Sports topics bound to spark holiday conversation

It is time for our annual public service program, “Things to Talk About With the In-laws.”

You know the scenario. Relatives are visiting from out-of-town. The presents are open. The food is devoured. The family gossip

is exchanged.

Invariably, you gather around the TV for the NBA Christmas quadruple-header. That leaves a lot of dead air time.

An uncomfortable silence descends,

interrupted only by Uncle Herman’s snoring from the recliner. You arrive

at an inescapable reality — “I’ve got to say something.”

But not just anything. No, you are

a Daily Journal reader, so your

thoughts should be witty, thought-

provoking, insightful.

Oh well, let’s settle for controversial. Try these bold statements on for size:

There will be a MLB team in Cuba before the Cubs win the World Series.

A few months ago, both of these seemed quite unlikely. Not anymore.

President Barack Obama’s action to

restore full diplomatic relations with

Cuba has significant political and social consequences for both nations. More

importantly (for our purposes anyway), those issues pale in comparison to the ramifications for baseball.

For decades, Cuban baseball stars have found their way to the U.S. through smuggling, asylum and other clandestine means. Soon, the gates officially will be open.

MLB will be a prime beneficiary of an influx of talent.

That begs the bigger question: Will MLB use this opening to tap more directly into the Caribbean market? Teams in Havana and San Juan seem a quite logical step.

Meanwhile, north in Wrigleyville, the Cubs’ additions of manager Joe Maddon and pitching ace Jon Lester have some fans predicting a cellar-to-pennant transformation in 2015. With a solid nucleus of young talent, the veteran duo might provide the direction that Chicago needs to win its first title since 1908.

Those predicting World Series rings this season (odds have gone from 50-1 to 12-1) might be too optimistic, but this is certainly achievable in the next decade.

Who knows? Maybe the Cubs will play the Havana Cigars in that series.

The Pacers should trade for

Lance Stephenson.

Born Ready spurned a generous

long-term Indiana offer ($44 million,

five years) to sign a $27.4 million three-year deal with Charlotte.

The thinking in the Stephenson camp was that a shorter deal would provide a chance to sign an even better deal at age 26.

Uh, so how’s that worked out, Lance?

In the words of Bleacher Report: “Stephenson has been abysmal on the court and off, a near-toxic presence anytime he is within 100 yards of teammates.”

It is no surprise that the Hornets are shopping Stephenson, with Indiana and Brooklyn (Stephenson’s hometown) as the most-mentioned destinations.

If the price is right (and yes, it hurts to give up players and draft picks for a free agent you just lost), Stephenson should be a Pacer again.

We know the emotional baggage that comes with him, but coach Frank

Vogel has been successful in stowing those excesses.

For an Indiana team that is

struggling to find itself, Stephenson is a

demon on the court who can cure

many deficiencies.

The Colts will be in the Super Bowl.

This one might even wake up Uncle Herman. After all, Indianapolis is coming off a downright embarrassing performance at Dallas.

Be bold and take the long view. It was a game that the Cowboys had to win, and they were simply better focused than a Colts team already in the playoffs. Don’t put too much stock in a 42-7 thumping.

Sure, Dallas exposed Indy’s greatest weakness, holding the Colts to just one yard rushing. Sure, Indy’s defense,

which had secured the team’s past

two wins, made Tony Romo look like Tony Manning.

Hey, this one was simply bad from the start. Playmaker T.Y. Hilton was out. Silly penalties came at a big price. Simple passes were dropped. Coverages were blown repeatedly.

The Colts are better than that. Check that, Indy will be better than that.

Yes, there is the concern. Coach Chuck Pagano’s team is winless against Super Bowl-caliber teams — Denver, New England, Pittsburgh and now Dallas. But this team also has the ingredients to make a deep run behind the NFL’s best passing game and an opportunistic defense.

(By the way, for those of you who followed last year’s pre-Christmas column with the same theme, please note that our 12/24/13 prediction “IU’s football team will be playing on New Year’s Day 2015” might have been a tad optimistic.)

Bob Johnson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.