Thursday, June 7, 2018

Another LeBron Sweepstakes

No, the NBA Finals aren't over yet -- at least, not technically -- but the rampant speculation over where LeBron James might go next has gotten hotter just as the Cavaliers have gone cold.  Las Vegas oddsmakers, meanwhile, can't be bothered to wait out the inevitable.  BetDSI created an odds list of LeBron's potential landing spot for next season:

The Lakers have long been rumored as LeBron's preferred landing spot, and in recent days, those rumors even have him teaming up with Paul George.  But if you're LeBron James, do you really want to compete with Magic, Kareem, Kobe, Shaq, and all the ghosts of Lakers Past?  And it's not like bringing a lone championship to L.A. will be big news.

Like the Lakers, the 76ers also have some young stars, a strong enough supporting cast to give them the second-best odds.  But with the Philadelphia front-office suddenly in disarray, does LeBron really want to cast his lot with this organization?

I'll skip over the Heat, because, the Heat?  Been there, done that.  And besides, the next team on the list is why I'm here.


Long considered the Mecca of basketball, even as bad as the Knicks have been, New York is still New York.  No, LeBron probably won't increase his Q score or pick up any more endorsements than he already has, past arguments about the benefits of starring on Broadway.  But to win in New York is like nothing else.  LeBron should have a conversation with Mark Messier about what it's like when you become The Savior and bring a championship to a starving New York fan base.  Winning a title in Cleveland?  Whoopee.

And unlike with the Lakers, who will LeBron be competing against?  Clyde Frazier?  All the rings Patrick Ewing never won?  The field is wide open.

The Knicks just don't have New York to offer, though.  David Fizdale, reportedly a James' favorite from their days in Miami, is now the head coach.  Kristaps Porzingis, recovering from surgery but expected back in 2019, can be LeBron's All-Star sidekick.  Add a top-10 draft pick this summer to an improved Tim Hardaway, Jr. and the Knicks core, starring LeBron James, is suddenly competitive in the East.

LeBron copped out the first time by running off to South Beach to form a super team.  He won a couple of rings there but realized winning that way just wasn't fulfilling.  He satisfied his critics and thrilled his hometown fans by returning to Cleveland and bringing them a title.

But basketball's biggest reclamation project lies in the heart of New York City.  Madison Square Garden is in dire need of gentrification, and the basketball equivalent of Bob the Builder may be looking for a new job.

Can we fix it?  

Yes we can!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Aaron Boone's First Test

With an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, Aaron Boone was handed the reins for the 2018 New York Yankees.  As a first year manager, most expected Boone to go through some growing pains during his on-the-job training.  That's what Spring Training is for, after all.

Yet not three weeks into the young season, Boone's Yankees find themselves where they didn't think they'd be: at .500, 8-8, looking up in the standings at both the Red Sox (not surprisingly) and Blue Jays (unexpectedly).  George Steinbrenner is long gone, so there won't be any bombastic declarations emanating from the Bronx.  Boone's job is safe.  But that's not to say there isn't danger lurking.

Contributing to the Yanks' subpar start are the struggles of Giancarlo Stanton.  Adding the reigning NL MVP to the their already formidable lineup made the Yankees a popular choice for the World Series.  But Stanton has underperformed even the rest of his teammates.  He has been uncharacteristically bad in his first 16 games in the Bronx, batting just .197 while striking out 29 times, the most in the AL.

After last night's loss to the lowly Marlins, Boone was asked about Stanton.  The new manager expressed confidence in his scuffling slugger:

"He’ll get rolling here and eventually the league will pay for some of his early struggles."

But then Boone continued, saying that he'd consider dropping Stanton down in the lineup:

"I might flirt with splitting different guys up and stuff, but not moving him down too far.  Because he’s one at-bat away from getting locked back in, and then the last thing you want is him hitting down in the order and getting pitched around."

I'd argue that the last thing you want is to tell your $235 million MVP that you don't trust him to hit in the 3-hole right now.  This isn't some nervous rookie, a slumping Aaron Judge circa 2016, that you can move down to ease up the pressure.  By virtue of his résumé, and his contract, Stanton has no place to hide.  Batting him 5th or 6th won't likely change anything, except maybe make him press harder.  Imagine getting dropped in the lineup and still not hitting.  Yankee Stadium fans will be booing him before he steps into the box.

Playing with the lineup, shaking up the bullpen -- these are all rookie manager moves.  Veteran managers understand that the baseball season is long, and most times, these things work themselves out.  A former player like Boone should know that.  And he probably does, which makes the possibility of him dropping Stanton in the lineup all the more puzzling.

One last thing before I go.  Not that the stakes are as high, but the last time a manager decided to move a struggling slugger down in the lineup, it didn't work out well.  It's safe to say that the relationship between Joe Torre and Alex Rodriguez never recovered from that October move.  Making matters worse, it certainly didn't help that night.  Something Boone might want to keep in mind.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Tim Tebow Is Sorta Right

With each season's selections for the College Football Playoff comes the inevitable controversy surrounding those picks.  While the CFP committee chooses the four teams that they feel are the best in the country, there are always schools -- and fans of those schools -- who feel they were unjustly left out.

Much of the discussion this season centered around Alabama and Ohio State.  In the end, the committee chose the one-loss Crimson Tide over the two-loss Buckeyes, even though Ohio State was the Big Ten champion and Alabama didn't even win their division.  Ironically, Ohio State benefited from the same type of decision when they were picked to compete in last year's playoffs ahead of the Big Ten champ Penn State.

But somewhat lost in the shuffle was the University of Central Florida.  The UCF Knights finished the regular season unbeaten -- 12-0! -- but were only ranked 10th by the playoff committee.  After a win in the Peach Bowl over 7th-ranked Auburn, the cries of injustice grew louder.  So loud, in fact, that they reached the delicate ears of Tim Tebow.  Tebow's response?

"There’s no question UCF [was overlooked].  But you need to go tell their president and athletic director to play a couple big-time teams in the regular season. You ask any analyst before they played Auburn and it would be really hard to justify them being in the top four with our eyes."
Tim has a point... the point being, an undefeated team that didn't beat anyone worth beating is not all that special.  More to the point, though: of the four teams that made the playoffs, which one would UCF beat?

Back in November, UCF gave up 42 points and over 600 yards in a win over USF.  What do you suppose Baker Mayfield and his Oklahoma offense would do against the Knight's defense?

So while the Knights were impressive in beating Auburn, that same Tigers team was manhandled themselves by Georgia in the SEC title game.  In fact, the Bulldogs literally ran over the Tigers with 238 yards rushing.  And let's not forget the Georgia defense: they held Auburn to only 259 yards of offense compared to the 400+ yards the Tigers gained in the Peach Bowl.

Over in the other bracket sits Alabama.  I'll just let you digest what the Crimson Tide did to the former #1-ranked, defending champion Clemson. While their 24-6 throttling may have lacked a degree of excitement, the Tide's methodical offense and staunch defense left Clemson with only 188 yards of offense.

What about UCF beating Clemson, you say?  After all, Auburn had beaten both Alabama and Georgia -- the two teams that will play for the national title -- and UCF knocked off Auburn.  Transitive Property anyone?

But even if we agree that Clemson looked like the most vulnerable team among the final four, that doesn't mean UCF was ever in any position to overtake them in the rankings.  This Clemson team was at or near the top of the rankings for most of the season.  While that doesn't mean anything on the field of play, it means a lot when it comes to picking who belongs in the college football playoffs.

Maybe UCF puts a Power 5 team on their schedule next time.  Maybe they even beat them.  Until then, they'll have to settle for calling themselves the national champions.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Wide Margin for Error

To paraphrase Shakespeare, I've come to praise Brian Cashman, not to bury him.  Okay, maybe "praise" isn't quite accurate, but this post will be a lot nicer to him than what I usually have to say.

When I first learned of the Giancarlo Stanton trade, I'll admit I had mixed feelings.  On the one hand, the Yankees just added the reigning National League MVP and barely gave up anything in return.  What a deal!  On the other hand, the Yankees did inherit the bulk of Stanton's gargantuan contract, 10 years and $220 million dollars-worth of it.  So much for getting under that Luxury Tax cap.

The other thing that left me scratching my head about this trade is the fact that the Yanks already have their own Stanton on the roster: his name is Aaron Judge, and he also plays right field.  So now the Yankees have two linebacker-sized, right-handed hitting sluggers who play right field.  Will one of them be the DH?  I don't know if Stanton is quite ready to give up his glove yet.  

Not only that, the second best hitter on the Yanks was, before this trade, Gary Sanchez.  As you might remember, Sanchez is a catcher, meaning he can't play every day behind the plate.  So if you want Sanchez to become your DH on days that he's not catching, then one of your right fielders doesn't play.  Unless you move one of your right fielders out of position and into left field... but then Brett Gardner doesn't play... unless you move Gardner back to center field, which means that Aaron Hicks doesn't play.  See what I mean?!?

All these machinations aside, it's a net positive to have Giancarlo Stanton in the Yankees' lineup (position TBD).  Which brings me back to my original point: Brian Cashman made a nice trade.  In fact, of all the things that a GM does, making trades is the thing Cashman does best.  (In fact, it may be the only thing he does well.  But no burying here.)

But take a closer look at this trade: the Yankees, with nearly unlimited resources, were able to wait out the Marlins until they had no choice but to trade Stanton for pennies on the dollar.  And there were a lot of dollars; so many dollars that most MLB teams couldn't afford it.  Does it take savvy baseball acumen to pay the most money?  Do you think other teams, even those on Stanton's wish list, could have given up a better package in return for Stanton if they were willing to take on as much salary as the Yankees did?  I'd sure think so.

Being able to stretch the budget also allows Cashman to indulge in his worst capacity as a GM: signing free agents to terrible contracts.  What other teams in baseball, save maybe the Dodgers, could afford to sit Jacoby "The Albatross" Ellsbury for most of the season?  Or resign Aroldis Chapman for more money than any closer has ever been given, only to see him lose the closer role for a stretch.  Throw in the gaudy contracts handed to the pedestrian Chase Headley or the long-term yokes of C.C. Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez that had plagued the Yanks in the past, and you get a sense of just how much leeway Cashman really has. 

Yes, Cashman makes some nice trades.  But a lot of those trades are made to paper over the terrible signings that otherwise hold the Yankees back.  Just don't get me started on how he treats his managers...

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Backing up the Backup

There were many questions surrounding John O'Korn as he led Michigan into a matchup against arch-rival Michigan State.  But by game's end, the biggest question O'Korn seemed to answer was "How bad would he need to play to make everyone miss Wilton Speight?"

O'Korn had served as the Michigan backup since his transfer from Houston.  Like all backup QB's, especially those with past success, O'Korn was imbued with all the qualities the current starter didn't have.  So when Speight struggled, thoughts turned to the backup.  With Speight injured and out of the lineup, O'Korn got his chance.  Meh.

It's now Year 3 of the Jim Harbaugh Era.  Along with the rest of Michigan Nation, I was very excited when Harbaugh returned home to coach the Wolverines.  Don't get me wrong -- I'm still a Harbaugh fan and don't think anyone else should be coaching Michigan.  But that doesn't mean he can't be questioned.

My biggest question: where's our Andrew Luck?  Graduate transfer Jake Rudock filled a gap at QB and allowed Harbaugh to recruit the next great Michigan signal-caller.  Speight, already on the roster when Harbaugh arrived, has performed well but certainly not without flaws since becoming the starter.  But with Speight out, possibly for the season, and O'Korn still looking like a backup, is there an opportunity to audition the next Luck?

I'm not expecting Harbaugh to throw in the towel and play an untested QB... at least, not yet.  But with Penn State looming on the schedule, would a 5-2 record be enough to make a change?  After Penn State, the Wolverines face Big Ten foes Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland: a combined 1-5 so far in conference play.  Wouldn't that be a low-risk opportunity to give Brandon Peters a shot?  Would it be a bad thing to let Peters get some experience against some lesser opponents, in the hopes that he'd be ready to face Wisconsin and Ohio State by season's end?  I sure wouldn't want to see what O'Korn will do.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Stay Me7o, Indeed

Is Boston nice this time of year?
While the 2016-17 season for the Knicks is over, the off-season has just begun.  In true Knicks' fashion, they opened the off-season with a loss, dropping a tie-breaker to the Timberwolves in the Draft Lottery.  That lottery, of course, along with the draft itself, are only secondary stories compared to the main event: Whither Carmelo?

Listening to Phil Jackson speak, it sounds like Carmelo Anthony's time with the Knicks is over.  Or at least Jackson would like it to be.  Melo, to his credit, hasn't taken the bait but indicated that he might also agree.  It's hard to imagine he'd want to remain in a situation where management so clearly does not want him on the team.

Before February's trade deadline, Anthony's name popped up in several trade rumors.  But the deadline passed without a deal, and Anthony remained in a Knicks' uniform.  If we now buy into the premise that Anthony will play in a different city next season, the next obvious question is: where?  Perhaps "Boston" might be the answer.

According to Marc Berman in the New York Post, members of the Celtics' coaching staff were interested in acquiring Anthony at mid-season, but Boston's GM Danny Ainge wouldn't pull the trigger:
Indeed One of Ainge’s concerns, according to a source, was an Anthony trade would have given Boston no real cap space to work with for the 2017 free-agent class.
But the Celtics' poor play in the first round might have Boston management reconsidering another scorer.  Who would be the "major player of interest" that Jackson wants in return?  The same sources say Jae Crowder, the Celtics' powerful small forward, could be that man.

While Crowder's size and strength would improve the Knicks' defense, the drop-off from a scorer like Anthony to a player like Crowder would be staggering.  The Knicks would need to find another source of offense, either through free agency or the draft, to offset that loss.  Crowder could fit in nicely with Kristaps Porzingis and another offensive-minded player, settling into his role as a 3rd option on offense.  While Crowder has a reasonable $7 million-per-year price-tag, he's signed through the 2020 season.  A trade for Crowder would be a three-year investment.

Whatever happens from here, it should be interesting.  Credit the Knicks: they may be awful, but they're rarely dull.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Little Things Mean A Lot

A lack of splashy trades or free-agent signings have left the 2017 Yankees with a solid if unspectacular lineup and a core of youngsters waiting in the wings.  It's those two notions -- low expectations and bright future -- that made the following stand out to me.  Tucked inside the "Inside Pitch" section of an article on Masahiro Tanaka's excellent spring was this head-scratcher:
The remaining jobs to be decided: AARON HICKS or AARON JUDGE in right field
Come again?  Is that referring to the same Aaron Hicks who hit .217 last season?  The Aaron Hicks who has hit under .220 in three of his four major league seasons?  That guy is in a job competition?  With who?

Aaron Judge!  Wasn't Aaron Judge the much-touted Baby Bomber who made his 2016 debut by knocking one out in his first trip to the plate?  And then followed that up with extra-base hits in the next two games, as well?

Maybe Joe Girardi was just trying to make things interesting.  Perhaps giving Hicks a boost that will keep him focused as the 4th outfielder this season.  Nope.  The next day, Joe was back at it:
AARON JUDGE went 2 for 3, AARON HICKS was 1 for 2 with a walk, and each drove in a run in Thursday’s 5-5 tie as their competition in right field continued. “We’re going to let it go to the wire,” JOE GIRARDI said.
Okay, sure, after that amazing start, Judge started to struggle and looked like Pedro Cerrano.  But isn't that what rookies do?  Shouldn't we give Judge that opportunity to figure out his swing?  How is he going to learn to recognize a curveball from the bench?

If we accept the premise that the 2017 season will not end with a championship, and that 2018 and beyond could be something special, then why are we wasting time with Aaron Hicks?  At best, Hicks is a marginal offensive player with a great glove and arm.  If that doesn't scream "4th Outfielder", I don't know what does.  Meanwhile, Judge has the potential -- yes, potential -- to be a great power hitter.  Let the big kid play.