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Knicks Pistons Postgame

The Knicks lost to the Detroit Pistons 92-86 for their third consecutive loss.  Here are some thoughts about the game.

1. The Knicks started their fifth different lineup of this young season.  Beno Udrih and Kenyon Martin were the 9th and 10th different player to be in the starting line up.  As Coach Woodson said after the Atlanta game “we don’t have an identity.”  It gets boring having to repeat or find new ways to say the same thing:  the Knicks are a lost team and they need to figure it out quick.

While the season is still young, the lineup shuffling is a massive indictment on the structure of this current team.  If this stretch continues, you have to wonder if last year’s run was a mirage and an everything-went-right-for-us scenario that played out.  The team looked as though they had never practiced with one another- a byproduct of having to work another guy into the rotation.  Beno Udrih had totaled a whopping 20 minutes over the last 9 days.  And that’s only because he played all 20 minutes in a Spurs blowout loss.  That’s right, Mike Woodson started a guy who had not played a single minute in the last three games despite having Pablo Prigioni on the team.  That’s borderline irresponsible on Woodson’s part to try and pull something like that off and attempt to get away with it.

Again its early but there’s tons to touch upon in regards to improvements so let’s see where I can start:

2. Some people asked me what benefit a zone defense would bring to these Knicks and I said its a system that fits this current roster.  Especially if you want to give Amar’e a bigger load of minutes.  Especially if you don’t have a Tyson Chandler to mask Carmelo Anthony’s bad one-on-one defense against fours.  The zone is a bend but don’t break defense which means when played right it can limit the number of wide open shots which is what has plagued the Knicks these last few games.

The fundamental problem with the Knicks is communication.  Guys fight through screens, yet find themselves doubling on a guy that they don’t need to.  I counted four times in the first half that the Knicks unnecessarily doubled a Detroit big man 20 feet away from the basket.  For what?  To go even further, if you give Josh Smith space he will gladly chuck the ball with absolute glee.  The law of percentages say that he won’t hit more than 40% of those shots.  Why even try and pressure a guy who will shoot his team out of a game and force him to do the unselfish thing?  The Pistons are full of guys who struggle with the concept that there is only ONE basketball in play at one time.  Why force guys to pass when they will gladly shoot their team out of a game when they are given daylight?

This game was a tailor made streak buster and the Knicks screwed that up by playing undiscplined and allowing the Pistons wide open shots by not playing their opponent rather than playing the scheme.  The good teams understand their opponents and have a sense of their weaknesses.  Brandon Jennings was clearly not himself because he wasn’t trying to beat the Knicks by himself.  Will Bynum was out.  There were any number of reasons to believe the Knicks could win this game, but once again their team defense and specifically their help defense wasn’t just a step slow, it was non-existent at times.  Guys were no where near the rim as Detroit players were streaking to the hoop at will.  It was embarassing.

The zone defense allows bad one on one defenders to play a specific area of the floor and make teams hesitant to drive into the lane because there will always be someone there.  With the three second rule, you are asking whomever is playing center to be quick enough to enter the picture to deter an offensive player from getting an uncontested look at the basket but at this point its worth trying if only for the sake of “let’s try something different than the current scheme that is clearly NOT working.”

In that scenario, you would have to hide Amar’e and Bargnani because they are just bad help defenders and keep Kenyon Martin on the floor.  At this point the Knicks would probably have to look into Cole Aldrich for a steady diet of minutes IF ONLY for the reinforcement he would provide.  And besides, like teams used to say about playing Shaquille O’Neal, “we need guys who can play six (fouls).”

3. The Knicks are regularly getting beat by a second, third, and fourth option.  Like on the regular these days.  Rather than play the team, the Knicks prepare for the starting five and almost throw up their hands in disbelief when they realize teams have a bench player who also can score.  Its almost beyond belief how terribly overmatched the Knicks seem to be.  They exert so much extra energy into the defensive end on overhelp and over-switching that when the team does swing it to the open man they basically get down on their knees to pray that an NBA player misses a wide open shot.

I know we like to clown a lot of players but most of those guys will hit those shots.  And last night, it was Rodney Stuckey who burned the Knicks.  On four straight possessions he forgot that he was a middling player on a destined to be 30-35 win team.  He must have felt like he was back in high school, doing what he wanted against an overmatched JV squad.  Stuckey bruised the Knicks for 21 points and with each made shot he gained more and more confidence that by the time they decided to stick Stuckey, he was in heat-em-up NBA Jam mode.  Turrible as Sir Charles would say.

4. Losses like last night can make players get frustrated and you saw it in Carmelo’s play.  This was a four play sequence for the Knicks on four consecutive possessions:

Carmelo Miss
Carmelo Technical
Carmelo Offensive foul
Carmelo turnover.

The very next play, Greg Monroe fouled him and replays showed Melo should’ve received the continuation but the referees refused to give him the call because guess what?  Melo had pretty much spent the last twenty minutes of real time complaining to the refs that they weren’t doing a very good job.  Instead of going for a three point play the Knicks left with an extra possession.  The result of those four turnovers?  7 points for the Pistons who went from up one to up eight and a comfortable enough cushion to withstand a minispurt by the Knicks.

Amar’e later picked up a technical himself because Amar’e feels he should never be called for a foul on defense even if half of Detroit can hear him slap somebody’s wrist playing defense.  Add in the fact that you saw players visibly pointing at parts of the paint where Detroit players were routinely blowing by their defenders and having zero resistance at the basket and you have the obvious recipe for disaster.  A team in disarray.  Pick any starry headline you want.  The optimist’s optimist would tell you that its a good sign that the players are visibly upset over their performance because it shows they care. Of course who cares if they show they care if we don’t see tangible results?  We will see if the caring will play out on the court and manifest itself in better overall play.

5.  I’m not ready to place all the blame on coaching and Woodson because he seems as mystified as we all do but it isn’t to say that he shouldn’t have the finger pointed at him.  Woodson’s second full season (if he’s even afforded that) has been symbolized by mismanagement and a severe lack of direction.  Woodson isn’t sure who he trusts and he’s equally clueless about how to fix the issues the team has on defense which tells you that he had no back up plan in the event that Tyson Chandler went down.  The Knicks are an imperfect roster that can only win if their three point shots are going down and the players show a willingness to play coherent defense.  The Knicks have decent defensive players but on the most part they don’t have the personnel to run a system that asks players to know where they should be in the event that one of their teammates will leave their man to help on another player.

Woodson has shown an almost borderline unwillingness to adapt.  Who knows if he’s stubborn or truly believes he can make it work with this roster but the evidence is being played night after night: these guys can’t keep playing this way night after night.  Last year’s experiment of Melo at the four was brought on by injury, not by Woodson having an epiphany to try something different.

It could be that Woodson wants to beat the system into the players and have them work it out on the court rather than switch everything up on defense and then switch back once Chandler comes back.   Again, its early but let’s see what Woodson does to solve the issues that plague the Knicks.

6.  You have to wonder how long a leash Woodson is going to give J.R. Smith who’s had one idiotic dope-head move after another.  I won’t blame the knee surgery after the contract because that falls squarely on the Knicks shoulders.  But the twitter feed, the beef with Brandon Jennings continues the leaguewide rep that he has of a troublemaker and not worth the headache for good teams to have.  It could be that Woodson is trying to be supportive of JR much like he was last year by continuing to run him out there even though he’s playing poorly.  But the fact remains that Smith can not possibly continue to shoot at 28% and expect to keep logging 30-35 minutes a game.  Woodson can’t afford to play him those kind of minutes.

It bears watching though if Woodson is trying to coach him through this rough stretch by continuing to believe in his ability to snap out of it.  Like any streaky shooter you ride the waves of good with the bad and hope that the highs stay longer than the lows.  One thing you have to wonder about though is how the arthroscopic knee surgery is actually affecting his ability to drive to the basket.  JR has been more than content at pulling up for jumpers and playing the perimeter jump shooting game.  He was successful at that last year but only after establishing his ability to drive to the basket and he was always best when he was being aggressive.  He has his bouts with the one on one, over dribbling but it bears watching that as his health returns he will begin to be more aggressive towards the hoop.

7. An interesting point raised by Mike Breen was the void of leadership on this current Knicks team.  Last year’s team had wise sages like Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and Jason Kidd.  Kidd left to coach the Brooklyn Nets to the ground (good looks Jason!).  Sheed is player/coach-ing the Pistons and Kurt Thomas is a mall cop somewhere.  I’ve always been a guy who believes in that team camraderie/things-you-can’t-quantify stuff that stat geeks like to say they don’t believe in yet are forever to prove using numbers.  This year’s team leader flowchart would have Carmelo Anthony at the top by virtue of calling players only meetings (always a fave of mine, five games into a season), and frankly he’s not ready to lead.  He leads by hoisting up fifteen shots.  You saw it towards the end of the game where Melo was hellbent on taking on the entire Pistons team to bring the Knicks back- heroic yes, but its the biggest complaint Melo detractors have about him.  He doesn’t make his team better, he only betters his stats.

Last year’s team had older players but they had players who could keep guys like J.R. in line and be professional.  If you are looking for Melo to do that, its putting him in a role he’s not fit to play.  I’m not saying that Melo can’t become a better leader, heck anything’s possible, I just think like Michael Jordan trying to run a professional basketball team, he can’t teach his skill to people around him.  He will stand around and expect them to get it and that’s not how to be a leader.  The Knicks could use a few old guys to keep players in check and manage tempers because its showing.  Just another thing the Knicks are lacking this year.

8. And just in time for this big stink-fest are the Indiana Pacers who roll into town with a 9-1 record and the memory of knocking the Knicks out of the playoffs last year.  If the Knicks had any pride, they would compete their hearts out based solely on the memory of being beaten by the Pacers.  But anyone expecting them to protect their home court with their glowing 1-5 mark is almost foolish at this point.  There will be plenty to write about dissecting the Pacers roster construction when compared to the Knicks in my next post but let’s just say that if this whole Melo thing doesn’t work out this year- looking at the Pacers model wouldn’t be so bad.  But who knows, when you expect the Knicks to lose, they pull off a mini-miracle and remain competitive against a good team.

9. Finally, among all the things the Knicks have gone through their front office and owner have reverted back to their old meddling ways and begun to ruin the Knicks from the inside as they love to do.  I can’t tell you strongly enough how much I want James Dolan to sell which probably means he equally wants to keep the team.  I imagine him sitting in his office reading fan mail and crying…..because he’s laughing so hard at all the heartfelt emails asking him to step down or stop fooling around with the personnel guys long enough to allow them to do their jobs.  From hiring someone to tail Woodson to guaranteeing wins in November to sending a cease and desist to his own Knicks cheerleaders (probably because they make people feel good at the Garden and Lord knows we don’t need that) to making a GM change on the eve of the NBA season, its been one thing after another that has kept the constant black eye on the franchise.  At this point what’s the expectation of any kind of normalcy at this point?

10. And sadly I STILL 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 1/8/2013

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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Post game react: Knicks vs. Spurs

Tony Parker had just delivered another pinpoint pass to Tiago Splitter who had somehow managed to score the Spurs last 12 points (and also had outscored the Knicks 12-5 in the 4th quarter up until that point) and while finishing the dunk, Tyson Chandler fouled Splitter hard.  Some of it was frustration and some of it was the inability of the Knicks to control Tony Parker’s ability to find the open man on a consistent basis.  But there was an extra muscle added to that foul.

The lead ballooned to 11 and it seemed as though the Spurs were on the kind of run that good teams manage to negotiate in critical moments of games.

And yet there was 7:14 left in the game.  A timeout was called.  Splitter hit the free throw and the Knicks came right back up without missing a beat and Raymond Felton decided he wasn’t going to be outdone by his point guard counterpart.  He drove to the hoop and had an opportunity to get the and one but failed.  But the foul by Parker was a loud snap on the wrist of Felton and it seemed as though both teams were beginning to get chippy.

Much of the premise of last night’s game was that this was going to be the Knicks first real test.  They had written off the Miami win as a product of an emotionally charged Knick team playing for a noble purpose that Miami almost felt guilty about ruining.  Translated: the Miami Heat gave up on that game the moment they stepped foot in to superstorm Sandy ravaged New York and the moment Wade made his now infamous comments about the game which made him give up his salary to benefit relief efforts. The Sixers were playing without Andrew Bynum and were a mess offensively without their anchor in the middle.  And of course the Magic were a lottery team.  All valid arguments.  Yet, how could you possibly do it this time to a Spurs team who picked up right where they left off from last year’s 50 win regular season.

So there were the Knicks 7 minutes away from validating everyone’s eyebrow raising over the Knicks 5-0 start.  They were going to lose to an actual contender that everyone had penciled in for, at the very least, the Western Conference semis.  The Knicks for the second straight game turned it on in the fourth quarter and began to pull away thanks to a strong defensive effort.  But it came from two places that one couldn’t have possibly seen coming.

Stephen Jackson said of Carmelo Anthony following the game: “I think last year Melo would have forced a lot of shots,” Jackson said. “This year he’s trusting his teammates and it’s shown out there, especially tonight. It’s amazing how they went from two guys shooting all the balls to a team that everybody has confidence in everybody else.’’

There he was with the Knicks down 6, getting an entry pass with a clear look at the basket and passing off to Tyson Chandler who had a clear path for a dunk and an and one.  If that weren’t enough for you Carmelo doubters there was this: with the Knicks down by a single point, following a steal by Kidd on a bad pass from Manu Ginobli, Kidd fed Melo for what usually would’ve been one of Melo’s patented stop and pop three point shots.  Instead he faked, took a quick step towards the rim, saw the defense collapsing on him and passed to Felton who was cutting towards the basket from the opposite side.  It was critical from this sense: Kidd from the moment he began pushing saw Melo working his way up the court in transition and anyone in Kidd’s position would’ve expected Melo to shoot the ball or take the ball to the hole there and initiate contact and, best case scenario, get an and one.  Its why Melo is paid the big bucks: he’s the best player on the Knicks.  Their best offensive player.

But last night was not Melo’s night offensively.  The defensive pressuring of Stephen Jackson, Kawhi Leonard, and the doubling of Melo when others would switch defensively had done a number on Melo.  So there was Melo feeding the guy who had the hot hand: Ray Felton on what would’ve been an easy lay up had Tim Duncan’s hall of fame shadow not shown up to dismiss that thought from Felton’s brain.  Felton immediately turned his body and saw JR Smith waiting for the ball and for the moment.  Three point.  Gun shots.

But that was NOT the end.  There’s something equally impressive Melo managed to do on the following possession by the Spurs.  With the Spurs trying to recover from a backbreaking JR Smith 3 to give the Knicks their first lead of the quarter, the Spurs kept going east and west, and when the ball finally landed in Kawhi Leonard’s arms, Melo SOMEHOW angled his body away from Kawhi Leonard who was scared of taking the corner three thanks to Melo’s crazy waving arms and couldn’t get the shot off in time.  24 second violation.  Imagine that.  Carmelo going from making the unselfish offensive move to the rotating defense that caused a shot clock violation.  Was there a better indication of whether Carmelo “gets it”?

It was always the big question about Carmelo: did he understand what it took to play on both ends?  Everyone knew what he was offensively: a me first guy who put the team second.  Who could play that kind of way because his offense was just so good sometimes that even in the face of double teams he could manage to get off shots and make them that made you shake your head.  Those makes, reinforced in Carmelo’s mind perhaps that maybe it was ok to hoist those shots.  Even when people (stats included) told Melo that playing the 4 would make him unstoppable, early on he resisted.

But he’s been everything the Knicks had ever hoped for him to be.  A superstar understanding what it takes to win.  That in the course of 82 games, not every shot will fall, but when there’s a match up that is working like Raymond Felton against Tony Parker, that you go to it.  That when there’s an open man you trust your teammates to make the shot.  Those realizations are huge and if Carmelo gets it and I mean truly gets it, the sky is truly the limit.  He’s trying on the defensive end like I had seen from him in spots last season.  He’s buying in to Coach Woodson’s system.

Then there’s the ageless wonder Jason Kidd.  Kidd had said prior to the season that he didn’t care to play major minutes.  He came to mentor Jeremy Lin.  But most important, in those critical final four to five minutes of a tight ball game, he wanted in.  He wanted the opportunity to help the Knicks win.  Well, two out of three aint bad.  He once again proved his worth by playing stellar defense and doing all the little things during the course of the game and when Tony Parker’s slashing and Tiago Splitter’s offense was destroying everything in its path, it was Kidd who like in the Orlando game had managed to calm the Knicks down as things seemed to be going against them, calmly hit two threes back to back to cut a 12 point lead to 6 and inject life to a hapless Knicks squad.

Huge swings of momentum are gifts given to teams by fortune, but sometimes players can force nature’s hand and cause it all by themselves.  And when the Knicks needed to hit a back breaking three to extend the 2 point lead, there was Jason Kidd with a hand in his face, off balance hitting his final three of the night to put the Knicks up 5.  There are players who have a sense of timing about these things and when you have a veteran laden team you’re bound to have a couple who get it.  This is why Kidd was brought to this team.  These are the moments he desired to be a part of.  These are the situations he was born to lead and direct.  There he was playing maestro and the lead role.

There’s much to like about this Knicks team.  And I haven’t even got to the point guard situation yet which is light years ahead of what last year’s team had.  But if you’re not a fan of Melo “getting it” or of J.R. Smith changing his outlook on the sixth man role or Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas’ combined experience being a good omen for this squad then you’re not a Knicks fan. But that’s alright.  But as a basketball team when you see a team playing together.  Understanding roles.  Having each other’s back.  Its just fun to watch.

This is great basketball.  Who would’ve thunk that meant New York Knick basketball.

NOTES:

– Tim Duncan said it all when he glanced at Carmelo Anthony’s point total and said ”  “You assume we win that game.”  So would everyone else Timmy.  The Big Fundamental joined the rest of the Spurs organization in singing the Knicks praises after a gutty comeback win by the Knicks in which the Knicks showed mental toughness and the ability to pull a comeback with their best star only scoring 9 points.  It indeed is a new age for the Knicks who are probably as shocked as their opponents are at how great Anthony is playing on both ends.  He’s the epitome of a leader and in my opinion is doing what he needs to do to shed all the previous labels that stuck through his career.  It will be interesting to see how long this new attitude by Melo can last but having this many veterans on the team, especially guys with rings can ONLY help.  Right?

– Again, all of these are small sample sizes but right now Raymond Felton is playing the kind of basketball that begs the question: Does the New York Knick uniform give him super powers?  Many had attributed his success in his first stint with the Knicks to playing in D’Antoni’s uptempo system.  Of course many had also made the Pudge Felton jokes too.  But perhaps the Woodson system that asks him to slow it down here and there and penetrate through screens and get assists through pick and rolls (which he’s building quite the rapport with Tyson Chandler by the way), is the best system he’s been a part of.  Lin was brought to the Rockets where he would be head of an offense that he was probably as aptly suited for as the D’Antoni system.  But Lin is still having his turnover issues whereas the Knicks are NOT.

– One of the biggest surprises of the early season has been the almost allergic reaction to turnovers that the Knicks have.   Zack Lowe of Grantland says that not only would it be historic, its a clip thats unsustainable.  That tweet, got him in so much hot water from Knick fans who attacked him as a hater.  BUT, the fact is, to expect the Knicks will go an entire season averaging 10 turnovers a game, is not realistic and fans can expect that number to go up as the season progresses.  But that’s not the only thing that the Knicks are doing that bear watching and Knick fans can expect to regress:  JR Smith is currently hitting 70% of his 3 point field goals.  The Knicks are also beating teams by over 13 points.  But then there’s the poor shooting of Steve Novak, the inclusion of Amar’e Stoudemire which at the very least will help the offense (maybe?) and the return of Iman Shumpert that should help the team defensively so there are some things that bear watching.

– The game tonight against the Grizzlies is probably going to be closely watched by those in NBA circles to see the Knicks ability to respond after an emotional win against the Spurs.  Should they win tonight, the Knicks would almost definitely have to be taken seriously by the talking heads of the NBA who marginally praised them following the win against the Spurs.  The Grizz feature Zack Randolph and Marc Gasol- the best front court they have faced thus far.  It will be interesting to see toned down Carmelo giving up 30 pounds to Z-Bo in the paint.  That will be very loud match up.

Other than Marc Gasol, I think the player I’m most impressed with on that roster has to be Mike Conley who, at one time, had one of the worst contracts when he first signed it, but over time has justified the investment by getting better in increments.  That’s all you can ask for from your team’s point guard.  It will be interesting to see the Mike Conley and Ray Felton match up tonight.

 

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Monday Morning something or the other…

Happy Monday morning.  Ok forget it, I tried you lazy bums.  Here’s the racket this morning:  Huge win for the Knicks last night over the Heatles.  I will talk about the trade deadline.  No links this week but I will come back strong next week.  The Melo trade was indeed a victory but Prokho scored a major coup but I will tell you why it won’t all be vodka and salad dressing for the Russian.

Also some on Kevin Costner, Keannu Reeves, Adam Sandler and Spring Training.  Let’s warm up shall we?

FUSSING OVER TRADE DEADLINE

I weighed in on Carmelo already so no need to rehash that.

But anyone who thinks this Carmelo deal was exclusive to itself is beyond nuts.  This deal had 60% to do with Carmelo and 40% to do with the free agent class of 2012.

By now you know that Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams* all have the option to be free agents during the summer of 2012.  They will all go to where they feel give them the best chance to win.
*= D-Will has a player option for next year which could make him a 2011 free agent.

Melo’s deal wasn’t just supposed to make the Knicks a better team in the short term but also as a call to those guys that the Knicks need an extra playmaker who can come in and make them a whole helluva lot better.

The talked about lament of small market teams was firmly waved aside by Bill Simmons and other like minded people who agree that a hierarchy of teams in the league make for “must see television” which the NBA can properly plug in to prime time slots as they see fit.  It will also elevate the product come playoff time when the best teams are supposed to be playing against each other.

The NBA for far too long has tried to tell everyone that the league needs balance.  That led to the crappy decade we are only coming out of.  Look at the last decade of winners and tell me one team other than the ’04 Pistons who won without two or three guys that were top 5 at their particular position.  The NBA has and always will be a star led league.  Stars dictate where this league is going and like it or not, guys like Lebron, and Carmelo will always have the power.

At its core the NBA comes down to one on one matchups.  Those stats that seem too hard to calculate like clutch ability in other sports is a much simpler debate to have in the NBA.  Every team has one or two guys we label as finishers.  How can the league or its fans deny the power the players have?

This may be big market thinking but here’s one other point some people so easily forget.  Lebron played in Cleveland for 7 years and won 0 NBA titles.  Carmelo played in Denver for 7 and a half seasons and won 0 NBA titles.  KG played in Minnesota for 12 years and won 0 NBA titles.  Ray Allen played the same time and won 0 NBA titles.  Its not like these guys played out their rookie contracts and left the first chance they got.  They signed one and even two extensions before forcing their way to better situations.  Meanwhile Tim Duncan has been in San Antonio for 13 seasons and won 4 NBA titles.  Your team either does everything they can to surround you with complementary pieces or they don’t.  Name me one player that Lebron played with that you thought when they acquired him the Cavs would win a title.  I bet you had that convo when he, Wade and Bosh came together in Miami.  Those same conversations were had in New York this week.

This is a league of few stars and many complementary pieces.  When I was researching this whole NBA labor issue and saw the reason for a soft cap it made my mind up.  Soft caps allow teams to go over the set salary limit in order to add pieces and surround good talent.  Its meant to keep stars that were drafted by teams in their original uniforms.

The owners arguments have been faulty at best.  To ask players to give back almost $800 million in salaries because the NBA tried to be balanced is ridiculous.  Made more ridiculous by the fact that these owners signed off on these crippling deals.  Hey dumbass owner: if you didn’t wanna pay, say for arguments sake, a lazy, fat, unenthused center with a heart condition a huge contract then guess what?  DON’T.  To blame Eddy Curry for cashing those checks is ridiculous because we all would have done the same.*
*= I realize with that logic that all of us would be Eddy Curry’s but its the truth.  In some bizarro universe, we are Eddy Curry.

I think the league is about to go into a great upswing where its popularity is about to explode.  The stars aligning and allying with another isn’t a bad thing for the sport but the best thing for this sport.  Figuring out a way to share revenues seems to be the only problem that needs mediation.  The players are setting the trend.  To restrict movement and keep players in situations that are not conducive to their own happiness isn’t just unproductive, but also very stupid.

At the end of the day if teams surrounded their talent with equal talent then perhaps Lebron would still be in Cleveland getting set to win another championship.  Melo would be in Denver realistically challenging Kobe in LA.  Mark Cuban has held on to Dirk Nowitzki.  Tim Duncan has won titles in San Antonio and remains there and won’t leave.

Want a sad tale?  Steve Nash, the great white hope, won’t be traded by Robert Sarver because he refuses to let go of the one guy that keeps paying customers coming back.  Nash’s best years are gone, undoubtedly, and as long as he remains in Phoenix, he will never sniff an NBA title.  They have continuously shed draft picks and superstars like they were going out of style and they did so to reduce their salary demands.

You think if Steve Nash were younger he wouldn’t want to leave?  That he wouldnt grow tired of the same old crap?

The NBA is becoming a hierarchical society and the owners had better figure out how to deal with it.  That’s their best bet.  That’s their only play here.  Anything else would be evidence of the truth that owners of unsuccessful franchises have long tried to hide from its fans: they don’t care.

REAL LIFE RIVALRY

Nationally, the story of the real budding rivalry has gotten minuscule attention and rightfully so.  Its a non-story at this point.  The Knicks are the main event and the Nets are the hopeful under card.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that the upstart doesn’t have to give in to that logic.

Right as the Knicks were paving the streets with roses and carnations in anticipation of Carmelo Anthony’s debut at MSG, the Nets went out and hijacked Deron Williams from the Nets for a smaller version of the Carmelo offer.  Two first round draft picks, Devin Harris, and Derrick Favors.   The consensus around the league was that of shock and awe that the Russian Mad Scientist could pull off such a deal without the wherewithal of the NBA scribes who were sniffing around every corner.

The story was that this deal was consummated in 24 hours, shortly after Denver signed off on the Knicks package.  Prokho wanted a replacement superstar pronto and that he got.  Many instantly assessed Deron as the better player with the better upside.  Though there are several flaws in that logic.

Not to say that Deron Williams isn’t as good a player as Melo, or even better, I think that opinion came from the mouths of those that were still reeling from the shock of the Jazz, a very smart and steady organization, going through major renovations of its product after 20 something years with the same old script.  First Jerry Sloan and now Deron Williams?  With nary a hint that something like this was in the works?

But such is the trend and the two sided nature of the debate that small market execs are going to have to have in the coming months.  Keep our budding superstar or try to get as many building block assets before he jumps ship to more lucrative waters.  Melo’s reasoning was sound.  He’s a Brooklyn boy and wanted to come to play on the team that his childhood idol played on: Bernard King.  Deron Williams, as far as we know, did no such clamoring to get out.  Some would say that he got what he wanted when Sloan threw in his towel after twenty plus years on the bench with the scowl.

The Deron Williams trade and Melo trade have one very unique attribute in common.  Its not just done to make the team immediately better, but more so to attract potential superstars to Jersey/Brooklyn.  Williams’ value is much higher for Prokho than Melo’s is to James Dolan who is still trying to craft the next memo, in unison with Isiah Thomas, that he is in no way shape or form still associated with the Hall of Fame Point Guard.  Williams’ name represents star value and a billboard that Prokho can put up across the street from 34th and 8th in full view of Mr. Dolan who must look at the Nets as that fly that he just can’t seem to swat.

That fly of course is growing bigger and by 2012 will be gigantic when they move to Brooklyn and open up the Barclay Center.  The question now becomes will Deron Williams be there?  Unreported are two clauses in both contracts that Deron Williams and Carmelo signed.  Melo has an out clause after 2013 which means that he will give this homecoming a joyride before deciding if he really wants to commit which means there’s still another big pay day coming.  Deron Williams has a player option for next season.  Not a team option a player option.  Which means he decides that over the next 23 games that Brook Lopez is the real deal and if the Nets aren’t just a perennial contender for the 8th seed.  Like I said previously (scroll up slackers), this generation of players are much more in tune with what they want.  They are not willing to go along with organizational philosophy unless its in tune with that of their own.  They have dreams and aspirations that go far beyond the basketball court and the best and brightest of the bunch have a brand to protect.

The good thing about them is that they understand that a championship exponentially increases the value of that brand.  With no title gets no pub.  No pub means no love.  And no love on the streets means credibility is shot and if the credibility is shot amongst the basketball watching community, then its shot among execs who see them as cash cows.  Williams never committed to the Nets during his press conference only issuing the usual credo of “let’s wait and see.”

Which means that Prokho hasn’t done anything but upstage the Knicks in the back pages which is precisely what his intent is.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Prokho will be content in winning that war because that’s what counts in this city.  Perception is often a much more willing participant than reality.  It knows only the truth which you enter.

George Steinbrenner knows this and so does Mikhail Prokhorov.  The Big Russian must be looking and laughing at James Dolan as he pulled off this heist thinking that all the basketball community could talk about, on the day of Melo’s much ballyhooed debut, was the deal that brought Deron Williams to Jersey.  Prokho’s people have not made any overtures to sign him to an extension although I’m sure they will try as heck.  They will offer him a boat load of money and his chance at being the man in Brook-Land.  The major play was the back page victory.  Whatever comes next for Jersey will be gravy or gory.  If Prokho doesn’t get Deron to commit to his vision of the Nets it may be the biggest chance he ever took but he knew that it was his only play.  For that I will give the big Russian credit.  He played his hand and played it very well.  He won in every aspect of what he wanted to do.

He brought an equally talented superstar to his digs without surrendering his entire starting 5 which really wouldn’t have said a lot.  The newest trick for Prokho will be to ink Deron and ink Dwight Howard who will also become a free agent in 2012.  If he does that then he won’t have to pull any stunts to get everyone’s attention the basketball team will do all the talking for him.

 

THE BIG COUP

Finally, those of you clamoring for the reunion of the real big 3 of Melo, Stat and CP3 allow me to add some perspective.  The Knicks don’t require a point guard of the highest degree like many would like them to get.  What they require is precisely what they were missing against Cleveland.  A big man.  A gigantic big man.  The kind of big man who would make people think twice and thrice of coming into the paint.  The kind of big man that comes along as often as Haley’s Comet.  Dwight Howard should be the Knicks big signing in 2012 not CP3 or D-Will.  Sorry guys.

If the Knicks are serious about winning defensively the Knicks must up the ante and must do what they can.  I would say that in two years they can try and re-sign Felton and carry on but that bridge may have been burned.  The Knicks major deficiency is on the defensive end (last night’s final 3 minutes of the game not withstanding) and God-Willing the Knicks can convince Superman to join the Avengers and bring a title to Broadway.  Rumor has it that its between them and the Lakers meaning Dwight sees himself as a superstar (Which he should) and wants more than what Orlando can offer him and will take his time thinking things through.  The next two seasons can be exceptional auditioning tape.  What Dwight can see is a team and a system that provides numbers offensively and also a team that has two superstars in place at the prime of their careers and ready to take the next step.  On the left coast, Kobe’s aging and the team is dedicated to the development of Andrew Bynum.

Of course things can change next season.  If Kupchak gets word that the Magic want to deal away their superstar center before him wanting to leave becomes a big deal then yes, I’d say that the Lakers would ship Bynum and whomever to Orlando and export the big kahuna to help Kobe win ring number 6 (if he hasn’t already claimed it by the end of the season) or seven.  Kobe cares about his legacy and about winning more than anything and knows he’s entering that territory where it will atleast become a debate as to who is the greatest player ever: he or Jordan.

For people of my generation it will always be Jordan.  End of discussion but like I said perception is always a far greater tool than reality.  Kobe’s comeuppance has been greatly chronicled beyond words.  He won 3 titles with Shaq then exiled him to travel the great plains searching for titles and revenge.  He’s won two with a new big man who’s content to rebound, take charges and score the minimum amount of points to count as a superstar.  He’s got the complementary pieces to win with and he’s taking all the credit along with Phil who once again is along for the ride.

But even Kobe understands how many years Howard’s arrival would add, not only to his legs but also to his championship counter.  Dwight’s recent offensive output means that he’s finally harnessing his massive potential and teams are now beginning to finally see a finished product.  At age 25 he’s playing ball like even most of his biggest fans couldn’t have seen coming and that’s with Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson who love to call their own numbers as often as they can.  To be sure his offensive game is improving but his defense is still his major calling card.  Size, rebounding and defensive girth is what he provides and since its in limited supply in this league (see uproar of Kendrick Perkins to OKC) his move would create a seismic shift more so than the ones that CP3 or D-Will will create.

Whatever his decision is, I’m sure whomever Knick management will be at the time will be wise to remind Dwight that he can enjoy the summer of his playing days as a card carrying member of a superstar trio of 20 year olds to battle that knucklehead crew in Miami.  That team of Stat, Melo and Dwight would instantly be the best team in the NBA.  Hands down.  That would be the most dominant front court and with Landry Fields playing the 2, it really doesn’t matter who they get to play the one.

Although getting Dwight Hardy from St Johns couldn’t hurt.  Right?

Spring Training update

Far be it from me to ignore the masses clamoring for a spring training update from both teams.  First we’ll start off with the Yankees who debuted their new cast of characters and there are actual jobs to be won in Tampa this year.  The biggest question mark for the Yankees this spring is their pitching which will be a “we’ll play it by ear” kind of strategy.  Unless the idea of Bartolo Colon as a starter impresses you.  Of course this isn’t 2005 or 2003, so I’m sure any sane, rational Yankee fan (I’ve met a few though I can’t say there are that many in the wild) knows that whatever Colon gives them will be gravy.  But the one major player not really mentioned is Ivan Nova who’s up and down campaign last season had more positives than negatives.  Internally the Yankees are praying that they can put Colon back into the storage compartment and ship him to the Dairy Farm factory for restocking as soon as possible.  Nova’s performance yesterday did much to calm the nerves of Brian Cashman and company who would love to see Nova wrestle the job away from Colon so they can tell Colon “no mas.”

Meanwhile, remember those kids I mentioned who would be instrumental this year in how the Yankees play the C.C. Sabathia card this year?  Well Dellin Betances came in and struck out the side against the Phillies which included Dominic Brown, Wilson Alvarez and Ben Francisco which isn’t murderer’s row I know, but still good for a first crack at impressing the bosses.  Cashman’s stubbornness has kept him from offering these two gems in any trade, as he should.  The scouting scribes are all hot and bothered with the “Killer B’s” Betances and Manny Banuelos.  If they continue to impress during Spring Training those threats of new contracts may go on deaf ears so that Cashman can fall back on his “we don’t discuss extensions until the contract runs out” philosophy.

Curtis Granderson hit a 2 run home run which propelled the Yankees to a victory over the Phillies everyone’s favorite.  Granderson must have a big year for the Bombers and if the final month of the season is any indication, he may be on the rise.  Remember how everyone in the fantasy camps assured you that Grandy would be handily hitting 30+ homeruns with that inviting right field porch?  Well consider that prognostication fit for 2011 as he’s showing signs that he has worked through his hiccups and found a steady stroke that will propel him to that season we had hoped for last year.  You know, as fantasy campers.

As for the Mets, listen, if you’re going to make smart ass comments about the $25 million loan, then sorry you won’t get a chuckle out of me.  Not because it isn’t funny, but its sad.  The Wilpons’ house of cards are slowly crumbling and even they are too dumb to issue the requisite statement of “we have a problem.”  The Mets are worth around a Billion dollars roughly with the stadium and SNY.  No way someone comes in from the wood works and pumps $150 million into the revenue stream so they can help pay the Madoff money they’re accused of making off with.  Unless they build in an exclusive window to buy out the team should it ever go on sale.  Other than those assurances I can’t see any businessman with any gravitas ponying up the pesos to do that exchange.

In actual baseball news Luis Castillo played and well, he played.  1 for 2 with a single and a defensive play.  He was still hitting like he’s helping the other team do fielding drills but its a step up for the guy who’s been blasted and called every name under the sun by Met fans.  He’s lost weight and has impressed his owners.  Maybe long enough to get some trade value built up.  Meanwhile in other not so surprising news Ollie Perez couldn’t quite get a handle on the strike zone and issued 3 walks and let 4 runs cross the plate.  Of course the guy couldn’t hit the strike zone with consistency from 6 feet so forget 60 feet and 6 inches.  There is no sad news to report there.  All in all positive news.  Both players will likely get dumped.  One in the garbage and the other on another team.  Only time will tell which will be.

Meanwhile Chris Capuano and Chris Young pitched impressively enough to earn wins in their Met debuts.  Young pitched two perfect innings while Capuano struck out 4 in two innings of work and allowing one run.  Young’s job is assured but Capuano’s isn’t which means his starts will be much more noticed if he flops.  Young and Cap aren’t going to make your ears pop hearing their fastball but both are effective in the upper 80’s which many Met fans can attest are good enough sometimes.

Loving R.A. Dickey’s emergence in the clubhouse as both sage and leader.  His innings will be dictate how well the Mets do this season.  The more he pitches the better chance the Mets have at winning.

THE NEW OWNER OF THE METS IS….

 

Source: Bobby V interested in buying piece of #Metshttp://es.pn/ibggsm #espnst
-@AdamRubinESPN Adam Rubin
Here I was ready to write an entertaining piece about my second hopeful owner of the Mets and Adam Rubin is reporting that Bobby Valentine is perhaps interested in owning a piece of the Mets.  Listen, I dont get cheesy over many things but this brought a great big piece of provolone to my grill this morning.
Valentine’s place in Met lore is well talked about.  He’s an icon to scores of Met fans and the name they were hollering from roof tops when the job of manager was initially up for grabs.  The problem with that was his salary demands may have been something that they couldn’t afford though now that all this information is coming out, not too much could be afforded.  This is just the initial phase but yes, there is plenty to be smiling about.  But like I said earlier, if the Mets dont write assurances that the group who purchases the minority stake won’t have exclusive bidding rights to buy out the rest of the team then there won’t be too many.
I love Bobby V’s flair to come in on a white horse and save the day for the Mets.  Even if he doesn’t, the fact that he is actively trying to get back into Flushing tells you what he means to this fan base and how much he adores us back.  Thanks Bobby V.
Okay the fan-dling of Bobby V can stop.  On to more sarcastic news.

Closing Thoughts:

Thought I’d close with these last few gems.

– Chauncy Billups, is no throw in to any deal.  What a performance by Big Shot with that three pointer late in the game that made me go from “no, why would you take that shot you…GREAT DECISION!” valleys to peaks so quick.  I’m afraid my heart won’t be able to take too many of these Knick performances.

– Melo’s defense is in his body.  Lebron’s build is one of a kind and for many an impossibility to guard but Melo brings his own unique build to defend Lebron and he did a fine job.  I love the fact that he demanded to guard Lebron late in the game.  Sounds like the guy can handle the big time.

– Big win for the Knicks  but they need size. I wonder what Troy Murphy was thinking.  Murphy is reportedly deciding on whether to join the Knicks or Heat and this game may have swayed him to Broadway.

– Alex Rodriguez dropped ten pounds entering camp.  He must have been one of those guys building mansions that Hank Steinbrenner was referring to.  So worry not Jeter.

– Speaking of which, maybe it was his popcorn diet courtesy of Cameron Diaz?  Who knows what diets these celebs are on these days?

– Big win for the Storm of St Johns.  Dwight Hardy continues to play beyond his years.  That kid’s draft stock has to be going up, no?

– Had a conversation this weekend about Adam Sandler’s career and more importantly how underrated he is.  Yes, underrated.  I’ve never been a huge fan of his work but needless to say his post SNL career has been ten times better than most and that’s saying something.  Or maybe its not saying much at all but Sandler’s work deserves much applause.  He does serious work as well.  His acting in Spanglish was pretty damn good for a guy who many peg as a slapstick artist.

– Kevin Costner meanwhile is last generation’s Keaunu Reeves.  I realize that won’t make much sense but work with me here.  Has any two men been given more lucrative roles than those two aforementioned?  Luck of the draw?  More like horsehoe up the butthole.  Or maybe their agents are just smarter than the average bear.  Whatever the source of their good fortune is, re-watch their movies and tell me one role where you could see no one other than those two in those roles and I promise you i’ll get you a roll.  With butter on it too.  I promise.

– Speaking of crazy.  No.  Actually he isn’t even crazy.  He’s beyond that and there’s a reason I’m putting him before the Ron Artest tweet of the week.  Charlie Sheen’s rant on the “Alex Jones show” was one for the ages.  This guy is beyond crazy, he’s in another planet.  Bill Simmons labeled that the Tyson zone.  But even that’s unfair to describe the mind numbing all over the place-ness of this doozy of a rant which will go down as one of the most puzzling, frightening, terrifyingly funny rants ever.  If you’re Jewish, or Catholic you may not appreciate the following but its all in good fun.  Right?  Ok fine.  Its not but take a gander at this:

http://www.aolnews.com/2011/02/25/charlie-sheen-rant-listen-here/

– Finally the Ron Artest tweet to make all of you happy:

 

LA vs LA tonight… I think LA gonna win
@RONARTESTCOM RON ARTEST
I will have more on Melo and Amare during the week.  More on Spring Training.  More stuff coming.  Enjoy the week folks

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Monday Morning or the other

Monday Morning Something or the Other

Happy Monday beautiful people (and the rest of you).  I meant to have the article up by this time  (8:30 as I’m writing this) but unfortunately my computer crapped out therefore I have reverted to my Mac to re-write the entire thing and put in the finishing touches.

Today we’re going to take a look at All Star Game festivities.  Since everyone else is doing it, we’re going to hand out half time grades.   The Naismith Hall of Fame released their list of finalists for induction and with any Hall of Fame selection, there’s some debate as to the process and also the people who didn’t get in and we’ll talk about that.

Albert Pujols’ situation bears watching but I will tell you why he’s coming to neither New York team when his contract is up and who I think he’ll eventually end up on.  We will also also debut a new weekly column which I hope will pique one’s interest and of course your host of links and other goodies.

Sit back, and ignore the pleas from your parents to shovel snow or go outside and let’s begin shall we?

MELO-DRAMA is almost nearing a close

“Again, Isiah doesn’t need a title to be involved. He’s Dolan’s friend, adviser & he’s running the Knicks while soaking up the sun in Miami”

“And through it all, Donnie Walsh continues to do his work, conduct himself with class, act like a gentlemen and bring class to the Knicks”

@FisolaNYDN Frank Isola

 

I put in two quotes from Daily News beat man Frank Isola who’s been on top of this ever-changing script of Carmelo this whole entire weekend.  But the main story is what role Isiah has been playing in all of this.  He’s been a shadowy presence behind the scenes that Donnie Walsh has had to unfairly watch for as he did his job in trying to surrender as little as he could to bring Carmelo to the Knicks.

I wrote a column on Saturday basically voicing my displeasure at all the back and forth involved within the media.  This is like Lebron-athon with how media members have tried to be first over trying to be right and basically reported everything that their sources have told them.  Its that type of reporting that gave Lebron a big enough ego to even think that his “Decision” program on ESPN was even a decent idea.

Right now as it stands this is what we know.  The Knicks offer according to the most people quoting sources is as follows:

DEN gets:
PG Raymond Felton
F Wilson Chandler
F Danilo Gallinari OR F Landry Fields
and #1 draft pick via Minnesota*

NYK gets:
F Carmelo Anthony
PG Chauncey Billups
F Ronnie Brewer (from Minnesota

*= the Timberwolves would give up Ronnie Brewer, a number one pick to the Knicks for F Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry’s expiring contract which they would buy out and then send his fat ass to Siberia and locked away in a storage container to never be heard from again.**
**= that’s according to sources.

Yesterday news came out that the Knicks had drawn a line in the sand and it was up to the Nuggets to accept and that they would no longer up their offer.  The Nuggets then insisted that Timofey Mozgov be involved in any trade which was then shot down by other reports saying that Denver made no such ultimatum.

The Nets and Knicks had their reported meetings with Anthony over the weekend and most insiders suggested that Melo remained non-comittal to the Nets and that the Knicks were still the apple of Melo’s eye which has been the same since day one.  So what are we to believe?

Here’s what I know.  Carmelo Anthony could have shelved all these Nets talks but he’s holding the Knicks hostage by continuing to take these meetings with Nets officials.  Its a ploy to get New York to surrender whatever they need to in order for the Nuggets to ok a trade.  The Nuggets and Melo are not working for each other but in some weird way they are.  Its clear that the Knicks original plan was to wait Melo out till free agency and sign him then but Melo has made it abundantly clear that he wants that extension no matter what.

That isn’t even the most distressing part of all this.  Adrian Wojnarowski, basketball writer for Yahoo sports and probably the best basketball writer in the game today, wrote a doomsday piece on the state of the New York Knicks and who actually is running things.  If you’re a Knick fan like myself its pretty depressing stuff.

Like Frank Isola wrote, Dolan has always respected Thomas’ opinion and tried on many occasions to bring in Thomas through back doors which the NBA and even Walsh tried to block.*  Woj believes that a power struggle is coming between Worldwide Wes and Thomas, both of whom offer the same thing: their ability to lure major stars to the Knicks.  That’s what Dolan has wanted and what Thomas has somehow convinced Dolan he can do and Walsh can’t.  Worldwide Wes is an agent for CAA and reps both Anthony and Chris Paul, one of the trio of superstars who will become a free agent after 2012.

*= Last time Isiah was being brought back in as a consultant to the Knicks Walsh reportedly threatened to resign and Dolan was talked out of it by other Knick officials.

According to Woj:

“It’s against NBA rules to rep players and coaches, but commissioner David Stern picks and chooses the rules he enforces. He lets Worldwide Wes travel with his Olympic teams, gain access to stars, steal them away and broker them to the commissioner’s market franchises.”

But Isiah Thomas’ pull on Dolan is very strong and like Isola said, Thomas doesn’t need a title.  He will be happy to put in a puppet regime in place once Donnie Walsh is out.  Many of Isiah’s people remain firmly entrenched within the Knick organization.  Isiah Thomas in fact may not even be interested in coming back in some official capacity and may be happy in having Dolan hire his hand picked guys who will do his bidding.

This is straight out of the “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me” files.  It makes me so unbelievably mad that this kind of amateur bullshit could be going on in a professional organization.  Knick fans have been treated to brutal basketball for the better part of a decade while still filling in the seats at a respectable rate while ownership and co ran the product into the ground.  Its now becoming clear that the man who restored credibility and basketball pride in the city is being pushed aside after cleaning up the mess left by previous regimes to bring those old regimes back.

Its sad and pathetic that Walsh, a New York kid who saw this as his dream job, has had to go through this.  From day one I’ve insisted that the Knicks call Anthony’s bluff.  If he wants to come to the Knicks so bad then let him come.  The lesson learned from the Lebron fiasco was this: these guys are making informed decisions.  They will make their own minds up and are much smarter business men who have a much greater sense of their brand and net worth than previous generations.  They aren’t stupid and are as interested in maximizing their revenue earning potential.  They know they are good.  They know that superstars are what this league is built around and so they know they have the cache to ask for and receive what they want.  They have advisors but what I’ve noticed is that these guys are making their own decisions.

Case in point: Lebron was told by his friends to come to New York.  He took his talents to South Beach.

So neither Isiah OR Worldwide Wes can deliver on their promises.  They hold no weight in what they can promise.  They can’t make Chris Paul sign anywhere as much as you or I can.  They have the ears of their circles thanks to their connections but in the end the decisions come from the players themselves.  Melo is running this negotiations.  Will he sign with NJ if the Knicks don’t make a deal prior to the deadline?  If he does then let him go to Newark.  Let him toil there beside Brook Lopez.  They aren’t making the playoffs this year and they will be a fringe team next year.  Even in the East which isn’t saying much.

I don’t think Melo will go to Jersey.  He knows what he will give up.  Even if he loses $30 million in possible contractual earnings the New York market will, over the life of the contract, open up more possibilities for him.  I believe in that despite what most reporters will say that it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if you’re Lebron but for Melo it WILL.  Something that not even Brooklyn can bring him.  I say call Melo out on his bluff.  I think the Knicks should take out Felton.  Give up Gallo and Chandler (i’m fine with that) and a number one pick and get back Melo and Brewer in the deal.  If the Nuggets say no then let them figure out how to convince Melo to sign with New Jersey or risk letting Melo go into free agency.  And if Melo doesn’t sign with the Knicks in free agency due to some spite then so be it.  It won’t be the end of the world.

Why is anyone convinced that once we get Melo that he’s the missing link and will push the Knicks into title contention?  He wont.  We still need size.  We need a deeper bench and we need to convince D’Antoni that a defensive strategy is kind of necessary.

Most important, we need to convince Dolan that Isiah Thomas can’t bring in Paul or Deron Williams or Dwight Howard.  He has the respect of these young guys thanks to his contributions on the court but nothing more.

ALL STAR GAME

“Blake Griffin Fever: NBA All-Star Saturday Night averaged 8.1M viewers on TNT, most in event’s 26-year history. Way up from 5.4M last year.”

@sportswatch Neil Best


 

The NBA’s annual beauty pageant occured over the weekend in downtown Los Angeles at the Staples center.  For the first time in a long time there was actual clamor and build up for such an event.  The weekend did bring the goods.  I do have two gripes to point out about the weekend.

We all know that we were walking into the official Blake Griffin “if ya wanna crown him then crown his ass weekend”.  Even prior to the slam dunk competition it was curtains for the competition and they would just provide a back drop and filler entertainment before we gave Blake his first half slam dunk championship trophy.

Somebody forgot to tell JaVale McGee, and DeMarr Derozan.  Both of those guys came with fantastic dunks that went unnoticed and under appreciated and trust me when all is said done and we look back on this dunk contest someone, somewhere will cry foul.  Let me be the first one to say that JaVale Mcgee got robbed.  He was clearly the best dunker of the night.  He used his 7 foot frame in ways that big men should not be able to and provided us with creativity and flair all while giving us reason to refocus our lens on someone other than Blake.  I would argue that his two basketballs in two hoops dunk was better than all but one of Blake Superior’s dunks.  That wasn’t even the best dunk.  I think DeMarr Derozan’s dunk titled “the showstopper” was the “you got your money’s worth” dunk of the night.  Creativity, degree of difficulty, and how easy he made it look were all factors in my decision to give Mr. DeRozan my dunker of the night award which I’m sure means something.

Unfortunately this slam dunk contest has outperformed the All Star Game’s festivities over the years and even this year they held serve in that department with these mix of dunks.

Needless to say Blake had to do something so over the top to make it seem reasonable for him to get the award and he did it. But even Sir Charles admitted what I thought: that wasn’t the best dunk of the night.  That was the most dressed up dunk of the night with the car, Blake’s presence and the choir but not the best dunk.  I felt bad for McGee and DeRozan who did their level best to try and make it somewhat of a race and in any other dunk contest, not held in L.A. those guys would have had more of a shot but not this night.  I’m glad the dunk contest is back but not really.

As for the rest of the weekend, the rookies and sophmores game was good albeit it was another chance for the crowd to see Blake Griffin.  I think the NBA is trying to make up for not putting the Clippers on primetime this season.  But John Wall easily made it his night and provided glimpses of his talent that will most certainly elevate him into the point guard discussion soon.  He’s not there yet folks, but he will be there soon.

The three point contest had easily the best headline after the action when one was quoted as saying “the Heat finally beat the Celtics- in the 3 point contest” after James Jones beat both Paul Pierce* and Ray Allen.

*= Pierce’s booing in his home town brought me back to the All Star Game held in Philly where Sixer fans booed Kobe like he had something to do with being drafted by the Lakers.  But Pierce’s booing was justified in the fact that he’s a Celtic now and an over the top douche.

The All Star Game was pretty entertaining.  It had its usual flash of dunks and “look at me” play (attention Kobe) but the final few minutes was pretty good stuff.  For those of you who follow me on twitter or Facebook this may be torturously repetitive but I really don’t care.  Here are some of the best moments from last night’s game:

– In a pre-game interview Craig Sager, who’s awful interview night we will get into, chatted with Kobe Bryant and let something slip.  He told Kobe that if he were to win the All Star Game MVP that he would tie a record with Bob Petit for All Star Game MVP’s with 4.  You didn’t need to give Kobe any more reason to go out there and put on a show but that was the final straw.  Guys like him don’t let young’ns like Blake Griffin steal the spotlight.  L.A. is still his town and he isn’t giving up his corner for anybody.

Later in a tweet @RicBucher said this:

Told Blake Kobe nearing Wilt. Blake: Should I tell him? Me: You think he doesn’t know? B: Probably right. He checked record book on way in.

Need we say more?

– Craig Sager was 0 for 2 in interviews last night.  His interview with Carmelo in which he went all Jim Gray on us and pressed Carmelo on where he would end up when all was said and done was interrupted by Kobe, who was apparently his spokesperson.  But his interview with Justin Bieber was really bad.  Here’s on painful exchange:

Craig Sager:”last week performing at the grammys, this week at NBA All Star game, dont you have school?
Justin Bieber: well, its the weekend.

The silence following that was painful because you knew how uncomfortable it was.  Bieber basically gave Sager the “whats your name again?” treatment, looking uninterested in anything Sager had to ask.

– Lebron messed around and got a triple double in the All Star Game and if the East would’ve pulled off the win he most certainly would’ve won the MVP.  But his best play was his ability to raise his teammates level of intensity as the game wore on.  He clearly took ownership of that squad and almost brought the team all the way back but the West had built up too much of a lead.

– Interesting and subtle message was sent by Doc Rivers as he came through on his promise to send out all 4 of his Celtics into the game at the same time and he did so with his very first set of substitutions.

– The Eastern Conference playoffs promises to be a bloodbath.  Amazing amount of tension there with the Heatles and Big 4 of the C’s not liking each other.  Dwight Howard’s disdain for the Big 4.  The Hawks representatives not Amare’s biggest fan.  Amar’e spending a better portion of the game guarding who could be his teammate in a week.  Then there’s the undoubted first half MVP, Derrick Rose who is hated by all because well, he’s the MVP and at the core basketball is still a game that appeals at the pride and ego of every player.

– Which brings us to my final point on the All Star Game.  The NBA has the best All Star Game because, you don’t have to forcibly convince players that the game means anything.  Basketball is still a very individualistic sport driven by sports stars who know fans look at each match up as a measure of each player’s ability.  So if Kobe drives by Lebron, fans wont say that the Lakers are better than the Heat, they will chalk that up to Kobe being better than Lebron which you can’t say about any other sport.  Pride and ego carry this sport more than anything and even in meaningless All Star Games, those things can be huge motivational tools.

So you would be correct in assuming that Kobe wants to win the MVP to show up Blake Griffin.  That Lebron wants to get the MVP in Kobe’s backyard as they battle for the crown of best player in the league.  That Kevin Durant wanted to show off his wares in front of his peers.  Every guy had a chip on his shoulder last night.  Believe it.  That’s why you can’t top the NBA All Star Game.

Another portion of All Star Weekend that I didn’t agree with was the announcement of finalists for the Naismith Hall of Fame.  Cheryl Miller’s little brother Reggie* did not make the cut in his first year of eligibility for induction in the Hall of Fame.  Many people would argue that its not that big of a deal but this is coming purely from a romanticized opinion and nothing stat related, in my mind he is a first ballot hall of famer.

I grew up watching the Knicks during the 90’s.  It was the NBA on NBC era where everything the NBA did was golden.  One thing forgotten amidst the number of parades the Yankees had in the late 90’s and the explosion of football during the last 15 years, New York is still a basketball town.  The inner cities are filled with kids who dream big of making it in the NBA and ballers from New York City carry an extra weight of expectations unfairly put there by the history of those who came before.  During the 90’s New York was firmly fixated on the Knicks.

The Knicks were perennial contenders and seemingly had one nemesis after another.  Early 90’s were filled battling and losing to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.  Just when I thought the Knicks had rid themselves of that challenge with MJ’s retirement, along came Reggie Miller who did things to the Knicks and its fans I thought God had ONLY put Michael Jordan on earth to do.  We had more success against the Pacers but it was never easy and Miller showed up every time.

He had some memorable moments like when he scored 8 points in less than 10 seconds and when he and Spike Lee waged their war on the courts of MSG.  The era was filled with bloodbaths and real life “I hate you” tension that you just don’t see anymore.*  I always believe that only the great ones play great on grand stages like the Garden and Miller always raised his game.  Miller’s teams were never the most talented but they always managed to get him the ball and he always managed to hit the big shot which made him the league’s record holder for 3 point field goals made.

*= Until now.  I hope.

I dont have any big statistical chart to show you.  Its just one man’s disagreement filled with bias based on what he saw growing up.  It may not mean much to you but I remember how much I respected Reggie Miller and in my mind, players like him were meant for big moments.  He made his team a contender and always put the fear of God in me as a Knick fan like only Michael could do.  For me, that’s enough to warrant his first ballot induction.

But that’s just me.

MID POINT AWARDS

“If I had to vote, [Rose is] the MVP of the league,” Rivers said.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/02/21/2077246/celtics-doc-rivers-derrick-rose.html#ixzz1EbyovKd7

Continuing the trend set by peers within the industry I thought I’d try something new and give out my mid season awards.

MVP: I would have to agree with head coach Doc Rivers who gave his vote to Derrick Rose.  No need to go into stats mode but he’s top 10 in Scoring, Assists, and minutes played.  The only reason he’s playing so many minutes is because of all the injuries his team has suffered.  He’s the clear number one option on his team and he’s become more of a leader in just his third season and carried them to a three seed.  Need we say more?  Okay fine.  Stories are out there about how unwilling he was to try and recruit Lebron James when he was making his tours to NBA cities in his solo “look at me” campaign.  He failed to kiss the King’s ring and everybody loves a good rebel.

Most Important Player: This award goes to the one guy most responsible for his team’s record.  That guy would be none other than Amar’e Stoudemire.  Amar’e’s impact isn’t just felt on the court.  Take a trip to NYC.  The city is buzzing again.  MSG is rocking and not because of the visitors.  He’s singlehandedly restored Knick pride and his emergence has made it a necessity for Knicks executives to surround him with other superstars like Carmelo Anthony.  His play alone has made that possible.  Did I make this award up just to give recognition to my team’s best player?  Sure I did.  Screw you if you think he doesn’t deserve some props.

BEST TEAM: Records don’t mean anything here.  San Antonio may have 46 wins but nobody is afraid of them come May and June.  The best team by far are the Celtics who learned last year that if you don’t have enough big bodies banging in the post area and getting rebounds you will lose.  They addressed it by literally signing every single big man over 6’11 to their roster.  Rondo’s only getting better, KG’s legs have about two more decent seasons before he falls off a cliff skills wise and they have two of the best clutch shooters in the league in Paul Pierce and Ray “He got Game” Allen.

What bears watching is how teams react once the Melo-drama ends.  Sources insist that deals are being held up thanks to the Nuggets and they themselves may not be done dealing away parts.  Nene will be another player the Nuggets will want to deal as well.  The Rockets and Blazers are seen as suitors.  Let’s see what the playoff teams do to acquire complementary pieces.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Here’s another opportunity for me to give an award to a Knick but those tricky dicks at the NBA offices have this rule that makes Blake Griffin, in officially his second season, eligible for the Rookie of the Year despite missing his entire red shirt season after breaking his knee.  Landry Fields has been the best first year player.  I dont want to hear about John Wall who’s emerging and who by the end of the season may have a better case,  but Fields being a second round pick vaults himself into this discussion.  He leads all guards with 7.1 rebounds.  He’s a starter on a Knicks squad who surprised every prognosticator with their current record.
That being said, Blake Griffin is second in double doubles and is a freak of nature.  His in game dunks are the kind of stuff that make you stop and watch.  He’s singlehandedly made the Clippers a watchable product despite a less than stellar record.  Of course being owned by Donald Sterling doesn’t bode well for his future endeavors but let’s just soak in his rookie* season.
*= FTW.

BEST PLAYERS AT EACH POSITION:

C- Dwight Howard- By far the easiest position to fill.  Rumors are already beginning about where he will end up after 2012 and word is spreading that he will join the long list of dominating centers who end up on the Lakers for the prime of their careers.  That would absolutely be insane but let’s see how everything shakes out.  Right now, there isn’t a better post presence or intimidating big man in the game.
Honorable Mention: Al Horford, Hawks-  Check the stats.  He isn’t that far behind even if he doesn’t wanna see Amar’e Stoudemire.

Power Forward- Amar’e Stoudemire No bias here folks.  The stats bear it all for STAT.  He leads all PF’s in points, blocks, and is top 10 in steals, rebounds and assists at the position.  Add in his overall impact to the team and city and he is most certainly deserving of the title.
Honorable Mention- Kevin Love- the guy is a double double machine in the make of a Moses Malone.  That’s big.

Small Forward- Lebron James- I hate to do this, trust me, but he’s undeniably the best player in the game today.  His stats bear it out and his ability to take ownership on a team full of All Stars and play through all of the negativity that he brought on himself, has been incredible.  I wont let my own biases get in the way of this guy’s obvious greatness.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Durant- This is just a matter of preference and trust me you won’t get a fierce argument from me if you put him over Lebron on this list.  But Durant is stuck in that “he’s just a scorer” phase of his career that haunted MJ during the 80’s as he waited for Magic and Bird to get old and stale before he made his move.

Shooting Guard- Kobe Bryant- Even Laker fans have to admit that his drop in minutes is due to the wear and tear that 3 consecutive NBA Finals trips mixed in with basically no down time with Olympic responsibilities but let’s not argue this point after what we saw last night.  When the lights are on and the best are on the court Kobe can bring it.  Case made.
Honorable Mention: Dwayne Wade- They still can’t beat the Celtics even with having Bron and Bosh, but he can still bring it.  You can see how not having to carry his team during a full NBA season has been good to Wade’s body and may give him a few extra years of elite service time.

Point Guard- Derrick Rose- My first half MVP and unquestionable leader among the pack of elite point guards who’s rank you can certainly debate and you wouldn’t be wrong.  Right now the battle for the crown goes 4 deep with Rose.  If you subbed in Rondo, Westbrook, or Paul I wouldn’t be mad atcha.  But for me, right now, Rose does everything you want from a PG and gives you that added element of scoring that is a bonus.  If i had to do a ranking it would go Rose, Westbrook, Rondo and Paul and the only reason Paul isn’t ahead is because of that injury to his leg that has him wearing that God-awfully-big brace which scares the crap out of me.  Of course it didn’t stop me from tweeting this.
Honorable Mention-  Thought I’d take this space to talk about why I left of Deron Williams off this list.  That Jerry Sloan episode left a bad taste in my mouth.  You don’t just remove the longest tenured head coach in basketball and think you will walk away from this thing with your name still in tact.  Imagine the hell that will be raised when D-Will walks out of Utah.  Plus, last night CP3’s performance was a reminder to those who made the similar mistake I made when I put D-Will ahead of him.

As I step away from NBA Talk for a moment to bring you this public service announcement:

ALBERT (don’t ) PUJOLS your breath.

 

“Sources: Pujols contract talks are over. Deadline will pass without a deal. Have not been proposals swapped in last 100 hours or so.  There remains an enormous between cards and pujols not on years, but on per-year salary.”
@Buster_ESPN Buster Olney
Despite the Pujols designated deadline of February 16th coming and going, there remains a very slim possibility that the Cardinals don’t bestow upon Pujols a contract he will sign to.  Pujols reported to camp with the statement that he would like to be a Cardinal forever.  While all that’s good and well to hear for Cards fans, it was a definitive message sent to Cardinals ownership.
I want to be here, but if you dont give me a contract offer I like, trust me I will leave.  The Cards will still have an exclusive negotiating window to hammer out a deal with Pujols but if rumors of what the Cards were initially offering are true, then they have a long ways to go.  Maybe Pujols goes off and has another historic season and the Cardinals have no choice BUT to make a deal that blows the A-Rod deal out the water which is precisely what the Pujols camp is looking to do, however the Cardinals tactics speak to one very major truth: they financially wont be able to offer Pujols the length of deal he desires and are currently unwilling to go dollars either.  We’re talking a $30 million a year contract and most sportswriters are Pujols friendly when writing that he deserves such a contract especially after the club friendly deal he signed in 2004.  No more home-town discounts for Pujols and if there’s one player who deserves a ludicrous amount of money its him.
This isn’t about money for Pujols as most people are writing and I tend to believe people who’ve been around him more than you or I.  It isn’t greed.  Frankly If you or I were as good as Pujols was at what we do, I’m sure we wouldn’t below market deals when the reality that everything is a business remains.  The Cardinals will have to get creative but if they don’t there’s two teams who stick out as possible landing spots for Pujols.
1. The Cubs- Michael Wilbon, who now writes for ESPN Chicago wrote a piece illustrating why its important for the Cubs to sign Pujols.  You don’t need to waste time reading it to know that Pujols would be a fit anywhere but especially here.  If Pujols were hurt in anyway shape or form by the Cards offer it would make sense for him to take the money and go to Chicago where he would be openly embraced by a Cub faithful who have longed for a superstar of Pujols’ ilk to come along.
2. The Angels- This past winter the Angels had to make do with just signing Hisanori Takahashi and trading for Vernon Wells God-awful contract.  But one more bad season and  Arte Moreno, the owner of the Angels, may have to open the checkbook and finally cash the check he’s been writing about…well…opening the checkbook and writing checks.
For you local yuks wondering about the Yankees and Mets I won’t say never but remember that A-Rod is locked in for another 7 years and Mark Texieira who could possibly be traded to St Louis in a blockbuster deal nixed all that kind of speculation by saying he would exercise his no-trade clause.  Forget about plugging him in at DH since A-Rod will be occupying that space in a few years and you have lack of flexibility.  Add on to the fact that the Red Sox just signed their own young 1b to a long term deal and there’s very little pressure on the Yankees to make such a move but never say never with those pinstripe-rs.  There may be a few hundred million lying somewhere should they allow CC Sabathia to walk after this year but again it all depends on how quickly their young pitching develops.
Meanwhile the Mets have no money so we can end that discussion right there.
Pujols said he would operate his no-trade clause and nix any potential deal the Cards draw up if they are convinced they can’t sign him but if he were open to be traded throw the Detroit Tigers as a possible landing spot.  They have a young 1b who is in a very manageable contract for them and the Tigers may be evaluating whether to keep him or not with his recent arrest on drunken driving where he even took a swig of whiskey in front of a patrolmen.  Cabrera’s drinking problem may cause him to miss games and perhaps the Cards may look to get him and convince themselves they have the proper environment to nurture him and keep him from falling off the wagon.
Speaking of baseball related news.  With the Mets recent financial problems I thought it would be fun and necessary to begin looking at alternative solutions for Mets ownership.  Yup you guessed it, we finally have our very first weekly column and here it is:

YOUR NEW MET OWNER IS…..

With our initial offering I had to pull a name out of the hat that would reinvigorate the fan base and show that I meant business with this and so with my very first inaugural pick, my very first candidate to be the new Mets owner is:

VINCENT KENNEDY MCMAHON

The owner of the World Wrestling Entertainment franchise, he’s worth a reported $1.2 billion which would require Mr. McMahon to get some other investors involved but he would be the face of ownership and really would you have it any other way?  The Mets need a person who has that Steinbrenner-ian attitude of “I’ll do whatever it takes to win” that’s necessary in New York.  He’s always been a fan of New York city and he’s based out of Stamford Connecticut where a certain former manager trolls around.

Its literally too good to be true but hey, there’s always hope.  Imagine the cross-promotional opportunities that he could pull off?  WWE wrestlers escorting players off the field who’ve been thrown out.  Who would brawl with the Mets if they knew that they’d have to answer to huge wrestling guys?

Why can’t this work?  I’m throwing it out there Met fans.  Ya gotta believe.

 

THE LINKS AND THINGS YOU SING ABOUT BRING EM OUT…

Buzz Bissinger in an op-ed details why the NBA has a race problem that makes it a problem for white America to fully accept.  This is right down Jason Whitlock’s alley but Bissinger makes a good point while writing about a problem that most are unwilling to sit and write thoughtfully bout without the constant threat of being labeled a racist.

Ken Berger of CBSSports remains one of my favorite NBA writers and his article on the class of 96’s impact is a must read for any NBA loyalist who stood by the league even through its rather dull years from 2001-2005.  It talks about the 10 year anniversary of Allen Iverson and revisiting a former warrior’s shining moment on a big stage and what it meant for that class, Kobe included, to be the transition away from the MJ era.  The most misguided notion was that Jordan could be replaced and we spend the next 10 years looking for his replacement.  Even when he came back to the Wizards in 2001, the league was looking for someone to come along and replace him.  Iverson was never a celebrated athlete and historically he may be looked at as mercurial but for those of us who watched the NBA passionately remember a little guy who played the game fearlessly.  He may not have played the right way all the time but his style of play was something worth the price of admission.

Remember that NFL labor negotiations that we were all stressing?  Well there seemingly is no end in sight but news was made last week when a very impatient owner talked back to the prince of all QB’s Peyton Manning and made him the face of villainry in these proceedings.  Michael Silver of Yahoo Sports writes that maybe its time to bench this guy for good if the league wants to make it work.

Finally, we end with yet another column regular Ive decided in the last 10 minutes to introduce:

THE RON ARTEST TWEET OF THE WEEK

@RONARTESTCOM RON ARTEST

 

“two weeks ago i was driving on rodeo drive and farted in a restaurant i was stunned and told the whole restaurant sorry . i gave em all hugs”

 

 

PREVIEW FOR WEEK:

– Report coming from Port St Lucie and Tampa on Mets and Yankees camps as Spring training gets underway.

– Trade deadline column perhaps if something unexpected happens.

– Perhaps the inaugural podcast.

Have a great week folks.

 

 

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Latest On Melo

Throughout the Carmelo Anthony saga the biggest misconception has been this: that there is some mystery that needs solving.

We know that Carmelo wants to be a Knick. The Nuggets and Nets want Carmelo to be a Net. NBA fans of 27 other teams could care less*. But there’s been this constant back and forth about where Melo wants to be.
*= Laker fans don’t care either, except they have that .05% hope that Mitch Kupchak blows this team up and reloads for a run at Dwight Howard after 2012 so they can give Kobe maybe an extra 2-3 years of life on his legs.

Carmelo has been open about where he wants to end up as he could be without completely looking like an ass. He hasn’t led on his current fanbase about a future there that both sides knew was not going to be. He has been as honest as he possibly could be when pressed by media members who repeatedly just want him to admit something that they themselves know he is trained by professionals not to.

If Lebron’s “decision” taught us anything, its this: there are right and wrong ways to go about doing this. We may hate it as a “need-to-know-everything” public but the way this is playing out on the outside is exactly how it should be. Melo and all parties involved need to keep some space between them and the information hounds until something happens.

I am tired of sports tickers calling deals “imminent” and “very close” according to “sources” that will never be made public. I’m tired of seeing Chris Broussard and Marc Stein and reputable reporters like Ken Berger and Adrian Wojnarowski make informed opinions. I want fact and not some imaginative fiction made to increase page views on sites.

I would at this point rather hear nothing until a trade is made, or read about the other offers after the fact and an informed opinion about why these deals didn’t go through and what made the teams come to terms on what they did.

Sadly I’m in the minority. In some respect, I love this new age of rapid fire information but many times its a whole lot of smoke I have to sift through until I see fire and for people who are as lazy as I am, we don’t like being duped into reading an article that has no basis in truth. Its neither rewarding or fun.

Don’t confuse this with opinion pieces. I love columnists who can offer fresh perspective on any sports story. I just hate reading about the possibility of something happening that hasn’t. Don’t bore me with that. Excite me with (f)actual news.

The Knicks and Nuggets will continue to try and broker the deal that would get Carmelo’s approval while the Nets hope that once the Nuggets and Knicks don’t reach a deal that Melo, desperate enough to get that extension, will approve a deal to the Nets. A deal that has been on the table since last summer.

The amount of players and draft picks it would take from the Knicks and Nets would be huge and I am not going into who has been rumored in either package but you can be certain that this would be a “farm cleaning” kind of a deal that sends both franchises into uncertain futures.

After all, this is about the future as much as it is about the present. This weekend is supposed to be Blake Griffin and the depth of talent that the NBA hasn’t had in a really long time. But the weekend has been filled with rumors of trades and deals and meetings and executives and rap moguls that take it far from what fans want to see- basketball.

Is Melo worth all of this? We won’t be able to tell that until Melo helps deliver a title to whichever team he eventually ends up on. When a player of Melo’s caliber gets traded its a win-now move for the franchise that lands him and anything short of a title makes this deal pointless.

I’ve been of the opinion from day one that the Knicks should wait till free agency to scoop up Melo. If Melo wants to be a Knick so bad and wants to win a title in New York then the Knicks shouldn’t trade away half the team. This is Melo wanting his cake and eating it too. He doesn’t want to leave $20-$25 million on the table especially considering that there will be a new collective bargaining agreement in place.

Which of course brings up the dark horse scenario that could play out. Let’s say that the February 24 trade deadline comes and goes and Melo isn’t dealt. The Nuggets and Melo would be stuck together till a new labor deal is struck- one which could have a franchise tag built in. A tag that the Nuggets could use on their superstar to keep him from going to the Knicks in free agency. Its the only bit of leverage the Nuggets have and its a leap of faith to assume that it would happen.

So the need for Melo to have some resolution to his situation prior to February 24 is necessary.

One thing is clear: the Nuggets and Melo are not leaving each other on good terms. Neither wants to give what the other wants. Is it fair for the Nuggets to take a less than fair offer to help a player who wants to leave? Is it right for the Nuggets to be this stubborn to not deal with the Knicks and risk Melo leaving them without getting a single thing in return?

Here’s the only thing to know. It doesn’t matter talking about it until it happens. Did that make the last couple of hundred words I wrote useless? Maybe. What I do know is that when it happens then there will be something worth talking about. Until then we’re all driving ourselves crazy over something that hasn’t happened.

Atleast I’m trying to convince myself that this is the right course of action. To be honest I’m having a hard time doing it.

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Melo-drama

Whenever this soap opera centered around superstar forward Carmelo Anthony does end, it will met with a sense of a collective “finally” from everyone involved- fans included.  When that is, is a completely separate matter.

Here’s what we know:
A. Melo will NOT be a Nugget a year from now.
B. He prefers to go to a team in NY*
C. Money IS a very big sticking point.
D.  His wife has a small, tiny role to play in this even if Melo won’t admit to it.

Let’s work our ways backward.  Carmelo’s wife Lala Vazquez, as any hip hop loving teen who watched MTV knows, is a C-List celebrity.  I recently listened to the Rich Eisen podcast in which during an interview with Adam Corolla it was brought up that nowadays the luster of being a celeb is gone.  Corolla commented that everybody’s on TV.  Interesting point made by another portion of the C-List celeb club.

She made their prolonged engagement into a boring reality TV show which is Hollywood’s nicest way of sending you out of their good graces.  Reality shows don’t revive careers or make them: they destroy them or make you famous enough for some teen to put ten exclamation marks in their facebook photo album montage of similar unimportant celebs they have met.  After all, if you’re a real celeb would you be caught dead in normal people clubs?
I get why Melo said his wife doesn’t have anything to do with his decision but let’s make one thing clear: if Lala has no say in his career then she’d be the first wife in history to NOT want a say in her husband’s work.  Marriage is not a democracy no matter what they say and its also not open for discussion.
Lala clearly thinks she can prolong her status in the celeb world by pushing Melo to the tri-state area, but is that a good thing for humanity is what I’m asking.

Second, money is a HUGE sticking point.  Don’t believe the hype that it isn’t.  But I don’t think its Melo who would be suffering.  Its his agent.  Bill Simmons broke it down well but let me summarize: when Lebron, Wade, and Bosh signed extensions that would make them free agents the summer before the collective bargaining agreement expired they were able to negotiate player friendly deals that allowed them to test free agency before a much less player friendly cap was put into play.  Melo, also in the loop of the superfriends, had an agent that added an extra year to the contract which did two things:
1. Gave his agent a bigger check.
2. Removed the leverage that Lebron and company had negotiated for themselves.
By having the deal expire around the same time that the CBA did, Melo lost the leverage of being able to wait the season out and go to free agency and still collect the big bucks.  With a hard cap looming and a smaller cap also, if he were to wait till the summer and sign with whoever he wants to sign with, he would potentially be losing $15-$20 million.
For a guy who’s earned over a $100 million over the course of his career, he may stand to lose more over the long term, during his prime, when he should be making the buku bucks.  Simply put, this is a bad thing for his portfolio and just looks bad personally for a premier player in the NBA.

The third reason ties every other reason together so we will move on to the fact that he no longer will be a Nugget a year from now.  That much we know.  At the current point of this writing- we have 41 days left before the Febuary 15th tradind deadline date and most people in the know believe that a deal will get done by the Denver front office led by uber aggressive GM Masa Ujiri and President Stan Kroenke.  The best offer is from NJ who are willing to give the Nuggets what they have been seeking all along: young promising players (Derrick Favors- 2010 #3 overall pick) and draft picks (2 number ones).  But the Nuggets want cap flexibility and Melo has supposedly leaked it to those involved in making this trade happen that he would like to play alongside some strong veterans that he believes can right the ship in the short term.  Of course naturally Melo has “asked for” Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups so they can play that wonderful game of “what if”- what if Joe Dumars had drafted Carmelo Anthony in the first place when he had the chance?  Its always great when you correct a mistake 8 years later- I’m sure in their thirties Hamilton and Billups can help Melo win a title.*
*= read heavy sarcasm

The fact that Billups is a teammate that Melo respects and Rip Hamilton is a decent shooter are reasons the sides will give you as to why it makes sense on several levels to pair these guys up in Jersey alongside Brook Lopez.  But look deeper and you will realize other motivations behind adding them.

Trading Billups gives Nuggets cap flexibility and during the past weekend when for the 900th time it seemed like the trade was close to being completed, it was leaked that Billups would ask for a buyout which would be a terrible roadblock considering this is what “Melo wants”.  Also Rip Hamilton, having completely destroyed any trade value by his poor play and vocal call for a trade from Detroit, has the same agent as Melo- Leon Rose and it seems like the perfect kill two birds with one stone scenario to me.

Even in the East who is scared of a team with a core of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Brook Lopez and Carmelo Anthony?  How can Billups and Hamilton be the reason this trade goes through?

New Jersey has been aggressive in its attempts at procuring the services of a superstar to market the team around for the forseeable future.  After striking out on Lebron and co., the Nets see this as their first step in creating excitement over their move to Brooklyn- bring a hometown superstar player to christen the new digs and give legitemacy to the Nets.  Remember that the Nets have a Russian billionaire who will have no problem in spending to bring that legitemacy- but with that being said the Nets MUST be aggressive in their game plan if they want anyone to buy season tickets for a team that has won a combined 22 games between this season and last which doesn’t match what the Knicks have accomplished this season already.

And more than anything- the Knicks are a major reason they are willing to trade anyone and everyone to make this Melo to NJ happen.  Coming to the backyard of such an established and storied franchise like the Knicks won’t be easy but since the Russian Mark Cuban came to office- they’ve been aggressive in their marketing against the Knicks.  Of course they are catching them at their weakest moment having been a laughing stock till recently.  Their rennaisance this season has been difficult to stomach if you are a Net fan or front office exec.  Not only are the Knicks in a better position leverage wise to stand pat and let Melo come to them but they look like a team that has a better future than the Nets who many saw coming into the season as the one with more upside.

Insert Melo into the Knick line up, without subtracting anyone, and the Knicks are a top 4 team in the East easily and who knows maybe more.  The fact that its widely know that Melo wants to play in New York, an idea that was beginning to seem less and less relevant to star players in the NBA, makes New Jersey doubly concerned that by the time they move to Brooklyn- no one will care because the Knicks will be completely relevant again.  The Garden and the Knick history will be too large a shadow for the Nets to compete with and even for a Russian billionaire that’s a big bill to take a loss on.

And this Brooklyn operation won’t work if the results are the same which makes getting a bonafide stud like Melo that much more important to play besides promising center Brook Lopez.  Lopez has regressed this past year which adds to the necessity of having that star who can carry a team and the Nets know those guys don’t grow on trees and aren’t available every year via the draft.
But let’s pause all that and bring it to this one crucial point: in the end Melo still holds the trump card.  He can blow everything up by not agreeing to the contract extension and that is where it stands.  All the parameters of the deal have basically been agreed upon.  The one thing really holding this up is Melo.  As his agent continues to convince him of the Nets as a compromise to being a Knick Melo has not agreed to anything.  MELO is holding this deal back, not the 20 players involved in the trade.  The Nets are desperate to get Melo and Melo is desperate to get the Knicks to make an offer appealing enough for the Nuggets to bite on which hasn’t happened because Denver feels as though New York has been pushing this since day one and so out of bitterness has refused to seriously consider anything from New York no matter how good Landry Fields and Wilson Chandler have been playing.

Melo’s reluctance to sign in Jersey and the chance that Denver loses Melo to free agency for nothing will be enough for the Knicks to re-enter the picture without havin to lift a finger which is why you’ve barely heard a peep from the Knicks.  They don’t have the assets of players and draft picks Jersey does but they are his preferred destination and not the alternative like Jersey is.  The Knicks have played this perfectly.

What’s my personal preference? That he come to the Knicks during free agency when we don’t lose a player like Landry Fields who I believe is the kind of reserve player that comes along very rarely- a guy who can shoot the 3, defends decently and has basketball IQ through the roof.  If he’s your sixth man or seventh you’ve got an excellent team.  The fact is, the Knicks are going to lose Wilson Chandler during free agency.  If the Laker game ingrained anything inside the Knicks head is that in order to beat the elite teams you need a quality big man and a Marc Gasol will give them that at a price that won’t be breaking the bank, but enough that a team will be able to outbid the Knicks for Chandler’s services.  Donnie Walsh knows this too- why else do an about face and say outright that he plans to resign Chandler when he’s been adamant to visit that situation in the offseason this whole time?  Because it only makes his value jump.  How much better would Amare and Felton and Danilo be with a player like Melo alongside them?  Even though losing a player like Chandler would be hard, he basically is Carmelo-lite and I doubt Knick fans would be so crushed that the mere thought of Melo would make them nauseous.

In the end, these soap operas come down to one undisputable truth: Melo can end it all.  He can end it all by coming out and declaring to the world what his intentions are but he won’t.  Which is why there’s so much misinformation floating about what exactly Carmelo wants.  Wouldn’t it be prudent for journalists to ask Carmelo about who he’d rather play for?  Of course, but Melo is wise to not do so even IF its ruining his team’s season.  He saw what the “decision” did to Lebron and his image and while financially it won’t affect his bottom line, know one thing:  every reporter and every analyst now have a different perception of Lebron.  All the whispers of his baby-ish spoiled brat behavior is as much a part of his lasting legacy as his undeniable skills and unique talent are.  Melo would rather avoid the PR nightmare rout and do things in a manner that has minimal fallout.  Unfortunately the longer this drags out and the longer he insists on New York being his preferred spot, the less patience the public will have because dealing with New York is low on Denver’s priority list.  At this point, everyone just wants it done, over with, finito.  If he’s staying the season say so, if he’s being traded then trade him but until there’s resolution (and there may NOT be until the trade deadline- which is 40 days away) the talk and chatter won’t go away and eventually people will grow tired of it- if they haven’t already.

In the end, its all on Melo because like any good soap opera the star controls the action.  Until the star decides to take command we’re all stuck waiting as an audience.

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