Wednesday, August 26, 2015
It was a "good news, bad news” summer for the good ole Knickerbockers, with the bad news being a little clearer than the good.
To start with the obvious bad news, go no further than the draft. After the nightmare season, they inexplicably went on a winning streak near the season’s end to give up the worst record, which with a little bad luck resulted in picking outside of the top 3 in the draft and missing out on prized prospects Towns or Russell.
Much to my disappointment, the Knicks ended up drafting Kristaps Porizgis over more known commodities like Justice Winslow, or physical specimens more suited for today’s NBA like Emmanuel Mudiay. At the time I believed Porizgis was the classic European prospect who gains too much momentum during the pre-draft hype and who will eventually and inevitably become a bust, while the players behind him turn into All Stars. However, after watching him during summer league play, I have quickly come around to seeing him as the savior of the Knicks and the next great European player, even though Phil Jackson recently compared him to Shawn Bradley in what strangely seemed an attempt at a compliment.
With the Knicks’ history, though, it seems more likely than not that he will be out of the league in three years while Justice Winslow becomes a Paul Peirce/Jimmy Butler/Kahwi Leonard hybrid superstar and Emmanuel Mudiay becomes the next great, physical point guard, unstoppable in transition and the pick and roll a la Russell Westbrook or John Wall. However, I maintain a cautious optimism that he will develop into a great player, with a very unique skill set.
The Knicks somehow were also able to turn Tim Hardway Jr. into a 1st round pick which they used on Jerian Grant, which feels like borderline highway robbery and a very underrated and positive move from Phil Jackson. This could turn out to be the steal of the draft and Phil Jackson’s best move as president.
Free agency was another good news, bad news situation. The bad news was that they missed out on all the top-level free agents. The good news is that the signed real life, legit NBA players, something they were severely lacking in last season. Robin Lopez over the past couple seasons has turned into a legit NBA center who is one of the better defender/rebounding centers in the league. His brother Brook has overshadowed Robin since they came into the league because of Brook’s offensive skills and lottery selection. However, with Brook’s injury history and complete inability to grab a rebound, Robin has transformed into the more valuable Lopez brother.
Kyle O’Quinn is an underrated signing as well. Stuck playing behind Nikola Vucevic in Orlando he never really got to play many minutes, but he is young, big, strong and talented. If you look at his per 36 minutes stats, the guy has averaged 13 and 10 for his career. Given a bigger role this guy has a chance to turn into a very solid player who can play both power forward and center.
Derrick Williams has carried the label bust since he was selected with the 2nd overall pick in the 2011 draft, and deservedly so. To his defense, though, he has played on the Timberwolves and Kings, two organizations that were not exactly models of stability or known for developing talent. The Knicks have been just as bad in recent years, but hopefully with Phil and Derrick Fisher in the second year of their tenure, they can add some stability and confidence to this kid’s life and resurrect his career. He has all the natural talent in the world and is still only 24 years old.
And Aaron Afflalo is just a seasoned vet. The man can shoot, play defense, and bring stability to the locker room, which are three things that the man he is replacing, Tim Hardway Jr., could never figure out.
A lot has been said about whether Carmelo Anthony is a franchise player. I have gone back and forth many times myself. This is the season he has to prove his worth. While this team is nowhere near a championship caliber team, it is in fact a real NBA squad. If Carmelo cannot lead this team to a playoff birth in the East, he deserves every piece of criticism he has ever or will ever receive.
Monday, August 24, 2015
As the older gen in 2gen, I have to say I’ve noticed how really young and really good is the new gen of baseball stars. We are in a golden age of
20-somethings, and most closer to 20 than 30. A list of stars under 25 would of course start with the astonishing Mike Trout – a once-in-a lucky-generation talent – and the nearly as astonishing Bryce Harper, who but for Trout would have been considered the single standout of his era.
And they’re not alone. Without even thinking very hard, a fan can come up with the names of every day players who are anything but everyday: Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson and Maikel Franco. Plus pitchers Gerrit Cole and the Mets tandem of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Up the age limit to all of 27, and you can include their fellow Mets ace Matt Harvey.
What accounts for this?
The first obvious thing that comes to mind is the end of the PED (performance enhancing drugs, for the uninitiated) era. With steroids out of the picture, careers no longer stretch into a player’s late 30s and even early 40s. Players once again begin to age in their early 30s, with the predictable decline in performance and stats. Once again, baseball is “same as it ever was.”
But all this really does is create more room and opportunity for younger players. It doesn’t assure that so many will be so good so young. For that, I think we have to look to a few other things. Better teaching and coaching in youth baseball is a good place to start, and a good thing for baseball. But there’s another factor, which is not quite so unambiguously good: the rise of year-round commitments to baseball as a young athlete’s single sport, beginning at a very young age.
Yes, this leads to the development of an astonishing skill set and a baseball precociousness. But it may also be the single most important factor in the rise of young arms needing Tommy John surgery. There’s a consensus emerging among the doctors treating these young arms that their elbows may already be fraying and in danger before they even sign their first contracts. John Smoltz, in his Hall of Fame entrance speech this summer, joined a growing bandwagon in counseling parents and coaches against having their talented young kids throw 12 months a year, as is too often the case today. It’s telling that both deGrom and Harvey have already had Tommy John surgeries.
So where does one come out on all this? I think there’s a fairly easy answer. I’m as delighted as any fan to watch the amazing athleticism and incredible skills of these young players, and the endless parade of pitchers who can throw 95 miles per hour. But, and this is the dad in me speaking out, I’m not convinced those skills would be much diminished in the long run by giving young kids a few months a year off, the same as professional baseball will do for them if they’re lucky enough to make it that far.
Monday, April 27, 2015
The sports landscape has changed drastically over the past few decades, as is evidenced often in my life by the contrasts in tastes and opinions between my dad, my brother and myself.
And one of the most notable has been the contraction of sporting events that truly qualify as ‘big ones’. Of course, the Super Bowl, March Madness, and now the College Football Playoff all qualify as appointment TV at the least, and full-on cultural events at their most. But what I sense from my dad, and other slightly older people in general is that in the past other, more obscure sporting events made that transition toward being serious cultural events like the Super Bowl, where even non-sports fans tune in, and the whole country pauses.
This is the type of vibe I think we’re missing on a national scale.
But this upcoming weekend, the first one of May 2015, seems like a throwback along those lines, to me at least. There are 3 huge sporting events coming up this weekend, not even considering the NBA and NHL playoffs. Those are the Mayweather vs. Paquio boxing match, the Kentucky Derby, and of course, the NFL draft.
I can vaguely remember the last time a boxing match was a big event in my life; it was when Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear off mid-match. But since then, these ‘gambling’ sports as I refer to them have kind of fallen by the way side. Of course the NFL draft is always a big deal, but other than that, these more obscure, in a way, more fun sporting events like boxing matches and horse races are no longer relevant.
Why is that? Is it because neighborhood bookies have disappeared at a grassroots, local level? Do people not like the way the horses are treated anymore? Or is it something more obvious, like the fact that there are really only two charismatic and famous boxers left anymore? I really am not sure, but from my standpoint, I don’t want these types of events to go away.
I think it’s fun to let our collective hair down every now and then, put a little money on a horse, boxer, or what player your team may pick. With these types of old-school events, chances are your wife, or girlfriend, or significant other in general (any non-sports fan, really) will have ABSOLUTELY no interest in what you’re up to when you’re watching these events, and that is exactly how it should be. These are the old school type of events that tap into our most primal instincts; what’s the fastest horse, who can punch the hardest, who can take the most punches. These are the types of events that show us of the benefits of civilization, while simultaneously reminding us of the exciting parts of our more wild natures.
And for those reasons and more, I’m glad there are a bunch of ultimately primitive, old-school, and just not widely appealing sports events on this weekend. This is one for the purists, even if it is probably for the best that our collective tastes as sports fans have moved to (slightly) more mainstream areas. And of course, there’s still UFC for the rest of us.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
With the launch of the Apple Watch, there have been a handful of references in the press to the old Dick Tracy Two-Way Wrist Radio, a sort of goofy kid’s walkie-talkie popular when my friends and I were all the right age to want one. Apple CEO Tim Cook himself has described the old toy as the inspiration for the new watch.
For the completely uninitiated, Dick Tracy was a comic book detective whose signature gadget was that his wrist watch doubled as a… walkie-talkie.
The toy my buddies and I all got the same Christmas purported to be just like Dick Tracy’s, except that rather than the whole affair being contained within the watch, there was actually a transistor radio-sized transmitter you carried or wore on your belt, with a wire attaching it to the watch-shaped microphone you wore on your wrist, and a long antenna you extended when you actually used this thing, and that threatened to poke an eye out if crime-fighting prompted the need to sprint anywhere. It also had a very limited range of around 300 yards, which, since we were all living in spilt level starter houses on postage stamp lots, put five of us within easy range of each other.
And what, you may wonder, does this have to do with baseball?
Well, this. The Dick Tracy Two-Way Wrist Radio was actually only my second favorite, small, battery-operated, communication device. My favorite, and it wasn’t close, was my Sony transistor radio. Small and silver in a black leather case, it was my lifeline to baseball broadcasts. Mel Allen for the Yankees. Lindsay Nelson, Bob Murphy and Ralph Kiner for the Mets. After summer lunches, before I was allowed to go back out and play whiffle ball or detective, I would listen to day games in the privacy of my backyard pup tent with my copy of that week’s Sporting News. Night games meant my trusty transistor radio was bringing me baseball from under my pillow.
Until one potentially disastrous summer week when my radio was confiscated for… talking back? Not taking out the garbage? Messy room? Could have been anything, and should have been terrible. No baseball on my radio for a week.
Except that better minds than mine, or certainly more devious ones, came up with an ingenious solution. Each night that week, one of the guys took a turn broadcasting that night’s game from his transistor radio, over his Dick Tracy Two-Way Wrist Radio, to mine. I got to surreptitiously listen to a game every night that week, with my parents complimenting me each morning for so gracefully accepting my punishment. And though the signal was faint and scratchy, no baseball games have ever sounded better.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
(Now that fantasy/roto leagues are running their drafts and auctions for yet another year, the following is a reprint of a piece we ran at this time last year.)
Rotisserie Baseball dates back to about 1981. You may now know of it as fantasy baseball, but more on that later.
A league called the Universal Baseball Association, or UBA, dates back to 1984.
I have been playing in the UBA since 1986. So while I won’t claim to have been present at the creation, I was just 3 blocks south and 5 years late. There can’t be more than a couple of hundred guys who have played this fanatical game longer than I have. In fact, I do believe that the UBA founder actually has an aging sheet of paper, laced with the requisite faux self-importance, certifying the UBA as one of the first ten, or dozen, or hundred, rotisserie leagues ever formed, and signed by the game’s inventors.
A (very) little history first. The game was named Rotisserie Baseball because it was conceived by a bunch of Manhattan magazine guys (and one woman) at a restaurant called La Rotisserie Francaise. As I recall, it was on Third Avenue at 52nd Street. I worked back then at an advertising agency on Third Avenue and 49th Street. I don’t think most of us can claim to have heard of this game until 1983, when the founders published a very entertaining rulebook that included a history of their first few seasons. These were, remember, magazine writers and editors.
Apart from developing the rules, known now by millions, they also created a legacy involving showering the season’s winner with Yoo Hoo, a watery chocolate drink once hawked by Yogi Berra, and oddly clever team names. These were, remember, magazine guys. They were not, however, clever enough to have figured out a way to monetize this huge, game-changing, world-changing creation. They own the rights to the name Rotisserie Baseball, and apparently not much else. This is why the world at large now plays something called fantasy baseball, no royalties required.
Fast forward, no doubt on a VHS tape, to 1984. One of my ad agency’s music directors, and a great baseball fan, founds the UBA. He was also quite well-read, and those who are similarly well-read will already have noted to themselves that The Universal Baseball Association is the title of a terrific Robert Coover novel about a boy who invents… an imaginary baseball game. The original UBA comprised the founder, a couple of other guys in our agency’s creative department, and a bunch of New York studio musicians who had a lot of time on their hands between gigs and sessions. These were very good music guys. One was in one of the incarnations of Blood, Sweat and Tears. Another was in The Knack, but only after “My Sharona.” Still another was one of the great jazz trombonists in New York – sadly, he passed away a few years ago. And one is still in Conan O’Brien’s band.
None of them are still in the UBA. It is today a league of younger guys whose jobs I’m not really for the most part clear about. I do know that they are ferociously well-informed baseball guys – one is even the editor/director of one of the best fantasy baseball info sites, called Fake Teams. Check it out sometime.
But I digress, because what I want to do now is describe what playing roto ball was like in the prehistoric, pre-web days.
First, stats, because this game is nothing if not stats-driven. The bible, small b, was USA Today. This was where we each turned each morning to see how our team had done. Many of us kept a notebook in which we would update, by hand, our stats for that week. Once a week, we would get a tally of stats from our crack stats service, comprised of standings and roster moves for the week that had actually ended three or four days before this all came in the mail. Or by snail mail as it’s now snidely, snarkily called.
The other important thing about USA Today was that no claim could be made, or roster move approved, until the player’s or players’ own actual movement had been duly noted in the pages of America’s national newspaper. If you simply heard on the radio that the Reds had called up a catcher from Triple A, you couldn’t act on it until USA Today had published that fact.
Another thing to note about no ‘net is that the huge amount of information to be found online was actually hard to dig up back then. The game today is one of making good guesses and sound judgments based on a ton of info that everybody has. Back then, proprietary info could be a huge trading advantage. If you knew that the Padres were thinking of making a change at closer, that was a great piece of intelligence. But how could you get that before it appeared in USA Today or that other key source, The Sporting News? Here’s how: We all surreptitiously hit out-of-town newspaper stands. There was one just north of the main branch of the public library, on 43rd Street just west of Fifth Avenue. Many a rainy night, I dropped ten bucks on papers from places like Cincinnati, Houston, and San Diego.
And weekend box scores? USA Today didn’t publish on weekends, leaving us all to figure out what local papers were most likely to have even west coast box scores. The New York Times was hopeless, The Post was a little better. The Bergen Record was quite good.
So now, say you think you have a trading advantage, or simply a need to unload some spare offense for some pitching. How did we trade without email? By phone, of course. We would close the doors to our offices – yes, we had offices back then – and barter over lunch or between meetings. I would have piles of phone message note sheets with cryptic notations like:
CALLER: The Compozas
MESSAGE: Steve Sax?
It could have been a message from a music production company, a completely legitimate business hours message in an ad agency. But it wasn’t.
And when I speak of phones, of course I mean land lines. I have no idea how much of my phone bill went to roto ball trades, or how many quarters I dropped into pay phones. But I do believe that pay phones were no less important to roto ball players than they were to Superman.
Today, the game is a web-based information extravaganza, and that happy fact is what has kept me playing. It’s also of course why fantasy sports have exploded. There aren’t ten million maniacs willing to walk in the New York rain to buy an Atlanta newspaper.
Sunday, February 1, 2015
The past several years have been truly boom or bust for the New York Football Giants. Sine 2007, the Giants have won two Super Bowls. I don’t think there’s a fanbase in the league that wouldn’t be happy with that. However, the non-championship years, as our detractors absolutely love to point out, have been relatively lackluster, to put it mildly. So what do I want for the Giants in 2015?
In a word, I think it would be consistency. I would like for them to compete for a championship every year, not put up 6-9 records, leaving them open to claims of flukiness. But how do we get there?
With players like Odell Beckham Jr. (and Victor Cruz coming off IR), truly anything is possible. But flashy receivers often don’t translate into championships. The Giants averaged only 3.6 yards per carry last season; third worst in the league. However, I don’t think our running backs are not serviceable, I think there is something wrong with our line. Last year, the Giants signed four veteran free agent lineman; J.D. Walton and John Jerry started every game, but the rest had mixed or poor results in games. So I hope, so much, that we go O-Line heavy in the draft. And as I always say, In Jerry Reese We Trust.
In the championship years, our calling card was always our pass rush. However, I don’t think any reasonable Giants fan would lay claim to our D-Line being anything close to dominant the past year or two. Here’s my suggestion; they run a 3-4 defense. Because not only is our D-Line no longer dominant, I would say that the linebacking core has become the strongest defensive unit. Herzlich has proved much more than a special teams player, Jon Beason will be back (and his replacement McClain was above average as well), and the Giants even have a true nose tackle on the roster in the 320-pound Johnathan Hankins. So on the defense, I think some of problems could be formational, and not even personnel related.
Either way, a run at the ‘Ship is never more than a season away in Giants land, the one current bright spot of New York sports.
Saturday, January 24, 2015
The Knicks are a dumpster fire right now, an insult to everything that is basketball. However, in the NBA you have to get worse before you get better and the Knicks are finally doing that right. No more mortgaging their future for those quick attempts to remain relevant that always backfire.
The motto for this season has to be, “In Phil we trust,” which I do fully. As Jalen Rose loves to point out, there have been four men who have been in some way responsible for the majority of championships since the Bill Russell days. Those four: Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich and, of course, our man, Phil Jackson. So he is a good person to put our faith in.
Trading J.R. Smith was a fantastic move that needed to be done, and while I have always been a fan of Iman Shumpert, he is an impending free agent who has always been somewhat overrated in the eyes of Knicks fans and will probably receive contract offers higher than he deserves or than the Knicks would have be willing to pay. They have gotten rid of almost every contract that goes beyond this season, will hopefully be able to make some sort of deals involving Calderon and Bargnani, and are in position to get a top pick in the upcoming draft, one that has some prospects expected to be stars at the next level.
If all goes right, they will receive a top-2 pick and select either Jahlil Okafor from Duke or Emmanuel Mudiay, the explosive point guard who was tearing up a Chinese league before getting injured and has been receiving Russell Westbrook comparisons. Then, in my perfect dream world, signing Marc Gasol away from the Grizzlies is already a foregone conclusion. This would form a very solid core composed of the defensive leader and basketball genius Marc Gasol, offensive force Carmelo Anthony, who when paired with other good players has proven to be incredibly effective and a great teammate, and the young, raw talent of either Okafor or Mundiay. Whoever they pick will not have the pressure of carrying a bad team, but instead will be the incredibly talented X-factor on a veteran team, a la young Rajon Rondo on those great Boston teams.
They then fill out their roster with some veterans who will also be free agents this summer. Some players that are on my list of hopefuls are:
• David West - He has a player option that he will most likely opt out of to get out of the tough Indiana situation. The guy is a battled tested, feisty competitor. While his skills might not be close to his once all star level, he is a type of player you want on your team in the playoffs and who puts his heart and soul into the game.
• Arron Affalo - Another player with a player option and a good chance of opting out. A fantastic shooting guard who has improved his game each season he has been in the league. The guy has great range and has willed himself to be a good passer and above average defender.
• Thaddeus Young - He will most likely be looking for greener pastures after playing last few seasons on the 76ers and now on the Timberwolves. A 6 foot 8 power forward who just flat out works harder than everyone else, he is a consummate professional who hustles on every play. The guy is a nightmare in transition and by all accounts an amazing teammate. A perfect glue guy/6th or 7th man on a team looking to contend
• Brandon Wright -The perfect back up center. The guy is one of the most efficient basketball players in the league, always very near the top in PER. He would be a perfect back up for Marc Gasol and could easily fill in as starter when Gasol needed a rest.
• Thomas Robinson - The guy came into the league as a high lottery pick which he has greatly and spectacularly failed to live up to, bouncing around the league before landing in Portland for the past couple seasons. While he may be considered a huge draft bust considering where he was picked, the guy has settled into being a very capable role player who the Knick maybe able to get at a low cost, depending on what the Trailblazers decide to do with him. He is completely egoless and will do anything that is asked of him. The guy is flat out gritty, can bang on the boards, and you will never hear a peep from him whether he plays 20 minutes in a game or gets a DNP-coaches decision.In my perfect, Knicks dream world, they will get a top 2 pick, sign Marc Gasol, have a rejuvenated and hungry Carmelo looking to prove himself as not just a scorer but a winner, and a roster filled out with some combination of talented, hungry, professional veterans along with youth who put winning above everything else. I truly believe Phil Jackson is the perfect guy to change this disaster of a season with a quick turn-around, creating a team ready to compete in the playoffs.