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.


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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.