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19 medals, but is Phelps the greatest?

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19 medals, but is Phelps the greatest?

By PAUL NEWBERRY

LONDON (AP) -- The greatest?
When it comes to Michael Phelps, the answer seems obvious with just a cursory glance of the medals table. The guy has won 15 golds -- "insane," says Serena Williams, who certainly knows a thing or two about winning -- and now he's got more total Olympic medals than anyone, with a few more races to extend the record into almost unfathomable territory before he's done in London.

Even President Barack Obama jumped on the bandwagon, phoning Phelps on Wednesday to congratulate him on his remarkable accomplishment.

"He's definitely the greatest Olympian of all time," said South African swimmer Chad le Clos, who's actually one of the few guys to have beaten Phelps at the Olympics. "He's my idol."

But the greatest?

That's where things get a bit dicier.

While the sporting world -- everyone from Masters champion Bubba Watson to Spanish soccer star Gerard Pique -- peppered Phelps with praise in the Twitter-verse after he earned the 19th medal of his career, no less an authority than Sebastian Coe was reticent to bestow the ultimate crown.

"My personal view is I'm not sure he's the greatest," Lord Coe said on Wednesday, speaking as a two-time gold medalist in athletics and the face of these games as head of the London organizing committee. "But he's certainly the most successful."

Other think the sheer magnitude of Phelps' accomplishments leave little doubt about his place in history.

"He's won more medals that any Olympian in history," said U.S. swimmer Tyler Clary. "That should speak for itself."

Indeed, the numbers are mind-boggling:

-- Start with the golds. Phelps has six more than anyone else. If he wins his last three events in London, he'll have twice as many as anyone else.

-- Soviet-era gymnast Larisa Latynina previously held the record for total medals, winning 18 over a span of three Olympics from 1956-64. From there, the dropoff is significant. Next on the list is another Soviet gymnast, Nikolai Andrianov, with 15 medals. Three others captured 13. Just 23 more -- in both Summer and Winter Games -- have as many as 10. If Phelps was a nation, he would be tied for 57th on the Summer Games medal list and closing in on India, the second-most populous nation on the globe.

-- Phelps won the most gold medals at a single games, his eight-race sweep in Beijing four years ago. In retrospect, the Great Haul of China looks even more impressive. While it's said that every record is made to be broken, it's hard to see anyone topping that mark. Equaling it at best, and that will be tough enough.

Williams, who is competing in the Olympic tennis competition at Wimbledon, described Phelps as "the ultimate Olympian."

"I mean, who does that?" she asked. "No one else could do that. It's insane."

In London, Phelps has been a bit of letdown. He didn't even make the podium in his first race, laboring home fourth in the 400 individual medley, and he settled for the first two silvers of his career, including a shocking loss to le Clos in the 200 butterfly Tuesday. But he finally got his first gold of these games in the 4x200 freestyle relay, taking over with a big lead and cruising home while the roar inside the Olympic Aquatics Centre got louder with each powerful stroke.

Afterward, the announcer proclaimed him "a complete legend" while the Foo Fighters song "Best of You" blared from the speakers. Someone held up a bed sheet with the handwritten message "PHELPS GREATEST OLYMPIAN EVER."

That seemed to be the general sentiment around the Olympic city, a day after Phelps captured No. 19.

From the shooting range: "Yes, for me he is the greatest," said Chinese shooter Chen Ying, shortly after winning silver in women's 25-meter pistol. "Michael Phelps is a role model for all athletes in the world. In swimming, competition is like a battlefield. He inspires others to go for gold as well."

From the beach volleyball stadium: "For sure," Natacha Rigobert of Mauritius said, "because he won so many medals swimming for the USA and to keep doing good like this is amazing. I mean, nobody did that before. It's great."

From the world of athletics: "Once you do something that nobody has ever done before, it automatically puts you in that category," retired sprinter Maurice Greene said. "It's an arguable debate, but he has to be in the top."
Coe begs to disagree. Sort of.

"This is the great global pub game. Who is the greatest athlete of all time?" he said during his daily briefing. "Whether he's the greatest, I don't know. I could go around this whole room and we'd come up with different interpretations. You'd have to say he's up there. Is he the greatest? In my opinion, probably not. But my opinion means no more than anyone else's."

Coe was pressed for his choice. If not Phelps, who?

"I could throw out a whole series of names," Coe said. "I could throw out Steve Redgrave, Daley Thompson," a couple of home-country faves. "If I wanted to go back a few generations and recall what Jesse Owens did in 1936, it was unbelievable. Nadia Comaneci. I don't know. It's the great local pub game."

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge also was hesitant to put Phelps above everyone else.

"Definitely one of the greatest," Rogge told The Associated Press. "You cannot reduce everything to the medals. What Larisa Latynina has done with 18 medals and Michael has done with 19 medals is unequaled and is probably going to stay like this for decades to come. But there are other issues that both have. Personality. Larisa is a wonderful personality. Michael is a wonderful personality. There are great iconic athletes who have not won that many medals, but definitely it is a landmark."

Rogge, too, was pushed to name others he would put alongside Phelps.

"I'm not going to make an exhaustive list," he replied, "but there are legendary athletes like Paavo Nurmi, Carl Lewis and Jesse Owens and many more that are really idols and icons of the sport."

Indeed, it's worth noting that Phelps participates in a sport where it's possible to win multiple events at a single games. Compare that with someone such as basketball star LeBron James, who is at the top of his game but can only win one gold medal -- no more than one medal, period -- every four years. And while Phelps swims an impressive array of events, encompassing all four strokes and ranging in distance from 100 to 400 meters, it's hard to discount Nurmi winning five gold medals at the 1924 Games, including the 1,500 and 5,000 less than two hours apart. Lewis has to be considered for his versatility, winning everything from sprints to relays to the long jump.

"There are a ton of athletes that are in the conversation," Greene said. "You could debate it for hours and hours. It's hard to say someone is THE greatest. You have different eras. Eight years from now, it might be someone who comes by and does something far greater than (Phelps) did, in a different event and a different sport and get more gold medals than that."

But Greene added: "In this era, I'd give it to him."

Hard to argue with that.
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AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski, Janie McCauley, Eric Willemsen, Beth Harris, Pat Graham, Steve Wilson and Chris Torchia contributed to this report.

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The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

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USA TODAY Sports

The Caps' Cup-winning roster is a lesson in building through the draft

Every year, the Stanley Cup-winning team shows the importance of building through the draft. This year, that team is the Washington Capitals.

With the NHL Draft starting on Friday, let’s break down the Capitals roster from the playoffs to see just how it was put together.

Acquired by the draft: Nicklas Backstrom, Madison Bowey, Travis Boy, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Shane Gersich, Philipp Grubauer, Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Alex Ovechkin, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Tom Wilson

Acquired as a free agent: Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson, Brett Connolly, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Devante Smith-Pelly

Acquired by trade: Lars Eller, Jakub Jerabek, Michal Kempny, T.J. Oshie

The first thing to note is that the vast majority of Washington’s roster is made up of draft picks. Specifically, the majority of the Caps’ top six on offense, three of its top six defensemen and both goalies were drafted by the team.

Of the free agent signings, only two were big money players in Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. In 2014, defense was a major question mark for the Caps and Brian MacLellan made a splash as the new general manager by signing both blue liners to big deals. The majority of the signings, however, are cheap, low risk and high reward players.

Finally, the trades include players who filled obvious needs. The Caps needed Oshie to shore up the top six, Eller was brought in to be the third line center, Kempny stepped in as a top-four defenseman and Jerabek was brought in for defensive depth.

So what does this show us?

First, the draft is absolutely critical to building a team’s core. True superstar players are hard to come by. Once a team gets one, they do everything they can to keep them. The draft is a team's first opportunity to acquire a certain player and, if they have superstar potential, sign them long-term. John Tavares this season looks headed to free agency and the buzz around him stems from the fact that he is very much the exception, not the rule. The base of the Caps’ Stanley Cup team was built by drafting star players like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Carlson, Holtby, etc.

This also shows the importance of the draft for depth. In the salary cap era, teams need to find enough cap room for their stars and their depth players. Having young players is absolutely critical because their low cap hit allows for the team to sign the expensive stars and make the important addition in free agency  or by trade. This is a formula that only works if those young players are productive as well.

Players like Vrana and Burakovsky, for example, played big roles in the playoff run, but also carried low cap hits.

So the Caps built a core through the draft and filled key roles with trades and mostly cheap free agent signings.

There is no formula for how to win a Stanley Cup, if there was everyone would do it, but this is about as close as you can come to one. A team has to draft very well and then build around those draft picks to be successful. You cannot hope to build simply through trades and free agency because of the cost. Trades always require sending an asset the other way and very often that asset turns out to be prospects or draft picks. Free agency, meanwhile, requires team overpay for top targets leading to serious cap trouble down the line.

There are always trades and free agent signings that prove to be important, but those are only pieces to a much large puzzle. To win a Stanley Cup, you have to build through the draft.

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2018 NBA Draft: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

2018 NBA Draft: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

The 2018 NBA Draft will take place on Thursday night as the newest wave of potential superstars like DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Mo Bamba and Luka Doncic enter the league. Here is everything you need to know for the big night...

2018 NBA DRAFT

When: 7 p.m.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
TV: ESPN
Live stream: WatchESPN.com
Radio: ESPN

Wizards draft picks: 15th overall in the first round, 44th overall in the second round

First round order:

1. Phoenix Suns
2. Sacramento Kings
3. Atlanta Hawks
4. Memphis Grizzlies
5. Dallas Mavericks
6. Orlando Magic
7. Chicago Bulls
8. Cleveland Cavaliers
9. New York Knicks
10. Philadelphia 76ers
11. Charlotte Hornets
12. Los Angeles Clippers
13. Los Angeles Clippers
14. Denver Nuggets
15. Washington Wizards
16. Phoenix Suns
17. Milwaukee Bucks
18. San Antonio Spurs
19. Atlanta Hawks
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
21. Utah Jazz
22. Chicago Bulls
23. Indiana Pacers
24.Portland Trail Blazers
25. Los Angeles Lakers
26. Philadelphia 76ers
27. Boston Celtics
28. Golden State Warriors
29. Brooklyn Nets
30. Atlanta Hawks

Top prospects:

1. DeAndre Ayton, C, Arizona
2. Marvin Bagley III, Duke
3. Luka Doncic, Slovenia
4. Jaren Jackson, Jr., Michigan State
5. Mo Bamba, Texas
6. Michael Porter, Jr., Missouri
7. Wendell Carter, Duke
8. Trae Young, Oklahoma
9. Collin Sexton, Alabama
10. Kevin Knox, Kentucky

Three things to watch...

Will Leonard get traded?

Last year's draft featured some big trades including Jimmy Butler going to the Timberwolves. This year, there seems to be at least a decent chance it happens with Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs. He wants a trade and they have been meeting with him in recent days, perhaps for a last-ditch pitch to remain with the team. If he gets dealt on draft night, it wouldn't be a huge surprise.

Who will the Kings pick?

A consensus has built for Ayton to go No. 1 to the Suns. After that, it's a major crapshoot and whomever the Kings select will produce a domino effect from there on down. Will they take Bagley, the safe pick, or go a riskier route with Doncic or maybe even Porter, Jr.? The best bet at this point appears to be Bagley, but nobody truly knows.

Where will Young and Porter, Jr. go?

The two most interesting prospects in this draft are Young and Porter, Jr. Young was a sensation in college basketball, but is undersized and appears to be boom-or-bust. He could flame out quickly at the next level or be some iteration of the next Stephen Curry. Porter, Jr. played only three games in college due to a back injury and now has hip issues as well. His talent is undeniable, but his injury history represents significant risk.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT

For more on the NBA Draft, check out our preview special episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast: