Jul 18, 2013

New York Knicks Give Peace a Chance: Ron Artest’s Story

As a Knicks fan and a born-and-raised resident of Queens, New York, I find it refreshing that the Knicks signed Metta World Peace earlier this week.

I appreciate that my favorite basketball team signed a defensive minded forward who specializes in “dirty work”, something its higher paid players aren’t exactly fond of. World Peace has also been around a championship team and in a championship clubhouse, something that this Knicks roster really wouldn’t be able to tell you the first thing about.

I also appreciate that when discussing the downsides of the addition of World Peace to the roster, we talk about a relatively below average shooter -and shot taker- whose more productive days in the NBA are probably well behind him.

My appreciation for MWP's deficiencies may not make total sense to you, given that I’m already questioning what was a low-risk potentially high-reward signing. But I also appreciate, probably above all else, that the red flags about World Peace joining the Knicks couldn't be any further from the red flags that accompanied Ron Artest just a few years ago.

Memories of getting drunk before – and even during – games, breaking televisions, excessive technical fouls, domestic violence, and being the catalyst for the nastiest brawl/riot probably in the history of professional sports, overshadowed a Defensive Player of the Year award and the talent to be one of the better two way players in the league from about 2003 through 2008.

Despite being one of the more talented players in the league, it was indisputable that Artest was squandering away something special by just not being able to piece things together. Prior to being slapped with a season-ending 73 game suspension for the part he played in the Malice at the Palace, Artest was suspended by the Indiana Pacers for requesting time off from the team for being exhausted from a music project he had been working on in the offseason.

I mean, Artest wasn’t on the Tracy McGrady/Kobe Bryant level, but it wasn’t easy to rattle off many other better wing players in the league, at least until the LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony’s leaped to superstar status. But even still, Artest remained an elite defender in the league, and was a key – although erratic – piece to the 2010 championship Lakers team.

The troubled young man who wore out his welcome in Chicago, Indiana (to the fifth power), and Sacramento learned how to play within a team and serve his role when he landed in Houston for the 2008-09 season, and really began his transformation into who he is today when Houston sent him to L.A. in exchange for Trevor Ariza.

It would be easy to say that Ron Artest is Metta World Peace today, factually speaking, yes, that’s his name. But with the name change came a spiritual transformation. Tense, defensive, and aloof at times became open-minded, self-reflective, and straight up whacky. When Artest sought out psychiatric help, the concerns shifted from “he might kill a guy,” to “give me some of what this guy’s smoking, amirite?”

Not to say “the artist formerly known as Artest” (just beating Walt Frazier to the punch) has stayed out of trouble, he was suspended for seven games for a vicious elbow that he threw at James Harden leading up to the 2012 playoffs. World Peace is also one of the leagues veterans who more than likely will pick up a suspicious at best looking flagrant foul here and there.

In other words, the physical toughness hasn’t gone anywhere.

And neither has the mental toughness.

If anything, you can argue that World Peace is tougher than Artest ever was mentally. Clearly scarred from a difficult childhood in the Queensbridge projects, it took Artest through almost his entire career to achieve the peace of mind that undoubtedly inspired his name change.

And here he his, a 33-year old role player, still threatening to pursue different career paths – Arena Football League? Really? Ronny being Ronny – while loving every minute of being in front of a camera. In New York, he’ll have the chance to be a hometown hero, adored for his hustle as much as he’ll be loved for being the character that he is.

That is of course, depending on his shot selection.

Welcome home Ron Ron.

Jul 19, 2012

My Take on the End of Linsanity

Let me start by saying that 'Linsanity' came to an end about two weeks after it began. February 23, Carmelo's third game back from injury, in Miami, and it was the first game where Jeremy Lin was exposed for the point guard that he wasn't, and most likely still isn't.

Now let me also say that I didn't want Linsanity back (of course I did, but that's not even remotely realistic on a team catered to Melo), but I did think Jeremy Lin the combo guard was a great fit for the Knicks, and that it was a no-brainer to re-sign him.

We've all seen what's happened since.

Despite Mike Woodson referring to Lin as his starter, despite James Dolan telling him he was "a part of the teams future," and despite GM Glen Grunwald repeatedly saying they would match "any offer" that Lin signed after the Knicks told him to test the market and measure his own value, the Knicks didn't match the lucrative offer that the Houston Rockets made to him.

I don't personally believe that a 20-30 game stretch of greatness followed by forced mediocrity is enough to land someone a 3year/$25 million contract, and I don't believe that Jeremy Lin was the final piece to the puzzle that equated to a Knicks championship. I do however, think the Knicks look like the same classless, backwards organization they always have for writing checks with their mouths that their fat-ass egotistic owner pettily didn't want to match. I don't know if Dolan had ageda from hearing so many positive things about the team that was in the midst of being assembled, or if maybe he didn't want some unsung, underdog, unassuming hero to take the glamour away from his stubborn superstar (looking at you Melo), but Dolan put the kibosh on Linsanity, and the hope of the Knicks having a rising star of their own (Shump you're hurt so you don't exist right now).

Basketball reasons aside (which sounds silly), this move is another in a long, long line of moves that clearly stick it to the fans. Some say Dolan and Grunwald knew Lin was history as of Saturday when they had a trade ready for Raymond Felton - who I welcome back with open arms whether or not D'Antoni's still the coach - did they really need to make fans wait on the edge of their seats until 10:30 PM Tuesday night? Did they really need to keep tight-lipped, thinking they were sticking it to the Rockets, but really just sticking it to their own fans. The same fans who were still desperate for someone to root for as both Melo and Amar'e Stoudemire came to camp out of shape last season. The same fans who ate up Linsanity like they won an NBA Championship every night for 2 straight weeks. The fans who celebrated a buzzer-beater against the Raptors and a 38-point fearless performance against the Lakers by making his jersey the top-selling jersey in the league.

These are the people that support the Knicks, despite awful decisions with irrational reasoning behind them. They just gave a three year deal to Jason Kidd, whose entering the realm of a 40-year old, with way less to offer, but both looking like a great fit for this team if he plays a lesser role with a guy like Lin ahead of them. Kidd looked like the best possible pick-up after Steve Nash as he'd be able to play with and teach Lin the ropes at the same time. Now with more pressure on Kidd, do you really feel confident in his 40-year old knees running the offense that has looked stagnant more than it hasn't (especially without Lin) over the last year?

Make the argument that running the offense through Melo makes Lin less valuable, and certainly not worth paying nearly $15 mil in salary to (triple that for the luxury tax) in year three and you're not wrong, but then why didn't the Knicks come out and say that from the getgo? The fact that they didn't once address overpaying for him, rather repeatedly saying they'd pay whatever it takes, makes you wonder why in fact they didn't bring him back.

Do they really think 14.6 and 6.2 (including 10 games where he played 7 minutes or fewer) wouldn't fit with this team comprised of a point guard coming off of a season and a half of misery, and an aging vet who missed significant time due to injury last season for the first time in years? Also, with Shumpert's injury, that means more minutes (and with minutes comes more bad shots) for J.R. Smith, wouldn't Lin serve this team well as a guard who can pick up some scoring slack and also handle the offense and give Kidd the rest he'll undeniably need, while filtering the good and bad shots between Steve Novak and Smith?

If your motto is win now, and the only real money you have left to spend this offseason could have been spent on Jeremy Lin, wouldn't it have made a ton of sense to bring back a crowd favorite with the potential to be a real ball player? A guy who at worst would have filled about the only gap (other than not having LeBron) that this team has left before they can at least try to win the division. You pay him the $5 mil a year for the first two years, and by year three you either have a cash cow catepillar who will always be voted most popular as long as he's in NY, or a blossoming butterfly who could best case scenario be your franchise point guard.

Honestly - the Knicks haven't had a franchise point guard since Clyde Frazier!!!

Why must this trend continue?

I digress, I understand that they won't have a franchise anything as long as this is Melo's team. But Melo clearly can't do it on his own, and until Amar'e proves he's still a superstar in this league, the Knicks need as many contributors as they can get. If they turn around and use their veteran's minimum on a guy like Randy Foye, Shannon Brown, even a James Anderson or Carlos Delfino, I'll hold less of a gripe against them for letting Lin go. But the bottom line is the only reason Lin wasn't brought back had to be a personal issue that Dolan had, and to me that's unacceptable.

This turned into more of a rant than I intended for it to, and I could go on-and-on about Dolan, but I want to end by that saying this season wasn't being made or broken by Jeremy Lin. The Knicks have gone out and gotten some terrific pieces for this season, and they will have to work together in Woody's Melo iso offense, because we know they're going to bring it on the defensive end.

It's more a shame, a major bummer at the end of a great day, that the Knicks couldn't just end their successful summer by re-signing the guy that the majority of the fan base wanted back. I try not to question basketball minds when it comes to evaluating talent, and maybe the overriding sentiment was that Lin wasn't the real deal, but he definitely deserved another shot. Since the Knicks didn't go out and make him an offer of their own, they at least should have expected to have to match an unreasonable deal, and in my opinion, they should have matched Houston's offer to give him at least one season. GMs have dealt worse contracts, and of course there's the now very famous Stretch Provision. But at the end of the day, this team wasn't riding or dieing by Jeremy Lin, it's Melo's team, and Raymond Felton's no slouch, really.

From here, I'm not openly rooting against Lin, but I hope that Dolan and Grunwald walk away from this looking like they made the right decision from a basketball stance. But if they didn't, it'll just be another bad move on the long laundry list of bad moves this team has made...in the last 12 years or so.

Thanks for the memories Jeremy, but you should have known better, and so have we, never to trust James Dolan.

Jun 26, 2012

2012 NBA Mock Draft - Imagining the Bobcats Pull a Bobcats and Draft Andre Drummond

I truly do not believe that the Bobcats are going to take Andre Drummond second, but I'm going to rock with it because A) It's the Bobcats B) It's MJ C) He's going to be drafted higher than he deserves and D) He's a legit 5, which Charlotte could definitely use. With all of that said, here's my two-round Mock Draft, with explanations for the first round. Enjoy!

NBA DRAFT 2012 - Big Board - Version 1.0
1. Hornets - Anthony Davis - F/C - UK - National Player of the Year, NCAA Champion, clear cut first pick for sure. AD has been said to be so good that he'll make any team a 50+ win team. We'll see.
2. Bobcats - Andre Drummond - C - UConn - Grown ass man, at least physically. Lots of talent, but lots of work to put in to get the most out of said talent, and my best bet to bust. Thomas Robinson's most likely the pick here, but I'm giving MJ a chance to pull an MJ move with this pick, assuming they keep it.
3. Wizards - Bradley Beal - SG - UF - You don't often see the best shooter in a draft go this high, but Beal has a stroke like few others in this draft. Good size, good head on his shoulders, unselfish scorer, and the perfect backcourt mate for John Wall.
4. Cavs - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - SF - UK - It's a no-brainer for the Cavs to go with a 3 here, forunately they'll have their choice of MKG, Jeremy Lamb, and Harrison Barnes. They should take Kidd-Gilchrist who's a very efficient scorer with a high hoops IQ. Guys a straight ball player.
5. Kings - Thomas Robinson - SF/PF - KU - Can't see Robinson on the board past this pick. Slightly undersized four, underskilled three, still a double-double machine in college with an unmatched motor.
6. Blazers - Damian Lillard - PG - Weber St - Before blowing away scouts at pre-draft workouts, Lillard had a prolific scoring season in the Big Sky, and can score/run an offense impressively enough to serve as a solid point guard in the NBA.
7. Warriors - Harrison Barnes - SF - UNC - Potential top pick last season if he came out. Very talented scorer, pretty well-rounded, has to learn to depend more on slashing than staying content on the perimeter.
8. Raptors - Dion Waiters - SG - Syracuse - No matter what I try to say about him, I just don't see Waiters as a lottery pick. I hear Toronto loves him, and he's a do-it-all combo guard, but with Demar Derozan do they really need another two guard who doesn't necessarily excel in any aspect?
9. Pistons - John Henson - PF/C - UNC - Rebounder/shot-blocker who will compliment Greg Monroe perfectly. Doesn't look to be involved in the offense, but is athletic enough to be an asset on the break.
10. Hornets - Jeremy Lamb - SG/SF - UConn - May have been more impressive as a Freshman than as a sophomore, but similarities to Rudy Gay just begin with UConn connection. Prolific scoring, do-it-all wing with star potential.
11. Blazers - Tyler Zeller - C - UNC - The Blazers need size, and Zeller will be a great value pick for someone that needs a big body, as he's relentless on the glass and has shown the ability to finish with both hands in the paint. He'll contribute from day one, as long as he stays healthy.
12. Bucks - Perry Jones - F/C - Baylor - The enigma of this draft, Jones shows flashes of brilliance, but also disappears almost from time to time. There are question marks about his drive, but his skillset combined with his size should have him off the board before the end of the lottery.
13. Suns - Austin Rivers - SG - Duke - Rivers showed that he is truly a 2 in his one year at Duke, but could be similar to a Tyreke Evans in the NBA with his ball-handling abilities and superior knack for scoring the ball. The Suns are going to need guard help, with or without Nash, and Rivers will be that.
14. Rockets - Meyers Leonard - C - Illinois - As legit of a 7-footer as there is in this draft, Leonard doesn't exactly have much of a skill-set, but he's quick and strong and will be able to rebound, block shots, and make for 6 efficient fouls out-of-the gate.
15. Sixers - Jared Sullinger - PF - OSU - NBA scouts may not love his build, but his skill-set cannot be overlooked. Great touch from the floor, on top of knowing how to score near the basket. Biggest knock is he plays below the rim...and there are legitimate questions about his back. Good-bye Elton Brand, hello...
16. Rockets - Terrence Jones - SF/PF - Kentucky - If he's still on the board, I'd have to think the Rockets would snatch him up. He's a solid post and perimeter defender, and can score from anywhere.
17. Mavericks - Royce White - SF/PF - Iowa State - White is a smart plater who literally can do a little bit of everything. He's a monster on the boards, with a silk shooting touch, not to mention some decent handle and court vision. If he doesn't go the pick before, he won't last much longer.
18. T'Wolves - Moe Harkless - SF - St. Johns - Was very impressive at pre-draft combine and workouts due to off-the-charts athleticism and proficiency in getting to and finishing at the rim. Probably won't be on the board this late.
19. Magic - Kendall Marshall - PG - UNC - Somebody is going to get a terrific floor general with Marshall. While he doesn't do much else, his court vision and high IQ will keep him in the league for a while.
20. Nuggets - Arnett Moultrie - C - Mississippi St - Moultrie's that guy with size and athleticism that make him a lock for the first round. His size and skill (more of a perimeter player) will fit in well with the go-go Nugs, but don't go expecting a back-to-the-basket type of big anytime in his career.
21. Celtics - Terrence Ross - SF - Washington - This is the pick I'm destined to be wrong on. Ross is much higher regarded than I'm giving him credit for, and with great athleticism, consistent outside shooting, and blanketing defense, he's an absolute stud.
22. Celtics - Fab Melo - C - Syracuse - Solid value pick considering he has the body to play the 5 in the NBA immediately. Will need help developing on both ends, but will be a good rebuilding chip for Doc.
23. Hawks - Quincy Miller - SF - Baylor - This is a steal. Miller is one of the most skilled players in this draft, and although the Hawks need help up front, are they really going to take Andrew Nicholson?
24. Cavs - Jeff Taylor - SG - Vanderbilt - For a team like the Cavs, value has to be the pick here. Taylor can handle the ball, is a good shooter, and can penetrate. He'll provide a nice scoring spark off the bench.
25. Grizzlies - Tony Wroten - PG - Washington - Wroten took the PAC-12 by storm as a freshman and will be able to provide combo guard help for the Grizzlies who may not bring back O.J. Mayo. Very good at getting to the basket, and will only bulk up and become a more composed point guard.
26. Pacers - Andrew Nicholson - PF - St. Bonaventure - Picture Roy Hibbert a few inches shorter. Nicholson has shown a variety of ways to score the basketball, but NEEDS to bulk up to be a difference maker in the league.
27. Heat - Festus Ezeli - C - Vanderbilt - Very good defender who will see the ball on the offensive end less than I will. Good fit for a Heat team who will most likely look for veteran guard help through free agency.
28. Thunder - Doron Lamb - SG - Kentucky - This may be a reach, but Lamb has played in big games, has hit big shots, and will give the Thunder another weapon on the perimeter. There isn't a good enough big at this point in the draft, so score, score, score should be OKC's mindset.
29. Bulls - Draymond Green - PF - Michigan St. - The Bulls aren't going to replace Derrick Rose with the 29th pick in the draft, so a guy like Draymond Green will add toughness and interior help to a team that could loose both Omer Asik and Taj Gibson (and most likely the White Mamba too).
30. Warriors - Marquis Teague - PG - Kentucky - Stephen Curry isn't always healthy, and Teague's quite a value pick at the end of the first round. Having led a high power offense, Action Jackson should love having the ball in this guys hands, preferably off the bench though.

Second Round
31. Bobcats - Will Barton - SF - Memphis
32. Wizards - Khris Middleton - SF - Texas A&M
33. Cavs - Evan Fournier - SF - France
34. Cavs - Miles Plumlee - PF/C - Duke
35. Warriors - Bernard James - C - Florida State
36. Kings - John Jenkins - SG - Vanderbilt
37. Raptors - Darius Miller - SF - Kentucky
38. Nuggets - Kim English - SG - Missouri
39. Pistons - Jae Crowder - SF - Marquette
40. Blazers - Jared Cunningham - SG - Oregon St.
41. Blazers - Mike Scott - PF - Virginia
42. Bucks - Tyshawn Taylor - PG - Kansas
43. Hawks - Darius Johnson-Odom - PG/SG - Marquette
44. Pistons - William Buford - SG - Ohio St
45. Sixers - Kevin Jones - SF/PF - West Virginia
46. Hornets - Tu Holloway - PG/Xavier
47. Jazz - Jordan Taylor - PG - Wisconsin
48. Knicks - Scott Machado - PG - Iona
49. Magic - Hollis Thompson - SG - Georgetown
50. Nuggets - Drew Gordon - PF - New Mexico
51. Celtics - J'Covan Brown - SG - Texas
52. Warriors - JaMychal Green - SF - Alabama
53. Clippers - Kostas Papanikolaou - SF - Greece
54. Sixers - Kyle O'Quinn - PF - Norfolk St
55. Mavericks - Orlando Johnson - SG - UC Santa Barbara
56. Raptors - Quincy Acy - PF - Baylor
57. Nets - Kris Joseph - SF - Syracuse
58. Wolves - Henry Sims - C - Georgetown
59. Spurs - Tomas Santoransky - PG/SG - Czech Republic
60. Lakers - Kevin Murphy - SG - Tennessee Tech

Jun 18, 2012

The Big 3: Saving the NBA One Day at a Time

There's a rumor circulating that this off-season we could see Deron Williams, Eric Gordon, and Dwight Howard end up playing together next year. According to some rumor mill, the Hornets might be looking to move the number one pick (Anthony Davis), Al-Farouq Aminu, and Jason Smith for Howard, and will have enough room to re-sign Gordon, and bring in Williams on top of that. Already seeing a profit from the Chris Paul deal, this rumor could mean such incredible things for the NBA if it's true.

The only problem is it isn't true. The other problem on top of that, is that you didn't have a problem with those three players joining forces to play together, so why do you have a problem with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh playing together, in their second finals in as many seasons, on the cusp of winning their first (of not one, not two...) championship?

As crappy of an example as I used (they're the top potentially available players this off-season), isn't it good for the NBA to see good players who aren't winning alone team up to win together? Even if deep down inside you're hating the Heat and their Big 3, that sure isn't what the ratings say. The Heat/Celtics Eastern Conference Finals drew the highest preliminary rating for an NBA playoff game on cable since records started being kept in 2003! And don't tell me it's because of the "historied" Celtics, they weren't drawing ratings like this when they were beating up on LeBron's Cavs a couple of years ago.

The Finals ratings so far have been even better, being the highest they've been since 2004. Whether it's because you love to hate the Heat, or you're just compelled by them, it's inarguable that Miami's Big Three, and everyone else's for that matter, joining forces is GREAT for the league. You could make the argument that the Celtics formed their own Big 3 (Pierce, Garnett, Allen, duh) first and that teams have been trying to emulate that formula, but it seems since LBJ, Wade, and Bosh joined forces it's become what every team's trying to do, or what the NBA is trying to portray their teams as having.

The Knicks went out and signed Amar'e Stoudemire, first they paired him with Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups and that was a Big 3, then they amnestied Billups to sign Tyson Chandler, which became it's very own Big 3. Stoudemire and Melo go down and Jeremy Lin wins seven-straight games and it's Lin, Melo, STAT...until Lin goes down again and Chandler reassumes his spot.

The Thunder have their Big 3 (Harden, Westbrook, Durant), so do the Spurs (Parker, Ginobili, Duncan), the Lakers (Gasol, Bynum, Kobe), people even still talk about the Celtics Big 3 when you can argue Rajon Rondo's been the teams best player for the last three seasons.

The ratings are higher than ever for the NBA, and part of it is because the Heat, and other teams stacked with several all-star caliber players, turned the league into must watch television. Whether you have to tune in to see them lose, or you appreciate their defense, maybe you actually appreciate watching the best player in the league on a nightly basis, you're watching, and truth be told, you're loving what you're seeing.

Even if it's not Miami, even if it's the Knicks and the Bulls, or the Mavs and the Thunder, or the Lakers and the Grizzlies, you're intrigued because these good teams are piecing together talent, and stringing together high-profile players through free agency and trades because they have to keep up with the Heat.

Whether Miami accumulated its players through the draft, trades, free agency, it doesn't make a difference in a league where every team is playing with the same salary cap. In fact, it's almost more impressive to me that these guys wanted to win so badly (at least LeBron and Bosh) that they took a pay-cut (and a lime-light cut) to play together.

People always talk about how arrogant, how cocky, how Hollywood they are, what's Hollywood about sacrificing personal accolades to accomplish team success? Is LeBron really that bad of a person for leaving a team that he gave seven unbelievable seasons to without getting any legitimate personnel help? Bosh made the playoffs twice in seven seasons with Toronto, you knew he was out. And D-Wade, good for you, you did a better job than any other team with cap space playing the role of recruiter, and bringing your already championship-winning team the best player of our generation and a Bosh.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen LeBron win a championship without having to team with two other Olympic caliber players. Even if it wasn't with the Knicks, the last thing I wanted to see was him go to another team with BOTH Wade and Bosh. But he did, and you know what, they haven't exactly taken the league by storm like the 1995-96 Bulls. They are, however, one of the better teams in a pretty competitive league the last couple of seasons, and have worked as hard as any team to get as far as they've gotten, especially since they're a very, very thin roster after you get past the aforementioned Big 3.

I get that LeBron went from good to evil when he embarrassed the city of Cleveland on national television and chose the "easy" way out, he should rot in hell, I know. His unmatched arrogance (he's actually the first athlete to have an ego) combined with his overrated skill-set and lack of clutch play make him as easy of a player to root against as I've ever seen.

Either that or his unmatched intensity on both ends of the court, combined with some players who won't leave their games at home in big spots, makes the NBA the most exciting it's been since Michael Jordan was on his quest for his first ring. He absolutely choked last season in the finals, we saw, but right now he's outplaying the league's scoring champ on both ends, and doing everything he can to win a ring for not just himself, but his teammates. Just face it, you hate the Heat and say they're bad for basketball, but really, you're still salty that LeBron chose to be a better teammate than be a savior for a team. To me this is just unacceptable from basketball fans and journalists alike.

We saw seven years of LeBron trying to be a martyr, and as good as it was because it fully displayed how incredible he was playing with a bunch of zeroes, it's better now to see him bringing it on a bigger stage, with someone who could play Pippen to his Jordan. We may get upset when he has a bad night and Wade picks up his slack, but that's what makes this sport great.

Look around the league; if Durant's not winning games for OKC, Westbrook or Harden are. If it's not Pierce and Garnett, it's Rondo. The Spurs get a huge night out of Parker and 10 points or less even out of Duncan, and they can afford to do it because they're a team helping each other out. Why aren't LeBron or the rest of the Heat entitled to this luxury known as teammates?

While I know you're going to keep rooting against them, I also know you're going to be tuning in. So all I can say is, enjoy this, because one day when you get over LeBron spurning you, your team, or whatever dream you had in mind for the two highly anticipated years leading up to his decision, you'll be thankful that LeBron and his Big 3 teammates made the NBA as exciting as it's been in a number of years. Whether they're taking on Durant, Westbrook and Harden, or by some chance Williams, Gordon and Howard, these superstar match-ups and superstar rivalries make for better basketball.

Thank you Miami, and if you win, I sure as hell aren't mad at you.

Jun 14, 2012

We Talkin'...Bout Hockey

But not really. I just saw on SportsCenter that Bruins Goalie Tim Thomas's agent confirmed reports from a couple of weeks ago that Thomas was going to be sitting out the up-coming NHL season to "spend time reconnecting with family, friends, and faith." While I'm sure Boston is flipping a shit right now, I just wanted to add my two cents to what a majority of people will call a "selfish" "immature" "unprofessional" move.

Sure, at the age of 38, if you don't feel like playing maybe you should retire so you're not putting your team in a tough spot where they have an important position to fill without you. Imagine how pissed you would be if you were told that your Con Smythe,  two-time Veniza Trophy winning, 4-time All-Star, unquestionable best player, randomly decided to take a year off.

Now imagine if you were 38-years old, and spent a little more than 60% of your professional career floundering around, from company-to-company, knowing you were incredibly talented but not getting the right chance to showcase your capabilities. What if you finally were given that one opportunity, made the most of it, achieved success in every way possible that you had never imagined, and woke up one day feeling like you had neglected everything that was important to you in pursuit of your job?

Sure, to most of us, career success is priority number one. It's the foundation for a lot of us. We chase it, and chase it and usually are never happy with the success we have because we're seeking something greater, something we grew up dreaming of. Tim Thomas sort of achieved that success after years of struggling. After four years of extremely competitive college hockey at the University of Vermont, Thomas bounced from the NHL, to the ECHL, to the IHL, to Finland, to the AHL, not to mention from city-to-city in America throughout those journey years.

After joining the pro-ranks in 1997, Thomas didn't play in more than 30 NHL games until the 2005-06 season. In 2006-07 he played 66 games, the next season he had his first of four (out of the next five) All-Star seasons. By the next season he had won his first Veniza (Best Goaltender) Trophy, and just a few seasons later he and the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, and the equivalent of the Stanley Cup MVP (sorry, this website isn't fluent in Hockey).

So what if at 38 he feels like taking a year off? So what if it's a year of his prime (some peak later in life)? So what if he's going to take a year off from his $5 million contract? Is that really your concern? Is it more important to you that a man who plays a sport for a living - it's not like he's saving lives - works a physically and mentally draining job instead of pursuing the meaning of happiness by reconnecting with what he values in life?

Not everyone has the same set of values, which is what leads me to questioning who the selfish and immature person in this equation really is. I'm not saying that I wouldn't be pissed if Carmelo Anthony or Darrelle Revis actually decided to sit a year out, oh wait, Revis may sit a year out, because the $5+ million he's due next season isn't enough for him to play. We support most football players who want to sit out because they don't feel a contract that they've signed is fair anymore, but we get all over a 38-year old man, who disregards the money, and just says he wants a short break from his job so he can spend time with his family. Right.

I don't remember Andy Pettitte being criticized, same for Roger Clemens, heck even Michael Jordan wasn't ostracized for leaving the league that he was the reigning 3-time MVP of. But we're going to get all over Tim Thomas, who actually said something humble, something you don't frequently here a professional athlete say.

Raise your hand if you know someone that took a year off after college. Now raise your hand if you know someone who took a year off during college. How about a semester.  Was it ok for them to make that decision? Did you judge them at all for making that decision, or did you say to yourself "it's their life, they can do whatever they feel is right, but I have to focus on me and what I think is right."

We all follow what we think to be the best paths for our lives. Most times that's driven by money, sometimes it's driven by other people, and sometimes it's driven around a certain plan, but it's always based on what we think is right. Whether it was not giving up on pursuing his dream, playing as much hockey wherever and whenever he could, or skipping out on going to the White House as a political statement after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, Tim Thomas has always done what he felt was right. At this point in his life, Tim Thomas is doing what he thinks is right.

Too often we get all over athletes like they're not real people. We hold them to standards that we should hold our important decision-makers and world leaders to. When they don't meet our expectations they're somehow less than us. LeBron James is averaging 30 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists this season in the playoffs. The only other people to put up those stat lines in as many playoff games are Oscar Robertson and...LeBron James. But it's not good enough because he's not hitting game-winning shots on a nightly basis. Until LeBron does what YOU want him to do, he won't be as great as he really is, and that's sad.

Tim Thomas has been playing hockey all of his life. He's had his ups, and he's definitely had his downs. Why isn't he entitled to a year off? If someone you knew was sick of their job, and had the means to take some time off, wouldn't you want them to do what would make them happiest? I don't totally sympathize for Thomas, but I do think that we should all be able to do what we want with our lives.

If he doesn't play next season then he's the one that's going to miss a paycheck. He's the one that's going to lose a year off of his physically limited career. He's the one that's going to have to watch the games and deal with the guilt of leaving his teammates. And he's the one that's going to have to take the criticism from people who value his job more than he apparently does. At least he'll be spending his time pursuing his priorities, and living a life that he values.

Hats off to him.

Apr 28, 2012

NBA Postseason: My First Playoff Thoughts and Regular Season Awards

I find it ironic that the last day I was so excited for NBA Basketball was Christmas day when the Knicks opened up the regular season with a win over the Celtics, but I find it ironic that I'm actually more excited today than I was on Christmas, oh the power of the NBA Playoffs.

This day is typically a top 5 day of my year, but this season's a little bit more special. With the Knicks winning 18 of their final 24, and with a top five defense, maybe they can win...a game (hey it's been 11 winless years) this go around. As excited as I am about the Knicks, it's very much bittersweet as they've drawn the Heat, probably the league-wide favorite to win the championship. As good as Melo and Chandler and "Mob(b) Deep" have been playing, they're looking at the league MVP, a former Finals MVP, and *insert Bosh joke here despite him(her) being a consistent 18 and 8 player* equipped with a bench loaded with shooters, who just so happen to play harder on defense than they do on offense.

Not to get corny but I almost feel like the Knicks are entering the Hunger Games, not quite as District 12, but sort of like Katniss. We have the capability to win this thing, but we really have to avoid getting caught face-to-face with the strongest competitor in the beginning, unfortunately, it's us against Cato in the first round and Cato's really really pissed.

*Is that a bad look? Incorporating The Hunger Games? Don't act like you don't have girlfriends that ask you to read books! At least it's not Twilight!!!*

Hopefully the Knicks playoff run can not only parallel Katniss's run in The Hunger Games, but also their improbably run in the 1999 Playoffs where they were the 8 seed, defeating the 1 seed Heat in the first round of the playoffs of a lockout shortened season. I'm not saying anything, but I'm just saying...

Here are my thoughts on the other first round match-ups:

1. Chicago Bulls vs 8. Philadelphia 76ers
I don't want to come off like a hater, but I'm really not liking the Bulls chances this season. I don't think they've done anything to really differentiate themselves from last season (depth was never the issue), but I don't think they'll struggle with the Sixers. I don't think this is a terrible matchup for the Sixers, but I can't see them taking more than a game or two against an incredibly competitive team. I'll say Bulls in 5.

4. Boston Celtics vs 5. Atlanta Hawks
I think this is the final straw for the Celtics to win a playoff series or two. Atlanta is really thin up front, and I really look forward to Kevin Garnett and Ivan Johnson going at it just from an i like confrontations aspect. I don't know that the Celtics have an answer for Joe Johnson, but I expect Rondo and Pierce to dominate this series and get the ball rolling for the Celtics. These teams have a history of tough games, but I can't see this series taking Boston more than 6 games.

3. Indiana Pacers vs 6. Orlando Magic
This will be a great measurement of how ready the Pacers are for a playoff run. This should be a sweep, but if the Pacers get lazy, the Magic could shoot their way to a win. This is just the beginning of what's going to be an ugly couple of months for Orlando. Stan Van just keep your cool buddy. Pacers in 5.

2. Miami Heat vs 7. New York Knicks
This isn't a favorable draw for either team, but make no mistakes, Miami's the better team. As much as the Knicks have improved since Mike Woodson took over, it's still the Heat, who are absolutely on a mission that only ends with a championship. The Knicks are still a work in progress and with Shumpert having never played in the playoffs, Stoudemire still figuring out his role, and uncertainty at the point guard position. The Heat should trample the Knicks. I'm being kind, Heat in 6.

1. San Antonio Spurs vs 8. Utah Jazz
The Jazz are probably happier with this matchup than if they would've drawn the Thunder or the Lakers. Not to say the Jazz stand a chance, but Ty Corbin's bunch plays a similar game and has similar athleticism. The Spurs have a lot to prove, and have a healthy Manu for these playoffs, and not to mention have been scorching since acquiring Stephen Jackson at the trade deadline. Good for the Jazz for making the playoffs, but it's gonna be at least another year until they win any games. Spurs in

4. Memphis Grizzlies vs 5. Los Angeles Clippers
Yikes. This is the series that everyone is already hailing "must watch series of the first round," and with the players involved it has to be. The Grizzlies were one of the scariest teams in the playoffs last season upsetting the 1 seed Spurs in the first round then taking the conference favorite Thunder to 7 games in the semifinals. As good as they've been since, I think Chris Paul is the best player in the series and I think he will dominate and get the Clippers to the second round. We've seen him carry worse Hornets teams, and I think he continues his playoff prowess this year. Clippers in 6.

3. Los Angeles Lakers vs 6. Denver Nuggets
This is going to be a great series. I hate how enjoyable the Nuggets are to watch play because of all of the Knicks sentiment on that team, but they really play a high-energy, everyone gets involved, run hard score harder style of ball that a slightly disheveled Lakers team may not be able to handle. I'm not putting this on Ron Artest, but the Lakers don't have any depth on the wing, and that's where the Nuggets strive. Kobe and Bynum are still the two best players in the series, but the Nuggets are gonna give them a run for their money. Lakers in 7.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder vs 7. Dallas Mavericks
You don't often see Conference Finals rematches in the first round, but this year it's because the defending champs are a shell of what they were last season. You still can't rule Dirk Nowitzki out, but the Thunder are going to be one of the toughest outs this postseason and you can bet your bottom dollar that Kevin Durant will not allow his team to lose in the first round. The Mavs won't have any kind of answers for Westbrook and Harden, and Dirk sold his soul for last season, don't expect him to repeat his performance. Thunder in 5.

Regular Season Awards:
MVP: LeBron James
Yup, another season of 27, 8, and 6, but it's 14-1 that matters. While the Heat ran shit in the East for the second straight season, LeBron particularly took his team of role players and a Bosh to a 14-1 record in games without Dwyane Wade, proving that he's going to win games and be the most dominant player in the league no matter who he's playing with. If you take LeBron off of the Heat they're completely out of the championship picture, which you could probably also say about Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul (even though the Clippers probably aren't in the picture anyway).
Runner Up: Chris Paul

Rookie of the Year: Duh, Kyrie Irving
There wasn't another rookie to play this season, except Rubio who was a fake rookie, that you watched play and thought "this guy's going to be a star." As effective as Klay Thompson and Kenneth Faried were down the stretch for their teams, Irving dominated games as a scorer as well as a distributor (with a pretty weak cast). Irving absolutely lived up to the hype this season, and will make the Cavs one of the peskier teams in the East next year if they can draft a scorer to play with him.
Runner Up: Kenneth Faried

Defensive Player of the Year: Tyson Chandler
It could essentially be Dwight Howard every season as nobody dominates the paint like he does (if I'm not following this formula than why should LeBron be MVP? Cause he's LeBron), but Tyson Chandler took the Knicks from a bottom-three defense the last couple of seasons to a top-five defense this season. Props to Iman Shumpert and Mike Woodson for sure, but Chandler dominates the boards on both ends with tip outs and effort, and keeps the paint cleared out for the most part for his team. Despite Carmelo Anthony's scoring spree this past month, Chandler is the Knicks most important player and is a leader on the defensive end.
Runner Up: Serge Ibaka

*Note: I'd like to apologize for my East Coast bias on that last one. The Knicks are the 7-seed in the East and get covered more than almost any team in the league because they play in New York. Their best defensive player isn't necessarily more important than anyone else's best defensive player, and I apologize if I've offended anyone by not considering Ibaka or Howard. With that said, being able to watch him consistently and seeing the amazing turn around for the Knicks defense this year, he's more than a valid candidate for this award.

Most Improved Player: Ryan Anderson
While Andrew Bynum's numbers really spiked this season, I feel he's had the capability to score and rebound the way he did this year for the past couple of seasons. He didn't suddenly emerge as a different player for the Lakers, the Lakers started using him differently and he had a fantastic season. With that said, I think guys like Ryan Anderson and Ersan Ilyasova really were the most improved players this season, as they've been impactful role players the last couple of seasons but really stepped up big for their teams this year. Anderson became a 16 and 8 guy this season, and if he had a better player or two next to him the Magic might win a playoff game.
Runner Up: Ersan Ilyasova

Sixth Man: James Harden
Harden played almost 30 minutes a game for the Western Conference's most dynamic offense, and often ran the point when paired with Westbrook in the backcourt. He's not the fuel that makes that offense go, but he's one of the most important moving parts averaging almost 17, 4 and 4. He's not only an incredibly gifted athlete, he's tremendously efficient, finishing the season with a higher PER than guys like Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, and Ty Lawson. Harden plays well at every tempo, and is a star in this league despite his bench status.
Runner Up: Al Harrington

Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau
Gregg Popovich really doesn't make this choice easy at all, and you don't often see a guy win this award two years in a row, let alone his first two seasons as a head coach, but it's gotta be Thibs! Say what you want about Popovich brilliantly cycling out his role players season by season, but he's working with the same core of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and a less efficient Tim Duncan for the past 10 seasons now (with three championships for that crew), the rest is just fill in the blanks. The Bulls went 18-9 without Derrick Rose this year, and with Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton missing games, it's incredible that the Bulls were able to take home the Eastern Conference's best record. It's not a runaway, but give credit where credits due.
Runner Up: Gregg Popvich

First Team All-NBA
C - Dwight Howard
F - LeBron James
F - Kevin Durant
G - Chris Paul
G - Kobe Bryant

Second Team All-NBA
C - Andrew Bynum
F - Kevin Love
F - Paul Pierce
G - Russell Westbrook
G - Tony Parker

Third Team All-NBA
C - Tyson Chandler
F - Blake Griffin
F - Carmelo Anthony
G - Dwyane Wade
G - Rajon Rondo

First Team All-Defense
C - Tyson Chandler
F - Serge Ibaka
F - LeBron James
G - Rajon Rondo
G - Kobe Bryant

Second Team All-Defense
C - Dwight Howard
F - Shawn Marion
F - Josh Smith
G - Iman Shumpert
G - Tony Allen

First Team All-Rookie
G/F - Klay Thompson
F - Kenneth Faried
G - Isaiah Tomas
G - Ricky Rubio
G - Kyrie Irving

Second Team All-Rookie
F - Kawhi Leonard
F - Chandler Parsons
G - MarShon Brooks
G - Brandon Knight
G - Iman Shumpert

Apr 1, 2012

My Letter to Mark...

Dear Mark,

Let's be honest, you thought of it probably before any of us Jets fans thought of it, and just like us, you thought of it half-serious/half-jokingly, right? I mean, the biggest circus in professional sports is available, why wouldn't the biggest circus of a franchise take a chance on him? Whatever the ratio of serious to kidding was for each of us, none of us really thought it would happen because we all knew it just didn't make that much sense. I mean, Woody, Mike, and especially Rex keep talking about how they're committed to you (they gave you a freaking extension the week before!), and as a sensible fan I'm committed to you too.

Everyone who watches you guys play consistently knows that you need another tackle to protect you, and it's no secret that your receivers and running backs are getting progressively worse. Even the defense, Rex's prized possession, hasn't made the evolution that we thought we'd see after the first year of this roller-coaster ride.

But while it's been a roller-coaster ride, it's been a whole lot more ups than downs, and I want to thank you for that. Mark, I can't lie, you've had your pretty awful moments; where were you for the first half of the 2010 AFC Championship? And how about the end of this past season? We're counting on your leadership, we used to refer to you as the Sanchize, we need you to be the man! With that said, thank you for the playoff road wins, the fourth quarter comebacks, and quarterback play that a Jets fan really isn't used to seeing.

I mean, you've turned the ball over a lot, which we all know maddens Rex more than a gross, callus infested foot, but you're also just three years into your already successful career. Last year was the year that you were supposed to make the jump into the top tiers of quarterbacks. Little do people know that your third-year numbers were comparable if not better than those of Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and mister Jets critic Joe Namath. You've been good and getting better, but it hasn't been good enough for our shit-talking coach, the New York media, and our overhyped, under knowledgable fan base. I don't know what they expect out of you when your right tackle lets guys hit you like it's his job, your number two and three receivers your first two seasons are gone, and your offensive coordinator only knows how to call screen plasses, slants, and RB draws, but apparently you underwhelmed what was expected out of you.

Here's where you're gonna learn Mark, that no matter what you do, you can't win with this organization. You play well enough to win 28 regular season and four playoff games in your first three years (more wins than a Jets quarterback has compiled in a three-year span since Namath from 1967-69), with an intelligent and innovative offensive coordinator on everyday of the week but game day, making big throws after said coordinator keeps you on a short leash long enough to get behind, and it still isn't good enough.

Well here's what I'm going to tell you, keep your head up and let Tim take some of the pressure off of you. I, and most knowledgable football people know, that it takes more than three seasons to really grow into the quarterback position. You've been good more than you've been bad, something I can't say for your new teammate, adversary, whatever we're calling him these days. Let these "geniuses" figure out how to run a wildcat offense, and you just make your plays when you're in the game, which for the time being, has to be somewhere between 65 and 75 percent of the snaps.

I know that's not the number you want it to be, but contrary to popular belief, we believe in you! We don't really believe in Tim. Despite his success and moxy, he makes you look like Aaron Rodgers when it comes to pocket passing, which is what wins in this league. I'm going to be honest with you, the defense and running game have been pretty good the majority of your tenure, so we're not all as attached to you as I am, and Tim's going to come in and play his ass off because he doesn't know how to do anything less. I believe that you put in work, I believe that you want to win as bad as anyone, now you need to make your teammates believe it, and you have to really play smarter to avoid those dumb boo birds.

Stop dicking around with Santonio on Twitter and actually command his respect. Invite Tim to Jets West and get everybody on the same page. You're not going to win this QB battle with your good looks, you have the tools to beat him out and be the starting quarterback of this team. Remember how you made everyone fall in love with you before the 2009 draft? Well get back on that hustle, times 10. We've seen you at your best and we've seen you at your worst, unfortunately New York finds a way to bring out the worst in people, now's the time for you to overcome that!

If you were playing anywhere else you'd have at least this next season and maybe the one after to keep proving that you're developing, but with this organization you don't always get what you deserve. We consistently under appreciate the guys who need our support, and give more to the guys who suck but sell jerseys. It's a vicious cycle, but know it's not you, it's us. It is kind of part you, but it's not really you, it's the position you play and the lack of success the team had last season. Who else can say they beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in back-to-back road playoff games?

I guess essentially what I'm trying to say to you Mark is I'm sorry that you're in the middle of the same old Jets being the same old Jets, but we brought you and Rex in to differentiate from that pattern, and up until the end of last season, it seemed that the transformation was taking place. Just because Tim thinks he's a quarterback, know what Rex knows; he's going to be more of a running back that is (semi)capable of throwing the football from time-to-time. Keep putting in work, become Tony Sparano's best friend, and show us how badly you want to KEEP winning.

These three years have been the best three years of my life as a Jets fan. It's funny how quickly everything soured when we stopped winning games, but non prisoner of the moment needs to realize that par for the course would have been a 4-12 season last year, not one where we almost made the playoffs and competed against some good teams. As long as you're my guy I don't want to call your team the same old Jets, and I just want you to know that you have my support, and you deserve every Jets fans support this season moving forward.

Make this your team, keep making the progress that you're noticeably making every season, and lead the best way you can, by example. That first pick or that first 3-and-out is going to be tough, but it's not gonna be the end of your season or career even...hopefully. Then again, you are a Jet. Keep your head up buddy.

Best Wishes,

Jared Mintz

P.S. Please don't punch Rex in the face this season.