Thunder GM kills rumors of Van Gundy, Jackson

801144.jpg

Thunder GM kills rumors of Van Gundy, Jackson

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, a union leader with a record of criticizing the NFL's player-safety record, sees elements of a "smear campaign" in a bounty investigation that has sullied his reputation. Some NFL players agree, and question whether Fujita's three-game suspension has something to do with retribution. "I'm not saying the NFL is intentionally lying," Fujita said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I've been willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they may have just been working with the information they've been given, even though much of that information was inaccurate and lacked credibility. "It's their cavalier interpretation of everything that's been way off. They clearly proceeded with a public smear campaign with very little regard for the truth." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could rule on the appeals of Fujita and the other players suspended because of their roles in the bounty program as early as Monday. Saints linebacker Scott Shanle finds it hard to ignore the symmetry of the NFL portraying Fujita as a hypocrite on player-safety matters after Fujita had done the same thing to the league. "When you look at Scott, who was here for one season (of the three spanned by the bounty probe), for him to get three games, I just felt like there had to be more of a personal issue with that," Shanle said. "When you look at how outspoken he is and a lot of the issues he tries to address, it probably doesn't sit well with the league." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the NFL stands by its finding that Fujita gave "more than token amounts" of money to a pool that also rewarded injury-producing hits called "cart-offs" and "knockouts." "The process gave all of the players every opportunity to raise arguments and provide any mitigating information," Aiello said. "Scott Fujita unfortunately chose not to avail himself of the process. Nothing that he has asserted in his various public statements undermines the findings of the investigation." Fujita, who now plays for Cleveland, was one of four current or former Saints suspended in the bounty probe. Two of them, Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith, still play for New Orleans. The other, Green Bay defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, left New Orleans after 2010, while Fujita left after 2009, the first season covered by the investigation. In 2010, Fujita became a member of the NFLPA executive committee, and has since echoed comments by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) comparing the NFL's 2009 position on concussions' links to brain disease to the way the tobacco industry denied knowledge that smoking caused cancer. Fujita argued Goodell undermined his own credibility on player-safety matters when he pushed for an 18-game regular season. He called for the NFL to employ independent neurological consultants after Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was knocked out of a game, but allowed to return, despite later being diagnosed with a concussion. Browns players say Fujita challenged Goodell's answers to a range of questions including how a lockout would affect players' health coverage when the commissioner visited the team in 2010. "Scott wasn't scared to ask the tough questions that some of us wouldn't or some of us didn't even know to ask," Browns tight end Benjamin Watson said. "Scott wanted to make sure the commissioner owned up to all that stuff and ... you could tell that Mr. Goodell wasn't comfortable answering some of those questions." Former Browns linebacker Eric Barton added, "Most people in the room were like, this guy (the commissioner) is full of it and Scott just called him out, and it was almost like, Oh, Scott, you're going to be in trouble.'" After seeing evidence the NFL presented against him in last week's appeal hearing on the four players' suspensions, Fujita has more questions: -- Why has the NFL linked him to bounties in its public statements, while its disciplinary letter announcing his suspension acknowledges there is no evidence he "pledged money toward a specific bounty" on a particular player? -- Why does that same letter state he was a member of the Saints in the 2010 season, when he was with Cleveland? And what does that say about the quality of the investigation? -- If the investigation was going on for parts of three years, why did no one contact him before the league's first report in March? -- Why did Goodell twice call his personal phone after union attorneys notified the NFL they were representing Fujita, meaning Goodell was not supposed to call him without an NFLPA attorney on the line? Aiello responded that while the NFL never accused Fujita of targeting a specific opponent, his discipline letter clearly stated "that he contributed a significant sum to the general pool that included payments for nonspecific bounties in the form of cart-offs' and knockouts.'" Fujita was not contacted about the probe earlier, Aiello said, because the league was unable to identify specific players and their roles in the program until late in 2011. "Every individual that was eventually disciplined was invited to speak to our office prior to any decision on discipline," Aiello said. "None of the players, including Mr. Fujita, agreed to be interviewed during the process." Aiello added that Goodell's calls to Fujita were in response to calls Fujita had placed to Goodell, but the NFLPA said Goodell should not have been making personal calls to players facing punishment at that point. "It's inappropriate. It is completely outside legal conduct rules," NFLPA lawyer Heather McPhee said. "You cannot directly contact a represented party when you know a party's represented and it's especially odd in this case when Roger purports to be the judge. Picture a judge getting on the phone with a defendant or a suspect." After the second call, McPhee emailed NFL counsel Jeff Pash and Goodell, saying Fujita would be happy to talk with Goodell with counsel present, but there was no further communication, and Fujita learned days later he'd been suspended. Fujita said his only chance to speak with Goodell directly came in early March after the release of the initial bounty report, which did not identify players, although Fujita's name had been leaked. Fujita said he called Goodell to explain locker room culture as it relates to tough talk and informal performance incentives, and how it could be misconstrued. He said Goodell told him then that "he would have no problem coming down hard on Saints coaches, but that when it comes to players, he's not quite sure what he's got." Fujita acknowledges he offered teammates cash for big plays, mainly because "that's the way it was done when I was a young player and I kind of looked at that as paying it forward." But Fujita contends he never contributed to team-organized pools, instead paying pledges directly to teammates. The NFL's current collective bargaining agreement applies only to pools organized by team officials, like the one former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has apologized for running. According to a transcript AP obtained from the appeal hearing, NFL outside counsel Mary Jo White described an unnamed coach and another witness saying Fujita pledged unspecified sums of cash for "big plays" during the 2009-10 playoffs. The NFL also presented printed reproductions of handwritten notes, which White said show Fujita pledging 1,000 to a pool for sacks and forced fumbles during the regular season, and 2,000 during the playoffs to a "general pool," which she said in part paid for injury-inducing plays. The note indicated safety Roman Harper, who was not punished, pledged 5,000 to the general pool, and that assistant head coach Joe Vitt pledged 5,000 to knock then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the NFC title game. Hoping to protect those who helped their investigation, the NFL did not present the original notes or identify who wrote them. "We don't know who wrote the note. We haven't seen original, and the fact that Joe Vitt's name is on it proves how bogus it is," Fujita said. "No way he ever contributed not even 100 for anything. It's not his style." Vitt has said the part of the document showing his pledge is false, which he said raises questions about all of the evidence. However the bounty saga winds up, Fujita said he has no regrets about his aggressive tactics as a union leader. "I've had a few concussions myself. I have a dear friend (former Saints player Steve Gleason) who has ALS. I have a friend and former mentor (Lew Bush) who died earlier this year. Then there was the tragic death of someone I've admired for so long, Junior Seau," Fujita said. "I can't say for sure that all of these things happened because of football, but I've seen enough to have some concerns. I was elected to fight for these men, so in no way do I regret that."

Quick Links

Stock Watch: Scherzer's dominant week strengthens his NL Cy Young case

Stock Watch: Scherzer's dominant week strengthens his NL Cy Young case

Each week this season, we’ll take the temperature of the Nationals roster to see which player's stock is rising or falling.  

Record: 4-3

Team slash: .276/.321/.444

Team ERA: 4.02

Runs per game: 4.9

 

STOCK UP 

Max Scherzer, SP: 2-0, 16 IP, 1.13 ERA, 21 K, BB

Remember when Scherzer was yielding home runs at an alarming rate? It hasn’t been that long since then, but with the way he’s pitching these days, it sure seems like it. Since June, the 32-year-old right hander has recaptured his dominant form, so much so that he’s put himself in the NL Cy Young conversation. And he has a pretty darn good case, too; Scherzer leads the NL in innings pitched (190), strikeouts (238) and WHIP (0.91) while ranking second in wins (15) and eighth in ERA(2.89).

In his performances against the Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies over the last week, he’s looked very much like vintage Mad Max: flirting with no-hitters, pumping the fastball in the upper-90s, posting double digit strikeouts and going deep into each game. That’s the guy the Nats gave a $210 million contract to, and it’s a reminder why he’ll be taking the mound in Game 1 of an October series.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: .345 AVG, 2 HR, 8 RBI, .987 OPS

Speaking of postseason accolades, what’s Murphy got to do to be considered the NL MVP favorite? In the minds of national pundits, he appears to be trailing Chicago Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant, despite owning an edge in average, RBI and OPS. While Bryant's numbers are impressive, voters may already view him as the best player on baseball’s best team, so it may be difficult to sway them into digging deeper into Murphy's numbers.

It also doesn’t help Murphy that his defense hasn’t been considered above average at his position, while Bryant’s glove is lauded at multiple spots. Add in the mystique of the Cubs, a big market team, and it will be tough for Murphy to outshine Bryant without a monster September. But given what he’s done in his first year in D.C., it’s certainly possible.  

Trea Turner, CF: .455 AVG, 4 SB, 1.000 OPS

The major leagues aren’t supposed to be this easy for rookies. But game after game, the 23-year-old Turner is making “The Show” look like a cakewalk in his first opportunity as an everyday player. As a result, the 23-year-old speedster has quickly turned himself into one of the most dangerous leadoff men in baseball right now.  

Of NL hitters who have at least 175 plate appearances atop the lineup, Turner is leads in average (.343) while ranking third in slugging (.531) and OPS (.889). Additionally, he’s two hits shy of tying Murphy’s club record for hits in a month, not to mention a current 20-game on-base streak, a stretch that includes multi-hit efforts in seven of his last eight games. Not too shabby.

STOCK DOWN

Ryan Zimmerman, 1B: .042 AVG, 8K, .122 OPS

After posting a few good games following his return from the disabled list, Zimmerman has once again found himself in a bit of a rut. He has one hit in his last 24 at-bats with eight strikeouts to just one walk. While it's tempting to say it's been only one bad week, it’s hard to ignore that Zimmerman's struggles have been season long. His average has dropped to .216, which by far would be a career-low if he finished 2016 anywhere near that mark. He’s traditionally been a streaky hitter, but he’s running out of time to make a big impact.

College Football Playoff projections: Bring on the chaos

College Football Playoff projections: Bring on the chaos

College football fans have learned to expect the unexpected. The unpredictability of the sport is exactly why we love it. So, when looking at the first two years of the College Football Playoff, you can't help but feel like something is missing.

The playoff has been a bit too...clean.

Sure, there was the mini controversy of Ohio State jumping ahead of TCU in the final rankings in 2014, but everyone outside the state of Texas understood why that happened. While TCU and Baylor were getting participation trophies for being co-champs of the Big 12, the Buckeyes were rolling over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Other than that, the playoff has worked exceptionally well with little question as to who the top four teams in the nation have been the past two seasons. That cannot possibly continue.

SEE THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF PROJECTION HERE

The BCS system seemed to work well when it first began too, but then every nightmare scenario possible in a foolishly restrictive two-team system began to play out annually.

So what are the nightmare scenarios for the College Football Playoff? A non-power conference team or Notre Dame could go undefeated, a two-loss team could win its conference, an undefeated team could loss in the conference championship game, two teams in the same conference could establish themselves as the top teams in the nation. A team with an easy strength of schedule could finish the season as the only undefeated team, and those are just the ones we know about. There could be all sorts of whacky scenarios no one has even thought of that play out over the course of the season.

While a four-team playoff is certainly better than a two-team one, it is still restrictive to a point that could cause some real problems come December. So far, that hasn't happened.

College football is due for some chaos.

With that in mind here are my preseason College Football Playoff projections, featuring two teams from the same conference reaching the playoff for the first time.

Quick Links

Scherzer, Turner keep rolling in Nats win, Espinosa heating up?

Scherzer, Turner keep rolling in Nats win, Espinosa heating up?

Notes and observations from the Nats' 3-2 win over the Phillies on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park…

Scherzer again flirts with a no-no: It's a stat that just keeps getting more amazing the more we watch Max Scherzer go to work as a Washington National. Tuesday night was the ninth time in 61 starts since he signed with the Nats that Scherzer has taken a no-hitter into the sixth inning. That's 15 percent of his starts, which - not surprisingly - is more than any other pitcher in baseball. Scherzer is so locked in when he takes the mound that it often takes opposing teams five full innings to figure him out.

Scherzer was perfect through 4 1/3 innings on Tuesday before Cameron Rupp drew a walk in the fifth. And he didn't allow a hit until Freddy Galvis doubled to begin the bottom of the sixth. Scherzer ended up allowing a two-run homer to Ryan Howard, but he made it eight innings and only gave up three hits and that one walk to Rupp. Scherzer struck out 11 batters and now holds a Nationals record for most double-digit strikeout games in one season with 12. 

Scherzer stumbled a bit in consecutive starts in the middle of August when he gave up eight earned runs in 10 1/3 innings against the Rockies and Braves. But in two outings since, Scherzer has allowed just two runs across 16 innings with 21 strikeouts and one walk. He now holds a 2.89 ERA across 190 total innings pitched this season. And since his seven-run start at Wrigley on May 6, Scherzer has a 2.39 ERA in 21 starts with a .531 opponents' OPS.

Turner does his thing: It has become a common sight for Trea Turner to not just get on base in every game, but often to record at least two hits. He had two singles on Tuesday to record his 21st multi-hit game of the year in 43 total outings, 41 of them starts. If Turner is in the starting lineup, he is more likely than not to have at least two hits. And with 45 hits in August, he's just two away from the franchise record for hits in one calendar month. The odds he gets there on Wednesday night would seem to be good.

Turner has now reached base in 20 straight games. Only one other Nats rookie - Danny Espinosa - has accomplished that in team history. But it's not just getting on base that makes Turner special, of course. He got another steal in the 3-2 win and now has 18 on the year. That tied Bryce Harper's rookie record for a single season set back in 2012. Again, Turner has played in just 43 games.

Espinosa getting hot?: Don't look now, but Espinosa might be quietly heating up. The Nats shortstop had another solid game on Tuesday with two hits and a walk. He's now batting .355 (11-for-31) in his last nine games with a 1.009 OPS during that stretch. It's a small sample size, of course, but that's a positive sign for a guy who in 45 games since July 6 has hit just .191/.294/.268. This is quite easily the most consistent two-week stretch that he's had in months.

Harper gets on again: It's now 17 games since Harper has been back and he just keeps getting on base. He's reached in all of those outings and on Tuesday landed an RBI double in the first inning and later scored on a Wilson Ramos single. Harper continues to be on a tear since he got back from his neck injury. That was his 18th RBI and his seventh double since his return.

[RELATED: Turner on playing like a little kid, rest helped Ramos]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONALS STORIES