Thor’s Revenge (Game 2 of 162)

syndergaard 1Kansas City- (BoxScore) It was the sixth inning.  The bases were loaded with Royals.  Kendrys Morales, the 2015 Silver Slugger at the DH position, was up at the plate and it almost seemed inevitable.  The team that rarely strikes out had finally mounted a rally and a 2-0 lead by the Mets was about to evaporate.  The eventuality of it all seemed so whatever.

What happened next served notice to both the Royals and the rest of the league: Noah Syndergaard is no ordinary man.

Three sliders that are still being discussed today, even in disgust in some barbecue pits in Kansas City, were unleashed on an unsuspecting Kendrys Morales and all he could do was flail.  You could see the rubik’s cube that Thor dropped on Morales and he had three chances to figure it out.  All of those came at speeds of 95, 93 and 93.  Think about that for one second.

Folks after the game swore it was a cutter, but it was left as a slider.  And the baseball world was not the same again.

Games like this and moments like this invent fun fictional arguments for Mets fans that, in the best of scenarios for the Mets, could go on all summer and deep into October and early November:  who is the best of these starters?

Syndergaard made his pitch, literally, and most have been convinced that he is indeed the one with the greatest potential.  Science has not fully immersed into baseball yet.  We still don’t know how to prevent pitchers from completely blowing out their arm.  There are plenty of theories about what could prevent arm fatigue.  Teams use pitch counts.  After 90 pitches, every single pitch is carefully digested by the manager and tested and hypothesized.  Columns are born after the sixth inning when pitch counts run up and pitchers start losing their velocity.

But there was Noah Syndergaard laying waste to all of that.  He’s 6’6 and 240, so he’s a linebacker throwing fastballs.  If anyone is built for the rigors of deep pitch counts and testing the limits of what we know about pitchers, he is NOT the guy.  He is the exception.  He is not the rule.  Perhaps that’s whats more special about Syndergaard than the other pitchers on this pitching staff.

Matz stands out because he’s a lefty.  DeGrom stands out because of his hair and his ability to pitch even without his best stuff.  Harvey is special because he has a certain quality that draws your attention and for most of the fan base, he was the first symbol of change.

Syndergaard just stands out.  He’s your average superhero pitcher.  Capable of hitting triple digits for 9 innings, then throw mind bending sliders and curves at ridiculous speeds that make baseball folk argue about what they had just seen.

I don’t know what we’re seeing just yet from Thor.  What I do know is that it hasn’t been seen before.  What I do know is that his development is continuing.  Much of the discussion pre-game, while American Woman was blasting as he warmed up, was what retaliation would the Royals take on young Noah and the Mets?  We all remember his physical and verbal assault on the Royals last year.  The only victor against the pesky Royals that the Mets could muster.

We didn’t know how he would respond in game 2.  New Yorkers saw Matt Harvey do good, but not great and the Mets hitters look old and broken if your David Wright, and dazed and confused if your Yoenis Cespedes.  Syndergaard was responsible for exacting the Mets revenge.  Having to sit through another ceremony, one the Mets officials did not protest as is being reported, the Mets had to be pumped to get one more shot at the champs.

A first inning triple at the hands of Alcides Escobar, slapping a ball the opposite way that was at eye level, did not look good.  But something happened and clicked.  Syndergaard settled down in what was a frenzy atmosphere.  He struck out 2-3-and-4 in the Royals lineup and the inning was over and the fans were left wondering what had happened.

That’s what great pitchers do.  In the face of overwhelming odds, they come up with their best stuff.  It reminded me of Jacob DeGrom in last year’s starts against the Dodgers.  In game 1 and game 5, deGrom seemed to work in and out of trouble summoning the will and finding a way out of innings that should have ended worse.  In both games, game 1 against Kershaw and game 5 against Greinke, deGrom never blinked and offered no signs of weakening.  That kind of mental fortitude is what has everyone buzzing and everyone excited about the future here in NY.

Tuesday’s performance elevated the expectations for DeGrom on Friday’s home opener and eventually will elevate the expectation out of Harvey and Matz for their next starts.  Syndergaard’s spring suggested that he was not feeling the arm fatigue that people had placed on DeGrom.  Until DeGrom hits 98 on the gun, people will be worried.

There was Syndergaard hitting triple digits.  There was the explosive Dan Warthen slider.  There was the hook from hell.  At some point superlatives will get old.  There will only be one word columns for Syndergaard’s performance.  You will know by one sentence:  Thor was pitching today.

Other stuff you may care about:

  • Jim Henderson for me was the second biggest development out of this game.  I had to rewatch his inning and his tailing up fastball is going to be a deadly weapon.  Most interesting was that he was regularly hitting mid 90’s.  Good for Terry Collins putting him in that situation at that point in the game. He seemed to relish the opportunity, not just in this game but with the Mets.  If he’s anything like he was on Tuesday for the rest of the season the Mets will certainly have picked up a huge steal.
  • Finally, the championship belt has made its way into the Mets clubhouse.  The belt which traveled around the Mets locker room all year last year has now found a home with Neil Walker who got it for his first home run in a Mets uniform, and the Mets first of 2016.  His two run home run broke the scoreless tie and gave the Mets all they needed.  Fans got pretty worked up over Murphy’s stellar debut in a Nats uniform so it was nice to see Walker give them something to crow back about.  The Neil Walker scouting report: solid.
  • Jeurys Familia had as much demons to exorcise as any Mets player in Kauffman stadium.  He had converted every save from June 30th until Alex Gordon launched a game tying home run in the bottom of the 9th in Game 1 of the World Series.  It was nice to see Familia get a strike out and then get through the next two batters in four pitches.  That 7-8-9 of Henderson, Reed and Familia hopefully will be lights out like they were on Tuesday for the entire year and playoffs.  One can only hope.
  • It may just be me, but hearing Rob Manfred talk, makes me think this guy is your average baseball fan dressed up to talk like a suit.  He has an upstate accent, and talks alot with his hands.  I hope his tenure will solve two of the biggest things affecting the game: how to get more african americans involved in the game and getting rid of the New York Yankees.
  • Addison Reed with a fresh baldie?  Dude always looks pissed leaving the mound.  I love it.
  • David Wright had to feel good getting two steals. Two nights ago he was old and couldn’t catch up to fastballs down the middle.  Now he’s running on one of the best catchers in the game.  Albeit he ran against Chris Young who takes forever to get to the plate, still a pretty effing good start.  Spinal stenosis may have taken some of his ability, but it hasn’t taken the Captain’s pride.
  • I’m still not a huge David Wright fan and still, despite the recent arrest and allegations of domestic abuse by Jose Reyes, stand by my opinion that the Mets should have given Reyes the $90M contract instead of signing Wright to a $100M+ contract.  Both players have taken different paths down, but both are trending in the same direction.  I still remember the SI cover in 2006 and referring to them as kids.  Ten years later its amazing how things change.
  • As much as I loved Wright drawing the two walks, he can’t hit number 2 in the same lineup that Michael Conforto hits in.  I say that because its becoming increasingly evident that Terry will begin the season with the training wheels on young Mike.  I will be shocked if Conforto isn’t hitting in the 2 hole by the middle of June.  Shocked.
  • Lucas Duda reminded you again why despite the 30HR potential, his playing first base is still an adventure and will continue to make plays like Eric Hosmer’s dash to home in the ninth inning in Game 5 a relevant talking point.  He’s come leaps and bounds since he started, but he still isn’t consistently scooping everything off the dirt.
  •  Gary, Keith and Ron.  Its truly a pleasure gentlemen.

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Game 1 of 162

If Met fans were looking for signs that pointed to a more stable, solid, contending team they were rudely awakened in the Season opener against the defending World Series Champion Kansas City Royals.

Last night reaffirmed what many, including myself feel are major weaknesses this team has and will continue to have until changes are made.  The Mets had a defensive lapse in the first inning starring Yoenis Cespedes.  The Royals were feisty on the base paths, taking the extra base everytime.  The Royals dinked and dunked where the Mets weren’t.  The Mets most feared hitters could offer very little resistance to Wade Davis OR Edinson Volquez.

Sound familiar?

All similar themes that ultimately did in the Mets last year reared their ugly heads.  But Mets fans like myself swear it will be different this time.  That sounds good on paper, but on paper is where the Mets exist as contenders.  On the strength of a solid off season and a pitching staff that should on most nights be better than their opposite number, the Mets are living as holders of the most precious “best baseball team in NY” title.

That all could change fairly quickly and Mets fans know this.  I remember I was as excited in 2007 and felt a similar feeling of “unfinished business” theme and the Mets kept things interesting until September when it all collapsed and the world took Jimmy Rollins and the Philadelphia Philthies a bit more seriously.   If the Mets assume the Nationals will play patsy like they were so eager to do last year, they had better think again.

Since Spring Training the Nationals have played with the kind of focus that says “they are pissed about last year and don’t plan on giving away the division”.  Because that’s what they did.

But if yesterday provided fans with anything its this: you have to live with all of Yoenis Cespedes’ quirks.  David Wright will either catch up to that fastball or Terry Collins will have to make a decision.  Michael Conforto will be batting second very soon, but it will be interesting to see how Collins uses Conforto moving forward.  We were in an American League ballpark so you can hide Conforto as a DH, but at some point the training wheels have to come off defensively because that’s his only glaring weakness.  The defensive issues are very real for this team and will continue to be until you get better players.  This isn’t about anything more than talent and the guys they have manning the positions are what they are defensively and you can’t change that at this point.  Teams will continue to run on the Mets until they prove they can slow people down on the bases.

But yesterday was game 1 and here’s some of the positives for those struggling to find any this miserable morning: Conforto looks like he could stick but his real test will come when he has to face a lefty.  Lucas Duda driving in two runs in the 8th was a welcoming sight and what I feel will be a sign of things to come.  I’m expecting him to have the best power numbers on this team.  Then there’s Matt Harvey who had a better night than his stats will suggest.

Last year Harvey wanted to be more economical to get deeper into games and he mixed some of that into his pitch sequencing during last night’s game.  He wasn’t trying to get swings and misses every time, but inducing contact as often as he could and conserving the strikeouts for when it mattered most.  He lost some of his command in the sixth which forced Collins to remove him but for game 1, I thought he did fine.

Fans will naturally freak out about Cespedes’ drop in left and Lagares’ inability to catch that sinking base hit, and Travis D’Arnaud’s passed ball but we knew the defense was going to be shaky.  Sandy Alderson acknowledged that.  But it bears remembering that heading into last year we thought Wilmer Flores wouldn’t be able to handle shortstop and for the most part he did a very serviceable job.  This team is more offensive minded.  Power bats and power arms and pray that the rest of the league doesn’t catch on.

Its just the first game so no reason to get out of sorts but the red flags and concerns are going to drive Mets fans crazy this morning.

As always, today is another day.

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MLB 2016 Preview (OVERS/UNDERS)


Recently Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo came together for a one-time only radio show reunion for the Garden of Dreams.  If they can come back after an 8 year break, I can too in time for an MLB 2o16 preview.

Why did i drag Mike and the Mad Dog through that crummy open?  Because they did one of their classic bits: over/under for the upcoming season and I figured why don’t I take a crack at it, but with a twist.  Instead of picking three overs and three unders from among the 30 MLB teams, I figured I would do a countdown of all 30 teams and having to pick at least 10 unders.  That’s the rule.

So here we go:

30. Atlanta Braves (65 wins) UNDER– I expect the NL East to be a 2 team race with a lot of wins coming at the expense of the two worst teams in baseball.  The Braves are gearing up for their new stadium by dealing for inexperienced talent.  I expect them to be very bad again this year.

BOLD PREDICTION: They will trade Julio Teheran at some point this year for another major haul.  I expect the Dodgers and Red Sox to be favorites in landing the cheap righty.

29. Philadelphia Phillies (66.5) UNDER- The second half of the doormat the NL East will serve up will be the new Phillies as the old Phillies and everything they used to be is gone.  The team is determined to rebuild and I’m putting them slightly ahead of the Braves because I think JP Crawford will win them more games than Dansby Swanson will win the Braves.  That’s, once both of them are up sometime in June and their teams have bought at least another year of cheap servitude.

BOLD PREDICTION: Ryan Howard doesn’t have 100 AB’s in a Phillies uniform left.

28. Milwaukee Brewers (71.5) UNDER- Teams are finally beginning to realize that going 162 games to end up .500 isn’t a way to live and that’s where Milwaukee is.  Either they are overplaying their hand with Lucroy or they know they have a deal in place.  Coming off a good draft, I do expect the Brewers to speed up the process by trading both Lucroy AND Braun.  There are three excellent teams in the Central- the only path to salvation for Brewers fans is to go about the rebuild.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Brewers end up just a game off the worst team in the league.

27. Colorado Rockies (68) OVER- As organizations go, this is one that offers far more potential than the three i just named.  The Rockies have some impressive young, hard throwing pitchers, which is how they should have been building from the start.  They still have a good amount of offensive talent to stay relevant for a short time, but it won’t matter.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Rockies stay relevant till July.  They don’t trade Gomez or Blackmon at the deadline and immediately regret it when they both suffer injuries limiting their production during the second half.

26. San Diego Padres (74) UNDER- You can understand why AJ Preller went all in prior to the 2015 season.  He saw an opening and took it.  Sometimes you miscalculate and run up the kind of rosters with bloated salaries unbecoming a small market like San Diego.  But there are useful pieces there that the Padres can use to accelerate their rebuild.  Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, James Shields and even Matt Kemp can be had for the right to appropriate price.

BOLD PREDICTION: Out of the four I named, I’d bet all of them get traded.

25. Oakland Athletics (75) UNDER- The Athletics I’m sure, are tired of hearing about how one sided the Josh Donaldson trade is.  But if Franklin Barreto ends up being what they think,  the A’s will have the chance at the last laugh.  We know that Billy Beane can have the type of out-of-nowhere seasons, but I’m guessing this is still a rebuild year.

BOLD PREDICTION: The A’s do NOT trade Sonny Gray despite everyone’s absolute certainty they will.

24. Cincinnati Reds (71) OVER- Something about the Reds say they will be better than what most think.  They let Mike Leake walk, but I don’t think he’s the type of player you give the type of money the Giants gave him.  But such is the market.  The Reds ask of Zack Wheeler in return for Jay Bruce tells me they will ask for a similar return in exchange for 1b Joey Votto.  Many already are fitting him for a Bluejay uni, but I don’t think a deal happens and I doubt any other team will have the financial wherewithal or motivation to make a similar trade.  They remain feisty until the end.

BOLD PREDICTION: Dusty Baker gets booed in his return.  There is seriously nothing bold about this team.

23. Minnesota Twins (77.5) UNDER- This under is based solely on their pitching staff.  And expecting Byron Buxton to have a dramatically good season is not out of the realm of possibility but I wouldn’t put the mortgage on it.

BOLD PREDICTION: Byron Buxton spends more time on the DL or Triple A than he does in the majors.

22. Chicago WhiteSox (80.5) UNDER- I would say push but since you absolutely need an answer, there it is.  For the record, I think this Drake LaRoche situation is ridiculous.  The fact that they allowed Adam LaRoche’s son to be homeschooled AND allowed in a major league clubhouse as frequently as he apparently was, in my opinion, unprofessional and should not have been allowed.

BOLD PREDICTION: The WhiteSox move one step closer to trading their ace Chris Sale, but eventually sign him to a long term deal by the end of the season.

21. Los Angeles Angels (82.5) UNDER- Under new GM Billy Eppler, I expect the Angels to make a ton of moves this season with only one goal in mind: getting the best team around Mike Trout.  I was a fan of the Andrelton Simmons trade.  The scouting community freaked out because of the return, but you are getting the kind of up the middle defense for the next five years that teams only dream about.  This will mean a step back, but if they can take a long term step forward, this season will not have been a total waste.  Oh wait, wasting another season of the best young player in all of baseball is a waste.

BOLD PREDICTION: Mike Trout once again finishes second in the MVP race.

20. Miami Marlins (80.5) UNDER- The Marlins always find a way to blow up expectations so I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Marlins be feisty all season.  They play the Mets tough and have the talent to hang in the race for a long time.  The Mattingly pick up will likely help a team that came in with high expectations last year but fell short for a number of reasons.  Expect Jose Fernandez to be on a very strict innings limit which ultimately undermines how far this team can go.

BOLD PREDICTION: The walls moving in will STILL not help Christian Yelich reach 20 home runs.

19. Tampa Bay Rays (78) OVER– Whatever magic or voodoo this team possesses to keep itself in contention seems to be wearing out since the Andrew Friedman move but they are still a bunch that gets the rest of their division mates attention.  This is a team that won’t wait too long to  pull the trigger on a move that could make them better in both the intermediary and long run.  The problem is finding a team willing to deal with them.  Kevin Kermaier and Brad Boxberger are two guys I expect the Rays to deal for the right package.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Rays win the season series against the Red Sox.

18. Arizona Diamondbacks (84.5) UNDER- I expected this to be an 87 win team WITH AJ Pollock.  Now with this injury, just a few days prior to Opening day, this has the makings of a disaster season.  Their 1-3 should keep them in games but this is the type of scenario people warned the Diamondbacks about when talking about possible regrets of the Shelby Miller trade.

BOLD PREDICTION: Diamondbacks host a statisticians get-in-for-free promotion which simultaneously turns into a group interview as the D-Backs finally embrace advanced stats.

17. Detroit Tigers (85) UNDER- The Tigers still boast the best hitter in the game and replaced David Price with Jordan Zimmerman.  Trades of both Price and Cespedes helped the team load up in the minor leagues but this is still a team that can do better than what they have.  Their number one is no longer a number one and their offense is probably a bit overrated, but I still can see a better season than most expect.

BOLD PREDICTION: Cameron Maybin fulfills his promise for the Tigers boasting a line of 20 HR’s, 20 steals, 80 RBI’s and a .285 BA.

16. Baltimore Orioles (80.5) OVER- Statistical forecasting never seems to give Buck Showalter’s group any kind of love.  Their end of game relief and lineup should make up for any noted weakness in the pitching staff.  But I’m expecting Adam Jones to continue to be an elite level talent and play Gold glove worthy defense in centerfield and for the Orioles to once again compete.

BOLD PREDICTION: Chris Davis plays half the season, and the O’s are ok.

15.  Seattle Mariners (83) OVER- I’m sold on an improvement for this team, but I think anyone predicting playoffs for the Mariners need to pump their brakes.  The Mariners one day will surround King Felix with a team worthy of putting him in big September match ups but for now, they have to make do with what they have, an ever improving team, one step closer.

BOLD PREDICTION: Robinson Cano finishes in the Top 5 of MVP vote.

14. New York Yankees (85) OVER- Give the Yankees this, even with the 30 game suspension, the price they paid for Aroldis Chapman makes him a steal.  They managed to improve their team without adding payroll which is remarkable and I’m in the very silent minority who believe the Yankees had a better offseason than the Mets did.  I think the Yankees can be relevant, but expecting Mark Texeiera and Alex Rodriguez to hit nearly 60 home runs between them is unrealistic.

BOLD PREDICTION: Brett Gardner gets traded by midseason.

13. Cleveland Indians (84) OVER- The Indians are an intriguing team that is beloved by the stat community.  They boast young cost controlled talent all over the diamond which make them players but what really makes them unique is that they are teetering between mediocrity and on the cusp.  This is the swing year and I wouldn’t be shocked if they made a push, but they are still a deal or two away and not being able to take back a contract or two that’s horrendous could hamstring any type of talent acquisition that could help.

BOLD PREDICTION: Trevor Bauer becomes the indians closer by midseason.

12. St Louis Cardinals (87.5) UNDER- The under also is my bold prediction.  Look, this is a team that won 100 games last year but advanced metrics said they were the luckiest team in the majors and those kind of clues along with multiple free agent defections (to an in division rival no less) will add up to a very tough transition year for the Cardinals fans.  Which will eventually lead to every one of those flowery fans to scream to the high heavens about how tough a year its been being a Cards fan.  Prepare yourself.

11. Boston Red Sox (85.5) OVER– This has a chance to be the dumbest over/under call, but Dave Dombrowski won’t allow this team to just give up by midseason.  He’s a move the chips to the middle kind of guy once he feels his team is ready and he’s walking on to a team that began its rebuilding process and an ownership group trying to parlay a Big Papi farewell tour deep into October, so you know the purse strings will be open to take back a bad contract or two.  No longer will prospects be protected for a better tomorrow.  Tomorrow is today.

BOLD PREDICTION: Joe Kelly will statistically be the best pitcher in the Red Sox staff.

10. Washington Nationals (87) UNDER- This team was the most focused spring training team in all of baseball, but I can’t see this team doing it for a full season.  They got rid of Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Ian Desmond, Denard Span, Yunel Escobar and Drew Storen and replaced them with very little.  Trea Turner is the shortstop of the future and Lucas Giolito should step into the rotation sometime in June.  People who predict big things for Washington also are banking on a huge year from free-agent-to-be Stephen Strassburg.  If he gives them 30 starts, he could win 20 games.  Its getting him to that number.  Joe Ross is quality and Dusty Baker is their biggest offseason pick up.  I’m not buying it.

BOLD PREDICTION- Stephen Strassburg has more starts than Max Scherzer (I’m asking for it aren’t I?)

9. Texas Rangers (86) OVER- The lasting image from last year was Adrian Beltre barely able to move, playing 3rd base in that awesome Game 6 in Toronto.  I like how this team was constructed and Queens own Jon Daniels has the kind of positional talent that can mask whatever their rotation will be.  Also, Yu Darvish will potentially return by June but I’m sure will force a 6 man rotation.

BOLD PREDICTION: Roughed Odor becomes the unquestioned best player on the Texas Rangers.

8. Toronto Blue Jays (87) OVER- I like this Blue Jays offense a lot.  I like that it has a pissed off Jose Bautista in a contract year and I love that its ace is a bulldog who can win you games by his mere presence.  They just seem to know how to get juiced for the big games and you know how that crowd gets.  I am also a fan of Russel Martin.  He’s got two more seasons of relevant baseball left before he becomes a liability, but that guy is a leader.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Blue Jays say eff it and trade for James Shields who goes 6-0 down the stretch but loses every playoff start he makes.

7. Pittsburgh Pirates (87) OVER-  Its interesting how this team manages to pick every team’s scrap heap and turn them into stars.  Another MVP caliber season from Andrew McCutchen will be outdone by Starling Marte’s real break out season as he will join his teammate in MVP ballots.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Pirates bullpen blows several late leads causing them to lose several tight games.

6. San Francisco Giants (90) OVER- Here’s a stat for you: the Giants have won a World Series every even year since 2010.  This year is 2016 so it stands to reason that they will be in the hunt again.  Here’s where it gets tough.  I wasn’t a fan of the other rotation adds but I think the idea is that the Giants ability to defend will help both Jeff Samardzjia and Mike Leake’s stats along with pitching in AT&T Park which is known for being a pitcher’s haven.  I expect huge things from Brandon Crawford this year.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Giants do NOT win a world series this even year.

5. KC Royals (87) OVER-  Here’s where the computers seemingly always have it wrong.  The Royals have consistently defied logic to win more than they are supposed to and gotten farther than expected because computers can’t account for heart and the sheer dramatics of this team.  The Royals should have lost to the Astros.  The Royals also should have lost to the Mets in 3 of the 4 games they won but there’s something called heart which computers have been unable to project and account for and the Royals win because they have that in spades.  I loved their signing of Dillon Gee.  He could be a 16 game winner for that team.

BOLD PREDICTION- The Royals run out of things to fight for, and finally succumb to PECOTA and every other computer projection model that says they are an average group.

4. Houston Astros (85.5) OVER- I have them winning their division and representing the American league in the World Series.  Carlos Correa is the kind of talent that comes along once a generation, but we’ve had a few of them come along recently.  The game is in good hands.  I don’t think the Ken Giles trade will have the desired results, just a hunch.

BOLD PREDICTION- The Astros only leak will be the new Ben Affleck directed Batman script and the Astros will have two no-hitters pitched by their pitchers this year.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (87) OVER- Vegas clearly thinks the loss of Zack Greinke and a completely left handed pitching staff will undermine all the good rookie manager Dave Roberts will bring to the team.  His biggest task will be corralling the wild talent of Yasiel Puig and how to bring along super prospect Corey Seager slowly.  If he manages that the rest should be easy.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Dodgers lose in the division round to the Cubs.

2. New York Mets (88) OVER- They shocked me with the signing of Yoenis.  They had a horrible spring.  All their pitchers seemed to be “working on stuff” and we dealt with the lack of velocity of Jacob DeGrom who every year seems to walk into camp with the “can he do it again” question and answers it.  I’m not worried about the pitching staff, I have legitimate concerns about how they are bringing along Michael Conforto and whether we will see the team give him regular AB’s against left handed pitching.  He’s not afraid of the moment as he showed with a two home run performance in the World Series and can be the number 3 hitter that David Wright was.  Terry Collins will have a full year of a very strong roster from top to bottom- his Mets career will thus be judged by how he does this year.

BOLD PREDICTION: The Mets win 100 games and win the World Series.  If you’re a Mets fan you know why that’s bold.

1.Chicago Cubs (89) OVER- They can sleep walk to 95 but it depends on a few things.  How will the young kids respond to the expectations.  How will Jake Arrieta follow up his historic second half and will we see a hangover like we saw in that Mets start?  I love their line up and they seemed to double down on it by adding Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.  Ultimately it will come down to one thing: can they get enough pitching out of old men Lester and Lackey?  Virtually every move the Cubs did had a double purpose of hurting their rivals (Cards/Mets).  The fans in Wrigley are excited but they need that pitching.

BOLD PREDICTION: They lose to the Mets on a walk off HR in Game 6 of the NLCS to the Mets.

AL MVP: Carlos Correa

NL MVP: Bryce Harper

AL CY Young: Marcus Stroman

NL CY Young: Matt Harvey

AL Rookie of the Year: Byron Buxton

NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

World Series: Mets def. Astros 4-1

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Winter Wonderland

With the Winter Meetings set to start today, I thought I would take a few moments to write about what the Mets need and my predictions about what will get accomplished.

Last year was a dream.  The pitching came together.  The supposed favorites Nationals fell apart.  Every other team went into some state of rebuild and the Mets, out of recent character, took advantage by pushing their chips to the middle of the table by making a bunch of deadline moves.  Those were moves of a team thinking bigger than just a playoff berth.  The trades for Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Tyler Clippard and Yoenis Cespedes (and the non-trade for Carlos Gomez) were transactions brought on by opportunity.

You know how the story ended.  The Mets ran away with the NL East division, went to Tinseltown and won the division series in 5 games and then took on what is supposed to be their biggest rivals to glory, the Cubs, and swept them under the rug like it was no big thing.  They waited almost a week and a half and met a team that had a date with destiny and lost the World Series in 5 games to the Kansas City Royals.

But make no mistake, if the Mets go into next season banking on a similar script playing itself out, they are kidding themselves.  Let’s first assume a few things:

  1. The Phillies and Braves are still rebuilding- Yes, this is absolutely true.  The Braves are only scheduled to re-enter contention in 2017 when they move into their downtown digs, so until then they will be trying to maximize the assets they currently have on their roster and hope that the return will make them competitive soon.  They traded away the best defensive shortstop in the major leagues in Andrelton Simmons and likely will send Shelby Miller in a trade for more talent sometime between this week and the trade deadline.   While it doesn’t mean they will contend in 2017, they will have restocked the cupboard in a major way by the time they do move into the new stadium and atleast entice the fan base with a promise that better days are ahead.

    The Phillies are also planning on sitting out the playoffs for another year.  They have a tougher road but they have some talent coming down the pike.  Next year the Phils could have up to 4 prospects in their starting rotation by the time season ends and JP Crawford, considered by some to be the best shortstop prospect in the minor leagues, will likely get the call up.   They got a nice haul in the Cole Hamels trade that may or may not have come one season too late, and they finally fired GM Ruben Amaro after the media and fan base practically begged for it. The Phillies signed a major television deal and can throw dollars when it begins to make sense, but that won’t be next year unless all their kids play out of their minds.

  2. The Marlins will be a question mark all season-  It depends on where you stand on reports that the Marlins are not listening to trade offers for Jose Fernandez or the Marlins are talking to teams like the Dodgers on their ace.  One thing we do know, he’s likely gone once he enters free agency and the Marlins have never been ones to be shy about trading their best players if they feel they have no shot to sign him (see Cabrera, Miguel).  But I don’t think the Marlins trade him this year as his value won’t be as high as next season so let’s assume that Fernandez will remain on the team.  Giancarlo Stanton will return to the line up and the Marlins are reportedly trying to sign Dee Gordon to a contract extension as well.  All of the pieces that made the Marlins a sexy pick to usurp the Nationals will make them, again, candidates to contend for a NL East crown.
  3. The Nationals will have a manager who knows his shit- And by that, Dusty Baker won’t shy away from internal conflict and strife.  He managed a dugout with Jeff Kent (noted asshole) and Barry Bonds (also noted asshole) so Jonathan Papelbon and his ridiculousness will be just another walk in the park for Dusty.  Yes, he has his own weaknesses, he’s not the best strategist.  He doesn’t have the quickest hook with pitchers and may come from the old school in terms of managing while the rest of the league has adapted to a more stats-savvy style.  But let’s understand one thing: he’s being brought in as, and allow me to throw a football term at you to best deliver the point, a game manager.  He’s gonna Trent Dilfer the hell out of the Nationals.  Their current roster, even without Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister will still have some of the best everyday and every fifth day talent in the majors.  The same way they were supposed to run away with the division last year, they should be able to stick around similarly.

So if some of the irregularities of last season correct themselves, what can the Mets do and what do the Mets need to make sure they keep their division?  Let’s consider what they need first:

  1. Outfield depth-  This completely depends on the health of Juan Lagares’ throwing shoulder which does not, I repeat, does NOT need surgery.  I’m not repeating myself for kicks.  The fact is, he went from a Gold Glove award winner two seasons ago to a late game defensive sub for the Mets last season.   Its his offense that has always been a point of contention for the team, but its his defense that many point to when analyzing how far he has fallen.  So the Mets will look at left handed center fielders who can platoon with Lagares.  That means forget Dustin Fowler.  The Mets may also be out of the running for Gerardo Parra but that all depends on how teams evaluate him based on his second half.  With Conforto set to be an everyday left fielder and Curtis Granderson entrenched at right, the Mets will certainly evaluate what their options are in the minors if they can’t get a major leaguer to platoon with Lagares and hit righties.
  2. Second base-  The Mets have said they won’t hesitate to give the job to Dilson Herrera but their actions say differently.  The fact is, the Mets are hoping that Ben Zobrist agrees to sign with them, even going so far as to guarantee the fourth year in the contract , a must if you believe the reports on what it will take to sign the valued Zobrist.  He’s basically a much better version of Daniel Murphy defensively and can replicate Murphy’s bat (which is slightly better).  He also plays multiple positions on the diamond which makes his value even greater when you consider that David Wright’s health is a toss- up.  The feeling is that Herrera can play second base but will need more seasoning at the plate and he doesn’t have the contact ability of Zobrist.
  3. Relief depth- Outside of Jeurys Familia, the Mets didn’t have reliable options in the bullpen and if baseball learned anything from the World Champion Royals, its that having an elite bullpen can mask other areas of the game.  The Royals won with a contact approach at the plate, excellent defense, and a lockdown bullpen that shortened games to six innings.  While the Mets don’t have Wade Davis at the backend (and history says no one has EVER had the past two seasons version of Wade Davis),


the Mets do have a guy that can capably handle the closer duties.  The Mets still need a reliable 7th and 8th inning guy.  Addison Reed will be back and will fill in either the 7th or 8th inning roles.  But his role will depend on who the Mets go after in either the trade market OR in the free agent market.  While I don’t think the Mets will trade one of their big guys for an elite arm which likely takes them out of the running for an Aroldis Chapman), the Mets, if willing to take on some dollars may be able to get a David Robertson from the Whitesox OR a Will Smith from the Brewers (depends on if they think they are sellers).  Will Smith is an especially enticing option as he would be your lefty specialist as well.  The Mets will need to spruce up their options and get some established veteran in there to help solidify the late innings.  The Mets tendered troubled former closer Jenry Mejia a contract (it was a low-risk move for a guy who has the stuff in his arm but very little in his head) but he will miss the first 100 games thanks to a suspension he still has to sit out.  With Craig Kimbrel and K-Rod already traded, the market will be thinning on trades to make for elite relievers so if the Mets are indeed swimming in those waters, its getting shallow really quickly.

4. Offense-  The game plan for now is to sign Zobrist who can duplicate Murphy’s bat and give you better infield defense, and hope that Conforto and a full season of David Wright (yeah right!) along with the continued resurgence of Curtis Granderson will equal the offense the Mets got.  But for a full season the Mets will have to hope for players to hit a ton.  Notice I didn’t include Travis d’Arnaud, I did so for a reason.  Expecting him to play 130 games is foolish.  The fact is, catching is taxing enough for any player, but expecting one who has the injury history of d’Arnaud to do it is beyond foolish.  If the Mets stay pat and don’t make a single move to upgrade the offense, the Mets are banking on the health of Wright and d’Arnaud which are not sure things (in fact I would go so far as to say that every move to upgrade the team offensively should be made with the caveat that you won’t get full seasons from either) and the progression of Conforto as an everyday player and the resurgence of Curtis Granderson.  Those are major gambles and I personally don’t think the Mets can bank on any of them.


So what is my prediction?

I think the Mets will sign Zobrist.  I think the Mets will try hard to trade for a reliever but ultimtaely come up short.  Every team will ask for one of the big four and the Mets should not give any of them up for a reliever unless they are giving up an elite talent in return.  The most available for trade starter for the Mets is Jonathan Niese but then where will you get the innings while you wait out Zach Wheeler’s return from Tommy John?  Bartolo Colon has indicated he wants to be a starter and even he knows when Wheeler comes back, he will go back to being a bullpen piece.  If he agrees, I think you should definitely sign him.

Colon’s experience and personality fit on any club so his ability to keep a team full of young guys cool when things get dicey is priceless.  What the Mets need is a veteran presence on that team and while Michael Cuddyer is there, he likely will be getting his bats spelling Conforto and Duda.  You need someone in the pitching staff that can help guide their four young aces.

There’s also no guarantee that all four guys make 30 starts.  In fact, Syndergaard and Matz haven’t even pitched full seasons.  Matt Harvey will get better (the second season after Tommy John is usually the season where the player begins to look like the pitcher he once was), and Jacob deGrom has shown that he can  certainly adjust when the league adjusts to him.  The Mets will likely go with a modified innings limit for Wheeler, and will potentially pose the same problematic shifting of the pitching rotation and days between starts that Harvey’s, Thor’s and Matz’s presence did last season.  You almost need to have a sixth starter given Matz’s lack of innings professionally and the need to stretch him out.  So you almost have to keep Neise.  If you trade him, you would have to go back into the market for a starter and can you count on 43 year old Bartolo Colon to duplicate 42 year old Bartolo Colon?  For a 42 year old he was pretty freaking good, but the Mets may want to get younger anyway so I don’t see him returning.

Can the Mets expect to spend money on a Tim Lincecum, Ian Kennedy, Doug Fister or a Yovani Gallardo?  They are 31, 30, 31 and 29 respectively but I suspect some other team will come along and give those guys 2-3 year deals with higher annual salaries than what the Mets can offer.  Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto are going to get monster deals from NL West teams to compete with the monster growing in Arizona.  An interesting name that some may say will likely be too expensive is Mat Latos.  He has the requisite tools and he’s 27.  But he’s a pain in the butt and has maturity issues.  But shouldn’t the Mets explore getting him on a cheap 3 year contract?  Consider that next year the Mets may be looking to trade off Matt Harvey and they will need someone to take his place.  A 28 year old who can throw in the mid-90’s and has shown he has the stuff wouldn’t be too bad of a consolation prize.

Stop hoping for a reunion with once top prospect Scott Kazmir, that ship has sailed.  Henderson Alvarez is a very attractive name on that market.  But I doubt the Mets will get the chance to sign him.  Gavin Floyd as well.

Of course I don’t expect the Mets to go that route.  Instead the Mets will likely sign a mid 30’s guy who will understand that once July hits he will be sent to the bullpen or be used as a spot starter.  Those roles are taken by the guys who are in their mid-30’s.  With the Mets new relevance as contenders, they will get guys to bite.  I would love to do a deal with Brandon Morrow.  JP Ricciardi, assistant GM, knows Morrow from his time as Toronto’s GM.  He has really good stuff and may want to pitch for a contender.  More likely is a Bronson Arroyo (a Sandy Alderson fave) or a Jeff Francis type.  A guy who knows what they expect of him and won’t have a problem going into the bullpen once July hits.

I think the Mets go after a Greg Holland (if available) or Yusmero Petit (former Met farmhand) to bring in a more tested veteran to assist.

As for offense, the Mets will look internally as they have already loudly bowed out of the Yoenis Cespedes bidding  and so won’t be in at top shelf talent like Chris Davis (you would need a corresponding trade for Duda to make that work anyway), Jason Heyward (we need a centerfielder anyway), Alex Gordon (nice try but he’s looking at north of $100M on a long term contract as well), Justin Upton (yah, no).  I think they get Zobrist for 4/64-70M.  They can then lock in Parra for a 2/25M deal.  Shortstop, IMO is not a place the Mets will look to upgrade on the free agent market.  They have Wilmer Flores, and Ruben Tejada and I think Matt Reynolds will also make a few starts (finally!).  Ultimately the Mets will likely only make those two deals on the free agent market and no other trades for offensive talent.

Of course I think the Mets will look at all options and consider all moves but they won’t make major moves.  Not that the Mets can’t.  The moment they give the majors a whiff of potentially moving one of the four starters for offensive help, teams will line up with potential scenarios but the Mets, wisely, will resist temptation.

Do these moves add up to a second straight division crown?  Not likely.  But as we saw last year nobody can predict how the season will play out.  What we do know is that the Mets have multiple holes to fill before declaring themselves contenders again but like last year they may have time to fix it.  Their one constant is, barring injury, they will have the best collection of talent in the majors in their rotation.  How they leverage that over the next few years by making moves to make the rest of the team better will ultimately be how this team is judged.

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Mets, 2015: A Year to Remember

It hasn’t been 72 hours and I’m still thinking about the Mets season that ended too soon.  I haven’t had a chance to write that paragraph since 2008 which in baseball years is equivalent to forever.  So forgive me if I write this from the perspective of a 16 year old girl that just broke up with her boyfriend all too publicly and thinks her life is over.

Yes, life moves on.  Yes its only sports.  I get all that but at the same time, I don’t.  When a baseball season ends, you’re almost glad, right?  From February through September, its nearly 8 months of ups and downs that you can’t possibly predict or pretend to not agonize over.  There will be stretches of absolute brutal play that will make you turn the game off in the 4th inning and want to sit outside and watch your wife garden without a cold one in your hand because you drank enough for two frat guys at a kegger in that four inning stretch that you’re embarrassed to be this drunk at 3pm.

But here we are writing the epitaph of the 2015 Mets season and feeling strange.  The Mets opened up as 10/1 favorites to win the world series, tied with the Washington Nationals, the presumptive favorites heading into this past season.  That sentence alone is unbelievable to write because the Nationals spent $210 million to bolster a pitching staff already thought to be the best in the major leagues.  Yet, somehow the Mets not only beat them, they destroyed them from within.

One of many criticisms that I have as a Mets fan is that the ownership group, I lovingly call the Coupon family (real name Wilpons but ya know), is too cheap to keep a contender around for the long haul.  Somewhere along the line they will try to nickel and dime their way to a championship because they didn’t want to pay the $7 fee to invest through Scottrade and instead decided to trust a guy named Bernie Madoff with their money and well, the rest is Ponzi history.  But now the stakes are different and we all know it.  Over the coming weeks, we will get into who the Mets should keep, should let walk, and who they should start the car, drive to the airport and make sure the plane took off before fist pumping.  Whether the Coupon family will bow to public sentiment is anyone’s guess, but like any parental unit on a budget they will have to do some spending to keep the house in order.

However, today is the time to look over the season and digest it all because Lord knows Mets fans deserved a season like this.  Did the Mets deserve to win?  Sure says any Mets fan.  But in reality, they faced a better version of what everyone was convinced the Cubs were.  They faced a team with the heart of a champion and a team with some serious playoff chops.  They got beat by a better team.  Those are the facts no matter what any Mets fan wants to convince you of.

Sure you can talk yourself into the fact that the Mets had a lead in three of the four games they lost to the Royals but that would only be fooling yourself into a false narrative that the Mets were close to the Royals in the intangible department.  Wanna know how I know this as fact?  Think back to every single sick feeling you got when the Royals got to our bullpen, save game 1.  When was the first time you realized that Daniel Murphy stopped snorting the good stuff he was on during the first two rounds when he was a mix of 2002 Barry Bonds and 1926 Babe Ruth? The only surprise was game one.  Had the Mets won that first game and they had every chance to do so, this series may have swung in the Mets favor, but once Alex Gordon launched Familia’s pitch into the center field stands and Familia had blown his first save of the playoffs, you knew as a Mets fan that this was a different beast the Mets were playing.

So let’s forget that every Terry Collins move that worked in the first two series didn’t seem to play to the same tune in the World Series because he wasn’t facing a team with serious flaws that could be exposed.  Playoffs are oftentimes about match ups.  Once you beat a team at its own game, you can see the wall of confidence crumbling around them.  The Dodgers had the decided pitching advantage in the Division series because they could pitch Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke four times in five games.  But when the Mets beat Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in two* out of the five games the math said that the Mets would win.

*= and it should’ve been over in 3 had it not been for that coward Chase Utley but let’s not open that wound. That’s a HBP for another day.

Jon Lester was a postseason veteran with experience and one could argue that Jake Arrieta was the best pitcher in all of baseball and the Cubs had the best under 25 positional talent in all of baseball and yet the Mets outhomered them and beat their two best pitchers en route to a sweep that even the most optimistic of Mets fans NEVER saw coming.  Surely we would, at best, beat the Cubs in 5 games.  But Daniel effing Murphy happened.

With 8 days to revel in their dominance, the Mets ran out of steam and gas that launched them into the playoffs.  From July 25th on, when they acquired Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, finally after fans and columnists had wasted countless calls to sports talk radio shows and typed thousands of words imploring the front office to get some help, the Mets seemed to take off.  From the moment Justin Upton launched a cruel 3 run home run to help the Padres beat the Mets in a new twisted way things changed.  Or maybe, and this is everyone’s favorite version, from the time Wilmer Flores came out to play the field minutes after finding out what everyone else in the stadium seemed to know, that he had been tentatively traded along with Zack Wheeler to the Brewers for Carlos Gomez, wiping tears from his eyes because he was hurt being traded FROM the Mets.

Aside from Bret Saberhagen and Bobby Bonilla both of whom will be paid more than some of the Mets current crop of pitching beasts, nobody had ever been that open about loving the Mets.  Nobody.  And then Sandy Alderson for his next trick pulled a Yoenis Cespedes out of his hat and off they went.  From a team that could barely muster two runs to a juggernaut that couldn’t be stopped the Mets blasted their way through August.  As luck would have it the first opponents for the Mets were the Nationals.  The Nationals had underachieved all season yet were trying to convince everyone that everything would be ok with the old “wait till Denard Span comes back- then watch out world.”  Of course we had heard that line before.  The Nationals have had an excuse for every disappointment.  Who can forget sticking to their guns on Stephen Strassburg’s innings limit and ruining their best chance at a deep run?  Who can forget lifting Jordan Zimmerman after 8 and 2/3 innings because well Matt Williams knows how baseball is played and we don’t know shit.  

The Nationals always talked before the season about what they were going to do because they had the talent and deserved to be everyone’s lead dog heading in, but there was always that championship DNA that was missing.  When the Mets had acquired the pieces to legitimately threaten the Nationals, you saw how far from the title the Nationals were.  Not only did the Mets sweep that first series in late July, they then went Labor Day weekend to Washington and soul punched the Nationals in three straight games, coming back each time in stunning fashion.

To be honest, when you look back at the Wilmer Flores game, that was so typical of the Mets.  They left Flores in the game clueless to the fact that we live in an age where information gets shared so quickly that of course the fans would find out before the player does that they were traded.  That’s what the Mets do.  They fuck these things up.  Yet, it worked because of Flores’ outward show of loyalty.  That was the first sign that this team was going to do amazing things.  When the Nationals took a 4-3 lead during the Labor day weekend series opener, with Max Scherzer on the mound, and the Mets mounted a stunning comeback, you kinda sorta knew but you didn’t want to believe it.  When the Mets came back down 7-1 the following night you were almost there.  When they beat Strassburg to complete the sweep of the three game series, you knew this season was going to be special.

But that’s how fandom is when you root for a baseball team.  The fear of failure and another lost season can flip on the dime.  We as fans are allowed to change our minds when it comes to our baseball team because the baseball season is so freaking long that its like watching the Christmas story marathon on TBS every Christmas.  You fall asleep to the movie and wake up and find yourself amazed that you are in the exact spot you left it and its still going.

The season had plenty of questionable decisions that we can point to in detail.  None more so than the he said, agent said, they said, controversy over Matt Harvey’s innings limits.  Somehow the Mets again appeared to have public sentiment on their side after Harvey did damage to his tough guy, Dark Knight rep when he agreed with Scott Boras’ poorly timed and executed public demand of cutting short Matt Harvey’s workload a year removed from Tommy John.  In a case of curious Karma, it was Harvey’s tough guy rep that again did him damage when he demanded the ball in the ninth inning and began the set of events that ultimately cost the Mets the game and the World Series.

This is all to say that while the season ended badly and from late April to late July was depressing as all hell (remember the days when John Mayberry Jr was our clean up hitter?), the Mets ultimately did enough in early April and from July 31’st on to make this season memorable.  In a slog of a 162 game season, the downs usually outnumber the ups when it comes to the Mets given their recent history.  But not this season.  For Mets fans it was the culmination of all the talk of promise they had heard.  We had heard about how the pitching staff would vault the Mets into contention.  They did.  The front office promised that once they were ready to contend they would make moves and increase payroll and they did.  Despite all the criticism we were told that once Terry Collins had a major league team to manage, he would manage it well and he did.

Everything we had heard or thought about, happened.  But then the Royals came and took it all away and left us Mets fans in a sea of disappointment.  When I stepped off a flight on Monday night, I got an alert from the Mets to relive the 2015 season and they were already talking us into the old “hey atleast we got there” talk.

But that’s not what I wanted to hear.  This is what I wanted to hear:

This is what I wanted to see:

thank you

There’s work to be done this offseason and like I said its still early.  But here’s to the 2015 Mets.  They gave us moments of tension, of dominance, of history, of awesome comebacks and deflating failures.  Ultimately they went to the World Series and got beat by a better team that had an enormous chip on their shoulder after losing in Game 7 of last year’s World Series.  But take hope Mets fans.  The pitching staff will come back no matter what Scott Boras threatens.  Michael Conforto will see actual at bats against lefties next year when he transitions to everyday player.  Jeurys Familia will be the closer and from the looks of it a damn good one.  We will be adding a fifth ace in Zack Wheeler in July.

So let’s remember fondly Bartolo being Bartolo:

this tweet:

or this tweet:

Or that time the Mets made fans of even their biggest rivals.

Or that time the Captain made his return to the Mets in style.

Or the time that Cespedes just flexed on the Pirates Sean Rodriguez, 

Or that time Terry Collins hugged the fans after a huge Game 5 win against the Dodgers. 

Or the time Reuben Tejada caned in like Willis Reed into Citi Field 

Or that time that Flores became the most popular Met like in ever. 

Or that time the Mets soul punched their biggest rivals. 

Or the time Will from Queens called Mike Francesa and well, yeah.  

Or that time Daniel Murphy went insane in the playoffs.  

Or that time Jacob deGrom convinced Mets fans and baseball that he was the ace on the team during the All Star game.  

Or the time Steven Matz’s grandfather lost his collective shit at just how good his grandson was.  

Or the time Noah Syndergaard took to his superhero nickname in an awesome way.  

Or everytime you stared into the outfield and you saw just a sea of orange clapping plastic thundersticks and cheering like crazy people.  

Or the time you had to follow a Met game on Twitter, refreshed your feed and saw this at the very top and the fear/disappointment that would ultimately follow:

Or the time that somebody else stood looking at strike three while we got to go to the World Series.  Carlos Beltran, you’re finally off the hook (though its bullshit you ever were considering the..ok I’m over it)

Or the time you go back to back in a clinching game to completely take the home team out of it in the first inning:

But most importantly, here’s to the future:

See you in Spring Training!


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Melo’s Consent and the Fans Dissent: recapping the Knicks recent failures and the fan’s panic

Its Day three of Free Agency and the annual cry of disappointment is already being heard from the mouths and fingers of Knicks fans.  I am one of those hopeless dopes who look at every move from the perspective of “this will be great for us.”  I realize there are far more cynics in the bandwagon but the wagon is still full.

That’s the thing about Knicks fans, they haven’t abandoned ship. We’re like the band on the Titanic: doing what we do best while all hell breaks loose around us.  But a possible rescue mission is on its way and Knicks fans may be missing it.

Zach Harper of CBS Sports wrote brilliantly about it in ways I can’t possibly hope to duplicate, but it got me to thinking about the fan base and our star player.  Knicks fans are hopeful, and hopeless.  We are patient and desperate.  We are loyal and yet take to every possible forum to bash our star player.  We are a prideful bunch, always quick to remind those that this is the mecca of basketball even if other cities probably took that title a long time ago.  We are everything and nothing all rolled into one.

But in our conflicting identity there is a fierce passion that never fades.  In that fire lies our biggest problem: We collectively don’t want what we say we want.  If you asked 100 Knick fans about what they want from their team, long term success or short term success: 98 out of 100 fans will take long term and two will go the other way because there’s always two dopes in a crowd. But if you asked those same 98 fans about how to get to long term success, you may get 98 different answers.

There’s a quick fix here and a free agent there that ultimately can fix what’s ailing the Knicks.  While free agency has served some teams well, its a dicey proposition to put all your chips into one basket and hope for the best.  We saw how well laid plans can be ruined in 2010 when Lebron went to Miami.  Two years of organizational dumping of bloated contracts eventually landed the Knicks Amare Stoudemire on a max, uninsured deal.

Its safe to say that Carmelo Anthony is at the center of alot of the organization’s failings.  Melo openly pined to “come home” to play for the Knicks and ignoring the better judgement of a proven General Manager in Donnie Walsh (brought in at the insistence, read: stop f’n embarrassing yourselves and get a guy who knows what the hell he’s doing, of David Stern, then the Commissioner of the NBA) Knicks brass (read: owner James Dolan) gave away assets that could’ve grown around Anthony to bring the star in five months before he could’ve came for free in free agency.   If you will remember, that summer the owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement and there was a work stoppage which may have endangered Melo signing on for the huge contract he eventually inked prior to last season.

That move to trade assets like Wilson Chandler, Danilo Galinari and Timofey Mozgov (remember him?) and dont forget those draft picks left the Knicks with very little wiggle room to work with.  To date, the Knicks don’t have a single draft pick in next year’s (2016) draft and traded away our second round picks from 2016-2021.  To be fair, we have a second round pick in 2017 from Houston and two second rounders,  one from Cleveland, and another from Houston, which will I’m sure be traded by the time I post this article.  That’s not cynicism pouring out on the page, second rounders are treated like step children and are often used as assets that teams throw in to make the salaries work in the larger construct of trades.  You can buy into the late first round into the second round with ease because most teams don’t have the cap space to afford a 14th or 15th guy on the bench.

Melo inked a near max deal, which given the state of the NBA’s rising salary cap will be a drop in the bucket and then spoke about maximizing his brand which drew the ire of the fanbase and the rolling eye verbal emoji of the NBA Twitter heads who love beating the Knicks pinata whenever possible.

Twitter has been a haven for Knick fans to voice their frustration over the franchise’s lack of forward thinking and a place for Knick haters to dwell and throw salt on the wound.  Twitter, and by virtue the internet is a wonderful place because its like that sex party scene in Eyes Wide Shut: everyone wears a mask and does whatever the hell they want.  While that’s great and all, the ugly truth of failed leadership is there for all to see.  Its not that the analytics crowd is against the Knicks, its just that all their projections have been saying the same thing: this team as presently constructed is NOT worth keeping together.  Trade everything of worth and sell off assets like Michael Jackson and recoup whatever value in future draft picks and gain back some credibility.

That’s all great but the old credo remains: you can’t rebuild in New York.  I’ve seen it in the fan base.  Fast forward to the first two days of free agency and this year’s draft.  After spending the entire season sucking and landing the second worst record in the NBA, the Knicks somehow saw two teams leap frog them landing them the fourth pick in a draft that had three potential saviors.

The outrage from the fan base and the point and laugh of the Twitterati anti-Knick brigade made the internet an almost insufferable refuge.  It was like coming home with a bad report card, you knew you had to check in but you knew you were going to get skewered.  Knicks fans take things personally.  I know because everytime I read a tweet from Frank Isola of the Daily News it irritates the shit out of me.  Its a natural reaction.  While I know his criticism of the Knicks comes from a general hatred of James Dolan (which I share, and I don’t use the word hate lightly and have fully understood the meaning of what I say when I say I hate someone) who has built a virtual Wall of Jericho from the press legion ready to pounce and ask him difficult questions for him to avoid, my anger is misplaced and goes to him because I feel its a personal attack on me.

Its like the old saying- you pinch yourself to see if you’re awake or dreaming.  You read an Isola sarcastic remark, get angry and remind yourself you’re a Knicks fan.

Some Knicks fans have all but given hope that this franchise while under the stewardship of James Dolan will ever get its act together and its not completely unfounded.  Everything that Dolan has done has been shortsighted.  Whether its bringing in Hall of Fame coaches Larry Brown and Lenny Wilkens (two guys from Brooklyn to make it simpler) and then eating their contracts, it screams New York City excess: “Let’s just light this pile of money on fire because I can”.  While it shows a willingness to spend above and beyond, its also a glaring example of how frivolously that money is spent.  No rhyme or reason.

When the Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis (note, I did not need to check the spelling on his last name, just goes to show you how much time I’ve spent reading up about this kid) the outrage was palpable.  It may have had something to do with the five minutes (in real time but what felt like hours of sweating it out in Knicks fan time) between the Lakers picking DeAngelo Russell at 2 and the Sixers pick.  The Sixers, also in the business of sucking, had spent the last two drafts drafting two big men.  There was enough reason to think the Sixers would balk on Jahlil Okafor and go for someone else.  But that flew in the face of everything Sam Hinkie, the GM responsible for the Sixers current strategy, has built.  He is an asset hoarder like his former boss, Darryl Morey.  He understands that in order to build something that lasts, you have to build through the draft, keep flexibility in the contracts you hand out to free agents and trade excess fat and see if teams will bite with first round picks.  You use movable contracts and first round picks to pluck that superstar and build around your own core of maturing elite talent.

So it only made sense to draft Jahlil Okafor despite the uncertainty of how he will develop around two other bigs who will require the proper time on the court to develop as well.  That’s the Sixers problem.  The Knicks and its fanbase, already visualizing Okafor in a Knicks jersey immediately vented their frustration on to the internet.  Which, while its made to do, almost turns the functionality of it into a virtual toilet to dump their shit into.  Phil Jackson,  brought in as the latest former New York hoops legend (he of the 1969 and 1973 World Championship teams), bore the brunt of the jokes, anger and all other emotional debris.

He is now the face on the dart board that is the New York Knicks franchise.  Every tweet dissected and used as a running joke.  The idea, from this Knicks fans perspective, was that Phil would serve as a real life buffer between Dolan’s crazy ideas of how to turn the Knicks around (by the way while I hate how he runs the franchise I will never say he doesn’t go for it and is unwilling to spend on a plan and at least from that perspective I have to respect him), and how a franchise SHOULD build itself.  Giving a guy that had no previous experience building a team this job was the kind of shortsighted move that Dolan had been wont to make.  But viewing each of Phil’s moves there are some good takeaways if you are a Knicks fan about the general direction this team is going.

Whether Melo likes it or not, and this is just one fan’s guess: he is now told rather than asked for his opinion on moves the Knicks plan on making, his career goal of winning a title while in his prime may not necessarily be high on Phil’s list of things to consider when he’s making some of the moves he’s making.  Which, again its only my opinion, is a very wise and prudent plan.  The Knicks only owe Melo the remaining $124M left on his contract.  What they owe the fan base is a consistent winner.

Porzingis may be the biggest unknown in this draft but its a shot in the dark that was necessary.  The Knicks have not drafted a player with this much upside since Mark Jackson.  While the Knicks were busy “striking out” on the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Monroe, they signed Aaron Afflalo to a reasonable two year deal and are closing in on a one year deal for Robin Lopez.  Both defensive minded players (Afflalo’s advanced stats show a decline in his production however) that should help out Carmelo Anthony when he makes his return from knee surgery.  They also flipped Tim Hardaway Jr, a shoot first ask questions last sequel to the horror of JR Smith, for a first round talent in Jerian Grant who as a 6’5 PG who can drive to the hoop, an essential quality of the triangle offense.

Which brings us to the topic that drives today’s analytics driven NBA  insider insane.  The Triangle is attached to Phil Jackson’s hip because its a system he deeply believes in.  And why not?  He won 11 championships employing the system in both Chicago with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in the 90’s and the early 2000’s and again in the late 2000’s in Los Angeles with Shaq, Kobe and Pau Gasol.  While many laugh about how archaic the triangle is, its been less than 10 years since a team ran it and won a title.

In a recent interview with Howard Beck of the Bleacher Report, he spoke about the triangle, more as an ideology of how the game should be played moreso than a system.  The tenets of the triangle are important to adhere to but don’t fit in today’s pick and roll league.  But Phil Jackson repeatedly has said that everyone harps on the Triangle system too much when describing the Knicks failure last season.  The Knicks didn’t fail because of the triangle, they failed because they didn’t have the talent to compete.  Plain and simple.  That’s not a system thing, that’s a fit thing.

Phil’s moves as a GM have been mostly to remove the bad seeds.  In the interview he described building something similar to what San Antonio has.  An atmosphere clear of dysfunction and unified in a common goal.  When Knick fans cry about why free agents don’t want to come to NY its clear that much of it has to do with the anarchy going on behind the scenes.  The word among fellow players I’m sure is poisonous.  The only way to get around that is to remove the dead weight and that’s what Phil did when he shipped JR Smith and Iman Shumpert.  Shumpert was a player that had regressed in his development and the front office fairly didn’t view him as a part of their future.  The organization knew that they wanted to be rid of JR Smith and felt the only way to do so was include Shumpert, at the very least an intriguing piece, to a contending team like Cleveland.  We can fairly wonder whether Jackson got proper value having sent them at their lowest possible value but the reasoning behind the trade was solid: he was building a team.

Knicks fans watched JR and Shump help Lebron and the Cavs reach the Finals and suddenly acted like the Knicks shipped off amazing assets to the Cavs for nothing.  It was the same faulty logic that caused sportswriters to drool over Delladova when he held Steph Curry, the reigning MVP, and wonder how much he would get paid in free agency.  Game three of the Finals seems like a distant memory.  In the end, Shump and JR played like replacement level talent and the Cavs lost.

The worst move Phil made was to ship off Tyson Chandler to Dallas.  Whether you believe any animosity existed between he and Melo is up to you (if you held a gun to my head I would venture to guess that there was because you can’t spin this move in any way) but the Knicks shipped him for a bag of doritos, Shane Larkin’s over dribbling and Jose Calderon’s sweaty pits.  They managed to get Raymond Felton, a serial abuser of the pregame spread, off the team as well.  Again, attaching an asset to a cancer.  It was barely addition by subtraction.  But leaving a hole in the middle of the defense confirmed our worst fears.  The paint area became a runway bigger than Madison Ave for opposing offenses.  Nobody was afraid of Jason Smith’s Brandon Malone hairdo from 90210.  And there’s only so much Quincy Acy can do to intimidate before he does this.

Notice three things from this video: there’s franchise player Carmelo Anthony slowly walking up, hands on hips, to fake care about Acy going bat shit crazy.  Cole Aldrich immediately grabbed the basketball because that’s the only time during a game the team trusted him with the basketball.  Finally there are more Washington players holding Acy back than his own teammates.  Everything about this Knicks franchise encompassed in one fight.

The Knicks were ill equipped to handle a college team never mind a playoff team even in the East.  We can’t even call certain players on the Knicks sub-replacement level.  They were sub-Hades level talent on the Knicks last year without Carmelo Anthony.  So much of the whining about helping Melo with free agency would’ve been like touching the stove after having done it a number of times.  Why?  The roster needs a U-Haul more than one max contract level talent.  Every realistic option (that removes Jimmy Butler, Marc Gasol, and Kawhi Leonard off the board because their respective teams made it clear they would match any deal any team threw at them) had flaws.  I also wouldn’t count LaMarcus Aldridge.  In the end, even a pity date was cancelled with a lame excuse attached.  I’m sure the Knicks being absolutely against Aldridge playing power forward was the reason he crossed the Knicks off the list.  Sure.

Want Greg Monroe?  He would’ve been a good asset, but his value is greatly diminished if he doesn’t have a defensive minded player around to hide behind.  Want Wes Mathews?  His emergence last year cut short by an Achilles this year, was given a four year deal by the Mavs.  Were the Knicks in a position to take a gamble on Wes and tie up cap space?  The Knicks were linked to David West.  He’s 34 and wants to play for a contender, how in the world does that qualify the Knicks? DeMarre Carroll is the type of guy who showed up last year on a very good Atlanta Hawks team but is that worth tying up a $15M of cap space on a player without a track record? Even in the new economy of the NBA, that’s a dangerous proposition.

Danny Green flirted with the idea of coming home to play for the Knicks, but wisely chose to stay with a team and organization that has built up his value and allows him to compete long term and would’ve had him in a role that allows him to keep his value.

In the end, the Knicks signed Afllalo to a two year deal with an option after the first year and Lopez to a four year deal.  Both are assets they can flip midseason to a team desperate for help for first round picks if need be. They maintained max flexibility heading into the 2016-2017 season when the cap jumps from $69M (projected cap this year) to $90M and the year after when it jumps to $108M.  Teams are eyeing that number and spending knowing that long term contracts signed today will wind up being bargains.  Steph Curry is locked up for $12M a year until after the 2016-2017 season.

Again, spending this year wouldn’t have been the worst thing, but actually being mindful on what the Knicks were spending on has been this team’s biggest problem and a renewed focus on managing the cap and maintaining flexibility shows the Knicks are serious about turning this thing around.  The fanbase meanwhile cries out for a savior to come.  Perhaps Phil Jackson IS the savior but maybe the Knicks fans should weigh moves in one way: did this move make us better?  Most of Phil’s moves have.  While that sentence may wind up biting me in the future, needless to say this franchise is moving ahead without Melo’s consent.

What that means for Carmelo is something else altogether.  The Knicks still have that hand to play this year.  What this salary cap does to Melo’s contract is the real bonus if Knicks fans really want to crow.  Melo’s $22M salary moving forward doesn’t look so bad and he is still worth it.  Despite every attempt to prove otherwise, if the Knicks put him on the trading block you can bet there would be 29 franchises making Phil trade pitches.  There in is where Phil will make his money.  Will Phil even broach that subject with Dolan and Melo?  If he does so then this is a true rebuild.

Of course there are a ton of hoops to get through before we even get to the Melo-Drama Part II.  Melo has to consent.  It was reported back in December, that Melo was open to waiving his no-trade clause to facilitate a move to a team of his choosing.  Again, Melo controls his destiny and that of the Knicks.  What if James Dolan opts to fight Phil on his insistence of trading the superstar?  We all know that Dolan won’t mind paying Phil to go away if he does something contrary to what the owner wants.  He’s done it before.  The danger and uncertainty of this rebuilding truly lies there.

As the organization hopes to rebuild, how will the fans react to Melo if reports come out that he nixed an enticing trade proposal?  This team is not built to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.  That’s saying alot.  The Knicks need a lot of help and that help was gained in the draft and free agency.  Making wise short term investments like Afllalo, who’s contract at age 29 and in today’s NBA economy, is a bargain and will be valuable come the trade deadline, is the right way to turn silver into gold and gold into platinum.

How will the fans turn if something right happens to the Knicks?  There hasn’t been much movement away from the Knicks.  There’s still a healthy contingent selling out Madison Square Garden year after horrible year.  What if the fans have reached a point that they are incapable of seeing a wise move for what it is?  Hopefully they will be wide awake to see a new day for this franchise.

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SportsmAgeddon 2015

After sitting on my ass for 12 hours straight all in the name of sports, I thought why not just write about it in an excessively long post that you’ll get tired of half way through since I don’t have an editor.

1. Rangers 3- Capitals 2  The Rangers played the way you HAVE to after losing the way they did in Game 1- Nobody knew how the Rangers would respond after losing in the most insanely horrible gut punch way possible.  But if there was any sign that this team has a strong chance of winning the Stanley Cup its how they responded in Game 2.  They came out strong, and played physically after the tone was set by the Capitals in Game 1.  To be clear the Rangers are the better team but its easy to see how the Capitals could have taken charge of this series.  These two teams have faced each other in four of the last five years so there’s an added layer of intrigue to this series that makes these two teams a bit more even than their records may suggest.  But the Rangers attacked the net and were the more physical team and played with the kind of intense desperation you have to play in order to reassert themselves in this series.  The Capitals played the aggressor in Game 1 and stole a game with some luck which is maybe not how they drew it up exactly but the result was.  The Rangers responded in kind; the way they had to.  On to game 3 where the Rangers almost HAVE to win.

2. Ovechkin is the best player in the series and the only hope the Caps have- Familiarity was also what would’ve potentially made a series with the Islanders entertaining but the Islanders had nobody on the same level of Alex Ovechkin, the superstar forward of the Capitals.  Since 2006, only three players have won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy for lead goal scorer and only one (Steven Stamkos) has won it more than once.  Ovechkin has won it five times and three years in a row and counting.  Given his prowess for scoring yesterday’s goal shouldn’t have come as no surprise but it showed Ovechkin’s killer drive to score.  That kind of goal, incredibly athletic, showed a skill set that few in the world have and that has to scare the bejeezus out of the Rangers.  But the best team wins these playoff series.  Beware the star- they can always steal a game for their team and if this is the kind of effort the Caps will consistently get, the Caps can steal more than just a game.

3. Yankees 4- Red Sox 3  The Yankees keep winning- Prior to the season I said the Yankees would win more games than the Mets.  Why?  That bullpen is looking mighty similar to the one that took the Royals all the way to the World Series last year.  The bullpen has been flat out unhittable.  Many wondered about the year after affect of Dellin Betances’ workload after jumping from 5 innings to 90 in 2014 and his workload stands to jump even more this year if the Yankees plan on being competitive throughout the year.  Betances was thought to be the natural heir apparent to Mariano Rivera.  His stats last season bearing eerie similarity to Rivera’s eye opening 96 season which established his place in history.  Then they paid big bucks for Andrew Miller as a lefty specialist or so we thought but Brian Cashman being the smart GM he is and Joe Girardi being the smart manager he is, knew that on a team with so many questions there was no need to lock people into roles and thus Andrew Miller started the year as the Yankee closer.  This was the same team that earlier had moved Phil Hughes from starter to reliever to starter again doing the same to Joba Chamberlain famously ruining the two players development though one can make the case that Hughes has found his way as a starter last year and this year for the Twins and Chamberlain didn’t really have success except as a reliever and well there’s gnat much left to to say about him as a reliever. But the Yankees wisely defined a role for Betances and realized early on that he could be the dominant relief guy that Rivera was and even if they didn’t have a dominant pitching staff, they could effectively shorten games much the way those 96 teams made every contest virtually a 6 inning game.

But they’re a team winning close games and while a 5-4 record in one run games doesn’t necessarily speak to that, all those losses are more a reality shaped by their lack of offense.  In games decided by 3 runs or fewer? They are 11-6 which means when the Yankees get a lead?  They keep it.  Consider that taking out the 13 inning game against the Rays, the bullpen has blown one game.  Obviously over a 162 game season they will blow a game or two more but nothing indicates that this is a team with a bullpen that will ultimately get worse.  Miller and Betances have the collective chops to be dominant forces out of the bullpen its the rest of the cast that will ultimately decide how much rest Girardi and co will have.  Out of their 24 games, 17 have been 3 runs or fewer which means that a team with a collective BA of .242 (18th in MLB) will need to rely on excellent pitching to win games.  Their starters have been pitching a lot better than most thought.  Of course, like the Mets, we can’t react to one month of baseball played.  Brian Cashman isn’t afraid of pulling the trigger on any deal he has to make to correct any errors but he seems to have a long term vision for the Yankees.  He refuses to include Luis Severino in any deal and has maintained a pretty healthy set of positional prospects and has even resisted the urge to check in on Cole Hamels.  While the Yankees will ride this wave of good starting pitching and excellent relief, they have wisely chosen not to write off their future to upkeep what they admit is a flawed roster.  A responsible Yankee organization isn’t something to be surprised about, its something to fear.

4. A-Rod’s return to…- Jon Heyman wrote in fantastic detail about all the different angles in this A-Rod/Yankees contractual dispute which is turning personal.  The Yankees don’t like A-Rod.  The Players Union is in a terrible position here having been sued by A-Rod’s representation.  A-Rod’s list of friends in baseball has dwindled to a select few that may or may not be in his own locker room and that’s all A-Rod’s fault.  But the emotion he showed after hitting home run number 660 which tied Willie Mays was likely the result of a number of things.  His own guilt.  His actions that resulted in a number of fractured relationships.  His selfish decisions to destroy what would have likely been a first ballot Hall of Fame career.  Not saying that MLB isn’t guilty of their role.  They let performance enhancing drugs become an epidemic and then allowed the same players they lifted be vilified.  But A-Rod’s season, beginning with the surprising standing ovation by a Yankee fan base unsure about how to feel regarding A-Rod, has been the story of this season more so than their surprising start.  A-Rod looks healthy and the Yankees are wisely using him and not overextending him given his age and the health of his hips.  Whether he continues is the question but only time can tell that but I’m happy for A-Rod.  Those tears were probably the most genuine moment we’ve seen from him in a long time.

5. American Pharaoh wins the Kentucky Derby-  Sure.  Whatever.  I know nothing about horse racing and won’t pretend to analyze it, but I have to admit they aren’t kidding- it is a fantastic 2 minutes.  Plus, it gave us this photo.

6. Clippers 111- Spurs 109- I know a team HAD to win.  But why?  Seriously why?  There will be plenty of fallout from this series including what happens to the Spurs now?  Everybody will have an opinion and everybody has been writing them off for four off seasons and counting because well, it has to end at some point.  But the thing about the Spurs have always been their ability to adapt, and move on.  That’s because their infrastructure is so good.  Bill Simmons loves to talk the infrastructure but he’s right- Peter Holt the owner, R.C. Buford the VP, and Greg Popovich the head coach are always in lockstep over how to run the franchise and keep it moving forward.  There’s rumblings that they could make a run at LaMarcus Aldridge if he chose to look outside of Portland and there’s enough smoke for it to be burning on the minds of Blazer fans.  But that would effectively mean the roster from Danny Green to Manu Ginobli could look different given the price tag of locking up Kawhi Leonard to an offer sheet and then freeing up enough money to make a legitimate run at LaMarcus who i don’t think will come cheap.  The Spurs offseason will likely be the most watched.  Of course the last time the Spurs lost a heart wrenching elimination game on a last second shot and kept the team together they…well yeah.

7. Clutch Paul and what’s next? Before the game, Twitter exploded into a conversation about Chris Paul’s legacy if he were to lose this game.  How much blame did he deserve for his playoff resume?  How much was the team’s?  Well lucky for him, he won the game and can table the conversation for a later time because those conversations don’t die out until you win a title.  But I think the Clippers figured something out this series that the best teams do: trust the team for quarters 1-3 and then trust the talent to lead you to the win.  There was a recurring theme in games 6 and 7 that should frighten the Clips opponents moving forward.  The Clippers will rely on their two stars to take them home as they should.  There are few stars left in the playoffs as athletic as Blake Griffin (I count Lebron right now), and few as hyper competitive and driven to be great as CP3.  Many have pointed at roster construction as the reason why Paul’s teams have never achieved anything of note.  But the great ones, if they are truly great, can will their team further and that’s exactly what Paul has done.  Paul has a stellar reputation in the league (except with the refs) and I was happy to see him come through in a game that you just almost expected the Clippers to wilt given the Spurs chops in those minutes.  Paul moves on and who knows how deep this team can go?

Another thing to consider is where this series ranks in the annals of playoff history.  As it stands, this is the best first round series in the last 20 years.  Three games decided by four points or less and an epic game 7 that will rank up there after the experts have a chance to catch their breath, do their research and weigh in.  All I know is neither team deserved to lose and if anything this strengthens the growing outcry for reformatting the playoff structure.  You can listen to Greg Popovich or NBA smartypants Zack Lowe of Grantland or Tom Ziller of SBNation.  Just know that this topic is heavy on Commissioner Silver’s mind.  Change may not have come soon enough for NBA fans to have endured the Nets and Celtics in the playoffs while the Thunder sat home, but just know that change is coming.

8. Tim Duncan the great hero we didn’t deserve-  Just a reminder that he’s 39 years old.  Hearing General Popovich sorry, coach Popovich speak , it was as a man who has no idea how long Duncan’s health will allow him to continue his amazing career.  Five titles in, and unequivocally the greatest power forward.  EVER. How then can I wager on what happens next for this great player?  We can debate his place on all time lists, but he is singularly the greatest reason why this team has won as many titles as they have and removing him from the Spurs every day line up would create a void as large as any in a line up since Jordan left the Bulls.  Duncan’s selfless play both on the court and in salary negotiations allows the Spurs the freedom to do the things they do.  They can keep a better core together when their superstar forward who can command twice what he makes takes less than market value.  When you see a star take a pay cut to allow role players to get a bigger paycheck, it sends a message to prospective players that this guy cares about winning.  He doesn’t just talk about winning, he backs it up financially. Those guys are becoming more and more rare.  If last night was indeed the last time we saw Tim Duncan play a game, much like every other game he ever played, he left it all out on the court.

8. Nationals 1 Mets 0- As I’m writing this, the Mets have just wrapped up another 1-0 loss but what I have to say can be encapsulated pretty easily: do not panic.  What I saw from the Mets during their 11 game winning streak and what they have showed with their pitching thus far gives me hope moving forward as they get healthier.  The Mets have now lost 7 of their last 10 with this loss and at 16-10 have a 3 game lead over the Braves and Marlins.  The Nationals are seemingly getting their act together and the Marlins pitching is suddenly rounding into form and that’s before their two best pitchers have even thrown a single pitch this year.  The Braves are doing what they are doing through smoke and mirrors and I expect them to fall into the middle of the pack.  What the Mets don’t have is two of their best positional players in David Wright and Travis D’Arnaud.  Lucas Duda is beginning to cool down after his strong start but I think he’s going to be good enough moving forward that a .280 and 30-35 HR’s and near 100 RBI’s are a legit asks from the hulking 1b.  His defense has also been plus having lost a few pounds which is noticeable on how quickly he’s getting to some balls.  Plus all the coaches say that Duda is a tireless worker and does not take a play off.

Then there’s Juan Lagares who’s hitting above .300 and delivering highlight reel catch after highlight reel catch.  The Mets believe he can make leaps and bounds in his offensive game and he seems to be making the kind of adjustments good hitters make.  Since April 25th, Lagares has  14 hits in 33 plate appearances (.424).  Many wonder why he wasn’t the Opening day lead off man and all you need to see is the bases in balls part of the stat sheet.  He has three so far and teams know that guys who don’t know how to draw walks will cool down and keep chasing bad pitches which is why you’re not seeing teams give him an intentional pass.  Once Juan becomes more selective with his pitch and turns on baseballs, he has gap to gap power that will only improve.  He’s got the power to hit 20 HR’s but his approach right now just needs to be ironed out before the team asks him to tap into that power.  His development, which the Mets believe will continue, is huge once you add a David Wright and a Travis D’Arnaud into that line up.  Suddenly there are two less holes in that line up to pitch around.  The Mets know that which is why Sandy Alderson hasn’t rushed to judgement and knows he just has to weather this current storm.

Terry Collins and his curious decisions (leaves Harvey in 100 pitches plus against Yankees with a 6 run lead while removing him in a 1-0 game after 80+ pitches) are what make you nervous as a fan but the players clearly love playing for him and that’s all I care for.  Once players tune you out, you can’t come back from that.  To my fellow Met fans I would say: be patient.  Ride the waves.  This season will be fun and the Mets will be in it in September.  Just a hunch from a faithful.

9. Pretty boy Floyd def Manny Pac-Man Pacquiao via decision.- The fight of the century didn’t quite live up to the hype but my gripe was with the people who had hoped this fight would be anything but what wound up happening.  Fact is, this fight should’ve happened 6-7 years ago.  At the end of the day, Floyd is a businessman and played the market just right and squeezed every possible dollar he could from this fight because as he already admitted he has one fight left.  Fact is, this fight may have been more of a contest a few years ago but not now.  Floyd is a grand master of boxing and he fought his game plan to perfection.  His quickness and ability to defend has been his calling card.  He’s not going to knock too many people out but he’s going to be able to jab, overhand right and then bob and weave all the way to a decision in his favor.  He knows the sport and how its scored.  He is content, even if a majority of the public voiced their disgust over how bad the sport has become because they saw a “boring” match, because he knows what boxing is.

Much of the build up of this fight was interesting in that they played up aspects of both fighters that they generally don’t want publicized.  Pac-Man’s religion and faith was played up and Floyd’s history of domestic violence was a hot topic which was in an effort to build up this good vs evil storyline.  And make no mistake: Floyd’s team was more than happy to reap the benefits.  It likely built up more furor for the fight.  Fans of PacMan said if you’re a Floyd fan you’re a fan of domestic violence and condoning his actions against women while Floyd’s fans claimed that PacMan’s unwillingness to agree to drug testing all these years was what held up the fight and PacMan had cheated his way to prominence.  Either way, it was the kind of storyline build up that would’ve made Vince McMahon blush.

Say what you will, but last night’s boxing match may not have been the most enjoyable to watch but both men were tense, neither wanting to walk into a knockout punch by the other.  Both self aware of what was at stake.  Floyd was risking his undefeated record and status as the best fighter of his generation during this fight and PacMan was viewed as the only worthy competitor.  While Floyd hasn’t finalized plans, he has said that he has one last fight in September and after that he will retire leaving the sport with a huge void.  No matter what you say, Floyd was the main attraction.  He was the star.  PacMan can’t exist in a vacuum without Floyd.  Is Aamir Khan the next opponent?  Khan certainly seems to think so and whether that is the final fight remains to be seen, but you almost get the sense that even in victory, Floyd didn’t accomplish what he wanted.  Had Floyd knocked out Pacquiao there would be no doubt who was the very best.  But another decision leaves the fans wondering what if this fight had happened sooner?  There’s a sense that this fight left many wanting more and that feeling won’t shake easy.  No one will be interested in going down the Pacquiao/Floyd rematch road considering the underwhelming reaction from the nation.  For one night boxing returned to its perch as the biggest draw and failed to deliver as it has since the heyday of Mike Tyson pre-rape conviction.

Now with Floyd retiring, who can boxing turn to? MMA (UFC etc.) is really taking a hold on the nation’s collective thoughts and has enough compelling characters and idiotic champions to make sports fans entertained.  Fact is, the sport needs someone else.  Until they find him, all they will remember from boxing is this last match that was an event and I fear that boxing may have died a death via Mayweather decision.

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Game 1 of 162- Mets vs. Nationals (3-1 Mets win)

Here are 10 observations from the Mets Opening day 3-1 win over the Washington Nationals.  This win ran their Opening Day record to 35-19 which gives them the best winning percentage on Opening Day in the history of the majors.

1. No win early in the season is small or big….but you have to think for the Mets, winning this game was huge.  First there was the uproar over Bartolo Colon starting.  Then there’s the fact that the Nationals are missing their leadoff hitter (Denard Span), possibly their best hitter (Anthony Rendon) and their highest salaried position player (Jayson Werth).  So take this win with a grain of salt.  But beating a team that absolutely owned you last season in a tight contest is huge.  Consider that last year in games that were decided by 3 runs or less in which the Mets and Nationals played the Mets were 2-10 and overall were 4-15.  Don’t discount how big of a win yesterday was considering your two best pitchers haven’t even pitched yet.  A series win over the Nationals will help open the season the kind of way that can legitimize all the talk of playoffs and taking the town that the Mets have been doing.

2. The Bartolo effect- When Terry Collins named Bartolo Colon the Opening Day starter the fans reacted as if the Mets had given the fan base a big middle finger.  But the more I watched Bartolo yesterday afternoon, I began to understand the reasoning behind the decision.  Harvey would’ve been way too pumped up and his aggressiveness may have backfired big time.  The only other candidate that could have pitched was Jacob DeGrom the 2014 Rookie of the Year and he is the right guy to start the CitiField home opener.  He deserved it.

Colon faced jams in the first and sixth inning and like a true pro never wavered.  Using his ability to paint the corners and pitch inside and mix in his slider to keep hitters off balance, Colon was able to limit damage despite the error by Murphy in the first. He went on to strike out Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman and I don’t know that Harvey who would’ve been pitching with so much juice could’ve navigated that first inning or DeGrom not experienced enough to handle the jitters that come with Opening Day.  I will keep trumpeting Colon’s presence in that clubhouse.  You saw his value when he worked his way around jams.  Don’t think that the other pitchers weren’t watching and studying and trying to soak in as much knowledge from this almost-42 year old pitcher who has seen it all.  He’s also seen another Opening Day win for the Mets- his first since 2006 when he went against, wait for it, 42 year old Jamie Moyer.

3. Lucas “The Duda”- Its one game so let’s not overthink this.  But the Mets were talking long term contract with Lucas Duda  which means his 30HR season last year is considered by Mets officials to be legitimate.  The one thing about the analytics folk, they give up their hand when they voluntarily try to lock up a player before they have to.  Yesterday Duda broke up the no-hitter in a way that shows that he may be able to improve upon last year’s season by becoming a better hitter.  Against a pitcher that was serving him fastballs, daring him to muscle one out Duda put a level headed swing on a pitch belt high in the sixth with two in scoring position after Ian Desmond’s error.  He may hit only 29 HR’s but his batting average and on-base percentage will most likely go up if he continues to embrace the approach of situational hitting.  His season is probably one of the most important and critical to the Mets success.

4. Curious lineup for the Mets- Where to begin?  How about David Wright hitting 2nd.  Or Juan Lagares, having spent the entire Spring Training, being told he was going to hit leadoff and getting valuable reps there batting sixth.  Or the talk of hitting the pitcher 8th yet putting Colon 9th.  The Mets made some very curious decisions that ultimately worked but messing with a player’s head like Lagares who you’re hoping will elevate his game is a dangerous game to play.

5. Jenry Mejia’s elbow tenderness- 

Speaking of which, one of the reasons cited for bringing up 8 relievers was perhaps the Mets, having been warned of Mejia’s tenderness by Mejia on Saturday, made the decision that in the event Mejia’s condition worsened they would be prepared.  But this is another short sighted decision by Mets brass, almost putting their chips in the middle of the table for the first series of the season- tipping their hand on how important this series was for them internally.  Why not put Mejia on the 15 day DL to start the season?  Why insist on having Mejia there if there’s even a hint that he’s not 100%.  There’s a reason why Rendon and Werth and Span, who were seen prior to the game hitting line drives, weren’t in yesterday’s game.  Just goes to show how organizations who truly are in it to contend operate as opposed to the wannabe’s.  Mejia flying up to get an MRI is just a procedural thing but having seen four pitchers go under the knife and get Tommy John- there’s a general sense of trepidation that for the second year in a row- the Mets will lose their Opening Day closer for the year ON Opening Day.

6. Bullpen solid-  Colon left after six great innings almost-matching $210M import Max Scherzer striking out 8 in 1.2 innings less of work.  Colon probably would’ve came out for the seventh had the Mets not been threatening in the top of the 7th when Travis D’Arnaud tripled to score Juan Lagares and the pitcher’s spot came up.  The Mets then turned to their bullpen who after years of putting scares and mixing general discomfort into the fan base and the team, turned into a legitimate strength.  Before we even knew about Mejia’s injury (it was only reported in the bottom of the 9th when Jerry Blevins came in to match up against Bryce Harper) the Mets were likely going to go Carlos Torres for the 7th, Jeurys Familia in the 8th and Mejia in the 9th.  During Spring Training while Harvey and DeGrom were dominating, and the offense was producing, the bullpen was anything but ready.  But again, let’s not read too much into one game. While we won’t know much about Mejia today, expect the Mets to use their bullpen extensively especially when you consider they want to limit Matt Harvey’s innings and know that Bartolo Colon is 41 years old and if they bring up one or two of Steven Matz or Noah Syndergaard- they will need a bullpen to perhaps come in on the 5th or 6th inning.  A nice touch for the Mets to get Buddy Carlisle his first save after pitching so well for them last year.

7. Travis D’Arnaud’s effect-  You will only appreciate D’Arnaud’s effect on the pitching staff if you are a big fan of pitch framing and the general analytics that go into it.  But that’s where D’Arnaud shines.  He is one of the best at locating pitches that are borderline strikes and moving them ever so slightly to occupy an umpire’s strike zone.  Especially yesterday when he works with Colon its a thing of beauty.  Colon knows where to throw it and D’Arnaud knows where to keep it for both the hitter to think twice and for the umpire to call a strike.

But when his offense wasn’t justifying his framing talent, and he was demoted to Triple A something else happened.  D’Arnaud became less the patient hitter and more the opportunist.  So many folks mistake the Mets approach as simply to get on base.  The Mets primary objective on offense is to attack pitches in the zone and wait those pitches out.  D’Arnaud did a great job yesterday in locating the belt high slider that when he got it, he made the Nationals pay and scored their third run, the very necessary insurance run to give the Mets a lead they never relinquished.  D’Arnaud’s projections all point to him contributing close to 20 HR’s which if that is the case, will allow the Mets to have lineup protection everywhere.

8. MLB’s rule changes taking effect.  By my count, only four players didn’t take at least one opportunity to step out of the batter’s box.  The Mets played a 2 hr 35min game which is pretty good if you’re hoping to keep the games shorter than 3 hours.  I’m all in favor of keeping 9 inning games shorter by forcing the player to stay in the batter’s box.  Some hitters like to wander the earth before settling in for each pitch which unnecessarily drags out at-bats.  No need.  Smart move Rob Manfred.

9. Future Met shortstop Ian Desmond and the disastrous sixth inning-   I often wonder how the Mets would be perceived heading into the season if they had pulled off the rumored trade for Ian Desmond involving the Tampa Bay Rays that they were going to pull the trigger on.  Consider yesterday as a reminder why you hesitate.  The contract year Ian Desmond’s error in the 7th (a bounced throw to first time 1b Ryan Zimmerman which he couldn’t scoop up) was not like the boneheaded mistake he made in the 6th which ultimately lost the game for the Nats.  Desmond raced over to shallow right field and called off Dan Uggla who would’ve presumably made the play had he not been called off in the last second by Desmond who gave up on it in the last second.  Before that Scherzer was cruising and throwing a no-hitter and was about to get out of the inning had they made that routine play.  After that Duda hit a game deciding single driving in two giving the Mets the lead.  That play was the turning point of the game.  It kept Scherzer in one batter too long in the sixth and Lucas “The Duda” made them pay with a bases clearing single and the Mets went on to win.  This is not the first time Desmond has lost concentration or made a boneheaded mistake.  But you will take all of that when you consider that he’s one of the few shortstops that can both hit and hit for power if need be as evidenced by his three consecutive years of hitting 20+ HR’s.  He has the highest home run total of shortstops in the last three years, a position where if you have a guy with power you are ahead of the curve.  In fact, he has the three best home run totals since 2012 which is ultimately why he figures he can fetch  more than the reported $107M the Nationals offered over 7 years.  The fact is, the Nations have some tough decisions to make and with the Mets uncertain over Flores’ future at short, they may be in the market for a shortstop and may spend money on Desmond IF they contend this year and the dollars make sense.  Remember, while the Mets may have a New York zip code, they are still making decisions like a ball club mindful of limited resources with which to work with.  I wonder if some of the mistakes Desmond had weren’t of his own doing- trying too hard to make a positive impression on future employers.

10. Look ahead- Tomorrow’s game features an excellent pitching matchup as the defending NL Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom faces up against the contract year Jordan Zimmerman.  DeGrom has looked excellent all spring and has again been relegated to second status in a city caught up in Harvey-mania.  I admit that I haven’t given DeGrom his just due, but many within the Mets organization and in the press that cover him feel DeGrom is on the path to greatness as well having been a converted shortstop only five years ago and now the reigning NL Rookie of the Year.  None of this is lost on DeGrom, as he displays a maturity that tells you that he isn’t caught up or content on just the rookie of the year nod.  He went from unknown to mainstay in this vaunted rotation- another arm that is making the Mets stable of young pitching that much greater.  The contract year Jordan Zimmerman is another underrated pitcher overshadowed by a flame throwing teammate of his own.  He is of course entering the final year of his contract and many wonder about what Max Scherzer’s commitment means to Zimmerman’s future and how that decision will relate to Stephen Strassburg’s future in a Nationals uniform.  Keeping all three may be too difficult but they have an old owner desperate for a world series and he may be willing to spend, but keeping those two and contract year Ian Desmond may prove difficult.  Zimmerman’s first start of the season will be one of hopefully for their sake a 30 part tryout for a big contract.  Don’t think homegrown players didn’t sit up and take notice of Scherzer’s contract.  They will want similar deals.  Its interesting given the expectations surrounding this team whether it won’t prove to be a distraction all summer long.

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Amare- NY’s Savior 2010-2015

Immediately following the All Star Game, Frank Isola of the Daily News reported that the Knicks and Amare Stoudemire reached an agreement to buyout the remaining portion of the former All Star forward’s contract making him a free agent.

His stay in New York wasn’t a pleasant one. It never is when a player is given that kind of money and only brings one playoff series win. You don’t have statues built in your honor in New York with that kind of resume. But you’d be a fool to look back on Stoudemire’s time and think it was all on him.

The problem with Amare’s time in NY is the problem with every big name athlete that comes to NY: they are viewed as saviors. Brought to the big city to save us from the shackles of irrelevance. It was supposed to be Lebron in 2010. That’s back when we all were under the ruse that it was actually a fair game- nobody saw the hand Pat Riley was holding. When the smoke cleared, it was Amare Stoudemire standing in front of MSG screaming the Knicks were back while running to NY so he could sign his 5 year $100M un-insured contract.

amare-300x204The Knicks blew up everything for 2010 in hopes of getting Lebron in a room and convincing him to come to NY. They thought the big city angle would play. They thought they could get him to come and be the leader the city needed for its big basketball revival. Of course Lebron had just finished a 6 year tour around that debacle and knew the weight of carrying it along without talent around him would be like groundhog’s day elsewhere. He wisely chose Miami and now we know him as a champion.

Saviors don’t come cheap, and sometimes when you impulse shop you buy something for far more than you should’ve paid for it and add on guilt to the price tag. Knicks fans looked at Amare with the same look any kid would give you if you got them a Nintendo 64 when they asked for a PS4. Not only isn’t it the same thing but its also an insult to the intelligence of the kid to insinuate it’s the same thing.

Everything since that day has been one basketball disaster after another. Trading all the depth we had for Carmelo when it was a well known fact that he would’ve came to NY anyway. Using the Amnesty clause on Chauncey Billups rather than addressing Amare’s contract then. Even the 2012 season, one in which the Knicks won the division, 54 games and coined a phrase #Knickstape (no seriously that’s been the best thing to come out of the last 5 years) ended with the Knicks beaten by the Pacers and back to square peg in the round hole.

Knick fans reeling since that day look at his uninsured contract and the subsequent decision to team him with Carmelo Anthony and permanently clog the toilet with two untradeable contracts which effectively destroyed any cap space to supplement the talent around them, look at Amare and blame him. Somehow Amare’s at fault for all of this.

The Knicks were done in by decisions they made. Don’t blame Amare for taking a contract nobody else was offering him. Don’t blame Amare for the Knicks foolhardy decision to trade for Carmelo when it was all but assured that he was coming during free agency. Don’t blame Amare for being injury prone and don’t blame anyone but the Knicks for not knowing what they were getting when they got it. He came with a huge buyer beware sticker on him and the Knicks went forward with the purchase anyway.

Fact is, the Knicks, the media, and the fan base did everything they could to alienate him and he took it all without ever blaming anyone outside of his own person. He didn’t bring a championship to NY. He wasn’t even a major player when the Knicks had their most success and won 54 games. He was a $20M bit player and yet, when he yelled that the Knicks were back, you believed it for a moment.

The organization has been selling us this savior business for a while and the stale smell of irrelevance has been the cue that it hasn’t worked. Next season we’re going right back into the superstars want to come to NY business. We read a few clips of how everyone loves coming to NY. I’m sure they do love coming to NY. They bring their family, catch a show, walk into MSG and then lay an ass kicking on the Knicks and laugh their way out. Stars don’t want to come to NY. They don’t want the burden or the bother of a fan base with unrealistic expectations and a front office peddling used goods as brand new hardware in hopes of procuring another dollar. It’s a two way stream of crap and Amare like stars before him are caught in the middle.

I don’t feel bad for the Knick fan. I bought into Phil Jackson just like the rest of you. Too foolish to see the truth: what the hell did he know about putting a team together? His recent mea culpa about his experiment gone wrong read like a familiar script. Another big name brought in to run the same old game. The sad part is we keep buying it as fans. Then our anger gets directed at the players. Amare is exactly who we thought he was. We were just too stupid to buy into it. Phil Jackson is a great coach, but a GM he is not. Not until he proves it. Yes, he still has time to prove it and while its all good and well to admit your shortcomings, its not an easy truth to face.

The Knicks have been selling us a fantasy for a while now. Phil Jackson being the latest in a series of saviors, brought to Gotham to save us from bad basketball. But with Amare, we knew what we were getting. He was an injury risk. He was a one-dimensional player. He wasn’t a build everything around him type of athlete. In fact, the athleticism that once was his calling card, was all but a distant memory. What remains is the fantasy. The tall tales of a man brought to NY to save basketball at the mecca. But who’s gonna save New York from itself?

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NBA Season Preview Part II (Teams from 30-16)

The NBA season is upon us and with that, its time to preview the season.  You can find part one here.  For this preview I decided rather than write some long winded thing about how Kobe Bryant is ruining the Lakers franchise (more on that later), I would rather structure it in a crowd pleasing way: go reverse order in rank of all 30 NBA franchises heading into the season and list one player to watch and one subplot over the course of the season.  Hope you enjoy it and hope you learn and hope you care enough to curse me out over the internet and tell me I don’t know crap.  Here is part I:

30. Sixers logoPhiladelphia 76ers-

Player to Watch- Nerlens Noel (C)- Noel is in his second year out of the NBA training academy in Kentucky known as the Wildcat collegiate program.  He’s a long armed, afro-d rim protector sent to the Sixers to play with the emotions of players hoping to score in the paint.  Obviously this season is lost in the midst of the biggest, most open tanking party known to sports (as the NBA Twitteratzi will have you believe), so the most important story on the court will be Noel’s development along with MCW’s development playing with Noel and then maybe if we’re lucky we may even see a Joel Embiid sighting!

Major Subplot of the Season- Tankapalooza- Technically the Sixers won their first game of the season when major lottery reform was shot down by a vote of 17-13.  Zach Lowe of Grantland expertly outlined what was at stake for this vote.  The NBA and its righteous police will surely devote thousands of words and twitter memes to symbolize what a horrible thing this is, but I’m all for any careful, thought out process of becoming good again.  Fans will come back once the team starts winning.  Suffer for a few years, but beware when the tag of losers are ripped off.  That’s when the fun starts.

29. jazz symbol Utah Jazz-

Player to Watch- Dante Exum (PG?)-  I put a question mark because the Jazz and rookie coach Quinn Snyder will likely use him in a variety of roster spots.  But he’s a natural point guard.  Exum is the baby of a youtube highlight clip, reared by Twitter GIF’s and raised by the blessing of the NBA Twitterverse.  Which is to say he’s a completely digital creation.  Now comes the human element: actual games.  I like what i’ve heard, and I’m more intrigued by the few highlights I’ve seen from Jazz preseason games.  I’m not going to venture a guess on his ceiling because nobody knows, but a point guard that can fly and has court vision?  Should be fun.

Major Subplot of the Season- How Toure Murray and Steve Novak will save the Jazz!  Young and the Restless- The Utah Jazz have the youngest roster in the NBA.  Twelve of the 15 players that will suit up for the Jazz are 25 and younger.  Talent wise, they have three Top 5 Picks (Exum, Kanter, and Favors), six lottery picks (+ Hayward, Burks and Burke), and nine first rounders (+Booker, Hood, Govert), pedigree which suggests they should be good.  They are like Philly three years into their tanking program, but the feeling is that there will be more losses piling on for the Jazz.  They play in the ultra-competitive West where there are legitimately 10 teams vying for the 8 playoff spots.  So it gives Utah liberty to continue piling on assets before they have to make their first big move, which likely will mean either Kanter or Favors is on their way out.  Bet on Kanter, but definitely lay money on the fact that the Jazz will look very Spurs-ian on offense (don’t we all aspire to) while running exciting rotations which should keep hoop nerds in the East up long hours watching this young 20 something line up explore themselves like a young teenager watching porn for the first time.

28. Lakers-Logo Los Angeles Lakers-

Player to Watch- Kobe Bryant (SG)- C’mon, as if there was anyone else.  I honestly don’t know how Kobe’s season will play out but after this article by Henry Abbot (a journalist of the highest order) where he lists anonymous sources within the Lakers organization who believe that Kobe is the reason they are bad and will continue to be bad.  Not helping matters was Jeannie Buss going all Steinbrenner-ish by publicly criticizing these anonymous sources and calling any player who doesn’t want to play with Kobe a loser anyway, I can’t help but feel uneasy about predicting anything but a ton of back and forth between Kobe’s fan base (long one of the most fierce in NBA history) over Twitter that could get nasty.

Major Subplot of the Season- Byron Scott and the National Advanced Stats legion- Not only are advanced stats here to stay, but they have crept into every crevice of NBA operation and major NBA writing which will likely skew your thoughts on the matter.  Fact is, Byron Scott is wrong based on all the statistical evidence we’ve seen (see!  its happening to me!).  To be fair, Scott came to Cleveland on July 2nd, 2010.  We all know what happened on July 8th when Lebron tap danced on Cleveland fans hearts and went to Miami.  Well, he comes to Los Angeles, the place of his greatest trumps RIGHT as Kobe is entering a “prove you’re still great” season where he’ll launch a ton of shots while playing a bunch of one on two or threes and giving below average defense and demanding minutes.  Also, the best free agents the Lakers got were Jeremy Lin, who will now be pushed into more minutes with Steve Nash being done for the season, and Carlos Boozer who’s biggest contribution the last few seasons was this.  Things could get bad in Tinseltown fast.  But hey, at least they will sell out!

27. bucks logoMilwaukee Bucks-

Player to Watch- Jabari Parker (SF)- Carmelo Anthony clone.  Number two draft pick in a loaded draft.  Thought to be a franchise player.  There’s tons of things here to like, but let’s call it what it is.  Here is the season for the Bucks right here:

Major Subplot of the Season- Jason Kidd dealing with a young roster- In Brooklyn he was a rookie coach trying to get the most out of a veteran roster.  He flipped the script, jumped ship (there’s really no other way of saying it) and went to a team with a bunch of young pieces.  Kidd had plenty of lows in Brooklyn but the fact is, he did it his way which is how you can accurately describe his NBA career.  He’s a natural leader and he will be the voice the players turn to when they are down in a crunch time situation and youth and inexperience will drive them to the Fountain of Kidd.  This may not be a good team, butut expect them to be hungry and give teams a good scare down the stretch.  Expect them also to be very busy come trade deadline.  Shoutout to John Henson who I saw give everyone elbows because he still hasn’t figured out how freakishly long his limbs are.  You can’t teach that.

26. Magic logoOrlando Magic-

Player to Watch- Elfrid Payton (PG)- Many expect Payton to challenge Jabari Parker for the Rookie of the Year.  Payton is that mix of rangy athleticism with a good body that compares well to Exum, only he played in the States.  While he did play in the Sun Belt Conference, the experience of playing States-side players is very critical when seeing how he projects and he’s proven in both Vegas (7.2 APG) and in 27 MPG in the preseason (5 APG) that he’s up for the challenge.  It also helps that everyone has been glowing about how mature and wise beyond his years he is.

Major Subplot of the Season- They can play but can they shoot though?- The stats suggest not.  Jacque Vaughn is in a weird spot.  They already have lost Victor Oladipo for an extended stretch when he broke his orbital bone.  They brought in Channing Frye to help spacing but you can almost make the case that 60% of their starting lineup not only can’t shoot, but are historically bad.  Aaron Gordon doesn’t project well as a shooter, and neither does Tobias Harris who the Magic have to make a decision on whether to extend.  How can you create space for Payton to drive, or Oladipo to drive or Gordon to roll to the basket if NOBODY is afraid of them from 10 feet and beyond?  That’s the question for them to  ponder.

25. CelticsLogoBoston Celtics-

Player to Watch- Rajon Rondo (PG)- In my 10 bold predictions for the upcoming season, I wrote that Rondo would not be traded and that Jeff Green would be.  Most may think I dislike Rondo which is far from the truth.  I love Rondo.  I think having a competitor like him can only help your team and he has the playoff chops to take your team over the top.  Even if he isn’t a fit in the triangle, I would welcome him to my Knicks.  But this season the Celtics, who drafted Marcus Smart specifically to take over the mercurial yet talented point guard of the Celtics mantle that Rondo held firm for so many years,  are continuing their rebuilding and transition.  They have quality pieces to give away in trades and Rondo being the big chip.  I just don’t see it happening, unless the Celtics find a very anxious bidder who’s willing to overpay which is exactly how Danny Ainge wants to play it.  But Rondo isn’t the cookie cutter and he comes with hard edges that will make him a very tough add to any team hoping to add Rondo to their team easily.

Major Subplot of the Season- Can Danny find a home for Rondo?- I realize I’m doubling up on this but let’s face it, the Celtics will try like heck to trade him.  Getting back value will be completely up to Danny Ainge.  Will he hold on to Rondo even though he knows retaining him will take repairing their relationship?  We still have yet to see Rondo and Brad Stevens collaborate in an 82 game season which is something that could be fascinating.  But Ainge’s responsibility first and foremost will be to trade Rondo and get back draft picks, salary relief, and young players.  I don’t know that he will accomplish that goal but the season will likely be in limbo until Ainge either trades him or pays him. You know who’s the x-factor on how this plays out?  Rajon Rondo.  Who knows if he wants to stick it to Celtic management?  Who knows if there’s resentment or bitterness on how the Celtic saga ended with the smearing campaign when Ray Allen left?  Coming to NY won’t help that but you can see how a change of scenario will help.  If Ainge has Rondo after the trade deadline, all the leverage will return to Rondo and that’s the scenario that Ainge does NOT want to see played out.

24. Timberwolves logo Minnesota Timberwolves-

Player to Watch- Andrew Wiggins (SF)- He said all the right things about how he was looking forward to the challenge.  How he’s motivated.  How he wants to play for a team that wants him.  Those are all fine and well.  He and Anthony Bennett will be compared in the impossible microscope of the Kevin Love trade.  That’s tough for any rookie, no matter how heralded.  Now comes the proving ground.  There’s no question about the defensive ability already.  His offensive game still needs a lot more work and he will get plenty of minutes to develop it.  Now’s the time rook.  Now.

Major Subplot of the Season- How does Flip Saunders deal with making a good deal?- Look, when you’re losing the quality of big man in Kevin Love, the fact is, there is no such thing as equal value.  So reality has to set in and accept the best deal possible.  Saunders did as decent a job as he could given the position the team was in.  They got a guy in Wiggins who could wind up being a generational talent, another number one pick who could be who knows what, and wound up with a quality NBA big man in Thaddeus Young.  Its not perfect, but its something.  They drafted Zach Lavine.  The Love departure will open up minutes for Gorgei Dieng who in limited minutes and then in international competition opened eyes.  There’s plenty to like about what the Love trade did for the franchise, but really it opened things up for a young group.  Now, Flip has to make sure Flip can coach them up.  This is the roster Flip gave Flip.  This is the roster that Flip will die with even if Flip doesn’t like it.

23. Kings logoSacramento Kings-

Player to Watch- Boogie Cousins (PF/C)- Count me in on the Boogie bandwagon.  The question becomes: is he a franchise player?   The Kings extended him, but that’s a referendum on a small market team desperately holding on to its best talent by offering him the most any team can offer, rather than the seal of approval by a brand new ownership/front office.  Talent has never been the question.  Its his inability to keep his emotions in check or be a leader that folks can draw from.  Well, I’m all in on the Boogie breakout season, which is saying something because he’s one of 5 players to average 20 and 10.  I’m all in on the goal of ONLY drawing 5 technicals.  Let’s go Boogie.

Major Subplot of the Season- Does Mike Malone have the pieces and/or time to make this work? Malone was a highly regarded assistant and son of Brendan Malone who served as a Knicks assistant in the Warriors when Vivek Ranadive, majority owner of the Kings, was a minority owner in Golden State.  So, it seems curious when the Kings head honcho came out and said now its about wins and losses. Regardless, the Kings will struggle by sheer virtue of geography (maybe they should’ve moved huh?).  They won 28 games and while improvement would be winning 30, that’s not the kind of improvement this Kings team wants.  Their cap is pretty clean and they have all their draft picks which is the good news.  The bad news is again, they play in the Western conference.  Dave D’Alessandro, the Kings GM, has turned this roster over aside from two players, and sees the turnover as a way to get better.  Losing Isaiah Washington was tough but I understand them not wanting to devote too much cap room for too many years to him.  Rudy Gay posted some of his best numbers playing alongside Boogie and they didn’t want to kill each other which is a major plus.  The Kings are a match for the Celtics if they are looking for draft picks and salaries to throw in a trade without too much of a long term commitment.  Add in the fact that Rudy Gay and Rondo are buddies, there’s definitely smoke there to start a full on fire.  But adding Rondo without the assurance of a contract being signed would be silly.  But with an edict like the one given to the Kings from ownership- do they have a choice if Ainge comes calling?

22. Hawks logo Atlanta Hawks 

Player to Watch- Al Horford (PF/C)- He’s quietly been one of the best PF/C’s.  People forget that he came from back to back national titles in Florida playing alongside Corey Brewer and Joakim Noah on those great Gator teams.  But he’s playing on a team that has been playing for the 6th-8th spot in the league since the days of Iso Joe offense.  Horford is due $12M this year and the next.  It will be interesting to see how both the Hawks and Horford play contract negotiations after a terrible winter.

Major Subplot of the Season- Change is coming- The Hawks under Danny Ferry have done a good job in retaining flexibility while signing solid veterans to decent deals.  How Danny Ferry’s racist rants and owner Bruce Levenson’s racist email plays into the Hawks future is clear: change is coming and its going to come quick.  Once Levenson’s email was leaked, and audio of Ferry making racist remarks were made, the clock officially began on their collective tenure expiring in Atlanta.  But this is a particularly interesting case.  Atlanta is a semi-big market that players love coming to because of its, umm, night life, and when the salary cap explodes in two years, this will be a team with almost 3 max salary slots available- one of them that will likely be filled by Horford unless something funky happens during negotiations.  There will be plenty of offers from more rich white guys (including a group headlined by Chris Webber) and a presence by Dominique, the former Hawk great, which is all but a certainty given how much positive press that would generate for any incoming group.  Until there is a new owner, plenty is up in the air about this franchise.

21.Pistons logoDetroit Pistons-

Player to Watch- Josh Smith (PF)- With Stan Van Gundy as the head coach and GM, its likely that Josh Smith will really have to mind his P’s and Q’s.  But here’s where Stan Van has the edge.  He’s already dealt with Josh Smith’s old pal Dwight Howard and knows how to get the most out of a talented big man who may just need direction.  Smith signed a 4 year contract worth $54 million last year when Detroit threw money around like a 24 year old with daddy’s new Black card.  Smith will be asked to play closer to the basket which goes against Josh Smith’s version of events that sees him as a stretch 4.  Of course real world statistics don’t bare that out, and that’s Stan Van’s mission: to convince Smith of who he is. There are talks about putting Smith as a sixth man In the end, this is more about developing Smith so that Stan Van can develop Andre Drummond into Dwight 2.0, only one that’s nicer to Nickelodeon stars they have relations with.

Major Subplot of the Season- Can Stan Van the exec agree with Stan Van the coach? SVG has long been regarded as one of the brightest minds in coaching.  His looks and personal style have left much to be desired but we haven’t minded.  He singlehandedly outed Dwight Howard as the biggest D-bag on the planet after we were duped with all the stories of farting and those big smiles that made us all think he was a swell guy.  So he has a history in player management.  But a coach can convince himself that he can right a player.  This is Stan’s first go-round as the top of the food chain.  No longer will he be told from execs within the organization about a player’s dislike of him, the information will have to be funneled through him.  Don’t think that teams won’t reach out to pull a fast one on him either.  Greg Monroe signed a qualifying offer but only because nobody else came calling with a max offer which shouldn’t shock him.  Nothing about Monroe’s game screams max-contract guy.  His skill set takes a backseat to the stylings of Andre Drummond and Monroe may seek greener pastures elsewhere where teams don’t have an Andre Drummond to shine light on his physical failings.  Bringing him in as a sixth man to help spacing, which was discussed as well with Josh Smith, could be the final nail unscrewed to make Monroe walk through the door, but there’s reason to believe he was headed out anyway.  Plenty of decisions for Stan Van the coach and Stan Van the GM, but can they both agree to help the team?

20. Pacers logoIndian Pacers-

Player to Watch- Paul George (SF) Roy Hibbert (C)- Last season’s fun ride and good times stopped because Roy Hibbert forgot how to be Roy Hibbert from the Knicks series.  The Great Wall of Roy who swatted everything with ferocity the likes of which had not been seen since Patrick Ewing roamed the center position for the Georgetown Hoyas.  So it goes without saying that this season will be extremely important to his development.  This season will likely feature Hibbert a whole lot (possibly in hopes that they can deal Hibbert for some financial freedom).  Frank Vogel may even run the offense through him.  If he wants to procure a big contract during the suddenly scorching Summer of 2016- he had better develop this year into the guy he showed in the Knicks series in 2012.

Major Subplot of the Season- Will the band be broken up?  My guess is that they will trade pieces, go for the lottery and then try their luck with a young piece next to a recovering Paul George.  George is their everything.  So if they go this route, it will allow Indiana to bring George back slowly rather than rushing him back.   They have seen in their division how a roster full of complementary pieces without a bona fide superstar and a very good coach can only achieve so much in the Chicago Bulls. It remains to be seen what it would do to a fan base that was only beginning to fill up the stands again, but its understandable and in my opinion the right move.  My guess is that David West gets moved and they shop Hibbert  as well, dangling George Hill with both players to net the best possible return.

19. Knicks logoNew York Knicks-

Player to Watch- Iman Shumpert (SF)- Phil likes him.  We know this because he told Charley Rosen as much.  Shumpert’s athleticism helps him play on both ends.  His defense is at times overrated and his offense is nowhere near where it is.  Last season his minutes began to get slashed because of some reported rift between he and Coach Woodson so its important that he get off on the right foot with rookie head coach Derek Fisher.  Entering Restricted Free Agency, Iman could play himself into bigger bucks, a trade that could bring back a huge package or an enigma that has the tools to be great but none of the actual stats to back that up.

Major Subplot of the Season- Will the Triangle be a success in NY?- There are enough questions about Derek Fisher being able to handle the media spotlight of New York, and handle a star laden lineup that features several players that think they should have the ball a lot, but implementing a system that has been a failure everywhere else but when the current GM was the coach?  I worry for Fisher.  He played in Los Angeles which is a different type of pressure than the one that New York presents.  But if Fisher is going to be successful, and believes 100% in the triangle, and I believe he does, he will have to be patient.  Yes, players are who they are and many won’t change, some like JR Smith may even find the transition a lot more difficult than they ever thought,  and there are others in the basketball community who believe that it isn’t about system that its about the players at the end of the day.  All are true and a reality of the Knick season.  How quickly they adapt to the system will be the true test.

18. nuggets logo Denver Nuggets-

Player to Watch- Jusuf Nurcic (C)- He’s 20 years old, from Boznia and he’s got the Nuggets fan base buzzing along with several personnel folk.  Zack Lowe gave a shoutout during the Grantland NBA hour.  He’s intriguing enough but this speaks more to the rest of the roster more than Nurcic’s potential.  There’s so many B+ guy with one A- in Ty Lawson that its tough to pinpoint one player, so we go with the unknown here in the spot.  At some point these Eastern European giants will put together a season right?

Major Subplot of the Season- Is now the time to break up the roster or do we keep playing this game that the Nuggets can be a contender in the West?- Judging by the level of snark in that sentence you get the sense of where I’m going with this.  I don’t think so.  As a matter of fact, I think that the Nuggets with all of their traceable pieces could go so many different directions.  They could make a trade, and still be a mid-tier contender status.  They could trade a Gallinari and Foye for a pick that could eventually be a lottery pick if things end up right.  There’s so many different ways this could play out for the Nuggets a.k.a. the Knicks of the West, but the truth here is that in a stacked Western Conference, it will be very difficult for THIS version of the Nuggets to make noise.  Just so its clear, I tried really hard NOT to put Wilson Chandler and Danilo Galinari in the players to watch section.

17. Brooklyn-Nets-logo Brooklyn Nets-

Player to Watch- Brook Lopez (C)- No team’s destiny is tied to one player’s health like Nets to Lopez.  If he’s healthy, and the rest of the roster, this is a playoff team that can give a top 4 seed a scare in the East.  They have a solid front line in Garnett, Lopez and Plumlee that can cause problems.  But if Lopez doesn’t play, this is a lottery team.  Again, the Eastern Conference is chock full of mediocre to below average teams that could eventually make this a moot conversation.  But Lopez’s health will ultimately decide the fate of the Brooklyn Nets.

Major Subplot of the Season- Are there bigger shakeups in store?-  They don’t have the assets to get a big superstar so they may have to stand pat.  But there are enough signs that point to a major shake up of the entire organization including rumors popping up that Mikhail Prokhorov has begun gauging interest in selling the team in the wake of Steve Ballmer paying $2 Billion for the Clippers. I don’t blame him.  He has political aspirations for 2016 and sees the NBA’s latest TV deal as a sign that he could fetch a very healthy sum for his team.  Add that to reports that the Nets lost $144 million due to operating costs and there’s motive.  Prokho has been silent for some time which leads people to believe that he’s already planning his exit.  If so, it could potentially lead to large scale changes.  Billy King might be asked to sell off assets to make the books look a lot cleaner than it is and who knows what could be had and for what.  King has never struck me as an awesome deal maker, save for the Deron Williams trade which was an all time hammer move.  Either way, Brooklyn’s activity come deadline time could be a sign of potential ownership changes to come.

16. Suns logoPhoenix Suns-

Player to Watch- Eric Bledsoe (PG)-  All that needs to be said.  And to think, they were playing a staring contest over a contract extension:

Major Subplot of the Season- Can a two point guard system work full-time?  The Suns are betting on it.  Big time.  They re-signed Eric Bledsoe.  They signed Isaiah Washington, and drafted Tyler Ennis.  Initially you could’ve said that the last two moves were in case Bledsoe left, but when the restricted market was a dry patch of pavement, Bledsoe came back to the Suns at a reasonable price for both sides.  Looking at that contract from the perch of a huge TV deal that could make the salary cap explode to close to $100M that means the Suns could be major players for free agents with all the assets they have and the cap space.  Consider they still have Minnesota’s 1st rounder protected 1-12 in 2015 or 2016 and the Lakers 1st round pick protected 1-5 in 2015 and 1-3 in 2016.  Add to that the miracle workers that is their training staff, and a young smart head coach its easy to see why this can be a destination for would be free agents or a good trade partner for teams trying to get young guys and unload veterans. The Suns who streaked their way 48 wins running a fast paced offense surrounded by shooting might want to look at the advanced stats that show that when Bledsoe or Dragic played with Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye, PJ Tucker, and Gerald Green, their offense flew.  Maybe they see another market inefficiency that they can exploit and try and go two point guards and pick up the pace.  Either way, Hornacek’s rotations, coaching and outright defiance against tanking have led me to lay upon them the unenviable title of my favorite Western Conference team.  Let’s see how this plays out!

Part II coming soon.


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