Articles from August 2010



Your 2010 New York Knicks

 The 2010 Knicks

McGrady was not a Knick for long, but the negative affect of his trade will be felt for years.

Starters

PG Raymond Felton – I like this signing. Felton is a point guard that Bobcats Coach Larry Brown would not trade last year because according to Brown “the Bobcats could not trade his heart.” There is no tougher critic on fundamentals than Larry Brown and any point guard that makes him happy is alright in my book.

SG Wilson Chandler- Knicks brass is much higher on this kid than other teams have been in trade talks. I like his moxie and the fact that he will raise his intensity in big moments. He is one player I would rather keep since he is undervalued around the league. has had some injuries the last few years bit keeps coming back strong.  He is a big shooting guard and attacks the lane with reckless abandon and has a good jumper. This a guy only true Knicks fans who watch a lot of games can appreciate.

SF Danilo Gallinari – A poor mans Dirk Nowitzki or hopefully a rich man’s Manu Ginobolli. Even if this kid makes close to good on Mike D’Antoni’s wild reference to him as the “best shooter I have ever seen”, he will still be at best a 3rd option on a championship team.  As is stands now I would not take him over Manu Ginobolli during the Spurs title runs. He is still not enough to get Carmelo in a trade and you have to wonder if he would make Team USA’s roster if he was eligble. Knicks fans are still wondering why Walsh passed on Eric Gordon for Gallo.  When he demanded to guard the other teams best player every night last year he showed the kind of heart that has been missing from the Knicks since Charles Oakley left.

PF Amar’e Stoudemire  - Great power forward. According to many scouts he is the best finisher in traffic in the NBA, kind of like Eddy Curry at an all you can eat buffet. He has a large injury history for a guy that just signed for 100 million. His signing this off-season shows just how desperate the Knicks situation has become. After taking years to shed bad contracts the Knicks rolled the dice on another one because no one wants to play on such a sad sack franchise. I would respect him for taking a chance on the Knicks except we were also offering him the most money. Can he score without 2 time NBA MVP Steve Nash? Can he stay healthy?  A lot of question marks here but I think he will play well.

I work in New York City and make 100 million dollars and now think I may be Jewish. Its been quite an offseason.

C Eddy Curry – Cannot wait for this nightmare to be gone. The poster child for what’s wrong with the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. Curry has destroyed a major market franchise with his bloated contracted and even more bloated gut. If I was David Stern I would conduct the negotiations next summer with an Eddy Curry jersey on. Contracts like this are the reason the NBA is losing money. The NBA needs a pay for performance structure like fortune 500 companies have in their sales departments across the country.  If you perform like a star then you get a lot of money. And each year you have to earn it, just like everyone else does.

Bench

PF Anthony Randolph – Great metrics, great athleticism and still young. He is the key to any deal the Knicks hope to complete for Carmelo. Could be one of the greats but how do you know if he wants it bad enough to work hard every offseason to maxmize all his raw talent and become a star? Remember Darius Miles? Me neither.

G  Bill Walker – Great Athlete. Lost a lot of weight this off-season. Was once the top prep player on the country alongside OJ Mayo. Can really dunk and with a strong November could be part of a deal. My favorite Knick.

PF/C Ronny Turiaf – The kind of character guy the Knicks sorely needed. An understated acquisition that could help turn the franchise karma around. he was a force for the Lakers for a few years and brings the backbone the Knicks have been missing in the paint.

SG Kelenna Azubuike – Too early to know what this guy is about. Had a torn patella and was out most of last season, was born in England so that cannot be good news since they only play soccer over there. Lots of scouts like his game so we will see if he can play well. Rumor is he is in the running to start at shooting guard.

C Timofy Mosgov – Signed out of Russia under the radar by Walsh in a KGB style effort. This deal was so under the radar the rumor is Walsh tried to exchange Eddy Curry for Timofy in East Berlin in a cold war style deal.  Curry ran out of breath before crossing the border and the Knicks were stuck with him for another year. This signing was in direct response to the New Jersey Nets obnoxious portrait of mogul Jay Z and Nets owner and Russia’s  son Mikhail Prokhorov that was in front of Madison Square Garden during the Lebron James sweepstakes. Neither team got James but at least the Knicks scooped the cocky Russian owner in his hometown.  If how someone looks on the outside defines their game then this guy will play like a superhero, but I doubt it.

PG Toney Douglas – Cost 3 million to draft but has quick hands and great defense. A good backup PG that no one wants in a trade. He plays hard and could develop into a good player.

There you have it. Its been a long time since Shannon Brown. Its also been a long time since Patrick Ewing. For Knicks fans its just been a long time period. Here’s to hoping 2010 is better than 2009.

Carmelo Anthony and Jared Jeffries to the Knicks?

Knicks fans have been suffering for years and this summer’s events have somehow made a bad situation worse. Lebron James did not come to New York, neither did Chris Bosh, and gone are multiple lottery picks in the Tracy McGrady deal. But what really drives home the failure of the Knicks front office is that even with all their cap space their team is so destitute of talent that they may not be able to formulate a trade for Carmelo Anthony. With the NBA rules against requesting a trade Anthony is doing his best ninja to get his point across to Denver brass without crossing the line and getting fined for requesting a work visa to New York. Carmelo’s July wedding was littered with speeches  by his buddies saying how he wants to be a Knick. He even put his Denver home up for sale last week to drive the point home to Denver’s ownership. Now the rumors are swirling he will also consider Orlando or Houston because it is becoming readily apparent that the Knicks do not have enough to offer Denver to pry Carmelo away. I thought the last few years of losing were supposed to allow us to get a player of Camelo’s level, not prevent it.

Imagine this photo but Carmelo in a Knicks jersey.

In related news, the other player the Knicks are trying to trade for is Jared Jeffries. Breath in Knicks fans because yes you read that correctly. Knicks GM Donnie Walsh is trying to trade for Jeffries, the same player that he packaged along with 2009 Lottery pick Jordan Hill, the rights to their 2012 pick and the right to swap picks in 2011. The draft picks in the trade were sacrificed to save approximatley 9.3 million in cap space on Jeffries and Hill’s deals in order to offer Lebron a maximum salary playmate this summer.  Not only did Lebron spurn the Knicks, but the McGrady trade left the Knicks so devoid of trade chips that they are effectively poised to rebuild the same kind of team they worked to get rid of, namely questionable high salary role players who collectively will never make it out of the first round. Walsh said many times that the salary cap clearing he was doing was not just to sign James but to improve the roster, so far it is better but more needs to be done for the Knicks to win it all.  Knicks fans can only look out their windows and think “Where are you Jeff Van Gundy? Please come home it has not been the same since you left…”

What Now…? Part III – The Players

The core is not the problem

The final part of my rebuilding plan involves the players on the field. The Mets have a strong core of players with Jose Reyes, David Wright, Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, Mike Pelfrey, Jason Bay and Angel Pagan. They have some young players in Jon Niese, Ike Davis and Josh Thole who showed this season that they belong, and will be part of the team going forward. The problem is, as it has been for the past three years, is surrounding this core with serviceable players. This shows another weakness in the roster that Omar Minaya developed. They have below replacement level players in Jeff Francouer, Rod Barajas, Alex Cora and Luis Castillo. The bench is a mish-mosh of has-beens and have-nots.

Shockingly, the starting pitchers have been very solid. Santana, Pelfrey, Niese, and the emergence of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey have been one of the better staffs in baseball. Throw in a few very good starts out of Hisanori Takahashi, and the team has 5 very capable starters. The problem, again, is the bullpen. Fernando Nieve, Elmer Dessens, and Ryota Igarashi have had their moments, but have been overused. Same goes for Manny Acosta. Pedro Feliciano has been the most hittable I have ever seen him, and he can not get any right handers out. Bobby Parnell was finally brought up, and has shown some great potential, and could actually become the future closer of this team. And of course, there is Oliver Perez, who is wasting a roster spot and only pitching in blow outs. He last appeared in a game on August 1. Finally, there is Francisco Rodriguez. He started off great, and then hit a major rough spot before getting it going again. This hot streak was followed by the incident in the family lounge at Citi Field and his ultimate “suspension from the team for the rest of the season. Many people feel he has pitched his last game for the Mets.

Will The O-Dawg finally make it to Queens?

Heading into 2011, the team will need to make some changes. Many changes as a matter of fact, but I don’t feel that trading any of the core players should be part of it. People continue to criticize the core, but again, the core needs to have the players around them to help them succeed. So away we go… here is Frankie’s plan for the 2011 New York Mets:

Starting Position Players
C – Josh Thole
1B – Ike Davis
2B – Orlando Hudson
SS- Jose Reyes
3B – David Wright
LF – Jason Bay
CF – Carlos Beltran
RF – Angel Pagan

Now, one could argue to trading Carlos Beltran and moving Angel Pagan to CF. I feel that next year Beltran will have a huge season. He will be completely healthy, and playing for a brand new contract. I am expecting huge numbers out of him. The Mets will finally sign Orlando Hudson (1/$6mil). I do not think Ruben Tejada is ready yet. He could use another year of seasoning down in the minor. They will find a suitor for Luis Castillo. Mets will have to eat a bulk of the contract, but getting anything for Castillo would be great. I also feel the Mets should not exercise Jose Reyes’ contract, but they should extend him (4 years/$56mil).

Starting Pitchers
Johan Santana
Mike Pelfrey
Javier Vazquez
Jon Niese
R.A. Dickey

Javy Vazquez could benefit in the NL and in Citi Field

As stated earlier, the Mets rotation has been pretty solid this year, but I do feel they need a more established starter. I have been a Javier Vazquez fan for a long time, and I think pitching at Citi Field, in the National League is perfect for him. He is 34 years old, so I wouldn’t give him more than a 2 year deal, $25 million contract, with an option for the third year. They should also tender R.A. Dickey a contract instead of heading to arbitration with him, possibly offering him an option on a second year. Of course the guy I would love to land is Cliff Lee, but I don’t see anyone beating out the Yankees in bidding for him. Plus they are already paying one pitcher a triple-digit contract. Also, I want Jenrry Mejia starting for a full season in the minors. I do not want him rushed.

Relief Pitchers
Jon Rauch (CL)
Bobby Parnell (SU)
J.C. Romero
Hisanori Takahashi
Ryota Igarashi
Grant Balfour
Seth McClung

The bullpen needs a complete overhaul, and since the team probably won’t spend on a big time acquisition, the new GM will need to spend wisely on the pen. I think that the Mets will need to cut ties with Francisco Rodriguez. It is time for him to go. They will probably have to eat some of his deal, but they could get a solid haul for him and get some minor league depth. I believe Jon Rauch showed this season that he could close for a team when Joe Nathan went down. He would be loved in NY, and could be an amazing addition to the pen. If the Phillies do not pick up J.C. Romero’s option, I think he would be a great fit to replace Pedro Feliciano. Romero has expressed that he would love to pitch in NY, and is one of those guys who you hate on another team, but love on yours. He is fiery and a competitor. The Mets should just let Feliciano walk and take the compensation picks. He has done great for the team over the years, but it is time to let him go. McClung and Balfour could round out the rest of the bullpen, and shouldn’t cost big bucks to get them here.

Bench
Nick Evans
Daniel Murphy
Fernando Martinez
Henry Blanco
Xavier Nady

The return of Daniel Murphy will result in a new role for him: Utility man. Before he got hurt, he started taking grounders at 2B, and is now doing it during his rehab. He can play 1B, and was a minor league 3B. He could be the Mets’ Mark DeRosa. Nick Evans can be a RH power pop off the bench that can play OF and 1B, same goes for Xavier Nady. Fernando can be a 4th OF, and still get some decent time out there, and get experience. He is still only 21 years old, but he should be with the big club. Henry Blanco is a more than capable backup catcher that the pitchers seem to enjoy throwing to.

There it is! It is not the most “out of the box” ideas, but I think these moves are all capable of happening, and with the right man leading the charge, this team can be a big time competitor in the National League.

What Now…? Part II – The Manager

Before I get into this piece, I would like to give a hat tip to my friends over at Fire Jerry Manuel for some great Jerry Manuel memories that are included in this post.

It's the end Jerry!

It was a June morning when I woke up to hear the news of Willie Randolph’s firing. Jerry Manuel was picked to take over the team. Jerry wooed the media and the fans with his witty press conferences, his “gangsta” attitude, and his cool persona. In 2008, the team played to a 55-38 record under Manuel, but they blew a late lead again in the season, and missed the playoffs again. Manuel’s bullpen management was a major bone of contention with fans, but when Billy Wagner went down, Jerry had to scuffle to put guys out there, and none of it worked. Luis Ayala was closing at one point, and it just didn’t work. The bullpen blew 29 saves… 29! They save half of those, and they run away with the division. He continually used the same arms over and over again, and the guys had nothing left come September.

Despite all of this, Minaya and the Wilpons felt the team played well under Jerry, and decided to give him a 2-year contract. The 2009 season came along, and the team was riddled with injuries, and only managed to win 70 games. Even though the team was decimated, Manuel still had a team that continually made mental mistakes. This is a reflection on the manager. It seemed as if every game there was a base running blunder, a bad error, or a missed sign. Not to mention, he implemented an 80-pitch hitting drill that totally messed with the players’ approaches at the plate. David Wright had the worst season of his career, only hitting 10 HR. Many attribute this drill as part of the problem, and Wright went away from his successful two strike approach he had throughout his career.

Manuel also continued to throw players under the bus, most notably Ryan Church (which lead to him being traded for Jeff Francouer). The season was an utter disaster, yet, the organization decided to bring him back again, saying he didn’t have a full roster to show what he can do. There were some coaching changes, but manger, hitting coach and pitching coach all remained.

This brings us to the 2010 season. The team started off fairly well, and it seemed to have put last season behind them. But then came the return of the sloppy play and bone head mistakes. Manuel continued to over-sacrifice bunt, continually giving away outs. Time and time again, he would bunt over Jose Reyes, who doesn’t need to be bunted over. He puts out lineups time and time again with players that have no right playing. Having Alex Cora, Jeff Francouer and Rod Barajas in a lineup at one time is literally playing with 5 position players. Not to mention, he has gotten virtually nothing out of Jason Bay this season. The starting pitching has done well, but he does not let starters go that extra bit to finish an inning, or get to the ninth when they clearly can. He then goes to the bullpen, and when he finds an arm, he runs them into the ground (see: Nieve, Fernando and Dessen, Elmer).

Wally Backman looks to be the favorite to take over for Jerry Manuel

Since the 2-9 west coast trip after the All-Star break, the team has been lackadaisical, and it looks like they have finally quit on Manuel. He should have never made the flight back to New York after that trip. He has gotten enough votes of confidence. It is time to cut the cord. There are a few names that have already emerged as the favorites for the job. Bob Melvin is one name that has come out, but to me, he would have been a decent in season replacement. Going into the new season, and a new era, they need to make a splash. Joe Torre is another name that has emerged, if he were to leave the Dodgers. I do not think he is a good choice for the team. Not only does he not bring the kick in the ass mentally this team needs, but many fans will not take a liking to bringing in the old Yankee skipper. The favorite candidate, and what most fans seem to want, is current Brooklyn Cyclones manager Wally Backman. He brings a fiery winning attitude that this team desperately needs. But he also brings past demons, and does not have any experience above the Double AA level. The folks over at Amazing Avenue have a great take as to why Backman would be a terrible choice as manager.

Of course the man who everyone wants, is Bobby Valentine. He is a beloved figure in NY after leading the Mets to the NLCS in 1999 and to the World Series in 2000. His teams had much less talent then these current Mets, but they loved playing for Bobby and they played hard for him at all times. His coaching decisions were unorthodox, and he was not very well received by others in the league. Players had gone on record as saying they would never want to play for him, and his constant lineup changes drove fans batty. Valentine would probably be the ideal fit, but a tumultuous relationship with the Wilpons will probably prevent it from happening. He would also want power that goes beyond the dugout and into the front office. I see Valentine heading out west to Seattle. He allegedly has Ichiro pining for him to get the position, and my guess is Jack Z listens.

A kid can dream, right?

There are a few other names I like, but really have not been mentioned. Fredi Gonzalez, who will probably be ticketed to Atlanta to replace Bobby Cox, would be a great choice. He is a young manager, with Major league experience, and experience in the NL East. His teams seem to always play hard, and he doesn’t take kindly to sloppy play. He benched superstar Hanley Ramirez this season for loafing on a play. He would be a great fit for the Mets. And then there is my dream scenario of the Mets prying away former Met Ron Gardenhire. He is in the final year with the Twins, and will probably be looking for an extension at the end of the season. Problem is, the Twins just swept the White Sox and are now 5 games up in the division, and will probably be in the playoffs again. It doesn’t look like Gardy is leaving any time soon. In the end, I expect that Backman will be named manager. He will be a media darling for a little bit, then he will have a blow up, and he will get dragged through the mud. That’s what happens in NYC. If Wally gets the call, I just hope he can keep his off the field issues in check. It would be great to get a winning attitude back in the dugout in Queens.

What Now…? Part I – The GM

I thought going into 2010, that this was a make or break season for the team. Looking further into it, I believe 2011 is a huge season for not only the players on the field, but also the franchise itself. The past 4 season have been an utter disaster. Too many injuries, lackadaisical play, bone head decisions (on and off the field), bad contracts, and lousy ball players.

Sorry Omar, but your time is up

All of this has come under Omar Minaya’s watch. He hired Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel. He picked the coaches for the team, not allowing his manager to do so. He gave out the contracts to Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, dealt away Heath Bell, and traded for Jeff Francouer.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Omar Minaya. I have always been a supporter of his. I honestly believe he has done more good than bad. The Johan Santana trade was a steal, the contracts given to David Wright, Jose Reyes, and even Carlos Beltran were all great deals, and even the trade for Carlos Delgado. He built together a strong core of players; the problem is what he did to surround these guys.

One of the biggest loses to this team over the past few seasons, was the loss of Jose Valentin. The more you look back, the more you see what a positive influence he was to the clubhouse, especially Jose Reyes. It seemed as if he was a safety net for him. When Valentin went down, is when the problems began. After he got hurt, Omar went out and got Luis Castillo, and they proceeded to choke the 2007 season away. It has been all down hill since.

Could the "Moneyball" King bring his craft to the Big City?

I believe that Omar has a spot in the organization. He is still a very good scout, and the players love him. I just do not think that he has it in him to be a GM. It seems that ever since the Bernazard/Rubin fiasco last season, he has been bewildered and not able to handle things. There are three names I think the Mets need to focus on in the offseason: Billy Beane, Kevin Towers and Jon Daniels. Any one of these candidates would be a great fit for this team. Can you imagine the things Beane could do with money? He also has ties to the team. He would cost a good amount to pry away from Oakland, but he would be an awesome fit.

Kevin Towers, currently working for the Yankees, would certainly welcome a move back to lead a team. The Mets have the core pieces, and Towers would be another good choice to put the other pieces together to make it work.

Can the Youngest GM in baseball handle the bright lights on NYC?

Lastly, I feel Jon Daniels of the Texas Rangers would be a great fit. He is the youngest GM in baseball at the age of 33, but with the team recently being sold, his place in the organization is in question. Aside from his first couple of trades (dealing Alfonso Soriano and Adrian Gonzalez for nothing), Daniels has built a big time contender down in Arlington. He has obtained Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Cliff Lee all for virtually nothing. He also got a major haul from Mark Teixeira. In 2008, the team had the #1 ranked minor league system, and the dividends are paying off this season. This is the type of person needed to lead the Mets: A young, intelligent (Ivy League grad), savvy General Manager that is willing to go out and go for it.

Time To Break My Silence

I have been putting off writing a posting about the Mets since we started this site. I have been waiting for them to go on that run, just jump back into the Divisional race, or even back into the Wild Card race. But the day has not arrived. And now, in the light of the Francisco Rodriguez news, I have to break my silence. I apologize in advance if there is rambling on in this posting. I have been a diehard Mets fan for nearly 30 years, and I consider the team as a member of my family.

Frankie and The Fonz were ready for an exciting season at Citi Field

Going into the season, I had some high hopes for the team. Not astronomical hopes, but attainable ones. I felt that this was an 85 win team. I thought that they would be able to compete for most of the season, and fight for the Wild Card until the end. I didn’t think they were a playoff team, but I did think they would keep us entertained all season and give us something to look forward to in 2011.

The year started off promising. They were even in 1st place for a little while there, but alas, the 2nd half of the season has been an utter disaster. It all started with a 2-9 west coast trip which included Jason Bay getting a concussion, and the return of Carlos Beltran (which, we are still really waiting for). Throughout this stretch, however, the pitching has been fantastic. Santana, Niese and Dickey have done their jobs, and kept the team in the game to win. Pelfrey is slowly getting out of his funk over his past two starts, and Takahashi (now relegated to 8th inning duty) was very solid in his starts. This issue is continually the offense. David Wright, as hot as he can get, can get just as cold. He has 0 RBI in the month of August. Jason Bay has been on the DL, although he wasn’t providing much anyway, and as mentioned early, we are still waiting for the real Beltran to show up. But will he? Honestly, it is already too late. The 2010 season for the Mets is in the toilet.

I think Mets fans are sick and tired with this guy and his laugh

They did make a couple of moves that looked like they were smartening up. They released Alex Cora, and brought up Ruben Tejada (who was named the everyday 2b) and Fernando Martinez. Josh Thole was named the starting catcher, and Jeff Francouer was relegated to being a platoon player (with Martinez playing against RHP). Moves like this would have at least given the team a chance to take a look at some of the kids. Of course, Jerry Manuel got a hold of it all, and has not stuck to the script. Martinez barely gets any playing time, and now Manuel is even platooning Ike Davis with AAA HR King Mike Hessman. This is an absolute joke. Davis needs to play every day. He needs to learn to hit lefties, not sit against them. The Jerry Manuel Era has been an absolute disaster. He picks his favorites, and constantly throws his players under the bus. He is never accountable for his awful decisions, and always finds someone else to blame. Mets fans are getting sick and tired of Jerry laughing and trying to be funny during his press conferences. We all know Jerry is gone after this year, but he honestly should not have made it back to New York after the west coast disaster.

Will this be the lasting image of Frankie Rodriguez in NY?

Now we have the Francisco Rodriguez incident. This one really put me over the edge. The Mets need to try their damndest to get his contract voided, or try to recoup some money that is owed to him. What he did was disrespectful to his teammates, the organization, and to the fans. I honestly don’t see how this guy can be on the team next year. There are a lot of changes that are needed with this team going into next season.

Check back soon for Frankie’s plan for the 2011 New York Mets.

Team USA Basketball: Looking For An Identity

If you are wondering who is going to get cut from Team USA Basketball you can cross Eric Gordon off your list. Playing in front of a Madison Square Garden crowd that at times was cheering loudly for the French side, Gordon consistently found his shot in limited minutes.  Team USA has tinkered with their strategy in international play over the years and having a few zone-breaking jump shooters is high on the list this year. With that in mind a lightning quick Stephen Curry is also a must-have for the squad. Curry came in early and was bullied by French forward (and Portland Trailblazer) Nicolas Batum, say it with me now BAH-TOMB. This called to question the concerns about Curry’s size disadvantage with most professional players that hurt his draft stock last year. Curry quickly quieted the skeptics once again with his sweet shot and aggressive style of play. On a team that is obviously still searching for its personality, it was clear today that Curry would play a large role in keeping Team USA on the offensive. One play in the first half stood out in particular. After Rudy Gay had a dunk blocked and France started their break, Curry quickly pick-pocketed French forward Mickael Gelabale and turned and dished to Gay who did not disappoint his second time above the rim with a thunderous dunk.  Stopping a momentum shifting play like that is usually a veteran like Rajon Rondo’s role on the team but it looks like Curry is making a case to play a prominent role as well.

Yes, we are all taking our talents to South Beach

Speaking of Rondo, his blinding first step today was the clearest reason why players long to play in the NBA and no one is sure if France has an organized league in its country.  At times the French hung tough in the first half, but time and again Rondo’s dazzling ball handling, command of the open floor and unstoppable drives to the hoop, showed the gap in talent between the two sides. Rondo was just too fast.  Chauncey Billups, playing the grizzled veteran, also kept Team USA in the game in the first half with his consistent shooting as the other players struggled to find their legs. I can see why Coach K is starting Rondo and Billups together as their leadership and clutch shooting allows the lesser experienced members of the squad to gain momentum during the game. Kevin Durant put on a decent display but was not quite the dominant force we are accustomed to and that Team USA needs him to be. He has been called unselfish to a fault and this has to change if Team USA is going to win it all. He did silence the crowd at one point with back to back hoops and ended a bizzare French chant that was booming from the French contingent. Lamar Odom actually played hard a few times and looked much more comfortable than Tyson Chandler, who walked around with a menacing glare on his face all game but did not actually do anything to scare the French.  I was concerned that the lack of players from the Miami Heat would be too much to overcome, but today it certainly did not seem to be the case. With Rondo and Billups at the controls and Curry, Durant, Gay and Gordon only getting better, it looks like Team USA will be just fine.

Dunks and Punks:  Went to the game on a field trip with my men’s league basketball team the “Scrappy 7” and we all agreed that MSG has the best “kiss cam” announcer of all time…that said, when it came time for Tony Parker to plant one for the crowd on his wife Eva Longoria, his 6th grade bumbled attempt left us all wondering if maybe Eva is a real life “desperate housewife”…It looked today that if Kevin Love makes the team he will be Team USA’s version of Boston Celtics  Brian Scalabrine…France’s  Boris Diaw looks like a retired fat guy until he gets the ball and dominates in the paint, like a French Paul Pierce…the NY Liberty Little Torches are the best kept secret in New York, I would rather pay to watch those kids perform than watch Donnie and Dan’s school for the overweight and untalented fall all over themselves for 82 games every year…Fonz

2010 Baseball Season Thus Far: Pennant Races a Plenty

Cliff Lee and the Rangers are running away with the AL West

The 2010 baseball season looks like it will be taking its magic deep into September with its pennant races. At this moment, on August 9, there is only one divisional leader greater than 2.5 games (Texas has a 7.5 game lead over Oakland). There are also some big surprises when looking at division leaders. Let’s look no further than those very Texas Rangers. Not only are they running away with the division, but the proverbial favorite, Anaheim Angels are a distant 9 games out, and their acquisition of Dan Haren looks more like a deal for the future rather than to make a push this season. Lots of people were also talking about the Seattle Mariners this season, with Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez leading the rotation, and the idea of speed and defense leading the charge. Well, they are currently last in all offensive categories in baseball, are 22.5 games out of first, and Cliff Lee is in Texas. The first year experiment by Jack Z certainly did not turn out as good as expected. Look for the Rangers to continue to run away with this division. The combination of a power lineup and a newly powered rotation with Lee and CJ Wilson are doing damage at a ballpark known for ruining pitching careers.

Now let’s start talking about these pennant races. We will continue in the AL and move to the Central, where in 3 of the past 4 season, the division ahs been decided by 1 game. Currently, the White Sox have a .5 game lead on the Twins. Anyone that follows baseball knows that the Twins will fight until the last day of the season. They are always in the race. If they can get Justin Morneau back soon, they will be a tough team to pull away from. They are doing all of this with Joe Mauer having a subpar season, but the emergence of Delmon Young has lead this team to having a legit shot at the division. The White Sox have fallen back a little after a scorching hot streak, but they too have the pitching and power to take them to another division title. Their chances would be that much better if they were to acquire Adam Dunn. There is still a chance of a waiver deadline acquisition, but it is unlikely. Dunn would have been the missing piece to the ChiSox puzzle. Even without Dunn, I think the White Sox should hold on to take the AL Central.

Mariano Rivera may be having the best season of his career

Now to the best division in baseball, the AL East. Going into today, the Yankees hold a 2.5 game lead over the Rays. Even though the Red Sox are 7 games out, you still can not write them off. Even with all of their injuries they are still competing and fighting hard to stay in the race. In the end, I just don’t think they have the fire power to make their big move. The injuries are too substantial, especially now with Youkilis out for the season. Also, Josh Beckett is obviously not fully healthy, and John Lackey is not what they thought they were getting. The Rays and Yanks are just too powerful for them to catch. As for Tampa, it is amazing that this team has been no hit twice this year, and came within 1 out of it happening again. Their young talent, matched with probably the best pitching staff in baseball should guarantee this team a spot in the playoffs. The Carlos Pena injury will hurt, but they have the depth to overcome it and stay afloat until he is back. I see the Rays to be locked into the Wild Card spot. Which means the division should go to the Yankees yet again. The team is just too stacked for them not to win it. They went out and got Lance Berkman at the deadline because they “needed” a DH. Pitching staff is totally stacked (although I do give that edge to Tampa), and they have the ultimate X-factor in Mariano Rivera. Their one weakness I can see is their bullpen (aside from Mo of course). Joba Chamberlain has shown lots of rust this season and he even lost his 8th inning job. Many analysts feel that if the Yankees needed anything at the deadline, it was a bullpen arm, and not a bat. They did get Kerry Wood, but he ahs been injured most of the season, and is far from his Chicago Cub days. That being said, I see the Yankees winning this division by 5 games.

The National League has no division lead more than 2 games, and all three divisions have a surprise leader. Let’s start out West where the upstart San Diego Padres have a 2 game lead over the San Francisco Giants. The Padres also went with the combination of speed and pitching this season, but it has worked for them. Before the season started, everyone was wondering at what point Heath Bell and Adrian Gonzalez would get traded. Well, doesn’t look like anytime soon. The San Francisco Giants are hot on their tail, with one of the best pitching staffs in the league. They also have the potential Rookie of the Year in Buster Posey who has ignited the team and sent them on a run to try and win the division. The trio of Tim Lincicum, Matt Cain, and the re-emergence of Barry Zito is burning through NL lineups. I see the Giants overtaking the Padres in the last month of the season. The Padres are a great story, and will be fighting tough all the way, but I see them burning out. Also, please do not sleep on the Colorado Rockies. They are only 6.5 out, and a notoriously strong second half team. Ubaldo Jimenez is anchoring a staff that has faired extremely well at Coors Field, and have an emerging superstar in Carlos Gonzalez who has been on an absolute tear. If their bullpen can hold up, I can see the Rockies making a huge push to overtake the division.

Hate the guy all you want, but Tony LaRussa knows how to win

The NL Central has another surprising team emerging, the Cincinnati Reds. People thought that the Cardinals would run away with the division, and the Cubs would be right around there with them. This is certainly not the case. The Reds pitching has carried them, and have a great mix of youth and veterans leading this team to the front of the division. While the Reds are a nice story, I do not see them holding off the Cardinals. They just bolstered their already powerful staff with the acquisition of Jake Westbrook, and the emergence of young players like John Jay and Colby Rasmus, it’ll be tough to hold this team off. The major x-factor in this division heat? Tony LaRussa vs. Dusty Baker. I think we know who wins this one.

The final division I will cover is the NL East. Again, a surprise leader at the point with the Atlanta Braves. Many felt the Braves had the pitching, but not the hitting. And to be honest, I am not sure how they are doing it. Another young superstar in the making, Jason Heyward, gave this team a big kick in the pants that they needed. Even with Derek Lowe being substandard, their pitching has been extremely strong. Their bullpen has been able to hold strong even with the loss of Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano. They do have Billy Wagner closing out now. He has been dominating all season, but he is now approaching the time of year when he begins to struggle. Billy the Kid has had trouble in closing out the big games in the past. Just ask Mets and Phillies fans. The Phillies have experienced crushing injuries all season, from Utley, to Howard, to Victorino, yet they stand only 2 games out of first place. I hate to admit it, but this team knows how to win. Plus the fact they have a rotation of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. If Brad Lidge is only someone competent, the Phillies should win this division by at least 2 games. And you have no idea how much it pains me to say that.

Fantasy Football Draft Time: Strategy and Tips for a Champion

Rex Ryan says: You are going to be the 2010 Fantasy Champion!

It’s that time of year again; time to prepare for the fantasy football draft and the fantasy football season. Its time to speak to your wives and girlfriends and explain that yes, we are doing this again. We are going back to being under more pressure on the weekend than during the week, back to running bizarre algorithms and trying out grandma’s voodoo eye. Monday mornings will be become painful, but not more painful that Tuesday mornings when you have a player going on a Monday night game. You will see their faces and you will know that yes, this is a sacrifice for your family. But together, with her support and your genius you know that it will be worth it because lets face it, this is your year. This is your year to make the right moves, pick the right sleepers and stick to your guns when all hope is lost. And in the end, when victory is yours and you hold the trophy over your head she will know that is she is with a true champion. Lets look at some rules on the road to fantasy football success:

1. Trust your gut – Somehow the gut knows what the mind refuses to accept.

2. Do not draft based on last year. It’s a new year, accept it and make forward look moves. Has the schedule gotten harder? The offensive line better? The coaching philosophy changed?

3. First year RBs are the only rookies you can draft. The only exception are exceptional rookie MLBs.

4. Have fun at your draft but stay focused in rounds 4-9.  Here is where the drafts are won. Guys will get drunk, guys will get rattled, but this is the lions den of the draft, here is where you become a champion.

5. It’s a passing league. When you started out it was a running back league. This is no more. Accept the change. The quarterback position is deep but elite wideouts are not. A high volume reception wideout who is linked to an elite quarterback is money in the bank. Who is this years Wes Welker? My money is on Brandon Marshall. Deep sleeper is Eddie Royal. And watch out for Ochocinco to make a return to his glory year’s numbers.

6. Have fun and stay real. It’s an imaginary team, keep it there. Do not take out your bad luck on people around you. It makes you look like a fool not a champion. Champions never show when they are down, look at Tom Brady.

7. A stellar team defense is worth drafting a bit high. Anyone who has had the Ravens Defense during one of their runs knows how dominant they can make you, do not be afraid to go against the grain and take one high. My sleeper defense is the Giants. Lost in the hubbub of the Jets number one defense is the fact that the Giants unit is far healthier and better coached than a year ago with a Manhattan sized chip on their shoulder, watch out.

8. I think multiple leagues with different rosters is good as it gives you a better understanding of whats going on in the league and also diversifies you enough that your stress level comes down.

9. Your girl gives you sex, your imaginary team does not.  Keep your priorities in order. Don’t spend so much time idolizing players that she forgets why she idolizes you.  

I cannot stress it enough to have fun and enjoy this game. Talk as much smack as you can, try and fleece a fellow owner. Last year I got Roddy White for Todd Heap in mid-season, who says it’s not worth throwing a wacky trade out there once in a while? The guy had just lost his TE and was so desperate to field an elite team at every position that he traded me White because of his WR depth. Irrational behavior on his part, great for me as it helped me win the league. Irrational behavior either wins or loses titles. This is your year, don’t forget it!

Athletes, Agents, Thugs, Liars and Broken Promises

Since I was a kid sports have been a dominating force in my life. Most of my fondest memories start and finish at the park by my house. I imagine it’s like that for most people out there from the pre-handheld age. These memories almost always involve a bunch of kids pretending to be their heroes from their favorite sports team. We practiced as hard as we could so someday we could wear the Yankee pinstripes, the orange and blue of the Knicks and Mets or maybe patrol center field like Brian McCrae out in Kansas City. These memories never involve me pretending to holdout for a few extra million or putting a tattoo on my face to voice my displeasure (or pending insanity).  I cannot remember a time in my childhood where after being guaranteed a summer at the park I promptly gained so much weight I was unable to play any sport at all like so many athletes do today after getting their guaranteed millions. Nor do I remember any of the egomaniacal quotes being thrown around today by athletes being copied by my buddies as we played stick ball.

Back then, it was about getting one more hit before the sun went down, or shoveling off the ice and snow from the basketball court after a blizzard early enough in the morning so the sun would dry the court by midday. We became meteorologists out of necessity, was it going to rain? OK let’s get the football. Was it going to be  sunny and no one had sunglasses, put the mitt down and let’s go play hoops. Was the girl you liked watching? Nothing like a little pressure to make a man out of you on the baseball diamond.  We would spend hours throwing pop flies and mimicking Ricky Henderson’s “snatch catch” or fielding a double play with a closed mitt like Willie Randolph.  We would do the “Teufel shuffle” or do our best to copy Junior Griffey’s sweet swing.  I never remember discussing salaries or contracts and quite honestly cannot remember knowing who former general manager Frank Cashen was when he so deftly assembled the ‘86 Mets.  We had Joe Montana being everything you thought a quarterback should be when things were going right and then you had John Elway showing you to never give up when things were not going so well. With an eye towards our heroes we practiced our tails off in hopes of one day being a superstar as well. And lets not even get into trying to be like Mike, “Come Fly with Me” is still one of the best videos ever made.

Look at me, gotta be, Centerfield

But something happened on the way to my happy ending. I grew up and sports changed.  Most people do not become professional athletes and begin the full transfer to fan and weekend warrior as they hit their twenties. You begin to teach your kids how to play ball and plant the seeds for their dreams to one day be whatever they want to be. I am now questioning if they can have a childhood similar to ours where sports were a pure and healthy place to spend your time. Sports agents, free agency and most of all America’s mind numbing obsession with sports stars and all the money that comes with it took over that sunset of dreams.  As you flip through the sports pages today it’s no longer about the games. Now, most articles are involving another star athlete raping a young girl, taking drugs (either recreational or performance enhancing), talking about how they have to “feed their family” and 5 million dollars just will not do.  You have team owners hiding their balance sheets, claiming poverty and raising prices as they effectively price out the average income fan that they so cunningly cater to in the media. A concept as foreign and ridiculous as PSLs, where you have to buy the right to buy a seat is now commonplace. Is this so ridiculous? Where else in life do you have to buy the right to buy something? How and why is this ok? Why are fans not revolting?  Take a look at the new Yankee stadium. Most of my friends call it a shopping mall. There’s no room for peanut shells on the floor but if you want some overpriced tofu you are in luck.  If you sit in left field you cannot see the right fielder because they put a Hard Rock Cafe in the way.  As irrational as this seems, it can only have one answer. It’s all about the money and not the fan experience, and like drug addicts, the average fan keeps coming back even if the quality of the product decreases because of one reason: sports addiction.

There is an epidemic in America over sports and it’s reflective of deteriorating family values and a diminished social capacity to excel on an individual level. Many of these athletes and agents are seeking to find in the almighty dollar what they did not have growing up, safety and security. Many come from single parent households and/or rough areas and have not had the benefit of a strong social structure to teach them how to deal with all the fame and fortune they are handed as professionals.  So when they become rich and famous, they do what you would expect, they spin out of control.  Real life major sports off-season storylines centering around murder, prison, DWI’s and countless other crimes could fuel CSI episodes for years to come. They are punished and quickly released, their value on the field being too great to allow them to pay a civilian penalty for a civilian crime.  And this is what your kids are watching. If you are good at something the rules do not apply to you. Maybe when they retire, Lehman Brothers will come out of the grave and offer them a job.

As a society we perpetuate and allow this because of the need for instant gratification that permeates all levels of our culture. Why learn a crossover if someone on TV already has a good one? Let’s just buy the jersey, become a superfan and live vicariously through someone who could care less about you. Worse still is the consistent alienation of the fan as the centerpiece of this experience. The people who fork over their hard earned money to be entertained are instead disappointed time and again on and off the field by the same people who live lavish lifestyles off their gross receipts.  How is it acceptable for a player who plays well to hold out of a contract he already signed because he wants more money, but if that same player never lived up to his contract it would have to be guaranteed nonetheless? Any Knick fan knows exactly what I am talking about.  Here’s looking at you Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry. This is in essence the problem, beyond being awful role models, these players, owners and agents do not benefit you at all if the fan experience is negative. I remember Bronx Tale after C was talking about his hero Mickey Mantle, Sonny looks at him and replies “Ask your Dad if Micky Mantle is going to pay his bills.” I remember at the time thinking Sonny had a point, but never really thinking about it again.

Sports have come a long way down in recent years and its time for the fans to strike back. If for one year the fans would band together and not turn on ESPN, not go to any games, not buy any jerseys, not make pretend fantasy teams, in one year we could take back sports. Something that is lost amid the player and owner arguments and negotiations is the fans. Darrell Revis of the Jets is holding out this year because one million dollars is just not enough money for him. The Jets ownership is saying they will not deal with Revis because his demands are outlandish. And there they argue back and forth about our money. And here is the fan, spending $10,000 for the right to buy his season tickets at $125 a seat, going out and purchasing the Revis jersey for $100 and waiting for his Sundays to come so he can spend $200 on stadium food and enjoy the day.  Throughout these player and owner negotiations where is the voice of the fan? Are there any fans in the room? It is our money after all, right? Where is the Jet fan in the room saying “Hey guys, we finally have a shot to win the Super Bowl, we have spent a lot of money these last 40 years and your product has disappointed time and again. I have had countless Sundays ruined by your inability to do what you are paid to do. I need you to put this argument to bed and focus on winning us a Super Bowl.  We deserve to stop feeling like a girl who gave up her virginity on prom night only to find a breakup letter on her pillow the next morning every January 1st” The Revis holdout is a major distraction and many Jet fans I know, instead of finally enjoying the excitement of a good product being put on the field, are left hoping that their star defensive player will take “only” 10 million or so dollars per year to go play a game. The sad thing is, as a kid, there is no way I would ever go out on the field with my friends and pretend I was Revis ever again. The betrayal by players and owners not only hurt the fan experience, but add to an ever-increasing cynical fan base. The sports arguments now center over what GM overpaid for this player or how you have to trade for players in contract years to ensure they play their hardest. Gone are the days of arguments over who has the best swing in the big leagues or the sweetest shot in hoops.  If this is the case then what’s the point?  Sports are supposed to be an escape, but more and more have begun to mirror the worst in the world.  Greed, drugs, sloth, infidelity are the calling cards of the modern athlete and I am sure if they had more media attention their sports agents would not fare much better on the scale of morality. And what’s most shocking is how many people defend these players and label anyone who feels their salary demands are crazy as “haters.” This is a great area of concern as many fans do not even see the light, the fact that these players will never deliver on what you are committing to them because you have made it too easy.  Hopefully one day the average fans will band together and stage a lockout of their own, a “fan wallet lockout,” see how quickly things change then. I say a “fan wallet lockout” and not a “fan lockout” because lets face it, as long as they get your money somehow they don’t care if you are there or not. It’s time for the fans to use their leverage and show the players, agents and owners who the real boss is. Its time to take back the game.