Giants Will Rebound, Jets Not So Much
The NY Giants are being blasted for their horrible, three win year. The Jets are being celebrated for their five win year. But if you think the Jets (whom many predicted to win zero games) will make the Super Bowl before the Giants, you’re dreaming.
Why? Two long names: Maccagnan and Hackenberg. Jets GM Mike Maccagnan drafted quarterback Christian Hackenberg two years ago, and he has yet to take a snap in a regular season game, although perfectly healthy. Every GM but Maccagnan knew that Hackenberg was a hack quarterback at the NFL draft two years ago, but the Jets took him in the 2nd round.
Now Maccagnan is saying he’s still “excited” about Hackenberg’s development. The Jets fans are also excited, but not in a good way. Acting owner Christopher Johnson, who took over when Trump appointed his brother Woody ambassador to England, recently gave Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles two year contract extensions for their sterling efforts.
The Jets last won the Super Bowl half a century ago. The NY Giants won its last of four Super Bowl titles six years ago. Yet the Giants are showing more urgency. They recently hired Dave Gettleman, who as the new GM immediately cut a starting offensive (in every sense) lineman and didn’t promise to bring back Eli Manning.
The Giants are co-owned by the Mara family, who bleed Giant blue. They will not let the Giants fail for long. The Johnson Brothers? Not so much. When Woody Johnson was asked if he’d rather have Mitt Romney win the presidency or the Jets win the Super Bowl, he responded “Romney, of course.” Oy.
Bowles deserves one more year. Maccagnan should have been fired, and Hackenberg cut. The Giants will go into 2018 with a new GM, head coach, and win or else attitude.
The Jets? A year from today and beyond, they’ll still be handing out participation medals.
Which Will Be the Next Major NY Sports Team to Win a Championship?
The NY Giants won the Super Bowl in 2012. The NY Yankees won the World Series in 2009. The other four major baseball, football and basketball teams in NY haven’t won a championship in over 30 years. (NY Mets 1986, Brooklyn Nets 1976, NY Knicks 1973 and NY Jets 1969).
Not a great track record. The only one of the four perpetual also-rans to have a chance to win a championship before 2020 is the Mets. But while their pitching staff while healthy is second to none, it is never healthy. The only pitcher that held up this year is Jacob DeGrom. The hitting is adequate, and the fielding is mediocre. If everyone stays healthy next year or the year after, they do have a shot.
Forget about the Knicks, Jets and Nets. The Knicks are badly mismanaged, and have no shot of beating Golden State (or 10 other teams) over the next three years. The Nets gave away the store to the Boston Celtics, handing them their prime draft choices for players on the downslide, and are now the worst team in basketball. Their management is strong and (unlike the Knicks) they have a solid plan in place for the future, but it will take years to achieve.
The Jets are the only team that gives the Knicks a run for their money in mismanagement. They haven’t had a top quarterback in 50 years, and if they win six games this year it will be a miracle. Forget it.
So who does that leave for a chance for a championship over the next three years? Yep, the same two teams that won one in the past ten. The Yankees have been smartly guided by GM Brian Cashman, have a wealth of great young talent led by Aaron Judge, and need only to get a top line pitcher or two to put them over the top.
And the Giants? Their defense is now sturdy, and their receiving corps possibly the best in football. If the offensive line stiffens and Eli Manning can keep it together this year, the NY Football Giants are the co-favorites with the Yankees to bring the next championship banner back to NY.
Odds for a Championship before 2020: Yanks 3-1, Giants 3-1, Mets 8-1, Jets, Knicks and Nets, 200-1.
What do the NFL finalists have that New York teams don’t?
As I write this, New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Atlanta prepare for the AFC and NFC championship games, with the winners moving on to the Super Bowl. What do these four teams all have in common?
Right–a great quarterback. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are in the conversation for best QB of all time, Ben Roethlisberger is a likely Hall of Famer, and Matt Ryan probably this year’s MVP. That’s what it takes to get to the Super Bowl these days, and that’s what New York teams are sorely lacking.
Before you Giant fans start howling about Eli Manning’s two Super Bowl wins, realize that was the old Eli. The new one ranks in the bottom half of the 30 QBs of the league and is fading fast. Go ahead, start listing them.
As far as the Jets, don’t get me started. They haven’t had a great QB since Joe Namath, and he really wasn’t so great–just clutch. In the nearly half-century since the Jets won the Super Bowl, they haven’t had a single star QB.
The top New York quarterback of the Super Bowl era (since 1967) was the ridiculously underrated Phil Simms. Since then, there have been zero greats in our town at the position, with Eli clearly the best of a crummy lot. The Jets drafted three rookie quarterbacks in the past three years, one worse than the next. Next year, they have none. Rumors are they will go after Jay Cutler. Spare me.
So New York football fans, enjoy the Super Bowl. Just don’t expect either of our teams to be there in the near future.
Grim Winter Ahead for NY Football, Basketball Fans
Nothing like sitting inside on a freezing winter day with beer and hot snacks, rooting your favorite local team on to victory! Good luck with that this winter.
Let’s start with the worst: basketball. The Nets are by far the worst team in the NBA, thanks to horrible trades by the fired GM Billy King. He not only traded next year’s #1 pick to Boston, but incredibly allowed them to switch picks this year as well. So the Nets can’t even tank it for a #1 pick.
Meanwhile, the Knicks are stocked with great players–from 2010. Derrick Rose was once the league’s MVP. Joakim Noah was one of the league’s best big men. Both are shells of their former selves. Carmelo Anthony is a skilled player who doesn’t like passing the ball. The Knicks should have built around Kristaps Porzingis with young, healthy players on the way up, not broken down ex-all stars on the way down.
Football? It’s nice how highly the Jet players regard themselves. The defense has a group of big names that come up small on Sundays. The QB is horrible. Ryan Fitzpatrick used to be a guy to root for, but now he says he’s “pissed” that he was temporarily demoted after throwing 11 interceptions in record time. How does he think we feel? If the Jets go 8-8 this year, I’ll be surprised.
So that leaves the Giants as the only hope for a playoff berth. They have an upgraded defense, a two time Superbowl-winning quarterback in Eli Manning and the best receiver in the game in Odell Beckham Jr. Yet they can’t seem to score over 20 points a game. Every team in the division is much improved, with Dallas looking particularly deadly. So the Giants chances are slim, but they’re our only playoff hope__because the other three are dead in the water! Sad.
Golden State Acquires Kevin Durant–One More to Go
Ok, Warriors, LeBron is still a free agent–go get him! Why not? By signing Kevin Durant, Golden State has added a top three player to a team that won more games than any basketball team in history last year without him. Durant will join back-to-back MVP Stephan Curry, sharpshooter Klay Thompson and all-around beast Draymond Green. Add LeBron and get it over with already.
Maybe when the Warriors win the finals in four straight games next year and people stop watching, the NBA will finally set sensible rules on acquiring free agents. Because the NBA just became the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals. And every team but the Warriors and Cavs are the Generals!
May Brings Funeral Flowers for NYC Basketball and Sunshine for the Mets
As the weather brightens, so does the outlook for the NY Mets. After a slow start, the Mets are showing their World Series run last year wasn’t a fluke. Even with their supposed two top pitchers (Matt Harvey and Jacob de Grom) struggling a bit, young fireballers Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz look terrific, while Bartolo (Fountain of Youth) Colon looks better than ever. The lineup is strong, and second baseman Neal Walker looks like a steal.
Meanwhile, the NY Yankees are off to a slow start. The pitching staff looks decent if it can ever get its act together, but they never seem to, whether due to injury or ineptitude. Looks like a tough year for the Bombers.
Now that the excitement of the NBA basketball playoffs in full swing, New Yorkers are once again watching from the sidelines, despite having two teams. While the Brooklyn Nets have hit rock bottom and are at least cleaning house, hiring a well respected general manager and coach, the Knicks have no such luck. At $12 million dollars a year, it looks like time has past Knicks president Phil Jackson by. Sticking stubbornly to his triangle offense, the team is a mess, with Carmelo Anthony begging for a say in choosing a new coach and recruiting free agents. Forget it Melo. Big Chief Triangle, as ex-Knick coach Jeff Van Gundy sarcastically calls Jackson, won’t hear of it.
Now that well-respected coach Frank Vogel has been let go by Indiana, you’d think Jackson would pounce on him, but he seems to favor interim coach and perpetual loser Kurt Rambis, a long time Jackson lackey. Maybe Jackson will surprise us and hire Vogel. At least do it for the name! —————————————————————————
Knicks Luck Out, Nets Out of Luck
Fans moaned when the Knicks fell to fourth in the most recent NBA draft. But it’s the best thing that has happened to them in years. With that pick, the Knicks selected Kristaps Porzingis, the 20 year old, 7 foot 3 rebounder, three point shooter and shot blocker. Despite his genius rep, Knicks president Phil Jackson was ready to pass on Porzingis if the Knicks had an earlier pick. Now with Carmelo Anthony suddenly playing an all-around game, Aaron Afflalo providing a steady backcourt presence and Porzingis an unexpected spark, the Knicks are playoff contenders, and should be for the foreseeable future.
Then we have the Brooklyn Nets… The team finally dumped inept general manager Billy King, but too late to help this team. King traded away this year’s draft pick, which could wind up #1 in the draft. To make matters worse, he also traded away the team’s top 2018 pick. Perhaps worst of all, King skirted the league rule that teams couldn’t self destruct by trading round one picks two years in a row by allowing the Boston Celtics the option to switch picks in 2017. Aagh! Those who look for the silver lining say at least they’re not as bad as the hapless Philadelphia 76ers. But that won’t last for long. The 76ers are building a future powerhouse with young stars Jahlil Okafer, Nerlens Noel and Ish Smith, with Joel Embiid waiting in the wings. Plus the 76ers kept their 2016 draft pick, which could result in them getting future superstar Ben Simmons in April. Nope, the Nets are the worst team in basketball. And thanks to King, should stay that way for the foreseeable future. —————————————————————————————–
Jacob deGrom is the Mets Tom Brady
Hard to believe Jacob deGrom was selected in the 9th round of the baseball draft–272nd overall. Then again, it’s just as hard to believe Tom Brady, who is in the conversation for best quarterback of all time, was the 199th player selected in the 6th round of the NFL draft. They were both afterthoughts when coming out of college__and both now the rocks or their respective teams. Last week, deGrom went up against the Dodgers’ Clay Kershaw, who many consider the best pitcher of his era, and Zach Greinke, who dominated the National League this year. De Grom handily beat them both–in L.A. While Matt Harvey gets all the acclaim as the “ace” of the Mets staff, deGrom has proven to be the guy teammates and fans most want on the mound in crucial games. My God, under all that hair, he even looks like Brady! ———————————————————————————
A Tale of two “ets”:
NY sports fans know that any team ending in ets will end up breaking your heart. The NY Jets football team looks like a winner this year, at least defensively. Daryl Revis is back, Leonard Williams was the steal of the draft, and the new coach is touted as a defensive genius. The offense finally has a capable group of receivers, as well. Hope at last? Well…these are the Jets. And now starting quarterback Geno Smith is sucker punched by a teammate and has his jaw broken. Out for a good part of the season. Journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick is the new QB by default. And if he goes down, rookie Bryce Petty? Or a reject from another team? Aagh! But on the bright side…the NY Mets! As I write this, the baseball team is three games ahead in the NL East. Cespedes was a great addition, and the terrific young pitching staff headed by Harvey, deGrom and Syndergaard no longer has to hurl a shutout to get a win. Can this be the year? It’s August, and it looks great! Then again, these are still the M–ets. Stay tuned. ——————————————————————————————————– Can the Knicks Misery Get Even Worse? The NY Knicks and LA Laker both had their worst seasons in memory in 2014-2015. But their futures appear quite different. The Knicks would have had the first pick in this year’s draft is they didn’t stupidly go all out and win two meaningless games at the end of last season. If there was ever a time to tank, this was it. If they did, turns out they could have grabbed Karl-Anthony Townes, who has superstar written all over him. Instead, they used their pick on Kristaps Porzingis, a skinny Latvian 19 year old. The fans howled in anguish.. While Porzingis may or may not be a solid player in the future, he is of no help today. Carmelo Anthony will be gone by the time Porzingis reaches his potential__if not before then. By the way, the first time Knicks president Phil Jackson ever saw Porzingis in person was three days before the draft. Jackson, who thinks he should have received votes for executive of the year (never can tell if he’s being snarky or dead serious) has done a horrible job to date. If you were into conspiracy theories, you could make a case that he is doing this on purpose. Jackson’s fiancée is Jeannie Buss, the owner of the LA Lakers. The Lakers selected D’Angelo Russell with their pick, who is believed to have all star potential. Mitch Kupchak has taken an awful team and made it appealing again, with a backcourt of Russell and Kobe Bryant, plus last year’s first round pick Julius Randle returning from injury to bolster the frontcourt. And what do the Knicks have? A lineup as awful as ever. Owner James Dolan rehiring the sleazy Isiah Thomas. And Phil Jackson, making $12 million dollars a year and spending the bulk of his time with Buss in Malibu. Want to bet that within two years he’s out of NY and back with the Lakers, guiding them through the playoffs and laughing all the way to the bank? ——————————————————————————————————– With Wright Career in Jeopardy, Mets Face Major Decision For the first time in years, the NY Mets came into the season with a real shot at the playoffs. Their young pitching is among the best in baseball, Many believed they were a good two-way shortstop away from assured success. All that has changed. David Wright has been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, and the odds of him ever being the same are slim and none. When Sandy Alderson says “We’re not looking for his replacement,” he is either lying or not very bright__and Alderson is a smart man. The Chicago Cubs are another young team on the rise, but their strength is hitting. Just as the Mets were thought to be a shortstop away from steady success, the Cubs were believed to need one more strong pitcher to put them over the top. A trade between the two seemed inevitable. The Cubs have a plethora of shortstops, and the Mets can spare a young arm. Many speculated Noah Syndergaard and a second player (possibly rising pitching propect Steven Matz) would be headed the Cubs way by the July 31st trade deadline, with the Mets receiving either Starling Castro or Addison Russell, both superior players to current Met shortstop Wilmer Flores. But Wright’s diagnosis changes everything. Whatever they say, the Mets are desperate for a strong hitting 3rd baseman now. The Marlins Martin Prado was thought to be a prime target, but he has been declared off limits by the Marlins, afraid to lose their remaining fans if they throw in the towel. So what’s the answer? Take a deep breath: The Mets should trade Matt Harvey to the Cubs for 3rd baseman Kris Bryant. I can hear the Mets fans howling: But Matt Harvey is the cornerstone of our success! I can also hear the Cubs fans howling: Kris Bryant is the second coming of Bryce Harper and our heavy-hitting savior! The truth is, Matt Harvey will probably be gone within three years. His agent is Scott Boros, and when he becomes a free agent, another team will snatch him up. The Yankees, Harvey’s childhood idols, will be first in line. The Mets ultimate nightmare, right? Meanwhile, while the Cubs would certainly miss Bryant, they could slide Castro, Russell or Javier Baez, another talent blocked by the other two, over to 3rd base. The Mets would still have young fireballers Jacob deGrom (as good and possibly better than Harvey at this stage), Syndergaard and Matz, as well as Zach Wheeler returning in 2016, with Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese holding the fort until then. With Bryant and Lucas Duda anchoring the lineup, the Mets hitting will suddenly be a force to be reckoned with. Washington is too loaded to miss the playoffs, as is Los Angeles, St Louis, and probably the SF Giants. That leaves one playoff spot to be fought out between the Mets, Cubs and Pirates. The Harvey-Bryant trade would make both teams real threats to not only make the playoffs this year, but possibly win the division__not just in 2015, but for years to come. The question is, does either team have the guts to pull the trigger on this baseball deal of the century? ———————————————————————————————– Baseball 2015: Which is New York’s Best Team? Hope springs eternal as we enter spring training. The Mets seem ready to go for it, while the Yankees hope last year’s expensive acquisitions spring back. But does either team really have a chance to make the playoffs? As far as pitching, the Mets have it all over the Yankees, with 6 or 7 young, talented starters, including a returning Harvey, DeGrom, Wheeler, Niese, and strong talent coming up from the minors. The Yanks are another story. Can you name one Yankee starter you can say with confidence will still be pitching come summer? Tanaka decided to skip Tommy John surgery. Sabathia is recovering from surgery and on the downside of his career. Pineda? Talented but injury prone. Nova? Still recovering from his Tommy John surgery. They are in trouble plenty. Meanwhile, all the Mets had to do this winter to support their impressive young staff was bulk up the hitting. They got just one guy—Michael Cuddyer, a strong hitter but injury prone, who played in 49 games last year. Perhaps bounce back seasons from Wright and Granderson? Maybe, maybe not. So who has the better team? According to Las Vegas oddsmakers, they are dead even. The over/under for total wins is 81 for both of them__.500 seasons. The long woeful Cubs and Padres are projected to win more games than the Mets, because they spent real money and acquired legit talent in the off-season. Meanwhile, the Royals and Orioles are projected to win more than the Yankees. Let’s not even mention the Dodgers, the Nationals, the Angels… So which is the best New York baseball team? Right now it’s a tossup, but the Mets seem to have the brighter future. So hang in there, Yankee fans__2015 looks like a bumpy ride. Pro Football’s AFC East Should Be Wild Next Year After the NY Jets fired both general manager John Idzik and coach Rex Ryan, Rex had three job offers in two days. Idzik had none–and probably never will. He is clueless. Ryan, a fun guy, took the job with Buffalo, and some say he made a mistake–that the Bills are just like the Jets, with a strong defense and no offense. Maybe so, but the mistake was made by Atlanta, not Ryan. The Falcons have a strong offense, and a defensive guru and strong leader like Ryan would have made them formidable, but they jerked him around for too long and lost him. If the Falcons don’t get Dan Quinn from Seattle, they are screwed. Meanwhile, the Jets made a good move hiring Todd Bowles as coach. Bowles made the Arizona Cardinals one of the top defenses in pro football, along with Seattle. The Jets need offensive help, have the 6th overall pick in the draft, and if either quarterbacks Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston are still available, they will be making a choice that could determine their future for the next decade. If they pass, they might take a shot on Chicago’s Jay Cutler or Washington’s RG3, both whom have fallen out of favor with their teams, or go after Miami’s capable backup Matt Moore. The Jets, New England, and now Rex Ryan’s Bills should have some fierce battles next year. The fourth team, Miami, is a non-entity. The Dolphins are “led” by nondescript head coach Joe Philbin, whose almost single-handedly destroyed HBO’s Hard Knocks with his comatose personality. Although the South Florida papers are screaming for Philbin to be fired, somehow he has convinced Dolphins owner Steve Ross that this year’s mediocre 8-8 record is better than last year’s mediocre 8-8 record__and Ross signed him to a fresh, two year contract! So watch for the Patriots to win the East again next year (what else is new?), the Rex-inspired Bills to squeeze in to a playoff spot, the Jets to improve but miss the playoffs, and the dead in the water Dolphins to belatedly realize their mistake, fire Philbin at the end of the year and hire hotshot Ohio State coach Urban Meyer to fix the mess Philbin left. Meanwhile, I’ll be rooting for the Jets. And I admit, secretly rooting a little for Ryan’s Bills as well. ———————————————————————– Like Fish, New York Teams Stink From the Head Down Why are so many New York sports teams so lousy? The Mets, the Jets, the Knicks…how can they be so mediocre for so long? Is it the coaching? Not really. The players? Of course. But who picks them? And who pays their salaries? And there’s your answer. So many New York sports teams stink because their management stinks. When Bill Parcells said “if you want me to cook the meal, I have to shop for the groceries,” it wasn’t just a power play to become both the coach and general manager. He knew that with lousy players, it didn’t matter how good a coach he was. Which brings us to the heart of the problem. No matter what you thought of George Steinbrenner, the man truly wanted to win. In the biggest market in the nation, he spent what was necessary to give Yankee fans what they paid good money to see__a constantly successful team. Which brings us to the Mets. They also play in the nation’s biggest market__but are in the lower part of the league when it comes to payroll. They spend like they are located in small market Oakland, not New York. Their general manager is Sandy Alderson. The man knows what he’s doing, and learned from his days with Oakland how to trade wisely and stretch a dollar. Alderson’s shrewd deals have resulted in the Mets having among the best young pitching staffs in baseball. Now they are one or two good hitters away from being real contenders. But Alderson knows how cheap his bosses the Wilpons are, so he does his best to keep expectations down. The Mets always promise they will loosen the purse strings, and they always lie. Once again they say they’ll spend whatever it takes to win. There are strong hitters available this winter. Time to put up or shut up. Which brings us to the NY Jets. General manager John Idzik is a total disaster__not just cheap, but ignorant. He knows coach Rex Ryan’s defense depends on strong cornerbacks. In his 1+ years on the job, he has not only lost Derrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, but failed to replace them with even average CBs. The Daily News reports that Cromartie’s cousin Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, another strong cornerback who was a free agent last winter, was low balled by Idzik and let him get away. Instead he signed Dimitri Patterson, a mediocre head case who is now off the team. Idzik’s first acquisition was quarterback David Garrard, who retired due to knee problems before he even played a single game for them. Will owner Woody Johnson let Idzik go? Not likely. Johnson is a man who when asked if he could choose between having Mitt Romney as President or his Jets win the Super Bowl, answered “Romney, of course.” We may be stuck with Idzik__but Rex Ryan is almost certainly a goner, and the Jets future looks bleak. So stop booing the players and the coach, when it is management that is primarily to blame for the long-term failure of these perennial losers. All I can say is, go Giants! ————————————————————————————————————– Pro Football Opening Day: Are They Kidding? It’s opening day for the NFL, and I just read the Super Bowl picks of two NY tabloids and Sports Illustrated. The majority of the experts don’t pick the Seattle Seahawks to repeat as Super Bowl champs, or even make it to the big game. How can this be? As Sports Illustrated guru Peter King notes, it’s very rare for a Super Bowl champion to repeat. (King picks the Packers over the Colts this year). Four of the last eight champions didn’t even make it to the playoffs the following year. Why? They lose key players. Everyone is gunning for them. Complacency. You name it. Even though I correctly predicted Seattle and Denver to play in last year’s Super Bowl at the beginning of last season (look it up/scroll down), soon after the game I thought San Francisco would be the champs in February 2015. They were the only team that played virtually even with Seattle, they had great personnel, they were hungrier… But a funny thing happened in the past few months. San Francisco fell apart at the seams. Injuries and suspensions of key players. Internal dissension. Tough to pick them now. Yes, teams rarely repeat. But Seattle isn’t your average Super Bowl team. Many squads get hot at the end of the season and roll to victory (the Giants regular season record when they won the Super Bowl was only 9 and 7), but aren’t really great teams. Seattle is, and only getting better. They not only won last year’s game, they crushed a strong Denver team. They will have the game-changing receiver/running back/kick returner Percy Harvin for the entire season. Barring disaster, this is clearly the best team in the NFL. Prediction: Seattle will break the string and repeat as Super Bowl champions. But this year it won’t be Denver they crush in the big game. It’ll be the New England Patriots. The Giants or Jets? In our dreams. You can make fun of my picks in five months. ——————————————————————————————————————- Midsummer Report: Fantasy Versus Reality in NY Sports The Mets have gotten word out that if the Colorado Rockies make Troy Tulowitzki available in the near future, the Metsies will be VERY interested in acquiring him. Great news, huh? Tulowitzki is one of the top players in baseball, a shortstop who hits for power and average. With the Mets’ strong young pitching, what they lack is one strong hitter to anchor the competent bats of Wright and Duda. It’s a no-brainer, right? Good for them! Except they are totally full of it. GM Sandy Alderson let that slip when asked if the Mets can take on one more $20 million dollar salary to add to Granderson’s and Wright’s contracts. “20, 20, 15, and what__the 22 dwarfs?” chuckled Alderson, and right then we knew–the Mets weren’t serious about obtaining the Rockies all-star, and will keep their payroll down to small market levels. They will probably offer just enough to lose Tulowitzki, and say, hey we tried. That’s their usual scam. I hope I’m wrong. Meanwhile, the NY Jets football team either has the best defense in the NFL, or the worst offense. The defense is burying the offense in every live scrimmage to date. We’ll know soon. The NY Giants have a new offensive coordinator, a new system, and new life. Hopefully they’ll have the old Eli, because last year Manning stunk up the joint. I’d like to believe it was just an off year. The Giants have made some strong moves in free agency in the off-season__let’s hope they pay off. So yes, looks like the Yankees and Mets are going nowhere this year, but hey, just one more month until the football season starts. Hang in there! ————————————————————————————————————– In 2014, Baseball is Upside-Down At the beginning of this season, everyone expected a four team race in the American League East: the Yankees, Boston, Baltimore and Tampa Bay all looked strong enough to make the playoffs and would battle it out all year. Surprise! The Toronto Blue Jays hold a comfortable six game lead over the other four a month before the all-star break. Sure, a lot can and will change with 100 games left, but so far Toronto looks like the real deal. Meanwhile, after a strong start, age and injuries are catching up with the Yankees, who are singlehandedly being kept afloat by the amazing Japanese import free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Imagine where they’d be if they’d made a feeble Mets-like bid over the winter and lost out on him? And yes, the Mets continue to do what the Mets do: lose regularly. Everyone knew their weaknesses were the bullpen and hitting before the season began, but their eternal cheapness stopped them from pursuing top free agents, with predictable results. They’ve already fired the hitting coach, which is like firing your fitness trainer after you’ve consumed a dozen donuts. In the National League East, Milwaukee continues to confound the experts, opening a five game lead on the field, with Ryan (PED) Braun again hitting like a demon. But expect St. Louis to once again make a late run and pass the Brewers before season’s end. At this moment, a Golden Gate Bridge series is also very possible, with San Francisco leading the National League in wins, while Oakland again defies logic and is burying the pre-season favorite Texas Rangers as well as the heavy spending Los Angeles Angels in the American League west. Still, at this stage, anything is possible. Except the NY Mets winning the World Series. ——————————————————————————————— Yankees Weak Links Look Like Strengths In spring training, the NY Yankees had many question marks. Could CC Sabathia still be an ace pitcher? Who would follow Sabathia and Kuroda in the rotation? Was Derek Jeter a shell of his former self? Who’d replace all-star Robinson Cano at second base, and who would play 3rd now that Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the year? Turns out most of the answers have been positive, some overwhelmingly so. Acquiring pitcher Masahira Tanaka from Japan has so far proved brilliant. And Michael Pineda, struggling to make the team in March, is now one of the top two pitchers on the squad. With Tanaka and Pineda leading the way, suddenly Sabathia doesn’t look too bad as the #3 (4?) starter, nor does Kuroda. Ivan Nova going down, possibly for the year, isn’t good, but he was performing the worst of all the starters, and Nuno may prove a capable replacement. And the relief pitching without the great Rivera is holding up rather well. On the field, Jeter is doing pretty well, and the trades for Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran are already paying dividends. Meanwhile, ARod replacement Yangervis Solarte has been a revelation at 3rd base, hitting like a demon. If ARod’s suspension was lifted tomorrow, I’m not sure he could get his job back. And while 2nd baseman Brian Roberts weak bat isn’t helping the lineup, the overall scenario is one the Yanks would have gladly accepted one month ago. Sure Tanaka has never pitched every five days. Sure Pineda’s innings must be limited, and he could fall apart in the 2nd half of the season as he did in Seattle. Sure the team in old and creaky. But in a power packed American League East division, no team looks better than the Yanks after 20 games. Yes there’s a long way to go, but so far there’s a big smile on GM Brian Cashman’s face. ———————————————————————————————————————— The Willnots Strike Out Again The NY Mets owners the Wilpons might as well call themselves the Willnots. They will not get a shortstop, although they have the worst in the game in no hit, no field Ruben Tejada. The relief pitching was suspect all winter, but did they sign a strong backup for the coming-back-from-injury Bobby Parnell? They did not. After blowing an opening day save, Parnell may now be out for the year. The Willnots promised to open their wallets in 2014. They did not__the payroll is exactly the same as in 2013, in the bottom third of the league, despite being in the nation’s top market. Now the Willnots are predicting a 90 win season. The guys in Las Vegas put the Mets over/under win total at 73 and 1/2. Who are you going to believe? Yes, I know–their great young starters. But the only one who has actually pitched great is out for the year. All the others are just prospects. I hate to break it to you, Mets fans, but the Miami Marlins have just as good a young staff, if not better. And they are predicted to wind up in last place. The Mets lineup is still full of holes, and if David Wright gets hurt, they might as well call off the rest of the season. If Terry Collins coaxes 80 wins out of this bunch, he should be manager of the year. Instead he will be fired, to take the heat off the Willnots. Will I attend Met games again? I will. As soon as they get to 90 wins. Or the Willnots sell the team. —————————————————————————– Patriots Haunt Jet Fans’ Dreams The NY Jets felt good about themselves for snaring top free agent receiver Eric Decker from the Broncos. That lasted for about an hour, right until an announcement was made that New England signed ex-Jet cornerback Darrelle Revis to a one year contract. When Revis became available in free agency, Jets fans immediately prayed to the football gods “Anywhere but New England!” Naturally Bellichek and Co. swooped in before Rex Ryan even had a chance to beg owner Woody Johnson to stop holding a grudge against Revis for his supposed greed and go after him. The Jets desperately needed receivers, and still do. Decker received single coverage in Denver, but will be double covered here unless the Jets pick up another strong pass catcher in free agency or the draft. Not to mention he had Peyton Manning throwing to him in Denver. No such luck here. Jet fans know the Patriots are the team to beat in the East every year, including next one. If the Jets make the playoffs, they will trot out Eric Decker as Geno Smith’s prime target. And yes, he will probably get single coverage__from Darrelle Revis. Who are you betting on in that matchup? Depressing, isn’t it? ____________________________________________________________ Next Year’s (2015) Super Bowl Teams I assume those 20 or so people who keep up with this sports page remember my early season prediction of a Denver-Seattle Super Bowl (scroll down: “Forget NY Super Bowl Dream”) and are anxious to get an early bet in on next year’s game, benefiting from my otherworldly prognostication abilities. So here you go: San Francisco- New England. The two best teams in football now are Seattle and San Francisco, both in the same NFC Western division. Denver was a sucker bet this time around, with the public in love with Peyton Manning and in hate with Richard Sherman. But barring serious injuries, count on either San Francisco or Seattle again next year to make it all the way. I say San Francisco because they will be hungrier, are the only team that battles evenly with Seattle and overall has better personnel. As far as the AFC, I’m afraid Denver has shot its wad, and the great Peyton Manning may hang it up before risking a repeat humiliation next year. Denver didn’t face a team nearly as good as Seattle all season, and the Super Bowl romp exposed how weak the AFC has become. So who has the only chance to stop Seattle/San Fran? Bill Bellichek, of course. New England’s defense was decimated this year, and they still came up only one game short of the SB. To me, they are the obvious choice. The oddsmakers now favor a repeat of Seattle-Denver. Go with San Fran-Patriots. You can thank me later. ———————————————————————————————————- Pro Basketball More Imbalanced Than Ever For years, it was a given among basketball fans that the Western Conference was superior. Then Miami got LeBron, the Heat won two straight championships and experts declared Western dominance over, especially with all the rising strong teams in the East. Forget it. The Knicks stink. The Nets stink. The Bulls have lost Derrick Rose for the season again. The only challenger to the Heat is Indiana. Of the 15 teams in the East and West, the East has a total of three winning team records at this writing. Yep, that’s three of 15. Meanwhile, the West has but three losing teams__of 15. Crappy teams will make the playoffs in the East. Playoff caliber teams will be in the draft lottery in the west. And so it goes__again. After Six Games, Knicks are Doomed NY Knicks owner James Dolan said he expects the team to win a championship this year. Yep, and I expect to be playing center for that team. I’m not sure who is more delusional. Dolan has acquired a team of misfits that have zero chance of winning the crown. Everyone knows that but him. After 10 years of running the team into the ground, commissioner David Stern pressured Dolan into letting Donnie Walsh become GM. Walsh straightened out the salary cap mess Dolan and his despicable buddy Isiah Thomas had created, fielded an exciting young team and the future looked promising. Then Dolan butted in, and suddenly we have an old, creaky team led by Carmelo Anthony, a great shooter but one dimensional and a lousy team player. Anthony called a team meeting this week. The team listened hard and responded by going out and losing by 31 points to San Antonio while playing absolutely no defense. Coach Mike Woodson did a great job last year, getting more out of the Knicks than anyone could expect. Now that the team is showing its true colors, guess who will go? Anthony? No way. Dolan himself? If only. Unless the team straightens out quick, the fall guy will be Woodson. Maybe Dolan can then bring back Thomas as coach and GM. Dolan’s last move will be wondering where all the fans went. —————————————————————————————————— Forget NY Superbowl Dream At the quarter pole of the NFL season, it is obvious that neither NY pro football team will be playing a SuperBowl home game at the Meadowlands in February 2014. As I write this, the Giants are 0-4. The Jets are a deceptive 2-2, after being handed a gift win by Tampa Bay. These are two very different situations. The Jets have half a team, with a strong young defense and one of the worst offenses in the league. Rookie Geno Smith is matching Mark Sanchez in killer turnovers (although unlike Sanchez, he seems to learn from his mistakes) and the receiving corp. is decimated. On the other hand, the Giants are spotty on both offense and defense. The offense still has Eli (although he’s having his worst season in years) and a strong receiving group. The offensive line, however, is a disaster. The defense is also not living up to its reputation. As far as coaches, Tom Coughlin still has job security (even winless), while Rex Ryan is probably a goner after this year. Which team has the brighter future? If the Jets can develop Smith or get a strong QB in next year’s draft, I’d put my money on them. Their young defense will only get better, and with any offense at all they should be ok. Meanwhile, Eli has peaked and the defense is old. Giants GM Reese has some real work to do, or the Giants could be in trouble well past this year. It will be painful for both NY teams to watch two squads from the west (I say Denver and Seattle) square off on their home field next February. Hopefully this NY football drought won’t last too long. ———————————————————————————————————— The Changing Fortunes of NY Sports Teams The stage is set for a possible historic shift in NY sports. The Yankees have been the gold standard in baseball for almost a century. But the pitching is getting old, the hitters are too, ARod is through and Jeter is 40. Robinson Cano is the only young star they have, and he may leave in free agency. Things are indeed shaky at the Stadium. On the other hand, things are looking up for the Mets. Led by Matt Harvey, already one of the top five pitchers is baseball, their young pitching is second to none. While the Mets’ hitting is still awful, they lucked out with Juan Lagares in center field, a great fielder who’s hitting has improved, and they still have David Wright in his prime. If they can pick up two more real hitters this off-season, they will make some noise in 2014. In football, the Jets are poised for disaster. Although their young defense has promise, they may have the worst offense in the league. They needed a strong veteran quarterback this season, and the new GM made a fatal error going after David Garrard, who retired two weeks after he was acquired. Now they are depending on Sanchez and rookie Smith, neither of whom instills confidence. Greg McElroy, perhaps the only winning QB on the team, is being ignored. If they win 5 games, count them lucky. Meanwhile the Giants can go either way. With all star Eli Manning and a strong core of receivers and backs, they can cause real offensive damage. The defense is the question mark. The NY basketball landscape is in line for a another seismic shift. The Nets have gotten the exact players they needed to bring them to championship contention: Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will light a fire under these talented underachievers. The second string is deep enough to make the playoffs on its own. Meanwhile the Knicks are due for a rapid fall. They are an aging, injury prone team, and while the NBA East has gotten better, they haven’t. The Nets will take over the town this season. Costas Goes to the Dark Side I have to admit: the Mets piss me off. Not the team. The ownership. They’re cheap. When they had a change to get the speedy outfielder Michael Bourn this offseason and put at least two decent hitters in the lineup, they underbid. Bourn is batting around .300 all season for Cleveland. Think the Mets could have used him? Think the young pitchers could have used just one more run about 10-15 times this year? Damn you Wilpons! That being said, I’m still a Mets fan. And when they scored four in the bottom of the 9th Sunday to beat the Cubs 4 to 3, when a kid batting .099 (you read that right) hit a three run walk off homer, I went nuts, as did all the fans. The whole team greeted Nieuwenhaus at the plate with glee (and an apple pie in the face). It was amazin! It was joyful. It was… “Another indication of the ongoing decline of western civilization.” Excuse me? Bob Costas, obviously bored out of his mind broadcasting golf, decided to go snide when observing how horrible the Mets are doing this year (they sure are) and how inappropriate their response was (it sure wasn’t). I always liked Bob Costas, but he has (at least temporarily) lost touch with what it means to be a baseball fan. But I’ll let my friend Lou Russo, a lifetime Met fan with his baseball art on display at both CitiField and the Brooklyn Cyclones field (whatever the corporate name is now), have the last word: “Bob, what are you trying to say to all the Mets players and fans? Don’t be enthusiastic? Don’t take your kids to the games? Don’t watch sports on TV? (certainly not that–you’d be out of work!) A young player just up from the minors hits a walkoff homer run, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, in front of a big Father’s Day crowd no less, and you expect–what? Sorry, but I’m a baseball fan. Even if something like this happened in a school yard game, I’d be jumping up and down with joy. Because when that kind of magic isn’t worth celebrating, then the game is over for all of us.” Couldn’t have said it better, Lou. ——————————————————— What’s Wrong with the _ets? Fill in the blank. For some reason, every NY sports team that ends with the letters “ets” is a disaster. The Jets were once good. Now they are losers, horribly run, with no quarterback, decent wide receivers, tight end or running backs. They trade for Tim Tebow, treat him like a human concession stand and never play him. Watch Bill Bellichek humiliate them on September 12th by putting Tebow in at the one yard line to score multiple touchdowns. Wait until woeful Sanchez trots out to take the opening snap. It won’t be pretty. Turning to baseball, the Mets make the Jets look good. The ownership is horrible, but won’t sell. The bargain basement team they put on the field this year has exactly one decent position player, and no professional outfielders. Their lone pitching star, young Matt Harvey, must be getting disgusted by now. As I write this, he has just thrown seven strong innings against the best team in baseball (St Louis) given up one lone run, struck out seven, walked just one__and lost the game! Only a matter of time until he demands a trade, LeBron style. Which brings us to basketball. I had hope for the Brooklyn Nets, which made the playoffs this year only to get butchered by an injury ridden Chicago Bulls. They fired the coach, and with an unusually terrific selection available, including George Karl and Lionel Hollins, picked Jason Kidd. Outside of the fact that he has no (zero) coaching experience, doesn’t come across as particularly bright and has been arrested for wife beating and DUI, Kidd seems like a great pick. Sure he does. Meanwhile, the Yankees, Giants, Rangers and even the Knicks are doing pretty well. Maybe the other three teams should change their names. How about the Brooklyn Fuhgettaboudits? ——————————————————– Does Idzik Know What He’s Doing? Many NY Jet fans were thrilled with this year’s draft, particularly with the pick of QB Geno Smith. They are sick of Mark Sanchez and excited that the Jets got someone who was generally thought of as the top QB in the 2013 draft pool. Unfortunately that’s not worth very much. As opposed to last year, when Andrew Luck and RG3 were obvious franchise QBs, this year’s crop is weak. By selecting Smith, Idzik gave a signal that he is the QB of the future for the Jets. And I think that’s a bad sign–for both the Jets and Idzik’s decision making. The Jets are going to be bad this year, having giving up Revis, Keller and most of their other decent players. They had a good chance of having a top three pick in next year’s draft, which will be the strongest in years. in the 2014 draft both Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Terry Bridgewater of Louisville, who are also rated as franchise QBs, will be available. So will Jadeveon Clowney, rated as potentially the best defensive player available since Lawrence Taylor. The Jets were in a position to grab one of these three stars and change the team’s fortunes for the future. Yes, Smith might win them one or two more games__which would be a disaster. Yes I think he’s a little better than Sanchez, but I’m afraid not by much. By going for the flashy pick to quiet the fans, Idzik may have passed up a rare chance to get a truly great player and may have doomed the Jets for the next decade. I hope I’m wrong. —————————————————————————— Yanks/Mets Hot Stove Update: Brian Cashman can officially now say “I told you so.” He implored the Steinbrenners not to offer a ridiculous seven year contract to Alex Rodriguez, who already was caught up in the steroid scandal, and was ignored. Now ARod’s abuse of drugs has caught up to him, and he most likely will not only miss the entire 2013 season but is facing additional scrutiny regarding use of performance-enhancing drugs. The Yanks will likely try to use these new allegations to get out from under this onerous contract. Good luck! Meanwhile, the NY Mets haven’t extended Terry Collins’ contract, making him a lame duck manager this year. Collins did a terrific job with the least talented team in the NL East, but his shorthanded squad, without a bullpen or outfield, eventually collapsed. The fact that they didn’t finish in last place is a miracle, and knowledgable baseball people credit Collins for keeping the Mets afloat as long as he did in 2012. But the Wilpons know that they must have a fall guy when the Mets inevitably collapse again this year. The payroll has dropped from $142 million to $92 million, and the cheap ownership won’t pursue the winning free agents, the latest example being ignoring the free agency of Rafael Soriano, despite the Mets having the weakest bullpen in baseball. At the end of the year, people will be furious at the Wilpons. Unless they have a handy scapegoat. Goodbye, Terry Collins. —————————————————- Mets Trade Dickey and Any Hopes for 2013 Success: Ok, it’s official: the NY Mets have traded Cy Young Award-winning pitcher R.A. Dickey to Toronto for a couple of young players, including the top catching prospect in the minor leagues. Yes, they got two good prospects. But that’s all they are: prospects. Remember those top prospects the Mets got for Johan Santana when the Mets had a discernable pulse and wallet? Of course you don’t. They had mediocre major league careers, as too often happens with “prospects.” The Mets came in next to last with the best pitcher in the National League in 2012. Where do you expect them to finish this year? Let’s hope the Miami Marlins continue to flounder, or last place here we come. Yes, I know they need to build with young players, and how hard it was to trade the popular, 20 game winner Dickey. But why was it an either-or situation? The Mets have no decent outfielders. They are in crying need of a power hitting star. Just their luck, superstar slugger Josh Hamilton was available. Just our luck, the Mets continue to act like a small market team and didn’t even put in a bid for Hamilton. And the press is so used to this ridiculous situation they didn’t even ask why. Imagine, if you will, a team with a real ace in Dickey, a real leader in Wright, and a real power hitting outfield star in Hamilton. To paraphrase Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, “We cudda been a contenda!” But as long as the cheapo Wilpons rule the Mets, we will continue to wind up flat on the canvas. Loyal Met fans deserve better. —————————————– A Night to Remember in Brooklyn I live in Manhattan but was born in Brooklyn, and those roots are strong. That’s why I rooted for the Brooklyn Nets over the NY Knicks in their historic first matchup at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center (my feelings about horrible Knicks owner James Dolan just add fuel to the fire.) I had been to a Nets game at Barclays two weeks before, but the tension level was nothing like this. On my first visit, I was impressed with the atmosphere, the Brooklyn food and the feeling that I was home again. Chants of “Brook-lyn!” warmed my heart. But tonight was different. As I entered the area on Flatbush Avenue in the chill air, I saw a scattering of Knicks gear among the Brooklyn shirts and hats, but most people had their coats on so it was hard to tell how many Knick fans were in attendance. But hey, most of these people had Nets season tickets– Brooklyn had to have the crowd advantage, right? The intro was impressive, including fireworks when the Brooklyn Nets took the court. But when the Nets got the opening tap, out of the darkness came the chilling, familiar cry: Dee-fense! Dee-fense! My God, the place was full of Knick fans! You could see a few Nets players get wide eyed. It took a while for the Brooklyn fans to get oriented, trying to drown them out with a chant of Brook-lyn… Brook-lyn…. For the rest of the night, the fans verbally battled. When Carmelo Anthony went to the foul line, cries of MVP! shook the rafters. But the Nets hung in and the exciting game went back and forth and into overtime. The Nets star Deron Williams then took over, and the Net fans started an MVP! chant for him in the final seconds. The Nets won 96-89 in a great game. The Knicks have a 66 year head start on winning loyal fans. But a fierce rivalry was definitely born last night. ——————————————- Mano a Mano? Don’t look now, but the Giants are on the fast track back to the Super Bowl. Yes, they had a little luck beating Dallas last week, but that’s what the good teams do. And the Giants are definitely a good team, offensively, defensively, special teams and coaching. Eli Manning is now one of the top five quarterbacks in the league and his young receivers are top notch. Meanwhile, Eli’s older brother Peyton is rounding back into Hall of Fame form, and his Denver Broncos looked great beating the New Orleans Saints last week. Could it be–a Manning/Manning Super Bowl, held in the Manning brothers’ hometown of New Orleans? Sure there’s a long way to go. But it’s become a very real possibility. ——————————————————– New York Football–One and One: While both the Jets and Giants have each won and lost a game, that doesn’t mean their chances for success are equal. Although the Giants face a tougher overall schedule, they have shown they have no problem beating the tough teams when it counts. Meanwhile the Jets came back down to earth by losing to an obviously superior Pittsburgh team. The Jets play Miami next week. If they are upset, their season is basically over. The following weeks they play San Francisco and Houston, probably the two hottest teams in the NFL, back to back. A loss to Miami would most likely put them at 1 and 4 in early October, and their season would be lost. Rex Ryan says this is his best team ever. The next three weeks are the time to prove it. Or as NY Giants coach Tom Coughlin says, “Talk is cheap–play the game.” ———————————————- Mets Management’s Hypocrisy Upper management (read the Wilpons) has challenged manager Terry Collins and the Mets team to finish third in the division this year, beating out Philadelphia and Miami. This will “show fans that the Mets are serious and headed in the right direction.” Wishing doesn’t make it so. Unfortunately the Mets still have the weakest personnel in the NL East. When will the Wilpons do their part to lift this team? Reliever Rafeal Soriano and slugger Josh Hamilton are both available in free agency this winter. Signing these two will fill the Mets biggest needs and show the fans the Mets are serious about moving up. But they will cost big-time, and despite finally getting past the Bernie Madoff fiasco, the frugal Wilpons still treat the Mets like a small market team. It’s not fair to the scrappy Mets to ask them to compete on an uneven playing field. It’s time for the Wilpons to put up or shut up__ or put up the team for sale. ————————————————————————————- Jet’s Lose Leading Quarterback, No One Notices With the non-stop chatter about Tim Tebow versus Mark Sanchez, the real problem for the Jets this year may be that they have lost their defensive signal-calling “quarterback.” When db Jim Leonard went down last year, the defense went into chaos. This year the Jets have made a financial decision to cut Leonard, and I believe this will bite them in the ass more than who quarterbacks the team. The Jets are and always have been built on defense, not offense, and Ryan’s first move on coming over was making sure to take the vital Leonard with him. Now Leonard’s gone, and no one seems to notice. But they will when the season starts. ———————————————————— Brooklyn Nets May Have Gotten Lucky The Nets have put together a good team for their first season in Brooklyn, and would have had a great team if they could have only finalized the Dwight Howard trade. So disappointing, yes? Not really. They should be thankful the new young Orlando GM blew it by not taking the deal the Nets offered. Now he is stuck with a guy who doesn’t want to be there and will cause disruption. More important, Howard is coming off serious back surgery, and until he plays no one knows if he is (or ever will be) 100% again. So I think the Nets lucked out, not getting saddled with a huge, long-term contract for a guy who possibly can’t deliver. Let’s see if Howard is healthy, and if he is they can try again in January, when Brook Lopez can again be traded. Meanwhile, the team of Lopez, Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Joe Johnson and probably Khris Humphries (averaging a double-double every game) doesn’t look too shabby. The owner and GM have put together a team that unlike the Knicks, is balanced and has a real chance to go places–even without Howard. Go Brooklyn! ——————————————————– OKC: NBA’s GB? The Oklahoma City Thunder has blown away mighty Miami in the first game of the NBA finals. Yeah, it’s only one game, but OKC looks like the new long-term power in professional basketball, not the Heat. “A series of championships,” LeBron? How about one? Meanwhile, people are saying it can’t last in Oklahoma City, the smallest market in the NBA. They expect that their young stars (all 23 and under) will leave for big city fame and fortune. But Durant and Westbrook have already signed new contracts, and actually seem to like living in a smaller city. They don’t act like celebrities, and play solid team basketball. The fans have no other pro team, and are already the loudest, most loyal fans in basketball. They remind me of the Green Bay Packers in the NFL, which is by far its smallest market team. The Packers also have loyal, prideful fans who make the team their whole lives, and won the hearts of America decades ago. I see no reason OKC can’t become the Green Bay Packers of basketball. And damn, isn’t their unselfish basketball fun to watch? Are you listening, Carmelo? Carmelo?? ————————————————————– Where will New York’s Next Championship Team Come From (aside from hockey?) Yes, either the Rangers or the Devils will make the Stanley Cup finals. The problem is the majority of NY fans don’t care that much about hockey. Which leaves the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Knicks and Nets. As far as next year’s basketball champs, both the Knicks and Nets are out. Anthony and Stoudemire simply can’t play together, and unless a major move is made (bringing in Steve Nash? Trading Stoudemire or Anthony for Gasol?) the Knicks will be a middle of the pack playoff team in 2012-2013. The Nets? I like their ownership and coach. I like Williams (if he stays) I like… Well, the Nets need more good players. Lots of them. The noise in sold out Brooklyn in the fall (every night, you watch) will only go so far. The Mets? Don’t let their strong start fool you. As much as I like David Wright, there is no way he will stay at this torrid pace. Terry Collins is a great manager, but the team is thin and unless a major move is made for a strong hitter and shut down reliever, forget it. One injury (to Wright, or Santana, or Dickey) and they’re toast. The Yanks? Never count them out, but they are in trouble. The relief squad, which looked like the strongest in baseball in April, is hurting big time. Rivera is out for the year, Robertson is on the DL, and Soriano is the new closer–at least for now. Worse is how the aging team looks at the plate, especially ARod. Without a strong Rodriquez, and with every team in their division stronger (except ironically them and the Red Sox) I wouldn’t bet much on the Yanks going too far this year. The NY Jets? Does anyone think there won’t be a quarterback controversy this year? Does anyone think the receivers are strong? Does anyone think despite Ryan’s bravado, they are not in real trouble this year? Which leaves one team. The quiet, underrated defending Super Bowl champs, 12 to 1 in the lastest Vegas odds to repeat. Bet them. They’re your–and our–best chance for a NY champion in the upcoming year. The NY Giants: repeat Super Bowl winners? I wouldn’t bet against them. —————————————————- NBA Finalist Decided After One Game Damn–so much for suspense. After the very first game of the first round of the NBA playoffs, the Miami Heat have already clinched making the finals. Trust me–the Knicks are done after their humiliating first game blowout. Meanwhile the Chicago Bulls, the only real competition the Heat faced in the East, lost reigning MVP Derek Rose for the rest of the season and any chance of beating the Heat. In the West, there are five legitimate teams that could make the finals: San Antonio, the LA Lakers, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Los Angeles Clippers. They will knock the hell out of each other for the next three weeks and debiliate whoever survives for the rested Heat. Too bad one of them couldn’t play the Heat on the way and at least give them an obstacle, but that’s the way it goes. As far as the Knicks, don’t think next year will be any better. With Tyson Chandler and a returning Jeremy Lin, the future might seem bright. Think again. Anthony and Stoudamire simply can’t play together, and James Dolan is too stubborn to trade one of them. So they will be stuck somewhere in the middle of the playoff pack and make it only out of the first round next year, if they’re lucky. Meanwhile the Nets are moving to Brooklyn, holding their breath that Deron Williams stays with them and lures other talent to the team, instead of heading home to Dallas. Hey, at least we have the Yankees and Giants. So Close to Heaven, Nets Headed for Hell? Until March 15, the Nets were incredibly close to becoming an NBA powerhouse, just in time for their move to Brooklyn in September. They were the frontrunners to acquire Dwight Howard, the best center in the league by far. He would join his pal Deron Williams, one of the premier point guards in the NBA and Howard’s buddy. But it’s tough to pin your hopes on the whims of a 23 year old. Howard had said he was headed for free agency right up to the March 15th trade deadline, which put pressure on the Orlando Magic to move him before that date or get nothing back. The deal was on the table, and both sides ready to pull the trigger. Then the Magic beat the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade Miami Heat, and Howard suddenly got visions of being NBA champs. He waived his early termination option and signed on to stay another year in Orlando, crushing the Nets hopes. One day later, All-Star Williams said he would not waive his option, but become a free agent at season’s end. The odds now favor him moving to another team next year, probably in his home town of Dallas. The Nets, with dreams of two All Stars and a championship caliber team, will now move into Brooklyn with another pathetic lottery team, unless management performs miracles between now and next fall. Don’t count on it. Mets GM Slips, Reveals True Feelings When Mets GM Sandy Alderson was recently interviewed about the NY Mets chances this year, he blurted “I didn’t come here to run the Oakland A’s.” Realizing what he said, he quickly added “and I’m not”, but the cat was out of the bag. A legendary general manager, Alderson was told by management when he was being wooed that the Mets budget wouldn’t be seriously affected by owner Fred Wilpon’s involvement with Bernie Madoff and the ongoing lawsuit over the “fictitious profits” he made. Wilpon lied. The Mets budget last year was $140 million. This year it will be $90 million. In the biggest city in America, the NY Mets are now being run like a small market team, and it’s not fair to the fans. After badmouthing Met hero Jose Reyes, Wilpon dumped the Mets best player. This year David Wright is an endangered species. In a division with four strong and improving teams, the Mets are the only ones getting worse every year–on purpose. The Phillies are still incredibly strong, and the Atlanta Braves are solid. Washington gets phenom Steven Strausborg back while adding young stud Gio Gonzales to the pitching staff. The Miami Marlins strengthened themselves by adding, yep, Jose Reyes. If everything breaks right for the Mets, and/or opponents suffers serious injuries, the Mets might come in next to last. A sad situation. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig stepped in when Frank McCourt’s messy divorce threatened to destroy the major market Los Angeles Dodgers, and forced the owner to sell. But Selig is buddies with Wilpon, and chances are slim he will step in while Wilpon continues to destroy what was once a proud franchise. ————————————————————————————————- 2008 Super Bowl Redux? Don’t look now, but we are one weekend away from a repeat of a NY Giants–New England Patriots Super Bowl. By a show of hands, how many expected the Giants to be this close to a title game this season? Liars! After four straight loses the Giants were a mediocre 7 and 7, and sportswriters were baying at coach Tom Coughlin, forecasting that the curtain may be closing on his coaching tenure with the Giants. Then the Giants shut up the Jets, beat the Cowboys to reach the playoffs, shut down the Falcons in the first round, then stunned the favored Green Bay Packers to reach the NFC title game. If the Giants beat the 49ers in San Francisco next week and the Patriots handle the Ravens, we will have a match up of the two teams that played the most exciting Super Bowl in history. The Giants (20-1 underdogs to win the Super Bowl) toyed with Green Bay (9-5 favorites to win it all). New York’s former swiss cheese defense dominated (thanks Perry Fewell), and a mature, cool Eli Manning was the game’s MVP. While blustery Rex Ryan’s Jets lick their wounds and squabble, super square Tom Coughlin’s “talk is cheap, play the game” mantra has taken the Giants to the cusp of the title game–again. Thanks Tom. Thanks Eli. Go Giants! Jets Make Rough Landing It was fun while it lasted. Rex Ryan was a funny, outspoken breath of fresh air. The Jets defense was tough, the offensive line powerful, and a young quarterback and all-star receivers would bring the Jets their first Super Bowl since 1969. As John Lennon sang, The Dream is Over. The brash Jets lost to the “talk is cheap, play the game” NY Giants 29 to 14 this weekend, and not only is their season over (barring a miracle), but unless changes come fast and furious, they are dead for the foreseeable future. Their great defense? Mediocre. Their offensive line? Spotty. And those are their strong points. There are a number of exciting young quarterbacks in the NFL: Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, even Sam Bradford and Andy Dalton. All came into the league at the same time or after Mark Sanchez, and right now I’d take any one of them over him. Sanchez makes the same dumb mistakes over and over, keeps throwing into a crowd and instills no confidence. If the Jets don’t get some competition for him next year beside the aging Scott Brunell, they are kidding themselves. Meanwhile, the receivers might be headline-grabbing and have great end zone dances, but they are also showing their age. Santonio Holmes had a horrendous game last week, and Plaxico Burress rarely gets open. Who would you rather have as your receivers, the Giants lightning quick Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, or Holmes and Burress? If the Jets don’t get a fast young receiver or two in the off-season, they have no hope next year. The Jets have two great players: Darrelle Revis and Nick Mangold. The rest of the team is average or worse. Brian Schottenheimer is history. And Coach Ryan and GM Tannenbaum better get their act together fast, because it has quickly gotten older than their core of players. The Super Bowl dream? Time to stop kidding ourselves. Deflated Local Fans Await Loser Bowl On Christmas Eve day (I know, but how else would you put it?) the NY Giants and NY Jets will meet in a one game elimination match. The loser doesn’t go to the playoffs. The winner may go, but will probably be blown out in the first round. Today the Jets and the Giants put on performances so horrendous they had to be seen to be believed. The Washington Redskins, with nothing to play for except pride, easily handled the Giants, who were playing at home. Meanwhile, the Jets were beaten so badly by the Philadelphia Eagles they may not recover until next season, if then. The Eagles could have racked up 60 points off of the vaunted Jets defense if they didn’t call off the dogs in the 4th quarter. At this point of the season, it can be reasonably argued that the Jets and Giants both have defenses that rank in the bottom five in the NFL. But miraculously, both are still alive for the playoffs! If the 8-6 Jets or 7-7 Giants win their final two games, they are in. Even the staunchest Jet or Giant fan knows, however, that their team has no chance to win the Super Bowl this year. And next week’s vaunted “Subway Series Super Bowl” has deteriorated into the Loser Bowl. The good news is, one team has to win. I think. Will Either Local Football Team Make the Playoffs? The Giants crushing loss to the Saints seems to spell the end of their playoff hopes. It’s not just their 6-5 record, it’s how awful their defense looks. “This is not a playoff team” said Jon Gruden on the telecast of the blowout. And if they were manhandled by the Saints, what do you expect to happen next week with the Green Bay Packers? Meanwhile, the Jets won their “must win” Buffalo matchup, are only a game behind Cincinnati for the final wildcard berth and have an easy schedule the rest of the way. So why do I think the Giants have a better chance to make the playoffs than the Jets? Here’s why: 1) The Jets were lucky to win against a falling apart Buffalo team. If Stevie Johnson doesn’t drop a perfect pass from Fitzpatrick at the end, the Jets are 5-6 and done. If Fitzpatrick doesn’t miss a wide open Johnson in the end zone in the last ten seconds, ditto. Sanchez’ statistics were totally misleading, playing the worst four touchdown pass game I’ve ever seen, and the vaunted defense is like swiss cheese in the clutch. Yes, their schedule is easy, but for a team like this, there are never “easy wins”. The Giants brutal schedule is taking it’s toll, but unlike Gruden, I’m not writing them off yet. They have two games left with Dallas, and if they sweep can still get into the playoffs, even if they are manhandled by the Packers next week. Philadelphia is dead, and Dallas is their only impediment to a playoff berth. Is this a likely scenario? No. Both NY teams are on life support. But the Giants play the Jets on Christmas Eve, and local fans are praying the game means something–at least for one. Please Santa? NBA Lockout Drags on: Nets Cheer, Knicks Cry: As we approach winter, the National Basketball Association (NBA) lockout continues with no end in sight. Games have already been cancelled through December 15, and the outlook is dreary. This is horrible news for the New York Knicks, who have spent a fortune on Amare Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony, raised ticket prices 49% and were expecting a big payoff on their investment this season. Now there might not be a season, and it is no accident that James Dolan is the owner leading the charge to settle with the players and gouge his customers as soon as possible. The lockout is his worst nightmare, costing him sellout crowds as well as inflated playoff revenue. On the other hand, the NJ Nets are dancing with joy. The team is set to move to Brooklyn next year, and ticket sales for the new arena are moving briskly. Sales in New Jersey are another matter, with the lame duck team certain to draw puny crowds–if there were a season. In addition, all-star Deron Williams will probably play one full season with the Nets to see how it goes, and the Nets would love that first season to be in Brooklyn, when they’ll be able to afford and attract other stars to join him. The strike also allows ace rebounder/Kim Kardashian fool Khris Humphries to lick the wounds from his public humiliation and get his head straight again. As for Dolan? It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. ————————————————————– Could it be? Both NY Football Teams in First Place! Don’t look now, but both the Giants and Jets lead their respective divisions, the Giants thanks to their defeat of New England–and the Jets thanks to the Giants defeat of New England. The Giants are two full games ahead of their nearest rival in the NFC East, and the Jets have pulled even with New England and Buffalo for the AFC East lead courtesy of the Giants’ win and the Jets victory over the Bills. Although their coaches couldn’t be any more different, the Giants and Jets are becoming mirror images of each other. Both are led by strong defenses, while the question mark for each is the quarterback (yes, even the Giants). The Jets’ Mark Sanchez continues to not see the whole field and make bonehead mistakes. Meanwhile, although the Giants’ Eli Manning is having his best year, he still freaks out too often in the pocket when about to be hit. In today’s game, he brought the team into chip shot field goal range and only had to eat the football to get a 10 point lead. Instead, he reverted to the actions we all took in grade school when about to be tackled hard–closed his eyes and tossed the ball up for grabs (he was intercepted). Manning won the game at the end, and deserves all the credit for this. He is also light years better than Sanchez right now. That being said, Manning can’t be the “elite” quarterback he claims to be until he takes sacks when necessary, because his habit of chucking it away will bite the Giants in the ass big time down the line. Which team will advance far in the playoffs (assuming they both get there)? The one with the quarterback that stops making these rookie mistakes. We’ll know more next month, when they meet in a Christmas Eve showdown. Meanwhile, let’s give thanks to the Giants and Jets for making this season interesting, to say the least! Giants Best Bet of Century in Next Game, Worst Bet for Super Bowl The NY Giants are leading their division with a 4-2 record, despite injuries to key players. Eli Manning looks better than he ever has. The rest of the division is floundering. In addition, the Giants should get back injured starters Justin Tuck, Chris Snee and Brandon Jacobs right after the bye week. Looks pretty good, huh? The only thing that looks good is the next game. The Giants have started with 5 wins and two losses every year that Tom Coughlin has coached them dating back to 2004. They play the hapless Miami Dolphins, who have been reduced to dreaming of finishing with the worst record in the league and drafting can’t miss quarterback Andrew Luck. And a win will put the Giants at, yes, 5 and 2. Bet the house on that one. But that’s where the fun ends. The following five games are as follows: at New England, at San Francisco, Philadelphia, at New Orleans, and Green Bay. A nightmare schedule. Add to this the fact that since Coughlin took over, the Giants have finished the second half of the season a combined 24 wins and 30 losses. So let’s enjoy the good times while we can. Those who don’t study history are condemned to repeat it. Even if they do, beware the upcoming winter of the Giants discontent. Meanwhile, the Jets have the opposite situation: a rough opening schedule and an easier second half. But the team will have to improve greatly to make a run for it this year. That being said, don’t be surprised if they have a better record than the Giants by year’s end, culminating with the Jets-Giants game on Christmas Eve. That one should be fun. Tampa Bay Wins the Moneyball Way The Tampa Bay Rays–NY Yankees final game of the season was probably the best baseball game I’ve ever seen. It had all the the trappings of a great movie (huge stakes, the big guy versus the little guy, etc), and the ending couldn’t have been more dramatic. Tampa had to win to get into the playoffs, while Boston lost. By the eighth inning, Tampa was getting crushed 7-o, while Boston was ahead in their game. If things remained the same, Boston would make the playoffs and Tampa would be left by the wayside. Somehow it didn’t play out that way. A miracle two out, two strike home run in the bottom of the 9th completed an astounding comeback to make it 7-7. At midnight, the scoreboard flashed that Boston had lost their game, and the crowd went wild. Exactly three minutes later, in the bottom of the 12th, Tampa’s Evan Longoria’s home run propelled the team into the playoffs and the fans into delirium. I saw the game just a few hours after seeing Moneyball, and couldn’t help thinking: Tampa Bay is today’s Oakland A’s. By the way: The Yankees 2011 payroll? $201.7 million. Boston’s? $161.4 million. Tampa Bay’s? $41.9 million. The One That Got Away Two years ago, everyone was buzzing about the New York Yankees three young pitching phenoms. Joba Chamberlain was a monster shutdown reliever, being weaned to be a number one starter, while fireballing Phil Hughes was potentially another ace. The third pitcher, Ian Kennedy, got much less attention. Cut to 2011. Hughes has been struggling all year, and Chamberlain was hurt months ago and is again out of commission. The lone shining star from that class is Ian Kennedy. Unfortunately GM Brian Cashman traded him to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Did you know that Kennedy is an astounding 20-4, with meager hitting support? Do you know he is the favorite for the National League Cy Young award, above Cliff Lee, Roy Holiday and the other Philly superstar pitchers? Do you know that Arizona is going to the playoffs with him, and would have a losing record without him? Do you know how much he would have meant to the Yankees this year, who have CC Sabathia and a bunch of question marks? Brian Cashman has pulled off some great trades with the Yankees, partially due to shrewd talent evaluation and a bigger part because the team has money to burn. And he did get the terrific Curtis Granderson in the three way deal. But he blew it big time by not giving up one of the other two phenoms instead of Kennedy, who, barring injury, looks like an all-star for the next ten years. As the NFL Kicks Off, Once Again You Never Know There are many reasons why the NFL has passed baseball in popularity, and near the top is that not only on “any given Sunday” can any team win, but more than half the teams have a real shot each year at the playoffs–unlike MLB. In baseball there is no salary cap, and the same teams are always at or near near the top. This year the teams that spent the most money (sometimes 300% more than competitors) are the Yankees, the Red Sox and the Phillies. Guess which teams have the best three records in baseball? Bingo! In football, there is true equality and a fair shake for all. Can you imagine a baseball team in the tiny market of Green Bay being world champions? Can’t happen. Green Bay looks like a powerhouse again this year. I think they’ll make the playoffs, but achieving back to back Super Bowls is tough. Philadelphia is stacked, has a ridiculously easy schedule and are my pick to reach the Super Bowl from the NFC. My upset pick for the playoffs is Detroit. The team has been horrible for decades, but I believe everything is coming together for them now, with the best young defenseman in football (Suh) and a terrific young quarterback in Matthew Stafford. If Stafford stays healthy, the Lions should make the playoffs this year and jump to Super Bowl contenders next. In the AFL, it will come down to the Jets, Patriots, Ravens and Steelers. Everyone seems to be picking San Diego, but they always find a way to blow it. As much as I’d love to pick the Jets, I think the Patriots will turn the tables on them this year. My Super Bowl? New England 24, Philadelphia 23. Check back in January! New York Jets: One Game from Glory, One Play From Disaster: As we approach the NFL season, the Jets are optimistic, with a great defense, solid offense, and coming off two strong seasons in which they were just one game from getting into the Super Bowl. Why shouldn’t they be hopeful? Only one reason: because they made a horrible decision this summer. In their desire to sign another all-star safety to match with Daryl Revis, they let Brad Smith dangle in the wind until he departed for Buffalo. Now the Jets have no credible backup quarterback. Scott Brunell was washed up three years ago and is constantly hurt, while promising rookie quarterback Greg McElroy is now out for the year. Remember the high hopes the Jets had a few years ago, and how they were dashed in the first game when Vinnie Testaverde went down? If something happens to Mark Sanchez, the season is over. When Brad Smith would come in to replace him, Jet fans got excited. Would he run the option or throw a pass (let alone his special teams abilities). The guy was a capable, cool customer, and a winner. Do you feel the same optimism when Brunell enters the game? I hope Sanchez stays healthy all year. But I think the Jets are playing with fire. Plaxico Already Laxico, Forgets to Tape Ankle As a New York Jet fan, I was not thrilled to see them sign wide receiver Plaxico Burress to a one year deal for $3 million while letting both Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery go. Burress has been out of action for two years after serving time in prison for illegally carrying a gun into a nightclub and accidentally shooting himself in the leg. The first day he was eligible to practice for the Jets he forgot to tape his ankles, twisted his left one and will now miss one or two days, says the team. Want to bet? Burress is out of game shape, has a history of ankle problems and immediately did the careless, wrong thing. But Burress shrugged it off. “If there was a game this weekend, I’d definitely be in there,” said Burress. No one else on the Jets seems too concerned about it either. So why do I get the feeling this will be ongoing, and that signing Burress while letting go of Edwards and the always dependable Cotchery could cost the Jets a Super Bowl appearance this year? ——————————————————————————————- At Trading Deadline, Yankees Only NY Team Trying to Win As the trading deadline approaches, both the Yankees and Mets are looking to deal. The problem is, while the Yankees are in the market for a strong starting pitcher to put them over the top, the Mets are trying desperately to ditch all-star outfielder Carlos Beltran. Instead of being proud of the scrappy team that is still in the running for the wild card, Mets’ brass is working to downgrade their chances, despite having 60 games left in the season and both David Wright and pitching ace Johan Santana poised to return. Why? To make it seem reasonable to ditch Beltran and save a wad of cash. Met owner Fred Wilpon is deeply embroiled in a court case brought on by his dealings with Bernie Madoff, and is more interested in saving money than helping his team. And so Beltran, the heart of the Mets batting order, will probably be gone by next week, as will the Mets chances for success this year. So if you’re rooting for the Mets, root for Wilpon to go into bankruptcy and hand the team over to new management. That way at least next year the team won’t sabotage it’s own chances of winning. ———————————————————————————- Mets’ Jose Reyes Makes Fred Wilpon Squirm Not long ago, NY Mets owner Fred Wilpon sneered that shortstop Jose Reyes “doesn’t deserve Carl Crawford money.” Since then, Reyes has proved Wilpon right–he deserves more. Reyes is currently leading the National League in hitting, triples, stolen bases, and playing solid shortstop. The exciting Reyes is the main reason fans still come out to see the Mets. If the team ditches free-agent Reyes or gives him a low-ball offer, fans will ditch the team. Nice way to go deep in the hole, Fred. ——————————————————————————- Dolan Plunges Dagger Into Donnie New York Knicks President Donnie Walsh, who dug the team out of a deep sewer of awful contracts, horrible players and sexual harrassment suits, was rewarded for his efforts by being offered a salary slash of 40% if he chose to stay in the job. Walsh responded to the insult by walking away, and now team owner James Dolan (who was given the team to run by his father and eventually forced to take on Walsh by NBA chairman David Stern to save the franchise) is free to screw up the team once again. Helping him in this effort may be Dolan pal and fellow sleazoid Isiah Thomas, who among other disasters traded four prime first round draft picks plus players for Stephan Marbury and Eddie Curry and cost the team over $11 million dollars in the lost sexual harrassment suit. Thomas says his “door is always open” to a return to the team. Knick fans’ doors are also open. And they are ready to bolt through them and vanish the second that Thomas puts a toe back in. Like most incompetents, Dolan couldn’t have a competent leader around to “show him up” (plus Walsh had the audacity to actually talk to the media). I had a feeling when Walsh’s contract was up for renewal, Dolan might pull something like this (scroll down for “Knicks May Be Through For More Than This Season”) and he was true to form. In a year, the Nets will move to Brooklyn. If Thomas arrives back at the Garden in any capacity, Knicks season ticket holders will desert the team in droves and cross the bridge to Atlantic Avenue. And Dolan will be shocked. Because he’s too stupid to see it coming. “Big Three” Theory Makes Heat Finals Favorite The Miami Heat made big news before the season by teaming superstars LeBron James and Dwayne Wade with all-star Chris Bosh. The Dallas Mavericks made big news in May by exceeding expectations, playing crisp team basketball with Dirk Nowitzki rising to the level of superstar. When they meet in the NBA finals it should be exciting, but if it goes according to form, Miami will win. In the Eastern finals, Miami’s big three beat Chicago’s big one (Derrick Rose), and although I love the precision basketball Dallas plays, I see no reason Miami won’t beat them as well. All they must do is concentrate on Nowitzki. Yes, Dallas has other good players, but it all revolves around Dirk, whether his deadly shooting or sharp passes to teammates. Shut him down and you shut down the Mavericks. Not the same with the Heat. Shut down LeBron, and Wade will kill you. Put all your attention on James and Wade, and Bosh will score 30. This is why “big three” is the new mantra in the NBA, and why the Knicks will soon be pulling out all the stops to add Chris Paul to its current “big two” of Stoudamire and Anthony. Meanwhile, the Heat’s defense is stronger than anything Dallas faced in the West, and will swarm Dirk for 48 minutes. I’m a Maverick fan and my heart would love to see them pull an upset. But my head tells me Miami in six. Mets Come Back From the Dead Before the first pitch was thrown this season, the Mets were already considered toast. The team was broke and couldn’t sign any decent free agents. Their number one starter, Johan Santana, was out until at least mid-season. In gloomy April, the team’s 5 and 13 start seemed about right. When they finally put together a modest winning streak, they immediately lost their two best hitters, David Wright and Ike Davis, to injury. Their surprising new pitching ace, Chris Young, was lost for the season. All was grim in Metsville. But now, the Mets have miraculously climbed to .500, at 22 and 22. Their young, scrappy team is fun to watch again, and Terry Collins is a manager of the year candidate. Their bargain basement pitching looks solid. And Wright and Davis will soon return, followed by Santana. Do you believe in miracles? Zenny Lenny Loses it It’s not easy to destroy a reputation built up over decades in two nights, but retiring Laker coach Phil Jackson certainly tried his best to do just that. Known as the Zen Master, Phil would sit calmly on his bench and watch Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippin, or Kobe Bryant and Shaq, exert their will over opponents. It’s easy to be Zenny Lenny when you’ve got the best player in the game and a superior supporting cast. But the last two games against the Dallas Mavericks, all that came crashing down. Kobe was ordinary. Pau Gasol was worse. This time, the Lakers didn’t have the superior team. And Phil totally lost it. He screamed in a panic at his players, who screamed back. He punched a stunned Pao Gasol in the chest in game three as things fell apart. In game four, Andrew Bynam went in with about two minutes to go and took a cheap shot at Dirk Nowitzki. You’d think down three games to none, losing by 25 with the game virtually over, Jackson would instruct his players to at least lose with some class and stop the cheap shots. But no. Lamar Odom went into the game, took another cheap shot at a Dallas player, and was thrown out, as the fans understandably screamed bloody murder at the Lakers’ lack of class. The buzzer sounded and Phil walked off the court for the last time, swept and humiliated. Zenny Lenny was no longer in the building. ——————————————————————————- Knicks May Be Through for More than This Season The Knicks season is over, and although they were swept in four games by Boston, most fans still believe that with Melo and Amar’e, the future is bright. I’d like to believe this too, but the reality is less reassuring. Donnie Walsh took the mess left by Isiah Thomas, fixed it and gave the Knicks renewed hope. He knew he was in the driver’s seat with Carmelo Anthony and could get him for a reasonable price if he held his ground. But of course James Dolan took over, gave away all the good young Knick players and put the chances of a future championship in doubt. Optimists say the Knicks will soon have the great Chris Paul, who will be a free agent in 2012. But New Orleans will not allow him to escape with no compensation. He will be gone by the trading deadline next year, and what do the Knicks have left to offer? Nothing. They also have to make a decision on Chauncey Billups–exercise a $14 million option for next year, or buy him out for $4 million. He is a great player, but on his last legs. Do they spend the little they have left on him, believing he will hold the fort until Paul arrives–which is now doubtful? Meanwhile, the Knicks have still not offered Walsh a new contract. Dolan’s horrible alter-ego Thomas waits in the wings. I don’t like the looks of it. No Surprise that Bonds Convicted Some are asking why Barry Bonds was convicted of steroid use while others have gotten off. It’s because Barry Bonds is the Martha Stewart of baseball. While they have their fans, both too often come across as arrogant and mean-spirited. Stewart actually spent time in jail for insider trading because she showed up in court flashing a gaudy, expensive handbag and acting snide and superior, and the jury said, “Oh yeah? We’ll show you who’s superior.” Same with Bonds’ nasty disposition. Attitude counts. The first thing Bonds lawyer should have said to Bonds before the trial was “Barry, meet Martha.” Too late. Knicks Winning Streak is a Mirage The Knicks current winning streak has led fans to believe that the team is set for the future. If only. Yes, Carmelo Anthony is scoring 39 points a game. Meanwhile, Amare Stoudemire’s game has deteriorated, once golden rookie Landry Fields looks totally lost, and the team is no longer a team as they stand around and play one on one basketball. They traded their only real center and are getting destroyed in the post. If they last past round one of the playoffs, I’ll be shocked. This trade has Isiah Thomas’ fingerprints all over it. Remember the Stephan Marbury deal? A talented player who loses wherever he went, Marbury poisoned the atmosphere at both the Nets and Knicks. Carmelo Anthony is even more talented, but never got past the first round of the playoffs until Chauncey Billups showed up in Denver. Billups would have been a terrific acquisition five years ago. He still is a clutch “Mr. Big Shot”, but is also aging, a step slow, and the younger guards in the league are running circles around him. Right after the trade, James Dolan announced a ridiculous 49% season ticket price hike. It is becoming increasingly obvious that this was more a quick buck marketing deal than a trade to improve the Knicks. Anthony could have been had for much less, but Dolan panicked and was played for a sucker by Denver, undermined his GM Donnie Walsh and gutted the team. I’m a fan and will be rooting for them in the playoffs. But until the Knicks rid themselves of their biggest problem, it’s difficult to be too optimistic. And it’s really hard to fire the owner. —————————————————————————– Greed Kills The Golden Goose: Top Three of 2011 (so far): 1) March Madness begins–with 68 teams. It’s been a perfect 64 for years. This is an opening to bring in more teams in the future, diluting and eventually ruining the tournament in the long term, but fattening the wallets of a few self-described college”purists” who run the sport in the short term. 2) NFL Lockout Looms: The owners are pleading poverty and want to give less money to the players, who are asking the owners to open their books and prove it. They won’t. Guess who will suffer? Speaking of which– 3) Knicks Raise Seat Prices 49%:
Only two more years until the Nets hit Brooklyn, and the shit hits the fan for James Dolan. Can’t wait. ———————————————————————————– Knick Fans: Don’t Get Too Melo The deed is done. After months of headlines, head games and agita, the Knicks have acquired Carmelo Anthony for 4 young starters and a draft pick. Wow, two superstar forwards! Won’t this be fun? Isn’t this great? Uhm, yes and no. Yes, it will fun watching two all-star scorers, the excitement, the 120 to 119 scores. But sorry sports fans–that won’t win a championship. In fact, I believe that if Melo isn’t careful, the love he’s currently feeling could quickly turn to hostility. Knicks fans are known for chanting “defense”, not offense, and Melo isn’t a big believer in the former. Playoffs are won with defense, and if the first round arrives and Anthony scores 25 while the guy he’s guarding scores 40, watch all hell break loose. Meanwhile, Knick owner James Dolan has completely undermined general manager Donnie Walsh, who dug the Knicks out from the salary cap hell his predecessor (and Dolan pal) Isiah Thomas created. Walsh is a great negotiator and had Denver where he wanted them. He could have gotten Carmelo for much less than the price he paid (the team was really bidding against itself–Anthony made it clear he would only sign with the Knicks). But as usual Dolan acted the fool, the big mouth standing behind the great poker player and screaming “raise, raise!”, totally blowing the hand for Walsh. Now the Knicks have no center and an aging point guard, Chauncey Billups. Make no mistake–I believe Billups will be more popular here than Anthony. Denver won nothing while Anthony was there until Billups showed up. Billups was a winner in Detroit, in Denver, and will help steady the ship in New York as well. But he is aging fast, and the Knicks’ grand plan was replacing him in 2012 with either all-star Deron Williams or Chris Paul. But wait–with no fanfare, the Nets immediately swooped down and snatched up Williams. Uh-oh. Will Paul’s knee hold out two more years? Will the new salary cap restrict the possibility of affording three superstars? In less than 48 hours, the Knicks’ future is a lot more shaky. So let’s enjoy the show while we can. Because although the Knicks have the lure of playing in New York, the Nets will arrive in Brooklyn in 2012, with a savvy owner, great coach and brand new superstar. The team now has the two toughest positions to fill–point guard and center–in place. As opposed to the Knicks, they are slowly but surely creating a balanced team built for the long hall, and I think Williams will stay with them and help lure other stars to the team. Yesterday the Nets were laughing stocks, today they have an all-star point guard, and tomorrow I believe they will be the ones to bring a basketball championship back to New York–not the Knicks. ———————————————————————————- Packers Win Super Bowl on a Level Playing Field The Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl because they were the best team on February 6, 2011. There were five very strong teams in the NFL this year, and four (Patriots, Jets, Steelers, Ravens) are in the AFC. The one from the NFC (the Packers) got hot at the right time, didn’t have to play any of the other four until the Super Bowl, and won on merit. One would think the Packers have a chance to dominate for the foreseeable future. Aaron Rodgers is a great young quarterback and the defense is top notch and young. In addition, Green Bay will get its best running back (Ryan Grant) back next year. The Jets future looks similarly hopeful. Last year they were lucky to get into the playoffs, but this year earned it, beating both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the playoffs, while their furious comeback against the Steelers in Pittsburgh fell just five points short. They have a good young quarterback on the rise, the best cornerback in football and a core of strong players in their prime. So Packers-Jets SuperBowl next year, right? Highly unlikely in the NFC. The Saints looked like world-beaters last year. What happened this year? The Patriots looked invincible for a while, until the Jets beat them. Unlike major league baseball, the NFC is a true equal opportunity league. With sound management, any team can rise fairly quickly and have a shot at the playoffs and beyond. While a goofy teenager can run the NY Yankees and, with the money available to him, probably still post a winning record, that’s impossible in football, and that’s the prime reason it has replaced baseball as the nation’s favorite sport. Football actually has parity and you can’t buy your way into a championship. (Anyone want to bet that baseball’s Phillies don’t win between 90 and 105 games this year?) Maybe the Jets will get to the SuperBowl next year. With a savvy move or two, we can even dream of the NY Giants making a comeback. Long live a level playing field! The Higher the Expectations, the Bigger the Fall After Ben Roethlisberger completed the pass that guaranteed the Jets missing the Super Bowl again, a teary eyed Rex Ryan threw his headset to the ground in frustration. The coach made it clear before the season even began that the Jets were a Super Bowl team, and anything less would be a bitter disappointment. And that it was. The fact that the Jets lost to the Steelers on the failings of their two supposed strengths–defense and the offensive line–only made it worse. Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall tore through the Jets’ vaunted defense like it was swiss cheese, and the offensive line couldn’t get it done when it counted, unable to punch it in at the goal line. With all that, the Jets have nothing to be ashamed of. They won road games against what many consider two of the best quarterbacks of all time in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and came five points away from realizing their dream. When you brag that you are the best, it hurts more (and more people get on you) when you in fact aren’t–at least yet. But the future is bright for the New York Jets. Mark Sanchez has proven to be a true leader and will only get better. The majority of the team is entering its prime years. And virtually every player in the league would love to play under head coach Rex Ryan, a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. The Jets, like baseball’s NY Yankees, aren’t satisfied to just get to the final four. They want it all. Shoot for the moon. More power to them. “This team is going to be good for a number of years,” promised a battered but unbowed Ryan after the game. Yes it is. And they won’t rest until there is a ticker tape parade down Broadway. ————————————————————————————- Will Brett’s Ghost Haunt the Superbowl? Just when we think we’ve heard the last from Brett Favre, his influence on the Jets run for the Super Bowl can be immense. For starters, if Favre decided two years ago that he wanted to stay with the Jets instead of going to Minnesota, the Jets probably would have kept him–which means they wouldn’t have moved up to select Mark Sanchez in the draft. Who would the Jets quarterback be if that had happened? Kellen Clemens? If so, do you think the Jets would be in the position they’re in now? Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers are now the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. If Brett didn’t jerk the Packers around so long that they finally told him to get lost, Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t have had the opportunity to develop into a top tier quarterback so quickly. So the Super Bowl could feature a battle of Brett Favre replacements. And if one of these guys gets hurt next week, which Hall of Fame quarterback is familiar with both systems and could step right in? Probably against the rules. But fun to think about. (P.S.: Yes I was wrong last week when I said the Jets were being dumb to taunt Tom Brady. It may not have been the classiest move, but it obviously didn’t hurt them. I do notice they are being super respectful of Ben Roethlisberger this week. Big Ben is more worthy of respect than Brady? Enlighten me, please.) Are Rex Ryan and Antonio Cromartie As Dumb As They Sound? The first day Rex Ryan was introduced as the Jets’ head coach, he came across as a down to earth breath of fresh air. How could you not root for this guy? I’ll tell you how. When you’re a Jet fan and Ryan starts taunting Patriot quarterback Tom Brady. A few days ago he said that Brady is much less a student of the game than Peyton Manning, then chided him for going to see Lombardi on Broadway instead of watching the Jets squeak by the Colts. Antonio Cromartie followed this by simply calling Brady “an asshole.” Then they both sought out Mike Tyson and spit in his eye. Ok, the last statement isn’t true, but it might as well be. Do they seriously think they are going to unnerve the unflappable Brady? What the hell are they thinking? I’ll tell you what I’m thinking: they’re both out of their minds. My heart will be pulling for the Jets this Sunday, but my head tells me that if Brady doesn’t put four touchdowns on the board by halftime, he’ll be pissed off. And I get the sinking feeling he’ll walk into that Patriot locker room laughing. Maybe I’m wrong. Hope so! ——————————————————————————— Lady Luck Smiles on Jets, Laughs at Giants Both the New York Jets and Giants set out to clinch playoff berths on Sunday. Both lost, with their vaunted defenses particularly bad. The difference? The Jets trudged into the locker room, turned on the TV and saw an erratic Washington Redskin kicker boot an overtime field goal that backdoored them into the playoffs anyway. Hurrah for us. Meanwhile, the Giants also blew their game on Sunday, but got no similar reprieve. The Green Bay Packers had been without their terrific quarterback Aaron Rogers, who was sidelined with a concussion. Of course, he returned just in time to throw four touchdown passes to bury the Giants. Last year, the Jets similarly lucked into the playoffs when the then undefeated Indianapolis Colts, ahead at the half, decided to rest Peyton Manning. Earlier this year, the Jets played lousy against a number of mediocre teams and lucked out in various ways, while claiming that “the great teams always find a way to win.” The truth is, the Jets are more lucky than great. My heart is with the team, but my head knows that if they sneak by Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs, they will be blown out in the second by the Patriots. Then again, someone might highjack the Patriots’ bus… —————————————————————————————– While Giants Raise the Roof, Jets Fall Through Trap Door The strangest road trip in memory, which took the team from New York to Kansas City to Detroit in 48 hours without ever touching down in their destination city of Minnesota, ended with the New York Giants easily knocking off the Minnesota Vikings 21 to 3. After a snowstorm caused the Metrodome roof to cave in, the game was moved to the neutral Detroit Ford Field site, with a weird vibe generated by fans with no rooting interest let in for free. But the Giants weren’t fazed and coasted to victory, setting up a showdown next week at home with division rival Philadelphia. Not only will the winner almost certainly win the division, but will increase their likelihood of representing the NFC in the Superbowl. Meanwhile, their Meadowlands neighbors have suddenly had the roof crash down on them. The New York Jets, who acted like they were the team to beat to get to the SuperBowl, now face the grim reality that they might not even make the playoffs. Their “ground and pound” offense looks like cheap chopmeat, and their quarterback totally befuddled. While I hope they pull out of it soon (they’d better: the next game is against the mighty Steelers), I can’t help but think of what heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali once famously said: It ain’t bragging if you can back it up. The Jets can’t back it up. After beating the Patriots earlier in the season, their confidence was sky high. But New England was still a team of rookies and other young players learning Bill Bellichek’s system. Now that they’ve caught on, they are tearing the league apart, destroying the Jets, then the Chicago Bears, without drawing a deep breath. Meanwhile, as the Giants’ Jacobs and Bradshaw run rampant, chalking up 200+ yards a week, the Jets haven’t scored a single touchdown in December. We still could have two playoff teams in New York–or none. But at this stage and after all the hype, the humble, resilient Giants are a better bet to go all the way than the humbled, dazed Jets. Knicks Doing Well, but Nets Lie in Wait For the first time in recent memory, the NY Knicks basketball team has a winning record this late in the season. Stoudemire looks terrific, and Felton, Fields and Chandler are forming a solid supporting cast. But this promising scenario may soon fall apart. General Manager Donnie Walsh, who rescued the Knicks from the damage wrought by sleazy Isiah Thomas, will turn 70 soon, and is not is good health. For some reason, he gets less respect from Dolan than Thomas did. If the Knicks falter, and/or Walsh retires or is let go, fans fear Dolan is so perverse that he will bring the multi-destructive Thomas back to take his place. If this happens, it’s all over for the Knicks. I have talked to a number of season ticket holders who swear they will then immediately stop attending Knick games and instead get season tickets for the Nets, who will move to Brooklyn the season after next. Really? The lousy Nets? Not for long. I believe exactly three months from now, they, and not the Knicks, will acquire Carmelo Anthony. They have more to offer Denver, including promising rookie Derrick Favors and high draft choices. If so, why isn’t the move being made now? Because the Denver Nuggets are waiting until the last moment (the trade deadline in mid-February 2011) to make the deal. Why? Because the longer they wait, the more they are assured the Nets remain a lottery team and they receive a very high draft choice. If I’m right, the Nets will then boast all-star Anthony at forward, rising star center Brooke Lopez and solid point guard Devin Harris, and almost immediately move from sad sacks to solid contenders. Dolan might not realize it, but he’s sitting on a time bomb. And hiring Thomas back will detonate it. —————————————————————————————————— Jets, Eagles Soar; Giants in Trouble The Jets high-wire act continued Sunday with a heart-stopping, last minute victory over Houston. With such weekly thrills, a fun coach and young quarterback getting better each week, the Jets are an exciting team to root for. They have hung on by a thread against three losing teams, but still found a way to win. On the down side, the defense has been figured out by these inferior teams each week. On Thanksgiving eve, the Jets play another losing team (2-8 Cincinnati), but then things get interesting. The Monday Night (Dec. 6) game against New England should be a beauty, with the Patriots looking for revenge for its loss to the Jets in week three. The Patriots are playing a bunch of rookies, with their personnel decidedly inferior to that of the Jets. Danny Woodhead, cut by the Jets, is now a featured back for the Pats. Can you name the other Patriot starters beside Brady and Welker? What the Patriots do have is coach Bill Bellichek, who gives you the feeling he can get into the NFL playoffs with a Canadian Football League team. The 8-2 Jets should walk into the post season, but must tighten up its defense if it hopes to keep its Super Bowl hopes alive. AFC Playoff teams if season ended today: Jets, Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, Colts, Chiefs. On the other side of the Meadowlands, the Giants are in trouble. If the season ended now, the Giants would be shut out of the playoffs. Philadelphia, Atlanta, New Orleans and Green Bay seem like locks, as well as one team from the pathetic NFC West. That leaves just one spot left, to be fought out among Tampa Bay (7-3), Chicago (7-3) and the Giants (6-4). Next week, the Giants play the rejuvenated Jaguars, then the Vikings, Green Bay, the Eagles again, and the Redskins, now only a game behind the Giants, twice. The Giants face an uphill battle if they hope to avoid yet another late season collapse. ============================================================ Baseball: Make or Break for the Yankees Monday night’s (10-18, 8pm) meeting between the Yanks and the Texas Rangers is as close to a do or die situation as a single game can be. If the Yankees win, they will go up 2 to 1 while striking a psychological blow, showing that they can defeat not only the Rangers ace but the best big game pitcher in baseball. If they lose, they are not only down a game, but have Burnett (!) starting the next one–with the last two games in Texas. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Stay tuned. Football: New York-New York? It Could Happen The whispers are starting–New York versus New York in this season’s SuperBowl! While still a longshot, the chances of this happening have never been better. The Jets look like a juggernaut, winning five in a row after losing their first game by a single point. While the AFC remains dominant, with the Jets, Steelers and Ravens (and possibly Patriots) all legitimate Super Bowl contenders, the NFC is weak. New Orleans looks beatable, and the rest of the conference is just ordinary, with its Super Bowl representative probably going to be a good (but not great) team that gets hot at the right time. Imagine a New York-New York Superbowl in Cowboys Stadium. The Texans will go wild. NY-NY? Start spreading the points! (opening line: Jets 7 over the Giants?) —————————————————————————————— Hope reigns in NY Football Fans When a baseball player carries a no-hitter into the 5th inning and teammates first notice, they are afraid to say anything–it is too early, they may jinx it, etc. Such is the case with our current Jets and Giants. After five weeks, the Jets look like one of the three top teams in football this year (the other two are Baltimore and Pittsburgh–all AFC teams), and tonight (10/11) we’ll get an even better read when the Jets play the Vikings and flashy Brett Favre (who has recently given the word new meaning). But the Giants are the surprise. They had been beating the lousy teams and getting clocked by the good ones. But today they trounced the Texans, a very good team, and find themselves tied for first place in their division. The competition isn’t that strong, with Dallas, the supposed dominant team, deep in a hole. The Giants defense looks like its for real, the offense has come alive, and suddenly it looks very possible that we may have two teams in the playoffs. But it’s early, let’s not jinx it, and…what the hell, why can’t we dream? Go Mark! Go Eli! Go New York! Mets and Knicks Problems are Related As the NY Mets stagger toward the finish line of yet another losing season, and the NY Knicks prepare for the upcoming season with a new all-star but zero chances of a championship, fans desperately squint for a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. Forget it. There is none. And the situation won’t change until James Dolan and Jeff Wilpon do. Don’t hold your breath. Dolan, the son of Cablevision founder Charles Dolan, was handed primary responsibilities for managing all Cablevision assets, including the Knicks, in 1999, and it has been downhill ever since. Wilpon, the son of Mets owner Fred Wilpon, has been handed increasing responsibilities for the Mets’ fortunes over the past few years, with similarly disappointing results. The primary qualification both of these sons-of-tycoons bring to their jobs? Being born. A Sports Illustrated poll of the most competent NBA owners ranked Dolan dead last. NBA commissioner David Stern criticized Dolan’s stewardship of the Knicks, saying “they’re not a model of intelligent management.” You think? In 2003, Dolan hired Isiah Thomas as GM, who promptly squandered tens of millions of dollars on such questionable talents/head cases as Stephon Marbury, Jerome James and Eddie Curry, while bypassing such available stars as Steve Nash (the memory still brings tears to my eyes). In 2007, Dolan was named a defendant in a sexual harrassment lawsuit, accusing him of firing a female executive after she complained about harrassment from Thomas. Dolan lost, and had to fork over an $11 million dollar settlement. After this disgrace, and pressure from Stern, Dolan reluctantly replaced Thomas with respected NBA veteran GM Donnie Walsh, who hired Mike D’Antoni as coach while promptly trying to dig out from the huge financial hole created by Thomas. Just as Walsh started seeing daylight, Dolan tried to bring Thomas back as a “special consultant.” After being blocked by the league, Dolan made it clear to Walsh that Thomas still had his ear–and perhaps compromising photos of him? (how else to explain Dolan’s destructive, undermining behavior and weird allegiance to Thomas?) Meanwhile, Jeff Wilpon is quietly becoming the baseball version of Dolan. A leading baseball executive recently confided to Joel Sherman of The New York Post that “Jeff Wilpon is the problem with the Mets, but he is never going to realize that. He will never hire anyone who won’t let him have major input.” Because of this situation, no serious GM will consider taking the position with the Mets, unless he’s ready to retire and only after the money, according to a number of baseball insiders. So if Mets GM Omar Minaya is fired as expected, it is going to be quite a chore to hire someone strong and competent if sonny boy is going to continue to meddle. Remember, these are not players, coaches or managers we’re talking about. They can all be easily replaced. It’s the ownership that’s the problem here, and, with both Dolan and Wilpon relatively young and arrogantly knowing better than the experts, will continue to be a problem into the foreseeable future. So as a Met and Knick fan, I beg any multi-millionaire who has stumbled upon the NewYorkGritty site–anyone want to purchase a New York sports franchise? Please?? Autumn Reigns Fall is an exciting time of year for New York sports fans, and this year holds great promise. In baseball, the Yanks charge confidently into the post season. In football, the Jets are cocky and capable of mayhem, with terrific personnel. Only in basketball does New York not have a team with a chance at championship glory, but even the Knicks (nine straight losing seasons) should at least sneak into the playoffs this season. Keep hope alive! “S” is for Success–or Sudden Death? That being said, NY fans are all too aware that if just one man on each team (Sabathia on the Yanks, Sanchez on the Jets or Stoudamire on the Knicks) goes down, it all falls apart. So keep your fingers crossed. Highlight games: Yanks (Sabathia) vs. Tampa Bay (Price), Thursday, 9/23, 7:05 p.m Jets vs. Miami Dolphins, Sunday, 9/26, 8:20 p.m. Prediction Corner Where will the Jets’ Braylon Edwards be a month from now? a) A strong contributor to the Jets’ success b) On the bench c) Off the team Already penalized for taunting and arrested for DUI (all within a 48 hour period), Edwards is in deep shit with Coach Ryan. When Santonio Holmes returns from suspension after game 4, I suspect Edwards will rapidly disappear from the radar. Your opinion?