Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A NEW YORK STATE OF MIND; A TALE OF 2 GMS!

I am taking a break from my travelling fantasy Baseball circus. Reviewing the positional players and seeing how my February/March projections are rounding-out is fun... but this issue cannot go unmentioned in my Blog. You see, this is the story of two GMs... and 2 teams that are hurtling in completely different directions.

New York is unquestionably a sports mecca. Few cities possess such a knowledgeable fan base and fewer still can brag twin big league and minor league Baseball clubs (Mets and Yankees and the Staten Island Yankees and the Brooklyn Cyclones, respectively), a pair of pro Hoops teams (Knicks and Nets), a trio of Football franchises (Jets, Giants, and contrary to popular belief... Buffalo IS in New York), and twin Hockey (Rangers, Islanders... 3 if you count the Devils) clubs... Okay, so the Jets and G-Men play in Jersey and the Islanders are really- well, Long Islanders, but just go with it. In conjunction, NY hosts a WNBA team, (the Liberty), a pro soccer club (The Red Bulls), an Arena Football League franchise (NY Dragons), and a professional Lacrosse team (Long Island Lizards).
Truly, New Yorkers benefit from a stunning confluence of athletics. And yet these flagship franchises, unsurprisingly perhaps, don't always boast brilliant leadership or talent. The Mets have always dwelled within the enormous shadow cast by Boss Steinbrenner and his Bombers, the Nets (a de facto New York team) are perennial step-children to the Knicks, Big Blue traditionally eclipses Gang-Green, and the Rangers... well, aside from the Islanders' glory years of the late 70's to early 80's, the Rangers attract the chic' of New York City.

Leadership... or lack thereof? The Jets have stunk under the stewardship of any number of forgettable coaches and staffs, Giant fans will never forget the reign of Ray Handley, the Yankee faithful have their hands full with Billy Martin's memory, the Mets will recall Bobby Valentine's antics (though Valentine's cranium encases a brilliant Baseball mind... it also houses a personality that is capable of curdling milk) with something less than fondness, and I won't continue to bore you.

However, since we live in "the now," let's briefly examine a pair of franchises that look to be polar opposites of one another; "Minaya's Mets" and "Dolan's dolts"... err', Knicks!

When Omar Minaya assumed control of the Mets and patted the departing Steve Phillips on the butt as he fled Flushing, the club featured a grand total of... drum roll please, 8 players of Latin extraction. By the time January rolled around, that total increased by more than 100% and the Metropolitans fielded 18 latino ball players; comprising close to 50% of the 40-man roster.
Minaya was excoriated on National talk Radio and was branded a racist by many a numbskull.
Out went frequent training-table flyer Mike Cameron, out went the increasingly uncooperative and frequently injured Mike Piazza, out went the so-so Jae Seo, and ahh "so on." In came corner-piece corner infielder Carlos Delgado, in came valuable bench player Endy Chavez, and up came promising prospect Lastings Milledge.
Alas the results, my fantasy friends, are as hard to argue with as Mother Teresa (was). "Flushing's finest," with a winning % of .618 (best in the NL and 4th in the majors), has effectively put away the NL East... and it's not yet July! With an 11.5 game lead over a sagging and flagging Phillie team, the 3rd place Florida Marlins might just be the only team capable of going on a month-long tear and pressing the Mets. Even so, I just can't see New York's beefy lineup and potent rotation allowing any East conference club back into contention.
Now, about Minaya and to a lesser extent manager Willie Randolph?
Exporting all of the "white" players could be viewed as a racist move by the narrow-minded, but those with broader intellects will view the move for what it was; a shrewd effort to strengthen a largely punchless 1-9 and bolster a previously suspect team chemistry. Further, the club did NOT go through a "caucasian purge." Catcher Paul Lo Duca was brought in and has helped strengthen an already solid group of pitchers, 3B David Wright has been talked of as a future "Captain," and Billy Wagner was signed away from Philadelphia so as to provide the team with a legit' "shut it/slam it" Closer.
Indeed, the Mets are a force to be reckoned with and for the first time since the alcohol soaked, cocaine-fueled days of "Dr. K." Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Daryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra and Gary "Smiles" Carter, they are "must watch TV." If you count the 94-68 Met team that clashed swords with the Yankees in the Subway Series of '00, it's the 2nd time in 7 seasons that a fan can watch a game and actually expect the Mets to emerge victorious.
With a lineup that can go toe-to toe with virtually any opponent, the club also brags speed and quality arms. Know what Met fans should "Shea?" "Omar... muchas gracias!"

If the Mets are as bright and shiny as a new penny, the sad-sack New York Knicks are the crud-encrusted Nickle you find stuck to the bottom of your childhood Piggybank. As pitiful a franchise as the Association has seen in decades, the once proud... once arrogrant Garden Hoopsters won just 23 games last season.
When Madison Square Garden veep' James Dolan brought legendary Larry Brown aboard prior to last season, it seemed as if there was light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Knick fans had been subjected to a sorry series of coaches that included Don Chaney, Lenny Wilkens, and former player Herb "Superb" Williams. But "LB" owned an unprecedented record, for a Knick coach, anyway, and was prepared to bring a fresh air of authority and discipline to the club. Elements that had been absent for uncounted seasons. And yet... where there's smoke there's fire. Dolan, the architect of much mediocrity, leapt on former Piston star Isaiah Thomas once Pacer chieftain Larry Bird fired him. This, mind you, is the same man who ran the Raptors ragged, drove the Continental Basketball Association into the ground and slunk away from the flaming wreckage with a "who, me?" look on his face, and did little more with the Pacers (131-115, 3 "1 and done" playoff appearances). Thomas entered the Garden with a swagger in late 2003 and has micro-managed the organization ever since. Consistently trading away capable, blue-collar contributors in favor of iffy stars, Isaiah's air of superiority is palpable. In addition, his long-term planning is myopic at best. Although examples abound, the ill-advised acquisition of former Bull Eddy Curry will likely go down as one of the all-time worst decisions of the modern Basketball era.
After sending Chicago, a young team that is on the cusp of greatness, 2006 NBA Playoff standout Tim Thomas (now a Sun), young and promising Michael Sweetney, and Jermaine Jackson, Isaiah compounded his ghastly error by also including NY's '06 1st round pick, a conditional (because NY was so bad, they received a Lottery pick... a potentiality Thomas apparently didn't forsee) pick that turns out to be THE 2nd OVERALL DRAFT PICK! And did I mention that the Bulls also receive a pair of future 2nd rounders AND the right to exchange a future draft choice... whatever that means! All of this, a package that includes a certain impact player such as Adam Morrison, for a Center who has a potentially serious heart condition, can't play a lick of defense, rarely hustles, can't rebound to save his life, and averaged less than 1 Block per contest. Unbelievable. This dramtically underscores the fact that Isaiah Thomas' is a poor talent assessor. Curry's '05 line was a shameful 13.6/6/.3!

I submit that Larry Brown did a poor job this season and made a calculated error by publicly calling out PG Stephon Marbury. That said, Brown is a coach with impeccable creds' and who places great emphasis on the fundamentals. Me-Bury's fundamentals, not to mention the fundamentals of the team as a whole, are horrifying, and the Point Guard, who is really a Shooting Guard masquerading as a 1-Guard, tuned Brown out and went public with his criticism. That was a move that infuriated coach Brown... a strict "what happens in the locker-room stays in the locker-room" kinda' guy, and Brown found no support in Isaiah. Instead, Isaiah took Marbury's side, and that is an untenable situation. If the GM doesn't get his coach's back... that coach is standing on a plastic tarp simply waiting for the bullet that will end that job and impact his career.
Back when Larry Brown was hired oh, 10 months or so ago, I wrote an article relative to the situation. In addition, I filled-out my Sportingnews.com "NBA viewpoint" with this line of thinking as well. Almost a year ago, I wrote that "Isaiah won't rest until he has Larry Brown's head on a spike." If you don't believe me, simply go to my sporting news profile and look under "NBA." After dealing away useable parts such as Sweetney and Keith Van Horn, Brown was forced to win with a gaggle of whimpy Shooting Guards who play an "ole'" defensive style, a Center who is probably better suited to the role of back-up Forward, and a bench that's as deep as a kiddie pool.
Now, Dolan has publicly stated that unless the Knicks "improve substantially" Isaiah Thomas will again be out of work. What "substantially" amounts to is an unknown quantity at this point, all Dolan would say was "we'll know it when we see it." Dolan went on to say that "the architect of the team was probably best suited to coach it." I'll give Dolan credit for that little pearl of wisdom. And frankly, with a roster that consists of;
PF Channing Frye: coming off a solid rookie campaign (12+/5+), Frye has nice upside.
SG/PG Steve Francis: Could this dude be any more disappointing? Since his early days with the Rockets, Francis's level of play has dropped considerably and he's no longer an "elite" anything. Could be dealt.
SF Jalen Rose: Rose, 33, is very mediocre and David Lee could see more time at the position.
PG Stephon Marbury: Too selfish a player to win anything, NY would probably be best served by moving "Star-Bury."
Bench: Nate Robinson: Diminutive Point' could also be sent packing.
SGs Quentin Richardson: Where did the white-hot Sun guard go? "Q" was utterly average, notching fewer than 9 PPG after a 2004 campaign saw him sink almost 15 per tilt.
Jamal Crawford: Defense... what's that?
I'll be impressed!

For better or for worse, the remainder of Isaiah Thomas's career will be judged against THIS coming season. And should he fail, Thomas will never work in any meaningful NBA capacity again.
A winning season, by the way, would probably consititute 35 Wins

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