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Sports year: Sad sagas the story of 2012

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Sports year: Sad sagas the story of 2012

Jerry Sandusky will spend the rest of his life in prison, Penn State football played under NCAA sanctions and Joe Paterno passed away.

Lance Armstrong abandoned his fight against doping allegations. Roger Clemens won his court battle, despite lingering skepticism over whether he used steroids. The impact of early-stage dementia forced Pat Summitt to step down from her coaching perch.

Again and again, it seemed, the sports world in 2012 saw the end of long tales with tragic or, at best, bittersweet endings.

And in so many cases, off-the-field news overshadowed what happened on it:

- In State College, Pa., where the Sandusky mess at Penn State destroyed lives and radically changed the face of a proud football program.

- In Washington, where Clemens emerged from court a winner, after a mistrial the first time around on charges he lied to Congress about performance-enhancing drug use.

- In Kansas City, Mo., where Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, then drove to the team's facility in the Arrowhead Stadium complex, thanked his coach and general manager, and turned the gun on himself.

- In Austin, Texas, where the news broke that Armstrong decided to give up his long fight against doping charges, saying ``enough is enough'' but acknowledging no wrongdoing. The move began the cyclist's swift fall from his spot as cancer-fighting sports hero in the public eye. And though he maintains he was victimized by a ``witch hunt,'' Armstrong still was stripped of all seven of his Tour de France victories.

``We must create a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards, and the operating policy is open, collegial and collaborative,'' Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the day the NCAA levied massive sanctions against the Nittany Lions including a four year postseason ban.

Erickson was speaking of his own school.

But in 2012, at least some of those lessons could have applied to any number of topics.

Sure, there were amazing moments to remember and savor. Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian in history, adding to his enormous swimming haul with six more medals at the London Games, where the United States topped the winning charts once again. Usain Bolt became the first man to win the 100- and 200-meter dashes at consecutive Olympics, Eli Manning and the New York Giants reigned supreme in the NFL, San Francisco stormed its way to the World Series title, the Los Angeles Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup (no telling if any other team will anytime soon) and LeBron James and the Miami Heat silenced doubters by winning the NBA title.

Yet in a year like this, such times of achievement and triumph seemed few and far between.

Take March 21, for example. That was the day when Tim Tebow was traded by Denver to the New York Jets, a huge story simply for the Tebowmania factor - and one that wasn't even the biggest in the NFL that day, not with the announcement that New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton would serve a yearlong suspension for his role in the bounty scandal.

Try August 15, when baseball got to experience a rarity - Felix Hernandez pitching the first perfect game in Seattle Mariners' history - and an all-too-common occurrence, that being someone testing positive for something, in this case San Francisco's Melky Cabrera basically forfeiting any shot at the MVP or the NL batting title by being suspended 50 games following a positive test for testosterone.

Or Oct. 10, when Raul Ibanez showed off a flair for the dramatic - twice - by hitting tying and winning home runs as the New York Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles 3-2 to take a 2-1 lead in the AL Division Series, an enormous moment by any measure. Of course, those blasts came on the same day that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a report in which Armstrong was portrayed as the lead of the ``most professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.''

As stunning as Armstrong's fall was, what went on at Penn State continued to dominate the sports lexicon.

Sandusky was arrested in November 2011, but resolution didn't really begin until 2012 - part of why the case was voted the top sports story of the year by The Associated Press, based on balloting by U.S. editors and news directors.

The longtime Penn State defensive coordinator was convicted of 45 counts of abuse involving 10 boys, and later sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison, which means Sandusky is likely to die behind bars.

Paterno succumbed to lung cancer in January, and a statue of his likeness outside Beaver Stadium was removed six months later, one day before the NCAA announced a $60 million fine and four years of scholarship reductions. Still to come: civil suits brought by Sandusky's victims and the trials of former school administrators accused of neglecting their duty to report allegations.

``We can expect more fallout,'' Erickson said.

Paterno is still considered by many as a sympathetic figure, and still revered as a role model by some.

Clemens' legacy doesn't seem to resonate the same way with sports fans. It's almost like his courtroom win was one that many did not expect to see happen, and it may be his last big victory for a while. Clemens - the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner - is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year, and a recent survey of voters by the AP shows that he is likely to fall well short of the number of votes necessary for induction in 2013.

Clemens was accused by former personal trainer Brian McNamee in the Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball of using steroids and HGH, allegations Clemens denied before Congress. Eventually, after a Justice Department investigation looked into whether Clemens lied under oath, a grand jury indicted him on two counts of perjury, three counts of making false statements and one count of obstructing Congress.

He was acquitted of all the charges on June 19 after a 10-week trial.

``I'm very thankful,'' Clemens said. ``It's been a hard five years.''

Armstrong's fight lasted even longer than that.

The testicular-cancer survivor won the Tour de France seven times, all while dogged by the stigma of he-must-be-cheating. Armstrong was never caught by a drug test, but rather was ultimately done in largely by the words of his former teammates. Armstrong continues to deny doping, but simply said his fight had gone on long enough.

Giving up has come with a price. Armstrong cut ties to his well-known charity, Livestrong, and longtime sponsor Nike - among other corporations - cut ties with him.

And as for Summitt, one of the greatest names in coaching, her last loss was against an invisible opponent.

Summitt stepped down as Tennessee's coach in April, a few months after revealing she has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. Summitt led Tennessee to eight national titles in her 38-year tenure, winning 1,098 Division I games along the way.

``It's never a good time,'' Summitt said. ``But you have to find the time that you think is the right time and that is now.''

Still, the year wasn't gloom and doom for everyone, not by a long shot.

Alabama got a chance to avenge a loss to LSU and win college football's national championship, the second for the Tide in three years. The Tide will be back in the BCS title game again in January, against rising and surprising Notre Dame.

Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers became baseball's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years. The Kings put together a stunning run through the Stanley Cup playoffs, the last celebratory moment the NHL got to enjoy before more labor strife led to a lockout. Baylor went 40-0 for the NCAA women's basketball title, while Kentucky returned to the top of the men's game. And the Giants (New York) and Giants (San Francisco) more than lived up to their names, in championship fashion.

But if there was one happy ending among all those the drawn-out sagas of this sports year, it was the year James had with the Heat.

Miami won the NBA title, beating Oklahoma City in five games for the franchise's second title and the first for James, who left Cleveland for the Heat two years earlier for moments such as that. He won the league's MVP award. He won the NBA Finals MVP award. He even helped the Americans win another basketball gold medal at the London Olympics.

After all he went through - from hero to villain, revered to pariah for his infamous ``Decision'' - James found a way to shake it all off and complete his quest.

``It's a year I know I'm never going to forget,'' James said.

Not many people will.

Thing is, in so many cases in 2012, it isn't for the right reasons.

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Bradley Beal's potential All-NBA scenario leads league sources toward trade route

Bradley Beal's potential All-NBA scenario leads league sources toward trade route

With an All-NBA nod, Bradley Beal and the Wizards would almost immediately find themselves at a crossroads.

The honor would make him eligible for the supermax contract, which could force the Wizards to move the two-time All-Star. The Wizards already handed one of those supermax deals to John Wall. If Beal signed a four-year, $193 million extension, the two guards would gobble up more than two-thirds of the team's salary cap space starting in 2021-22.

Everyone knows of Washington's immediate concern. Wall faces a year-long recovery after suffering a ruptured left Achilles heel in February. Even with a prompt return, the Wizards cannot realistically plan on having the five-time All-Star next season.

Based on the injury and Wall turning 30, Wall's level of effectiveness in 2020-21 remains unclear. Ideally, he looks the part for at least the final two years of the contract.

Hold out for Wall's healthy return and the clock may run out on the two years remaining on Beal's current contract with no guarantee the shooting guard re-signs. Therefore, with the Wizards retooling after a 32-50 season and regardless of the All-NBA result, the answer is clear according to numerous league sources: Trade Bradley Beal for assets and salary cap space.

So where would he go?

That might depend.

Can New Orleans convince the disgruntled big man to reverse course on his trade demands? We'll see if that happens, but the Pelicans' current A, B and C plan involves rolling out Davis, projected No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday next season, according to sources.

How this drama plays out affects the entire NBA off-season. Every team would welcome Davis, but only a few have the realistic assets to acquire one the league's top players. Some franchises stockpiled draft picks and players on rookie contracts for this moment. If the Pelicans keep Davis, a 2020 free agent, those teams must turn elsewhere.

No, that doesn't mean Bradley Beal automatically.

"As good as Bradley Beal is, he isn't Anthony Davis," one GM told NBC Sports Washington. "Beal isn't an alternative to Davis, but to free agency."

Beal has $56 million coming his way over the final two years of his current contract. Signing any of the 2019 free agent headliners would cost much more in terms of dollars and salary cap space.

76ers guard Jimmy Butler, a relative peer of Beal albeit four years older, is in line for a max contract of 5-year, $190 million with Philadelphia or 4-year, $141 with another team.

If there's a trade involving Beal this off-season, logic suggests, from the Wizards perspective, it occurs before or during the June 20 NBA Draft.

Beal's trade value on the current contract will likely never be higher. Since 2019 draft picks would probably be part of any deal, and the new general manager will want to make those selections.

A look at the landscape:

Lakers -- All the Davis trade buzz last season focused on Los Angeles since his camp made it clear that's where he wanted to land. The potential also worked since the Lakers asset class held great appeal. That is until the group largely plateaued during a dysfunctional season, the first Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma or Josh Hart played with LeBron James.

One general manager suggested not to diminish the upside on those players, contending the Lakers still have the best trade assets. "That's what they look like in that environment -- and playing with that guy," the GM told NBC Sports Washington.

If there's a deal with the Lakers, most sources would want Ball involved regardless of any parent distractions from his attention-seeking father, Lavar. "People just don't grasp how good he is," a source said.

Los Angeles owns the fourth pick in the 2019 Draft. One source views Ingram, Kuzma and four for Beal as fair value assuming Ingram, the No. 2 overall pick in 2016, is cleared medically following a blood clot scare that ended his season prematurely.

Knicks -- New York likely would want to wait for Kevin Durant to sign in free agency as the long-running rumors suggest. Then the question is who gets the second max slot.

Kyrie Irving? Certainly possible. We know the Celtics are out. One source said don't sleep on the Nets getting involved.

Kemba Walker is a New York native. The All-NBA candidate is also someone the Hornets might do whatever it costs to keep.

There's also Beal, who would make a great fit next to a fellow perimeter threat in Durant.

The Knicks' assets include the third pick in 2019, which is a projected tier above the fourth slot since it means landing no less than Duke guard RJ Barrett. New York also has impressive rookie center Mitchell Robinson, point guard Dennis Smith and an unprotected first-round pick from Dallas that projects to convey in 2021.

If the Knicks decline to part with Robinson and three, the Wizards would have to consider Barrett, the top recruit in the 2018 class and Duke's leading scorer, a future All-Star. They might.

Celtics -- The bond between Beal and Jayson Tatum began growing up in St. Louis. They could be connected again if Washington and Boston talk trade.

The Celtics own three first-round selections -- 14, 20, 22 -- in next month's draft along with two former top 5 picks on rookie deals: Tatum and Jaylon Brown.

"Tatum's stock took a hit this season," an Eastern Conference scout said. Others made similar claims during the season as the playmaking forward appeared lost at times playing with Irving. Regardless, Tatum is a talented 21-year-old who went head-to-head against LeBron James in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final.

"Tatum and 22 for Beal? Brown and 20? That's something to consider," the scout said.

The Wizards have plenty to consider over the next few weeks including whether to trade Bradley Beal.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Can the Caps make another run at the Stanley Cup?

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Capitals Mailbag Part 2: Can the Caps make another run at the Stanley Cup?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! You can read Wednesday’s Part 1 here.

Check out Part 2 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

No word on who could be a potential trade partner. The first team I thought of was someone like Ottawa. After getting rid of...well, everyone, they are a team that will need to spend some money to get to the salary floor and they could certainly use some veteran leadership.

Do not get too excited about a possible return. No one is blind as to why the Caps may be exploring such a move and no one is going to be in a rush to do Washington any favors. Unless MacLellan is targeting a depth forward which would help fill a need, the Caps cannot afford to take much if any salary back in the deal so I would expect this deal to largely be for draft picks and not players.

What about prospects? I have a hard time seeing any team trading a high-end prospect for a 32-year-old defenseman coming off a tough year with a $5.75 million cap hit. Let’s temper expectations here.

As to your second question, the two guys with the highest ceilings are Kody Clark and Garrett Pilon. If they continue developing I could see them being middle six guys. The second line may be a reach, but in today’s NHL your third line needs to be productive as well. Both guys, however, still need some time to develop.

Nathan S. writes: Given all the analysis about why the Caps came up short in their effort to repeat, a lot was mentioned about the short off-season. This leads me to wonder how the Penguins repeated in 2017? They did it without their leading D-man Kris Letang and also had the short summer following 2016 Cup run? Did Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin's experience trying to repeat in 2010 give them wisdom to share with their teammates? Did they get a little lucky in playing a mediocre Ottawa team in the Eastern Conference Final? Did they have more players new to the 2017 team that were hungry?

Actually, the 2016-17 Penguins managed to keep almost its entire roster together losing only Ben Lovejoy and Jeff Zatkoff so that definitely was a factor in the repeat. It is also not really fair to say Ottawa was mediocre as it took a Game 7 overtime goal for Pittsburgh to finally put the Senators away. They were literally one goal away from playing for the Cup.

I have always been tempted to dismiss the 2017 postseason as an anomaly because the Penguins were able to win without Letang and there is no way that defense should have been good enough to hoist a Cup. There is another factor, however, that played a major role and has again proved huge this year and that is the importance of keeping goalies fresh.

In 2016, Matt Murray carried the bulk of the load for Pittsburgh with 21 starts in the postseason. In 2017, Marc-Andre Fleury was the No. 1 with 15 starts. Now let’s consider that of the four starting goalies in the conference finals in 2019, only one of them, Martin Jones, appeared in more than 50 games in the regular season. Jones played in 62 games, Rask in 46, Petr Mrazek in 40 and Jordan Binnington in 32 (48 if you count the 16 games he played in the AHL).

Add in the fact that Holtby appeared in only 54 games in the 2017-18 season as opposed to the 63, 66 and 73 he played in the three seasons prior and I am beginning to think a fresh goalie may be one of, if not the biggest factor in a deep playoff run.

Nathan S. writes: What are the biggest keys for Caps to make another Cup run next year?

The first key is to lock down the bottom six. You cannot win without depth. If Carl Hagelin, Brett Connolly, and Andre Burakovsky all leave as cap casualties in the offseason, you have to be able to replace them with quality players. You cannot just stick some scrubs on the third line and rely on the top six to do all the work while playing the fourth line seven minutes a night. Those days are over.

Evgeny Kuznetsov has to be better. The team cannot afford for him to be a pretty good second-line center. He needs to play up to the MVP caliber player we saw in the Cup run, especially with Ovechkin getting another year older. Other players are going to have to share in the offensive load because Ovechkin cannot hit 50 goals forever.

Backup goaltending is also quietly becoming more important. I went into more detail above, but the Caps should aim to keep Holtby at about 55 appearances at the maximum. You can only do that if you get solid backup goaltending.

Structurally, the team needs to be smarter with the puck. There were too many lazy passes, too many times when players ignored the easy passes and went for the more difficult and ill-advised ones that led to turnovers, too many times when a player would skate himself into a turnover in the offensive zone, too many times the puck was carelessly given up in the defensive zone leading to penalties and goals. That should be something that is correctable by the coaches.

Finally, take advantage of the long offseason. Few players seemed to know how to handle the shortened offseason in 2018 other than Ovechkin. Now they have extra time this year, they need to use it to both rest and get a full offseason of training in.

It took just four games for Boston to put away the team that eliminated the Caps and there are a few reasons why. Every good team has a strong top six, but depth scoring is the difference between a good team and a championship one. The Bruins were thought to be a top-heavy team coming into the playoffs, but that has not been the case thus far in the postseason.

Washington had 10 players score in seven games against the Hurricanes. It had 20 goals in those games and nine of them came from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. In just four games, Boston got goals from 12 different players. Despite having arguably the best line in hockey with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, that line only accounted for six of the team’s 17 goals in the series.

Having a hot goalie certainly helps as well. Holtby was fine with a 2.67 GAA and .914 save percentage and was certainly not the reason Washington lost. Tuukka Rask, however, was better. He torched Carolina with a 1.25 GAA and .956 save percentage.

Williams looked every bit the clutch playoff performer against the Caps, but Boston – and Marchand in particular – was able to get under his skin. I would not advocate for more players to try Marchand’s shenanigans, but while Washington was able to use its physical play so effectively in 2018, that was basically a non-factor in 2019.

One other major issue: the power play. Despite how horrendously bad the Caps looked on zone entries, they actually managed a respectable 25-percent on the power play against the Hurricanes. How did Boston do? OK, I guess, with a 46.7-percent. Read that again, that is not a typo. In 15 power plays, the Bruins scored seven times. The Caps went seven games with Carolina with the series ultimately being decided in double overtime. The margin separating the two teams was that thin. If the Caps had figured out at all how to break into the offensive zone during the power play, that would have tipped the series in their favor.

It is becoming a constant refrain in these mailbags, but I will repeat myself yet again: get rid of the sling shot.

Snively’s strength is more offensive so I do not foresee him being a big penalty killer. He stepped into the AHL and made an offensive impact right away with two goals and five assists in just nine games. When the playoffs started, however, it was a different story. He had no points in two games and from what I heard when I went to Hershey, that was his real “welcome to the pros” moment and he became clearly overmatched. He was sent back to Yale soon after to complete his classes for his degree.

Since most questions regarding prospects are really about if a player can step into the lineup next season, I would say that seems doubtful given how last season ended. I think there may be some NHL third-line potential there, but it is hard to tell after just nine games.

Mary B. writes: The lack of respect for the Capitals seems palpable as I watch the playoffs this year. Examples of what I mean: The NHL made a new commercial about hockey being something you feel, and there’s not a single second of footage of the Caps in the ad being shown during playoff games. MacLellan is not a finalist for Executive of the year. John Carlson is not a finalist for the Norris. Ovechkin is not a finalist for the Messier Leadership award. On the reverse side, Tom Wilson gets more scrutiny and sever punishment than anyone in the league, yet when a Caps player is hit in the head and/or injured, it barely seems to be noticed. 

Why? What have the Caps done to merit such treatment?

In terms of the “Feel” commercial, I don’t know what to tell you. There are several moments of Ovechkin hoisting the Cup and of the parade in Washington. If that got cut for the shortened commercial, well, that happens all the time. There are 31 teams and you are not going to fit all of them in a 30-second commercial spot. MacLellan is not a finalist for general manager of the year because that award is actually voted on after the second round of the playoffs. If your team is eliminated in the first round, chances are you are not going to be a finalist. All three finalists were the general managers of teams in the conference finals.

Can’t argue with you on Carlson. I vote on the Norris and he was second on my ballot. He should at least have been named a finalist. I wonder if there’s just a tendency to dismiss him as an offensive guy or if he gets overshadowed by Ovechkin the same way Nicklas Backstrom does. For the Messier Award, Mark Messier personally chooses the finalists himself so you’ll have to take it up with him. It is hard to argue with any of the three guys he chose.

Wilson is not singled out because he is a Capital, he is singled out because he has been suspended four times in a short span and three of those incidents that led to suspension happened during the preseason which means they were unnecessary. He has to play smarter and he did that once he returned from the Oskar Sundqvist suspension. Do people overly scrutinize his game? Yes, but that has nothing to do with the fact that he plays for the Caps.

Austin C. writes: Do you think that there is still a big rivalry when it comes to Baltimore vs DC sports?

The D.C.-Baltimore rivalry is an interesting one given how much intermingling there is. Baltimore still cheers for the Caps and Wizards and there are still a lot of Orioles fans in Washington, or at least there was until the Orioles became so bad they can’t even figure out how to get an out in an easy in-field play with the bases loaded. Seriously, a little league team would have played that better.

The two biggest issues for the rivalry are the baseball TV rights fiasco and the Ravens-Redskins. I would contend the average sports fan does not know much about the TV feud between the Nationals and Orioles other than the fact that it exists. What everyone knows, however, is that sports coverage in the DMV area is completely dominated by the Redskins, a team that has won three playoff games since 1992. They have won two Super Bowls despite not even being a team until 1996 and they remain completely secondary to the Redskins. I can see why that would rub Baltimore fans the wrong way.

But with the Nationals-Orioles and Redskins-Ravens in different leagues/conferences, you do not get regular matchups to help fan the flames of hatred that fuel the great rivalries. A rivalry definitely exists, but I would not call it a big one.

The real question is whether Joe Flacco or Jason Campbell is more elite?

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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