Tough call may pay off for Lakers in the end

I don’t envy the job Fort Frances Lakers’ coach and GM Wayne Strachan had this past weekend.
Strachan pulled the trigger on a pair of deals that seem to signal a bit of a fire sale here as the team’s leading scorer, Colton Kennedy, and power-play quarterback Conner Foster were sent packing.
The moves help give the financially-strapped team some flexibility while helping the Lakers shore up their roster for the future.
Strachan has confidence Matt Caulfield and Brett Williams will bloom in expanded roles with the local Junior ‘A’ squad after spending time as spare parts up in Dryden with the Ice Dogs.
He also was high on the unnamed forward acquired in the Kennedy deal, who he reported to be a younger player that would be able to contribute to the Lakers in a big way after Kennedy’s junior eligibility dries up at the end of the season.
The catch, unfortunately, is that the player may decide not to report here—scuttling the Lakers’ development until trade partner Melville sends over another of its Millionaires as compensation next season (the player had not made a decision as of press time last night).
The reason this trade may end up paying off for Fort Frances is that with or without Kennedy, the Lakers weren’t exactly spearheading a dangerous assault on the Dudley Hewitt Cup. Kennedy wouldn’t be able to play next season due to his age, so a bit of a lineup reboot with players who can return for a charge in 2011 comes off as the best thing for this team right now.
The conundrum Strachan had to deal with is that while dealing Kennedy affords the team some extra financial wherewithal, what becomes of fans whose main reason for attending the Lakers’ games was to see Kennedy put on a clinic?
The fans I’ve seen out at the games seem to be with the team win-or-lose, but shipping out a recognizable face—and the Lakers’ most exciting player—isn’t exactly a move designed to boost attendance this season.
For the rest of the 2009-10 season, the bulk of the offensive load now falls squarely on the shoulders of Tyler Stevenson, whose point-per-game average (32 points in 32 games) is over half-a-point lower than Kennedy’s as the newly-departed Laker had recorded 50 points in 32 games.
The talent lining up alongside Stevenson is going to be a drop-off from Kennedy but even if Stevenson can thrive without his linemate, that performance isn’t likely to make up for the loss.
Looking ahead to playoffs, without Kennedy and Foster, the Lakers seem destined to shackle themselves to fifth place, which would set up a first-round matchup with either the third-place Sioux Lookout Flyers or the fourth-place K&A Wolverines, with the winner then facing the front-running Fort William North Stars in the next round (the team that doesn’t face the Lakers in the opening round would meet second-place Dryden in the other second-round series).
Judging only by the box scores of their six meetings with Sioux Lookout so far, the Lakers—with Kennedy—would have matched up relatively evenly with them and a seven-game series could be considered a toss-up.
The Flyers visit Jan. 19 and will look to build on their 4-2 season-series advantage.
As for K&A, the Lakers have lost five of eight games to the Wolverines this season, but four of those losses have been by two goals or less.
K&A visits tomorrow night (Jan. 14) in what will be a display of how the gap between fourth and fifth may have widened after this weekend’s events.
• • •
Everyone needs a break sometimes—even professional athletes. And so it follows that giving teams opportunities to allow for a quick break during the game is a practical idea.
It’s just impractically applied.
In far too many situations, time-outs aren’t used for rest or for strategizing, thanks to some ridiculous rules in both the NBA and NFL.
Just last week in NBA action, a well-called time-out gave the Boston Celtics new life. Down two after Miami’s Dwyane Wade scored with 0.6 seconds to go, Boston called time.
But calling time from behind the basket allowed the Celtics to throw-in from centre court. Paul Pierce subsequently found Rajon Rondo for the tying basket, and Boston went on to win 112-106 in overtime.
I don’t feel particularly sympathetic for the Heat. It’s a black-and-white rule that just as easily could have benefitted them at some point.
No, the issue is that the rule doesn’t make any sense. Name one other sport where a team can advance half the playing surface while huddled at the bench?
The irony of Boston’s time-out was that it provided an exciting, memorable finish. Far too often, the number of stoppages in play late in a thrilling NBA game has turned me off of the league.
How is it possible to maintain suspense when the final two minutes of game time is stretched to 20 minutes by commercials? The end-to-end action almost completely dries up, and isn’t helped by a parade to the foul line as defensive players intentionally interfere with their opponents in an attempt to limit the offensive damage.
The number of time-outs or the amount of rest isn’t the issue, it’s just the timing. If players need a breather or a chance to strategize two or three times a quarter, give each team a time-out to use when they please, then have a built-in break at the first stoppage under eight minutes and then the first stoppage under four minutes.
Easy.
The NFL is no better with its gratuitous use of time-outs (the league gives them out nearly as frequently as it fines Chad Ochocinco).
Again, the long breaks towards the end of a game take the life out of an exciting showdown, but calling a time-out seems to be a strategy unto itself. Calling time-out to stop the clock is on the first page of every team’s late-game playbook.
While the NFL might want to reconsider when it does or doesn’t stop the clock (i.e., a first down doesn’t stop it, really?), that’s a different column for a different day. The ability to call three time-outs just gives teams too much leeway to weasel out of situations that they’ve helped to create.
Down by seven in the final two minutes in the post-apocalyptic one-timeout-per-half world? Here’s hoping your two-minute drill is oiled to perfection because you have to ration that time-out until it’s absolutely needed.
To me, that’s more compelling football. Sure, teams can still go out of bounds to stop the clock, but at least that’s something that has to be earned and isn’t just handed out at the start of the half.
The CFL’s rule of a single time-out per half is the way to go. It’s the one chance to strategize during a game-deciding drive, or the one chance to “ice” a kicker trying to make a game-winning field goal.
I’m not a huge fan of the latter, and the window to call a time-out should close well before the instant prior to the ball being snapped, but at this point, if a team has gone the entire second half without interrupting play, maybe we should just give ’em that one.
I’m not going to address the nearly unlimited delays in Major League Baseball since it doesn’t exactly brand itself as high-octane, thrill-a-moment entertainment like the NBA and NFL.
The slow-as-molasses pace gives it a sense of consistency, which is more difficult to find in the stop-and-start NBA and NFL

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