Saturday, December 23, 2006

Report: NFL New Alignment Of Divisions news services

The NHL has floated the idea of realigning its six current divisions into four, mainly aligned with time zones, according to a story on TSN of Canada's Web site.

According to the report, six club executives met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman this week to consider potential plans. They're taking ideas from those talks back to their teams, TSN reported.

Among the ideas:

• Reducing the current six divisions to four, with two in the Eastern Conference and two in the Western Conference. There would be one eight-team division and one seven-team division in each conference.

• The top two finishers in each division would be guaranteed the top four playoff seeds. The four other playoff qualifiers in each conference would be based on point totals.

• The Northeast Division -- which includes Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo and Boston -- would remain intact and add two other teams to form a seven-team division. Pittsburgh is one of those teams that would join the Northeast, sources told TSN.

• The current Atlantic Division (the three New York-area teams plus Philadelphia) would join the four teams from the current Southeast Division (all but one of Washington, Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Florida).

• The eight-team division in the Western Conference would feature all teams in Pacific or Mountain time zones (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, Colorado and Phoenix).

• The seven-team division in the Western Conference would feature teams that are in either the Central or Eastern time zones.

The NHL is considering the changes to help with travel and to keep televised games in the same time zones to maximize ratings.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Carmelo Anthony Won't Appeal 15 Game Suspension

By Marc Stein

Bill Duffy, who heads the firm that represents Anthony, said Thursday morning that the league's leading scorer decided he "doesn't want to be a further distraction" by appealing the lengthy ban handed down by NBA commissioner David Stern after last Saturday night's brawl at Madison Square Garden.

"It's Melo's wish to just keep the focus on basketball," Duffy told "In his words, he's just going to take [the suspension] and keep the focus on keeping himself ready."

League rules enable players to appeal any league suspension longer than 12 games to an independent arbitrator. Because the Nuggets' home game Wednesday was snowed out, Anthony still has to sit out 14 more games, meaning Anthony is likely restricted to practicing alongside new teammate Allen Iverson until Denver hosts Memphis on Jan. 22, unless the Phoenix game is rescheduled between now and then.

Nuggets swingman J.R. Smith, according to the Denver Post, has formally appealed his 10-game suspension. Appeals for suspensions spanning 12 games or less, however, are heard by Stern himself, giving Smith little hope that his penalty will be reduced.

For each game they miss, Anthony and Smith are docked $42,673 and $12,614, respectively. That amounts to nearly $641,000 for Anthony and just over $126,000 for Smith.

Calvin Andrews, Anthony's primary agent with BDA Sports, said earlier this week that it would be Anthony's call whether to proceed with an appeal, even though Players Association chief Billy Hunter has expressed confidence that he could get the ban reduced, as seen after the Indiana-Detroit melee when an arbitrator sliced the suspension of Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal from 25 games to 15.

"Melo's first mind is to say: 'Hey, that's the punishment and I'm willing to take it. Let's move on,' " Andrews said. "If you go back into the history of people of punching people, no one's got 15 games. So if you look at precedent, yeah, it's excessive. If you look at the situation in the post-Detroit Era, I could see why it happened. That doesn't mean you've got to like [the suspension]."

Anthony was contrite Tuesday when he discussed the suspension with Denver reporters for the first time.

"I think it's embarrassing," Anthony said. "I was doing good out there. For a situation like that to happen in the heat of the moment ... [you're] doing so good one second and then the next second you're back down to the bottom. I've got to live with it. I live and learn from my mistakes."

Anthony was referring to a strong 2006 in which he was largely celebrated for his strong summer performance with Team USA, a new level of production for the Nuggets and, most recently, his donation of $1.5 million for a youth center in his home town of Baltimore.

Smith has said he feels responsible for Anthony's suspension. New York's Mardy Collins chopped down a driving Smith late in the Nuggets' 123-100 victory, leading to a scuffle between Smith and New York's Nate Robinson that dropped both players into a baseline section of fans and culminating with Anthony punching Collins. Robinson and Collins were hit with suspensions of 10 and six games.

"I feel embarrassed for myself, my team [and] Carmelo especially, because I think I really put him in a situation where he has to miss 15 games," Smith said. "Most of all, I'm upset about my family. I know they're embarrassed from my incident. They were sitting in the front row [at the game]. I wish it never happened."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for To e-mail him, click here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Who Wants Barry Bonds?

By Jayson Stark

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Greatest Slugger of His Time sits at home in California, jobless and teamless.

In a very different world, he would be the hottest free agent of them all at one of baseball's strangest winter meetings of them all -- a session that has practically turned into a bat free zone.

Barry Bonds is waiting for some team to give him a shot at Hank Aaron's home run record.

But we don't live in that world. So when the name "Barry Bonds" comes up, the room gets quiet. The atmosphere gets mighty uncomfortable.

If this were a heat of the Olympic 100 meters, you could envision everyone in the field breaking the world record. That's how fast some of these GMs are trying to sprint away from Barry Bonds.

"Barry will play next year," his agent, Jeff Borris, told again this weekend, "unless he gets hit by a bus."

But the question baseball men keep asking is: Where?

The only logical answer continues to be San Francisco. But if you've paid any attention to the players the Giants have chased this winter, could it possibly be more obvious that The Greatest Slugger of His Time isn't the No. 1 item on their grocery list?

They threw massive dollars at Alfonso Soriano. They're believed to have offered Carlos Lee $1.5 million more a year than he got in Houston. They've tried to deal for Manny Ramirez – and they're still trying to deal for him, even after being told initially they didn't have enough to get him.

"They had so much interest in those other guys, and they've got so much interest in Manny," says an executive of one club that has talked to the Giants, "that clearly, they don't want to bring Barry back."

Bonds, not surprisingly, has come to the same conclusion. And he's not happy about it.

"Their actions indicate he's not very high up on their priority list," Borris told, after the Giants declined to offer Bonds arbitration Friday night. "I think, for the last 14 years, they've taken him for granted … and they're taking him for granted now. I think they're thinking, 'He would never leave us.' But that may be a big miscalculation on their part."

Actually, that isn't quite what the Giants are saying. Not that they're saying much at all.

"We've had conversations with him and his representative, and those conversations are continuing," said the Giants' executive vice president and COO, Larry Baer. "Other than that, I don't want to get into it. We've talked. We continue to talk. We haven't broken this off at all. And that's really all I prefer to say."

OK, fine. But the Giants' actions have said plenty.

"If they can get Manny, or if they could have signed Lee or Soriano, then they'd have the perfect excuse not to re-sign him," said an executive of another club. "But I don't think they're going to wind up with Manny. And if they don't, I don't know if they have any excuses left. Then they can't say: 'We couldn't bring him back because we have a better option.' "

"Obviously, the guy can still hit. But is the payoff worth the headache? If you sign him, you start by having to answer questions for a month about 'How can you bring this guy into your organization?' Then you have to sit there all through spring training and deal with 15 ESPN reporters hanging around every day."

So The Barry Watch this week really starts with The Manny Watch. If Ramirez goes elsewhere, or stays right where he is, the fact is: There doesn't seem to be another middle-of-the-order masher for the Giants to go get.

The free-agent shelves are empty, unless they can convince themselves -- and their fan base -- that Ryan Klesko or Trot Nixon or Cliff Floyd is that kind of bat. And right now, other than Manny, there's no thumper like that to trade for, either (Pat Burrell, anyone?) -- although Vernon Wells and Mark Teixeira could wind up being out there at some point.

But let's assume, for now, that no other cleanup force falls out of a fog bank and lands on home plate at AT&T Park. Let's assume the Giants do come to the apparently grudging conclusion that they have no better option than Barry.

Even then, it's still not a fait accompli.

The Giants have shown they have many dollars to spend, after allowing players making well over $50 million to become free agents. When the team didn't offer Bonds arbitration Friday, at least one message that sent was that the Giants want him to take a pay cut if he returns. But when the haggling is done, money shouldn't be the ultimate reason Bonds stays or goes.

So what will be the ultimate reason? Say hello to that 40-ton gorilla in the hotel ballroom.

There isn't a Ouija board in America that can tell the Giants, or anyone else, what lurks in Bonds' off-the-field future. That's a question only grand jurors and federal prosecutors can answer for sure.

But the impact of the grand jury's continuing fascination with Bonds is a gigantic factor here. How do the Giants, or any team, casually throw an "indictment clause" into a contract like this? Good luck getting The Greatest Slugger of His Time to sign off on that.

And even if there's no indictment, you don't need us to tell you why that grand jury and those prosecutors are out there digging. The reason they're digging is the same reason just about every team outside the 415 area code is running from a man who sits a mere 21 home runs away from Hank Aaron's all-time home run record.

It's obvious that the pooh-bahs at Major League Baseball don't want to see Barry Bonds become the man who breaks that record. So no wonder the conspiracy theories seem to outnumber the bidders these days.

"I'm starting to buy into the theory that no one is going to sign him," said one assistant GM. "When Tom Hicks in Texas comes out one day and says, 'We'd be interested,' and then two days later says, 'No way,' you have to wonder if somebody somewhere said something to him. Don't you?"

Heck, yeah, you do. But a high-ranking official of a team that has, at times, shown at least mild interest in Bonds insisted the blackball theory is both immoral and fictional.

"That's not happening," the official said. "If it is, I'm not aware of it. No one has said anything to us. I know that."

Then again, maybe no one has to. Clubs that have contemplated signing Barry can see all the sideshows he'd bring them on their own. They don't need anybody at MLB to draw them a picture.

"Obviously, the guy can still hit," said one AL executive. "But is the payoff worth the headache? If you sign him, you start by having to answer questions for a month about 'How can you bring this guy into your organization?' Then you have to sit there all through spring training and deal with 15 ESPN reporters hanging around every day.

"Then, when he gets closer to Aaron, you have an even bigger pain on your hands, with all the attention and the reporters and the controversy. So you have to ask yourself: 'Is it really worth putting my face next to this guy's and having to answer those questions for the next six months?' "

It's getting increasingly clear that the conclusion most teams have come to when they ask themselves that question is: no thanks.

Borris continues to say, though, that the outside world is greatly underestimating the level of interest in his most famous client.

Asked how many teams have serious interest in Bonds, Borris replied: "I don't want to comment on that right now. But I will say that a number of teams are intrigued by the possibility of Barry playing for them. There are teams we've spoken with that weren't even on our radar, that are interested in Barry playing there."

But how many teams is that? An official of one club rumored to have had interest says, flatly: "I don't know of anyone else [besides the Giants] that's interested."

The list of teams connected with Bonds in some rumor or other this offseason has included everyone from the Padres, A's, Angels and Mariners on one coast to the Red Sox, Orioles, Marlins and even the Devil Rays on the other coast. But we haven't found one team that will admit it has done more than just poke around – at least so far.

And still the Giants aren't a lock to sign the guy. Apart from all of the factors we've already laid out, there is another issue that the Giants have already lived with for way too long – and clearly would love to fix before they bring Barry back. It's an issue that actually has several prongs:

All indications are that the Giants are spending a lot of their time these days trying to figure out what, if anything, they can do about any of that. But knowing what we know about Barry, it's hard for us to envision his giving in on this front.

He's a man who has gotten very used to doing things his own way. And his position, no doubt, will be: "If you want to sell tickets and cash in when I break Hank's record, the other stuff comes with the territory. Period."

So what do the Giants do then -- tell him to take a hike?

"You know what," said one executive. "I think, if he's out there, they'll face unbelievable pressure to bring him back. Even if they trade for Manny, if Barry is still sitting out there, you don't think people are going to be asking why they're not signing him? The people of San Francisco want to see him break that record. That's the one constituency in America that loves him. So no matter what else happens, there's a lot of pressure there to bring the guy back."

But now that Borris has lashed out at the Giants for not offering arbitration, he has introduced a whole new plot twist -- that Bonds is so insulted, he might not want to come back.

"There's no hard feelings," Borris said, with no discernible trace of empathy. "This is not Barry's first contract. He understands this is just business. He understands the Giants have a business plan that doesn't include him. But in all fairness, Barry's business plan might not include them, either."

So what better place for everyone to firm up those business plans than the winter meetings, smack dab in the middle of Disney World, the happiest place on earth? But if the Giants can't make the Greatest Slugger of His Time happy this week, he'll need someone else to step up besides Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Pluto.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for