Elster's World

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Bad Break - Literally

Uh oh. Can we now officially stick a fork in the Knicks? Has Chicago just landed a lottery jackpot? Could very well be.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Weekend Update

It was a pretty busy weekend in sports so let’s get right to it.

- First and foremost, I’d be remiss not to at least mention the sad early passing of Boston Celtic great Dennis Johnson, who died Thursday of a heart attack at the age of 52. I was young when Johnson played point for perhaps the greatest team I have ever seen (apologies to Magic, Kareem, Coop and James Worthy – though I really have to think it through to be sure) but my shaky recollections revolve around his great defense and the fact that, when teams were forced to pick their poison, it was always Dennis Johnson they were forced to leave open (to double Parrish, McHale or Bird – and you could never leave Danny Ainge with too good a look – at least until he became an executive) and Johnson would constantly be delivering daggers to the heart from 18-20 feet away. The Celtics continue to have a very tough year both on and off the court and this is just another example.

- The Knick continue to play win one lose one basketball, beating the Bucks Friday night in a close one and then chocking against the Nets on Oscar night, despite having a 9 point lead at halftime. Very high on the list of athletes I truly despise lies Vince Carter – who dogged it in Toronto to get out of that town and now, in a possible contract year, is managing to take it up a notch for the money. There is just nothing likeable about this guy (though, admittedly, if the Carter for Channing Frye and spare parts trade had happened last Thursday, I’d probably be singing a different tune right now – that’s sports hypocrisy at his finest).

But I digress. The Knicks are not going to make the playoffs this season and while Isaiah Thomas has shown the Dolan family enough to save his job, I firmly believe other coaches could be getting more out of the talent on the roster (which I continue to believe isn’t that bad). Aren’t the Knicks a playoff team with Phil Jackson as the coach? Don’t they have 35 wins right now with Mr. Smug on the bench? Is it even debatable? Not in my mind anyway.

- Absolutely huge (HUGE!) win by the #12 Georgetown Hoyas Saturday afternoon against # 10 Pitt. The Hoyas have vaulted into first place in the Big East, have prime position for a high seed, and if they can win out the regular season (at Syracuse tonight and at home against Uconn on March 3) and make a deep run in the Big East tournament, a number 2 seed is not out of the question. After watching Ohio last night, I’m not sure G’town is the best team in the country but it’s getting harder and harder to make the argument they aren’t one of the best 8.

Now watch them lose to The Orange tonight.

- Interesting news coming out of the combine this morning and it has nothing to do with Brady Quinn’s fall from grace. In the aftermath of the Pac Man Jones Vegas nightclub shooting incident (doesn’t that roll right off the tongue?) certain player reps who are at the combine have suggested a three and out policy which basically sets forth that if a player finds himself in three bad situations (drunk driving, nightclub shooting after you start throwing money at hookers, getting caught at the airport with your “friend’s” bong in your carry-on) you get yourself in some serious trouble with the league.

What is interesting here is that the suggestion is coming from the players themselves. The league has been taking a more – if it aint broke, don’t fix it approach and allowing thug players to basically run out of control. 9 Bengals arrested this season? Five Pac Man Jones run ins with the law? A Sean Taylor gun “incident” always a day away? And let’s not forget about Tank Johnson’s gun collection.

Sadly, the league is not willing to clean up the mess that they perpetuate by not being harder on the players. Kudos for the players themselves for stepping up.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

No Shocker In Jets-Ville

The Jets released two massive disappointments from last season - RB Kevan Barlow who came over to "replace" Curtis Martin but ended up being unable to beat out a five foot seven inch rookie and a second year guy and Trey Teague who never even suited up for Gang Green due to ankle injuries. The Jets also re-signed corner Hank Poteat, who did a pretty good job last season as an emergency mid season signing.

Neither of these moves are particularly shocking, to say the least. If nothing else, it's just a little more cap room to sign an Adalius Thomas type, a better notch corner, a better right side offensive lineman or a defensive line upgrade.

Oh, or a speed number three receiver. Or a new running back.

Oy.

Thoughts For A Thursday Morning

A couple of quick thoughts from the world of sports:

- Not to pat myself on the back for what was essentially an easy call, but allow me to pat myself on the back for nailing the Knicks loss to Philly last night. This tea is wildly inconsistent and just not good enough yet. Last night’s loss was pretty much a death knell for the playoffs. When you are six games (now seven) under .500, you can’t win one lose one and expect to make it to the post season. Isaiah needs to quickly implement my plan from yesterday if he expects to win.

- Even though last night’s victory over Cincinnati is not the best example, Georgetown is a stacked team going into the NCAA tournament this year. Not only do they have a stud player in forward Jeff Green and a rising stud in center Roy Hibbert, they get sensational play out of freshman guard Jessie Sapp and junior guard John Wallace (who looked bad last night despite scoring 15 points). The Hoyas also has excellent role/rotation players in DuJuan Summers, Vernon Macklin, Jeremiah Rivers (Doc’s son) and Patrick Ewing Jr. (Patrick’s son). Throw in an excellent coach and a great system and this is a dangerous team. If the Hoyas can beat Pitt on Saturday, they will lock up a high seed in the tournament and then watch out.

- Based on nothing (I have not yet read a word about individual training camp pitchers), my first blush guess on the starting rotation this April (subject to change and also subject to change) is: Glavine, Hernandez, Maine, Perez and Ho Park. I think Sele doesn’t make the team and I think the Mets send Vargas, Humber and Pelfrey to AAA New Orleans and tout them as the future top three of the rotation in a year or two.

The problem, of course (besides the fact that only two of those pitchers are proven commodities), is there aren’t any guaranteed 7 inning guys in this mix – the big problem last year. Once again, Omar Minaya is relying on overtaxing his revamped bullpen and having them take the ball 4 innings every night. The Mets really could us innings eaters in the rotation and rely on their offense to slug some of those games wide open. Maybe Maine and Perez, both young with fresh arms, can learn to be deeper inning pitchers.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Knicks Fix

With the defeat of the Orlando Magic 100-94 last night at the Garden, a few interesting things happened to the Knicks last night. They eclipsed last season’s win total by one (24 to 23) and they are now over .500 at home for the first time all season (which started with an absolutely ludicrous 1-7 home record). Overall, they are 24-30, still on the outside looking in for the playoffs.

And hey, this is the Knicks we are talking about. Surely they will follow up this big win by putting up a stinker against Milwaukee or Philly in the next couple of games. That’s been their problem all season; the inability to go on winning streaks. They will show up after a huge win against one of the league’s better teams by throwing up a stink bomb against the Celtics the following night.

In a pre-game radio interview on ESPN last night, coach Isaiah Thomas told Brandon Tierney that the Knicks needed to get some “breaks” in order to propel them to the playoffs. He then said that finishing that gut crunching game to Utah (last week) with a victory would have been the “break” that propelled them to the playoffs.

But that sounded like silly Thomas-speak to me. The Knicks don’t need breaks. They need to learn how to finish close games and they need to stop coming out at the starting gun so lackluster that they are down 14-6 before the first quarter is even halfway done.

And it may be too late to make a serious run for the playoffs. The beginning of the season was so abysmally bad, the team seems to have too much ground to make up. However, there is still the future to consider. So with that in mind, here’s Elster’s points to Quick Fix the Knicks:

- Admit your mistakes and pare down the rotation:

Yes Isaiah, you will never live down giving Jerome James and Jared Jeffries over thirty million dollars each with your mid-level exceptions, so stop trying. And stop trying to jam them into the lineup to justify the fact that you signed them in the first place. Why on earth is Jerome James in the starting lineup? He’s a huge, skill-less fat ass with no discernable talents on the basketball court. Sure, he’s known as a great locker room guy – we can add him to the Knicks all locker room, no talent All Stars along with the aforementioned Jeffries and All Star team mainstay Malik Rose. It is unclear as to whether the immortal Kelvin Cato is a charter member as well.

But I digress. Wouldn’t those 5 minutes a game wasted on Jmaes better be served by giving them to Channing Frye – a power forward who can play away from the basket (perfect for Eddy Curry), who can rebound a little bit (5.5 a game in under 26 minutes) and who needs as much time on the floor as possible to correct the minor steps back he has taken this season? And while on the subject, sit Jeffries down and stop stealng minutes from 6th man of the year David Lee.

At this point, the rotation should be as follows – Marbury at point, the sublime Jamaal Crawford at the 2, Q-Rich at three, Frye at PF and Eddy Curry and his cornrows in the middle. David Lee is the first guy off the bench, Steve Francis backs up Marbury and Q (having a VERY underrated season this year) slides to the two to back up Crawford when Lee comes in. Jeffries (he may be grossly overpaid but he’s still the best you have here) comes in to give the big guys a blow (you know what I mean) and on rare occasions, when you need a quick energy boost, you can bring in Ronaldo Balkman and Nate Robinson for an injection. That’s it. No more James, no more Rose and certainly no Kelvin Cato in any circumstances other than the other 13 players on the team stuck on a team bus somewhere.

- Take a lead pipe to Marbury’s knees every 2-3 days:

Stephon Marbury’s tendonitis is a gift from the basketball gods. He hasn’t been able to take too many of his patented wild forays in the paint (due to his limited quickness) and has been forced to, gasp, actually act like a point guard. So instead of wild, out of control me first Marbury, the hurt Marbury has been distributing the ball and making some clutch shots instead. His scoring and assists are down this year, but he just kind of looks better out there.

- Get Patrick Ewing in as your thirty-ninth assistant coach and have him teach Frye and Curry how to block shots:

The Knicks are simply an awful shot blocking team. As a team they average 3.3 blocks a game and no one on the team blocks even a shot a game (Frye leads the team at .75 a game). It’s very difficult to take a defense seriously when you don’t have any shot blockers clogging the lane and altering opponent’s shots. It allows for guys like Jameer Nelson to shoot to the hoop unchallenged and quite frankly that just shouldn’t be happening.

- Get David Lee more minutes:

I don’t care how Thomas makes this happen, but he needs to make it happen. Lee is an absolute force out there. Last night, I had to turn the game off late in the third with the Knicks up 4. Lee, at that point had 7 point and 7 rebounds. He finished the game with 14 points and an astounding 16 rebounds. The guy simply has a nose for the ball. That’s not a skill that can be learned. He’s averaging 11 points and almost 11 rebounds (including 3.5 offensive rebounds) a game in just 31 minutes. And, sadly, his MVP win at the rookie/sophomore game All Star weekend has been the highlight of the season so far.

Which isn’t to say he’s perfect. His defense, especially against quicker guys, is sub-par and he really needs to improve the jumper. But he’s a hard worker, the fan favorite and the face of the harder working, more fan friendly KNicks.

- It’s never too early to look to the future:

Thomas says there will not be any trade deadline deals tomorrow and I believe him. I think he’s been mandated to stay with the team he has (probably a good idea by the Dolans’ considering some of the insane moves at the deadline Thomas has made in the off season. But here’s where the Knicks need to improve to take it to the next level (i.e., finish in the top 8 in a putrid Eastern Conference.

For starters they need to get rid of Marbury and Francis and get a real point guard in to run this team. Maybe an Andre Miller type (can he be had this summer from Philly?) or maybe in the draft. Then Thomas needs to get a shot blocker in there (or Curry and Frye need to really step up that part of their games). Oh, and another perimeter shooter wouldn’t hurt either.

So there you have it. If Thomas and the Knicks follow these easy steps, the playoffs, and a better future, will be in reach soon.

Now I’m off to hide under the bed while the Knicks lose to Milwaukee tonight.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Weekend Update

Hope everyone had a great extra-long President's Day holiday weekend. Some quick hits from the sports weekend that was:

- It’s very sad when the absolute most exciting part of the NBA’s All-Star festivities, including the game itself, was a race between a 67 year old referee and a three hundred pound former player. Don’t get me wrong, the three and a half court length race between Dick Bavetta and the Round Mound of Rebound, Chuck Barkley, was incredibly entertaining on many levels (not the least of which was watching Chuck fall on his huge butt running the final leg of the race backwards. But come on NBA, is this really the best you can do? Really? No one cares about the dunk contest, the players are actively not trying in the skills competition, and the game itself is kind of lame too. Isn’t it time we put all star games and pro bowls to bed? Let’s just vote for “All Stars” over the course of the season and have a ceremony where they are all honored instead of subjecting the fans to this torture every year. Either that or figure out a way to inject some life into these events. For example, would you rather see a defense free All Star game with Kobe dunking at will or would you rather watch a “Hair Off” between Ben Wallace’s fro and Carmelo Anthony’s braids? Who am I kidding, you don’t really want to watch either. Let’s just put this tired idea to bed once and for all.

- Drama at Legends Field continues. Now we have A-Rod finally admitting to the most known secret in the world; that he is no longer best buds with Derek Jeter. You mean they aren’t “blood brothers” anymore? What could possible have happened? Oh yes, A-Rod threw Jeter under the bus back in 2001 and Jeter has decided (to the delight of Yankee haters everywhere) not to take the high road for once. Instead, he’s letting A-Rod drown in his own self-created tempest and it doesn’t look like he’ll be tossing out a life preserver any time soon.

- Less Drama in Metville – So after spending all winter thinking about the curve ball he didn’t swing at, Carlos Beltran finally realized it was unhit-able. Nothing be could do with that pitch. Oh really? Hey Carlos, did you ever consider taking a Keith Hernandez-like foul-it-off cut to protect the plate and hopefully get something you CAN hit later? Apparently not. On the bright side, he’s not letting it tear him up and he’s hungry and gunning for the MVP award. Then there’s Lastings Millege and his 19 pounds of muscle in camp this year with a new attitude. I don’t know about you but call me skeptical until we see him actually carry through on it.

- Downfall of Tom Brady? Of course not. But anything which makes a member of the Patriots seem less than perfect makes me happy. So the Tom Brady Bridgette Moynehan baby “scandal” is a story for me.

- Georgetown survived a Saturday scare but has moved up to 12 in the pools. They play hapless Cincy on Wednesday followed by a huge tilt with the other first place team in the Big East, Pitt. The winner of that game (assuming they can do halfway decently in the Big East Tournament) will probably get themselves a very high seeding in the NCAA tournament this March.

- Heartfelt good wishes to Ranger Brendan Shanahan who suffered a bad concussion this weekend. As the Times pointed out today, the Rangers are no strangers to careers affected by concussions. Let’s hope Shanahan’s was a one shot deal and he doesn’t suffer any lasting effects.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Lost-Like Mystery In Florida

This week begins the odyssey of one of the great sports mysteries of our time. Only one team presents more unanswered questions than an episode of Lost. Who? Why the Yankees of course.

Are they really relying on a platoon of Andy Phillips and Doug Mientkiewicz to play first base? Is the rotation really going to include a guy with a bad elbow (Pettitte), an unproven Japanese dude and team favorite Carl Pavano? Are they really relying on a 400 year old Roger Clemens to cement the rotation in four months? Was Mariano Rivera serious when he said he might end up playing somewhere else next year? How long ago did George Steinbrenner die and how much does the guy in The Boss suit get paid to shuffle around and pretend he’s the owner of the team? Is Joe Torre going to come back next season? And that’s before we even get to A-Rod.

The Yankees are a team brimming with questions. It’s been a long time (by Yankee standards anyway) since they hoisted a World Series trophy and certainly there is tension and drama at Legends Field this spring (not to mention warm weather, shorts and afternoons playing golf but there’s no need to be bitter about anything). In years past, heads would be rolling by now but the new and improved Team Steinbrenner make less threats and seem to be willing to let things move along at a more normal baseball pace.

What makes things a little easier for Torre and company was the fact that Boston had a cruddy season themselves last year and with the exception of the Matsuzaka signing, haven’t done that much to get better either (that means you JD Drew). When Boston is excelling, it makes Yankee mediocrity (which is what winning your division but losing in the first round of the playoffs passes for in the Bronx) much harder for Steinbrenner to swallow.

The good news in Yankee land? Simple. They have Jeter (one of the best intangibles/calming influence guys in the game), a ridiculously stacked batting order, the best reliever in baseball and you know that Mientkiewicz is a prime example of the Washed Up Guy Who Comes To The Yankees And Ends Up Hitting .295, 22hr 86rbi. I hate those guys by the way.

Whether you love or hate this team, you have to admit they are intriguing. Hell, I hate the Yankees and I’m intrigued. I’m also glad that all of the drama will be in the Bronx, not Queens this year. Ok, I’m sure the Mets will be full of drama too. After all, they have 35 crappy or unproven pitchers auditioning for roles in the starting rotation.

And we haven’t even mentioned A-Rod (except to say we aren’t mentioning him). That guy deserves his own posting and I’m sure he’ll be getting one as soon as he cranks out his first 3 home run game against the worst team in the league with the Yanks already up 4-0 type scenario.

In the meantime, all eyes are glued to Legends Field in sunny, warm Florida to see this mystery unfold. Now please excuse me while I go chip ice off my car.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dubious Milestone Number 23

In what can only be described as a dubious milestone at best, the New York Knicks matched last season’s win total of 23 with a last second victory over the Lakers last night in Los Angeles.

Which begs several questions. Has Coach Isaiah Thomas shown enough required “significant progress” to save his job? Are the Knicks much better than they were last season? Are they headed in the right direction or are they simply a crappy, mediocre team and destined to remain that way as they struggle in salary cap hell?

Early indications are that Thomas has, indeed, shown enough Dolan mandated progress to not get fired this season. The Knicks certainly look much better than last year and should manage to win 40 or so games, a huge (or quantum as Clyde Frazier would say) leap over last year’s sad state of Larry Brown induced dysfunction. Owner James Dolan, in an informal and impromptu meeting with the team several days ago even went so far as to unofficially indicate that Eddy Curry, on record as a Thomas guy, had “nothing to worry about”.

But are the Knicks a good team, or at least a team with potential to be good? The truth is, it’s hard to say. They have a great “on paper” team that often manages to squander leads in the final minutes and often plays so poorly at the start of games that they are out of it before the first quarter buzzer has sounded. But they are also a very young team which is learning how to win.

Clearly there is talent on the roster. Eddy Curry is becoming a dominant offensive big man with a couple of go to moves, including a beautiful hook shot from the right baseline. His defense is horrible, his rebounding mediocre at best, and he can’t block shots. But I think he is improving week to week and game to game and finally showing his potential. He is still young (24) and is already one of the best big men in the Eastern Conference. Jamal Crawford (just 26) is a skilled player starting to harness some of his sublime potential and there are a slew of first and second year players on the roster. Sure Marbury is playing slower and the wheels have completely come off of Steve Francis, but the Knicks are in better shape now than at any time in the last six or so years. Though the salary cap situation remains a disaster, that has been the case since the team made the ill fated Ewing deal. Had they simply kept him for the final year of his contract instead of trading him for bloated contracts, I believe something like 16 million would have come off the books and the whole chain of trading bad contracts for worse ones would never have occurred.

Still, Thomas is a crappy coach and I’m not sure how far this team can go with him in control. Even worse, the Knicks will probably not make the playoffs and enter the lottery, meaning that they will have to switch their number 1 pick position with the Chicago Bulls. If the Knicks somehow win the lottery (and the Oden/Durant sweepstakes), it will set the franchise back 10 more years. And I’m not even joking about that.

So to sum up, 23 wins before the all-star break is pretty good progress for a team that was so bad last year, they were unwatchable. And unlike Larry Brown, who seemed to be openly trying to get fired last year, at least Thomas is trying.

All said and done, a team going in the right direction.

With miles to go before they sleep.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Big East Shifts As March Approaches

While THE story in college hoops this year is Oden vs Durant for some lucky lottery winner next summer, the Big East is begining to shake out as we hit the home stretch. With Louisville drubbing top seeded Pitt and Georgetown taking care of business against West Virginia last night, we seem to have anew frontrunner in the battle for the Big East crown.

Georgetown (who incidentally played eventual national champion Florida tougher than any other team in the tournament last March) is clearly the best team in the East right now and looks like it is primed to make a serious run in the NCAA tournament. The Hoyas have a good center (Roy Hibbert), one of the most versatile players in college in Jeff Green and a fantastic offensive system which allows them to play with any team in the league. They also play terrific defense, a trdemark of all of the great Hoya teams of the past. They must get by Villanova and dreadful Cinncy (both on the road) to set up a huge home game against Pitt (whose best player, mind you, is Aaron Gray - who looks like Shawn Bradley's younger, slightly shorter brother; not a very good sign for his NBA prospects).

It is nice to see a team (Georgetown) that plays as a true team (much like Florida) be successful and thrive in a very me-first sports culture.

Couple of other quick hits from the weekend that was:

- The Pro Bowl - A game I never watch because the only people who care even less than the players themselves are the fans. Though someone seems to have forgotten to mention this to Sean Taylor - who absolutely crushed the Bills punter on a fake punt in the first half. Hey Sean, we know how inportant your reputation for being a big hitter (not to mention gun carrying lunatic) is to you, but this is the Pro Bowl. Do you really want "injured opposing player in a meaningless game" added to your resume? To his credit, the punter got right up and even congratulated Taylor on the big hit.

- Along the same lines, football is simply too violent a sport to have an all star game. Look no further than Drew Brees and his dislocated elbow. If I was an owner, I would do everything in my power (including having the medical staff sign off on fake injuries) to keep my guys off the roster. Why risk a 10 million dollar investment on a game no one cares about? it makes no sense at all.

- Why has Lebron James taken three steps back this year? He seems to lack the fire necessary to be a great player. Guys like Iverson, Wade and the like throw themselves to the wolves to make their teams better. James seems to be gliding through the season. This needs to be watched.

- Now that the Mets have signed pitcher Chan Ho Park to a one year deal, all Met fans can rest easy. Why concern yourselves about the status of the Mets rotation and Pedro's return from injury (if ever) when you have Chan Ho Park stepping into the breach? And the even better news: his agent Scott Boras claims he's the number three starter. The Mets are going to need to average about 7 runs a game this year until Omar Minaya swings some mid season deal to land a starter.

And finally, the Kris Benson saga reached an all-time low yesterday when it was announced that he will undergo surgery for a partially torn rotator cuff. Does this mean the divorce is back on?

So to review, the Mets traded one year's worth of average Benson for number three starter John Maine and eventually El Duque. Now that's a trade. I will now go stare sadly at my Scott Kazmir baseball cards....

Correction: Jeff BORIS, not Scott Boras, is Park's new agent and made the comment. Thanks anon for correcting me.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Elster's World - Reborn

So after long internal debate and discussion with my advisors, I have decided to come back to blogging in an altered form.

Elster's World has been reborn as Elster's Sports World.

Yes, yes, I hear it already. Elster's World has always been pretty much all about sports anyway. And I don't deny that is true. The difference now is that the blog will be only about sports. No more fiction. No more forays into the J-blog world. No more please for peace among bloggers. Rather, it will be about sports.

As a New Yorker, I will focus mostly on the New York sports scene and the teams that I follow the most (Jets, Mets, Knicks and sorta the Rangers) but I will not limit myself too much. After all, Eli Manning's family is much more interesting when you factor Archie in.

Anyways, that's the big news. I'm back. Better than ever? Who knows. Is anyone still checking? We will find out. But I guess I need to write about something and after careful debate, that something is sports.

Stay tuned....