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Just when I thought my beloved NHL might finally get a day in the sun as a new season opened yesterday, the shine was swiftly stolen by a MASSIVE blockbuster that shifted the landscape of the NBA. Oh, and also ... the President was impeached, in case you missed that. Better luck next year, NHL. 

Still, I got to spend the entire day talking and watching hockey, so I'll consider that a win. (Hey Tom Fornelli, condolences about your Blackhawks. They probably should have just opted out of this entire season.) And while I'm still riding the high of puck being back in my life, the James Harden trade news is the juiciest story of the day and so we'll be diving into that off the top this morning.

Let the Harden story provide a valuable life lesson to us all: If you want a more ideal career scenario, all you have to do is show up to work late and publicly tell everyone that your current employer sucks. Works every time. 


📰 What you need to know

1. What the James Harden trade means for the Nets and the rest of the NBA 🏀

Well, that didn't take long! Less than 24 hours after James Harden (officially) quit on the Houston Rockets, the team sent him packing. Harden asked for a trade in the offseason but, about six weeks ago, the Rockets said they weren't going to be pressured into trading him and were willing to endure an "uncomfortable" situation. 

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It appears Harden did a wonderful job making that age poorly and forcing the team's hand, because they traded him to the Brooklyn Nets in a massive four-team blockbuster. Here are the details:

As you can imagine, the news rocked the basketball world and led to plenty of immediate reactions and takes. Let's get some grades! (from our Sam Quinn):

  • Brooklyn: B -- The Nets now have more talent than anyone in the Eastern Conference and the best offense in the NBA, so that's major. But they still have some work to do in terms of filling out the depth and getting better defensively
  • Rockets: C -- Houston seemingly could have had Ben Simmons but, instead, the best two young players in this deal (Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen) are going to Indiana. But the Rockets seized a ton of draft capital here and the upside there is huge, especially if things don't work out in Brooklyn
  • Pacers: A- -- In a thrifty maneuver, Indiana turned Oladipo (on an expiring deal and probably getting around a max deal this summer) into LeVert, who has two years of affordable control, and a pick
  • Cavaliers: A -- Cleveland secured long-term stability at the center position with Jarrett Allen and all it cost them was a likely late first-round pick (originally belonging to Milwaukee) and a replacement level player in Dante Exum

The big takeaway here is that the Nets are absolutely going for it, and they're basically mortgaging their future in order to do so. Our Bill Reiter says there's no excuse for them not to win a championship now, but Celtics fans like myself will be quick to remind you that the Nets mortgaging their future for some aging superstars doesn't always work out. 

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden might be the most talented "Big Three" that the NBA has ever seen, but are they going to be able to coexist and thrive in Brooklyn? Those three egos sharing the same locker room seems like a volatile recipe for one of the NBA's most dramatic soap operas (which is saying a lot) but, as a fan of chaos, I'm very excited about the potential to witness the most insufferable team in the history of the NBA. 

2. How to fix the College Football Playoff 🏈

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Even if you love college football (as I do), you still have to admit that this most recent bowl season -- including the College Football Playoff -- was a bit underwhelming on the entertainment side. Sure, COVID-19 played into that fate with all the opt-outs and canceled games, but there were a ton of blowouts and not a ton of drama.

Unfortunately, the CFP blowouts have become regular occurrences over the past few years and ratings are down. It's led some people to ask whether the College Football Playoff system could be better. Our Dennis Dodd has some suggestions on how to fix it:

  • A six-team playoff: Dodd likes the idea of adding two more teams into the mix and creating a play-in round while the top two teams get a bye week. That would help get more teams involved, avoid controversy and create more urgency
  • Move the CFP National Championship off Monday night:  Ratings haven't been good, but the CFP won't interfere with NFL playoff weekends. So, with that in mind, why not try moving the title game to a Friday night primetime slot?
  • Reduce the playoff-or-bust mentality:  Dodd suggests limiting the number of bowl games to create more demand, driving up the stakes. He also thinks sponsors should pay star players bonuses (when the name, image and likeness rights are approved) to participate in bowl season rather than opting out to prepare for the NFL Draft
  • Create more transparency: There's too much secrecy in the voting process. Is it too much to ask the 13 CFP Selection Committee members to release their top 25 votes week to week?      

I'm curious to hear where college football fans stand on these ideas, and where they stand on the CFP as a whole. Are you disappointed by the product recently? Do you think the system is broken? And, if so, do you have any ideas of your own to fix it?

3. Big Ben's contract is trouble for the Steelers 💸

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It's safe to say that Ben Roethlisberger's season did not end like he was hoping it would. After an 11-0 start, the wheels fell off and Pittsburgh got bounced in the first round by the Cleveland Browns. After throwing four interceptions in the finale, we wondered if it might be Big Ben's final NFL game. If so, the last image we have is him crying on the bench. Tough way to go out. 

But Roethlisberger still has a year left on his contract (as he quickly reminded us after that playoff loss) and he could decide to come back for one more year. That final year of his contract presents a bit of a mess for the Steelers.

  • Roethlisberger has the NFL's largest 2021 salary cap number at $41.25 million 
  • At this point, the Steelers are projected to be approximately $33 million over the cap in 2021
  • If Roethlisberger retires, the Steelers would be stuck with $22.25 million in dead money --  the largest amount of dead money related to an individual player for one league year in NFL history   
  • The cap relief for the Steelers is the same if Roethlisberger retires, is released or is traded

With this in mind, the Steelers might have to get creative in restructuring the contract or convincing Roethlisberger to take a pay cut. Those discussions could get awkward and messy, and I'm here for the potential drama that could come out of it. 

At the end of the day, it's absolutely incredible that Roethlisberger is going to have the highest cap hit in 2021. I'm not even sure how that happens. I'm also not quite sure how the Steelers don't have a succession plan in place at this point, either. They're probably going to want to get on that.

4. Best bets for the Sony Open in Hawaii 🏌

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Don't let all the NBA, NHL and NFL distract you from the fact that we've also got some golf to enjoy this weekend. The Sony Open kicks off today at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, continuing the PGA's residency in Hawaii following last week's Tournament of Champions.

If you're in the market for some picks, our Kyle Porter has you covered:

  • Winner: Joaquin Niemann (25-1)  -- Niemann has had a great last few months and he came up juuuuust short last week, so he's a solid bet here
  • Top 10: Collin Morikawa (+150) -- This course is tailored to his game and his tee-to-green play was solid last week so Porter likes him for a high finish
  • Sleeper: Charles Howell (50-1) -- These are great odds for a guy who has 10 top 10 finishes at this course. Sure, he hasn't been hitting the ball as well as he usually does, but he should be comfortable this weekend

This week's field isn't stacked by any means (there's a major lack of star power), but it's pretty deep and it should be an intriguing event. Enjoy your golf naps.


📝 Odds & Ends

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USATSI

📺 What to watch today

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders
USATSI

🏒 Islanders vs. Rangers, 7 p.m. | NYR -105 | TV: NHL Network

🏀 Warriors vs. Nuggets, 10 p.m. | DEN -5 | TV: TNT


📝 Top scores from last night

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🏒 Maple Leafs 5, Canadiens 4 (OT)

Morgan Rielly had the game-winner in overtime to cap off a Toronto rally in the season opener.
💵 Winning wagers: TOR -146, Over (6)  

🏀 Trail Blazers 132, Kings 126

Damian Lillard had 40 points and 13 assists in the win.
💵 Winning wagers: POR -4.5, Over (237.5)

🏀 No. 15 Texas Tech 79, No. 4 Texas 77

Mac McClung made a long jumper with three seconds left to lift the Red Raiders to an upset win. 
💵 Winning wagers: TECH -103, Over (130.5)