Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Changing Of The Guard

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

Have you noticed anything unusual about the NBA and NHL Playoffs?

I have noticed a Changing of the Guard much to the frustration of the National Television Networks which must be taking a hit with their ratings due to the smaller markets still alive.

When I was growing up as a kid, the States of Tennessee and Oklahoma were hotbeds for college sports. Nicknames like Volunteers, Commodores, Tigers, Sooners and Cowboys were all you heard about.

But not anymore.

In the NHL, despite having a small payroll every season, Nashville Predators Coach Barry Trotz finds a way to get his team in the playoffs. He does it despite being in the same division as the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks. The Red Wings have won four Stanley Cup Championships since 1997.

The Predators defeated the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs to win their first ever series. In the second round, they played pesky hockey and were ousted by the top seeded Vancouver Canucks 4-2. Extending the Canucks to six games was a good accomplishment for a franchise which still has its original head coach.

Barry Trotz (48) has piloted the Predators to a 455-407-60 ties-76 overtime losses in 967 games when they began play in 1998-99. The Predators have reached the playoffs six times.

Across the state in Memphis, the Grizzlies were accomplishing history of their own as they entered the playoffs as the eighth seed. They eliminated the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the opening round.

This is a franchise that nobody wanted to play for when it was previously located in Vancouver. Their constant losing ways made them a league wide laughing stock. They even traded their star player Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers and he led them to a pair of championships.

The Grizzlies did hire former Lakers Boss Jerry West and Hall of Fame Coach Hubie Brown in their previous playoff appearance. Mike Fratello followed Brown.

These Grizzlies are coached by Lionel Hollins and their key players include Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, O.J Mayo and Pau's brother Marc Gasol.

They are currently locked into an excellent series with the Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly Seattle Supersonics).

Speaking of the Thunder, while I hated to see Seattle lose its NBA team because that was the area's first major sports team, I had no objection to the move since they had plenty of time to build a new stadium but failed to do so.

The Ford Center in Oklahoma City did an excellent job as the home for the New Orleans Hornets when they were forced to vacate their area as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There seemed to be interest in the Hornets even though they knew it was going to be temporary thus the Oklahoma City fans impressed NBA Commissioner David Stern enough and demonstrated that they deserved their own team.

Now the Thunder have a star in Kevin Durant to build a fan base around and he recently signed a five-year contract extension. His supporting cast consists of Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison. The Thunder have an excellent young coach in Scott Brooks.

We are guaranteed one thing as the NBA Playoffs continue. The Thunder or the Grizzlies are going to be in the next round to face the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks will benefit by watching these two teams wear each other out with their long series.

As much as it's tough to see the Lakers, Spurs, Blackhawks, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins out of the playoffs, at least there are some fresh new cities which are getting priceless publicity that having a major league sports team provides.

I have always enjoyed going to cities that have had one major league team because the fans are very passionate. Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to see the Spurs, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Saints.

With the three teams featured in this story, I have a feeling that we'll be hearing a lot more about them in years to come since they all have found the nucleus to make the most of their minimal payroll since they don't have the large local television and radio contracts.

It's now safe to say that we can no longer call Tennessee and Oklahoma collegiate sports states.

I'll be curious to see if Kentucky ever lands a major league team in Louisville, although after my lone experience with the University of Kentucky Basketball team in Lexington, that could pass for an NBA Franchise.

Scott Morganroth's blog can be seen at http://www.scottsports33.com/ and he can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

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