Should Murray be suspended for throwing heating pad?

Should Murray be suspended for throwing heating pad?

Stephen A.: Pacers got in their own way

JWill on Pacers-Knicks officiating: Indiana got robbed of a moment

How IndyCar is managing interest from new teams

Can Liberty Media repeat F1's booming success with MotoGP?

How much is too much? It's a question IndyCar Series team owners are asking themselves as a recent wave of growth continues its march into uncharted territory.

Spread across 10 teams that place anywhere from two to five cars apiece on the starting grid, IndyCar's paddock has been filled with 27 full-time entries since 2023-a modern record. The heady number also represents the boundary of the series' comfort zone.

Some of the tracks that host IndyCar races can accommodate no more than 27 cars on pit lane, and among its two engine manufacturers, Chevrolet and Honda are reaching the limit of how many entries they can supply. And thanks to the recent announcement of an 11th team that's preparing to join the field, the series is expected to host 29 cars at every race in 2025. Prosperity's tipping point has been found.

Where Formula 1 and its entrants have ranged from being impolite to downright hostile in their efforts to police expansion beyond 10 teams and 20 cars, IndyCar -- owned since 2020 by business and racing mogul Roger Penske through his Penske Entertainment division -- has kept its doors open for business.

As a sporting league, IndyCar has operated for decades without a formal structure in place for participation in its series; teams have joined without having to buy a franchise and left at will with nothing more than cars and empty shops to sell. But with Penske at the helm, that's about to be modified in an impactful way as the establishment of a charter system, one that's designed to reward its existing team owners with memberships into an exclusive franchise club, is in the final stages of planning.

And there's a stipulation: Only those who participated as season-long entrants through 2023 are welcome. Under IndyCar's upcoming charter deployment, which is similar in many ways to F1's Concorde Agreement and the charter system devised by NASCAR, the absence of a business framework will be resolved. Ties between its 10 long-established team owners and the series will finally be established through the issuance of franchise contracts that cover 25 of the 27 full-time cars.

It's hard to imagine now, but there was a time, not all that long ago, when Formula One was not the darling of the motorsport world that it is today.

Video content was largely restricted on social media, making viral moments nothing more than a marketer's fantasy. In-person attendance in 2016 was 65% of what it was in 2022, and in the United States in particular, it was half. Television ratings in the U.S. that year were 38% of what they were last year.

Then along came Liberty Media, which completed its purchase of F1 in January 2017. Two years later, "Drive to Survive" debuted on Netflix -- part of the new owners' comprehensive approach to holistically promote storytelling around the series -- and not long after that, the sport became the star-studded pop-culture sensation that millions watch each Sunday on ESPN.

In MotoGP, the calendar may as well have just turned to 2017.

Last week, Liberty announced a takeover of MotoGP parent company Dorna Sports, acquiring approximately 86% of the company, which will remain independently operated under Liberty's Formula One Group. The takeover could attract regulatory scrutiny, but the deal is expected to be completed by the end of 2024.

It has been less than two weeks, but so far, the new owners have been clear: the product is good.

MotoGP's growth opportunities

Making MotoGP an international success story won't be as simple as pulling pages out of Liberty's "How We Made F1 Into a Season Full of Super Bowls" playbook.

Formula One has long traded on the extravagance of destinations like Monaco and nine-figure team budgets, creating a sense of luxury and exclusivity that goes hand in hand with the celebrity culture that has inundated the paddock, which routinely welcomes the likes of Brad Pitt and Serena Williams. What MotoGP sells is its racing, where top speeds approach 230 mph, riders drag their knees and elbows across the pavement at every corner and leave tire marks on one another in fiercely contested overtakes.

Where Liberty succeeded with F1, though, and where it must discover similar success with MotoGP, is in storytelling.

Expensive cars driven in exotic locales, riders reaching triple-digit speeds just inches off the asphalt, these moments appeal to core audiences, but history suggests that they alone aren't enough to attract new fans.

What drew legions of new (and almost equally importantly, younger) fans to F1 were the personalities of "Drive to Survive." Daniel Ricciardo has enjoyed an admirable grand prix career, one worth celebrating when the 34-year-old eventually decides enough's enough, but the man with eight career victories has as devoted of a following as you might expect of a multi-time world champion. That's almost entirely down to his persona, the colorful Australian practically became synonymous with "Drive to Survive."

Horner insists Verstappen not making Formula One 'boring'

Can the Golden Knights repeat as Stanley Cup champions?

Sixteen wins. That's all a team needs to hoist the Stanley Cup.

For some clubs, achieving the feat takes decades. For the Vegas Golden Knights, it took six years.

Vegas secured the first Cup victory in franchise history last spring by downing the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Dallas Stars en route to overwhelming the Florida Panthers in a five-game Final that Vegas controlled from the start.

At times, the Golden Knights made earning those 16 wins look easy. But will Vegas' playoff run appear as effortless as it attempts to repeat as Cup champion?

Only eight teams in NHL history have won the Cup in consecutive years. Just two (the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning) have accomplished that in this millennium.

This has been a different season for the Golden Knights. Whereas last year Vegas entered the playoffs after a powerhouse regular season (as the Western Conference's top seed), this time around the Golden Knights battled their way to a late berth and barely approached the 100-point mark. Vegas has toggled between dominant and docile. Its identity hasn't always been clear -- except when it comes to pushing the envelope.

Vegas did just that, chasing after prized skaters at the trade deadline and landing Noah Hanifin and Tomas Hertl for exactly this time of year. What sort of impact will they have on the Golden Knights' chances to go back-to-back? What do the numbers say about Vegas now compared with last season? And what do players and executives around the league have to say about this year's squad -- and the challenge before them of winning a second Cup?

Stanley Cup playoffs picks: Every first-round NHL series

The six-month journey of the 2023-24 NHL regular season is complete. Sixteen of the league's 32 teams have been eliminated, and 16 have made the postseason bracket.

It's time for ESPN's hockey experts to serve up their picks on every first-round series, along with their calls on which team will skate with the Cup this June and which player will earn the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs.

Stanley Cup playoffs 2024: Bracket, schedule, scores, news

The 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs are almost here! The NHL's 32 teams are down to just 16 in the postseason, with the opening games of the first round set to begin Saturday.

Will the New York Rangers parlay their success in winning the Presidents' Trophy to a championship -- thus breaking the "curse" of that award?

Can the Vegas Golden Knights repeat, despite starting the postseason as the underdog in their initial series?

Read on for the full playoff coverage from every first-round series all the way through the Stanley Cup Final.

Stephen A. Smith reacts to the death of O.J. Simpson

2024 NFL draft: Latest news, questions for all 32 team picks

The 2024 NFL draft is fast approaching, and teams are finalizing their boards. Round 1 begins April 25 in Detroit (8 p.m. ET on ESPN, ABC, ESPN App).

To prepare, we're giving you intel from all angles. We had each of our 32 NFL Nation reporters answer questions about the mindset of the team they cover heading into the draft, then asked analysts Matt Miller and Jordan Reid to give the inside scoop on what they're hearing about each team and which prospects could be fits throughout the draft.

What's next for Josh Allen and the Bills after the Stefon Diggs trade?

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The dust has started to settle in the wake of the second significant Buffalo Bills trade involving Stefon Diggs. The message to the public from One Bills Drive after trading Diggs to the Houston Texans was an acknowledgment that the 2024 Bills are a work in progress. While talent has departed, this team is still being constructed to compete.

"You're trying to win, and sometimes people may not see that," general manager Brandon Beane said last week. "[Trading Diggs] is by no means the Bills giving up or trying to take a step back or anything like that. Everything we do, we're trying to win, and we're going to continue to do that."

Last week's move put an exclamation mark on an offseason spent moving on from established veteran starters and clearing cap room for future seasons. The draft -- and the Bills' 10 picks -- is still to come, in addition to late free agent signings being a strong possibility. Trading away big-name players can be seen as a sign of rebuilding, and in some ways, that is what the Bills are doing by reconstructing the roster -- just not in the traditional sense of a teardown or starting over.

This team will have a new look, and will be younger, but the aim has not drastically changed, in large part, because there's a quarterback named Josh Allen on the roster. Trading Diggs leaves the Bills with unknowns, some of which will come down to the start of the season in September.

The numbers from Diggs' four-year tenure with the Bills speak for themselves. The three-year captain and four-time Pro Bowler (all with Buffalo) had 445 receptions and 5,372 receiving yards during his time in Buffalo. Per Elias Sports, that is the second-most receiving yards and third-most receptions by a player over a four-year span who began the following season with a different team. No player had more receptions during those four years.

Diggs will be remembered as one of the Bills' best trade acquisitions and crucial to the team's recent run of success. The records are lengthy. There's also no doubt the role Diggs played in helping Allen progress in his career. Prior to the Bills trading for Diggs in 2020, Allen had a total QBR of 49.5, completed 56% of his passes and threw 30 touchdowns to 21 interceptions. Since then, Allen's total QBR is 71.4, he's completed 66% of his passes and has thrown 137 touchdowns to 57 interceptions.

While Diggs' targets went down over the course of the 2023 season, but were still high. Diggs, 30, averaged 11 targets per game in his best performances of the year in Weeks 1-6, and that number dropped to an average of 8.6 for the rest of the season.

Only one wide receiver who caught passes last year is still on the roster: Khalil Shakir. Additions have come in the form of Curtis Samuel and Mack Hollins, but more than one contributor needs to be added to this roster. That very well could come in multiple forms from the Bills' draft picks, and moving around to get more out of the 10 picks is a strongly possibility, especially based on Beane's history.

That should pair with an increased role for last year's first-round pick, Dalton Kincaid, in the two-tight end sets with Dawson Knox under offensive coordinator Joe Brady in his first year in the role full time. Last season, the Bills were 24th in snaps with two-tight end formations (244) but ranked sixth in completion percentage (72.2%) and ninth in completions on those plays (91). Allen did have the fifth-worst QBR last season (65) when targeting tight ends, but it jumped to seventh-best (77) when targeting running backs and wide receivers.

Then there's the elements off the field. Six of the Bills' eight captains from last season are not signed to the roster, with Allen and Von Miller the only players remaining.

"It is going to look different, the Cs on the chest next year, and it's a good opportunity, though," Beane said. " It's an opportunity for some others to step up, and I think coach [Sean McDermott] and the locker room will be watching starting with the offseason program, who's leading, who's going to take over in some of these position rooms?"

The cryptic social media posts and viral moments exist, such as when Diggs quickly left the locker room after a playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2023, before being brought back in by running back Duke Johnson. It is worth noting an underrated element of Diggs' role on the Bills was what he did from a leadership perspective, including going out onto the field multiple times during games to encourage the defense and special teams, and in the wide receiver room. He was insistent in getting to safety Damar Hamlin at the hospital after his cardiac arrest, something that was meaningful to Hamlin.

"I don't tell him enough, but I look up to Stef," Shakir said during the season. "The way he handles his business, the way he is with us in the receiver room. We're watching film and he's pointing stuff out, making sure that everybody hears it, not just keeping it to himself, spreading his knowledge amongst everyone else."

There's a list of reasons for the trade that included creating a better cap situation in 2025 and the years to come by taking on the dead cap from Diggs this year. Another element for the Bills here -- as seen in being able to walk away from the trade with a 2025 second-round pick -- was the timing and value of the deal ahead of what is considered a deep wide receiver class.

Who is stepping up on and off the field will be answered in the weeks and months to come, and presents a significant test for Beane and McDermott, who joined the organization in 2017 and created a contender around Allen.

"Are we better today? Probably not," Beane said. "It's a work in progress, and we're going to continue to work on that. I would just hope that people know I'm competitive as hell, and I ain't giving in. And we're going to work through this and we're going to continue to look. And I'm confident in ... the guys we have on the roster and I'm confident in the staff we have upstairs that helps me and that will continue to find pieces to add and that will be ready to roll when it comes time in September."

How Mr. Irrelevant became the most beloved underdog in sports

ON THE THIRD DAY of the 2022 draft, Brock Purdy's mom brought home cake and balloons as he waited to be picked. He immediately gave her his version of a dirty look, which is just a slightly raised eyebrow.

"Mom, I told you I don't want a party," he said. "I might not even get picked."

"I know, I know," Carrie Purdy said. "This is just for us to celebrate a little after it's over. But if you do get picked..."

"You already told everybody in town to come over, didn't you?" Brock asked.

Carrie smiled. He knows her too well. She told about 100 friends and neighbors in Maricopa County, Arizona, to hustle over if they saw Brock's name get called. "I'll pop all the balloons and eat the cake myself if you don't get picked, OK?" she said. Brock laughed and nodded in agreement. He could live with that.

The draft's sixth round began to drag on, and Purdy and his younger brother, Chubba, eventually stopped watching the draft and decided to hit Chick-fil-A. Purdy kept getting a steady string of calls from his agent saying that a certain team hoped to get him ... but was picking somebody else. He'd go into another room and come back and say, "They want me as an undrafted free agent."

He came to grips with the idea that he'd have multiple interested teams to choose from if he went undrafted, so he ducked out for some chicken sandwiches. They came back an hour later, and Brock noted that the house was a little fuller with friends and neighbors who ignored the "if he gets drafted" stipulation of the party invite.

Purdy doesn't really get mad, though. One of his superpowers is a blood pressure that never seems to surge, which is something the NFL combine hasn't quite figured out how to measure. So Purdy just shook his head and plopped down on the couch with his dad, Shawn, as the seventh round began.

His dad leaned over and said he thought of something funny while he was gone. "What if you're Mr. Irrelevant, Brock?" he said. "That would be so cool, wouldn't it?"

Everybody laughed a little at the minuscule odds of him being exactly the No. 262 pick. Whether he went unpicked or last, his mom noted that he never sounded resigned to his draft position. In Purdy's head, this was only the latest in a lifetime of him being underrated as a quarterback. Purdy believed they'd all remember these moments a few years down the road when he made the Pro Bowl.

As the draft wound down, Purdy took a call from the 49ers and then came back into the living room. The Niners had the final pick of the draft, and they were passing on making Purdy Mr. Irrelevant. "Undrafted free agent," he said again.

The entire house filled up with silence. His mom tried to remind everybody that going undrafted meant Brock could pick the best landing spot for himself. "I just need a shot," Purdy chimed in.

He sat back down, and his mom noticed a sly look on her son's face. "Is he lying?" she wondered out loud. A few people thought maybe she was right, that Purdy was pranking them all, so they pulled out their phones and started recording, just in case. "I'm glad we did," Purdy's mom says, "because it's not like TMZ was there to show Brock getting drafted."

A few minutes later, Melanie Salata-Fitch, CEO of Irrelevant Week, came out to announce the last pick late Saturday afternoon. As she began the standard "With the 262nd pick in the 2022 NFL draft..." Purdy's name flashed across the screen before the selection was verbally announced and the whole room screamed.

Purdy's prank (sort of) worked. That phone call wasn't a call to make him an undrafted free agent. It was San Francisco 49ers GM John Lynch, coach Kyle Shanahan and CEO Jed York letting him know that they were ecstatic that they were about to pick him.

Purdy became Mr. Irrelevant. And two years later, with Purdy's help, it's official: Mr. Irrelevant has emerged as the most popular underdog in sports.

2024 NBA mock draft: How the prospects performed in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight

The NCAA tournament is down to four teams as March Madness has given way to April.

The defending champion UConn Huskies have made easy work of each of their four opponents thus far, including a dominant 30-point run against a talented Illinois team in the Elite Eight. Multiple prospects on the UConn roster improved their standing in our latest NBA mock draft, including center Donovan Clingan cracking the top three for the first time this season.

Elsewhere, Zach Edey and Purdue stormed to the Final Four a year after being upset by a 16-seed in the first round.

Now, wins by UConn and Purdue will set up NBA scouts for a Clingan-Edey matchup that will have plenty of next-level implications.

Who else stood out during the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight over the past weekend?

ESPN NBA draft insiders Jonathan Givony and Jeremy Woo recap the second weekend of the tournament and provide an updated mock draft.


Stephen A: This is LeBron's last chance at title with the Lakers

The player Stephen A. likes for NBA MVP over Nikola Jokic

Should there be concern after the Knicks' 2nd straight close loss?

Inside T.J. Oshie's emotional journey to 1,000 NHL games

Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan still remembers his first glimpse at T.J. Oshie's medical report when he acquired the then 28-year-old forward from the St. Louis Blues in 2015.

"I was like, 'Holy f---, this guy's got some miles on him.' He had all these things on the report," MacLellan recalled this week. "I didn't have any idea this was going on. We ended up doing the trade anyway, but I wondered how long this would last."

"If you had asked me if he'd play a thousand games back then, I would've said 'no.'"

Oshie, now 37, became the 390th skater in NHL history to reach the 1,000-game milestone on March 16 against the Vancouver Canucks. His intensity, physicality and willingness to compete for every inch of ice made him an impact player for the Blues and the Capitals over 16 seasons.

But that style of play also took its toll. Oshie played over 75 games just four times in his career. Upper-body injuries, lower-body injuries, surgeries, a series of concussions -- Oshie has experienced it all.

"It's got to go down as a thousand of the hardest games ever played in the NHL," said Karl Alzner, Oshie's former teammate with the Capitals.

Some players chase benchmarks for goals or points. Ever since he entered the league, Oshie targeted the 1,000-game plateau as his career measuring stick.

"There's no other milestones that I really set for myself in my career," he told ESPN this week. "I looked up to the guys that came before me that reached the thousand-game mark, seeing the ceremonies and the silver sticks they'd receive. It's a pretty cool thing and it's tough to do.

Oshie is being honored for his achievement on Sunday, before the Capitals' home game against the Winnipeg Jets. His teammates will wear his number during warmups. The team and the NHL have gifts to present him.

There were certainly times Oshie wasn't convinced he'd earn the celebration.

"It's a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, honestly," he said. "I think you when you have to go through it yourself, in the fashion that I did and the amount of time it took, it definitely takes its toll. But it was all worth it."

NHL playoff standings: Can the Blues still make the playoffs?

After the St. Louis Blues' Stanley Cup championship run in 2019, the team kept its fans engaged with playoff returns the next three seasons. An 81-point campaign in 2022-23 landed the Blues sixth in the Central Division and outside the playoff picture, and they are currently outside the playoff mix heading into Monday's two-game NHL schedule.

In fact, Stathletes projects their chances of a postseason berth at 5.8%. So, can they pull off a mild upset and qualify?

That process begins Monday night as the Blues host the team they are directly chasing for a wild-card spot, the Vegas Golden Knights (8 p.m. ET, NHL Network). The Knights have a four-point edge in the points column (83-79), and are two games ahead in regulation wins. Vegas also has a game in hand on St. Louis.

The bad news: After Monday's matchup, the Blues have the Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars on the remaining schedule. The good news: They have the San Jose Sharks (twice!), Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks (plus a game apiece against the non-playoff-bound Calgary Flames and Seattle Kraken).

What about the Golden Knights? The defending Cup champs have some tough matchups on the way as well, including two against the Vancouver Canucks and one apiece against the Oilers, Preds, Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche; in addition, they have two contests against the Minnesota Wild, another club trying to chase them down. But, they also have a game against the Arizona Coyotes to break up that tough slate, and then close out with games against the Blackhawks and Ducks (just in case they need four more points to seal the deal).

So it's a tough task, but not an impossible one, for the Blues to extend their season beyond 82 games. A regulation win Monday night would make it just a little easier.

As we traverse the final stretch of the regular season, it's time to check in on all the playoff races -- along with the teams jockeying for position in the 2024 NHL draft lottery.

MLB players weigh in on top 100: Hits and misses of MLB Rank

We asked players for their feedback on our MLB Rank top 100 list, and oh, we got it.

Our hope was that players would ditch their social filters while critiquing our rankings and weigh in as if they had just swallowed a carafe of truth serum. Like Atlanta Braves first baseman Matt Olson, who was stunned by the standing of Mike Trout, against whom he has played 44 games in his career.

"I know there's always recency bias," Olson said, "but I'm a little more swayed by the guys who have been there and done it for a while ... Mike Trout at 19. That's ridiculous.

"Nolan Arenado at No. 44? Goldschmidt at 47? That's pretty wild."

Minnesota Twins shortstop Carlos Correa, known for his knowledge of advanced analytics, had the same reaction to Trout's standing: "Oooooh, I don't like it. I don't like it. Obviously, he's had injuries and hasn't been on the field as much, but when he's on the field, he's top 5, for sure."

The sentiments of Olson and Correa reflected a common theme heard from most of the players we spoke to: Many felt accomplished peers did not get enough credit for what they have done, and very young players got too much credit for future expectations.

MLB Rank 2024: Ranking baseball's top 100 players

Opening Day is almost here, which means it's time to ask the question that's on everyone's mind: Who will be the best player of the 2024 MLB season?

To create our annual MLB Rank list of the top 100 players in the sport, we presented a panel of ESPN baseball experts with pairings upon pairings of the biggest names in the game and asked them which player will be better in 2024.

However, that raises the question of how to compare players who have vastly different but still important roles across the sport. How do you compare the top starting pitchers to the best sluggers in the game? What about players who don't have much major league experience? And where do baseball's best relievers land? It seems impossible to pit these stars against one another, but we did it -- and one player came out on top.

Our list features Cy Young Award winners, MVPs, veterans building Hall of Fame résumés and young megastars who could dominate MLB for years to come. But who's No. 1? And where does the best player on your team rank?

ESPN MLB experts Jeff Passan, Buster Olney, Alden Gonzalez, Dave Schoenfield, Jesse Rogers and Brad Doolittle broke down why each player is ranked where they are and what to expect from them in the upcoming season.

Jump to team's top-ranked player:

American League
(No top 100 players: OAK)

National League
(No top 100 players: COL, WSH)