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Video: UFC 254 preview show – MMA Fighting

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With UFC 254 just hours away, MMA Fighting’s Mike Heck, Jose Youngs, Alexander K. Lee and E. Casey Leydon break down the top storylines from Saturday’s event on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, including the main event for the undisputed UFC lightweight title between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje.

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Westbrook-Wall trade could be lose-lose for both Rockets and Wizards – Sportsnet.ca

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An old cliché in the NBA says that any contract can be traded in the league, and on Wednesday night this old adage certainly proved to be true.

In a swap for two players on supermax deals, the Houston Rockets traded Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards in exchange for John Wall and a protected first-round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

It’s worth noting that this was a swap for players making, essentially, the same money and, really, the only trade that could be made out there for any of them would’ve been this one. But after Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard said one week ago that the team “had no plans” to trade Wall, the idea of this deal lost all steam and was thought to be dead in the water.

The NBA is never one to disappoint, however, and the trigger was pulled. This trade that would normally just be reserved for fantasy leagues and NBA 2K franchise modes is now reality.

So then, what to make of all of this? We have a few questions about this whole thing we’d like answers to.

East has become tougher, but by how much?

Make no mistake, even if John Wall wasn’t coming off two missed seasons recovering from a ruptured Achilles and there were no question marks about his health and this deal was made, the Wizards still likely would’ve ended up with the better player between the two.

Though mercurial and frustratingly inefficient at times, Westbrook will improve the Wizards this coming season and, by proxy, make the Eastern Conference tougher. The question, therefore, remains: by how much?

Bradley Beal took a monster step last season, becoming an all-star for the second time in his career and transforming himself into a bona fide scoring machine, finishing second in league scoring with a 30.5 average. The Wizards also managed to re-sign sweet-shooting stretch four Davis Bertans, and are bringing back essentially the same group that at one point last season was among the league’s best, most high-octane offences.

And now Washington is adding Westbrook to this mix to possibly take it into overdrive offensively, something that the club is hoping will return it to the post-season.

The Wizards haven’t played a playoff game since 2018 and that’s rather unacceptable given the amount of money on their payroll.

However, looking around the Eastern Conference, you have to wonder how high a seed the Wizards could realistically get.

The powers of the conference are rather obvious in the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers. That’s already seven teams that most expect to make the playoffs next season. That leaves the good-but-not-great Orlando Magic, the ambitious-looking Atlanta Hawks and now the Wizards as the likely candidates vying for that final spot.

Westbrook is an upgrade for Washington, but is his addition really enough to leapfrog the Wizards past those seven teams first mentioned? If not, is the No. 8 seed in the East really that worth it?

What does this trade mean for Harden’s future in Houston?

For the time being, according to ESPN’s Tim McMahon, James Harden will not be traded, despite reports that he wants out of Houston.

Those reports came, obviously, before this Westbrook trade happened and if Harden didn’t want to play with his old childhood buddy anymore then the wish has been granted and there shouldn’t be animosity any longer.

However, if the issues are more deeply-seeded for Harden and there is actually a disconnect between he and the Rockets franchise, you have to wonder how much will bringing in Wall perhaps aid in retaining Harden?

As mentioned before, there’s no knowing what kind of player Wall will be after being out for two seasons. There’s a chance the trademark athleticism and explosiveness that made him a former No. 1 overall pick and allowed him to get to the rim almost at will and guard multiple positions at a high level could be robbed from him.

On the other hand, Wall was never the best nor most willing shooter, meaning shots that were taken away from Harden playing alongside Westbrook will be his again. Additionally, Wall was, and should remain, a great passer with very creative vision.

But you can’t discount the possibility that perhaps the Rockets themselves would look to move on from Harden after the apparent bad blood during this off-season. The Rockets’ payroll is exorbitant to say the least and they are saving a little bit of money by swapping Westbrook for Wall, so if owner Tilman Fertitta is looking to cut costs, finding a suitor for Harden for expiring contracts would be the play here.

Did anyone actually win this trade?

The more you think about this trade, the harder it becomes to determine who came out on top as the winner.

As the tweet above from ESPN’s Bobby Marks shows, the money between both players is very even and while Westbrook is probably the better player, these are still two very similar players, right down to their glaring flaws as being not-great shooters.

There’s an argument to be made that Washington did end up with the better deal because of the reunion between Westbrook and head coach Scott Brooks, who had Westbrook as a rookie and coached him and the Thunder for seven seasons.

Brooks has always had a strong relationship with Westbrook and helped turn him into the star he is today. That bodes very well for the Wizards with the caveat that sometimes Brooks’ reliance on Wesbrook came at the expense of Kevin Durant, an ultra-efficient scorer back then similar to what Beal is now, opening up the possibility of some friction between Westbrook and Beal over who gets the ball more and who gets more shots.

So then, would that mean the Rockets won the trade? Houston may have if Wall is anything like the five-time all-star he once was before injuries forced him off the floor. That’s a big “if,” however, as Achilles injuries are always tough to come back from.

There’s also the chance Wall could clash with Harden as he’s a player used to being the top dog in an organization, having spent the first 10 years of his NBA career in Washington.

Wall was supposed to be a franchise player that the Wizards could build around and looked like he could become that when he signed that supermax extension with Washington back in the summer of 2017. The contract didn’t kick in until this past season, and now he’ll go without ever playing for the team that originally signed him to it. Injuries suck, and the fact that they’re so commonplace sucks even more, but Wall is only human and may be looking to finally prove his worth now, for better or worse, in Houston.

So then, who won the trade? It’s too early to say for certain, but for the time being is it possible that both teams lost? Trading stars almost always ends up badly for the team giving one up, and that includes a case like this where it is a star for a star. The uncertainty among both Westbrook and Wall raises too many red flags on both sides for this deal to be healthy for either.

Boogie and Wall reunited

This isn’t a question, but how cool will it be see these two Kentucky Wildcats teammates reunited on the floor together again?

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Twitter Reaction: NBA world debates Westbrook, Wall blockbuster trade – Sportsnet.ca

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With training camps opening across the NBA, the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards decided to pull off a blockbuster trade involving John Wall and Russell Westbrook that caught many by surprise.

After trade talks appeared to have broken down, Westbrook and Wall finally got their wishes to be dealt. Westbrook lasted only one season with the Rockets after getting traded by the Oklahoma City Thunder while Wall hasn’t played since 2018 but was looking to depart his current situation before the season started.

Many took to Twitter to give their thoughts on the trade and tried to give their prediction as to which team came out on top.

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Blue Jays’ free-agent groundwork could soon yield payoffs – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – About a month into the off-season, the Toronto Blue Jays have surveyed the landscape, done their legwork and apparently have their budget for 2021. Now, general manager Ross Atkins says, they’re ready for action.

“It doesn’t take much at this point for a deal to happen,” he said Wednesday during the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s annual meeting. “I don’t know if it’s days or a week or two before things start to pick up for the Toronto Blue Jays. But we’re prepared.”

Prepared for what exactly remains the subject of much intrigue. They continue to be connected to new names daily, while some industry chatter wonders if a trade is in the offing. The Blue Jays have a surplus behind the plate and “a lot of teams have approached us about our catching,” Atkins said, declining to elaborate on a follow up.

No matter their specific aims, they’re big-game hunting, and making it known that they’re big-game hunting, which is an indication that they’re confident of landing a prime target.

Hence, even with Atkins conceding that “feeling the interest back has reshaped” their current pursuits, the Blue Jays feel that “this is an opportunity to not only impact this team this off-season, but it’s an opportunity to impact this (team) for years to come.”

“As we’ve talked about, this is just one step in the process, as last trade deadline was, as last off-season was,” he continued. “This is another point in time where we have an opportunity to add talent. And what we’re thinking about is not only positional fits, whether that be pitching or outfield/infield/catching, but also how it will impact our environment for some time to come.

“So that’s something we’re talking to free agents and targeting free agents for, is how they will influence Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette and Vladdy (Guerrero Jr.) and Ryan Borucki and Jordan Romano and others.”

That’s a description befitting the likes of George Springer and D.J. LeMahieu, two players believed to be high atop their list, and other names they’ve been connected to, such as J.T. Realmuto. The sudden flooding of the free-agent market with players non-tendered ahead of Wednesday’s deadline – a deeply troubling purge of the game’s middle class – created some new opportunities for the Blue Jays, but they’re not achieving Atkins’ stated goals in that shopping aisle alone.

They also seem to have received approvals from team owner Rogers Communications Inc., which also owns this website, for their spending plans. Asked if the club’s 2021 budget has been OK’d, Atkins replied: “There have been several interactions, as there always are. We feel well-positioned. We feel like everyone understands our plan and everyone understands our opportunities. We feel well-positioned to proceed on executing them.”

Let’s condense those 33 words down to one, as that sure sounds like a yes.

Within that plan, Atkins said the Blue Jays “are in a good position to make the team better on both sides of the ball,” although he stressed that the club’s resources weren’t “unlimited.”

How those resources get divvied up bears watching, as after Robbie Ray was re-signed, Atkins said the Blue Jays felt good about covering a season’s worth of innings, and were focused on the quality of their innings as opposed to the quantity from here on out.

Save for ace Trevor Bauer, some of the better starting options are already off the free-agent board, which is why the Blue Jays seem positioned to strike on the position-player front first and secure impact there, circling back to the pitching market afterwards.

“I would say that’s a fair assessment, but it’s not by any means that I feel strongly that is the case,” said Atkins. “But I think the way that you framed it is fair.”

What they manage to accomplish in terms of adds will help determine how they line up the pieces already in place.

The decision to non-tender Travis Shaw, while not surprising, underlines that the Blue Jays believe they will find an infield upgrade. LeMahieu is the ideal option both from an offensive standpoint and his ability to play at any of the bases, but he may be impossible to pry from the New York Yankees, or perhaps the Mets.

Allowing the Blue Jays to examine a host of options is that Biggio can remain primarily at second base, move over to third or be bounced around the diamond. Atkins also won’t rule out the possibility that Guerrero is part of the solution at third base, describing him as one of the variables impacting where Biggio ends up playing, the other being who they end up acquiring.

“The great thing, and it’s the biggest compliment I can possibly make, at least in my view, to Cavan, is he has two incredible attributes that give us an incredible opportunity to have the situation just described,” said Atkins. “One is he has the athleticism and ability to do it. And two, he has the openness and values it himself and what it means for a chance to win. I think he prioritizes that. He prioritizes team and that’s a huge benefit for the Toronto Blue Jays.”

Even better would be if the Blue Jays reward him with some certainty about his defensive responsibilities for 2021. Given all the groundwork that’s been laid in recent weeks, and with the virtual winter meetings due to begin next week, payoffs on a number of fronts may soon start coming.

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