Kim Ng, the Masters, Brian Flores and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. The Marlins’ hiring of Kim Ng signals a new era for professional sports
In historic moments like the Miami Marlins making Kim Ng their general manager, context is crucial. Ng is not the first woman to be in charge of personnel for a major professional sports team nor is she the only one doing so now. Alisha Valavanis has built two WNBA title teams as the Seattle Storm’s general manager. All three of the Indiana Fever’s general managers have been women. Alyse LaHue is in the middle of completely rebuilding the NWSL’s Sky Blue FC and doing so in impressive fashion.
The difference, obviously, is that Ng is the first female general manager of a major male professional sports team. This is a groundbreaking event not because of what Ng will be doing but because of where she’s doing it. Professional sports are entering a new era because someone finally decided a woman was the most qualified person to construct a roster of men competing at the highest level possible. Progress in women’s struggle to be regarded as equals to men in the sports world comes in stages. The hiring of Ng means we have arrived at the next step of that journey.
2. An unforgettable Masters turned out to be a historic one
Few things in sports are more synonymous than the Masters and April. It is as dependable as any event on the annual sports calendar. When COVID-19 forced the tournament to be rescheduled for November, there was inevitably going to be something strange about it. The 84th edition of the Masters will be remembered as the one that took place during a pandemic in November, but it will also be remembered for what took place at Augusta.
Bernhard Langer became the oldest player to make the cut at age 63 and finished the tournament -3. The cut Langer made was the lowest ever at even par. There were five players tied for the lead after 36 holes, tied for the most in Masters history. One of them, Dustin Johnson, claimed his first green jacket in dominant fashion, tying the record for the lowest score after three rounds and setting a new one with a final score of 268 (-20). Another, Cameron Smith, became the first player to shoot under 70 in all four rounds. This Masters had cemented its unique place in history before anyone teed off. It just so happened to make more history along the way.
3. Free agency is going to take a back seat in the NBA this offseason
The free agency rumor mill is a staple of every league’s offseason. Be it baseball, basketball, football or hockey, at least one or two high-profile stars hit the open market almost without fail. The NBA 2020 free agent class just so happens to be one of those rare exceptions. The biggest name guaranteed to hit the open market is Fred VanVleet, who averaged more than 11 points per game for this first time in his four-year last season. The likes of Danilo Gallinari and Davis Bertans are behind him.
Meanwhile, potential trades involving All-Stars abound, partly due to the weak free agency class. It is in everyone’s best interest for Chris Paul to move on from Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook has expressed his desire to be dealt by the Rockets. The New Orleans Pelicans are exploring the possibility of trading Jrue Holiday. In the coming weeks, the headlines in the NBA are going to center around the draft and the deals that do or do not happen rather than what’s happening in free agency.
4. The Big Ten is not what it appeared to be
Michigan and Penn State have identical 32-12 records in Big Ten play over the past five seasons, tied for the third-best mark in the conference behind Wisconsin (34-10) and Ohio State (40-4). Even with the Nittany Lions’ loss to Indiana in their first game, there was no reason to think this year would be any different. After all, their rushing attack and passing game were both more productive individually than the Hoosiers’ entire offense in that game. Three weeks later, however, those two storied programs have one win between them.
James Franklin’s program is 0-4 for the first time since 2001. Jim Harbaugh’s has lost three of its first four games for the first time since 1967. Meanwhile, Northwestern has more wins in four games than it did in 12 contests last season with Wisconsin up next. Indiana also travels to Ohio State in a matchup of undefeated top-10 teams. Should the Wildcats and Hoosiers upset the Badgers and Buckeyes, respectively, they will be headed for a meeting in the Big Ten Championship Game. The depth this conference is known for may still be there this season, just in a different form.
5. Brain Flores is the most underappreciated coach in the NFL
Brian Flores didn’t take the Miami Dolphins job because it was the most appealing of the openings available at the end of the 2018 season. He took it because it was the only head coaching gig he was going to get. The Dolphins lost his first four games in charge by a combined score of 163-26 as they unapologetically dispensed of talented players like Minkah Fitzpatrick in the closest thing the NFL has seen to Sam Hinke’s “Process” in Philadelphia.
Miami is 11-10 since then and moved to 6-3 this season with a 29-21 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Nov. 15. Its lone defeat since the beginning of October was an eight-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Tua Tagovailoa has beaten Jared Goff, Kyler Murray and Justin Herbert in his three starts. Flores inherited a laughing stock and made it respectable by the end of year one. He now has significantly better players to work with in year two and the result could be a playoff appearance. Nobody is doing more with less in the NFL than the 39-year-old Bill Belichick disciple.
If Victor Oladipo means what he says about being committed to the Indiana Pacers, he will re-sign with them next offseason without going through the free agency process. The Pacers would be silly to offer him anything but a max contract, so he has no reason not to take it if he’s being truthful. Reports like the ones detailing his desire to leave don’t come out of nowhere though. Oladipo doubled-down and now it’s time to hold himself accountable.
Photo by Ryan Schreiber / Flickr