Trust Issues: Teams and Athletes We're Not Sold on Yet

Sid QuashieFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2017

Trust Issues: Teams and Athletes We're Not Sold on Yet

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Being a sports fan requires a lot of faith because there are some franchises and athletes that continue to make the wrong moves despite their best efforts. And that’s true even for teams and athletes that are making progress or doing well because there’s always a feeling that the whole thing could blow up. Which brings us to trust issues that we have about certain teams and athletes that we’re not sold on yet for one reason or another.

    For example: Do you trust Phil Jackson to make the right moves with Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the franchise? Are the Houston Rockets really title contenders?

    The teams and athletes on this list are evaluated on the source of distrust and then given a trust meter score from one to 10, with one being no trust and 10 being absolute trust.

New York Knicks: Getting Value for Carmelo Anthony?

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Source of Distrust

    Despite the fact that he had the foresight to draft Kristaps Porzingis, general manager Phil Jackson also signed oft-injured former Chicago Bulls teammates Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, neither of who has paid dividends.

    That whole Zen philosophy thing doesn’t play all that well in hoops-crazy New York, and the current standoff with Carmelo Anthony seems manufactured to drive the team’s best player out of the Big Apple so that rebuilding can begin in earnest.

    But guess what?

    The reason Anthony is so hard to trade for assets and players is that Jackson handed him a no-trade clause when he negotiated the small forward’s 2014 deal.

    And per Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post, Jackson lost leverage by granting that no-trade clause, meaning that Anthony can veto any trade he finds less than palatable, robbing Jackson of any real power.


    Trust Meter Score: 1

    Jackson has no track record when it comes to building a winner, and despite the addition by subtraction that an Anthony trade could bring, the Knicks figure to get worse before Porzingis gets enough help to make them contenders.

Joel Embiid: Staying Healthy?

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Source of Distrust

    With big men like Joel Embiid, it always comes down to health.

    The Philadelphia 76ers center missed two full seasons due to injury after the team drafted him with the No. 3 pick in 2014.

    Two foot surgeries later, Embiid’s NBA debut has equaled the hype, with the big man averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists through 31 games played this season.

    The Process is drawing comparisons to Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon, but it’s always dicey to bet on the long-term health of 7-foot centers (see Greg Oden).

    And per Jeff Stotts of FiveThirtyEight, the percentage of players with injuries in the NBA increases as the height of the player increases.

    In fact, Stotts wrote that NBA players who are 7 foot or taller have missed 23.5 percent of their games due to injury.


    Trust Meter Score: 4

    The minutes restriction implemented by the 76ers coaching staff may help Embiid avoid a catastrophic injury due, but with players of his size, just running on the court represents a hazard, which is why a trust meter score of four seems appropriate.

Houston Rockets: Title Contenders?

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Source of Distrust

    The Houston Rockets are the surprise team of the first half of the NBA season, and any team that can set the record for three-point field goals attempted (61) and made (24) is obviously one that is fun to watch.

    Through Tuesday, the Rockets were 35-16 and in third place in the Western Conference, though they have hit a recent losing skid, going 4-6 in the past 10 games, which is troubling.

    Head coach Mike D’Antoni has had prior success playing a frenetic, up-tempo style that favors three-point shooting, fast-break points and easy baskets in transition.

    But the challenge in the second half of the season is determining if this success is sustainable. Can James Harden continue to be the primary ball handler and scorer without tiring?

    And as with all D’Antoni teams, can the Rockets defend well enough to make a serious title run?

    Houston ranks 24th in the NBA in opponent points per game, giving up 108.8, a stat that will cripple this team in the playoffs when every possession counts.


    Trust Meter Score: 5

    Harden is having an all-time season and seems committed to being a first-rate distributor and scorer.

    If the team can improve its defense to a top-15 ranking, it has a chance to go deep because it can outscore anyone, including the formidable Golden State Warriors.

Toronto Raptors: Biggest Threat to Cleveland Cavaliers?

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Source of Distrust

    After losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the Toronto Raptors seemed poised to remain the only consistent threat to LeBron James’ return to the finals this season for the seventh consecutive year.

    But even though the Raptors are 29-19 through January 31, good enough for third place in the Eastern Conference, they are 4-6 in their past 10 games and have watched the surging Boston Celtics become the No. 2 seed on the strength of a 7-3 record the past 10 games.

    In a piece assigning NBA midseason grades, Ben Golliver of gave the Raptors a “B+” but warned that the team’s winless streak against the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors was a big concern.


    Trust Meter Score: 5

    Without a major upgrade in the frontcourt, the Raptors must rely on Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, two very good but not transcendent players.

    To get past James’ Cavaliers, Toronto will need more firepower, and there are precious few big-name gunners on the trade block.

Gonzaga Bulldogs Basketball: NCAA Final Four Appearance?

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    Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

    Source of Distrust

    We’ve been here before, haven’t we?

    It seems as if every year head coach Mark Few’s Gonzaga Bulldogs do just enough to raise expectations for a serious NCAA title run, and then the team fizzles out in the Sweet 16.

    And just to spice things up, the Bulldogs earned their first No. 1 ranking since 2013 on Monday, grabbing the top spot in the USA Today and AP polls.

    That happens when you’re 22-0 and dominating the hoops landscape and other teams around you are losing their heads (or games).

    The resume is strong, with wins over Arizona, Florida and Iowa State, but it’s a story Gonzaga has written before.

    The team has never been to the Final Four and has lost in the first or second round six out of the past nine tournaments.


    Trust Meter Score: 5

    You can’t give this team any more than an average chance of advancing to the Final Four and breaking through to an appearance in the title game.

    Gonzaga has teased too often in the past, so putting faith in this team is a risky proposition.

USC Trojans: National Title Contenders?

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Source of Distrust

    The USC Trojans played one of the all-time great college football games on January 2 against Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl.

    The Trojans prevailed 52-49 on a last-second field goal and cemented a 10-win season that also included a nine-game winning streak.

    USC became the first college football team to finish the season ranked No. 3 in the AP poll with three losses, and ranked the Trojans No. 2 behind Alabama in its way-too-early top 25.

    The last time the Trojans had this much preseason hype, they went into the 2012 season ranked No. 1 and ended the season 7-6 under then-coach Lane Kiffin.

    USC seems to play better as an underdog, but that won’t be possible in 2017.


    Trust Meter Score: 7

    The Trojans are led by all-world quarterback Sam Darnold, who will go into the season as the nation’s top thrower, and with another national signing day top-10 class, USC will be a strong contender to represent the Pac-12 in the College Football Playoff.

Chicago Cubs: Perennial World Series Contenders?

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

    Source of Distrust

    It’s not easy to quell the doubts—even after the Chicago Cubs shook off 108 years of futility and finally claimed a World Series.

    So Cubs fans and interested observers likely view this upcoming season as a true test of faith about the sustainability of excellence, which for Wrigley Field attendees means one thing: winning another World Series.

    A division title or even a pennant are not enough anymore for this loaded squad, and with huge expectations come huge responsibilities.

    Chris Bahr of wrote that the Cubs have a strong chance to repeat based on their mighty pitching staff, the return of Kyle Schwarber and the strikeout ability of closer Hector Rondon.


    Trust Meter Score: 7

    This would have been closer to a nine, but a score of seven for a team that was until recently crippled by bad luck and a lingering curse is quite strong.

    Despite losing closer Aroldis Chapman, the Cubs will field a squad that is envied throughout MLB, and with studs such as Kris Bryant still only 25, the team should contend for titles for the next few years.

Michael Bisping: Retaining His Belt in 2017?

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    Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

    Source of Distrust

    Michael Bisping, the reigning UFC middleweight champion has never shied away from speaking his mind, which has made him a polarizing figure among MMA fans.

    Bisping won the title on June 4, 2016, knocking out Luke Rockhold in the first round at UFC 199, which helped earn him’s fighter of the year for 2016.

    But since Anderson Silva held the belt from October 14, 2006, until July 6, 2013, no UFC middleweight fighter has worn the belt for more than 18 months.

    The doubt about Bisping’s longevity as champion comes from the fact that at age 37, he has been in numerous wars, and that can exact a heavy toll.


    Trust Meter Score: 5

    Although Bisping defended his title in an October 2016 decision win over stalwart Dan Henderson, the fight went five brutal rounds, which seems too long given that Henderson is 46 and has suffered massive damage to his body during his career.

    UFC president Dana White announced on January 31 that Bisping would next face top contender Yoel Romero once Bisping is fully recovered from recent knee surgery.

    Romero brutalized former champion Chris Weidman in his last bout, knocking him out in the third round, so if Bisping can win that fight, many of the doubts about the length of his tenure as middleweight champion will disappear.

Arsenal: Champions League Success?

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Source of Distrust

    As a club, Arsenal has been cursed with failure in recent years in the Champions League, often finishing second in the qualifying round, leading to a group-of-16 matchup with the likes of Barcelona.

    This season was supposed to be different, as the Gunners actually won their group and were hoping for a favorable draw, but alas the soccer gods did not oblige, and Arsenal drew Bayern Munich.

    Per Hugo Jennings of LWOS World, the Gunners' lack of success in the Champions League since 2010 comes down to not scoring enough away goals.

    They were eliminated in 2012 and 2014 due to losing out on away goals, so the key in their round-of-16 matchup is to net one goal in Germany and put pressure on the Bundesliga giants.


    Trust Meter Score: 4

    Luck has not been on the Gunners' side in quite some time, and despite starting out the season on shaky ground, Bayern has reasserted its dominance and is once again atop the Bundesliga table.

    Arsenal do get to contest the first leg at Bayern’s Allianz Arena, so they will have a firm understanding of their plight as they fly back to the Emirates Stadium for the second leg.