Better know the traits of each species when hunting for NBA whales]

In order they were Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson.

McIlroy is the only player on that list who is ranked in the top 10 of the current Official World Golf Rankings.

Of, and if you’re wondring if any other Palm Beach County high school golfer has won a major, Mark Calcavecchia counts the 1989 British Open among his 13 career PGA Tour victories. Calc moved to the area from Nebraska as a teenager and won the state high school individual championship while playing for the old North Shore High School in West Palm Beach.

 

LeBron may be 3-5 in NBA Finals appearances, but he’s a long way from being a loser

Let the LeBron bashing begin. Oh, wait, it never stopped?

Pretty amazing that an athlete this comprehensively talented could be laughed at as a loser, but Cleveland’s loss to Golden State in the NBA Finals on Monday night has unleashed the usual wave of social-media silliness.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James speaks at a news conference after Game 5 of basketball’s NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Monday, June 12, 2017. The Warriors won 129-120 to win the NBA championship. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

LeBron brings it on himself, no doubt, appearing always to be the guy who gets whatever he wants in terms of building a team worthy of his participation, but there needs to be a little reality to go with the rants about his 3-5 record in the NBA Finals.

Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA Finals appearances despite at times having Hall of Fame teammates like Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. The Boston Celtics dynasty of Bill Russell and company wouldn’t let West and the Lakers close the deal and yet West wasn’t called a loser.

Instead, he got the nickname of “Mr. Clutch.” He was voted the NBA Finals MVP in 1969 in a losing effort. His silhouette was chosen as the logo for the NBA.

Wilt the Stilt was 2-4 in the NBA Finals and there never has been a more physically imposing athlete than Chamberlain was in his time.

Hey, they’re not all going to be Michael Jordan, 6-0 in the championship series. Doesn’t mean that everyone else stinks.

In South Florida LeBron will always be appreciated for bringing two NBA titles to Miami and loathed for bolting to Cleveland and grumbled about for the two NBA Finals when he and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn’t win.

Take a look at the numbers, though. Wade, beloved for bringing the first title to the Heat before the Big Three era had arrived, was the MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals while averaging 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in a six-game series win over Dallas. He shot 47 percent, too. Can’t do much more than that, right?

Well, LeBron just did in this five-game series loss to the Warriors.

James averaged 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists while shooting 56 percent against the Warriors.

Those numbers in defeat were even greater than LeBron’s stats in his three NBA Finals MVP performances with the Heat and the Cavs.

“With him, the negativity that surrounds him (LeBron), honestly, to me, I think is so unjust and so unfair,” West told ESPN last summer. “Take him off of the team and see how these teams do. That’s all you have to do. Take him off. And it frustrates the heck out of me when I see some of these players who play this game at an enormously high level get criticized because their teams quote, ‘Can’t win the big one.’ The damn guy gets his teams there every year.”

[Panthers hire new coach but how long before he’s on the hot seat like most other NHL bosses?]

[Predicting a 4-1 start to the season for Miami Dolphins]

[Malik Zaire is what Gators want, but what they need is for Feleipe Franks to win job]

Not saying that I love LeBron because that’s not true, but it makes little sense to hate him the way that some people do.

If he were a free agent this summer and available to the Heat, would you hate the idea of Pat Riley getting a meeting?

Players on ice and coaches on hot seats, these are the thermodynamics of life in the NHL

As the Florida Panthers introduce another new head coach, in this case former NHL defenseman Bob Boughner, I turn once more to the three things that were taught to me when first covering the sport in South Florida’s expansion season of 1993-94.

Florida Panthers Name Bob Boughner Head Coach

First, a good nickname will get you a long way in hockey. Boughner, pronounced BOOG-nur, was known as The Boogieman in his days as a player with Buffalo, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Calgary and, oh, just about every other team in the league.

Second, it’s a good thing when your goalie is standing on his head. This is hockey talk. It need bear no relation to reality.

Third, things happen in an almighty hurry in the NHL, especially when it comes to the hiring and firing of head coaches. This makes six of them in the last seven years for the Panthers, who are doing the near impossible by keeping pace with Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria.

Way back in 2000, the Panthers were playing New Jersey in the first round of the playoffs and I was doing my best to appear somewhat knowledgable in preview coverage of the series. Hockey is not my sport. Having grown up in South Florida, it is barely my planet. Still, it was so far so good until the Devils fired their head coach Robbie Ftorek with eight games remaining in the regular season and the playoffs just ahead.

New Jersey was first in the Eastern Conference at the time, and Ftorek, though dealing with a late-season slump, had a two-year winning percentage of .641 as the Devils’ coach. Crazy? Yes, but so was the production of his replacement, Larry Robinson, who was behind the bench for a first-round sweep of the Panthers and, eventually, a win over the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Final.

Does it really matter who is coaching a hockey team? Seems to me it’s more about developing momentum among a group of players who trust each other enough to fight together and kill penalties together and grow beards together. That, plus a whole lot of goaltenders standing on their heads.

The whole thing is a mystery to me, as strange as being in Nashville last month for a vacation and seeing “Welcome Hockey Fans” at the entrance to every honky-tonk on Broadway.

[When fishing for NBA whales, better know the particular traits of each enormous species]

[Predicting a 4-1 start to the season for the Miami Dolphins]

[Malik Zaire is what the Gators want, but what they need is for Feleipe Franks to start]

Good luck to Boughner finding that same kind of magic in Sunrise. It happened once before in Miami, with the Panthers reaching the Stanley Cup Final in only their third year of existence and briefly turning South Beach into the North Pole.

They, too, had a fiery rookie head coach, a guy named Doug MacLean, and he really had it going for a while. Two playoff appearances in two seasons, and then an abrupt firing just 23 games into the third.

Is this any way to run a hockey franchise?

Apparently, it’s the only way.

 

When fishing for NBA whales, better know the peculiar traits of each species

 

Pat Riley invented the notion of hunting for “whales” in NBA free agency. You know, the biggest of the big in terms of talent, which implies the ability to turn a team into a championship contender overnight plus, of course, the immense amount of money they must be fed.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (No. 32) of the Los Angeles Clippers. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Some of the names being thrown around this year don’t seem to fit the category all that naturally for me. Sure, the current salary structure may indicate maximum contracts are due, but does the player’s actual production deserve that special designation?

Let’s say Miami could get a shot at the following free agents, though in some cases it is ridiculous to ponder, and let’s separate them out by their particular species of whale.

Blue whale (Largest animal on earth at 69 to 90-plus feet in length) – We’re talking Kevin Durant here. He won’t be leaving the Warriors, of course, but what a splash he would make with any new team.

Finback whale (72-82 feet) – It’s a stretch but I’ll put Blake Griffin here because he averages 21 points and close to 10 rebounds per game and has high visibility from appearances in several national TV commercials. Guy gets injured every playoff season, though, and his attitude is suspect.

Right whale (45-60 feet) – Here we find Gordon Hayward, just once an All-Star, and Chris Paul. The first is a sensational shooter but is not always in monster mode. The second, Paul, is a trusted leader and a tough competitor but needs to be teamed with other top stars in order to chase a title.

Sperm whale (35-60 feet) – Deliberately leaving this one blank so that none of you goofballs out there start snickering.

Humpback whale (42-50 feet) – Here we find Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap and Miami’s Dion Waiters, three guys who lack the consistency to scare you every night. Dwyane Wade could fit this, too, if he options out of the $24 million that Chicago owes him, which I would not advise.

Minke whale (28-30 feet) – Shaun Livingston and Patty Mills are postseason tough but can’t rate them much higher on the food chain if they’re not automatic starters.

Beluga whale (13-15 feet) – JJ Reddick, Jrue Holiday and Taj Gibson. There’s a lot to like about all of these guys but they would still be role players on a great team.

Narwhal (13-15) feet) – This animal is just plain gnarly, with a long tusk protruding from its mouth and plenty of other traits that only Charles Darwin could love. I’m thinking Kelly Olynyk here, right?

[Malik Zaire is what Gators want, but what they need is Franks as starting QB]

[Will Trubisky match numbers of Tannehill, another lightly-used college QB?]

[From the day he left high school, LeBron was compared to Magic Johnson]

 

Predicting a 4-1 start for Dolphins in a total flip of the script

As long as it’s June and everyone is in an absurdly optimistic mood, let me be the first to predict a great start to the Miami Dolphins’ season.  Heck, put me down for 4-1, the exact opposite of Adam Gase’s 1-4 debut as an NFL head coach in 2016.

The schedule is so much kinder, or at least as gentle as any string of Sundays can be in this league.

DAVIE – Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase speaks to media after an OTA practice on May 25 at the Dolphins training facility. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Tampa Bay at home, the Chargers and Jets on the road, New Orleans in London and Tennessee back home at Hard Rock.

How much better is that than Gase’s opening challenge of road trips to Seattle and New England last year? Let me count the ways.

  1. The Dolphins finished 10-6 last year. Each of their first five opponents had lesser regular-season records in 2016, though the Bucs and Titans come close at 9-7.
  2. Miami made the playoffs last season. None of their first five opponents did.
  3. One of those crazy Thursday night road games was on last year’s September schedule, and it came against Cincinnati, a team accustomed to making the playoffs. This year the only quirk in the early schedule is Oct. 1 in London against the Saints, a game which offers no particular advantage to either team.
  4. Early in the 2016 season Miami hadn’t figured out how to win close games. That changed down the stretch, and two of the Dolphins’ September 2017 opponents know that. Miami scored a comeback win over the Chargers last year on an Andrew Franks field goal and a Kiko Alonso interception return. They also passed the Jets in the fourth quarter on a 96-yard kickoff return by Kenyan Drake.
  5. Three of Miami’s first five opponents in 2016 were playoff teams, which was enough to make the Dolphins seem inferior right off the bat. Now that Gase has gotten his guys back into the postseason party for the first time in forever, there is no psychological hill to climb.

There will be a loss somewhere along the line, maybe even in the opener if Jameis Winston gets hot, but at least Gase is getting a fair shake in his second season. If the Dolphins keep improving and get a few breaks, they will win more of the inevitable fourth-quarter slugfests than they lose against this early list of opponents.

That hole had to dig out of last year was so different, so ridiculous, and you could see it coming as soon as the schedule was announced.

[Malik Zaire is what the Gators want, but what they need is Feleipe Franks]

[Will Trubisky, another lightly-used college QB, match Tannehill’s numbers?]

[Who else but a NASCAR driver would push an SUV to 230 mph?]