Memphis Grizzlies Trade Deadline Scenarios

With the NBA trade deadline less than a week away, the Memphis Grizzlies front office has a lot to mull over. The jury is still out on the Rudy Gay trade. Nobody can truly tell whether the trade will turn out to be a stroke of genius by Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace or a blunder that will ultimately cost the Grizzlies their chance of reaching an NBA Finals during their extremely narrow window to do so with an aging roster. Although the Grizzlies have already made one big move, the makeup of the current roster is still fundamentally flawed. If there’s been one gaping hole in the Grizzlies roster over the last several years, it’s been the lack of a three point threat and someone to spread the floor to give Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol more space inside. Below are several trade ideas that make sense for the Grizzlies to pursue before the trade deadline. (All proposed trades and images courtesy of ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine)

Proposed Trade: (MEM) Darrell Arthur for (CHI) Marco Belinelli and (CHI) Vladimir Radmanovic. The Bulls are a team going nowhere this season without Derrick Rose. Marco Belinelli is in the last year of his contract and he is unlikely to re-sign with the Bulls. Belinelli would give the Grizzlies bench scoring and the three point threat that they desperately need. Additionally, Belinelli is a decently efficient shooter. His eFG% is 46.8% and his TS% is 53%. Belinelli’s defense has improved since he came into the league with the Warriors, and he is now serviceable on that end of the floor so the Grizzlies wouldn’t have to worry about giving him extended minutes off the bench. From the Bulls perspective, Darrell Arthur would be another serviceable big man and give the Bulls another option in their thin front court. Arthur could work very well with Rose in the pick and pop game. Arthur could do what Boozer does except for a lot less money. If this experiment works out, the Bulls could use their amnesty to get rid of Carlos Boozer and his awful contract.

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Proposed Trade: (MEM) Darrell Arthur for (ATL) Anthony Morrow. Another team the Grizzlies could approach is the Atlanta Hawks. As of right now, the Hawks only have five players under contract for next season. With all the players on the Hawks roster in the last year of their deal, the franchise would be wise to get something in return for these players rather than let them walk for free this summer. Anthony Morrow is as good of a three point specialist as there is in the NBA, and he is unlikely to re-sign with Atlanta in the summer. Darrell Arthur would give the Hawks another big man under contract for next season, which could be a huge need for them if superstar Josh Smith decides to take his talents elsewhere, which is the most likely scenario.

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Proposed Trade: (MEM) Darrell Arthur and (MEM) Quincy Pondexter for (MIL) Mike Dunleavy. This deal doesn’t make near as much since for the Milwaukee Bucks as it does for the Memphis Grizzlies. Or does it? Mike Dunleavy is having an excellent season for the Bucks, but he is also in the last year of his contract. He is one of the top three point shooters in the league this year, shooting 43.8% beyond the arc. Dunleavy isn’t much of a threat off the dribble, but what he would bring to the Grizzlies is the floor spacing this team needs. The Bucks would receive two decent players in return. Pondexter could take on much the same role Dunleavy currently plays for the Bucks. Pondexter is shooting a prolific  54.84% on right corner threes, which is extremely valuable in today’s NBA. Darrell Arthur would add depth to a weak Milwaukee front court. Just about the only thing the Bucks do well on offense is shoot threes, and Darrell Arthur would help the Bucks become more two dimensional on offense and raise their two-point shooting percentage significantly.

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Proposed Trade: (MEM) Darrell Arthur and (MEM) Tony Wroten for (ORL) J.J. Redick. With an expiring contract, The Orlando Magic are thought to be shopping J.J. Redick rather than let him walk at the end of the season for nothing. This would be wise for the Magic since they are in rebuilding mode. The Grizzlies have a need for a spot up three point shooter like Redick that can also create off the dribble, and they have young assets that the Magic could use to rebuild. Darrell Arthur is the common theme in all these trade scenarios. With the recent addition of Ed Davis to the Grizzlies, Arthur’s services are increasingly disposable. Arthur has three more years on his contract, and he would give the Magic a rotational power forward for several years. The sweet part of the deal for the Magic would be rookie point guard Tony Wroten Jr. As anybody that has ever watched a Lionel Hollins coached team knows, he hates using rookie point guards. Obviously Wroten won’t be a rookie forever, but Hollins also doesn’t like to use inexperienced point guards, which is ironic because Wroten will never gain experience without playing time. If Hollins refuses to play Wroten, the Grizzlies front office might as well get somebody that he will use that will also fill the team’s biggest need.

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Proposed Trade: (MEM) Ed Davis for (HOU) Chandler Parsons. This is one of the more far-fetched trade scenarios. Houston would probably be unwilling to part with Chandler Parsons, an up and coming player with great versatility. Parsons is a decent three point shooter, and he can also create his own shot off the dribble. The Grizzlies could use a player like this to replace what Rudy Gay brought to the table while being able to play within the flow of the offense unlike Gay. While Parsons is likely an indispensable part of the Rockets, he plays much the same role on the team as Carlos Delfino. The Rockets have a great need for a front court player with a solid post game. Houston has its fair share of face up big men, but Ed Davis would bring a talented big man who is a strong finisher around the rim. He could possibly make the Rockets a more balanced team, which could be something that would tempt General Manager Daryl Morey to consider shipping Parsons away.

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Proposed Trade: (MEM) Ed Davis for (LAL) Jodie Meeks and (LAL) Robert Sacre. The Lakers are in a state of disarray, and it might be time to admit the Lakers chances of winning a championship with the current core have already gone by the wayside. It couldn’t hurt the Lakers to shake things up and build for the future. Ed Davis would be a solid building block and in return, the Grizzlies would receive the three point specialist they’ve needed for years.

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Proposed Trade: (MEM) Darrell Arthur and (MEM) Jerryd Bayless for (LAL) Steve Blake and (LAL) Earl Clark. Earl Clark has revitalized his career this year and has been one of the only bright spots for the Lakers, but with his contract expiring after this year, he isn’t likely to be re-signed by the Lakers since they will be throwing so much money at Dwight Howard. Clark is shooting a career high 40.5% beyond the arc, and if he can keep that percentage up that is something the Grizzlies would really value during the second half of the season and especially in the playoffs. While Clark does not really fit the Grizzlies grit and grind style of play, especially on defense, his three point shooting still makes him an attractive trade candidate. The Lakers would receive two role players that could help the Lakers transition into rebuilding mode after this year. Jerryd Bayless is a good backup point guard that would play more defense than the point guard the Grizzlies would receive in Steve Blake while bringing about equal value on offense. Additionally, the Lakers would receive Darrell Arthur. He would help Los Angeles see out the rest of the season by filling in for an injured Pau Gasol in the front court.

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Proposed Trade: (MEM) Darrell Arthur and (MEM) Tony Wroten for (PHO) Jared Dudley. The Suns would never pull the trigger on this trade, but Jared Dudley would be a perfect fit for the Grizzlies. He would provide a spark and scoring off of the bench in a sixth man capacity and fill the Grizzlies biggest need. He can knock down three pointers with consistency and he plays within himself on the offensive end rarely trying to do too much which is exactly what Memphis needs. Phoenix would receive rookie point guard Tony Wroten Jr. and Darrell Arthur. The main prize for the Suns would be Tony Wroten Jr. in this deal, but he would make little to no sense for the Suns seeing as there are currently three left handed point guards on their roster. Wroten would make it four. Arthur would be thrown in to sweeten the pie, but it still wouldn’t be enough. The Grizzlies could try to toss a draft pick in there, but the Suns would likely still decline the deal. The Suns have bigger needs than another point guard and a role playing big man.

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Player Profiles: Isaiah Austin

To preface my first player profile, I will be writing a number of these leading up to the 2013 NBA Draft. I have a passion for basketball and scouting in particular. Each analysis is based on watching multiple hours of game film for each player profiled. The opinions presented in each player profile are strictly my own.

Isaiah Austin / 7-0 / 205lbs / PF / Baylor / Freshmen

When scouting Isaiah Austin, the first thing that I noticed is his freakishly long body and arms. Austin is 7’0″, and if you factor in his standing reach, which is 9’3″, it’s easy to see how he garners so much attention from NBA scouts. His reach allows him to wreak havoc on the defensive end of the floor. His long arms force shooters to change their shot too many times to count during the course of a game. With that said, Austin often does not impose his will on a game and dominate as much as he should given his height and skill set. Austin is currently averaging 1.4 blocks per game, which is not even good enough to put him in the top 100 in the country in that category.

Austin sometimes misses blocks because his weight causes him to be pushed away from the shooter when he gets a shoulder put into his chest. His weight will be one of the main question marks surrounding him come draft time. Standing at 7’0″ and weighing only 205lbs., Austin will need to add both weight and muscle this offseason leading up to draft workouts to help him add much-needed physicality. As it stands right now, Austin would be an easy target for big men in the NBA to work against in the post.

His lack of physicality will work against him on both sides of the ball. On offense, Austin catches the ball too far off the block too often. He will have to beef up if he hopes to not be pushed off the block by NBA bigs. Fortunately for Austin, he is very adept at sealing off his defender to catch an entry pass into the post, which will help him tremendously at the next level. Isaiah’s real problem in the post comes once he receives the basketball. He has mediocre footwork, and he will need to develop a go to post move if he wants to make a large impact in the league.

Ocasionally, Austin does show flashes of skill in the post that make NBA scouts salivate. In Baylor’s first meeting against Oklahoma State this year, Austin backed his man down in the post once and performs a filthy drop-step baby hook on the baseline. If Austin can ever develop that go to post move, he will draw double teams when he receives the ball on the post. Thus, he will be presented with plenty of opportunities to pass to a wide open perimeter shooter. Austin needs to work on his passing from the post. Too often, he makes careless, lazy cross court passes that fly out of bounds or are easily intercepted. He will have to learn that sometimes the easiest pass to make is the best one to make.

Austin’s biggest plus on offense is his impressive shooting range for a big man. Not many big men can step out and hit 15-18ft. jumpers and especially threes on a regular basis like Austin does. The curious thing is that for a big man with such range, he is used in pick and roll and pick and pop situations very sparingly. One would think Austin’s range would be something Baylor coach Scott Drew would take advantage of with a myriad of pick and rolls, but that isn’t the case. NBA scouts would love to see Austin involved in more pick and rolls I’m sure, seeing as the P&R is used very heavily in the NBA by every team.

Another one of Austin’s flaws on offense is his passiveness and general lack of want for the ball on most possessions. With a player of his skill set, he should be looking to get a touch of the ball every time down the floor on offense. He sometimes looks lost on offense as if he doesn’t know his role. He also sets weak screens for a player his size, allowing for the defender of the ball handler that he is screening for to get around him with ease. Additionally, when Austin drives to the basket or faces up in the post, he doesn’t protect the basketball, which causes too many turnovers.

On to more positive things with Austin’s game, his height and reach allow him to get to rebounds he seemingly shouldn’t be able to get. He also has a silky smooth jump shot. His form is impeccable, the rotation on the ball is good when in the air, and his soft touch will help many of his shots bounce around the rim and fall in.

Isaiah Austin is an intriguing prospect. He has a lot of work to do both on the offensive end and in the weight room. The major question for NBA GM’s thinking about spending a lottery pick on Austin will be when can they expect to see a return on their investment? He will not be an immediate contributor in the NBA, and he is likely to play his best basketball from age 25 on. That means an NBA team is paying a potentially hefty salary to keep Austin around to do nothing for 5 or 6 years. That’s not a risk many NBA General Managers will want to take on a lottery pick. With that said, Austin’s height, reach, shooting range, and defensive prowess will essentially guarantee him a lottery spot in a very weak draft.

Will Austin ever dominate a game like his skill set suggests he can? Who knows. But there will undoubtedly be an NBA team like an aging Boston or an Atlanta (only has four players under contract for next year) that will take a chance on him and nab him early in the draft. I expect Austin to be drafted anywhere from the 13th to the 20th pick in the draft. I think Austin will have a productive NBA career, but I don’t see him ever being more than a role player. And unless his offensive game develops, he won’t be any more than a defensive specialist. The young prospect would be wise to stay at Baylor for another year to develop his game.



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Rudy Gay’s Uncertain Future

Hot topics in the NBA recently have been the Lakers, Lakers, Lakers, Lakers, Lakers, OH CAN WE STOP TALKING ABOUT THE LAKERS ALREADY!? Onto NBA topics that haven’t been beaten into the ground, what will the future hold for Rudy Gay?

A better question is what should the Grizzlies do with Rudy Gay. I’ve teetered on both sides of this argument ever since the Grizz went on a run to the Western Conference Finals in the 2010-2011 season while Gay was sidelined with an injury. At times, it seems like the Grizzlies are clicking on all cylinders with Gay an integral part of their success. On the other hand, the Grizzlies are completely dysfunctional at times with Gay on the floor and are noticeably better with him removed from the equation.

The reason I’ve been so hesitant to the idea of trading Rudy Gay is that often times in the NBA, teams strike a delicate balance between winning and losing. The slightest tweak in a team’s rotation could propel the team to bigger and better things or disgruntle the team and set them back a step. The Grizzlies want to avoid the latter scenario at all costs. I don’t think taking Rudy Gay out of the equation will help the Grizzlies balance, but rather, I think it will do the opposite.

All good teams have a window of opportunity to win a championship while the core of their roster is intact. That window starts to close due to age, injuries, or front office moves. In the Grizzlies case, the window is closing because of the age of several key contributors. The Grizzlies front office has taken positive steps towards winning a championship by signing Mike Conley and Marc Gasol to long-term deals. Both are essential to the Grizzlies success.

In my opinion, the Grizzlies have about two years left to make a championship run, including this year. Zach Randolph, who at times carried the Grizzlies in the playoffs when they made the run to the Western Conference Finals, cannot keep up with the breakneck pace of the NBA forever as he gets deeper into his thirties. Randolph’s weight has always been an issue, and when you add age to that equation, one has to wonder how long his knees will hold up and if his health will become a factor that keeps him from making a significant contribution to the team come playoff time. Additionally, the 2012-2013 season is the last year on Tony Allen’s contract. Now, I’m not sure if the Grizzlies will be able to re-sign him in the offseason or not, but even if they are able to, how long can Allen play manic, smothering defense before his age slows him down.

Without the two guys I just mentioned, the Grizzlies wouldn’t stand a chance at a Finals run. I’ve beaten around the bush for long enough though. The Grizzlies time to win is NOW, and the best way to do that is with Rudy Gay as an integral part of this team. Some people would make the argument that it would be worth it to trade Gay if the Grizzlies acquired a couple first round draft picks in return. My question is where are the Grizzlies going to find somebody to give them multiple first round draft picks for a talented player that is stuck in the realm between superstar and role player. Now to address the elephant in the room that is Rudy Gay’s salary. What team in their right mind would want to pay Rudy Gay’s salary of $16,460,532 for this season, $17,888,932 in 2013/2014, and $19,317,326 in 2014/2015. (Salary numbers by HoopsHype) I don’t know how the GM of a rebuilding franchise could justify to the team’s fan base that acquisition. Sure Rudy brings excitement on a nightly basis, but how exactly does he move along the rebuilding process?

I’ve played around with ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine for a while now trying to move Rudy somewhere, and there just isn’t a potential trade involving Gay that would make sense for both the Grizzlies and the other team/teams involved. Several people seem to think a trade between Memphis and the Phoenix Suns where Gay is swapped for G/F Jared Dudley and a couple first-round picks would be a nice deal for both teams. This trade should be declined by both sides. The Suns are a horrible team this year, and Rudy Gay doesn’t make them better enough to justify the move. Also, the Suns need to rebuild. The Nash years are behind them, and what better place to rebuild than the draft. The Suns would be foolish to give up future first-round draft picks right now for anybody other than a bonafide superstar. While this potential trade would make more sense from the Grizzlies standpoint, does Jared Dudley actually improve the Grizzlies and bring them closer to winning a championship. No, he doesn’t. Dudley does not need the ball in his hands on offense and hog the ball like Rudy Gay does at times, but he would not fill the scoring void that would be left by Rudy Gay’s departure.

As any NBA fan knows, the playoffs are a dog fight that often is decided in the half court. When things break down in the half court, Rudy Gay is arguably the Grizzlies best isolation option. He can create shots for himself better than anybody else on the current roster. When Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, or both are having an off night in the playoffs, Memphis will need Rudy’s scoring. Sure, he isn’t efficient often, but when he gets hot he can fill it up. The Grizzlies will undoubtedly need Rudy Gay in the playoffs. Now, the question is will they figure that out with him or without him?

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This is my introductory blog post. (Whew, glad I got that awkward start to blogging out of the way.) Now I know I’ve blogged once before from this blog, but for the sake of a fresh start, let’s pretend this is my very first post. To preface future blogs, I will tell you a little about myself. My name is Andrew Ford. I am a Senior Management major with a collateral in entrepreneurship at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Seeing as this is a sports blog, it is time for the obligatory “sports have been my life since i was a kid post.” While this is true, I’ll spare you the sappy beginning of my love for sports. Now, onto more practical things like my favorite teams. As it says in my bio, I am a follower of the Tennessee Vols, Chicago Cubs, Chicago Blackhawks, Denver Broncos, Memphis Grizzlies, and Liverpool. However, this does not mean my posts will only cover these teams. My posts will cover whatever I find interesting that is going on in the world of sports. Also, in case any of you are wondering why my background of my blog is Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets when I’m not even a Nuggets fan, my response to you would be what’s not to love about the Manimal? He is the definition of a primal man, and that picture makes me want to just go to the gym and pump some iron. Okay, I said it makes me want to go to the gym. I didn’t say I was actually going. Anyway, I’m a huge Kenneth Faried fan. I look forward to sharing my thoughts about whatever is on my mind in the coming days, months, and hopefully years. Thanks in advance for reading. 

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Euro 2012 Preview

Group Projections

Group A:
1st- Russia- Russia is in the reverse position of Portugal. If this side were in any other group, they would certainly be going home after a measly three matches. It is surely not the Russians fault for drawing the easiest group though. Look for this Russian side to capitalize on a golden opportunity winning Group A easily. The Russians will be led by Andrey Arshavin, the uber talented winger who might have the freshest legs of any player in the tournament after being neglected by Arsenal for the full length of the club season. The side might be the most cohesive in the tournament, seeing as most of the side’s players play for club team Zenit St. Petersburg. With a likely quarterfinal clash with either Germany or Netherlands, Russia just won’t have enough firepower to advance any further.

2nd- Poland- To the delight of the home country fans, hosts Poland will use their home field advantage to carry them through to the quarterfinals. While Poland are paper thin in quality depth, the side will have a decent starting 11. Probably the Polish’ best player, Robert Lewandowski will have a lot asked of him at this European Championship. The Polish are likely to go as Lewandowski goes, and if they can get him scoring goals then that should be enough to keep his team playing after three matches. Lukas Piszczek too will have to undertake a tremendous responsibility if Poland are to go through to the elimination rounds. Luckily for the Polish, if the opposition slips behind Mr. Piszczek and the rest of the back line, Wojciech Szczęsny will be waiting like a hawk to snatch up whatever comes his way. Check this out if you don’t believe me.

3rd- Greece- Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for Greece, they do. Greece fails to advance out of group play in a group that they should have fancied themselves to finish in the top two. Greece will hope to return the magic of the Euro side from 2004 to no avail. This defense is not as talented as the one in ’04, and with the lack of offensive firepower on the side, I really struggle to see how the Greeks will score. If Georgios Samaras is arguably your best threat on the attack, then you know your squad has some holes. Greece have a few too many holes. Look for them to bleed out fast.

4th- Czech Republic- The Czechs are one of the most underwhelming sides in this year’s tournament, but this scrappy side won’t go down without a fight. Milan Baroš (Is it just me or has he been around forever?) will have to provide some magic for a side otherwise majorly lacking in creativity if the Czechs are to have a fighting chance. One positive note going forward for the Czechs in the future is Tomáš Necid. Look for the young midfielder to break onto the international scene during the tournament leading to a big European club snatching him up in the summer transfer market, thus continuing to aid his rapid development. Since we are speaking of Czechs, Petr Čech will have to have a stellar three games in the group stage if his squad hopes to advance, meaning Čech will just have to play like he so often does. Oh, and I miss Jan Koller.

Group B:
1st- Germany- With a propensity to perform well in big tournaments and a squad loaded with talent, Germany are the odds on favorite to win the European Championship this summer. German sides are always mentally tough so don’t look for them to be flustered by any minor setbacks that might befall them in the group of death. Look for Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller to pick up where they left off in the 2010 World Cup by adding creativity on the attack coupled with clinical passing and finishing. (They wouldn’t be German if they weren’t technically sound, right?) Additionally, it’s a foregone conclusion that Miroslav Klose will get his share of goals adding to his international talley of 63 goals. If Germany have a weakness, it’s their defense. If defensive leader Phillip Lahm can inspire his backline mates to play up to his level and get the youngsters Holger Badstuber and Mats Hummel to play composed in their first European Championship, then this German side might just be unbeatable.

2nd- Netherlands- While I have Netherlands finishing second in the group, it was virtually a toss up between them and Germany for first. The Dutch have the look of an attack-heavy squad with the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and the red hot Robin van Persie. Nobody in the competition has more offensive firepower than Bert van Marwijk’s side. The danger of having too many men on the attack is the defense is left vulnerable for a counterattack, but the Dutch should be able to handle odd man onslaughts with a solid back line and the help of defensive-minded midfielders Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel. I actually like Netherlands more than the German side, but I believe it will take them a little longer to find their wheels which is why I gave Germany the nod in the group stage.

3rd- Portugal- Poor Portugal. If this side had drawn any other group, they would have undoubtedly gone through to the elimination rounds. With two of the best wingers in the game playing at a high level in Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, this Portuguese side might not get the results, but they will be one of the most entertaining in the tournament. Portugal have enough talent to advance out of the group stages, so the Dutch and Germans can’t afford a slow start to the tournament if they hope to play more than three matches. Overall, Portugal’s midfield is just not strong enough to keep enough possession to hold off the likes of the German or Dutch attack. Don’t get me wrong, Portugal has quality in the midfield but they don’t have any names that will keep Portugal fans from conjuring up memories of the golden age of Deco and Luís Figo.

4th- Denmark- The Danes solid defense, anchored by Daniel Agger, is their only hope for a point in any of their three games. This side can really only hope to maintain its respect in this group of death. Denmark lack any consistent quality up front from an enigmatic but talented Niklas Bendtner. Bendtner, surely much to his chagrin, might be best known for missing easy opportunities. Expect Bendtner’s woes to continue and to add to a never-ending punch line with each shot he takes. Oh, and expect the Danes to be sent home early with their heads hanging low without mustering so much as a single point in group play.

Group C:
1st- Spain- Spain will look to defend their European title and keep their top form from the 2010 World Cup using much the same squad as the one they employed on their way to winning the 2010 World Cup minus David Villa, Spain’s top goal scorer in the last world cup, due to injury. This could prove to be a huge loss as Villa has meant arguably more to the Spanish national team than any other player in recent years. Regardless, Spain will have the most complete side at this year’s Euros, which will likely help them wreak havoc. Spain’s core of midfielders is so talent laden that Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fàbregas, and Sergio Busquets are likely to come off the bench. Spain’s defense should be near impenetrable led by Puyol, Gerard Piqué, and Sergio Ramos. If by some fluke chance somebody does get past the Spanish defensive armada, their work will be far from done as they will then have to figure out some way to get the ball past the brick wall that is Iker Casillas. Look for Torres to become a Spanish fan favorite again as he regains his goal scoring form just in time to help carry Spain deep into the tournament.

2nd- Croatia- I know what most of you will read when you see my pick for 2nd in Group C. I imagine it to be something like “2nd- Croat.. Wait you have Croatia ahead of Italy!?”. Now, before you freak out, let me explain my reasoning. I fully expect Italy to fall to Spain in their first match, and I don’t expect it to be close. I then expect Italy to become deflated, and I don’t think they will recover in time to see their way through to the quarterfinals. On the other hand, I think Croatia will carry their momentum from beating Ireland easily into the next two games. Croatia is a tough side full of top-level players. Defense is not the side’s strong suit, but that might not matter if they can get just a so-so performance out of the back four. I say this because I think Croatia is solid enough in the midfield to keep possession for long amounts of time, thus keeping the opposition’s attack at bay with dynamite superstar Luka Modrić, Danijel Pranjić, and Niko Kranjčar. Up front, the Croatians are led by Ivica Olić and Nikica Jelavić. Eduardo Da Silva provides speed and scoring off the bench if the club find themselves in a whole late in the game. I think Croatia will catch the Italian giants sleeping, and they will have just enough points to edge out the Azzurri.

3rd- Italy- I really do think Italy will falter in this year’s Championship causing them to miss the quarterfinals by 1 point or quite possibly on goal differential. This Italian side is geared towards defense, and critics such as myself are unsure who is going to put the ball in the back of the net for the Azzurri. Italy managed to make it through qualification without losing a single game, in large part due to defensive ace Giorgio Chiellini and the ageless wonder Gianluigi Buffon in goal. As I’ve stated previously, I expect Mario “Why always me?” Balotelli and a not fully fit Antonio Cassano to struggle to score, which will inevitably lead to an early exit for the Italians.

4th- Ireland- The Irish will certainly have no luck in this year’s tournament, and their performance will be nothing to captivate the attention of the masses. Robbie Keane will have to carry the team on his back and will most likely have to score in every group stage match for the Irish to go through. That’s a large ask, even for a world class striker such as Keane. Ireland’s best hope is for Shay Given to play out of his mind, thus giving the side a chance for a surprise result and at least a draw or two. Yeah, the likelihood of Ireland advancing in this group is slim to none.

Group D:
1st- France- The French are the hottest side in European football right now, and the team will ride this momentum all the way to the semifinals hopefully erasing the painful memory of the country’s showing at the 2010 World Cup for all the French people. France has some of the best attacking quality in the world in striker Karim Benzema and winger Franck Ribéry. The player to keep your on in this side is Yann M’villa. The defensive midfielder doesn’t play like your typical twenty-one year old. He plays well beyond his years winning the ball back from the opposition then leading the French attack by distributing the ball all over the field. This is no doubt why Arsenal’s head man Arsène Wenger is so gung-ho to sign the young lad this summer. France have a solid core of battle-tested defenseman led by Patrice Evra and Gäel Clichy that should greatly help the side on its quest for glory. The French regain their dangerous ways in this year’s tournament, once again joining the world’s elite.

2nd- England- Wayne Rooney’s stupid antics, which caused him to be suspended for the team’s first two group matches, will cost the English dearly when it comes to the quarterfinals as a second place finish in Group D is likely to pit them against Group C winners Spain in the quarterfinals. If Rooney was available for the first two games, maybe they could edge out France for first in the group, but I digress. Without Rooney, the English won’t have enough offensive firepower to finish first, and much to the chagrin of the people of England, this side will be eliminated in, you guessed it, another quarterfinal. England will be relying on youth too much to make any real impact at this year’s tournament. Too much will be asked from youngsters Theo Walcott, Stewart Downing, Ashley Young, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in really their first appearance on the big stages for the Three Lions. Look for England’s next real opportunity for a European title to be in Euro 2016, when the four players I have named will have blossomed into the mature superstars they seem destined to become. England is said to have several key players with tenuous relationships, which certainly will not help the side’s cause. England will fall just short of the semifinals by a 2-1 score line against the Spanish in the quarterfinals.

3rd- Sweden- The question is not whether stud striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic can put the ball into the back of the net, but rather can Sweden’s lackluster defense keep the likes of France’s Karim Benzema and England’s Andy Carroll from adding to their tournament tally. I say no, and the Swedes will be sent packing early after falling to both France and England.

4th- Ukraine- Hosts Ukraine will experience much the same problem as the Swedes as they won’t be able to keep France or England off the scoreboard to get a much needed result. Unless veteran striker Andriy Shevchenko has a god-like performance, Ukraine stand no chance. An underwhelming Ukraine squad will give an equally underwhelming performance sending the hosts home pointless and without pride.

Quarterfinals: Russia vs. Netherlands; Spain vs. England; Germany vs. Poland; France vs. Croatia

Semifinals: Netherlands vs. Spain- I expect Netherlands formidable attack to be too much for even Spain’s defense, and Robin van Persie will continue his unbelievably smoking hot form all the way through the tournament as he adds to his tally in this semifinal match; La Furia Roja will have no answer to the Dutch brilliance.

Germany vs. France- The mentally tough German side won’t falter in the semifinals. The French will put up a valiant fight, but to no avail. I expect this game to go to penalties, where the Germans have a very impressive track record. Germany’s keeper Manuel Neuer will make a couple magnificent saves, showing us again why he is amongst the world’s elite at the position.

Finals: Netherlands vs. Germany- The final game will be one for the ages. In a rematch of Group B opponents, I give Netherlands the edge with their attacking. Look for the winner of the golden boot to possibly be decided in the last game of the tournament between Robin van Persie and Miroslav Klose. Van Persie will come away with multiple pieces of hardware, winning the golden boot and leading his team up onto the stage to receive their trophy as Euro 2012 Champions. Final prediction: In a heart-warming moment, Arjen Robben will finally come through for his team in a big way in the final of a major tournament, and he will cry tears of joy as he is handed the winner’s trophy after finally winning some hardware.

Champion: Netherlands

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