Sunday, June 29, 2014

Are the Knicks better off without Carmelo Anthony?

So now that push has come to shove, with Carmelo Anthony officially having opted out of the last year of his contract with the Knicks, the machinations, speculation, rumors and general hand-wringing already have spiraled to a fever pitch.

New Knicks president Phil Jackson already has met with Anthony, and has stated publicly he has asked Anthony to consider waiting a year to become a free agent, just to see how things go now that the Zen Master has taken the reigns of this once proud, now long misbegotten franchise.

Jackson has even pulled off a trade to clear room under the cap, shedding Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton for a package of serviceable players, including Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert. And with one of the draft picks the Knicks added in that trade, they selected the intriguing Cleanthony Early from Wichita State.

Still, Anthony has chosen to "test the waters," even though there is no other team that can offer the max contract of five years and $129 million that the Knicks can (whether they actually will offer that is another question). It is absolutely Anthony's right to do so; why not get as much as you can?

But the question needs to be asked: Is Carmelo worth the trouble?

True, opting out is now officially a thing in the NBA. The Big Three in Miami have all done it, so now at least Anthony can have something to chat with LeBron with over a magnum of Cristal.

Full disclosure: I am not a Carmelo fan. Yes, he is a nine-time All-Star, averaging 25.3 points in his career. He is undoubtedly the most talented player on the Knicks roster ... but I don't think he's the kind of player you kowtow to and build your team around. He's a terrific scorer, but I'm not so sure he's such a terrific leader.

He says he's all about winning, but to me, he comes across as selfish and the kind of guy who would jump somewhere else if he were offered one dollar more to go -- more about himself than the team.

I also think Jackson has gone as far as he is willing to convince Anthony to stay ... although you can make the case he really hasn't tried all that hard. Jackson said Anthony's decision "is out of our hands now," which gives you the sense he's at peace with it if Carmelo leaves.

And maybe that's not a bad thing. Think about it: There will be a honeymoon phase with a new team president, a new coach in Derek Fisher and a new infusion of players. Maybe they'd be better off sticking to Jackson's system -- with more room under the cap -- and bringing in young, hungry talent eager to learn and absorb all the wisdom (and required reading) Jackson will shower on them.

The won-loss record might not improve that much this season, but it's fair to give the new regime a chance to change the culture and rebuild for the future.

A future without Carmelo Anthony.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Uniformity 101: How to turn a pro sports franchise around

So the Charlotte Hornets unveiled their rebranded identity on Thursday, going back to the purple and teal that made such a splash when the franchise originally began doing business in 1989.

And you know what that means.

Run, don't walk, and bet the house on the Hornets winning the NBA title in the next three years (that's "for entertainment purposes," of course).

New uniforms and logos stir up fan bases and, of course, generate millions of bucks in revenue in new merchandise. But new, spiffy unis have an uncanny way of translating to success in the standings, too.

In the NHL, the Dallas Stars won a Stanley Cup in 1999, two years after rebranding. The L.A.Kings became a player after ditching their purple and gold for silver and black in 1988, although the arrival of a guy named Gretzky had something to do with that too.

And in the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets made some noise in the playoffs in their new digs and new black and white duds.

But nowhere is the trend more consistent than in the NFL:

* The Atlanta Falcons went to the NFC championship in 2004, one year after updating their helmet logo and number fonts.

* The Arizona Cardinals went to the Super Bowl in 2008, three years after a similar treatment.

* The Cincinnati Bengals went to the Super Bowl in 1981, the first year with their "Bengal Stripe" helmets and jerseys.

* The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl in 1997 after a complete revamp, ditching the "Orange Crush" jerseys for a more menacing navy blue and streamlined logo.

* The New England Patriots, after the second incarnation of "Flying Elvis" in 2000, won Super Bowls three times in a four-year span (there are plenty of folks up there who wish the beloved "Pat Patriot" would return, even though the Pats generally had horrible teams in that look).

* The New York Giants switched back to their iconic "ny" logo in 2000, and went to the Super Bowl (where they got throttled by the Ravens 34-7. You can tell I've gotten over that, but the two SB wins over the Patriots made up for it).

* The New York Jets, in 1998, switched back to a look modeled after the Namath era and promptly went to the AFC championship game.

* And the latest example: The Seattle Seahawks, the year after their futuristic rebrand, won the Super Bowl last season.

There's more on tap soon. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will wear new uniforms this season with an updated (and much larger) helmet logo, and the Cleveland Browns are planning a rebrand for 2015.

So get those bets down on the Bucs and Browns, too. Don't say I didn't tell you so.


On a separate note, you can now sign up to get Believe The Type delivered straight to your inbox. Check the box on the right to get on the email list.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Final thoughts on the Rangers' Stanley Cup playoff run

At first, it hurts. When the team you love to root for is eliminated from the playoffs, the pain is immediate and palpable. And so it was on Friday, when the New York Rangers' season came to end that on one hand seemed inevitable -- given their 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings -- but also sudden, in that the end came in double overtime of Game 5.

As playoff series go, this might have been the closest five-gamer you'll see; of the Rangers' four losses, one was in overtime, two in double OT. All games in the series except one were decided by a single goal. A bounce in off the post instead of out -- which happened a bunch of times -- and the victory parade could well have been down the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan instead of Figueroa Street in downtown L.A.

That's what made this one tough to take for Rangers fans in the moments after Alec Martinez ended it, and the image seconds later of the Kings celebrating just feet away from Henrik Lundqvist, lying face-down on the ice in despair.

But even detaching ourselves a bit, just a few days later, it's easy for Rangers fans to look back on this season with satisfaction. They came a long way from a slow start by Lundqvist and his mates under their new coach, the easy-going  Alain Vigneault. The team responded to his calm, even-keel demeanor -- a far cry from his predecessor, John Tortorella -- and began to turn it around.

At the trade deadline, they dealt popular captain Ryan Callahan to Tampa Bay for the Lightning captain, perennial All-Star Martin St. Louis. I'll admit I didn't like the trade at first; I thought it would cripple the team's chemistry down the stretch (through the whole first half of the season, I kept telling anyone who'd listen how much the Rangers missed Brandon Prust). But the more I saw how the classy St. Louis carried himself, despite not being able to contribute on the scoresheet, along with the way his younger teammates looked up to him, I was converted.

Even more so after he lost his mother four games into their second-round series with the Penguins, with the Rangers trailing 3-1. The tragic event pulled the team together in a way Vigneault described as "profound," and they went on to beat Pittsburgh in seven games, then Montreal in six in the conference finals.

There is no shame in losing to a team as good as the Kings. All playoffs long, we kept hearing how much stronger, tougher and better the West was than the East. While their talent was evident, the gap between the finalists wasn't.

This Rangers team is one its fans can be proud of. They played the right way, were likable and they created a true buzz in the city. I can only imagine what the feeling for Game 6 would have been like if Game 5 went their way.

Some of them will leave. That's the nature of the game. The NBA is the only league that's set up for teams to stay together and keep their stars. The NHL, NFL and MLB are now year-to-year entities, which is why it's so difficult for championship teams in those three sports to repeat.

I'm also reminded of my dad. He was a huge sports fan (wonder where I get it from), and loved nothing more than watching the Rangers -- he had seats in the first row behind the glass for years at the old Garden. When I was a kid, he would quickly thumb through the newspapers every June -- he faithfully bought and read the Star-Ledger, Post and Daily News every day -- and then scowl, saying, "There's no hockey in the paper." 

Well, there was plenty of hockey in the paper this June. I know how much he would have loved watching all of it and how excited he would have been. 

The same way the rest of us were.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Why the New York Knicks are a complete fraud

People in New York are breathless, and not just because of the recently-arrived cold snap that has accompanied the thicker crowds and gridlock that can only mean the holiday season (for my gift, I'd like another half-hour each day to make sure I get to work on time).

The reason for a lot of this self-induced asphyxiation is the smoking start of New York's favorite winter sons, the New York Knicks. And a lot of the noise coming out of the Garden isn't just coming from the fans.

They are off to a 9-3 start, and 5-0 on their home floor. Carmelo Anthony already has been touted as the NBA's MVP. Mike Woodson and Glen Grunwald are in the discussion to be named Coach and Executive of the Year, respectively. Next thing you know, the Knicks City Dancers will replace the Rockettes at Radio City. We might as well cancel the rest of the season and reserve the Canyon of Heroes right now.


Did I mention the Knicks began play Monday morning 9-3? As in 12 games? As in 12 games of an 82-game NBA schedule? Sure, the Knicks have impressed, and for a team that has not shown much in the way of postseason chops since Pat Riley (and to a lesser extent, Jeff Van Gundy) stalked the sidelines, I'm here to tell you to take it down a notch. Or several.

I'll take it a step further, for the record: The Knicks are a mirage, an apparition, a fraud. You heard it here first: The Nets will finish the regular season with a better record; the Knicks will be hard-pressed to wheeze to the end of the regular season above .500.

Why? The reasons are many. You want to say the Knicks have plenty of veteran experience? That's a diplomatic way of saying they're old -- the oldest team in NBA history on opening night of the season, according to Stats, LLC (32 years, 240 days). Half their roster is comprised of players with 10 or more years in the league (not including Pablo Prigioni, who is classified as a rookie despite being 35 years old). They have eight players 30 or older, five 35 or older, and one -- Kurt Thomas, who is 40.

Rasheed Wallace has already missed two games with a sore foot that won't get any better as the schedule intensifies. Ronnie Brewer already is hobbled with a bad knee. This team is a Jason Kidd rolled ankle and a Tyson Chandler knee sprain away from tumbling to oblivion.

But wait, you say -- the Knicks are getting back Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert, who surely will add to the depth of this team.

Well and good, sort of. For one, Stoudemire's best days are long behind him, and you have to wonder how much he'll actually be able to contribute when he does get back on the floor. It's more likely he'll just line up as another casualty in a list that's sure to grow as the season progresses. And by the time Shumpert is cleared to play, there's a good chance the Knicks' season will be in as much ruin as the ancient, creaky guys who wear their uniforms.

It would be impossible for any team -- much less one with as much mileage as this one -- to maintain the torrid pace they've set. A case can be made they've played their best basketball of the season. And the Christmas decorations just went up in midtown. You have to wonder how much love there will be for the Knicks once Valentine's Day rolls around, which should be more than enough time for everyone around here to catch their breath.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rex Ryan has us all fooled ... right?

Rex Ryan is either the smartest, most cunning, most innovative coach in the history of the NFL, or ... he's not.

What to think? Which way to go? There's no middle ground here. It's sort of like cats -- you either love 'em (which I do) or you don't. You're either in or your out, to paraphrase Pat Riley, who actually was pretty smart, cunning and innovative. You either have confidence the plan will work when it counts, or you don't.

The Jets have been pretty terrible throughout the first three games of the preseason: This is not news. The defense doesn't look bad, but the offense is a mess. The line has holes, especially at tackle (Winston Hill is not walking through that door), their receivers are banged-up and old, their top running back is pretty pedestrian and though they profess confidence and trust in their starting quarterback, Mark Sanchez, he's going to have to play with whiplash every week, what with that Tim Tebow guy breathing down his neck.

And through it all, Ryan has remained the steady, stoic captain of this ship that everyone else can see is taking on a lot of water. And instead of grabbing the buckets and bailing, he's calmly forging ahead, telling us not to worry. Trust me, he assures us. I got this.

"I see some encouraging signs that we're headed in the right direction," Ryan told my New York Post colleague, Brian Costello. "It might not be obvious to everybody in the public. Again, I'm confident in our offense. I'm confident in our coaching staff. I'm confident in our players. I believe that we're going to have a very productive offense when it's all said and done."

Uh, OK. Maybe we're wrong. Maybe in all of their shrouded-in-secrecy practices Ryan and new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano have cooked up the most amazing, intricate mind-blowing offensive attack, the likes of which we've never seen before. Maybe Tebow will line up as quarterback, running back, H-back and wideout ... on the same play (Hey, Bugs Bunny did it on the baseball field, so there is precedent). Maybe Antonio Cromartie will catch passes ... from Nick Mangold.

Or maybe not. Maybe behind closed doors and security-encased fields far away from the prying eyes of the media and Bill Belichick's camcorder, they're as frustrated and frantic as their fan base is. Maybe they're just trying to buy as much time as possible to figure something -- anything -- out before the regular season starts, when all the world will finally see whether the Jets are fantastic ... or frauds.

Ryan and the Jets either have all of this under control ... or they don't.

Which is it? We'll soon find out.

Monday, August 27, 2012

NFL preseason = stealing money from fans

As I was sitting at my desk at the New York Post Sunday night, monitoring the Jets-Panthers preseason game to prepare our coverage and headlines, I couldn't help but notice the quality of what I was watching, well, stunk.

Much is being made in New York this morning that the Jets are the only team in the NFL that has not scored a touchdown through three preseason games, and, according to NBC, are the first team to accomplish that forgettable feat since the 1977 Falcons.

But this isn't about trashing the Jets (given what we've seen from them so far, there'll be plenty of opportunities for that later). It's about a system that's clearly broken, and the fact the most powerful, richest and most successful sports league seems to want to do nothing about it.

The NFL preseason has become a foxhole. With the artillery barrage of a four-game schedule (and imagine -- it used to be six), all teams want to do is get through it without anyone getting killed. So they trot out their starters for a series or two, or maybe a half, or not at all. In many instances, stars don't even suit up. Then there's the factor of teams keeping it vanilla, for fear of showing a play, formation or personnel that could come back to haunt them down the road. All of which leads to a bland, boring, tedious exercise.

All of that is fine, given teams have to evaluate draft picks and free agents, and make personnel decisions. And for the players on the bubble, it's perhaps the best chance they have to impress coaches and land a coveted roster spot.

I get all that. The problem is, the NFL charges its fans regular-season admission and parking for the privilege of watching a third-string quarterback you'll never see again try to complete passes behind a fourth-string offensive tackle to a fifth-string receiver.

For a league that talks the talk about integrity and protecting the shield (and while we're at it, bring the real refs back; a subject Believe the Type has already addressed), it's time Roger Goodell's corporation takes a much-needed and necessary step:

Cut the four-game preseason down to two games -- or better yet, ditch the preseason entirely.

A good friend of mine is a Jets season ticket-holder. He has four seats, each worth approximately $125, which he, of course, has to buy in order to purchase his eight regular-season games. That's an extra $1,000 out of his pocket for a third-rate product -- not even including parking (he has a parking pass for which he pays $15 per game as part of the season-ticket package) the time spent driving to and from the stadium, the price of gas and concessions.

For the poor guy who just shows up at MetLife Stadium for a one-shot deal just to watch a game, it's nearly as prohibitive; say he buys two of the cheapest seats way upstairs (about $50) and $50 to park -- to park! -- he's out $150 before he even goes through the turnstiles.

Sure, you can go through a secondary ticket provider like StubHub, but that's not the point. My friend suggests teams could either make preseason tickets free and spread out the price for them throughout the regular season. That would at least show appreciation for the fans showing up, or, in his words, "acknowledgement that you're getting screwed."

Taking it a step further, he suggests teams could take that $1,000 and return it to their season ticket-holders in the form of gift certificates for concessions and souvenirs that could only be used at the stadium -- a pretty good idea, if you ask me.

On the field, the preseason has long outlived its usefulness. The NFL could replace preseason games (at least two of them) with two live scrimmages against opposing teams, held during training camp. Charge fans a nominal fee (say $25) and charge for concessions. Teams will still make money, and fans won't feel as if they're getting fleeced.

Goodell has never been shy about engaging NFL fans when it comes to labor negotiations, player safety or other initiatives. After last season's Super Bowl, he thanked the fans for their unwavering support and said, "Our commitment to improve everything we do is ongoing."

Now it's time to not just say it, but show it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Who can rescue the Red Sox? Terry Francona ... Yes, Terry Francona

By now, I think we all can agree the Bobby Valentine experiment in Boston has pretty much reached the end of its shelf life. Even from the very start, the fact he wasn't the unanimous choice of the Red Sox braintrust should have been a major red flag, but once the Sox went all in on Valentine, there was no turning back.

Much of what has gone down has been pretty predictable. Bobby V comes in, says what he wants, does what he wants, tweaks veterans, forces trade of popular veteran (Kevin Youkilis), makes spectacle of himself in background of video shoot, rinse, repeat.

All of that probably would have been acceptable if the results were good. One of my favorite lines in these types of situations was once uttered by one of my favorite people in professional sports, Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who liked to say, "When you win, you're a genius. When you lose, you're a moron."

It's that simple, really. The won-loss record is the difference between Bobby Valentine being goofy and eccentric, and just being a train wreck. So here we are.

It would be in the best interest of all involved for Valentine and the Sox to go their separate ways after the season. He already received the kiss of death -- I mean, the vote of confidence -- from management, so he's got that going for him. He's a proud man, firmly entrenched in his methods, who would probably find it very easy to go back and sit in his old chair at ESPN.

Which brings us to who I believe would be the perfect replacement for Valentine ... the guy he replaced, Terry Francona. Yeah, that Terry Francona, who's now sitting in that seat at ESPN, at this moment gushing over the Little League World Series.

I came up with that idea (I'll take credit for it since I haven't heard anyone else say it) this past Friday, in my recurring guest spot on All Around Sports, hosted by John Ingoldsby on Shameless plug alert: Listen to the show on this link, at about the 44-minute mark:

We were talking about the Red Sox and how the Valentine tenure would likely end, and I blurted out, "Don't be surprised if Terry Francona comes back to manage the Red Sox again."

Now, I'm not even sure I totally believed that when I said it, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Sure, last season ended badly. But if there's anyone who has gravitas in the Red Sox clubhouse, it's Francona. It was just a couple of weeks ago when he, as a member of the ESPN crew covering the Sox-Yankees Sunday night game in New York, walked into the visiting clubhouse and held court with a group of his former players -- which shows he still has plenty of allies on that team, and he enjoys their company and didn't feel awkward about letting that be known.

Let's face it, the guy did win two World Series with that team. It's not as if he became an idiot overnight. I don't think Red Sox Nation would have any problem reembracing the man who helped orchestrate the end of The Curse. As long as it means the end of this new one -- with fried chicken and beer off limits, naturally.

And it's not as if there isn't precedent for a move like this. During the Bronx Zoo years in the 1970s and '80s, George Steinbrenner fired and re-hired Billy Martin as manager of the Yankees five times officially (and about 100 times unofficially). That club was probably the most dysfunctional team in the history of pro sports, but it won, and in the end, as we've duly noted, that's all that matters.

Now I have no idea if Francona would be interested in coming back, or if Red Sox management would entertain the idea of him coming back. But he did have a reaction to the mess that has engulfed his old team, and he began by telling USA Today he tries "to be a little careful."

Said Francona: "During my eight years there, we never really had a whole lot of drama outside the clubhouse. That's their business, not my business ... the idea is to keep it in-house. You can deal with it and it goes away. When it goes public, everybody puts their spin on it even when they don't know what they're talking about and it becomes a national story ... The better teams handle it and move on."

The Red Sox clearly need to move on. So make the trade -- Valentine back to ESPN and Francona back to Boston.

Weirder things have happened.