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Whitaker: Auburn not going to No. 2 Alabama afraid

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Whitaker: Auburn not going to No. 2 Alabama afraid

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Jeff Whitaker understands Auburn's situation going into the Iron Bowl. He's aware of the criticism that has been heaped on coach Gene Chizik and that the Tigers are huge underdogs going into the game with No. 2 Alabama.

The Auburn defensive tackle just doesn't need the extra motivation.

``It's Alabama-Auburn. We're not afraid because of your record or because they're Alabama,'' Whitaker said on Tuesday. ``If there's one place that's not intimidated and afraid, it's going to be Auburn, no matter how the country looks at them. If there's one place and one team and look at them and say, `They're just guys,' it's Auburn.

``They're doing a good job over there. We show respect for that. This rivalry was going way before me, you, coach (Nick) Saban, coach Chiz. We'll just keep this thing rolling.''

The Tigers (3-8, 0-7 Southeastern Conference) are 31.5-point underdogs for Saturday's game in Tuscaloosa. The Tide (10-1, 6-1) is playing for a shot at SEC and national titles.

Auburn's preseason ambitions have been crushed under a barrage of defeats and troubles on both sides of the ball. The tough season has left uncertainty about Chizik's job status after the game two years after a national title season that included the biggest comeback in Iron Bowl history - from down 24-0 to winning 28-27.

Chizik, who wore an orange BCS championship pullover to his news conference, is making $3.58 million annually and would be owed $7.5 million via monthly installments as of Dec. 1 if he's fired.

Auburn President Jay Gogue has said he will evaluate the program after the season. Athletic director Jay Jacobs has declined requests for comment.

The Tide's Saban said it's the nature of the profession that coaches can go from a national title to the hot seat so swiftly, but praised Chizik.

``All I know is playing against him, it's always a tough game,'' Saban said. ``They're always well coached and they're always well prepared, and that's all I can really comment about. I think that sometimes that the standard that everybody wants all of us to play to is not something that is a continuum.

``It's a process that's constantly evolving and sometimes you get a few things that happen maybe that don't go in your favor, it can affect the kind of results that you get. And some of them you can control and some of them you can't. Whether I like it or not, it is the world that we live in. I fully understand that two years from now if we don't continue to have a good team, then I'll be in the same seat that other people are in now. It's the nature of the beast in our profession.''

Auburn hasn't fared well in games against highly ranked competition the past two seasons, other than a 12-10 loss to No. 8 LSU early this season. Counting last year's 42-14 Iron Bowl defeat, the Tigers have lost five SEC games by four or more touchdowns the past two season.

The last two SEC contests have been huge routes at home - 63-21 to No. 9 Texas A&M and 38-0 to No. 3 Georgia.

A win in this year-round rivalry certainly would improve the Tigers' mood going into the offseason.

Chizik said he expects his team's best game - and needs it to win.

``We certainly know that anything can happen in a rivalry game, but for us to be able to go and win the game we're going to have to play by far the best football game we've played all year and play it with a lot of energy and emotion and passion and play great in terms of execution as well,'' he said.

``We'll be ready to play, and they'll be excited about playing. They already are, and our team understands what this game means to so many people other than themselves. They understand that.''

Whitaker said the Tigers are also aware of the speculation that ``coach Chiz'' could be fired after the season. It's not clear how much the outcome of this game will factor into Gogue's decision.

``We're not even looking at it like that,'' Whitaker said. ``We're not going to too much harp on that. The way coach Chiz has been about all this, it's been about the rivalry.

``We've got much love for coach Chiz.''

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Kawhi Leonard going to the Raptors may actually be good news for the Wizards and the East

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Kawhi Leonard going to the Raptors may actually be good news for the Wizards and the East

Through nearly three weeks of NBA free agency and almost a month of trades, the Eastern Conference had remained eerily quiet. The Wizards had arguably been the most aggressive team in the East, as all the biggest moves had occurred in the West and, most notably, LeBron James changed coasts.

That all changed on Wednesday as the Toronto Raptors pulled off a trade with the San Antonio Spurs to land Kawhi Leonard, a two-time defensive player of the year. The full deal includes All-NBA guard DeMar DeRozan going to San Antonio along with big man Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first round pick. The Raptors also get guard Danny Green, according to ESPN.

Here are some takeaways from the trade...

This is good, potentially great news for the Wizards

The worst-case scenario for the Wizards and most of the East would have been if Leonard got dealt to either the Sixers or Celtics, as the potential would have been there for a dominant team. The Sixers, in particular, could have conceivably traded for Leonard without giving up much in the way of pieces that can help them now. They would have teamed Leonard with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and would probably be the favorites to reach the NBA Finals. Instead, the Sixers struck out and now face the prospect of taking a pretty big L on this offseason, given all the guys they were tied to going into it.

Leonard and the Raptors will be good and they may even be better than they were last season. Though the Raptors won 59 games in the regular season, they disappointed in the playoffs. Leonard could change that, but he won't have the help to make them an unstoppable force. Kyle Lowry is good, but he's an aging player and they don't have a third star, at least not yet. They have a lot of recent first round picks that could, in theory, make the leap.

This deal is good for the Wizards and could become great if Leonard leaves in free agency next summer. If he does, the Raptors will be in deep trouble.

What will the Lakers do?

When James signed with the Lakers, most assumed they would then add at least one star to run with him. But now that Leonard is going to Toronto, it's very possible they don't add one at all. James might actually have to play with Lonzo Ball in addition to Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee. Sure, they can sign Leonard next summer or find another star then, but this is shaping up as of now to be a lost year for James.

As consistitued, they aren't winning anything of substance. It's just so surprising James would be cool with this level of talent around him considering what he could have done this season if he signed with Philly or some other team.

People are looking at the wrong contract

Much of the instant reaction to the Leonard trade was praise for the Raptors in ridding themselves of DeRozan's deal. That's a headscratcher. DeRozan is set to make over $27 million in the next three years, the third being a player option, but he's an All-NBA player who turns 29 next month. In the context of NBA contracts, that isn't too bad.

Lowry's contract, on the other hand, is borderline awful. He's 32 with his numbers heading in the wrong direction and he's due to make $31 million next season and $33.3 million the year after. It's not like the Raptors freed themselves of their worst deal.

Masai is making moves

This is a risk for the Raptors and you have to respect it. Their general manager, Masai Ujiri, had seen enough of the DeRozan-Lowry duo falling short in the playoffs. He fired head coach Dwane Casey and pulled off a trade for Leonard, who at his best is one of the premier players in the NBA.

There is considerable risk in this move with Leonard having missed 73 games last season with a quadriceps injury and given the fact he can opt to test free agency next summer. If he really does want to join the Lakers, he could leave the Raptors empty-handed.

But it's a risk that is probably worth taking. Everyone assumed the same future for Paul George and he ended up staying in Oklahoma City. It's not a guarantee Leonard leaves and now the Raptors have a year to convince him to stay. Ujiri should get praise for this deal because it's bold and he did one of the hardest things a GM can do in finding a top-5 talent for his team.

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With LeBron gone and Kawhi in, who's the best player in the East?

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With LeBron gone and Kawhi in, who's the best player in the East?

With Kawhi Leonard off to the Raptors, we have a shakeup near the top when it comes to the best players in the East.

Whether it's a one-year rental or ends up being a long-term partnership, the Raptors got themselves an MVP candidate when he's healthy.

That's the issue though. What will Leonard be when he returns to the court after that quad injury took most of last season away from him?

RANKING THE TEN BEST PLAYERS IN THE EAST

With LeBron James now in Los Angeles, the East has a new pecking order when it comes to the top talent, which includes a couple of Wizards as well.

How do they stack up?

Well, here's your answer:

RANKING THE TEN BEST PLAYERS IN THE EAST