Elster's World

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What a Leaper

I was watching the intro to the McDonald's All-America slam dunk contest last night (don't ask) and they showed flashbacks of former winners - including the Knicks own David Lee - who won with a "stand on the baseline, throw ball in air towards basket, stop, rip off shirt, gather in ball and dunk" dunk. It was pretty cool.

Sadly, this clip may turn out to be the highlight of the season despite last night's win over Cleveland - which win, by the way, underscores my point in yesterday's post. There's no way Jordan lets his team lose that game last night. But Lebron let a couple of early hits by the Knicks sap some of his aggressiveness attacking the basket - settling instead for jumpers (not his forte).

The Knicks have an uphill battle for the last playoff spot - a game and a half out with very few gimmes on the schedule. And onme of those gimmes is a game against Philly - who I believe is undefeated against the Knicks so far this year.

Look for my 2007 Mets season preview tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Case Against Kobe

So Jemele Hill’s ESPN.com article about Kobe Bryant and his comparisons to Michael Jordan have generated a lot of debate. Mostly, the conflict swirls around whether or not it’s legitimate to even mention Kobe in the same breath as MJ.

I say no.

Before we all get too excited, I will readily admit that Kobe is one of the best, if not the best, players in the NBA right now. He is an assassin, capable of scoring 40, 50, 60 or even more on any given night (or on consecutive nights as his recent streak has shown). He has the rare ability to consistently make clutch, end-of-the-game daggers that only the truly great players can make. He is carrying a very mediocre team on his back right now towards the playoffs and he’s shouldering pretty much the entire offensive load at his coach’s request.

But he’s still no MJ.

What separates Jordan from Bryant - in fact it’s what sets him apart from almost everyone whoever played the game – is not the raw talent. Plenty of players have nearly as much talent as MJ. Take Kobe. Take Lebron. Was Jordan SO much more physically giftedthan they were? No, what sets Jordan apart from the others was his three D’s – desire, determination and drive. Nobody wants to win as badly as Jordan does. Whether it be at basketball, golf, gambling or fill in the blank, Jordan doesn’t just want to beat you, he wants to destroy you. And this quality cannot be taught – you either have it or you don’t. Roger Federer has it. Tiger has it. MJ had it. I don’t see it in Kobe (too selfish, too concerned with his own numbers) or Lebron (sitting with his son on the bench during a game? Co-hosting the ESPY’s? Jordan would never do bush league stuff like that).

Add on the fact that MJ never won a championship with a dominant big man (Kobe has never won without one) and that (pointed out by Simmons the other day) MJ played in a league with much better defenses (the original Bad Boys, the Knicks, the Celtics and Lakers) where players could hand check (you think John Starks could legally stay with Jordan 25 feet from the basket?) or Jordan would easily have had four, five or even more games in a row of fifty plus.

Don’t get me wrong. Deciding not to live your life so overly focused isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Phil Mickleson decided he wanted to be a husband and father (not to mention get seconds of that pie) as much as he wanted to be a great golfer. So he sacrificed something from his game, is happy being the second best golfer in the world, winning a few majors and making tons of money – and he’ll leave the “Greatest Ever” pursuit to Tiger – who is so solely focused on winning that he seems to have forgotten he’s married to a hot Swedish model-type.

So yes, Kobe can say all the right things - he can develop a tongue thing like MJ did – he can wear 24 (one better than MJ?) instead of 8 – he can quest to be the best – but it jut isn’t inside of him. And while he may be the best player in the NBA right now (arguably) – please please, please don’t mention him in the same breath as (no offense Larry and Magic) the greatest player I’ve ever seen.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Final Four

I write this in the euphoria of Georgetown's improbable comeback against the number one seeded North Carolina squad that had outplayed the Hoyas for most of the afternoon, only to succumb to a Jonathan Wallace three point shot which sent the game to overtime.

Despite a free throw disparity so wide one would have thought the NCAA had a vested interest in a Tar Heel victory, the Hoyas clawed their way back from a 10 point, late second half defecit to beat Carolina and make their first trip to the final four since the mid-80's.

Truly gutty performances from Hibbert (personal best 7 blocks despite playing the entire game in foul trouble) Green (22 point plus he dominated the boards while the Hoyas made their run) Dejuan Wagner (a Green in the making) and Wallace, who calmly hit the game tying three with under a minute to play - capping off a terrific comeback.

The Hoyas asserted themselves in the overtime period, immediately opening a 7 point lead that quickly sawelled to double digits, and the rout was on.

Not only did the Hoyas make the final four, but I scored 6 out of 8 in the Elite Eight and 4 for 4 in the final four in my bracket - putting me (I assume) in solid contention for my office NCAA pool.

So much more to write, but I'm way too giddy for coherent thought right now.....

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Elster's Back

Sorry for the long delay between posts but there has been a lot of personal stuff going on recently – including searching for, and landing, a new job – which has kept me away from your favorite sports blog. So without further ado, some thoughts from the previous few weeks:

- The NCAA tournament has been a little too chalk for my taste – way too many 1’s and 2’s around, not nearly enough George Masons. It seems to make sense. With high school-ers having to go to school at least a year, the higher end teams look a little deeper this year – widening the talent gap between the haves and the have-nots. Adding Greg Oden to Ohio State makes them THAT much better. Same with Durant and Texas and Wright and North Carolina.

My picks are holding up pretty well. I have 12 of 16 in the Sweet 16 and all 8 of my final 8 picks alive. I correctly picked the VCU – Duke upset though a couple of my sure thing first round upsets didn’t hold (how does a Bob Knight team not fear him enough to win its first game? How did Gonzaga not win at least one game?). The tournament remains one of the great sports mysteries – thus making it so much fun.

The tournament is even more fun when you have a rooting interest still around after the first week. Last year Georgetown made it to the Sweet 16 and then lost to eventual national champ Florida in the toughest game the Gators player in the tourney. I am praying for a rematch - which would pit these two teams in the finals this year.

The Hoyas have Vanderbilt Friday night –a team they beat by 16 earlier in the season. Vandy may better now but the Hoyas are much better now – firing on all cylinders up front and getting steady shooting from perimeter players Jessie Sapp, Jonathan Wallace and DeJuan Summers. The more I see them play, the more they look like a final four team.

- The Mets rotation seems to have shaken out. Barring a surprise pick by Willie Randolph, it’s looking like Glavine, El Duque, Mayne, Perez and surprise winner of the fifth slot sweepstakes, Pelfrey. Chan Ho Park is a leading candidate to win the long reliever/spot starter job and Aaron Sele is one more stinkfest away from getting cut by the Turk (most likely this afternoon).

Surprisingly, the bullpen has been more of a question mark than the starters have been. Schoenweis, Smith and Wagner have been good (and Heilman is doing ok despite struggling with elbow issues) but the so-called “power arms” that Omar Minaya brought in have been really struggling. With Mota suspended, Heilman hurt and Duaner Sanchez oversleeping, there is major concern as to who will be bridging the game for Billy Wagner.

- Talking heads all over the NFL landscape are all but handing the AFC over to the Patriots after their stunning free agency period – where they actually made smart signing that (a) bolstered their aging defense and (b) totally revamped their sucky receiver corps. Meanwhile, their two major competitors, the Colts and Chargers, have been relatively quiet - with the Colts actually losing three important players from last season (June, Harper and Rhodes) and the Chargers in all kinds of coaching turmoil.

The Jets have been pretty quiet themselves – they seem content to continue building their nucleus from within, the draft and adding lower tier free agents. I would have loved for the Jets to land Adalius Thomas or corner Clement, but they didn’t want to overpay for a second tier “shut down” corner (is Clement THAT much better than Dyson) and I honestly think no one had a shot at Thomas, who actually took less money to play for the Pats.

- Still cannot understand why Dolan gave Isaiah Thomas his extension at this point in the season – oh wait sure I can. Dolan has no idea how to run a sports franchise. Selena Roberts of the New York Times has a MAJOR ax to grind with Mr. Dolan – she has for the last two years – and reading her anti-Dolan articles is one of the best parts of my morning train commute to work. Still, with a true team of walking wounded, the Knicks are still right on the cusp of a playoff spot (which I am predicting they will NOT get – way too many injuries riddling this mediocre team forcing Thomas to give WAY too many minutes to guys like Malik Rose and Nate Robinson ).

- I have to admit that I watched about 20 game minutes of last night’s Ranger game. Unlike earlier in the season when they seemed to have gotten away from the formula which had them overachieve last season, they seem to be back to a more hard nosed, defensive style of play. I was extremely impressed with rookies Ryan Callahan and some defenseman named Girardi (I had never heard of either of them until recently) as well as Sean Avery’s play. Sadly, Jarko Immomen has not developed into the superstar I had hoped he would.

And I cannot tell you how disconcerting it was the hear Sam call a game without JD. How do people listen to broadcasts now????

Well that’s it for now. I wanted to get something fresh up. Hope to have something more concrete later today or tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Things About The Mets That May Only Interest Me

My buddy Brian took his 11 year old son to Mets spring training for a few games last week. Since he has a connection, he was able to get into the dugout prior to the game for autographs and pictures. Here were his quick observations:

Nice guys - Jose Reyes, David Wright and Billy Wagner.

Biggest Jerk in the clubhouse - Moises Alou.

Potential Jerk who needs proper guidance - Carlos Beltran, who refused to sign the kid's baseball until Julio Franco came out and signed it first. And after hearing this, anyone who doesn't think that Franco saved the Mets season by turning Beltran around last year after the famous "curtain call" incident last season doesn't understand the importance of leadership and chemistry on a professional sports team.

Nice guys part II - Willie Randolph.

The kid got some fantastic shots with Wright, Reyes and Wagner. He has a baseball signed by the majority of the 25 man roster and memories he will have for the rest of his life.

THIS is why we love sports.

Monday, March 12, 2007

March 11 Ramblings

Some rambly - not completely thought out impressions from a busy weekend:

- Congratulations to the Georgetown Hoyas who captured the Big East tournament title Saturday night by soundly defeating Pittsburgh and making a statement that they are one of the teams to beat in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Teams win in March if they (i) have a superstar to rely on to carry them in stretches, (ii) get solid guard play, (iii) have a good big man and (iv) peak at the right time. The Hoyas boast Jeff green, the Big East player of the year and one of the most versatile players in the game right now, decent guard play (this is their biggest problem coming in to the big dance), a fantastic front line and they are on fire right now.

- Thumbs down to Texas coach Rich Barnes who apparently doesn’t realize that when you have the best player in the country on your team you should try to run plays for him in overtime. Simmons has been harping on this all season long but I witnessed it for myself in today’s OT loss to Kansas – Durant managed one shot in overtime despite scoring 37 for the game. Senseless.

- Speaking of senseless, I am not sure I am ok with the NHL’s 25 game suspension of Chris Simon who came a chin away from possibly killing Ryan Hollweg last week. 40 games feels right to me.

It seems that the NHL is getting more and more violent even as the league continues to lose casual fans. Simply put Joe Public turns this stuff on and asks: “Why should I watch this insane sport again?” And you know what? He’s right. Joe will argue with me and tell me I’m an idiot but I think retaliation and fighting are spinning out of control right now.

- I’m not sure what to make of the New England Patriots sudden spending spree in free agency this year after shunning the open market in years past. It seems as though they feel they are right on the cusp and are willing to open the pocketbooks to get back to the Super Bowl. I liked the Adalius Thomas signing, was less in love with Walker (though he returns kicks too) and going after a problem child like Stallworth smacks almost of desperation.

If the moves click, New England is right back in the mix for the Super Bowl. But there is certainly backfire potential with this mix – which I am proud to say would make me happy. My money is on the New England coach making it work. I think the curse of Ted Johnson won’t rear its ugly head for a few more years.

I wrote this post really quickly and in a very tired state (little sleep due to the clock change the night before) so I was kicking myself this morning for not adding - (v) great defense and (vi) good coach/system to my list of NCAA needs. That is why Georgetown will be in good shape and Texas (despite having Durant) may struggle.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Jets Biggest Move Of Free Agency Doesn't Involve A Free Agent

The Jets made their first splash of the free agency period by trading for a player who won’t be a free agent until next year. Sources indicate that the Jets have traded their higher second round pick (number 37) to the defending Super Bowl losers the Chicago Bears in exchange for Thomas Jones and the Bears later second round pick (lucky number 63). The Jets are rumored to be negotiating with Jones’ agent Drew Rosenhaus on an extension. This should (and I stress should) finally provide the Jets with the number one rushing option they have missed since Curtis Martin’s knee finally gave out.

Personally, I love this deal. Or at least like a lot in a very platonic way. Jones is 28 years old (in his prime) and has rushed for over 1,200 in each of the last two seasons. The Bears get a prime drafting position with the 37 pick (which the Jets received from the Redskins - who needs draft picks when you can overspend in free agency?) while the Jets get a B+/A- back and retain two picks in the second round (where they can probably still find serviceable linemen on both sides of the ball). Jones is also a decent receiver out of the backfield – which bodes well for the Pennington favorite screen passes. Word on the street is that he excels at catching backward passes as well.

The trade makes the Jets offense stronger on many levels. They now have a real runner to help stabilize their ball control offense and to take some of the pressure off Chad Pennington. It will force opposing defenses to “stack the box” a little more, allowing Pennington more one on one coverages to exploit and to use the play action fake (which he is very good at as well). It allows Leon Washington to be the change of pace guy, to not have to take a huge pounding as a number one back (which he isn’t, at least not yet) and lets him develop at his own pace. It doesn’t, however, bode well for Cedric Houston, who is now relegated to third back status. Let’s hope he has some fine special teams skills.

With the move in place, the Jets can now focus their free agent dollars and draft picks on specific needs – defensive line help, corner help, maybe an outside linebacker, a right side offensive lineman and a speed receiver to stretch opposing defenses (and who excels at coming back to catch underthrown bombs).

Monday, March 05, 2007

Going In Opposite Directions?

- Using a two-game sample from an 82 game season is always a terrible idea, which is exactly why I’ll use it to proclaim a possible shift in the run for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets spent this weekend botching themselves with horrible loses to the Celtics and 76ers – two awful teams, while the Knicks won against Golden State on Friday and followed it up with a huge overtime victory on Saturday night against Atlanta. The KNicks are now a half game behind the Nets for that final playoff spot – with Jersey getting ready for a tough Western swing and the Knicks playing a very light schedule for the next two weeks, affording them the opportunity to get slightly healthier. Q-Rich is having back issues again (a very bad sign) and both guards Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis(26 points in his first game back, including two three-point plays in overtime Saturday) have knee issues and could use a rest as well. Rookie Mardy Collins has pretty much used Nate Robonson’s flu bug to usurp his spot in the guard rotation (Collins is 6 feet 6 inches, plays defense and doesn’t turn the ball over)

Sure, who are we kidding. With a playoff run coming up, would you rather go to war with J-Kidd and Vince Carter or Marbury and Eddy Curry? I’ll take the Nets please. But hey, a Knick fan can dream no? And it is nice to see Marbury finally stepping up and trying to be a team leader.

And while I am beyond loathe to say it, if Isaiah Thomas can take this team to the playoffs (even the Easter Conference B-League version), banged up as it is and without their best perimeter player (Jamal Crawford), then you really have to tip your hat to him. Now let’s all watch out for the apocalypse.

And take it easy Joe, I’m not suggesting the Knicks are better than your dreadful Nets – only that they should have been blown up at the trade deadline and re-built. I think they will lose carter and how long before Kidd’s overused body starts to break down? Without a healthy Jefferson (something which is all too common these days) they are barely holding off the Knicks and Magic for the 8 spot in the playoffs. They are 4.5 games behind Toronto for cripes sakes. They need an overhaul badly.

- Speaking of wrong directions, how is it that the New England patriots managed to nab the best defensive player on the market (and perfect fit for their defense) Adalius Thomas, sign a blocking tight end (Kyle Brady), a back up running back(Sammy Morris) and perhaps soon a receiver (Wes Walker) while the jets have done nothing?

I’m not saying that the Jets should have gone out there and overspent on second rate type players ($30 million for Drew Bennett???) but with around $20 million is cap money and a bunch of cut players thrown in, have the Jets even been players? Did they even make offers to Thomas or Nate Clements (who got 8 and $80 million – I don’t know how back-loaded the contract was though, I haven’t looked)?

Of course, the last two paragraphs were written out of sheer jealousy. I am behind Mike Tannenbaum and Eric Mangini. They took a train wreck and turned them into 10 game winners. They did it with no running game to speak of and a weak armed quarterback who can’t throw 20 yard outs. But still they are doing it. I trust the leadership and hopefully the plan in place. It’s wise to build from within and develop your core. And to draft wisely. It’s just hard to watch your big brother go out and make themselves much better defensively (it’s been a while since the Pats have had a fearsome, QB chasing linebacker) and your team is maintaining radio silence.

- Very Quick Mets update. John Maine pitched well, Phil Humber got rocked. Can we really put anything into anyone’s first spring training start? Does it really matter that much? I’m thinking no, but that’s just me.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Weekend Blitz

Another relatively slow sports weekend coming up so let’s break down some (non) stories just for fun (and to get another post up before the weekend):

- The Knicks ridiculous string of win one lose one games is put on the line tonight when they host the Golden State Warriors. If recent history is any indication, they should win tonight after Wednesday’s horrendous loss to the Celtics. Also, the win will be by three points or less on a miracle shot by either Steve Francis (if he makes his own “miraculous” comeback from tendonitis) or some obscure player like Jerome James. They will of course follow this win up by getting blown out of their next game.

And while on the subject of basketball, do we give kudos to Lebron James for his 39 point effort against the Mavericks last night or do we thumbs down his disastrous final minutes (missing 2 free throws and two open look threes that could have won it in the last few seconds)? I’m going with thumbs down myself. James is supposed to be the next “global icon” (his words, not mine). Well, previous icons (Jordan, Bird and the gang) make those shots in pressure situations. And until James realizes that he has to raise his game to that otherworldly level (and not just coast on his enormous talent), he will be thumbs down (in my book anyway).

- Today officially marks Chan Ho Park’s first serious bid to win a spot in the rotation. He’s going to toss a couple of innings against the Cardinals.

On the plus side: He seems happy to be with New York and its large Korean community, he prefers the National League (though which pitcher doesn’t?), he’s only 33 and he’s finally healthy after suffering from back injuries the last few years. I’m also delighted to notice he’s sporting a scraggly, wild growth of beard – which can only help his cause.

On the downside: He’s Chan Ho Park.

In the Mets rotational world, his possibilities are endless. PArk could end up getting cut, he could end up in the middle or bottom of the rotation or he could even end up as staff ace (a frightening possibility, but one that has to be seriously considered when you realize that Tom Glavine and El Duque combined are over 80 years old – and possibly 90 if Hernandez is indeed the 50 years old he looks). How important is it that he pitch well today? Not that important. He’ll get as much of a look as any other starter. The Mets almost need him to make this team and perhaps be that seven inning guy they need to preserve the bullpen every five days. Either way I’m rooting for Park and his beard to come north with the team as the number three starter.

- Sports Illustrated’s web site ran a story a few days ago where they broke down some of the worst sports related injuries of all time then linked to Youtube for footage of the actual injuries themselves. I’ll tell you, I’m still queasy thinking about it now. Worst ones – Clint Malarchuck getting his throat cut by a skate blade and almost bleeding out on the ice and Allan Ray literally getting his eye poked out.

WARNING – If you plan on linking to the page and watching, be forewarned that this is particularly nasty stuff. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

- The New York Jets made some more cuts and have a decent amount of cap space available for free agency (though Joe tells me the $20.8 million figure is not accurate). Either way, if I had my pick, I’d like to see the team make serious runs at CB Nate Clements (Bills) and/or LB Adalius Thomas (Ravens), both of whom would shore up a decent and improving defense. Then I’d hit the draft for defensive linemen.

Eric Mangini (and, by extension GM Mike Tannenbaum) hold from the New England method of avoiding big name free agents and instead building through the draft and keeping/developing your own players but these guys might be worth the exception.

- A Georgetown win tomorrow against Uconn (12:00 pm on CBS – get your Tivo’s ready) will guaranty the Hoyas at least a tie for first place in the Big East. A decent showing in the tournament will guaranty them a high seed in the Big Dance, perhaps even a number 2 (they won’t fall below three unless they lose to Uconn and get eliminated in one round at MSG next weekend).

By the way, I shall now pat myself on the back for correctly calling the loss to the Orangemen last week. Sometimes sports are easy to predict.

- Last night’s Ranger/Penguin game (a game that quite literally put me to sleep) illustrates why the Rangers won’t be making the playoffs this year. They are built to be an overachieving team that scraps and replies on its heavy hitters to score and then protect those leads with defense and good goaltending. Well, they haven’t gotten great production from their stars (see Jagr’s shoulder for more details) and they can’t hold big leads.

If it were me, I’d give up on the season and start bringing up some kids from the AHL and see what they have for next year. Of course I hate hockey so who cares what I think anyway.

Well, we’ve covered all four major sports and even some NHL hockey as well. Not bad for an article about nothing.

Enjoy the weekend.