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Talking up Phil and seeing if he’s down

So it has come to this.  In an attempt to bring some relevance to this team and legitimize its operation the Knicks have attached its most famous wandering son to a front office position.  Not that any deal is finalized, but something is in the works according to a Daily News report.  If Phil Jackson were to accept the offer made by the Knicks to come back to the team that introduced him to winning NBA championships, it would send several ripples throughout an organization that has been mismanaged from top to bottom for far too long.

To be clear, I don’t know if Phil Jackson would make a great executive.  We know he can coach.  We know he enjoys being in the spotlight.  We also know that he loves LA.  But my personal hunch is, from my detached far away from success standpoint, that people like Phil don’t just suddenly give up the opportunity to win.  Its why management often throws piles of money at guys who have seemingly past their prime as if there is a cut off age for everyone to stop what they are doing.  They know that while money is motivation, its the love of winning and perhaps just as important, the stench of losing that drives these men.

Larry Brown, Knick fans remember him, is 73 and he’s currently leading the SMU Mustangs to its first NCAA tournament appearance in more than 20 years.  Guys like Brown don’t just love the fame and the money, they love basketball for reasons that go beyond the superficiPhil_Jackson_3_croppedal.  I’m not waxing poetic on a guy like Larry Brown who’s been known to leave one place for greener pastures elsewhere, but one thing can’t be understated: don’t think its all about the money.

I sat thinking about three things in regards to this Phil Jackson rumor:

1. What would it take for Phil Jackson to come to the Knicks?

2. What would be the reason Phil Jackson took this position?

3. Why are the Knicks constantly coming to the well of the old master Phil everytime there’s uncertainty going on about the organization?

Let me preface this by saying I have no insider information and this is just one man’s humble opinion but Phil would need to be given certain guarantees in his contract to consider working for the Knicks.  Let’s first start with control.  If Phil were to come, it would be under the condition that he would have complete unilateral control of the Knicks which would be a huge give by James Dolan, the owner of the Knicks.  Its also a well known fact that CAA, the agency who has almost every big superstar in basketball signed to their company, has the ear of the owner of the Knicks as well.  More on them later.

No one knows who else has Dolan’s ear but its clear to almost every Knick fan that whoever does has zero interest in building a solid product here in the “basketball mecca”.  I always joke around that if the Knicks had an iota of intelligence in that front office, superstars would be lining up to play at the Garden.  Say what you will about how overblown the concept is to today’s NBA player, but the Garden is a recognized commodity within the basketball intelligentsia who saw more than its fair share of great high school and college games played here.  It was also the home to many sporting events outside of basketball that are forever a part of America’s storied sports past.  Basically the name rings out in the streets.  It is however, painfully clear that there are far too many voices in James Dolan’s head talking at once and he has to cede his control to someone he absolutely trusts.  Phil Jackson, for all we know, may be friends with Dolan and there may be a level of understanding between the two that go beyond just basketball.  But if there isn’t, Phil would need assurances that he would not be effed with when making a basketball decision.  And why shouldn’t Dolan cede control?  Its clear that even in the last decade of futility the Garden was making money hand over fist so there shouldn’t be a fear of losing money even if, at first, the Knicks may have to reset.

Phil’s health is also a major concern.  We don’t know how many surgeries Phil has had and whether he would consider relocating from Los Angeles where he lives with Jeannie Buss.  Would Phil give up 70 degrees year round for a foot of snow every so often in the Northeast?  More on that later.

The idea of Phil taking the position makes a ton of sense.  Like I stated earlier, guys like Phil Jackson don’t take jobs like this at this stage of their lives for the money.  Jackson’s legacy is set.  He’s won 11 championships as a head coach and won two as a player in New York.  If anything he could say that he achieved the task of winning in New York.  But for guys like Phil maybe the idea that his legacy isn’t complete eats up at him.  Maybe going back to New York would energize him and give him purpose.  I mean how long can you fly fish in Montana or ride your Harley in LA in perfect weather for?  Even if that sounds like a slice of heaven?  Ok, I’m not helping I know.

Finally, we all know why the Knicks are approaching Phil.  There’s plenty of reasons.  Look at the current Knick three game winning streak?  Maybe the players are under the illusion that Phil is coming and are viewing this time as an audition?  The Knicks aren’t a good team and yet are showing glimpses of the 54 win team they were last year.  There’s that Carmelo Anthony guy we’ve been hearing attached to Miami and Chicago recently.  His decision this summer will ultimately guide what the Knicks do next year.  If he leaves, they will definitely trade Tyson Chandler to a contender and try to carve out more cap space for 2015 even though merely letting Amar’e walk and not having a $23M cap hit on Carmelo would probably do the trick.  But if Phil comes Carmelo will feel like the Knicks are moving in the right direction because that’s what Phil represents.  He represents championships and winning and Carmelo can get down with that.  And you know who else can get down with that?  Other superstars who still view Phil in high regard.

While there are a ton of reasons why this would be good for the Knicks one thing is clear, the Knicks are star gazers.  Wishing on any shooting star that passes, hoping that their wish will come true.  This shooting star has a ton of questions surrounding his health and ultimately the power he will be given to make decisions.  Maybe he won’t be good at being a GM.  Look at Michael Jordan?  The power with being that good at one thing is that you start believing you’re good at everything and Mike fell into that trap.  He’s the guy who drafted Kwame Brown number one ahead of guys like Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Joe Johnson etc.  He’s the guy who has never produced a .500 or better team in his tenure as GM or owner.  Nothing is promised to guys who go on to try things other than what they are known for.  I truly believe God put us all on this earth for one thing, and one thing only.  Some, like Mike and Phil found their niche.  They worked hard and achieved the impossible.

In the end, I don’t think God put Phil on this earth to run the Knicks.  The devil put James Dolan here to mock all of us Knick fans for believing the rumors.

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Knicks Hawks postgame

If some of you thought that watching the Knicks/Hawks on Saturday was rough, consider this cruel and unusual punishment: knowing what happened, I still went to the DVR and dug out the game and watched it.  Of course I did that to give you all the crucial 10 random thoughts about the game so let’s get to it.

Melo driving on the Hawks via yahoosports.com

Melo driving on the Hawks
via yahoosports.com

1.  The Knicks fifth straight loss at home, came in probably the most embarrassing fashion yet.  In a game against a team they had beaten just three days prior the Knicks looked unable to stop the Atlanta offense from doing whatever they wanted.  Which brings us to Carmelo Anthony’s postgame assertion that the Knicks are not showing the effort necessary to cut it.  I think every Knick fan sees it in the lackadaisical way they go about it on defense and how teams are so easily able to get into the paint where many times you will find one to zero defenders commandeering that valuable piece of real estate.

Melo’s “lack of effort” rant came on the heels of one of his better performances.  Smart.  You can’t watch Saturday’s game and say that Melo was the cause.  He fought for rebounds.  He went inside and he truly battled out there.  He was not the guy lacking in his effort.  I’m not saying that Melo’s accusation is off base, I just find it curious that he be vocal about his team’s effort in probably his best “effort” game.  Carmelo was the only player on the Knicks starting five to NOT record a +/- in double digits.  Rebounding last year was a huge problem and an even greater cause for concern with Tyson Chandler out but Saturday’s concerted effort on the glass was the lone encouraging sign for the Knicks.  Its clear that the Knicks are going to have to start collectively doing things that they left for Tyson to handle like rebounding and protecting the rim.  For a team with a collective group of bad one on one defenders, the Knicks can not afford to lose a guy like Tyson for an extended period of time.

2a. In the latest bit of Daily News vs. New York Knicks drama unfolding on an almost daily basis comes this little nugget: Apparently the Daily News knows what Iman Shumpert did this summer.  In the second such move the Knicks elected not to disclose for public consumption, Iman Shumpert had a second arthroscopic procedure on the same knee that he injured.   This will obviously effect any trade value he may possess which is important because it seems as though the Knicks are determined to trade him for two reasons:

A. He’s their only asset that teams will be interested in.

B. The Knicks are tired of waiting for his offense to develop and some within the organization feel as though his defense may have regressed.

While it may be true that he is one of the few assets the Knicks have that teams would think twice about, his value isnt anywhere close at this point to being able to bring back something meaningful.  According to the latest, the Knicks are trying hard to get Rajon Rondo from the rebuilding Celtics.  Its a nice thought but I doubt Danny Ainge, the Celts GM, will budge on the package that is rumored to be on the table of Shump, Ray Felton and Amar’e Stoudemire.  While Shumpert’s early stats don’t show vast improvement the eye test says his form has vastly improved and virtually every wide open look has seemingly been a make.  Eventually his 40.1% rate will improve but that has more to do with the changes the Knicks must make to the offense, and not anything Shump is or isn’t doing.

Secondly, the problem with the development argument is that this iteration of the Knicks have been unwilling to wait for young players to grow and more or less have treated draft picks like goodies to wave in front of teams looking to get younger and rebuild.  James Dolan feels this team can win a championship now and that means they need to get better players in here and the only way to do that is via trade.  Even if Shump were to show the improvement necessary to make that leap the Knicks brain trust would like, it seems like the Knicks have talked themselves into trading Shump away.

2b.  While most Knick fans are fiercely loyal to Shump- and there’s a lot to like- Shumpert is one of those players that are overrated and underrated at the very same time.  He’s overrated by a fan base that looks at Shump- the only young player that can play defense which happen to be the two things the Knicks don’t have much of- as a homegrown talent they envision being a superstar.  Last year the Knicks had the oldest collective roster in the NBA which made Shumpert’s absence sad and return a much needed gift.  New York basketball fans are split into two warring camps: the group of snarly veterans who wonder where the 1970’s Red Holzman style of basketball went and the group of fans who bring the playground mentality to the professional game.  Shump pleases both segments of the population but I wonder if they both overrate his ability as a defender.

His wingspan allows him to invade passing lanes just by having his hands up or spread wide.  His size allows him to defend multiple positions.  He rarely leaves his feet and does a good job of staying in front of quick guards.  Those are the positives.  The negatives are that he hasn’t played like that guy yet.  The obvious go-to excuse is that he’s another Knick  recovering from injury and that’s a major part of the equation.  The other part is that Shump seems to take more responsibility for the defense on his shoulders because of Tyson Chandler’s absence.  He wants to be the anchor but its not easy for a perimeter defender to be the defensive anchor.  Shump lost a bit of athleticism that we can’t be sure he will ever recover after his ACL tear.  And for a guy who uses his freakish athletic ability to defend other players, its going to take some time for Shump to get back to where we thought he would be.  Call this a case of a guy who has put a ton of added pressure to be the man on himself and by a team that probably views him as expendable.

3.  I hate to say it but Amar’e Stoudemire has a point.  Prior to Saturday’s game he voiced his displeasure at the minutes distribution he was receiving by Coach Woodson which to be fair is what he should say.  Remember, he’s a $20 million player with a ton of pride and it can’t be easy to be playing five to nine minutes a game when he was once a cornerstone player.  No matter what you think, one day we may look at the Amar’e tenure as one of promises not kept but not the way in which you think.  Amar’e was the sole prize of the two year tank job that Dolan was somehow convinced to go through in hopes that Lebron James would come to New York to rescue basketball here.  But when the smoke cleared it was Amar’e standing in front of the Mecca screaming to the basketball world that the Knicks were back.  And the first half of his first season as a Knick he played his heart out and was a MVP candidate.  Then came the trade for Carmelo Anthony and since that time its been one lowlight after another and its been a steady decline for Amar’e.  Yes, injuries have decimated and destroyed the remaining bits of athleticism he once had but the Knicks haven’t done him any favors.  Their personnel decisions have done him no favors by tying up their salary cap with guys  who either need the ball all the time (Melo) or need someone to create for them (Tyson Chandler) leaving Amar’e as yesterday’s news.  Think about it, even Andrea Bargnani is a higher priority in the Knick offense than he is and he just walked in the door five minutes ago.  A far cliff to fall off for a guy who just three years ago was the Knicks.

This falls on Woodson.  His coaching decisions have bordered on horrible this year and he now needs to rectify this.  I don’t think Amar’e is done but I do think he needs to rest Amar’e till he’s fully healthy and regains some explosion  (he had a few instances where old Amar’e came back which holds promise) rather than throwing out the ghost of Amar’e past for five to nine minutes a game.  Its not fair to Amar’e who’s right, you can’t expect a player to gain any type of continuity by being put on the floor for such limited reps.  It does him no good and does Kenyon Martin no good, the other guy sentenced to playing time time-out.

4. Speaking of coaching that needs to happen, Woodson needs to begin to entertain the possibility of going to a zone defense.  The current scheme of having players rotate and switch on the pick and roll isn’t working because a lot of the Knicks aren’t good individual defensive players which makes it tough for them to excel with such a physically demanding defensive scheme.  Simplifying the defense to a zone for the time being while Tyson is out may have to happen for the sake of the Knicks defense and the players who have to play it.  I’ve spoken to Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal via Twitter timelines about Woodson’s stubbornness and lack of willingness to adapt to his team’s situation which is frankly troubling and sad.  Last year’s success had a lot to do with Woodson’s second half adjustments and that just hasn’t happened this year.  Its still early but another few more games of the same matador D as Clyde likes to call it, and Woody may need to think up something.

5. J.R. Smith is in the midst of a historically bad shooting slump.  Last year he was magic off the bench and many times carried the Knicks through large swaths of Carmelo-less time.  This year, inserted into the starting lineup, his effectiveness has been limited.  Add to it his ineffectiveness during playoff time, his increasingly annoying twitter feed, and his start this year, its easy to see why even Coach Woodson easily his biggest supporter (clearly not in the organization- thanks Chris Smith) has said that nobody will want to deal with him.  The problem is, with shooters you ride the highs and lows. While he doesn’t have the rep of a great high volume shooter he is judged by those standards and so I expect him to get out of this rut.  One way to do it may be to get him back in a familiar role so he can rediscover his big play potential.

6. I want every Knick fan to stop dreaming of a Rondo deal.  Its not going to happen.  You hear me?  Not.  Gonna.  Happen.  The Celts would never deal a former franchise star to the Knicks.  The Knicks dont have anything past Shump and Hardaway Jr to offer.  And frankly, I don’t know how Melo and Rondo would play nice with each other.  Also, why would you want to trade an asset like Amar’e Stoudemire who will turn into a $20 million expiring which could be used to make a massive trade deadline deal (hey Kevin Love) next year.

7. Who would’ve thought that Andrea Bargnani’s one on one defense would actually be impressive?  True story.  He did a pretty solid job on another elite big man in Al Horford.  He once again bodied up a big man who thought Bargs would just relent, but that hasn’t happened yet.  Obviously his reputation as a lackluster defensive player and his European background (black players look at Euro players as soft- right KG?) make players feel as though they can abuse Bargs but he’s been giving it as good as he takes.  Horford had 12 points and 2 rebounds while Bargs dropped 16 and grabbed 9 rebounds, (4 offensive!!).  Steady improvement.

8.  Again, I’m not overly concerned with the recent losing streak as most are.  I see good signs.  The offense is still stagnant and it has too many one on ones but that can all be worked out.  The Knicks will have a run this season in which they look competent.  The stuff in the background that’s happening is good.  Melo and Bargs seem to play well off each other.  Woodson just needs to put Amar’e in there for more minutes and use Kenyon Martin in the middle to impede the foot traffic through the painted area and the Knicks will start seeing a lot less paint jobs and force teams to play for perimeter shots.  Tim Hardaway Jr is getting valuable playing time and he’s not disappointing- as cocky as his father was.  Thinks he can make every shot.  J.R. will make his shots as the season goes on.  If you get the Melo that was setting up shop under the basket like he did on Saturday the Knicks will be good.  Expecting that on a daily basis is a bit much but Melo is such a talented offensive player that some nights he won’t need to work so hard for shots underneath the basket, the greater return on his hard play will be the impact it has on his teammates to exert similar effort.  Just please, ABORT the hideous orange unis.  PLEASE!

9. The Nets lost, which means the Knicks are one game out of first place in the Atlantic Division.

1o.  AND STILL I SAY #KNICKSTAPE!

 

 

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Knicks/Rockets postgame

A few thoughts about the Knicks following yet another narrow loss to the Houston Rockets:

Howard and Bargs battling

Howard and Bargs battling
Courtesy of Washingtonpost.com

1.  I fully expected this game to be a blowout considering Tyson Chandler’s absence and a true legitimate big man at the 5 playing across from Bargnani.   So pardon the collective surprise of the NBA viewing republic when the stat sheet came out and Bargs was outplaying the “last real center alive”.  Dwight ended the game with 7 points and 15 rebounds while Bargnani finished with 24 points and 5 rebounds.  While points and rebounds won’t completely tell the tale, consider that Bargs was a +7 for the night while Dwight was a -1 on the all important +/- scale of measuring one’s importance to a team’s outcome on any given night.  Bargs was not shy of bodying up with Howard who seemed surprised by Bargs aggressive and effective play.

2. I’m a fan of Chandler Parsons as are any folk who know anything about basketball.  Parsons has an innate sense of cutting and passing and has a great ball fake that almost always causes defenders to leave their feet.  On this team he’s a perfect third and even fourth option on most nights.  He’s also a willing contributor, a term I give to players who are happy to be around better players and completely understanding of their position on the pecking order.  While Parsons usually gets stats-heavy geeks frothing at the mouth, any NBA fan can tell you that you need one of those guys on your team.  His ball fake and extra pass on the final HOU possession (not counting the last two where they had to hit free throws) led to the James Harden foul on the three point shot.  He easily could’ve shot that after the ball fake pried him loose of the defender but he knew to get the ball to the open star of the team because that’s what you pay them to do: hit big shots when it counts.  Parsons wont ever earn a max extension but he’s a vital cog on any team hoping to contend.

3. Which leads me to the guy who fouled Harden on that fateful play.  Ray Felton has taken a step back in his defensive ability this season; an ability that was played up too much last season.  Felton has deceptive speed for a guy who looks like someone who walks into the gym and sits by the juice bar the entire time.  Felton fell straight into Harden when all he had to do was to do a swing by.  This is the problem with the switch-happy, help heavy defense that Woodson employs.  It forces players with bad defensive reactions to make you guessed it, bad defensive reactions.  To fall straight into Harden, a guy who will fall to the floor if a breeze blew hard enough, gave him the authority to initiate the contact necessary to force the zebras to blow the whistle.

4. Bargnani has played three consecutive good games which leads to the eventual fateful decision that Woodson has to make when Tyson Chandler returns.  Does he stick with the big frontcourt of Chandler, Melo and Bargs?  Or does he make Bargnani the sixth man and keep only two of Melo, Bargs, and Chandler, on the court at once?  It would make sense that they not combine the three.  I’m not going to fault Woody for going to the super big line up for a few more games before making an astute decision but there’s still almost 4-6 weeks to go before Tyson is slated to come back so there’s plenty of time for Woodson to stew and make up his mind.  In the meantime consider that since Tyson went out  in the home loss to the Bobcats, Bargs is averaging 21.3 points, 6 rebounds and a +1 rating.  If you take out that atrocity of a Spurs loss his averages would look even better: 23 ppg, 7.7 rebounds, and a cumulative +27 rating or a +9 rating average.  Many would blame it on the spacing that a defensive minded center like Tyson takes away from the Knicks offense (the same reason that many thought the Amar’e, Tyson and Melo front court couldn’t work), but its worth wondering if this four game sample is indicative of how this offense will continue to go if you remove ONE of the three from the line up.

5a.  Metta World Peace continues to struggle offensively that its difficult sometimes to watch him with the ball without

Knicks and Rockets get testy

Knicks and Rockets get testy

screaming at the television to pass the ball.  At the end of the day though Metta’s impact on the floor won’t be offensively, though whatever he gives will be a plus.  Metta’s impact will be on both establishing a tougher mindset by being an intimidating presence on the court, and also being a defensive presence.  In years past the Knicks would’ve raised arms and admitted defeat by the second quarter of that T-Wolves game when after the first quarter the Knicks were down 41-19, but the Knicks made a game of it once Metta came in the game.  I’m not saying he was the reason the Knicks almost won the game but he was a big presence on the court that slowed the Wolves down and forced some turnovers.  His +17 in that game is eye opening.  Even in games like the ones with the Bulls where their physicality would’ve normally forced the Knicks into submission they hung in there until D. Rose hit that impossible floater over two Knicks to give the Bulls a one point game.

5b. Last year the Knicks were 22-17 in games decided by five points or less.  Which was good for 15th in the NBA.  This year they are 2-4 which is good for 17th in the NBA.  Last year most observers would agree was the best of almost every possible scenario for the Knicks which led to their 54 win season.  This year their early season struggles are being attributed to regression to the mean.  While its still early one of the things I expect to happen is for the Knicks to win more close games.  Of course this has as much to do with health as anything so in the next 4-6 weeks they may pile a few more losses without a defensive presence like Tyson Chandler who says this year he’s healthier than he was last year.  Call it more of a guess based on a gut feeling rather than any statistical measure.

5c.  Which brings me to the recent conversation started by Matt Barnes in-the-heat-of-the-moment tweet with the n-word included.  Barnes expressed frustration at his teammates and having to constantly come to their aid and in a roundabout way called his teammates soft.  Which, if you wanted to make the case about the Knicks- was also true last year.  Teams often played aggressive with Melo hoping to take him out of the game with no real enforcer to tell them to knock it off which necessitated the Kenyon Martin grab at the end of the season.  The Knicks doubled down with Metta this year and though the record may not reflect it, have reaped some reward out of Metta and Kenyon’s presence.  With Chandler out teams may see fit to treat the paint like the runway at JFK, but having guys like Kenyon and Metta can atleast be some point of resistance for lesser tough guys to just use and abuse the painted area of the court.  While most celebrate KG’s toughness as a necessary component for the Nets to really make noise this year, its important to use Metta and Kenyon in spots where necessary- like now.  To play zone and have them guard the rim and let people know that if they must drive to the paint, expect a few hard fouls.  If you’re foolish enough to repeatedly absorb that kind of punishment do so at your own discretion.  The record may not show it, but time will ultimately prove these two free agent acquisitions right.

6. Tough losses early in the year are a little easier to stomach for a number of reasons.  Usually teams are nursing stars back from injuries so their usage stats will show that they aren’t really playing a high volume of minutes.  Despite having a pre-season teams are still figuring out lineup configurations like the Knicks.  Players who aren’t physically ready for the season need time to round themselves into shape.  Bad teams don’t know they are bad and jump on good teams who aren’t expecting it.  The Knicks really only fall into one of those categories but its easy to get caught up in an early season swoon given how quickly the Knicks jumped out of the gate last year.  Their quick start helped them weather the expected mid-season swoon and ultimately led them to a solid stretch run-run.  It will be interesting to see if the Knicks catch fire in the middle of the season and still have a late season surge.

7. James Harden doesn’t seem like the most popular player on his team.  While he was down on the court not too many teammates came to check on him.  Add that to Dwight Howard’s fake ass routine you can see why the Rockets haven’t jumped out the gate.  Clearly the OKC/HOU trade worked out more for Houston because it helped convince Dwight to choose the Rockets over the Lakers last summer.  But one has to wonder if Harden’s ability to win championships wouldn’t have been served better by being on OKC’s roster.  Both front offices are forward thinking organizations who don’t operate under burdensome ownership groups.  Both have several assets at all times to make a huge trade and both teams are not shy at making big deals if it serves the interest of winning a championship.  Houston’s game plan of accumulating assets has now worked in their favor again.  Omer Asik is demanding a trade and according to the sage Adrian Woj, the Rockets are shopping Asik for either “an impact player or a lottery pick”.  If they get either consider it a steal but its worth noting that its the right move to make.   You have to ask for the sun, moon and the stars when you have an asset the likes of Asik- a young cost controlled defensive center.   Imagine they get a 2014 first round pick from a team that may wind up in the lottery thanks to an ownership group desperate to make a run at the playoffs?  Think Charlotte who have two 2014 protected first round draft picks (they traded their own to Chicago- Lord help them), or Memphis who have opened the season rather sluggish and may need to reconfigure their roster and send a bad contract out (think Zack Randolph).  Keep an eye out.

8.  Speaking of the Dwightmare, its almost inexcusable how much he struggled against the defense of Andrea Bargnani.  Don’t adjust your screen you read right!  Dwight wasn’t able to muscle in the paint and very rarely plays aggressive.  He plays mad and usually that leads to inexcusable turnovers or very poor decisions.  Charles Barkley’s disbelief that now playing for an organization that has Hakeem on the payroll and Kevin McHale as his coach was a tad bit early though.  McHale and Hakeem had more post moves than a mailman working during Christmas time, but that kind of foundational training takes time.  But now this would make those two the third and fourth Hall of Fame post players who Dwight has had access to on a daily basis since he came into the league and he’s STILL this bad?  Patrick Ewing (Orlando), and Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Lakers) haven’t helped Dwight realize his potential.  At some point the whispers and rumors that Dwight is as bad and overrated as we are seeing off the floor as on the floor may in fact be coming true.  He has to get something going.  In my opinion, he and Lebron James are the only two players who can physically overwhelm opponents.  It took time for Lebron to figure out how and when and it may be that Dwight just needed the right complement of superstars around him.  Lets see if Dwight figures it out when we check back in later this year.

9. I would be remiss and not fulfilling my journalistic duty if I were to ignore the return of Linsanity to Madison Square Garden.  Look, I’m on record as saying that letting Lin walk was dumb for virtually every reason you can wonder.  But let’s not rehash the past.  Its nice to see him develop at the old age of 25 and mostly its his jump shot that has developed.  Looks pure and just so much more polished.  He also saved his best for last shooting 4 of 6 in the final quarter to help lead the Rockets to the win.  Lin is out of the starting line up and ultimately it will be the best thing for him to develop his game playing with either Harden or Howard rather than in tandem for now.  He’s shooting better than 50% from three which will eventually come down but if his 3pt FG% steadies at over 40%,  it will be much tougher to clog up lanes and defend both Lin and Harden who’s first inclination is to drive to the basket and score.  If you keep Lin, Parsons, Harden and Howard, all you need is a competent 2nd big who can grab rebounds or have soft hands to collect easy passes in the paint that will result when the defense collapses to close on one of Harden or Lin driving to the hoop.  The home run move would be Houston picking Phoenix’s pocket for Channing Frye a big who can stretch defenses even further because of his ability to stroke the three.  Of course that would be a perfect scenario for Houston but not that unrealistic.  Phoenix’s GM Ryan McDonough is doing what Darryl Morey would in his position: accumulate assets, draft well and stock up for a big move.  With potentially four first round picks in 2014, a draft being  compared to the one in  2003 draft in terms of depth of impact talent the Suns are positioned to really rebuild very quickly.  Getting an Asik for Frye deal would be great but that won’t happen because McDonough is looking to shed salary rather than take on more.  Frye for a 2014 first round pick would be glorious for McDonough but I doubt Morey is looking to trade out of this draft of all places.  Doesn’t seem like a match but based purely on basketball, it makes all the sense in the world.

10. And still i say #KNICKSTAPE

More coming later….

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Knicks/Hawks recap 4/3/2013

The New York Knicks defeated the Atlanta Hawks by a score of 95-82.  The high scorer was Carmelo Anthony with 40 points, 5 Rebounds, 3 assists and 1 turnover.  That was the Knicks 10th win in a row.  Thought I’d come back and share some thoughts on the win last night against another quality opponent.

– Let’s first start with Carmelo’s play, which if you’ve been catching Sportscenter, you’ve seen Knick highlights a little bit higher up on the sports queue.  A 50 point night, regardless of who’s on the court, will do that.  Melo, since having his knee drained and talking up how healthy he’s feeling since that, has done nothing but dominate offensively.  Tuesday night’s jump shot clinic against the Heat was an example of a player feeling no pressure, and showing no lack of confidence.  I am almost certain that regardless of Lebron or Wade’s presence, Melo would’ve had a big night.  That’s just how it is with jump shooters.  Once they hit their first 7 or 8, (Melo hit his first seven jumpers on Tuesday) they get hot.  Melo began the opposite, by missing three of his first four attempts, but his Tuesday performance was special because of his almost allergic reaction to anywhere near the restricted area.  It was raining jumpers for Melo on tuesday and when its raining, the points were pouring in so why go anywhere that’s a ray of sunshine for Heat defenders.  As all of you astute NBA observers know, the Heat like to pack the paint and attract some extra bodies in there and allow the confusion to befuddle wanna be scorers, leading to bad possessions and ugly outlet passes that ultimately will be deflected and lead to the Heat’s bread and butter, fast break opportunities.  Melo never gave them that chance and kept hitting jumper after jumper in any and every Heat defender they threw at him.

Last night’s game featured all around Melo.  The guy that has about a hundred moves at his disposal.  In honor of Opening Week in baseball I’d make the comparison that Melo is like a pitcher with about 15 different pitches he can use at any time.  His one dribble-then fadeaway-jumper was devastating tonight.  His dribble penetration was excellent.  His read of double teams allowed open corner threes for Steve Novak, who obliged by hitting all three of his attempts.  During this recent stretch, its been important to note that Melo’s passing has gotten far too little praise.  Yes, his offense is often awe inspiring but his ability to read and react to a defense, and the crisp passing that has resulted leads to wide open shots and usually makes by his mates.

– Playoff match ups are a hot topic of discussion on most blogs and last night’s opponent is a team that the Knicks may potentially face depending on the outcome of the final 8 games (4 home and 4 road).  The Hawks have been getting underground praise for being competitive despite shipping off Joe Johnson (his contract), and not making any major moves.  First year GM, Danny Ferry’s major task is to field a competitive team (easy when you still have a decent young pg in Jeff Teague, a vastly underrated player in Al Horford and the enigma that is Josh Smith) and also set up a much better cap situation and he did that while robbing the Bulls of a perimeter shooter in the process in Kyle Korver.  Korver’s absence on the Bulls can be seen on a nightly basis when they turn to the bench and see Nate Robinson’s arm waving in the sky trying to get Tom Thibodeau’s attention so he can put him in the game to get somebody who can score the basketball.  The Hawks have a decent offense but absolutely NO answer to Carmelo Anthony.  You saw it yesterday.  When a team doubles as often as the Hawks did with Melo, it means they have no one that they can trust one on one to guard Melo.

One small caveat about that, Melo was lights out scoring so that may have had something to do with it, but Melo wasn’t jump shooter Melo.  He wasn’t one pitch Melo.  He was 15 pitch-selection Melo.  Using his vast array of moves to get into the restricted area, invite contact and get to the free throw line (he made 5 of 6 from the charity stripe).  Melo’s passing was the difference tonight but having an extra shooter like JR Smith and guys like Steve Novak who can hit the corner three gave the Hawks problems all night.  I dont care how many times I have to repeat this but the NBA playoffs are all about match ups.  The Knicks would welcome with open hands a first round match up with the Atlanta Hawks.

– Not to get overly excited but an underrated aspect of the Knick offense that we haven’t really seen till now and it bugs me out is that corner three.  They have made it a team wide edict that every person who has dreams of wanting to get a green light on shooting a three had better be stationed at either corner and Novak and Shumpert have done an excellent job of doing that.  I dont know if its something the Knicks have talked about doing more of but its clear that its working and its gotten Shump’s 3 point field goal percentage up and has helped Novak regain a more steady touch from beyond the arc.  One of his threes was such a quick twitch release that literally a milisecond after he got the ball from Shump on the baseline he threw up a corner three and it went in.

– If you had to rank the number of surprises that the Knicks have had this season, one of them would most definitely be JR Smith’s mature offensive game.  Yes, his reputation is feast or famine on a nightly basis but its clear that JR has turned a corner thanks to Mike Woodson’s tough love and his new found love for using his tremendous dribbling skills not to set up the step back fadeaway jumper, but to go forward and get closer to the rim.  Its been interesting to see how the conversation has changed during the broadcast itself where Mike Breen, like every talent evaluator, has talked up JR’s natural ability but plays up the knucklehead factor.  Yes, he makes boneheaded decisions.  When he got a technical for what seemed like a small nudge towards Ivan Johnson, to me it was more of a product of reputation more so than what he actually did.  The referees hoping to avoid any escalation decided that it would be best to hit Smith with a technical, and get him away, but Smith remained calm.  He walked away and came back into the game.  That was a result of Smith’s reaction to the technical in Woody’s eyes.  Usually coaches like to let players cool off after a technical but this wasn’t the case and it had a ton to do with how JR reacted.  His maturity has been the real engine for his turnaround.  Hopefully it continues.

– A small little note on the Hawks who I’ve been surprised by.  If there’s one free agent I would pick to be a buyer beware candidate I can’t see how Josh Smith doesn’t top the list.  No one doubts his talent.  But last night’s game was the kind of head scratcher that makes you wonder if anyone can untap that huge reservoir of talent on a nightly consistent basis.  There were stretches of that game where he probably had no idea about the set he was in and would loft these 22 footers that made zero sense in the scheme of things.  There are those nights where it seems like he’d rather be anywhere else but a basketball court and there are those nights like the one in Milwaukee where he can score 12, grab 16 rebounds and throw 6 assists.  I’m convinced that there’s literally nothing he can’t do at his height that if he put it together he wouldn’t be one of 10 most terrifying athletes in the game.  But you have no idea where his head is at most times and it has to be frustrating.  Im not going to guess where he ends up but if I were any GM other than Danny Ferry I would monitor how he handles it.  If Ferry raises his hands and does nothing and lets Smith go, it will tell you everything you need to know about him.  The organization that knows him better than anyone wants nothing to do with him.  If I were Ferry, I would let Smith go.  I would’ve let Smith go during the trading deadline but its possible that the deals he was receiving for him probably didn’t make him budge.  But I would let him walk and use that cap space to make a run at Dwight OR keep signing players to one year deals and build around Al Horford who is clearly the most underrated player in the NBA.

– To expound on that point about Horford, there were stretches where it seemed like Teague and co, were playing keep away with the big man.  I may be reading into it but there were times where I was wondering to myself why the Hawks weren’t utilizing him when the Knicks, known for over-switching, would have Pablo Prigioni guarding Horford which is a mismatch that a PG like Teague has to recognize quickly and get him the ball.  I’m befuddled by Teague who’s also a hot and cold candidate on a nightly basis.  You can tell that Teague still has very little handle of Larry Drew’s playbook as he’s seen carelessly throwing passes and doing the old point to a spot like the man who was supposed to catch that was supposed to be there routine.  Teague, to me, has that extra burst at times that can play in an uptempo offense but Drew likes his half court sets that love to swing the ball around.  The Hawks average the second most assists according to NBA.com’s database and that’s why Kyle Korver was able to get so many easy buckets.  The Hawks offense really doesn’t rely on too many one on ones but on a lot of movement and cuts and screens and pick and rolls.  Its like a fast break team but in a half court set.  They love to move, a ton and it works for them.  How Horford doesn’t get more involved is beyond me but last night’s game had to be frustrating for the big man who was yelling at times for the ball when the Knicks would over-switch.

– Is there a more scarier player than Ivan Johnson?  He looks like Deshawn Stevenson’s bigger, scarier brother.  And that dude is scary as hell too.

– The third quarter had to be the toughest for Mike Woodson to watch.  Continuous over switching led to numerous open looks to the one guy that can hurt the Knicks from deep on the Hawks: Kyle Korver.  Korver’s three point barrage led to numerous shouting sessions aimed at Shumpert and anyone who had the responsibility of guarding Korver.  Korver kept getting open and Woodson kept getting more and more upset and it showed.  Its clear if the Knicks want to keep this stretch going, they will have to do a better job in minimizing missed assignments and have the five guys much more in synch.

– Is there a much more professional guy than Jason Kidd who came in the game and instantly closed any passing lanes for Kyle Korver with which to get him the ball.  Amazing that he’s still playing an effective brand of basketball on muscle memory and basketball IQ gained over a 19 year NBA career.

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Headlines 1/14/13

After I posted an article about how bland the Divisional Round of the Playoffs usually are and writing a lengthy article about maybe one or two games you should be watching, the Divisional Round of the playoffs went and shut me up good.  We’ll get to Saturday’s games at some point today, but for now, its the Atlanta Falcons hosting the San Francisco 49ers after they squeaked by the Seattle Seahawks yesterday 30-28.  Nick Eaton of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes that the future is bright for Seattle despite the loss thanks to the play and (the hopeful) continued progression of rookie QB Russell Wilson.  Meanwhile, Nick Schultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution writes that the Falcons decided to take every single fan on a rollercoaster ride of emotions on Sunday without any pause to give fans rest, but they finally did it.

In Beantown, Tom Brady and the Patriots once again dominated the Houston Texans and won 41-28 thanks to some unlikely heroes for the Pats, namely Shane Vereen.  Opportunity knocked and Shane Vereen, aka next man up, answered the call for the Pats writes Michael Whitmer of Boston.com.  Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle writes that the Texans will have a ton of what ifs as they dissect this season.  In other news, JJ Watt said its customary, home or away, for him to spit on the field and wipe the spit with his feet.  It just so happened that his spit landed on the Pats logo which caused a pregame stir. Jackie Mac of ESPNBoston wrote that perhaps that Monday Night win wasn’t a fluke, and the Pats are just that much better than the Texans.  There was bad news for Pats fans, they will be without superstar TE Rob Gronkowski for the remainder of the playoffs thanks to him reinjuring his forearm and this time breaking it.  Now comes the fairy tale that is the Ray Lewis thank you tour coming into town.

I’m not going to really delve that deep into the Pats/Texans game because I, and from the looks of it, most NFL fans knew what the result was going to be.  When the Texans Daneal Manning ran the opening kickoff deep into Patriots territory, I thought for a brief moment that maybe this day would be different, but that was quickly erased from my mind when the Patriots held the Texans to 3 points.  You can’t settle for three points playing against Tom Brady when you get that deep.  You have to convert and you have to score and the Texans just couldn’t do it and that told you all you needed to know.  When the Pats went up 7-3 and then 10-3, it felt like 35-3 and you just never got the sense that Matt Schaub was going to lead the Texans back.  The Texans just don’t have that many offensive weapons.  Yes, their defense was missing a few key pieces but this league is about match ups and the Patriots are just a terrible match up for the Texans.  Their defense got enough initial pressure but it was based on blitzing and against Tom Brady you can’t send an extra defender on the blitz because he’s the best QB at reading coverage and finding the one on one or one on none match ups and exploiting them.  The stats tell you the story.  He gets better when the blitz and pressure are put on him.  You have to get pressure from the front four and the Pats offensive line has been doing a brilliant job of getting that pressure on.  

The Ravens will be more of a challenge thanks to the talents of Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis being there at LB.  But according to ESPN Stats and info, Tom Brady has the quickest release in all of the NFL at 3 seconds.  The key for the Ravens will be to get pressure from the front four and hope that coverage holds up long enough to keep them honest.  The Pats being without Rob Gronkowski will help the Ravens but as the Texans found out, the Pats have more secret weapons stashed away for them to use and they know how to use it.

I’m torn in the other game about what to say.  On the one hand, yes Seattle has nothing to be ashamed of.  They played their butts off, and they almost won the game.  But how can you ignore all the mistakes they made in the first half?  That first half put them in such a terrible spot going into the second half that if they had just played a bit better, they would’ve won.  Had they taken the three points in the first quarter, they would’ve won.  Had Wilson just thrown the ball away and left a few seconds on the clock and kicked another FG, they would’ve won the game.  Thats six points they gave up due to stupid playcalling (by rule you always take the points on the road no matter what) and by terrible clock management (had no timeouts to get the FG team out and Wilson took the sack).  That second half was enough to convince me that Seattle is the better team of the two, but the first half shows how much work they have to do.  Down 14-0 against the Redskins and 20-0 and then 27-7 against the Falcons put the Seahawks in a bind but they showed mental toughness and resiliency, two huge attributes to have during this time of year, that show that next year they won’t come as a surprise to anyone and there are lessons to grasp at here.

If I’m the Niners, I watched that second half and started licking my chops.  The intermediate areas were open all day for Wilson and he wisely took what the defense gave him.  There’s no doubt that they are wiping the sweat off their brow because going against the Seahawks may have been a tougher task but they will gladly take the away game against the Falcons over a home game against their division rivals.  The Seahawks know the Niners and would’ve easily been a tougher match up but the way Colin Kaepernick played Saturday, it may not have mattered who played against the Niners on Sunday.  

Yes Matt Ryan exercised demons on Sunday, but not before making Falcons fans sweat.  There was a sequence in that game where you saw all the confidence flushed from his face and him saying over and over again in his head “this is not happening.  Not again.”  I felt bad, but then he came with :31 seconds left and threw two beautiful passes to set up Matt Bryant’s game winning field goal.  I hope all the head coaches who think icing the kicker is a solid strategy watched Sunday as Matt Bryant shanked the first attempt.  I’ve never been a fan of the icing the kicker strategy as it is used in the NFL because making a kicker think about it is fine, but you call the timeout well before he gets to attempt a practice field goal.  You’re giving the guy a mulligan.  If you want him to think about the field goal then as soon as it seems like the team is lining up for a FG attempt you call the timeout.  Let him sit and stew about it and give him one shot at trying to make it.  That’s the best strategy and I hope that we end this silly strategy of icing the kicker as he’s taking his first shot at it.  But making the guy kick a pseudo practice FG is stupid and basically negates anything you were trying to accomplish in the first place.  Either you give the guy confidence that he will hit it, or you give the guy a better understanding of what not to do when attempting it for real.  

The Knicks ended their three game slide by defeating the New Orleans Hornets 100-87 Sunday thanks to 27 points from Carmelo Anthony.  Next up is a trip to London to take on a good young Pistons team.  That may be what the doctor ordered according to Jared Swerling of ESPNNY.com.  Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News writes that the Knicks feasted on a young Anthony Davis who didn’t do anything spectacular on Sunday.  Postgame was fun thanks to Amare’s revelation that he’s been on a vegan diet for the last three months and Carmelo Anthony was fasting for fifteen days. Nate Taylor of the New York Times writes that the Knicks were calling this a must win game for the and for several stretches, they played like it.

So Carmelo has been fasting for fifteen days huh?  Is it coincidental that he and the Knicks would get off to such slow starts or are there other reasons?  Who knows, but atleast we have another theory now to go with because I was lost.  Yes, the Knicks were playing some of the better defensive teams in the NBA in Chicago and Indiana and Boston this week, bu still, their offense seemed to play every bit the age Knicks fans were afraid they would wind up playing.  I said a few days ago that the Knicks are somewhere between the 18-5 team that shot out of the gate to begin the season and the team that struggled these last three games.  They weren’t as bad as they showed in Indiana, but they may not be as good as they showed in their early season win streak.  Look, the Knicks have a ton of talent and with Iman Shumpert’s return (he’s set to make his season debut against the Pistons on Thursday), I’m sure the Knicks will look better.  But then again, the Knicks are also hoping to get Rasheed Wallace back and Marcus Camby back and Raymond Felton back, so the never ending line of excuses for why the Knicks are playing so poorly won’t end with a Melo fast.  They aren’t at full strength.  I’m not going to judge the Knicks until they are whole, but at what point will they be whole again?  With this team, and its age, they are a fragile bunch.  Camby seems to get injured a ton and there’s no real timetable for Wallace’s return unless a day to day gives fans an exact timing on the healing process.  They are an old team with tons of veteran guidance but if they don’t have them playing what’s the use?

I’m looking forward to this road trip especially playing against the Pistons who are figuring things out as of late.  Their record doesn’t reflect the young talent they have that’s starting to flourish.  Greg Monroe is a very good center.  Andre Drummond is a rebounding machine and has tons of untapped potential as a finisher in this league.  Brandon Knight can turn into a very good point guard though I think his ceiling is limited.  The Pistons won’t be a lay up win for the Knicks and so they will have to take this next game seriously and win.  Getting Shumpert back will be helpful but the Knicks constantly having to work guys back into the rotation is tough to gain any kind of consistent play.  The Knicks will play better once they have everyone healthy and whole and will be able to wear teams out without wearing their own team out.  Jason Kidd has played 30 minutes or more in 10 of their last 14 games.  That kind of heavy workload consistently does not bode well for the elder statesman.  Here’s hoping that Felton gets back sooner and Shump can hold down the fort as he’s recovering as well.  

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Headlines 1/11/2013

copelandThe Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony last night in Indianapolis and predictably the offense faltered.  Tony Williams of the Star Ledger writes that that’s either glass being half empty or half full if you’re a Knicks fan. Frank Isola of the Daily News writes about the exercise in futility that was the Knick offense last night.  George Willis of the Post writes that maybe the Knicks have lost their swagger entering a seven game home stand.  Nate Taylor of the New York Times writes that it wasn’t just the missing Carmelo Anthony and his 29 points per game and his usual brilliant late game shooting, but it was just the Knicks missing in general.  Jared Swerling of ESPNNY.com writes among his notes about Marcus Camby’s injury that sidelined him for most of the game.

There was a time in that game that the Knicks were capturing some of that momentum.  They were up 4 after being down most of a very sloppy game, and then the Pacers went on a 13-2 run and it felt like a 28-2 run.  It felt like an enormous lead that this team just could not overcome because they didn’t have their best player on the court.  But let’s add on, that the Knicks haven’t had their best players on the court all season.  Their best team is still sitting on the bench wearing tailored suits.  Yes, Carmelo Anthony wasn’t in the building last night but also consider that primary point guard Raymond Felton is out for another four to five more weeks.  The Knicks best perimeter defender Iman Shumpert is now only beginning live practices.  Rasheed Wallace, another veteran center, was out because of a recurring foot issue that has him day to day.  Amar’e Stoudemire is only beginning to round into form.  

Last night people began wondering if the Knicks were as good as the early season start or if this recent rough stretch was in reality who the Knicks were.  I am willing to say that the Knicks are somewhere in the middle.  One thing I will say is that when healthy this team can go against anybody.  They have the veteran leadership.  They have the bigs to control the paint.  They have the defensive mindset in a half court game.  They play the style of basketball that wins in the postseason and in the end, that’s what this team’s ultimate goal is.  To win in May and June.  Playoff seeding be damned, had the Knicks not gotten off to that fast start, who knows where in the standings they would be.  Thanks to Miami losing they didn’t lose any ground so they remain a half game back of number one seed Miami, but Indiana has to be a real threat.  They added a ton of size to their team and the difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is Paul George.  

It makes the alpha dog status of this team an interesting one when Danny Granger returns.  The Pacers don’t have a top 10 player on their team but they have several excellent pieces.  George is showing signs that he could be their go-to guy.  He still doesn’t have a consistent enough shot, but his perimeter d and his otherworldly athleticism make him a candidate with further room to grow and improve.  He’s the kind of guy that will only get better and oh by the way he’s only turning 23 this May.  

A line up that I saw last night that worries me is the Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, JR Smith and Steve Novak.  While Novak isn’t a terrible defender, Amar’e has been a liability on that side of the ball and Kidd gets beat consistently by the quicker point guards.  Its only his hands that make him a threat to poke the ball away from an offensive player running right by him.  He still has the quickness and strength to poke balls away when they aren’t secured.  I understand its to give the Knicks the most amount of shooters, but Amare and Tyson can’t create their own offense so teams play zone and never have to stray too far away from their guy.  If you were to replace Novak or Smith with Prigioni, this gives you two ball handlers who can run dual pick and rolls.  A play they may want to run is Pablo/Kidd coming from the top of the arc and working their way down while getting two screens from both Amar’e and Tyson, as soon as the bigs start to roll, only one big can rotate back to their original man leaving one guy with the point guard while allowing a big to have a mismatch.  Either a lob to the open big to set up a roll to the basket or a bounce pass would suffice.  Now, what happens if someone else rotates to the basket to prevent the easy dunk?  You now have whomever was standing at the corner three locations running behind their man and the big can quickly pass it to him for the easy lay up.  That line up needs as many ball handlers and offensive creators as possible due to the limitations of Chandler and Amar’e to create offensively.  

Once Amar’e gets his stuff together (ie: his 15-18 footer that he was routinely knocking down in 2010), and gets more acclimated to the pace of the game (which he should be by now), the Knicks won’t feel as crippled by the fact that both are primarily pick and roll players.  The Knicks just can’t let Amar’e play center and allow teams easy buckets in the paint and offensive rebounds by the dozens.  Amar’e just does not box out well (he admitted he was never taught), and you can’t let a defensive liability to be left out there without any protection.  Funny thing is, if Rasheed Wallace had been in both games, I think the Knicks win both.  Not kidding you at all.

With the blank entry list to the Baseball Hall of Fame thanks to the suspicion of steroids use by many of the first timers on this year’s ballot, baseball followed that announcement with this: the Players Union and Major League Baseball agreed to expand HGH testing.  Andy McCullough of the Star Ledger writes that the plan is to monitor testosterone levels to note any changes to them in players.  Michael Schmidt of the New York Times writes that this is another way for baseball to argue that it has the strictest testing of all the four major sports.  Both stories spoke of the NFL’s hesitation in blood tests for HGH in season.  This comes a day after a story revealed that Junior Seau was in fact diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease named CTE that is caused by repeated blows to the head perhaps due to his years playing football.  According to this NYTimes report, out of 34 cases that the researchers at Boston University have examined where the subject died, 33 were found to be linked to CTE.

Dr James Andrews, Mike Shanahan RGIIIIt was an unusual day for science in the sports landscape.   I wouldn’t describe baseball as reeling from the aftershock of not inducting anyone to the Hall of Fame, but the numerous empty ballots certainly created a buzz in the sporting community.  Performance enhancing drugs are an ever changing market.  One day its anabolic steroids, the next its something more subtle that alters a player’s ability.  Tomorrow it will be a substance that is virtually untraceable.  I’m willing to bet that every year we will read about two or three more athletes that continue to feel that they can cheat the system and get away with it.  Until the sports world has universal Olympic testing prior to every competition, how can a team not feel they were cheated by somebody who came into a game all “juiced up”.  Obviously that kind of testing will never happen but baseball will always have this stigma attached to it thanks to the almost two decades long period of not caring to do anything about the problem.  

Football on the other hand has a very very serious problem.  I’ve said for years now that Roger Goodell’s legacy will be linked to how he contains or doesn’t contain the concussion issue and player safety.  Those who think that he’s not doing enough will ask for more measures of reeling in the violence.  And there will always be those who feel he has done too much to risk the primal nature of the game that makes it what it is.  I’m of those that believe that you play football knowing the risks.  The hits just keep getting harder and tougher the bigger the players get and the faster they come to hit.  But players continue to compete knowing the risks.  There’s no place in the game for HGH considering how big these guys are and how physical this game is, but don’t try and convince me that Goodell’s stance on this issue isn’t driven by his fear that if he doesn’t do anything the lawsuit by former NFL players contending that the NFL does very little for its former players will make the NFL pay a huge hefty sum.  Goodell has implemented rules and barriers to use in court to say that the NFL is doing its level best to not compromise player safety.  One of the biggest issues that I saw in a report for HBO’s Real Sports series was a story done by Andrea Kremer in which the NFL was asking players to sign a waiver agreeing to free the NFL of any kind of lawsuit before taking a painkiller called Toradol which acts as a numbing agent.  The Players Union is asking players NOT to sign the waiver which continues the back and forth of this issue.  Neither side is willing to be fully on board with the player safety issue as the NFL is trying to lead everyone to believe and its being done with the intention of trying to avoid any further legal hassles in the future.

My opinion is, the NFL is a dangerous sport.  Junior Seau’s case is one that will never change.  Players play injured.  Players go in when they aren’t supposed to, ask RGIII.  The sport almost demands a player to play through and to show the teammates their individual toughness.  The fact is, the risks aren’t being explored in game situations and are only being asked after the fact.  After a game has been played and the player has taken a few extra lumps on top of the lump that caused the injury.  Players do this all the time in the NFL but they do so under their own recognizance.  That’s where team doctors or medical officials need to step in and be authoritative when they demand a player’s removal from a game.  If Dr. James Andrews, the most renowned name in orthopedics, can’t have his professional opinion taken seriously enough then what shot does any other medical official have.  Its a dilemma that won’t go away and good for the NFL that it doesnt!

Hal Steinbrenner calmed Yankees fans fears a little in this Ken Davidoff report saying that the $189 million figure is just a number and doesn’t represent an end all figure if the Yankees aren’t seriously contending for a World Series in 2014.

Sammy Sosa is just weird, on his Pinterest page.

John Clayton of ESPN.com writes that several teams will have a difficult time in reshaping their roster, especially the Jets who are currently $19.4 million over the cap and Dallas who are currently $18.2 million over.  The Giants sit at $4.7 million over.

Gary Meyers of the Daily News writes that Tim Tebow doesn’t have a prayer of having a starting gig in the NFL.

 

 

 

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Headlines 1/8/2013

After a day’s vacation, I come back to you knowing that you were all withheld from critical information regarding the sporting universe.   So here I am back to give you the news with my opinion as only I can.  Saturday opened with the news that renowned orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews never cleared Robert Griffin the third to come back into the game in which he originally injured his LCL despite the opposite coming from Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan.  Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports wrote that he did himself and his team a disservice by keeping RGIII in that game.  Les Carpenter of Yahoo Sports writes that maybe Mike Shanahan needs a no man.  Jarrett Bell of USAToday wrote that perhaps this is what life with RGIII will always be like: Risk vs. reward.

I will write more about this subject later on today, but the fact is, most people agree that RGIII should’ve been taken out at some point in the game, long before he was ever actually scraped off the field.  When we finally saw his knee buckle and RGIII lying motionless on the ground it only served to confirm everything the viewing public had seen.  He wasn’t right at any point of that game and he was becoming a liability.  On the other hand, this is the playoffs and suddenly being down 21-14 probably called upon your best player to rise to the occasion which he really tried to do.  What most people won’t understand is Shanahan’s motivation for keeping him in the game.  During the game, I tweeted at 14-13 that if Seattle scores, maybe it should turn to Kirk Cousins because after the first two series, the Redskins just were never the same and the momentum had squarely fell on the Seahawks who had got back to playing sound defensively.  

Much of yesterday was spent breaking down what role Mike Shanahan played in RGIII’s knee being destroyed.  Today will be spent in analyzing the results of RGIII’s MRI which Dr. Andrews will take a look at.  Dr Andrews not wanting RGIII back in that game speaks volumes about how injured RGIII was and how Shanahan is either lying to himself to keep RGIII out there or he just doesn’t care how he wins or what it costs.  Either way, Shanahan will get ripped apart in the greater DC area.  Not only did they lose, they may have lost their franchise for a good portion of the 2013 season.  One important thing to remember is that they have a capable QB in Kirk Cousins who is more than capable of coming in and winning a few games.  He may not offer the team the chance that RGIII would on a game by game basis, but he isn’t a terrible option and unlike the Eagles who had three healthy QB’s in McNabb, Vick and Kevin Kolb and decided to ship the other two out and throw all their chips on Vick.  This may have been the best thing that happens to the Redskins.  If Cousins does perform very well, he may be able to build up value and the Skins would, in theory, be able to recoup some of the lost draft picks they sent to the Rams in order to draft RGIII.  

 

Carmelo Anthony lost his cool and the Knicks lost the game.  Tell me if you’ve heard that script before.  The Knicks have and did.  Nate Taylor of the New York Times writes that Garnett and the Celtics showed they can rattle Melo and beat the Knicks.  George Willis of the New York Post writes that if the Knicks aren’t careful they can begin to pick up a reputation of being easily thrown off their game.  Dave D’Alessandro of the Star Ledger writes that Doc Rivers and the Celtics pride themselves on championships not on small goals like winning the division.

Last night’s game was awesome from the perspective of the atmosphere in the Garden (the fans were terrific), and atmosphere.  New York is a city full of transplants and there are plenty of shamrock-rocking folk in this town to know that a full home crowd is NOT to be expected but the fact that they were so into this game, it probably ratcheted up the intensity ten fold and probably added to Carmelo’s frustrating evening.  His shots weren’t going in, but KG’s mouth was running and Melo unable to hurt him where it counts decided that the only way to get the last word was to chase KG down in the visitor’s locker room after the game, a place he purposefully he went to without even hesitating for a moment following the final horn.  

I wrote this after the game, but the book on the Knicks is out there.  Rattle the superstar.  Get them complaining to the refs and they will be mentally distracted enough that they won’t be able to recover.  Play them physically and force them to return the aggression, because they can’t do it with control, and they will be completely duped.  The Knicks are becoming that team with a very quick temper and unable to control themselves in situations.  Those that cry that Melo doesn’t get the superstar calls, that’s why.  He spends so much time complaining to refs that most of them don’t ever want to satisfy Melo because nothing is ever enough.  Yes, does Melo get fouled a ton?  Sure.  But basketball is physical when you enter that five feet area between player and basket.  That’s where grinders and maulers have to be bigger than the foe in front of them and impose their will.  Melo has the body, but he does not have the temperment to spend too much time boxing out and setting up shop.  I’m not implying that Melo is weak or soft underneath the basket, but he has to stop being so angry everytime a whistle isn’t blown.  The refs can call that foul every single time but when he doesn’t you keep working.  

Melo plays the kind of physical basketball that you want to see but is so difficult to officiate.  Its not in the same league as Shaq who walked a fine line everytime he swung that arm around and the elbow almost always seemed to miss the defenders face by a whisker.  Its tough to match him physically down there but when a team can, its time for Melo to do other things.  His 18 foot jumper is almost always a good decision.  His turnaround jumper is getting better.  Getting the bigger defender away and driving past them is a skillset he is putting more to use this year.  These are the kind of decisions that you want to see Melo make.  Decisions based on who’s guarding him.  Every team throws multiple defenders on him.  Last night, the Celtics put Bradley on him at times, Paul Pierce, Jeff Green.  Mixing and matching big with small.  It can’t be easy for Melo but he has to understand that his best skill is to draw multiple defenders away from their man so his teammates can get a better shot.  By the time that Kevin Garnett had taken him completely out of that game, he was jacking up threes with 18 left on the shot clock and doing things that old Melo used to do.  Anthony just can’t play mad and its becoming a liability when he gets into those modes where he’s playing out of pure spite for the guy in front of him.  He forgets teammates and the game plan and Woodson needs to have a sit down with him.  

There’s no doubt that Melo is the MVP and nothing about yesterday’s game is going to disprove that, but last night’s game is a continuing novel being written by perennial playoff contenders, teams who have played in the games that the Knicks are making a strong case they will play this year, that if you want to get to that level you must play physical and if you aren’t willing to match the physicality and you are more willing to swing than actually play ball then you don’t belong in the discussion and you probably aren’t ready for the primetime that teams like the Bulls, the Grizzlies and most importantly the Celtics have been to.  

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Headlines 1/4/2013

act_carmelo_anthonyThe Knicks had been struggling for some time on defense and needed a team to come in to reinvigorate them on that end and wouldn’t you know it, the schedule read: San Antonio Spurs!  Yep, the Knicks not only beat the Spurs, sweeping the season series for the first time in nearly a decade, the Knicks dominated the Spurs on their home court.  Al Iannazzone of Newsday wrote that this was one of the more impressive showings by the Knicks this season beating what Mike Woodson calls “the best team in the NBA.”  Nate Taylor of the New York Times writes that after watching footage from games just six weeks ago when they had the best defense and offense, they were able to put on a vintage 2012 performance for the second game of 2013.  Mike Vaccaro of the Post thinks that there are stretches within the game that make you think about what can be for the Knicks.  Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News writes that maybe Spurs coach Greg Popovich should have sent his stars home, maybe the reserves would have put up a better effort against these Knicks in their fourth game in five night stretch.

A few things about this Knick game were encouraging, first and foremost being the defense.  Certain coaches bring an identity and can typecast their team.  Mike D’Antoni certainly has a reputation of being an offensive genius while ignoring defensive principles, while Mike Woodson is known for emphasizing defense.  I don’t doubt that both preach the other side of the ball that they are supposed to be not so well versed in, but sometimes you just get that reputation and its hard to shake it unless there’s a dramatic shift in their team’s play in that other side of the ball.  But the Knicks forged a defensive intensity that you just hadn’t seen from them.  My theories, in order, were 1. Jason Kidd, 2. Tyson Chandler, 3. Mike Woodson.  These three guys have won and know that the only way to win games in May and June is on the defensive side of the ball.  Kidd in particular has impressed me because he faces quicker guards on a regular basis, but his intelligence and quick hands are great equalizers and allow him to keep up with even the quickest of guards.  

Chandler has always played defense and last year was like the lone wolf howling at the moon and the Garden faithful enjoyed watching him play.  This season he has more help and certainly stands to gain more once Iman Shumpert returns.  This season, the Knicks just seem to know how to rotate better and know how to play with each other better because they have so many leaders on this team.  Whether its Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace (one Defensive player of the Year and the other, a member of the no-name Pistons squad in 04 that won the title), or Kurt Thomas on the bench, there’s so much veteran guidance and leadership and call me crazy, but maybe this was Grunwald’s plan all along: to have as many veteran voices on the bench to plead with Carmelo to play more defense and play more efficiently on offense.  

This win also speaks to the play of Pablo Prigioni.  Last year’s clear weakness was point guard play.  No doubt it contributed to the hype that Linsanity got and maybe inflated his value, but this year, the trio of Kidd, Felton and Prigioni have been such a better unit that its hard to remember the last time the Knicks got this kind of production from the position.  Prigioni, since preseason, has been doing that sneaky steal atleast twice a game and he again got a key steal and fed Carmelo for an easy two.  Every member of that team is confident with Prigioni in there and now with Felton out for four to six weeks, you don’t feel as uncertain.  Yes, I understand the concern people have with playing 35 and 40 year old point guards major minutes in games in January, but the hand has been dealt.  Its interesting that the Knicks have been experimenting with Shumpert at the point.  Perhaps getting youthful legs in there will be helpful, but having him as a primary ball handler is all good and well, but he has to be an instinctive point guard, otherwise he’s just another Toney Douglass: the full five second too late point guard who just never had the feel of a point guard.  Are the Knicks going to pay for playing these guys major minutes like this?  I’m sure.  But the fact is this is what they have to do and the Knicks just have to make do.

BTW, does anyone object to the whole JR Smith as our third most important player?  After Carmelo and Tyson, JR’s contributions off the bench- and its becoming nightly, are a reminder of how much of a luxury it is to have a guy that can create his own offense and can also spot up and score.  You can sit Carmelo for stretches when JR is going the way he is.  Does he have a ton of irrational confidence?  Sometimes.  But to play this game and to be good you have to.

Carmelo scored 23 but the most encouraging sign of his maturity came in two ways.  He was actively looking to pass out of double teams and rarely made a bad decision when he did and even if the relationship between he and Amare may be a forced partnership, its easy to see how comfortable and assured he is that he is the franchise cornerstone and he makes the Knicks go.  He tried desperately to get Amare involved in the offense in one series in the fourth, while the Knicks were building up their lead, passing it inside to Amare, who continued to do the fifteen pump fakes before putting up the shot that usually gets blocked (which is an indicator that he’s getting old and has lost most of the athleticism that made him a star), getting the rebound and then throwing it right back to Amare.  That comes from a confidence within that this is in fact his team and there’s no real threat there and I’m glad.  The only way for this to work is for Amare to understand his role on this team and that he’s going to be a third or fourth option depending on the set.  I do like that second team of offense that comes in behind the starting five when the Knicks bring in Novak, Prigioni, JR and Amar’e into the game.  Then you add in the stretch five of Rasheed and you certainly have the makings of a deep ten man rotation that could be formidable, depending on health, come May and June.

Rex Ryan tattoo of Mark Sanchez january 4And then there’s Rex Ryan.  The Daily News this morning published a picture of tanning Rex on a beach in the Bahamas sporting a tattoo of a woman (presumably his wife) sporting a Mark Sanchez jersey and….nothing else on his right arm.  This article in the Daily News is sure to make the rounds in the talk show universe today and adds another level of weirdness to this whole Jet soap opera.   Gary Meyers of the Daily News talks out all the problems that can arise from having a specific player’s name tatooed on the arm.  Mark Cannizzaro of the Post lists several enticing candidates for the Jets GM job and lists Tom Gamble the Director of Player Personnel of the San Francisco 49ers as the guy the Jets and Korn/Ferry should target to lead the Jets.  Finally the Pro Football Writers of America are ok with the fact that the Jets will only meet with the media on January 8th as opposed to the usual schedule of 7 days after the season ends.

This morning’s commute was extra  hilarious because of this story and usually when silly things like this happen, it makes radio and sports personalities very happy because it gives them a chance to be silly and boy do Boomer and Carton love doing silly.  Look, there’s nothing left to say about this except that the Jets look to be targeted by the media and they give them every reason to be targets.  In what universe could Rex think getting a tattoo of his wife ONLY wearing a Mark Sanchez jersey was a good idea?  There’s not a good enough explanation that you can have and one that I hope that we will hear come that very anticipated January 8th press conference.  For those wondering, I think if you were to rank what the Jets brain trust should be questioned about, it goes:

1. Why Mike Tannenbaum was fired and not Rex?

2. What were they thinking about with Tim Tebow and why, in their minds, were they not successful with him?

3.  How confident are you that Mark Sanchez can be fixed?

4.  Rex are you brain dead?  Why would you get a tattoo of your wife in a Sanchez jersey?

Those should be the first four questions out of the media’s mouth come January 8th.  How its anything else is beyond me.  Anyway, I hope Korn/Ferry is a PR firm as well because the Jets could use some good advice. 

Meanwhile, not so far off Crazy Island, the Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was apparently walking around like a crazy man as he described in this interview with Mike Francesa.  Antrelle Rolle apologized for the Giant letdown of a stretch run this season.

Its always fun to see Tom Coughlin red in the face, screaming from the sideline but I totally understand his pain and frustration when having to answer questions about a team he has seen time and time again come through in big games, not be able to even offer a whimper when it truly mattered.  Like any Giant fan, I expected a win against the Ravens and I expected it to be competitive against the Falcons who I don’t think scare anyone in the NFC.  The Giants should have never been in this position and who knows if this collapse by the Giants means that Washington was just meant to win this year or if this is a seismic power shift in the NFC East and that the Redskins are coming of age so quickly under the guidance of the young padawan, RGIII.  Regardless, these are the kind of final weeks that make a team look deep into its soul.  Certainly there is the talent to win atleast 10 games a year but the up and down show of effort leaves you wondering sometimes about whether the players are either understanding the situation they are in or even motivated to play a football game late in December.  Its crazy to think that this team, this unit wouldn’t know how to handle themselves in those situations but it happened.  Which makes Tom Coughlin crazy.  Which makes Jerry Reese crazy.  Which should make every Giant hoping to return back to a championship core very very scared.  

Finally, what to watch for tonight:  Bulls at Heat on ESPN at 8, Nets at Wizards on YES at 8 (just kidding).

Later today, I’m posting my AFC/NFC Wild Card weekend Previews

For your viewing pleasure…

Enjoy everyone!

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Headlines 1/4/2012

With the Jets season in turmoil, and the media looking to get answers from somebody who may have any the Jets head coach Rex Ryan was found vacationing in the Bahamas with his wife.  Whether or not a vacation was proper or not, this soon after such a terrible season is not something I can judge.  I’m sure an island getaway was probably necessary after a season like this.  But don’t think that the media feels the same way.  Gary Meyers of the New York Daily News decided that he was going to take up the mantle of the Jet front offices and answer some questions that he would’ve like to see answered.  According to Brian Costello of the New York Post, the Jets organization debated having the press conference on Monday without owner Woody Johnson but felt it wouldn’t be fair for Rex to answer those questions about Mike Tannenbaum which is what led to the delayed press conference announced for January 8th, next Tuesday.  Then there’s Steve Serby of the Post giving his sarcastic take on how the Jets are waiting while every other team that has an opening is working hard to fill the vacancy while the lead men in the Jets organization are deciding that vacations are more important.

I’m not going to kill Rex Ryan here because the guy decided that he needed to get away like the Snickers commercial suggested.  This season must have felt like three.  But the Jets organization does have a duty to fulfill here to face the tough questions surrounding what was at times a very secret cult-ish way to run an organization.  Media members aren’t going to quickly forget the wall of players that kept them from watching the Tebow package that was so built up with speculation.  They aren’t going to just let the Jets get away with not speaking up while a major organizational retooling was happening.  They want to know why Rex wasn’t sent packing along with Mike Tannenbaum.  They want to hear the owner give reasons as to why he felt only one of the two had to go.  How is Woody going to hold Rex accountable next year?  What is he looking for in the next GM?  How are they going to handle the QB situation?  Is Tim Tebow really going to be sent packing to Jacksonville?  

With that being said, the Jets beat writers sound like a bunch of 15 year old girls who are being ignored.  They are using their space in New York City’s newspapers as one long Facebook status to air out their sour grapes at what is becoming an increasingly frustrating way to do their job.  The Jets organization has been a mess lately and the losing only invites harder questions to answer without wanting to punch someone in the mouth.  Maybe with a 9 day head start to cool off, Woody and Rex can show up calm, tanned and ready to answer some very difficult questions from a pack of wild dogs frothing at the mouth to hear their take on what the writers wrote.  

Amar’e Stoudemire made his return to a Knick uniform this past Tuesday in a loss to the Blazers on Tuesday.  He only scored six points to the media but went on the offensive Wednesday in front of a pack of reporters who wondered about the star power forward’s mental health.  Amar’e praised Mike Woodson while needling his former head coach in Phoenix and New York by insisting that this is the first time he’s ever been coached defense.  Kevin Kiernan of the Post said the best way to tell whether Amar’e is healthy is to see how he does on the defensive side of the ball with the way he rotates to defend.  Speaking of their defense, Nate Taylor of the New York Times says that the team has become flat defensively now falling to middle of the pack in categories they were leading the league in during their 18-5 start.  Meanwhile Al Iannazzone of Newsday offers this little nugget from Amar’e Stoudemire about being ok with coming off the bench if the team is winning.  The Knicks have been 5-5 in their last ten games.

The defensive lapses have been alarming but hallelujah!  We finally know why Amar’e sucks so badly on defense.  He just wasn’t ever taught how to defend OR box out and get positioning on rebounds.  Now it all makes sense.  Needless to say this didn’t sit well with me and it shouldn’t sit well with any Knick fan who has any aspirations of seeing their team do major things this year.  I knew Amare’s return would cause some kind of conflict within a peaceful ecosystem that existed but this caught me off guard.  This town loves their basketball teams having that defensive edge and for about the first 23 games the Knicks played with that kind of edge, but now with the Spurs and Celtics looming on the schedule, and the Knicks without Raymond Felton to cover the quick shifty point guards like Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker, it will fall upon the elder legs of Jason Kidd and Pablo Spaghetti to get it done. 

Am I going to fault Amare for wanting to start?  No.  He’s a starter in the NBA regardless of his allergic reaction to playing defense.  He has the kind of freak athleticism that very few players have and the Knicks are lucky to have that on their roster.  They need Amar’e to begin to “get it” on defense.  The rotations, the assignments, everything.  They need him to understand all the phases of the game and I need Mike Woodson to hold him accountable.  That he won’t just automatically get his starting job back because he has one of the most expensive contracts in the NBA.  If Amare isn’t on board with that then he doesn’t deserve to play and no matter how much bitching he does he can sit.  Or the Knicks can do what they do with Ronnie Brewer.  Play him at starting forward just so they put Carmelo at the 4, and then once JR Smith comes in have him firmly parked on the bench for the rest of the game.  A starter by name only.  By the way, ever seen Ronnie Brewer during a game when the first sub starts?  Its like Pavlov’s dogs with him, he hears the siren and he immediately reports to the bench without even looking at who’s coming in.  Poor guy.

That other basketball team in NY had a pretty good beginning to their 2013 campaign.  The Brooklyn JayZ’s went to OKC and stunned the Thunder by having, as Tim Bontemps of the New York Post describes, as one of those nights that Mikhail Prokhorov envisioned after a few vodkatinis.  The big three of D. Will Get Another Coach Fired, Need a Cup of Joe Johnson, and Laying down by a Brook Lopez  combined for 77 of the team’s 110 points in their convincing rout of the Western Conference powerhouse.  Howard Beck of the New York Times writes that this was a new year and a new look Nets.  Roderick Boone of Newsday used the word shocking to describe the team’s win.  Considering their lack of effort in their past few blowout losses, maybe shocking wasn’t too strong of a term.    Howard Beck wrote about what is ailing Gilbert Grape…i mean Deron Williams.

All kidding aside, this was the kind of performance from Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez that those in cushy luxury suites had come to expect from the expensive trio of superstars asked to build up the brand.  No matter what you may think of Deron Williams, he still has the ability to play like one of the elite point guards in the game and with his night of 19 points and 13 assists he put everyone back on notice.  His shooting has been off and he’s been moody playing in Avery Johnson’s iso offense that seemed to not suit the superstar’s tastebuds but last night’s performance reminded everyone that when Deron is good, the Nets can be a very tough team no matter what.  I continue to be impressed by Brook Lopez’ night in and night out performance.  I wasn’t convinced the guy could stay healthy long enough to show that he could play but out of that trio of centers of him, Dwight Howard, and Andrew Bynum you can certainly make the case that if you were dropped on to this planet today, you would take Brook without even hesitating.  His offense has improved and he’s been doing a good job as a big securing tough rebounds and going on the offensive glass.  He’s not a complete product but the fact is, he’s atleast earning his pay unlike the other guys who have either been questionable night in and night out or just been out.  

Ray Lewis is retiring and most if not all newspapers had a small blurb about the retirement of one of the greats at the linebacker position.  Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun writes that Ray Lewis will go down as the greatest middle linebacker in the history of the NFL.  Peter Schmuck (and I’m sure Ravens fans after reading this will be thinking how appropriate a last name) of the Sun wonders why Ray chose to make his announcement now?

I chose just the Baltimore papers to give a feel about what the local area is feeling today as Ray Lewis’ announcement has hit every medium and every Baltimore fan or Ray Lewis Fan has had time to digest the news.  The only surprising news that Ray Lewis is retiring is the fact that he announced it in a team meeting after talking about how the players should play for each other.  To drop this kind of news on the players after such an emotional and uplifting meeting has to be weighing on the team emotionally.  The timing is the only issue I had with this, but perhaps this is Ray Lewis’ last great motivational speech as a teammate and player in the league.  Maybe this is what it will take to inspire the players to go out and play for the face of the franchise.  I think a majority of people have moved on from Lewis’ stabbing rap, but this morning while dropping my mom off to work, there was Boomer and Carton joking around that Lewis hasn’t stabbed anyone lately.  Its a complicated legacy, one that Ray has done much to fix.  He’s been out there preaching his sermons of togetherness and helping each other that have resonated with so many people.  Its hard for people to let go of the fact that he was involved in a murder that answers have not been given to.  

The fact is, Ray Lewis paid his pennance (according to a court ruling) and has forged a career based on intelligence and sheer will that nobody could have expected.  Remember, three linebackers were taken ahead of him and a reality altering 100 plus middle linebackers have played in the league since his arrival to today.  Its a model of consistency and a source of strength for both Lewis and the Ravens that he has come to play and take ownership of the franchise the way he has.  He will surely be a part of the fabric of the Baltimore community for years and years just like he is in the Miami-Dade County area where he makes his offseason home.  Yes, he’s probably the greatest middle linebacker ever to play the game and will go down as a first ballot hall of famer for sure.  I still can’t help but think that not a day goes by that this man has ultimate regret that he was even in the same zip code as that tragedy.  Whether he had something to do with it or not, that’s not for me to say.  He was judged to be not guilty of murder.  He was however convicted with lying about details relating to that night’s shooting.  There is some twinge of doubt with which his detractors will always hold over him.

This weekend, a speaker by the name of Gian Paul Gonzalez came to speak at an event at the St Peter’s Church in Teaneck, NJ.  My wife was there, I was bed ridden with the flu.  She came and told me a story that Mr. Gonzalez (he of the All-In speech that inspired the Giants to their Super Bowl run last year), told to those who were there that night.  A kid came home to see his mother with marks on her face.  The son asked what happened and got no answer.  He asked his mother for a deck of cards.  His mother refused to give him a deck of cards thinking he was going to gamble to get him and his mother out of the situation they were in.  They lived in a poor neighborhood.  Her son told her that he wasn’t going to gamble with it, but promised that those cards would get them out.  He had decided that every time he would flip a card, he would do the number of push ups written on the card.  Face cards were 10, Aces were 11.  He started doing it nightly and by his senior year of college he could finish a full deck of cards without getting tired.  He did finally get his mother out of that neighborhood and away from people that could put marks on her face.  Which is why he chose the number 52, for the 52 cards in a deck.  That boy, was Ray Lewis.

That’s the sheer will to both survive and excel that people talk about when they talk about Ray Lewis.

Here’s what to watch tonight:  The Knicks vs. Spurs live from MSG tonight at 7:30.  If you’re an NFL fan gearing up for playoff weekend there’s the replay of the Green Bay vs. Minny game on NFL Network starting at 8.  The Fiesta Bowl is on ESPN from 8:30 on.

ENJOY

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Headlines 1/3/2012

Yesterday’s biggest news story was the return of Amar’e Stoudemire.  But the story turned familiar.  The Knicks came out ice cold and couldn’t buy a lay up, while the other team was hitting every open shot they were given.  At one point the Knicks went down 19 and once again climbed to within one shot of tying, but could never find the defensive stop they needed.

“You can’t keep spotting teams 20-plus leads and think you’re going to win,” Mike Woodson said. “The last few games have been a disaster in terms of how we’re starting games.”

Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News writes that Amar’e Stoudemire is in direct competition with Carmelo Anthony to get touches and therein lies the rub and the greater storyline as it relates to the rest of the 2012-2013 season.  In a more optimistic story, the New York Post’s Kevin Kiernan writes that if Carmelo and Amar’e learn how to work together, and the fans are patient, a bigger reward awaits the Knicks. Zach Schonbrun of the New York Times writes that Amar’e Stoudemire’s standing ovation was ripe with optimism but filled with caution.

Yesterday’s game was a pretty familiar storyline.  Fall down early, make a great comeback but ultimately fall short.  The added storyline of Amar’es return and Carmelo’s return from a two game sit out due to a hyper extended knee made this a must watch game.  Nothing about this game was pretty, despite 45 from Carmelo Anthony.  The Knicks continue to live and die by the three and yesterday they were slaughtered.  The Knicks were 10-37 from beyond the arc while the Blazers shot 11-33.  It seemed that every shot that Nicholas Batum took either went in or airballed and he didn’t airball much.  He was the high man, and also the one given the responsibility of trying to guard Carmelo.  When one on one defense didn’t work, the Blazers began double teaming Melo.  Credit Melo with finding his open teammates, but nobody ever found a rhythm that would make the Blazers go away from the strategy of doubling Melo.  

JR Smith continues to be a real Six Man of the Year candidate playing an all around game that everyone thought he could play but never lived up to, either due to immaturity or indifference.  Either way, the idea I would think, is to have Amar’e and JR come in to give the team an offensive lift when they can’t seem to score points.  At some point Steve Novak will start hitting the close to 50% that he can, and the Knicks will have a formidable 9 man rotation.  Of course, the odd man out in this rotation will be Ronnie Brewer who is known for his defense and is a starter by name only, but plays very few minutes thanks to his inability to hit the wide open corner three, once Iman Shumpert returns.  That return is still being speculated about, but expect in the next two weeks to hear an announcement from the usually tightlipped MSG office.  I found the rotations a bit weird, as this was kind of a throwaway game for the Knicks.  They were working with several line ups, but having a very quick hook with any line up that had Carmelo and Amar’e in it which was odd to me.  Its a chemistry issue they want to avoid for now until Amar’e gets fully healthy, or its something they have decided upon for the betterment of the team.  Stoudemire’s minutes were limited to 20 yesterday but while he only played 17, he seemed tentative and hesitant.  Too amped up on his first few attempts before settling down on his old familiar: the pick and roll drive to the hoop dunk.  Once he got that lead pass from Pablo Prigioni, and he dunked, there was that familiar spark in his eyes.  

On the other side, I was extremely impressed with Damian Lilliard.  I had heard he was a legit rookie of the year candidate (the lead dog IMO), but to see him in person was impressive.  He’s got that quickness and body control that makes him a poor man’s Derrick Rose.  That step back three was the kind of shot that you only see from more poised veteran guards and it tells you how much more mature beyond his years this kid really is.  A four year starter from Weber State, Lilliard is proving to be the team’s best draft selection since LaMarcus Aldridge.  Also, how in the hell does JJ Hickson dominate us EVERY FREAKING TIME?  He’s in the ALL-“ROLE PLAYERS WHO HAVE CAREER GAMES AGAINST THE KNICKS ALL THE TIME” Team.  

The Jets offseason unofficially started the day they couldn’t beat the Tennessee Titans, but their official offseason started Monday when they fired the GM, Mike Tannenbaum.  Many wrote about how Rex should have been given a pink slip with the GM.  Rich Cimini of ESPNNY writes why this plan of action, hiring a GM while keeping the incumbent coach, could be a death penalty for Rex. Ben Shpigel of the New York Times writes “No doubt the Jets’ position is appealing; only 32 of these jobs exist, after all. But whoever takes over for Tannenbaum will inherit a mess at quarterback, several bloated contracts and a roster in dire need of an overhaul, not to mention a coach he did not choose in Ryan, whose return in 2013 Johnson guaranteed.”  Mark Cannizaro of the Post writes that a curious decision was to let Tony Sparano hang on to his job as offensive coordinator, though he admits that the Jets lead the league in curious decision making.  Steve Serby of the Post writes that Rex needs to come out and talk about it.  His press conference was canceled by the team on the day that Mike Tannenbaum was let go.  The owner Woody Johnson had a five paragraph statement read.  In fact, the only member of the Jet hierarchy that did any talking, was the guy they let go: GM Mike Tannenbaum.  Finally, Manish Mehta of the Daily News, and Rex Ryan’s favorite scribe writes, “Rex Ryan, the king of transparency and accountability, isn’t talking.”

You can understand the frustration from the beat writing community as it relates to the Jets.  The team had a frustrating and disappointing season.  They aren’t in the mood to answer some difficult questions.  But the bigger dilemma becomes that the Jets organization wanted to dump everything on the lap of the GM while saving the coach who’s been at the head of much of this mess.  What I don’t know and what will apparently never be clear, is who was responsible for the Tim Tebow signing?  That was a decision made by an influential voice within the organization.  Was it Rex Ryan?  It didn’t look like it from the amount of playing time he got and the constant refusal to name him the starting QB especially in the meaningless week 17 contest against Buffalo.  Was it Mike Tannenbaum?  Maybe.  He did make the, now idiotic, decision to resign Mark Sanchez and guarantee him $20 million basically bolting him down to the Jets roster for the 2013 season.  But then why would he turn around the next day and go after Tim Tebow?  His decision to give Sanchez that contract extension was definitely influenced by the fact that he openly went after Peyton Manning and Mark found out and was upset by it, and yeah, this whole thing sounds soap opera-ish.  My guess is that it was owner Woody Johnson who has never really made a good decision since he’s taken over the team’s ownership.  

Woody has always been about the bottom line and winning the back page war with the Giants who never have had any desire to partake in that kind of thing.  This move was meant to distract everyone from the poor season they had.  Add to that, the whole building up a wall and the almost CIA Top Secret Tebow playbook and you had the makings of a ridiculous campaign that became bizarre.  Needless to say the Tebow situation was NOT the only reason the GM got fired, but the quarterbacking position was a major influence.  Add the contract, and the overall lack of depth to the roster and very few draft picks with which to fix the roster, Mike Tannenbaum leaves his successor very few avenues to go through in order to cure what ails this team.  

I know Jet fans won’t want to hear this and obviously they won’t consider this move, but the best way to get all of your draft picks back is to trade one of your best players.  Yes, if the Jets pay most of Mark Sanchez’s salary they may get a sixth round pick, but why do that deal in the first place?  My guess would be to bring in a strong QB’s coach to work with Mark.  The Jets should invest in a running game.  Steven Jackson will be a free agent soon, and he would like another chance at winning.  His price range may be too high for the Jets but they should consider knocking on that door.  They still have stars.  Maybe if they trade a guy like Muhammad Wilkerson OR Darelle Revis, they will get a bunch of draft picks back- maybe even a number one.  Remember, the Rams still have picks from their RGIII trade with Washington, and they are trying to find building blocks and Wilkerson would definitely be looked at as something they would want.  Would that be worth it? 

As it relates to media relations, this won’t get better unless the team gets better.  But even then, there are some feelings that need to be mended.  Its clear that several in the media are feeling ignored and not being given a story and don’t expect for them to continue to speculate, thereby giving the reader and the fanbase something to worry about.   Lately, the boastful and talkative Jets have gone into bunker mode.  What is the deal there?  The Jets will certainly have many questions to answer.  Once they find a new GM perhaps some of those answers will be given by an actual member of the Jets hierarchy.

While the Jets are majoring in confusion and outright non-commital, the Giants are in a different state of mind.  They were left with no answers as to why they no-showed their week 15 and week 16 contests against two playoff teams while demolishing the pathetic Eagles (there was no homer-ism in that description of the Eagles, just outright contempt.  Please note the difference).  Changes are coming for the Giants and one change that seemed imminent is now as close to official as can be: Osi Umeniyora announced on the Michael Kay show that he probably won’t be returning to the Giants and he will test the open market.  Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News writes that panic isn’t setting in on the Giants, a team who came within one game of making the playoffs.  Paul Schwartz of the Post writes that it won’t be easy identifying what exactly happened in those week 15 and week 16 games, but it won’t be tough to know what needs to be done.  Zach Shonbrun of the New York Times writes that remorse is the word around Giants camp.  Remorse that a quality team didn’t get to defend its Super Bowl title.  Finally Ohm Yungmisuk of ESPNNY writes the same thing only with hilarious quotes from Martellus Bennett.

I’m not going to try and figure out weeks 15 and 16.  The usual flat performance that we’ve come to expect was the immediate answer following each loss, but it never seemed to accurately describe what happened.  Losing 34-0 to a Falcons team that shouldn’t have soundly beat the Giants?  Losing 33-14 to a team and a QB who had issues galore?  It just didn’t seem right.  If it was lack of focus and intensity then doesn’t some of that fall on the coaching staff?  Just trusting that a team that has done it before will pick it up automatically won’t be an easy sell to a fanbase that went into the season and especially after blowout wins against the 49ers and the Packers.  Clearly the talent is there to compete and a returning core will be a good start, but with almost two dozen players becoming either restricted or unrestricted free agents (here is a list) there will certainly be a good amount of change at the Timex center come next season.  

IF I had to guess who is definitely coming back from that list, I would say that Stevie Brown, Victor Cruz, Andre Brown (all restricted free agents), Lawrence Tynes, Kevin Boothe, Will Beatty, Sean Locklear,  Bear Pascoe, Adrian Tracy aka YOsi (young Osi), and Domenik Hixon.  Guys I would like to be re-signed but are iffy because of either price or shaky health are, Kenny Phillips, Martellus Bennett, Rocky Bernard, Ramses Barden, Chase Blackburn, and Keith Rivers.  Every other guy on that list is a goner in my eyes.  The Giants had another good to great year on the offensive line but saw too much of their health depleted.  

If I were in charge of the draft, I would try to find an offensive lineman (you draft tackles because they are usually the best athletes), before they find a pass rusher.  I think the Giants just had a off season in terms of pass rushing and Perry Fewell made the mistake of trusting that his line would apply pressure without any stunts or blitzes.  That last game against the Eagles, the Giants used a lot of stunts and linebacker blitzes and created a ton of turnovers.  That may be a blueprint for how Fewell designs pressure in the upcoming season.  The Giants line were not winning their one on ones which they were used to winning, so perhaps mixing in some pressure from the LB’s and corners along with winning some one on one match ups will help but the team needs to begin to play with more fire.  Maybe next year they won’t enter week 16 and 17 having to win games just to make it into the playoffs.  This is still a team capable of winning a Super Bowl and the window is right now open. As Martellus Bennett hilariously put it, 

“It is a big a– window, we are not talking about apartment windows on the side. We are talking like mansions.  Like [Evander] Holyfield’s house in Atlanta where he had people working the grounds for you,” the tight end continued. “I don’t think the window is closing. I think there are other guys coming in to open up another window.”

That remains to be seen.

 

What do you guys think?

 

 

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