Simmons Nails It

Bill Simmons has written a great piece about Carmelo which is well worth your time. In it, Simmons demonstrates how good Carmelo is, but also correctly lays part of the blame for the Knicks situation on him. It was Carmelo who forced his way out of Denver and forced the Knicks to give up way too many pieces in that trade. If he had waited to be a free agent, the Knicks could have signed him and kept their players and their draft picks.

But Carmelo didn’t want to wait because the NBA lockout was looming and waiting would have cost him money. So he forced the trade, got the big contract, but left the Knicks diminished in the process. That is why Knicks fans were so ambivalent to his free agency. Carmelo made the mistake of talking about how he had been waiting for this opportunity to be a free agent two-plus years after forgoing that opportunity. Knicks fans knew he was going to take the biggest paycheck, it was just a matter of whether or not it would be a sign and trade or a return to the Knicks.

I made the case the other day that if you separated out the execution of it form the actual result, “The Decision” was a great move. It was a superstar player taking less money so he could surround himself with the talent needed to win a championship. LeBron won two and played in two more, that’s great. That’s what Knicks fans wanted to see from Carmelo. We wanted to see him take less and help the team get better. Instead he took $122-million of a possible $129-million. That’s why we aren’t cheering his return.

Final World Cup Ratings

Neil Best of Newsday reports that ABC drew 17.3 million viewers for yesterday’s World Cup final. Univision drew another 9.2 million. Just taking the ABC viewers brings the World Cup final very close to the viewers for Game 5 of the NBA Finals (18 million)  and Game 6 of last year’s World Series (19.2). Throw in the Univision viewers and the World Cup is much higher than either of those.

Those aren’t football ratings, but they are big numbers. The 2018 World Cup probably won’t come close to those numbers because it will be contested seven time zones ahead of us, but it will be very interesting to see where soccer stands in four years.

Congrats Cleveland

Good for you Cleveland. I don’t think there is another city in the U.S. that deserves a good sports thing to happen to them more than Cleveland. While Cubs fans have often been held up as the paragon of patient suffering, it is worth remembering that most of them are also Bulls, Blackhawks and Bears fans. They have had championships to soothe them beyond baseball.

Contrast that with the Cleveland fan. 1964 was the last time they won a title. Surprisingly, that is only the third-longest streak in North America behind Ottawa and San Diego, but Ottawa has only one team and San Diego two. Cleveland has three and they have been fairly miserable most of the time. Sports fans everywhere should feel happy for them today.

And good for LeBron. “The Decision” was a boneheaded move and it obscured what an admirable decision it was otherwise. Here was an athlete who could have demanded a huge deal taking much less because he wanted to win a championship. (If only Carmelo had been paying attention) And, he delivered the goods with two titles and four-straight appearances in the Finals. Now he rectifies that and short of the Knicks playing the Cavs, I will be rooting for him and for Cleveland. I hope he delivers a title to his hometown fans.

 

Carmelo+LeBron=??

The latest twist in NBA free agency is that Carmelo is trying to get LeBron to come join him in New York. Let’s avoid debating the probability of this happening for a minute and focus on the basketball implications of it.

Obviously, any team that gets LeBron and Cermelo is going to be very dangerous. But even this Knicks fan, desperate for a reason to believe, can’t find a way to make this combination into a title contender. In order to get both players, the Knicks would have to get rid of Amar’e and Bargnani. That would leave New York with a starting five of Calderon, Hardaway, James, Anthony and Dalembert. Is there anyone who thinks that five wins the Eastern Conference let alone a NBA title? I don’t think so and that’s why I find these latest rumors insane. To me there are two very clear choices for LeBron. He can go back to Miami or he can go back to Cleveland.

Either one of those moves preserves his legacy. Yes “The Decision” was a poorly executed maneuver, but you cannot argue with the results. Four-straight appearances in the Finals and two titles. If he returns to Miami, how can any rational fan argue with that? And returning to Cleveland would be a nice homecoming. Who could argue with that?

Any other scenario is going to bring out the haters again. If LeBron goes out and wins more titles, they will be quieted, but if not…. So what is the upside for him in New York? He gets bashed for leaving Miami. He gets bashed for not going home to Cleveland and he will get get bashed for not winning a title in New York. That’s lose-lose-lose and that’s why he isn’t coming here.

Interesting

Nielsen has come out with their viewership figures for yesterday’s World Cup game and the figures are interesting to say the least. 21.6 million people watched the game. Compare that to the World Series, which averaged 14.9-million viewers and saw 19.2-million viewing the final game. Or the NBA Finals, which averaged 15.5-million viewers (yup, more than baseball) and 18-million watching the final game.

Now, Ann Coulter would point out that 16.5-million watched the game on ESPN while the rest watched it on a “Spanish” channel. But, 16.5-million is still greater than the average viewership for the NBA Finals or World Series. It’s also in range of the Sunday Night Football average viewership.

Will This Do It?

Twenty years ago the U.S. played an elimination game in the World Cup against Brazil in Palo Alto, CA. With a wild home crowd supporting them on the 4th of July no less, the U.S. came close, but lost to the eventual champions 1-0. Soccer looked primed for a huge jump in this country, but it didn’t happen.

Twelve years ago the U.S. won an elimination game in the World Cup over Mexico and then lost in the quarterfinals to eventual runner up, Germany, 1-0. Soccer looked primed for a big jump in this country, but it didn’t happen.

Today the U.S. lost an elimination game to Belgium 2-1 in overtime. The final twenty minutes were thrilling, but we know how the previous stories ended. Still,  i sensed something different today. People were talking about this game before and after it. My wife reported the bars being jammed on her way home with fans rooting the U.S. on (I was in front of my TV by then). We have a diehard fan club for our national team and a pretty cool chant. The President is trying to get into it (though he might need to get the chant down next time) But can this happen? Can soccer launch in this country for real this time? Time will tell, and we have seen false starts before, but I think it will. I hope it will.

Interesting Trade

ESPN is reporting the Knicks are about to trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Sam Dalembert, Shane Larkin (son of Barry), Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, and two second round picks in the upcoming draft. This seems like a pretty good move to me.

Sure, the Knicks are giving up the best player in Chandler, but what is Chandler at this point? He seems to be a guy who struggles to stay on the court and he isn’t getting better. Felton is an enigma and it is probably best to get him to a more gun-friendly local than New York City.

Now Dalembert is not going to replace Chandler, but he is serviceable. Clalderon is a decent, if overpaid, player and Ellington can knock down a 3. The intriguing part of this deal to me is Larkin. Larkin is clearly small, but he is an amazing athlete. If you watched any ACC basketball in 2013, you saw him everywhere while he led Miami to one of the most surprising seasons in recent years. I’m not saying he is a superstar, but he could be a very nice player for the Knicks down the line. Throw in a couple of second rounders and I think the Knicks made a good trade.

But here’s the thing, this clearly doesn’t make them better in 2014-15 and if Carmelo wants to win a title soon, you have to wonder if this is a message to him?  If you want to win a title, why would you join this Knicks team? They just traded their second or third best player. Maybe that’s the plan. Maybe the Knicks are sending a message to Carmelo to go elsewhere, hopefully in a sign and trade, and that they are going to take their lumps this upcoming season. But, they will emerge from 2014-15 with a lottery pick and plenty of cap room. That sounds ok to me.

A Study in Contrasts

It is hard not to combine the news of the Rangers amnesty buyout of Brad Richards with the news of Carmelo Anthony’s opt-out of his Knicks’ contract. Both teams play in the same building and both teams report ultimately to the same owner. Furthermore, both players wanted to come to New York and get paid big bucks.

Richards was an unrestricted free agent who signed a massive nine-year deal for $60-million. The deal was heavily front-loaded because the Rangers thought they could let Richards retire at some point down the line for a minimal cap hit. But, those rules changed after the last lockout and Richards diminished play combined with the huge hit the Rangers would take if he retired in a few seasons made a buyout necessary. It’s the bad part of the business and while some would argue that Richards was overpaid, I would ask when was the last time the Rangers went to two conference finals in three years?

Anthony could have made big bucks as a free agent, but he was afraid of NBA rules changing and ending up with a smaller contract, so he forced his way to New York and the Knicks were forced to give up a ton for him. I can’t blame him for that, the Knicks made the bonehead move. But now Anthony has opted out of his current deal against the Knicks’ wishes and they have a choice to make. They can cave in yet again and offer Melo max money,  or recognize that this represents a very unique opportunity.

The only way Anthony makes max money is in a sign and trade and the Knicks could get some significant assets back in that scenario. How about the Bulls’ two first rounders (mid teens) this year? How about Houston’s first rounder (25th) and a player?  Letting Melo walk would allow the Knicks to clear a ton of cap space for 2015 and perhaps get some assets back. If you think you can win a title with him you don’t do it, but do you? Do you really?

Thank You Henrik!

Getting swept in the Stanley Cup Finals would have stunk. This has been a magical and unexpected ride, but getting swept would have take most of the shine off of it. But the Rangers don’t have to worry about that anymore thanks to Henrik. Words are hard to find that adequately describe what Lundqvist did last night, so let’s use some stats. He made 40 saves, including 15 in the third period where the Rangers had a total on ONE shot.

So now it’s back to LA and while the Rangers should dream, I will be the wet blanket. Coming back from 3-0 is rare enough. Coming back from 3-0 against a team that has already come back from 3-0 has never happened. The Kings are a great team. They are tested and they know how to win. And yes, they overcame a 3-0 deficit in the first round of the playoffs this year. I suspect they know exactly what the Rangers are feeling right now and how dangerous it would be for them to win Game 5. I suspect they will come out and dominate on Friday night. I hope I am wrong. But if I am not, I can savor this win.

Twenty Years

On May 27th, 1994, I had to move out of college. I had graduated the Saturday before and it was time to leave. I planned a drive to get down to my future wife’s house in Westchester that would get me there for game time, but fate wouldn’t let me. A prisoner escaped from Sing Sing that night and they shut the Tappan Zee Bridge. I ended up on a remote stretch of I87 listening to a crackling radio through two OT’s. I remember Howie Rose’s radio call has become a staple in New York, but few remember what came after he shouted “Matteau” multiple times. He followed it with “And the Rangers have one more hill to climb baby!”

It took twenty years, but the Rangers are facing one more hill to climb again. Those twenty years haven’t been easy. There was the lockout immediately following the 1994 win. There was the 1997 trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, but then things went really downhill. Messier left for Vancouver, the Rangers missed the playoffs for seven-straight years and hockey wiped out an entire season.

And when hockey resumed in 2005 the Rangers had a new guy between the pipes, Henrik Lundqvist. Mike Richter was a wonderful goalie, but Lundqvist is better. For nine seasons he has been the backbone of this team and now they will need him to carry them across the finish line. It’s going to be a brutal matchup, whichever team prevails in the West. I can’t wait for Wednesday night.

We want the Cup!

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