Sports Corner

By: Robert Bishop

Back again, and before diving into a busy day of NFL transactions, a three-team NBA deal from late last week deserves some attention. Headlining the deal was big man Lauri Markkanen, once on the fast track to being an All-Star and now on the fast track out of Chicago following a few injury-plagued seasons. Markkanen will join a suddenly crowded frontcourt in Cleveland, where he’ll likely compete for minutes alongside Jarrett Allen and third overall pick Evan Mobley. Markkanen is an exciting fit amongst the group, with Allen and Mobley’s defensive prowess helping offset Markkanen’s glaring weakness. Adding Markkanen makes for a high-upside acquisition for the Cavaliers as the franchise looks to turn the corner on a rebuild.

While the Bulls received a package built around a lottery-protected first-round pick from the Blazers in return for Markkanen, Portland’s return was more interesting. The Blazers added versatile big man Larry Nance, who emerged as a viable rotation player during his tenure with the Cavaliers. Nance is on a team-friendly deal, will pair nicely in small-ball lineups alongside Robert Covington, and helps bring another capable defender to a franchise in desperate need of a defensive overhaul. By retaining Norman Powell and acquiring Larry Nance, the Blazers are set up to again be a playoff team in the Western Conference. However, health and Nance’s potential impact on the team’s defense will likely determine whether the Blazers are a mere playoff team or a viable championship contender.

As for the NFL’s cut day, no move was a greater shock than New England’s out-of-nowhere decision to release Cam Newton, the team’s assumed starting quarterback following the final week of the preseason. So how unprecedented was New England’s move? Over the weekend, Newton worked exclusively with the team’s starting offense, while rookie Mac Jones, who will be the team’s Week 1 starter under center, worked with the reserves. Newton’s release will have a domino effect across the league, as he isn’t likely to be out of work for long as there are double-digit teams in the NFL in desperate need of his services. The Cowboys are the most obvious fit, with Newton operating as Dak Prescott’s backup. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see other teams jump at the unexpected opportunity to add Newton to their respective quarterback room.

In other Patriots news, star cornerback Stephon Gilmore will start the season on the physically unable to perform list, sidelining him for at least the first six weeks of the season. Gilmore’s absence is a tough blow for New England’s revamped defense, though it isn’t a wholly unexpected one given the lengthy recovery period following quadriceps surgery. The 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Gilmore is a game-changing talent and a much-needed veteran presence in the New England secondary. The Patriots will further rely on the talented trio of youngsters that shined in 2020 (J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and Kyle Duggar) while also hoping for a rebound season for 33-year old Jason McCourty, who is coming off an awful 2020 campaign.

While Green Bay didn’t make any notable cuts, the Packers weren’t without a newsworthy roster decision. The Packers announced that superstar left tackle David Bakhtiari, like Gilmore, will remain on the physically unable to perform list. Bakhtiari is recovering from a late-season torn ACL and has yet to practice during training camp. Starting the season without Bakhtiari is a massive blow to the Packers, but the Packers spent the offseason planning for his potential absence. Green Bay drafted three offensive linemen in this year’s draft, and though there is a zero-percent chance any are Bakhtiari’s equal, the Packers are banking on one of them being a suitable short-term fill-in. Among those drafted is Royce Newman, who has seized control of a starting gig along the interior of Green Bay’s offensive line with an absolutely dominant preseason showing. The Packers open the season in 12 days against the New Orleans Saints.