The Falling out of Kristaps Porzingis

I was 40,000 feet in the air when the news hit.

Well the news hit me from all over.  I was on my way back from a family trip and settling in for what would be the longest 14 hour flight of my life (and that’s without the KP news).  That’s life traveling with a toddler on an international flight.

I logged into the complementary 20MB of Wifi* to notify my parents that we had successfully made our connecting flight and we were on our way home** when the texts started flying in.  Completely out of sync and order.

*= You think i’m made out of money?!?!?!
**= You’re never too old to be the irresponsible kid.

The first message I got was “holy shit they did it.  F%^&’ing Knicks”.  As a Knicks fan that can mean any one of 100 different scenarios.  I knew I had to go right to the source hardwired into all of the comings and goings of the NBA- Adrian Wojnarowski’s twitter feed and I was met (read smacked) with this:

Adrian Woj 1

and as i scrolled up….this:

Woj 2

In the span of an hour the Knicks franchise had changed.

How did we get here?  How did this happen?  I tried to make sense of it with friends who themselves couldn’t figure it out.  With a 14 hour flight in which i got maybe an hour of sleep, a few days, and some cryptic Kristaps snaps I’ve made sense of a few things which you may be asking as well:

  1. Who won the deal?  The short answer?  We don’t know.  Dallas traded expiring contracts, an unprotected pick, a disgruntled young player who realized he would never be “the guy” when “THE GUY” was on the roster, and a lottery protected pick without any assurances that Kristaps would sign.

The Knicks traded their franchise superstar coming off an ACL injury and cleared out a bunch of cap space on the off chance that two of the most wishy-washy superstars of this generation would possibly sign with them.

Cool.

Ultimately we won’t know who won until July 1 and even then this could be a wash.  The Knicks could sign Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to max deals and the Mavs could get KP to sign a 5 year $158M extension and both teams will have gotten from this deal what they wanted.

To me the only way one side or the other would win this deal is if they sign Kyrie and KD and the Knicks flip the Mavs picks, Kevin Knox, and this year’s unprotected 1st to the Pelicans this summer for Anthony Davis then the Knicks won this deal.  If the Knicks don’t sign either of those guys and KP goes on to sign an extension with the Mavs and he and Doncic turn into Nash and Dirk 2.0 for the next decade then the Mavs won this deal so there’s tremendous risk on both sides.

  2. Did the Knicks sell low on Kristaps?  It depends on what side you believe.  According to Marc Stein of the New York Times,  Steve Mills and the Knicks organization felt like Kristaps was becoming “detached” and felt the need to shop him quietly in January to assess what the return would be.  You can understand why the Knicks would feel that way: it was just a year ago that KP blew off an exit meeting with Phil Jackson the former Knick legend and GM*, and then came the contradictory IG post KP put up of him running when the Knicks had just earlier in the day said he hadn’t.  You could excuse the Knicks organization for assuming something was up.

*= Oh i’m well aware of how that sentence looks.

But this is after all the Knicks.  And every Knicks fan knows that they are never the innocent ones.  This is the same organization that removed access to a Daily News reporter because of a few articles that put the organization and its owner in a bad light* and refused to give media access to an entire radio station because of an over the top radio editorial by Maggie Gray of WFAN.

*= some would call this telling the truth.

The Knicks, if you’ve been living under a rock for the last two decades have lacked direction and any direction they HAVE had has been like Michael Scott following a GPS right into a lake.    I won’t recall them all in this article because for one there’s way too many and second, I would need to be placed on concussion protocol from banging my head against the desk.

So its awfully discomforting to watch “sources say” that Kristaps showed up to the now famous five minute meeting and it went from, per Woj’s twitter account, the Knicks coming away with the feeling that he wanted to be traded to Kristaps requesting a trade during this meeting.  Then came the hit pieces about Kristaps brother Janis being upset that he didn’t have a bigger role in the organization.

I would say this is normal but this is the same organization that was sued by one of its former beloved players after being physically escorted out of the arena while a game was going on so the idea of normal has to be shifted.

I’m going to split the difference down the middle.  The Knicks have been very upfront about their goals heading into this season.  They were going to lose.  A lot.  This was reported, discussed and dissected from every angle.  So KP being upset over the direction of the franchise may not have had much to do with how much they were losing but rather where he fit into their future.

Here’s what I think: He’s coming off an ACL injury and the Knicks were linked to Kevin Durant and they were shopping their other contracts (Hardaway and Lee) to create a second max slot for a second superstar.  With Anthony Davis including the Knicks on a list of teams he would sign a long term extension with* I’m sure KP’s camp thought he would be used as a main piece in a trade with the Pelicans and they wanted to take back some control.

*= Bullshit.

He’s a 7 foot 3 guy thats coming off a leg injury.  Medicine has come a long way since the 90’s where that type of injury may have been a career altering injury but the list of really tall guys with a history of leg injuries that came back to have great careers is basically nil.

So no, I don’t think the Knicks sold low on Kristaps if this meeting really was the breaking point where a trade may or may not have been requested.  It also shows that the Knicks had prepared for this moment, per Marc Stein’s report, by canvassing the league in January prior to pulling the trigger quickly.  What they got was what they wanted, salary relief, draft assets and a young player to develop through their player development system.*

*= stop laughing.

       3. Did KP want to be a Knick? That’s a question for KP but most of the evidence suggests no.  I’m sure his camp wasn’t sold on KP’s place within the framework of what the Knicks are potentially building to: the new super team.  Were the Knicks prepared to max him out with a 5/$158M?  Perhaps but now we’ll never know and the Knicks were well within their right to question his loyalty if they even got a whiff that he wasn’t sold on their future together.

4. Does this deal affect other teams?  Well yeah.  If you’re the Warriors the thought of losing Durant didn’t just surface the morning of the Kristaps deal.  They’ve been dealing with that reality for some time.  But the Celtics had to be surprised waking up to Kyrie’s “ask me July 1” as rumors swirled that the Knicks would use the second max slot to team Kyrie with Durant.  Both are contenders for championships this year and beyond but both teams require keeping Durant and Kyrie respectively to maintain their dominance so there is a bit of scrambling here that affects them.

Let’s take this a step further.  Say this summer, the Knicks somehow realign the stars and rid themselves of their toxic karma to bring the two in-their-prime superstars to New York to make them a contender, it would hurt the Celtics and hurt the Warriors (but only slightly). Those are two organizations that aren’t just going to let these star players walk and have their collective shit together.

If you’re the Celtics and you want to keep Kyrie now is the time to make an all-in play for Anthony Davis who was rumored to be interested in teaming up together.  But Anthony Davis’ dad*, citing the Isiah Thomas trade, has made it clear his son isn’t interested in signing a long term deal in Boston.

*= So far this year, Kawhi’s uncle, Anthony Davis’ dad and Kristaps brother has altered the NBA.  Amazing.

Of course that hasn’t stopped the Celtics from asking the Pelicans to wait because ::wink wink:: it’ll be worth the wait.*

*= Here’s a live picture of Danny Ainge making an offer to Dell Demps:

Andy-King-Fyre

The Celtics scrambling to keep the Pelicans from trading AD to the Lakers for…..their entire roster*, created an opportunity for other would be contenders in the East, like the Sixers who traded for Tobias Harris.

*= A live shot of the Lakers bench after seeing what the LA-brons offered the Pelicans for AD.

How does this affect the East?

The Clippers owe their 2019 first round pick to the Celtics but its lottery protected.  The Celtics are hoping to use that pick as one of the tasty assets that they can offer to the Pelicans in a trade.  They need that trade to convince the here-today-gone-tomorrow Kyrie that there is a future in Boston with a better roster.  The Clippers were able to clear one max slot with this trade and are capable of clearing even more if they trade Gallinari.  More importantly they are sacrificing a playoff run this year (and the value of the pick) to be financially set to offer a max contract for….drum roll please- Kawhi Leonard who is from the Southern California area.

You remember Kawhi don’t you?  He plays for the Raptors who just traded for Marc Gasol.  The Raptors made that deal to try and convince Kawhi that if he sticks around an entire country can be his and they will continue making win-now moves.  Another team that sees Boston in a moment of weakness?  The team with the best record in the Eastern Conference and the best player in the conference: the Milwaukee Bucks who just managed to flip Thon Maker and some second round picks into Nikola Mirotic (via Stanley Johnson).

That’s before you begin to consider what trade rumors do to Boston’s locker room.  If every player is available in a trade, like rumors would suggest with the Lakers, how will the young guys on Boston feel when they are asked to give their all for a playoff push?  Boston has underachieved this season as it is.

The Warriors on the other hand are good either way.  They are likely headed towards their third title in a row, fourth in five years and  comparisons to dynasties before.  Durant leaving could provide Steve Kerr’s group with the needed motivation.  Remember the threesome of Klay, Curry and Draymond were one game away from winning 73 games and a title so they aren’t going anywhere but they will go from being THE favorites to a favorite.

*******************************

The potential of this trade is far reaching which is why as a fan of the Knicks I went from being horrified of this trade because its the Knicks to being strangely optimistic.  The KD rumor has been around for some time and his current media blackout in Golden State is basically fueling the fire for a change.

Things have never been this much in favor for the Knicks since they went to Houston up 3-2 in the 1994 NBA Finals and…well…..

Again this can all go wrong for the Knicks and their past suggests that Knick fans be prepared for the worst. We could ultimately strike out for both major free agents.  They could panic and lock up Kemba Walker and Tobias Harris to two max slots and continue to be the laughing stock of the NBA because all this (Read KP) would’ve been all for naught.

Or things can magically go right.  Even if the Knicks strike out on that second star to pair with KD they could roll that cap space until another star decides he’s done with his current situation because if the last 10 years have taught us anything its that a superstar will always become available and maintaining flexibility is the biggest asset you could have.  It means not sacrificing first round picks except for absolute sure things.  The Knicks are building a culture.  That will take time, especially when you are trying to restore the roar back to the Garden.

Knicks fans like me have longed to hear it and if Kristaps didn’t want to be part of the next winning team here in NY then so be it.  I won’t hold a grudge or boo KP next time he shows up.  New York isn’t for everybody and I recognized, that save for a guy flipping us the bird on the way out, there isn’t a reason to boo that player for recognizing that either.  Its a point of pride to say you’re from New York- you’re a survivor more or less.

So good luck Kristaps.  I’m not hoping for your knee to be like paper mache.  I hope you go and have success except if it directly affects the Knicks.  As for the Knicks?  This is a franchise that’s continuously tripped over its own feet for the last two decades so even if the worst scenario plays out I’m completely prepared for it.

Oh and by the way I never sent that text to my parents to let them know I boarded my connecting flight.  I went on that 14 hour flight and my son slept for maybe one hour and when we landed my parents lit into me for forgetting them.  Once again, the Knicks ruined my life.  Hopefully on July 1, they will make it all better.

 

 

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NFL 2017 Inc.

No matter where you fall on the side of excitement over football this year two things are for certain:

  1. It has waned for everyone thanks to the issues of long term effects and all the information being fed to parents about it.
  2. Football still remains far and away the most popular sport in America.

The fact that its still a ratings bonanza for every network means it still gets to swing its dick in every room its in.  So when Roger Goodell gets to play cop and supersede the investigation done by law enforcement and hand a six game punishment to Ezekiel Elliiot, which got reversed by a federal judge on Friday, a mere 24 hours before the Cowboys and Giants were set to open the season against each other.

Of course in a weird twist, he was eligible to play in Sunday’s game but that’s neither here nor there.

The NFL has gifted its Commissioner with a brand new contract extension but i wonder if Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft, two of the most powerful owners are waking up this morning exactly thrilled with the Commissioner’s powers.  He suspended Tom Brady four games for his dubious role in DeflateGate, which while it thrilled me as a Giants fan, always seemed like payback for the Patriots constantly getting themselves into these investigations after the Commissioner slapped them on the wrist for Spygate and told them “don’t do that again”.

But the NFL isn’t suffering because Roger Gooddell sucks as a Commissioner.  Or because of a looming (in 2021 no less) labor strike that’s almost guaranteed to happen.  Oh and once the new TV contracts come in the owners may be working off numbers that the players may not necessarily like.

The NFL is suffering because its retired players are and its current personnel are taking notice.  Consider that the average NFL player’s career lasts four years.  Most will never take home the millions that playing in a major professional sports league promise, but all will take home scar tissue created by sometimes almost a decade spent sustaining car crash like hits to the head and body.

Consider players like 23-year-old Su’a Cravens from the Washington Redskins who will spend the next month contemplating retirement.  Or the slew of 20-somethings who have already decided to retire early before the damage becomes permanent and affects their post-football life.

The NFL’s contract structure guarantees its players very little and gives ownership outs once the player is no longer fit to compete.  It seems unfair to ask players to continue risking its body for an opportunity that isn’t guaranteed but that’s how the NFL has always been and it doesn’t seem like it will change despite what Odell Beckham will try.  It remains to be seen what change the NFLPA can affect in the next labor negotiations but many things will be on its mind, namely the safety of its constituent base.  If not for a bigger share of the profits to then be put into a retirement fund, but at the very least to reduce the Commissioner’s power as its only legislative body dispensing his justice.

The best theory I heard about Gooddell’s recent run of challenging his sport’s best players is to do the bidding of the owners (his bosses) to undermine the players.  If you reduce them to interchangeable parts and tell everyone that nobody is special then you can negotiate from that position.  That’s where the biggest challenge will be.  It will be interesting nonetheless.

But it may blind them from the bigger issue which is to reduce the number of games (i’m looking at you preseason) that puts its best stars in dangerous spots in meaningless situations.

Moving on, I’m going to preview the season by doing my first power rankings in four tiers: Tier IV- No shot, Tier III- long shot, Tier II- raised eyebrow, Tier I- contender.

I have my picks for week 1 in the next column- enjoy

TIER IV- NO SHOT

32. New York Jets-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 1000-to-1

Outlook: Call this season what you will but the Jets are like that Delta jet that decided to race Hurricane Irma.  Sounds dumb but you have a duty to your customers.  The Jets should consider forfeiting the season but have a duty to their customers to show up physically for 16 games but every move they made this offseason from trading Sheldon Richardson to releasing Brandon Marshall was done with the future in mind.  Much of the Jet fanbase will be watching college football more intently than they do any of their games but consider this.  The defense is decent, but with a paper thin offense it will be tough to watch.  The Jets will need another season or two, after this to fully rebuild itself from this doldrum.  Not like the owner will be around to enforce any of this anyway.

31. Buffalo Bills-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 200-to-1

Outlook: The Sean McDermott led Bills made a conscious decision to remove a bunch of its former young stars via trades or letting them walk out of the complex (mostly to New England) to greener pastures.  What it did is set them up for a bountiful future.  What the Bills will do this year is play decent up front on both sides and figure out if Tyrod Taylor has any trade value.  They long ago wrote him off as a starting NFL QB and will hope to recoup some value by the trade deadline (my guess) to get more picks in the event that a team that fancies itself a playoff contender will need a competent QB.  At the very least they have a ton of picks to fall back on while the season plays itself out in Western New York.

30. Cleveland Browns-
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: The only reason i have them ahead of the Bills is because their rebuild is in the second phase.  The Harvard bred, forward thinking front office of the Browns has built the team in a very old school way.  They handed out a ton of money to help build one of the better offensive lines and are using the draft to build its defense.  Myles Garrett looks like a generational talent at the defensive end position and the position-less Jabrill Peppers will likely line up in the backend and use his athleticism to affect the deep pass accuracy of his opponents.  But the Browns are betting they have hit on QB already by naming third round draft pick DeShone Kizer as their starting QB.  Is it truly hard to think that a team with a stout offensive line and a rookie QB can make some noise this season?  Where have i seen that before?

29. Chicago Bears
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: This seems like a good time to mention that the John Fox tenure at Chicago is about to come to an end.  That’s the deciding factor in why I put them behind the San Francisco 49ers.  The Bears have a bad front office but have the pieces that should make them attractive to any coach-GM candidate.  The key to this season will be when Mitchell Trubisky becomes the starting QB and the city of Chicago will be on edge.  The future of GM Ryan Pace will be on the line.  If he shows any kind of promise it may be enough to keep him on the job but if this season ends as disastrously he may be on a one way ticket out.

28. San Francisco 49ers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: We can all agree that Jed York is a bad owner and his decision to pick Trent Baalke over Jim Harbaugh likely set his franchise back.  But now he’s armed a GM with no experience and a head coach with zero prior experience.  While every decision will be viewed from that perspective, I liked their draft, and their steadfast nature to select the best player available.  That’s how every rebuilding team should approach the draft.  Kyle Shanahan has decent pieces on offense to make them a threat to any team that thinks they can sleep walk to a win.  It makes them intriguing for the season and should help the Niners start moving forward.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  Even with dictator Coughlin manning the front office rather than the sideline expect the team to be fashioned in his image.  An imposing defense and hopes that the run game keeps the offense on the field long enough to give the defense rest and makes the defense play closer to the line so Blake Bortles can throw it deep to Allen Robinson.  While I think that seems unlikely, they will make betting against them tough.  MY prediction is that Leonard Fournette is the least likeliest to succeed in the NFL.

26. Miami Dolphins
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: Jay Cutler.  Every Bears fan, and every Denver Broncos fan know what this means.  Cutler is a nightmare to predict and the fact that many predict him to have his most productive year now that he’s reunited with former OC Adam Gase is beyond foolish.  What makes people think that Jay Cutler will be better than he was in his other stops in the NFL?  What makes people think Jay Ajayi is a top 10 back in the NFL?  His overall stats were solid but consider that outside of 3 games (1 against Pittsburgh, and 2 against Buffalo) where he had nearly half his year’s output, he had only one other 100 yard game.  I just don’t think this team will be the main deterrent to New England that some think.

25. Washington Redskins
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: the offseason was mired in a standoff with QB Kirk Cousins who may already have one foot in San Francisco.  If that happens, the Redskins will be left to head into next season without a QB of the future and outside of a drafting slot to get one of the top QB’s expected to enter next year’s draft.  But there will be enticing options and Jay Gruden has shown that he can turn a late round draft pick into a good QB.  Kirk Cousins is in the Alex Smith memorial hall of fame of guys who seem to lead their teams to respectability at the least while not scaring any defense or opposing fan base.  That Week 17 game where the Redskins had everything to play for and the Giants had nothing to play for shows you exactly who Kirk Cousins is: he can get you to the door, he doesn’t have the ability to walk through.

TIER III: Long Shot

24. Los Angeles Rams
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: I like them even without Uncle Wade having his best toy to play with heading into Week 1 at the least in Aaron Donald.  But regardless, the Rams should be improved with Wade’s aggressive scheme.  Hiring a QB-guru-centric coach is the right way to go but getting a home crowd advantage may prove difficult in a town that has rarely shown an interest in football before.  Consider the improvement in the defense and a safer approach to Jared Goff’s development and the addition of Sammy Watkins as steps in the right direction.

23. Detroit Lions
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook: The Lions paid Matthew Stafford on a season where he improved his efficiency and helped his team to an above average record in close games.  The Lions were 8-4 in one possession games.  Make them even .500 and the division race isn’t even close.  The Lions will hope that games don’t end up that close by upgrading the offensive line but their defense remains suspect and that’s going to be too much to overcome.

22. Indianapolis Colts
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  Scott Tolzien is starting week 1.  Which means all of the proclamations of Andrew Luck’s health improving were all fluff.  You have to worry about the organization’s franchise guy if the reports of him missing a significant portion of the season are true.  Not when Tennessee has a chance to be legit contenders this year.  Let’s see.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100-to-1

Outlook:  The Ringer’s Robert Mays put it best: the Bengals don’t do anything particularly well.  They are just solid on both fronts.  Losing their first round pick for a few games will hurt Andy Dalton but then Andy Dalton wasn’t likely to lead the Bengals to anywhere but 8-8.  Dalton and the Bengals need to break up for both their own good.

20. Denver Broncos
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  The Broncos ultimately won the Brock Ostweiler deal even if they don’t have much to show for it.  Their defense will remain elite, but their offense won’t be unless Jamaal Charles returns to Chiefs form.  The Broncos play the style of one cut line play that fits what Charles can do but without his elite burst it may be a lot of 2nd and 8’s in the Broncos future.

19. Baltimore Ravens
Odds to win Super Bowl: 50-to-1

Outlook: This is one of two teams I’m leaving out of the contender talk but I can see a scenario in which they challenge for the division crown.  I love their defense and John Harbaugh coaches the team well.  Joe Flacco will have a decent set of weapons (none inspiring enough to make me consider them legit contenders) but ultimately won’t prove enough to overthrow the Steelers from taking the division.

18. Houston Texans
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  Ton of positive momentum stemming from JJ Watt’s incredible work as humanitarian/fundraiser stemming from Hurricane Harvey’s relief efforts.  But while this defense will remain elite, consider the offense’s ceiling to depend on when they feel comfortable enough to run Deshaun Watson out there.  He will take some lumps this season but this is about the future and the quicker Bill O’Brien realizes it, taking a step back, to potentially take a few steps forward, the better off the Texans will be for the future.

17. New Orleans Saints
Odds to win Super Bowl: 25-to-1

Outlook: These are ridiculous odds based solely out of some gumbo-eating handicapper.  There is nothing the Saints did this offseason that make them 25-to-1 odds on favorites to win the Super Bowl.  Nothing.  Drew Brees will do his thing on offense but losing Brandin Cooks was bad but necessary.  Not getting Malcolm Butler was a curious decision in that trade but a first rounder on the OL was another curious decision.   This is a big year for the Mickey Loomis/Sean Payton team.  If this season turns bad, expect major changes in the Bayou.

TIER II: RAISED EYEBROWS

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  I’m taking points off for being on Hard Knocks.  Jameis has all the weapons on offense to realize his true potential.  This is the year we find out if he can overcome his mental mistakes.  There’s just too many moments where we heard Dirk Koetter scold him for making a poor decision.  He takes way too many chances.  This team is good enough to be 12-4 this year but it will all depend on how many times Dirk Koetter has to scold Winston.

15. Los Angeles Chargers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 60-to-1

Outlook:  Here’s a dark horse candidate to legitemately surprise people.  There’s been too many times this team has been snakebitten for one year not to go their way.  Rivers has a very good complement of weapons to put up his usual stats and the defense has an absolute stud in Joey Bosa who will terrorize opposing QB’s alongside Melvin Ingram.  Expect this team to be the talk of LA and the one difficult ticket in their 30,000 seat stadium.

14. Arizona Cardinals
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  If everything about Bruce Arians wanting to chuck it deep more is true, expect Carson Palmer to have a really good year.  David Johnson is enough to scare defenses that they CAN be aggressive deep because of the many ways that he threatens a defense.  Expect the Cards to be terrific and Hasaan Reddick to have the best year from any defensive player from this draft.

13. Carolina Panthers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 30-to-1

Outlook:  The great white hope Chrisian McCaffrey will be a test in where the RB position is headed.  Teams are now looking for the next David Johnson and the Panthers may feel like they have their guy in McCaffrey who will line up in multiple ways.  Keeping him on a pitch count will help keep Jonathan Stewart AND Cam Newton healthy.  I would not be shocked by a F U year from Cam and the Panthers to put them back in the discussion as among the league’s best.

12. Tennessee Titans
Odds to win Super Bowl: 20-to-1

Outlook:  The trendy AFC contender pick.  Mariota still seems like a gimmick QB to me and for me he’s the one guy that can drive this ship to be champions or not.  They will win the South but I have my reservations in putting my faith in a gimmick QB and a coach named Mularkey.

11. Minnesota Vikings
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook: Ton of Super Bowl talk with a defense ready to contend but I still don’t see them being better than the Packers.  Do you?  Regardless, Sam Bradford is on injury alert for me.  His stats were misleading last year as he led the league in accuracy but his yards per attempt were the lowest out of all QB’s who started atlas 15 games.  The Vikings need Bradford to take a step forward.  It might be too much as he’s now in journeyman phase of his career.

10. Philadelphia Eagles
Odds to win Super Bowl: 40-to-1

Outlook:  Here’s the other team that could potentially upset the natural order of things in the division. There’s a clear path forward for this team.  They improved a receiving corps that hindered QB Carson Wentz’ development.  Even a slight improvement by Alshon Jeffrey and co will make the Eagles a looming threat to both the Giants and Cowboys.  I can see them being no less than 3rd in this division and can easily see them playing important games in late December for playoff positioning.

9. Kansas City Chiefs
Odds to win Super Bowl: 25-to-1

Outlook: Double check those odds after a decisive Week 1 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots where it looked like they cloned dynamic offensive talent Tyreek Hill in Kareem Hunt, their rookie RB who had the best debut fantasy performance by a rookie running back in history.  I still don’t trust Alex Smith to lead an NFL franchise to the promised land.  With Eric Berry landing on IR with a ruptured achilles the back end of KC’s defense takes a huge blow given how many athletic tight ends there are in the league.  Berry was an equalizer far too few teams in the NFL have.

TIER I: The Contenders

8. Dallas Cowboys
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12-to-1

Outlook: Someone will have to explain the Cowboys rosy outlook given the turnover they had on defense.  I get what they are doing on defense, but have they really improved?  Wasn’t last year the high watermark for Dak’s efficiency?  Isn’t losing two of their offensive line starters going to cost them? They can’t possibly better thant hey were last year when they went 13-3 right?  Am i clouded by my Giants fan bias?

7. New York Giants
Odds to win Super Bowl: 12-to-1

Outlook: The offensive line still makes me uneasy.  But the defense only gets better with continuity and adding a big hulking receiver in Brandon Marshall makes them better in the red zone.  A lot of guys played beyond expectation last year and expecting that kind of projection to continue would be unrealistic.  But I think this offense plays better and my spidey-senses are tingling about this season.

6. Oakland Raiders
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: I don’t get this line.  If there’s one team that can have all the goodwill undone from the previous year, its this team.  I don’t buy the Marshawn Lynch addition as a reason to push them over the top but a good QB like Derek Carr can offset a lot.  Ask the Giants from last year.  I think Carr is a top 8 QB in the NFL.  But I don’t buy this team as a legit Super Bowl threat.  I’m just not willing to bet that they take a huge fall from last year but the first four games will be telling.

5. Atlanta Falcons
Odds to win Super Bowl: 16-to-1

Outlook: There’s got to be a Super Bowl hangover.  You don’t lose that game, THAT WAY and come back like nothing ever happened.  Matt Ryan is in a contract year and seeing what QB’s are making must have him salivating.  Steve Sarkisian, new OC for the Falcons won’t shy away from taking chances and that’s exactly the mindset you need after losing the Super Bowl for, taking chances.  Kudos to coach Dan Quinn for wanting to maintain that identity despite what the naysayers will say.  Expect a YUUUUGE year from Julio Jones.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 10-to-1

Outlook: If there’s a team that can dethrone the Patriots its this team.  If the Chiefs showed that you can play man-defense and the Pats are really going to be that thin on defense, the Steelers may have the offense to beat the Pats even in Foxboro.  But for the Steelers to have any chance in January, they better be hosting the Patriots.  Even then it may not matter given their recent history.

3. Green Bay Packers
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: Sunday’s season opener between the Seahawks and Packers will legitimately have a chance to decide who hosts who in the NFC championship game so writing off Week one won’t be easy for the loser of this game.  The Packers have Aaron Rodgers and a bevy of weapons on offense against that spectacular defense.  I still think the Seahawks are a better team overall and John Schneider made sure of that with the slew of trades he made to fortify this team’s depth.  Sunday afternoon should be eye opening.

2. Seattle Seahawks
Odds to win Super Bowl: 8-to-1

Outlook: The Seahawks doubled down on their strengths and moved the needle slightly on offense which may have given Russell Wilson another half second to play with which may be enough.  The responsibility of keeping Wilson upright falls on a very shaky O-line which had two more starters go down with season ending injuries but expect Wilson to play almost MVP-like to lead the team to the Superbowl in a rematch against…

1, New England Patriots
Odds to Win Super Bowl: 11-to-4

Outlook: We’ve been down the road before where early in the season Tom Brady doesn’t look like himself and his demise is prematurely being discussed because…ratings.  But make no mistake, this team beefed up on offense and I trust Bill Belichieck to get his team ready on defense every week.  Against the Chiefs the Pats seemed to play against their natural instinct to be aggressive and made some uncharacteristic mistakes which swung the game in KC’s favor.  Don’t expect those mistakes to continue.  Brady is mad.  And when Brady is mad, that usually means good things for the Patriots and bad things for the rest of the league

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Break-ups ain’t easy 

It’s tough when you’re the last person to realize a relationship is not going to work out.  Even worse when it’s playing out in public.  

But that’s the position Carmelo Anthony is in and it’s hard not to feel sorry for him. 

Melo came to New York with the label of savior which, during this week, we all can agree is too heavy a cross to bear.  He was greeted as a Native New Yorker even if we took loose liberties with the term.  He was going to be Bernard King 2.0- the superhero who made New York believe but whose career was cut short due to injuries.  

He came at the cost of a number of building blocks.  His desire to play in New York, the Mecca of basketball and media capital of the world, had its ulterior motives.  He wanted to come but ONLY if he was traded- so he could get a bigger contract thanks to NBA salary cap rules. He wanted to come to play in the Garden but threatened to play for Brooklyn who desperately looked for credibility and a chance to eat away at the Knick fan base.  He could get New York and play for the upstart.  His wife Lala could have better opportunities as well.  

James Dolan, the beleaguered owner of the Knicks, blinked and forced a trade of assets rather than bring Melo to NY in the offseason.  Melo was greeted as a hero- but it was apparent that he wanted to win on HIS terms.  

He didn’t want to play defense at the expense of wasting energy that could be better used to get buckets.  He refused to play the point forward position for then head coach Mike D’Antoni or play as a small 4.  These are now considered staples of the modern NBA game and James Harden- in D’Antoni’s first year as coach of the Rockets- has turned into a top 3 MVP candidate.  As a point forward. 

Relationships are built on trust and it was clear that Melo had none for the Knicks.  But let’s face it- this organization shouldn’t be trusted to run a hot dog stand.  Melo also was domineering and wanted control and it to be about him.  

His jealousy arose when Linsanity’s improbable rise happened.  Incapable of believing that anything good could happen to the Knicks that he was not personally being given credit for he froze out the young point guard.  The icy relationship made it easy for the Knicks NOT to swallow the “poison pill” and allow him to go to the Rockets in free agency.  

The one year he saw on court success he was surrounded by veterans and more importantly true leaders.  In 2012 the Knicks won 54 games, clinched the Atlantic division title and 2 seed and defeated the Celtics in a playoff series.  Unthinkable for Knicks fans who had gone through a period of absolute garbage basketball.  

But that was quickly erased in 2013 when the Knicks continued their rotten ways and gave up two first round picks for a guy that was about to be released.  The kind of crippling- pay $5 for NYC tap water put into empty used Poland Spring bottles from a dude standing on the side of a busy intersection- move reserved for complete morons.  It was like a self fulfilling prophecy- one step forward three steps back.  

Melo got older and the wins got harder to come by.  Eventually Knicks fans became upset. 

Enter Phil Jackson.  Almost like a counselor introduced to salvage a marriage.  He was going to fix the Knicks and restore order.  But it always felt like he was learning on the job.  

Lesson one- don’t give anyone NOT named Lebron James a no-trade clause.  He gave Melo  one.    Lesson two- if you want to believe that Melo is a team player expect him to leave some dollars on the table so roster holes could be fixed.  He didn’t.  Melo signed for the max- ensuring that no matter what Melo was going to get his.  

Ultimately Melo is the selfish half of a hapless relationship.  Unwilling to give up for the other- he wants it all.  He wants to do it on his terms.  

It wasn’t until this year that he demonstrably returned the boos.  When he hit a game winner he refused the applause.  Knicks fans were still willing to cheer him but now ONLY when he did something good for them.  Suddenly he was losing control.  

Knicks fans found a new guy.  He’s younger and he’s got a few more tricks than Melo.  He could be transcendent.  All anyone seems to agree is that Melo should step aside and let the young man fly.  

But when has that ever been Melo’s style?  

Melo wants acceptance and love but he wants money and fame and respect.   He wants to be known as one of the best players in game in line with his banana boat buddies all while NOT playing defense.  He wants on his terms.  

Now he “sees the writing on the wall”.   He said he will have a long talk with Knicks President Phil Jackson and the idea is to have all the cards on the table.  The Knicks would love to acquire draft capital or young cost controlled talent in return for Melo. While his value may not be so high thanks to that contract and trade kicker- he still has value as a very expensive 3rd option.  

Melo will need to accept that he’s not the savior anymore.  Melo needs to accept the reality that he is not needed in NY anymore and sometimes not wanted.  Melo needs to accept the reality of the situation.  The situation he forced.  The situation he created.  It’s all been leading to this moment.  

It’s over.  

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Observations from Mets Spring Training

With baseball season right around the corner and the WBC’s surprisingly exciting play, the flu like symptoms of following a baseball season is starting to sap my energy and make me a zombie like creature trying to consume everything to keep me going.  So without further adieu here are some observations from the offseason and camp:

  1. Yoenis Cespedes is looking at an MVP-  Let’s get to the one development I’m most intrigued by.  Cespedes came with the “yeah but” title when he arrived at the Mets doorstep.  Even last winter, when Cespedes was almost guaranteed to bank on an amazing second half following a trade to the Mets, he was given another one year prove it deal disguised as a 3 year extension.  Nobody blamed the Mets for proceeding with caution with Cespedes.  The reputation that preceded him was that he was a head case and a guy that would put his skills on cruise control once offered the security of a long term contract.  But after resigning with the Mets, and showing up motivated and helping lead the Mets to a second straight playoff season (if you count a one game wild card) he was rewarded with a four year extension in which it seemed he ONLY negotiated with the Mets.  He has shown up to camp and started launching balls to parts of the ballpark that people felt safe congregating at.  Its a testament to the power he added on to his frame and him feeling an obligation to his employer to respond kindly to his first long term contract after being somewhat of a journeyman his first few years. My prediction is that he has a line around 35HR’s, 100+ RBI’s and a .295 average.
  2. The OF is still a guessing game- From the moment the Mets acquired Jay Bruce I went “wait, what?”  Early in the season I understood the Mets trying to ease Michael Conforto into the lineup and eventually allowing his skill to rise to the top of the heap.  But what eventually ended up happening is the lack of reps made it impossible for Conforto to overcome a slump and down to the minors he went.  If anything, what he proved in his stint at Triple A (9 hrs 28 RBI’s and a .422 average in 128 AB) was that he belongs in the major leagues.  Now, the Mets most promising hitting prospect since David Wright is again having to scramble for AB’s.  While, it was a shock that the market for power hitting corner OF’s turned out to be nil, the Mets could have solved this by NOT TRADING FOR JAY BRUCE.  If you will recall, Bruce was one of the targets in the 2015 trading deadline in which the Mets ended up dealing for Yoenis Cespedes after the now infamous Carlos Gomez deal blew up and yet the Mets went back to that well.  Now, the Mets have Yoenis Cespedes locked at left field, Curtis Granderson out of position in centerfield with Juan Lagares providing defensive support (another young guy’s development deferred) and Jay Bruce and Conforto in right field.  There have been rumblings of Conforto playing some centerfield and even moving him to left and having Cespedes play some center but this is meant as a bandaid on a bigger problem.  The best case for the Mets is Bruce kills it early in the season, and he’s traded by midseason but that’s still a half season worth of AB’s that will get split.  My prediction and the more likely scenario is that Bruce is traded for pennies on the dollar for a reliever like the Mets had reportedly hoped.
  3. David Wright’s career is in jeopardy- I appreciate the Mets being hopeful and optimistic about the Captain, but I think everyone else knows that its best to close the book on Wright’s career.  As wonderful as he is and as great a presence in the clubhouse he is, its time to operate under the reality that he is no longer fit to play in the major leagues.  This conversation will be difficult and awkward for Mets management because of who he is and what he represents but both sides need to come to terms with Wright’s degenerative condition and that he risks his own health by continuing to engage in strenuous activity.  One can’t help but wonder if the Mets had kept Daniel Murphy what would have happened.  Its amazing that Jose Reyes is here and he’s on the contract he’s on but I would be surprised if he had even a replacement level contribution.  This leads to the obvious question of when super prospect Amed Rosario comes up and pushes Asdrubal Cabrera (gamely playing SS) to 3B. My prediction: Wright plays 85-90 games and Rosario shows up in August.
  4. Lucas Duda’s career in doubt- Jay Bruce debuted at 1b over the weekend leading to even more questions about Lucas Duda’s availability for the season.  This is Duda’s last arbitration season and he will eligible to be a free agent following the season.  With other super prospect Dominic Smith nearing readiness, it means Duda’s time in a Met uniform will come to an end but how can the Mets extract any value for him?  The obvious answer lies in how many games he plays and who the Mets can depend on playing there if he gets traded midseason.  That answer lies in Bruce and Conforto possibly playing the position well enough that the Mets don’t feel obligated to rush Smith up to the big leagues.  My prediction: Duda plays out the season and leaves with the Mets getting nothing for him while Smith only shows up as a September call-up and takes over in 2018 on a full time basis.
  5. Its time for a 6-man rotation- The Mets have, rightly so, held back on trading Robert Gsellman or Seth Lugo for upgrades given the fragility of their rotation.  My solution for the longest time has been that the Mets should throw convention out the window and go to a six man rotation to help preserve their arms and stretch these guys out.  Not only is injury a concern but there is legitimate worry about how some of these guys will come back from their injuries and also what you have in Gsellman and Lugo given the small sample size.  Are they for real?  Were they  just fortunate?  Given the unknown of Syndergaard adding almost 17 pounds of muscle to his body and what famed pitching coach Tom House has said about how that can affect a pitcher.  There is genuine concern that Matt Harvey’s spring is not just him trying to get a feel for his pitches.  The only guy that seemingly has come back without a hitch is Jacob DeGrom who admittedly has been lighting up the radar gun.  Its worth for the beginning of the season to stretch these guys out and then go back to a more traditional 5 man rotation once we hit July and August.  My prediction: The Mets go with a 5 man rotation with Gsellman taking the 5th spot behind Syndergaard, DeGrom, Harvey and Matz and Lugo starts in the bullpen.
  6. Breakout player of this camp has been Champ Stuart- Plenty folks deserve this accolade but for me this is more about the guy most Mets fans didn’t know about and came out and made a name for himself.  He has shown the ability to hit for power and the ability to steal a ton of bases thanks to his speed.  He is a prime candidate to play center field but he has the same issue Billy Hamilton does- he doesn’t get on base as much as Mets officials would like which will always hamper his ability to get beyond minor leagues and September call ups.  If he were to cut down his strikeouts and show a propensity to get on base, this kid can go far.  My Prediction: He gets called up in September and is used as a threat on the basepaths.

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The Patriots way of doing things

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England PatriotsThe Patriots are headed back to the Super Bowl.  Again.  For the seventh time in 16 seasons, the combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are going to be playing in the final game of the NFL season for the right to be the best QB-Coach tandem in history.

It got me to thinking about the teams I root for as a fan and how unlike they are.  I’ve often wondered about the Patriots dynasty and I came up with a few key areas that the Patriots excel in that other teams may not pay much attention to and I figured I may as well post this in hopes that someday an executive of one of the teams i root for will accidentally end up on this site and read this and listen.  And if you did end up here, don’t mind how snotty that last sentence sounded.

  1. The Patriots treat EVERY player the same–  I read a piece by MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas that details why the Patriots are who they are.  Its one story after the other from people who have been in the Patriots organization who have seen and witnessed Bill Belichick riding Tom Brady in practice, in the film room and everywhere else.  The moral of the story: if Tom Brady can be yelled at, you can too.  This is a great way to show the rest of the room that nobody is saved embarrassment.  If you missed a play, a tackle, a receiver, you’re going to hear about it and he doesn’t care what supermodel you date!
  2. Everyone is expendable if you don’t fit the plan– Jamie Collins was being hailed as one of the most athletic LB’s in the game a week before the Patriots decided to shock the football world and trade him.  But its just another example of the Patriots constantly evaluating themselves.  In the middle of a 14-2 campaign, its practically unheard of to ship out a starting linebacker for a draft pick but that’s exactly what Belichick did.  Why?  He was freestyling in coverage too much and not following the game plan.  Ask Lawyer Milloy who was cut one week before the season.  Milloy had started 106 games since his rookie year in 1996 and led the team in tackles the year they won the franchise’s first Super Bowl in 2001 but coming off a down year statistically, the Patriots tried to restructure his contract.  When he refused, the Patriots released him sending a message to the team and the league that the Patriots would not be held hostage by a player because of salary reasons.  How about trading Richard Seymour in the middle of his prime to the Raiders?  Or trading Mike Vrabel, a team leader because his best years were behind him but still getting value in return.  How about letting the most clutch postseason kicker of all time go because he wanted more money and the Patriots didn’t feel the kicker deserved more money?  Safe to say if Belichick doesn’t value you anymore he won’t hesitate to move you for future considerations.
  3. The Patriots believe the culture they preach-  It starts with the owner and continues with the coach and the QB.  The three most important heads of the Patriot institution believe in the absoluteness of the Patriot way and it has paid off.  Nevermind the years Brady was left without quality receivers because the Pats refused to pay top dollar for any free agent or the fact that he refused to pay his own free agents if he thought the price was too exorbitant.  Tom Brady has been underpaid his entire career and that’s not for any other reason than that’s what he’s asked to do and sacrifice for the sake of the team.  If you aren’t willing to sacrifice for the team, forget about being on it.
  4. The organization has a plan and finds players to fit that plan, even if it means reinventing itself- The Patriots have found themselves on the cutting edge of defense and offense.  They went after athletic tight ends in the 2010 draft, when they picked Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and employed them in various ways in order to gain a physical advantage.  When injuries befell the secondary, Belichick had Troy Brown play corner during the season.  Belichick knows how to game plan but is a terrific evaluator of talent.  For years he’s played 3-4 and 4-3.  He’s had run first offenses and now pass first offenses.  He’s done everything to stay ahead of the competition even if they weren’t fair.  But he does it because he wants to win and has an insatiable competitive drive.
  5. The Patriots have seen it all before- No team seems ready for the final minutes of games than the Patriots because they pay attention to every tiny detail.  Preparation is the key to success- an old proverb that only the wise pay attention to.  The Pats execution in the waning minutes of halves and games are a testament to how they are coached up to respond in these situations.  You can tell the teams that are prepared for the two minute drills and those who aren’t.  The Patriots seemingly always get them right even if the results aren’t there.  Why?  Because Belichick has been preparing for every single scenario since he began coaching and he teaches his team to do so as well.  Whatever the drill, the Patriots are ready.

 

These may seem like very simple things but its very difficult for other organizations to mirror them because they aren’t built with firm beliefs and ideas as the Patriots are.  They believe in something and go about operating under that truth-whether you agree with them or not.  These 5 examples aren’t meant to encompass every reason why the Patriots are successful, but it is meant to be a starting point, a manual to teams who are trying to get better.  Who better to follow than the team going to yet another super bowl after making yet another conference championship game and after winning yet another division.  It all seems easy, but that’s because the Patriots way makes it look easy.

 

 

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Winter Meetings 2016

The Winter Meetings are upon us which means most of us baseball loyalists will be checking our smartphones like we can somehow alter our team’s fortunes in signing the guy we want them to sign.

But the Hot Stove season is rife with lies and innuendo meant to steer us in a different way.  Meant to get us excited and build up angst.

In that regard the Mets signed the one guy i wanted them to sign so I am already satisfied with the output thus far.  But I thought a better way of giving my predictions (read my best case/worst case scenario for the Mets), would be to get through the thicket of news I’ve heard and give my best guesses on what to expect.

  1. The Mets will trade Jay Bruce and/or Curis Granderson- in 2013 when the Mets signed Curtis Granderson it was a modest signing but not headline worthy but this is what it did.  Granderson switched sides in the Yankees/Mets civil war and brought a measure of class and universal respect to the team.  It also brought leadership, one i’ve always felt was overrated when it came to giving David Wright props.  In that vein I think Granderson is the guy the Mets want to keep and Bruce the guy they want to trade.  Granderson is the older player (by 5 years) and the one with the bigger financial commitment for next season ($15M vs. $13M) but teams want Granderson for the same reason the Mets want to keep him: his leadership.  To me the news that more want Granderson sounds like teams want to undercut Bruce’s value and hope the Mets sell low which is why I think Granderson will be the guy to go.  Bruce didn’t hit much for Mets after being traded and the feeling is that teams may shy away from a guy who can’t play in the spotlight of a pennant race which the Mets expect to be in next season barring a catastrophic season.  My hunch is that the Mets trade Bruce for a prospect pitcher OR a reliever who they will try to march right up through the system to assist in the bullpen.
  2. The Mets will trade Conforto for a major reliever- I don’t buy it.  I think the Mets will listen to offers but this would be a TERRIBLE time to trade Conforto.  The Mets had as much to do with his horrible season as Conforto constantly managing to platoon a guy who had an idea when he came up to the plate.  Especially after letting Murphy go, the Mets should be valuing a player who hits for average which almost every single scout and prospect site says he will.  He will also hit for power, but ONLY if you play him.  The Mets were inconsistent in explaining Conforto’s lack of AB’s by noting their concern in their defense, but then how to explain Wilmer Flores’ playing time?  The Mets defense is contingent on their starting rotation being excellent and their offense bludgeoning teams to death.  Conforto should have been afforded more AB’s and this is where the Mets get into trouble.  When you get into bed with a guy like Yoenis Cespedes you do so with the understanding that you have to placate him a little.  The Mets however have allowed him to dictate where he plays (he would prefer playing left field).  Having Granderson and Bruce at right means Conforto’s only hope to get regular AB’s would be centerfield which leaves another problem- how to get Juan Lagares AB’s.  My hunch is that the Mets explore Conforto at 1st to get him regular AB’s and protect themselves against Lucas Duda’s back.
  3.  The Mets will move Zack Wheeler to the bullpen-  This is a development I’m in favor of even if excellent baseball writer Mark Simon is not:

But I think this helps bring Wheeler along slower while also giving guys like Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman who deserve a shot at innings in the rotation a chance at just that.  I like Gsellman for the bullpen because of his arm and the fact that he has that bowling ball sinker that gets a ton of weak contact.  Seth Lugo’s spin rate also created some historically bad contact but I prefer him over Gsellman in the rotation as part of a six man rotation to start the season just so that the Mets keep their fragile pitching staff rested.  Much of their pitching woes should be plugged in by internal solutions.  If it worked for the rotation why can’t it work for the bullpen?  My hunch is that it will be Wheeler who gets moved to 7th inning duty to start the season and when Familia returns, the Mets will add innings to expand him into a long reliever role and more if play or situation warrants.

4. The Mets are looking to trade one of their starting pitchers for positional talent- I don’t see it.  If they learned anything last year its that you can’t have enough pitching.  Their offense, if healthy can score enough runs to win more games than not.  The best use of their resources would be to lengthen your pitchers careers by asking them to pitch fewer games.  The six man rotation, one I’ve personally called for on this page, is now a necessity and can no longer be considered foolish.  Not when the Mets have this kind of pitching staff.  Not when this isn’t a forever kind of thing.  In fact I think they should start off with a six man staff and then when August and September games come you have a much more rested staff that can push through the dog days and give the Mets the kind of shot in the arm they need.  Why can’t the Mets employ some form of common sense to give their players a chance and be smart about getting them back to the normal 5 day routine as the season wears on?  My hunch is that the Mets employ a 5 man rotation and one of Wheeler, Lugo and Gsellman spend considerable time wasted in Triple A.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wek 11 Highlights.

A few thoughts from the Giants 22-16 win over the Chicago Bears.

  1. Landon Collins is a playmaker-  I’ve said it again and again- I still think there’s room for improvement overall- but he keeps making plays.  He’s improved weekly this season and we’ve seen his growth in how often he steps up during the game.  He just seems to be in the right place at the right time.  Cutler slipped making that pass and Collins just happened to turn before the receiver did to be able to come back to that ball.  He’s playing himself into a leadership role on this team my guess is that when this season is done we will probably be talking about his impact.
  2. Tale of two halves- The Giants came out listless in a game many had cautioned was a trap game for the Giants.  After all a 2-7 team against a 6-3 team with 4 straight wins and trending up seems like a mismatch on paper but Giants fans like myself were prepared for the let down game and the report before the game didn’t really put me at ease by Kim Jones.  She reported that this was the loosest Giants team she had ever seen since she started covering the team in 2001.  Out came Cutler throwing fastballs to his receivers and Jordan Howard patiently picking apart the Giants defensive line to a tune of 88 yards.  And every Giants fan could be heard groaning with the “here we freaking go”.  The second half however, the Giants came out motivated, and eager to change the script.  The defensive line shut down the Bears running attack and made them one dimensional and as he has proven throughout his career, when the game is in the hands of Jay Cutler, he oftentimes throws him and his team out of a game.  A very resilient response by a team that can’t afford to take halves off against any team in the NFL and hopefully this game proved educational for the Big Blue.
  3. Prevent Offense-  The first two drives of the second half resulted in touchdowns as the Giants scored in 3:56 and 3:15 and then went 5 consecutive punts with 4 of the 5 being 3 and outs and the only non 3 and out lasting all of 5 plays.  The Giants inability to run the ball with any consistency is going to be a major problem as the weather gets far worse and the schedule begins getting worse.  You need a solid run game in the Northeast playing through the elements.  Every remaining game will be played in less than ideal temperatures.  In those situations you can’t keep losing the time of possession battle and expect to come out with wins.  Its a situation worth keeping an eye on.
  4. Missed PAT’s- As of this writing there are 10 missed PAT’s and its officially made one of the more boring aspects of football a bit more unpredictable.  This counts as the ONLY rule change during Goodell’s tenure that would count as something for the betterment of the game.  The game expected up to 50mph winds which lead to three missed PAT’s and two missed FG’s.  It may have played into how McAdoo called the game especially on that second 4th down call where it was on the Bears 33.  Again- with weather conditions worsening its going to be interesting to see if the Giants can’t trust their run game OR their FG kicker it may make the Giants overly reliant on the passing game.
  5. 4th down play calling- It bears repeating every week.  Most analytically leaning writers will tell you the value in going for it on 4th and less than 5 in opponent’s territory but its shocking how many coaches play so safe.  And make no mistake that having been in the organization two years prior allows McAdoo to operate from a perspective that allows him to know what he can trust his QB to convert and what he can’t.  A first year head coach may not be as bold.  But McAdoo has exhibited a level of trust that shows that he won’t give up on possessions as easily as most conservative head coaches will.  Reminds you that sometimes football coaches are able to listen to reason and not all be Jeff Fisher’s.
  6. JPP is playing himself into a big contract- At this point, Vernon’s contract may be what JPP’s side is aiming for, but if he keeps playing the way he has the last few weeks, it may be the starting point.  JPP is getting push at the point and he’s got some of that burst back.  Good for him.  He’s also playing the run extremely well.
  7. Speaking of Olivier Vernon- There’s a man who’s living up to what many felt was a ludicrous contract (me included).  More than the sack numbers he’s played the run extremely consistent and now the sack numbers are coming.  He’s getting better and that’s coinciding with JPP playing better along with the rest of the line getting better and Landon Collins.  Its amazing what happens when the unit comes together.  The Spags element shouldn’t be lost here either.  Many (me included) had begun to lose faith in Spags and fell into the convenient “he had three great pass rushers- of course his defense was going to play well” theory but the entire unit has benefited from being in the system for over a year.
  8. Turning Point of the Game- Landon Collins’ interception is the easy call here.  But here’s a close second- 4th and 2 on the Chicago 17 in the first quarter after Chicago marched down the field and scored a touchdown fairly easily.  Many people have unfairly suggested that Coughlin would have lost these games this year if he were still coaching.  I don’t think its that simple.  I think McAdoo just strikes a different chord and after 12 seasons Coughlin’s voice just started to get old in a locker room that was different from the one he won Super Bowls with.  Collins interception iced the game and once again saved the offense by shutting the Bears down in the second half.  They legitemately were an elite defense in hte second half.  Again, they are winning the games good teams win- its those five after next week that they have to worry about.
  9. Looking ahead to the winless Browns- I’ll say it again.  Trap games exist.  This could be huge given the result of this Thursday’s Turkey Bowl between the Cowboys and Skins.  The Giants either have the opportunity to gain some ground on the Cowboys or put some distance between them and the Skins which will be huge later in the season when the Giants meet the Skins in the Nation’s Capital.
  10. The Top 10-

A. Cowboys- Have earned this.  Huge moment with Romo’s press conference putting to rest any speculation for the rest of the season.  Aside from injury or a string of games of poor play Dak will be the QB for the Cowboys.

B. Patriots- Brady being a realistic MVP candidate without playing the first four games is a tribute to the machine in Foxboro.

C. Seahawks- Wilson clearly will be limited moving forward which compromises how great this team can be but this defense still balls the heck out and will need to continue to dominate.

D. Raiders- They have a young fearless QB and a fearless coach and those guys are always the most dangerous teams.

E. Giants- Yes- a five game winning streak vaults you into Top 5 status.  And the only difference between the Giants and the Dolphins is I trust Eli and Odell more than Ryan Tannehill and Jay Ajayi.

F. Dolphins- They looked dead 6 weeks ago.  Now they are second in the division and trending upward with an out of nowhere dominant run game.

G. Chiefs- Similarly I trust the Chiefs QB Alex Smith more than the Broncos Trevor Seimian.  Getting a guy like Justin Houston back is huge for a team that will need him over the next four weeks.  Big stretch coming.

H. Broncos- the defending Super Bowl champions can wrest control over the division but can Trevor Seimian actually do that?  We’re about to find out Sunday.

I. Falcons- They’re still Matt Ryan and Julio Jones but this year Ryan has been comfortable operating Kyle Shanahan’s offense and it shows.

J. Redskins- Their offensive line is playing well and keeping them in all the games but their real skill has been Cousins’ efficiency and not having a true number one receiver.  He doesn’t have to force the ball into a player in a critical situation.  Don’t underestimate that.

 

 

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Winners and Losers NBA Finals edition

I wrote a few days ago about Lebron in the internet age.  I have to admit it got me to thinking about how the Finals, and his entire career has been a no-win situation for him since he got here.  Hyped since day 1, it was impossible for him to be what everyone wanted him to be.  Why did we love Jordan?  Because we didn’t know we needed him to be the standard until he became it.

After winning game 6, the Cavs have forced a game 7 in the NBA Finals.  This will be the 18th Game 7 in NBA Finals history.  The last Finals to go 7? Lebron remembers- that was in 2013 when the Heat were saved by a miraculous 3 by Ray Allen in the final minute in Miami in game 6 against a talented Spurs team to win the second of their back to back titles.  The last team to overcome a three games to one deficit were the 1966 Lakers who took the series to 7 until ultimately losing to the Boston Celtics.

People have tried to force the buy into the dislike that the Warriors have for Lebron and vice versa by hyping up every back and forth between the two teams.  Want trash talk?  Red Auerbach announced before the season that he would retire after the season was over giving his haters one last shot at him in 1966.  After an emotionally uplifting come from behind victory in Game 1 by the Lakers, Auerbach pulled yet another one of his classic psychological chess moves by announcing that Bill Russell would succeed him as head coach becoming the first African American head coach in the NBA all but destroying any momentum the Lakers had going into game 2.  The Celtics won the next three by an average of 13 points and eventually won the series.

In 1951 The Rochester Royals went up three games to none against the New York Knicks.  The Knicks won the next three to force a Game 7 in improbable fashion…and then lost game 7.

What does this mean?  It means that doing what the Cavs have already done is ridiculously difficult.  Just so everyone’s on the same page, they are facing the greatest regular season team in the history of the NBA, the defending NBA champions.  They also have a lineup called the “lineup of death”.   They also employ the reigning two time defending NBA MVP who still has not had a signature game and there’s  an unsettling inevitability that it will happen.

Last night’s victory had wives losing their minds, then there were the psychological tricks the Cavs were supposedly playing on the Warriors family and friends bus.  But the Cavs didn’t win Game 6 in Cleveland for any other reason than Lebron James willed them there.  It got me to thinking about who could be the biggest winners and losers here once Sunday’s Game 7, not just within this series but in the NBA as a whole.  Here’s my list:

WINNERS (if Cavs win):

  1. Lebron James- If the Cavs manage to pull off what no one else has done in NBA history, which is win a Game 7 on the road, against the greatest regular season team in NBA history, after being down three games to one, it would catapult Lebron into a whole other stratosphere.  Songs would be sung about him, babies named after him, and streets too.  Historically, the significance of it would make him unlike any other athlete that has ever graced this game and hopefully would even give the Lebron haters some chill, though I doubt the Curry household would.  Also Lebron the GM would get a huge boost.
  2. Cleveland- This city hasn’t won a championship in so long, and has been starved for some real hardware that I don’t know if there will be a city left to do a parade on Monday morning.
  3. Kyrie Irving- He’s done more in these last two games to answer questions about his ability to lead a team than ever before.  Not at the level of James, but his Game 5 performance will be difficult to duplicate.  Shooting 71% and hitting some of the highest degree of difficulty shots you’ll ever see.  Also being called champion will help Kyrie shake the stigma of being a good player on a bad team.
  4. NBA- A small market like Cleveland winning will only make the NBA look better.  Even if I’m stirring the conspiracy theorists with this idea, the NBA needs to go into the next lockout having had a team from a small market win to prove that their current financial system has NOT kept small market teams at a disadvantage.
  5. Ty Lue- Taking over a team in midseason after a questionable coaching change which was rumored to be a Lebron power play and Lue has been admirable in not being the center of it all.  You can tell the Cavs players enjoy playing for him and go all out.  Even if we have no idea how to gauge his ability to coach because he’s coaching a stacked squad, Lue will have NBA champion on his resume as head coach and player and that’s a feat not many have accomplished.  In fact here’s the list: Rick Carlisle, Pat Riley, KC Jones, Phil Jackson, Billy Cunningham, Tommy Heinsohn, Bill Russell, and Red Holzman.  That’s some elite company no matter how much you give him credit for.

LOSERS (if Cavs win)

  1. Warriors being the greatest team in NBA history- The obvious choice, but really its their place in history.  It ain’t no thing if you ain’t got that ring.  Being the greatest regular season team of all time is a good accomplishment but nothing to write home about.  The Bulls will pop champagne, and those other teams like the 86 Celtics, 87 Lakers will all rest easy and have the right to puff out their chest and say they were better too.  If they lose Game 7, the Warriors will have lost as many games in the playoffs as they did during the entire 82 game regular season.
  2. The Curry’s- This is now the second Finals where he’s gone MIA.  Yes, he scored 30 points last night but it was the quietest 30.  He also fouled out of a game for the first time and showed un-Steph-Curry-like undisciplined behavior.  He’s the reigning two time MVP but if they lose this series after being up 3-1, Steph will bear a lot of the blame and for the first time in his career face criticism.  That should make for a fun summer for the Curry household.  Continuing in the Curry household- her twitter rant after Game 6 will be discussed incessantly until Game 7.  If they don’t win, I’m sure Warriors fans will support Ayesha’s thoughts and complain about how the NBA doesn’t want the Warriors to win.  This will harm the Curry brand which was really beginning to take off.  NBA and other corporate sponsors can’t be too happy about her flying off the handle.  They don’t take too kindly to being called names by wives or part of the crew types calling their product or company into question.
  3. Draymond Green- The nut job as I’m calling Game 5 will rank as one of the weirdest suspension/momentum turners in NBA history.  Green’s value is immense to the Warriors, but his play and attitude were limited in Game 6 as he played with the thought that any kind of brash play would likely see him get suspended for an all important Game 7.  I’m assuming he’s saving all that rage for do or die Game 7.
  4. Knicks fans/Celtics fans or any fan base that wants a superstar off their team and Kevin Love on it-  If the Cavs win, the push or Kickstarter campaign to trade Kevin Love will take a huge hit.  No complicated three way deal that will net the Cavs Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks draft picks they desperately need to continue the rebuild or no superstar Kevin Love to join the revolution in Boston.
  5. NBA refs- If the Cavs win, tape of Game 6 will be studied as closely as the Kings/Lakers series in 2002 and the Heat/Mavs series in 06.  Tim Donaghy’s legacy will be safe and secure.

WINNERS (if Warriors win)

  1. Steph Curry- No one stands to gain more by his team’s success than Steph Curry.  I’m not saying he’s a product of that system- you can’t make that argument for Steph when he’s undoubtedly the greatest shooter this sport has ever known.  But he’s pretty much been non-existent in the NBA finals for the second consecutive year and the internet notices shit like that.  I’m expecting a 30+ point effort, but I think the Cavs have allowed Steph to get his 30 albeit working hard, but he may have been exposed defensively.  Steph has to be aggressive in Game 7 and if he does, he can secure his legacy.
  2. Klay Thompson- It seems people discuss Steph and Draymond when it comes to this team, but Klay does as much as Dray on the defensive side of the ball (look at his assignments during each round of the playoffs, Harden, Lilliard, Westbrook and now Kyrie) and has done more than Steph on the offensive end.  The Warriors do NOT force a Game 7 against OKC without Klay’s insane 40 point game.  He loves being in the background which tells you why the Warriors have so much success because all of their stars are uncharacteristically unselfish and genuinely like playing with each other.
  3. Kevin Love trade mongers- Knicks fans/Celtics fans will be spending countless hours on the trade machine to try and figure out how to get Kevin Love to Boston and the Knicks with a few draft picks.
  4. Joe Lacob- His NYT article probably turned off a number of people.  It made him out to be the arrogant douchebag we’ve all come to expect the rich to be.  If the Warriors win, those people can all suck it.  Many of his enhancements have enabled the Warriors to become the standard for front offices to aspire to and Lacob will have engineered one of the greatest turnarounds for a franchise in sports history.
  5. NBA tweeners entering the draft- The shift in thinking about how to employ players like Draymond has changed.  Every league is copycat so many teams will look at players who fit that description during the draft and may reach to grab them in hopes of getting the next Draymond Green.  Denzel Valentine’s draft stock is already flying high and I’m sure teams will be paying close attention to shooters who can stretch the floor.  There will be teams trying to fit square pegs in round holes in hopes of duplicating the Warriors success.

LOSERS (if Warriors win)

  1. Lebron James- Because he’s Lebron and no matter what, the haters will come out.  That’s the burden he bears and whether right or wrong, fans will forget the back to back 41 point games and herculean effort to force a Game 7, only done twice before in NBA history in order to troll the King.
  2. Kevin Love- Second to Lebron, the NBA will collectively ponder the future of Kevin Love in Cleveland.  Since he got to Cleveland, it hasn’t been a clean fit and his play in Game 6 was everything you needed to know.  He picked up 2 fouls in the first three minutes and saw most of the second half from the bench.  This was a top 15 player in the NBA two years ago but things have NOT gone well.  Love will likely have to leave Cleveland and be put up on the pantheon of hated athletes in Cleveland.
  3. Old Guys- All the Hall of Famers who have opened their mouths about a jump shooting team winning will have to admit that they were wrong.  Which they still won’t do, but maybe next time we won’t pay attention to click bait articles about a quote from an 80’s player that discounts the Warriors success.  They can stop the whole Kurt Rambis would’ve stopped Lebron and Draymond from entering the lane.  Seriously you think THIS GUY is stopping Lebron from getting in the paint?
  4. Harrison Barnes Free Agency- Barnes had a chance to step up in the Finals and take a $100M contract even if everyone would be screaming that its a bad contract.   This Finals has only proved what we all knew.  This guy isn’t worth the money and while its still entirely possible that Barnes can go off in Game 7, and the cap is so crazy high and every team has so much money that they may throw money at him- I can’t see him being the star and Steve Kerr sat Barnes down for a majority of the second half while the Warriors were trying to make a comeback.  Kerr thought a clearly hobbled Andre Iguodola was a better option.  Ouch.
  5. City of Cleveland- It bears noting that no fan base is more prepared for defeat and gut wrenching loss than the City of Cleveland.  No fan base has seen their hopes dashed in the way this city has.  I will say that this team right now has very 2004-Red Sox feel to it to me.  Take it as you will.

 

 

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The problem with being Lebron

This started off as a Lebron vs. Steph post.  I was talking myself into how the league suddenly went from being Lebron’s to Steph’s.  The much talked about come up of both stars.  The programs they built (St. Mary St Vincent/Davidson).  The way they look physically which, while on the opposite ends of the spectrum, define who they are .

 

 

After watching the first four games of the NBA finals, I still find myself conditioned to follow Lebron around the court.  Everything is, and always has been about Lebron and even on the precipice of the greatest season in NBA history, I don’t find the Warriors run nearly as interesting as what this Finals will ultimately mean for the career of Lebron James.  In the end, Lebron is too good and that’s his problem.

But hasn’t it always been this way?  Even as, in some people’s eyes, Steph Curry has become the best player in the league,  Lebron still is the most fascinating.  His athleticism, his prowess, his ability to take over games are parts of the package that make him so appealing to basketball fans.

The most memorable athletes are polarizing figures.  I thought of Muhammad Ali’s career this week as news spread of his passing.  Billy Crystal said it best during his eulogy: “the world stopped.  There were no wars.  There were no terrorists.”  Ali was a figure that drew the fiercest of passions.  You could have a spirited argument about Ali the boxer.    Ali the civil rights activist.  Ali the draft dodger.  Ali the Muslim. The one universal opinion was that his career as a boxer was memorable.  As memorable for his successes as for his failures.

Lebron’s career isn’t over, but when all is said and done, it will be interesting how we ultimately view him.  Its human nature to never appreciate something as its happening.  I feel like with Lebron’s career everything has been taken for granted under the incredible pressure both he and the basketball world placed on his broad shoulders since the moment he entered the league.

By the time he was drafted in 2003, the world was already well aware of who Lebron was;  All his firsts were universally broadcast as moments and special events.  His first record breaking contract with Nike was billed as revolutionary and  his first game in the NBA was a must-watch for people curious about the next big thing.  Hell, his high school games were being broadcast on ESPN.

lebron-james-052615-620There are two very distinct factors involved in how we view Lebron and they conflict with each other: the way the internet changed and the rise of the statistical analytics movement.

Every year the Cavaliers got better, every year the basketball intelligentsia wanted more.  Every year he raised the level of his game, it seemed never to be enough.  When Lebron entered the league, Facebook was still an algorithm connecting dorms in Harvard and Twitter wasn’t a glean in the internet’s eye.  The internet for all it does now, never connected the world of information in any field quite like Twitter does.  Sports bloggers were gaining ground as giants and counter culture to the old sports columnists.  The Mike Lupicas and Mitch Alboms of the world were finding that their voices were no longer necessary to tell us how to feel about games or moments.  The rise of the blogger with the fan perspective was becoming more prevalent.

When Twitter came into the world in 2006, the internet had finally found a way to bring everyone together into smaller chat rooms making the world wide web, more local.  It really would not have been successful had celebs and then sports writers endorsed the platform by participating.  Regular everyday fans could interact with stars and sportswriters.  Every year since Twitter’s arrival, the way we consume sports changed and the internet changed with it.  Hashtags became a way to categorize your thoughts and subjects.  Sports bloggers who took to the platform immediately found another way to widen their reach.  SB Nation and Bleacher Report were two digital publications birthed from the Twitter age, gaining funding and important backing from multimedia giants like Vox media and Turner Sports.

But it was the fan who rose during the internet age to have more of a voice.  Every business must respond to the changing of its climate.  As smartphones and tablets became all the rage, it became clear that this generation preferred their information in their pockets rather than in print.  As print shops were dying, so too were the voices of a generation who could capture a moment with their words.  The 2000s featured the voice of the fan become more prominent.  Fans wanted to hear the columnist feel the home team loss and share in their misery.  That type of columnist became famous and many sports programs were shaped in the image of the conversation of regular Americans.  Sports talk radio became more popular, PTI, and even the lowest form: First Take.

The other thing Twitter did was hasten the pace of both reporting and then reaction to sporting news and games.  Today’s games are watched with one eye on the screen and one eye on any number of handheld devices- your phone; iPad etc.  What did that do?  It warped the conversation.  Columnists who took time to adjust to the new age where print journalism was dying, had to calibrate their job title to include reacting to news as it was happening rather than rely on the benefit of time to gather their thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still journalists who refuse to take part in the Twitterati game.  You know where everyday fans gather the “courage” to to hide behind an internet handle and fly off of it to try and get a reaction.  I’ve noticed that more and more sports personalities like Amin Elhassin and Bomani Jones (two guys I follow and find to be funny and unrepentant in their back talk to the shallow end of the smart gene pool) can snap back at fans without fear of losing their jobs because maybe that’s also part of their job title now.

Lebron came of age during this rapidly changing time of the internet and that more than anything has warped our ability to properly understand and contextualize him as a player.  He’s been the best player in the NBA for the last 13 years and had more workload than perhaps anyone in the history of sports.  The demands on his body are great and so his physical frame, one to be awed, is sometimes taken for granted.  He can go from playing an 82 game season, to playing four rounds of the playoffs to immediately traveling to play for the United States in international competition.  Where does he get the time to rest and take a break?

That’s without taking into account the demands on his time to do commercials and be a top flight pitchman for a number of brands.

His body is kept in immaculate shape because he “gets it”.  Many times the athletes fans project to be great never get there because they don’t understand the sacrifice it takes.  They love the fame and fortune but never reach the levels we want because being a celebrity is more important.  New York has two of those in Carmelo Anthony and Matt Harvey: stars who have the talent to be even better but are still caught up in the trappings of being a star.

Lebron’s skill level causes the most amount of polarizing discussion.  Try and compare his career with Jordan’s and watch what happens to your mentions on Twitter.  Lebron’s skill and talent inspire so much thought that it hurts the head to see where people go with it.

In today’s day and age where everything is watched, Lebron is perhaps the most prepared athlete.  He has a stable family life, never implicated in any kind of wandering that had TMZ on his door.  He goes to clubs but never does anything to embarrass himself.

He’s had one very notable slip up: the Decision.   The one time he stopped being the robot everyone wanted him to be, he misplayed his hand so incredibly that the internet has never allowed him to forget it.  So much so that if sports had a super villain in the modern times, 2011 Lebron and the Heat would be it.  I never hated the decision to leave Cleveland: they had taken Lebron’s greatness for granted that they never adequately surrounded him with the players necessary to end Cleveland’s title drought.  But the way in which he decided to leave Cleveland for Miami was so poorly done that when you consider every other PR decision Lebron has made since and before then, one has to be led to believe that this wasn’t Lebron’s doing and more so the people around him that talked him into it.

After winning two titles in Miami, he returned to Cleveland in an even more surprising fashion.  I always knew Lebron would come back to Cleveland one day.  After winning back to back titles and and going to the Finals four years in a row, there weren’t that many challenges left for Lebron except for the biggest one: reversing Cleveland’s title curse.  In a  stroke of PR genius and further evidence that Lebron understands the way in which this here game works he penned a letter to Cleveland and to the sports world through Sports Illustrated to announce his return to “the ‘Land”.

In his second consecutive Finals against what may be the greatest team record wise, Lebron’s legacy faces its greatest challenge.  Many have said that Lebron looks tired. That perhaps its time to look at these next few years as the inevitable downturn for a player who has logged more minutes than any player in NBA history.  Since his first SI cover fourteen years ago as a 17 year old, he’s been in the public conscience.  Dave Chapelle once said “you can’t become un-famous, but you can become infamous”.  Lebron has no upside thanks to his incredible talent, or rather what we think his talent is.

In an incredibly cruel twist to Lebron’s legacy, many will remember Lebron for what he could have done rather than what he did and that’s where the second factor that has played into his career: the rise of the statistical analytics crowd.  No one athlete has benefitted more from the stat crowd than Lebron because nobody needs the defense more.  Jordan will always be the GOAT to me, but I bet if I look at the stats next to each other, Lebron comes closer to Jordan than any of my generation would like to think.

But Lebron conversations can create such hate within even the closest group of friends that its almost impossible to do the comparison without being prepared to take hits to your own pride.  Its completely illogical and yet its the curse of Lebron.  There is no win-win situation for Lebron.  Either his team wins or he loses the game.  Every game, every season is a referendum on him as a man, as an athlete etc.

We lionize guys like Jordan because they were willing to compete in things like the Slam Dunk competition.  We attach words and phrases like competitive drive and playing like a man possessed to Jordan.  But for whatever reason those don’t apply to Lebron.  Lebron’s manhood gets called into question more so than any other athlete ever.  Lebron doesn’t participate in slam dunk competitions and its as if he committed the greatest sin of all: you’re not like Jordan.

The comparison to Jordan isn’t fair, but let’s remember that for people to use Jordan as the comp for Lebron is paying high compliment to King James.  Its for a career body of work that has been followed and dissected more than any other athlete.  He will never get credit for the two titles he won.  Many fans will even laugh off the Jordan comp if this Finals series goes as most expect it to: a swift ending at Oracle on Monday.  For James, there is no upside.

No matter how much of the stat community come out in praise of Lebron, their words and numbers fall on deaf ears.  Nobody wants to hear that their eyes deceive them and that Lebron is somewhat in the conversation.  My generation will always stubbornly hold on to the fact that Jordan could beat anybody because we carry on about Jordan as if he were more myth than man.  He isn’t the guy who was routinely a douche bag to his teammates, and had a severe gambling addiction that may or may not have brought on his year and a half hiatus from the sport during the height of his powers.  We remember his exploits because he was the first to do it.

He was the first shoe mogul.  He built Nike to become the number one shoe company in the world.  He was the first athlete to be widely marketed and have major companies create lavish ad campaigns around.  Why?  Because he delivered.  We remember the push off and pose.  We remember the return.  We remember the Nike commercials who mythologized Jordan while he was still there.  He won while we were erecting statues in his honor.

Lebron was supposed to be in the same mold, and dammit if he didn’t try.  He played with fire and purpose and imposed his will when he wanted to.  But we as a sports culture hold it against him when his team failed around him.  I saw Skip Bayless, who has made so much money off discussing Lebron, tweet out that Lebron had been shutdown by Andre Iguodola.  Unfortunately he came one assist shy of a triple double.  If that’s shutting someone down,  we may need to reassess the sports lexicon for poor Skip.

That’s part of the problem.  There’s so much chatter orbiting Planet Lebron that its incomprehensible to have a genuine discussion about him.  We almost have to wait for a decade after his career is over to properly understand what he did for the game.

Lebron’s problem is that he’s too good for his own good.  One day we’ll all see eye to eye on him, but today is not the day.  Not in today’s hot take climate.  Not in today’s insta-reaction age where we have to understand what’s happening AS ITS HAPPENING.  Where everyone has a voice, the smart and the not-so-smart.

Part of the problem in properly understanding Lebron is how he’s discussed.  But mostly Lebron’s problem is  that he’s Lebron.  He’s probably too good to have a discussion today about him.

 

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Game 4 and 5 (Stop gaps and Stay Puts)

VelasquezThere’s a few ways  to look at teams rebuilding: they are either in it to bottom out and nab as many top 10 picks as humanly possible while not completely turning off the fan base.  Or they are hard at work at assembling a roster that will compete while telling everyone that they will stink this year.

The Phillies are more the latter than the former and the Mets are quickly finding that out.

Last year the Phillies didn’t win their second game against the Mets until September.  Its April 10th and now the Phillies have taken a series.  For the Mets to win their division and ultimately hold off the Nationals and perhaps even the Marlins, they have to win every game they can against the Phillies and Braves because you have to assume the other two probable contenders are doing the same.

The Phillies though are playing with pride and that’s what happens early on.  The season hasn’t escaped them and they forget that the goal even is to lose 100 games and get the draft picks rather than play spoiler so early in the season.  But perhaps even tougher to stomach for the Mets than late season games in division will be these games that they should have won and let slip away.

Saturday’s game featured one of the major pieces of that rebuild haul they received from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade.  Vincent Velasquez threw mid 90’s heat, pitched inside to lefties and kept the ball down and was dominant for most of the evening.  It was cold and there were two pitchers, one on the early side of his 20’s and one on the early side of his 40’s and both unwilling to give in to the elements.

Velazquez wasn’t just pitching great, he was pitching with an attitude and a swagger that we here in Queens haven’t seen since Matt Harvey in the 2012 days.  A hard throwing righty not knowing any better and going out and winning a game or two and announcing himself to the league.  Velazquez will be better served to develop that inside game to lefties and develop a better slider (some of those pitches came dangerously close to fat part of the lumber) but the tools are there.  The biggest one, attitude, is already there.  I loved every part of his game and look forward to his development as a starter.

His counterpart of Saturday was a young Bartolo Colon.  Maybe he’s already turned into one of those Ice Zombie things from Game of Thrones and thus can no longer feel cold, but his sleeveless outfit and general low 90’s cheddar was humming all afternoon save for one that sailed outside, but not out enough before Ryan Howard, old foe, put a charge into one and deposited it into the left field seats for the margin deciding run.

Losing 1-0 games suck.  Going to games where your team loses 1-0 sucks worse.  Losing 1-0 games to rookie pitchers against what should be a doormat suck worse.  These are the games  where you get runners in scoring position often, that you look back on and smack your head.  The Mets got to the Philly bullpen again in the 7th and had 3 innings to put atleast one run on the board, but the Philly bullpen refused to comply.

As a Met fan you just have to shake your head.  This early in the season, driving yourself crazy over a 1-0 loss will do you no good.  This is about the marathon.

The next day against Matt Harvey some of the worry about this supposed all-time great rotation reared its ugly head.  Harvey is supposed to be the bulldog.  The “best pitcher” out of the group especially in year two post-Tommy John surgery.  But his slider still has not returned to peak 2013 form and his fastball is still very straight and very much down the middle.

Ron Darling said it in mid-broadcast.  His mechanics have been off for two weeks going back to Spring Training and until he’s mechanically sound, Harvey will continue being ordinary.  Sitting now at 0-2 Harvey seems to get stuck in the same mess.  Get yourself into a mess and can’t give up that extra hit.  Had Herrera not taken him deep, the Phillies are down 2-1 heading into the seventh and momentum and the game goes differently.  Herrera’s homerun allowed the Phillies to stomach the Yoenis Cespedes homerun off an excellent at-bat and once they got out of that inning the confidence to make it the rest of the way.

Jeremy Hellickson is NOT a prospect, though he once was considered one of the best young pitchers in the game.  One of the few pitchers Tampa had coming to the majors that were going to lead them to multiple division titles and while he did do serviceable work, arm injuries and time off have stunted Hellickson’s development.  Once you leave an organization as well run as the Rays to go elsewhere you had better end up in the right situation before getting yourself back to where you once were.  Enter the Phillies who found Hellickson to play stop gap.

The plan is to build up his value by running him out there every fifth day and to eventually turn him into prospects either at the trade deadline OR recoup his value in a supplemental draft pick.  Hellickson hasn’t disappointed in his first two starts and despite his bullpen’s meltdown in his first start where he went 6 and didn’t give up an earned run, he was excellent again until the 6th inning and Yoenes Cespedes ran him off the mound.

Hellickson’s value is in staying in the rotation and pitching well enough to earn the win.  The Phillies hope he can make it to the sixth inning in most games and will likely throw him into the clubhouse to inflate his numbers while maintaining the rehab company line of bringing him along slowly.  This is so obviously the plan that its bound to work.

Some oblivious team will be desperate for a starter and will trade away even ONE decent prospect for him and that’s the point of these transactions for Matt Klentak and the Phillies front office.  Odrubal Herrera was a Rule 5 pick up that batted .290 and had a good OBP and showed solid promise at center field.  A majority of their starting line up is filled with guys who are young, but have been let go by the organization that originally developed them.  These are the guys that populate the rosters of teams like the Braves and Phillies.  There isn’t a bad case scenario in any of them being there- if they produce, you have a young guy on the cheap who most of the times you can sign for below market prices by playing the “we gave you a chance” card.  If they don’t, it only validates what the other team saw.

In many ways, the Phillies fans have to be excited about watching this team.  Mixed in with prospects the Phillies are legitimately excited for- like Velazquez and Aaron Nola in the rotation and Maikel Franco and JP Crawford (who will be up to the show by June you watch)- there will be guys like Hellickson who’s contribution to the Phillies will be getting to six and getting out unscathed so he can fetch some young prospects.  Every guy on this roster not named Nola, Velazquez, Franco are all either going to be traded or off the roster by the time the next great Philly roster shows up.

For the Mets, you can blame the weather and just a bit of bad luck for their misfortune these last few days but the struggles with runners in scoring position are real.  Last year the Mets did slightly better than average in situational hitting.  This year, runs have been more difficult to come by.  I don’t expect this to continue for much longer.  This is the first week, and the schedule has been so crazy and dumb that its tough for any of the hitters to develop any kind of schedule or rhythm.  While that isn’t a total excuse, you have to give a team that also started 2-3 last year before ripping 11 straight en route to a trip to the World Series the benefit of the doubt.

It was good to see Yoenis Cespedes’ power manifest in that 11 pitch at-bat.  Alot of what concerns you about Cespedes was still there.  He swung at pitches down and out of the zone.  Pitchers with quicker and better downward spiral on their offspeed stuff will trick Cespedes enough, to make him miss, but Hellickson doesn’t have that stuff.  You stay in an at-bat long enough pitchers have to go to their fourth or fifth best pitch OR throw a pitch the hitter already saw which in any case is an advantage to the hitter and on the 11th pitch, Hellickson left a changeup down and middle and Cespedes tossed that to right field for a two run home run and what looked like a momentum swinger.

But this is what you will see for the most part.  With that being said, here’s what I found interesting about the last two games:

  • The Phillies have some pitching this year.  Forget that they figured out how to pitch to the Mets this series (inside to lefties and down and away to righties),  but Velazquez was really impressive.  Mid 90’s fastball and the attitude.  When you are searching for traits in a staff ace, you often look for the guy who refuses to accept losing.  Tom Seaver came in 1967 and immediately changed the mindset of those Mets and they eventually won the World Series in 1969.  Keith Hernandez was traded from a World Series champion St Louis Cardinals team and the Cardinals way and taught those early 80’s Mets teams how to win.  Harvey was that guy for this era of the team and why fans continue to hold out hope that 2013 Matt Harvey will return to show why he was the best, and Velazquez showed the characteristics of that type of player.  Every franchise with hopes for a better future requires a guy who will go out and stop the bleeding.  The Phillies hope they have that with Velazquez.
  • Here’s another game where Harvey pitched better than the stats suggest but I’m going to look at this start and the one against the Royals from this perspective:  even with his mechanics being off, he pitched decently.  In games where the Mets can’t find runs, its clear that he presses and gives up that other run that ultimately decides the game.  The Herrera home run was tough because you had a feeling that the Mets weren’t going to be blanked in back to back games.  Its part bad luck and part mechanical failure that he has to work through.
  • I know Met fans are going to freak out and its natural.  Most of my Mets fan friends were still cautiously optimistic about this year and some of that negativity is creeping back in but I won’t allow myself to get caught in that.  Its so easy to revert back to the thinking that the Mets can’t handle success after being there for 2007 and 2008 and then 2001 and always hearing about 1988.   Its the first week and literally 100 things happened this week.  Let’s allow ourselves a full month before legit worry starts.
  • I liked David Wright’s approach in those last two AB’s.  After seeing a few pitches and swinging at a few bad ones, he went after the first pitch he saw in his final two AB’s and got a double and a single.  His aggressive approach allowed him to see Hellickson’s two weakest offerings: the ol get-me-over-strike.  Good for him.  Its good seeing your Captain fight.
  • Curtis Granderson 1 for 20.  Keep an eye on this.
  • When will Bartolo Colon start to age?  colon overhead catch  Seriously, look at this play.  Two years ago I called his arrival as the single most important signing the Mets could do.  That to me showed that Sandy Alderson wasn’t all algorithms and one year contracts.  It told me he understands how to round out a clubhouse and create an atmosphere and the veteran impact.  That’s what guys like Sam Hinkie who are completely slaves to the calculations of projection models don’t get.  That’s why you need actual baseball people in a room full of Harvard grad analysts.  Guys who will understand the not told on pie chart value of having Colon in the dugout offering advice.  This is a guy who goes out and learned the craft of pitching.  Having him around Harveys and DeGrom’s and Syndergaards make them better.  That’s where his value is.  And he keeps a clubhouse loose. colon flip marlins gif Last year’s behind the back flip was awesome because of the shot in the dugout of all his teammates and their genuine smiles.  Bartolo is for the people and he deserves all the millions he gets deep into his 40’s.
  • Also he’s a bad ass for going sleeveless.  You talk about playing mind games with the other team?
  • Big series coming up against the Marlins.  Due to a rainout in Washington the Mets will see Jared Cosart and Jose Fernandez in the first two games.  Last year the Mets kept missing Fernandez in his comeback from Tommy John.  Tomorrow will mark Steven Matz’ first start of the year and it should be a good early season test for the young lefty who struggled for most of the spring but finished with five no-hit innings.  Tuesday will have Fernandez going up against Noah Syndergaard who was absolutely lights out against the Royals.  That should be the showcase game of the night.  The Marlins will be the wild card team.  If they stay healthy they can be a thorn in both the Nationals and Mets sides.  More than just being the difference in who out of the Mets and Nationals take the division, the Marlins could wind up being in it till the end.  This is a team that won’t hesitate to make a move if they feel they are still in it.
  • No more negativity.  Tomorrow is another day but today is the best day because we’re all here.

 

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