This Whole “JR Smith” Thing Has Run Its Course

JR Smith really is a lost cause, man.

Friday night against Boston, the entire Knick fan base, despite another loss, was in awe over the apparent constraint shown by Smith. The two-guard put up just one shot in 27 minutes. To some (including the MSG broadcast team), this was a blatant issue in the Knicks offense. To others, it was an unusual display of distribution and level-headedness.

If only. As Frank Isola of the Daily News reported late Saturday night, that performance was anything but. Per the beat writer, Smith and coach Mike Woodson exchanged heated words following a win against the Bulls, discussing the guard’s morbid shot selection. In his predictably childish ways, JR took it upon himself to prove his worth to the coach the next night out.

His one-shot output at Boston wasn’t any sudden spark of basketball IQ, but rather an outburst to spite his head coach, the one person who’s stuck a neck out for him over the last two years. As if to say “You don’t want me to shoot as much? Fine, I won’t shoot at all. Watch what happens.” It also explains Woodson’s uneasiness when answering why Smith was so passive that night. The coach was uncharacteristically fidgety, constantly tapping his fingers around the microphone while at an apparent loss for words. When asked if it was in the gameplan, he responded “No,” with an awkward grin and a few finger taps.

The twisted part is that it was the best, most consistent JR had looked all year, only to revert back to his usual ways the next night (He shot 1-for-8 and finished with two points against Atlanta on Saturday in 24 minutes). While looking on as a spectator during the closing minutes, something he’s rarely been asked to do since signing on in early 2012, Smith was caught burying his face into his arms as the Knicks clinched a hard-to-come-by victory on their home floor. Because he’s the best, Pablo Prigioni was there by his side, doing his best to provide guidance to Smith, patting him down and talking him up. It’s not in Pablo’s character to give up on anyone. He’s even been caught on MSG film providing guidance to a sulking Smith before (also at home against Atlanta, if memory serves.) But by now, it’s clear that JR Smith will change for nobody, regardless the circumstances. He’s simply not worth the time of anyone willing to lend a word of advice. It’ll slide in one ear, out the other, and be completely forgotten by the time the next blunt is lit.

The guy is beyond coaching. He isn’t a sufficient second offensive option, and his best role is catch-and-shoot specialist—a role he’d never contently fill. A glorified Steve Novak.

Thinking of Smith reminds me of a Nas lyric you may find familiar from the best diss record published in my lifetime. It goes: “And that’s the guy y’all chose to name your company after?”

With or without context, the bar bears basically no resemblance to the Knicks organization, except for a few quick points.

The Knicks aren’t “naming” themselves after Smith, but it damn sure isn’t far off from it. Remember, this is the guy whom James Dolan thought so highly of that bringing on his non-talent brother was an absolute must, two seasons in a row. Only since his job has been on the line has Woodson resorted to benching Smith in pursuit of a win. Also, 23-year-old Iman Shumpert is a living, breathing trade rumor, despite being the more promising player between the two, and showing every bit of what a winning basketball player needs to possess during last year’s postseason. (It’s easy to forget, but those Knicks may well have gotten swept by Indiana if it wasn’t for Shumpert’s hustle and clutch shooting. Maybe I’m a bit of a Shump homer, and maybe that’s some hyperbole, but that’s how I saw it.)

Regardless, JR is the guy New York is riding with. Don’t expect Dolan, the acting general manager these days, to ship away the player he’s gone out of his way to accommodate over parts of three seasons. I find it hard to believe that a coach would invest trust, for so long, in a player that’s done almost nothing to deserve it. This smells to me (somebody who knows absolutely nothing about the organization) like JR’s minutes being demanded from the bearded fellow sitting bemused on the baseline, while probably critiquing the team’s dance routine.

Or maybe that’s just me clinging on the the thread of hope that my team’s head coach has some common sense deep down, somewhere under that beautifully bald scalp.

Anyway, Woodson will probably get canned for another extension of Dolan soon, and Shumpert will almost definitely be traded (the only reason he hasn’t been traded this week was because it would’ve upset another Dolan grudge, with Masai Urjiri). All while Smith will probably receive his typical 35 minutes of burn nightly, and probably be marketed as one of the team’s lead faces over the course of his four-year deal.

For Dolan? Business as usual.

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Don’t Let the Chris Young Signing Ruffle Your Feathers, Mets Fans!

So, I woke up this morning and the Mets did something. That was new. They signed free-agent outfielder Chris Young to a one-year deal worth $7.2 million. It’s a little weird, but let’s talk this through before we react.

Young struggled through a down year with the Oakland A’s last year, hitting at just a .200 clip, striking out a ton, and playing kinda crappy defense. FanGraphs had his 2013 UZR at 0.2 with negative-six defensive runs saved. Guh.

His lowest single-season batting average was, as you’d imagine, a product of his lowest single-season BABIP. That mark was a sad .237—but it’s easy to see why when you take a look at some batted-ball numbers. Young’s infield fly ball percentage was nearly five percentage points higher than in 2012, and that makes sense considering the ballpark he played in. Using my super-advanced Photoshop skills, here’s a comparison of infield pastures between O.co Coliseum—or whatever the hell you wanna call it—and Citi Field.

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So yeah, you can predict that Young probably won’t pop out as much.

On the down side, he struck out a ton last season, K-ing in nearly 25 percent of his plate appearances. That was bad. Between the strikeouts and pop flies, Young’s on-base clip was .280, which goes against pretty much everything Sandy Alderson wants.

That OBP being significantly higher than his .200 AVG is pretty encouraging though, again alluding back to the projected drop off in infield flies. As long as Young manages to strike out a little less often in 2014, it’d be reasonable to except that BABIP to creep back towards his .274 career average. If the Mets can get, say, a .245/.330/.430-type line from Young at the bottom of their order, that’s a lot better than the scraps they’d be running out in right field without him.

The Mets obviously have a need for both corner outfield spots, and Young fills one. You’d presume they’ll try and build the outfield with Juan Lagares planted in center. Lagares posted a crazy 28 DRS last season in just over 900 innings, roughly 400 and 300 less than outfield leaders Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gomez. Young will probably be slotted into right, according to Adam Rubin. Prior to last season, Young has no MLB experience at either corner, but played 26 games in right and 24 in left for the A’s. At the moment, Eric Young Jr. (this will probably get confusing) is penciled in starting in left.

The $7.2 million salary is questionable, but it’s not a long-term handicap, expiring after this season. It seems like an overpay, but at a certain point, if everybody is getting overpaid, maybe that’s just the way of the market in 2013. With Matt Harvey down until 2015, that’s what the Mets are building towards. Young has the potential to be a solid starter in right, and if not, his career .262 average against lefties—compared to .225 against right-handers—makes him a platoon candidate, with Matt den Dekker as a possible partner.

With the glove, Young won’t need to be spectacular with Lagares able to cover plenty of ground, but the Mets will hope for an improvement from 2013, when he finished 264th out of 299 qualified outfielders in runs saved.

The value is questionable, but Alderson needed a corner outfielder, and wasn’t going to get anyone else of worth on a one-year pact. The deal makes for a good trial run for the 30-year-old Young, who’ll need to prove that he can be worth significant free-agent consideration next year. If it works out, it’s a win for both sides. The Mets will get 2014 outfield help and Young will garner a multi-year deal from somebody next winter (maybe somebody like the Knicks, since he’s represented by CAA). If the deal blows up in Sandy’s face? Oh well. That $7 million is off the books immediately and they try again next winter.

With one corner down, Alderson still needs a power-hitting bat to line up in left, which will more than likely—hopefully?—be acquired via trade. The Mets have Daniel Murphy and one of the Ike Davis/Lucas Duda pu pu platoon to dangle as major-league bats, along with one of Jon Niese or Jenrry Mejia, and a glut of prospect arms. If Murphy is dealt, EY Jr. or Wilmer Flores could presumably slide in at second base full time, and the remaining of Davis or Duda (or possibly even Josh Satin?) would take the first base job.

Meanwhile, the team still has no suitable shortstop anywhere in the system, which is, err, less than ideal. New York is still looking to add a starter or two, also, so keep an eye on guys like Phil Hughes and Bronson Arroyo as potential Mets in the coming weeks—I’d personally prefer the former.

Sandy has his work cut out for him, especially with the pitiful budget he’s being allocated this winter, but the Young addition is a decent move to get the ball rolling.

Just Let Poor Amar’e Out of his Misery

Thinking about Amar’e Stoudmire in 2013 really sucks.

Knicks fans remember STAT pulling on his Knicks fitted outside MSG in July 2010, declaring “the Knicks are back,” when they really weren’t yet. They remember an MVP candidate from later that year, averaging more than 25 points per game and throwing down terrorizing dunks on anyone who thought about contesting him. They remember him deferring the spotlight to a newly acquired Carmelo Anthony, after it was he who already took over New York City’s billboards.

Fans remember Amar’e tweaking his back during the 2011 playoffs, throwing down a dunk in the layup line, of all things. But then they also remember him putting on 15 pounds of muscle the following offseason to combat the injury and come back stronger. They remember, too, how that muscle only made him slower in 2011-12. They watched him play that year a step slow, a non-threat, and without the killer elbow-jumper that was a staple in the team’s 2010-11 offense.

Injury by injury, they watched his body deteriorate, just as the Phoenix Suns medical staff predicted. First a knee in October 2012, then the other knee the following March. Then an unknown knee that summer.

Now here we are in 2013. Just three years ago, a top force in the NBA, nobody can say with 100 percent certainty that Stoudemire belongs in the NBA anymore. He lacks explosion up and down, side to side, still the same turnstile on defense, and can’t play more than 15 minutes a night. Or play in back-to-backs.

Stoudemire’s body bailed on him halfway through a five-year, $100 million contract.

Now, the guy who used to be Amar’e Stoudemire will earn $45 million from James Dolan over the next two seasons. His doctors permit him to play a few minutes here and there, and Woodson allocates him those spot minutes whenever he can.

And that’s the problem.

Through most of last season, it became perfectly clear that the Knicks have moved on from Stoudemire. He’s no longer built into the team’s plans; in fact, he sticks out like a sore thumb whenever he’s tried to help out this year.

Amar’e has the worst net-rating on the team, by far, of guys that’ve played at least 70 minutes, via NBA.com. The Knicks get outscored by 26 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Yeah, it’s that bad.

Sure, he has the same name as the guy that was named to numerous All-Star teams, and yeah, he’s owed a ton of money. Everything he says leads you to believe he doesn’t deserve what’s happened to him, and maybe Woodson—not unlike Knicks fans—want to see Amar’e prove everyone wrong, channel vintage STAT and take fools to work on the block for however long he can.

As a fan, of course I want to see Stoudemire do the things he was doing in 2011. I sympathize for the guy that’s had his life, as he knew it, taken from him and shaken upside-down. Think about it. Amar’e Stoudemire is a basketball player. For a time, one of the best in the world. And now, in the world’s most painful blink of an eye, his biggest contributions are his off-the-bench daps.

I’m in the camp that believes a guy can have all the money in the world, but it takes more than that to equal happiness. Amar’e has played basketball for almost 30 years, and for say, 28 of those, a really damn good one. Am I supposed to have hard feelings towards the player whose passion has been stolen from him at no fault of his own?

The sad truth is, though, that two years from now, when his deal expires and he’s collected every last dime from the Knicks, Amar’e’s going to be done with professional basketball. For all intents and purposes, he was done a year ago.

The sooner Woodson understands this, the better. It’s not a punishment or an indictment, and it’s certainly not the Marbury treatment. But please, for the sake of everyone involved, just keep Amar’e away from the court.

Now I’m sad. I’m gonna watch this for the next few days.

You can find a version of this post, and more words, here.

Making Sense of the Senseless Jeremy Lin Situation

Well, if you turn to any national media source, you would be led to believe that Jeremy Lin has already bought a nice Houston home, and is looking forward to beginning training camp with the Rockets alongside, well, nobody. Although the Knicks have made a move to acquire point guard Ray Felton, Lin’s one-way ticket out of New York has not been punched yet, and if you try to use any ounce of common sense you have left after this NBA offseason, you’d realize that letting Lin walk wouldn’t make any sense at all.

Come to think of it, no part of this whole situation has made much sense from the very start. Ever since Coach Mike Woodson’s first days at the helm of the team, he’s been lukewarm-at-best on Lin. Peep this quote from May 10th:

“Will he start? Only time will tell. He’s had some success in our league where he’s played at a high level, and he’s done a lot of nice things for our ballclub.”

Not overly embracing words from Woodson. Fast forward to the acquisition of Jason Kidd, however, and Woodson seemed to have pulled a 180.

“Jeremy was our starter before he got hurt. Unfortunately he went down with the injury and he’s not going to be punished for that. He has a lot to do this summer. But when he comes back to veterans, he’ll have the first nod. He’ll be our starter, and Jason will back him up in terms of helping him develop and developing this young man into a great point guard.”

An interesting change of heart. But was it? Or was this simply a charade put on by the Knicks organization?

Jeremy Lin was gifted to the Knicks for practically nothing. Re-gifting, especially in this situation, is very bad.

After giving up significant pieces to acquire Felton, the latter seems more and more like reality. But why give these false endorsements? Why act as if the Knicks’ long-term option at point guard will be Jeremy Lin, when he’s already packing his bags?

On the other side of things, if Woodson’s words were sincere, why in the world would Raymond Felton agree to return to the Knicks as a 3rd point guard? Felton is coming off a rather miserable season, but he would presumably garner some interest as a first guard off the bench from some team. Was his desire to return to the Garden stronger than his desire to play meaningful NBA minutes?

Would the Knicks lie to Felton’s camp, and give the impression that Lin is a goner, only to match Houston’s offer? That seems a little shady to be NBA business. What also seems a little on the suspicious side, is hiding from Rockets officials who were sent to physically deliver Lin’s offer sheet, to buy themselves time to decide on whether to match or not. (League rules require the offer sheet to be physically delivered. The receiving team has three days upon receipt to reach a decision.)

Aside from the murkiness of the act, why would the Knicks need to buy themselves time if they’ve already decided not to match. They know the numbers. Do they really need the 3+ days to go over language? Presumably no.

As has been widely publicized, Houston’s offer to Lin is a “poison pill” deal. Under the Gilbert Arenas Rule, teams may only offer the league average salary ($5M) in contract year one, to players with less than two years of service time. They are due for a small raise in year two. Year three, though, bears no restrictions on salary. This is why the structure of Lin’s deal is:

Year 1: $5 million

Year 2: $5.25 million

Year 3: $14.8 million

The key for the Knicks here, and the reason Houston structured the offer this way, is that in the third year of the deal, the Knicks would have Amar’e Stoudemire ($23,410,988), Carmelo Anthony ($23,530,000), Tyson Chandler ($14,596,888), and Lin ($14,800,000) on their books for a combined $76 million. Teams start paying the luxury tax once they exceed $70 million. After considering all luxury tax penalties that will be in effect by 2014, Jeremy Lin’s $25 million contract would end up costing $43 million out of James Dolan’s pockets.

This is supposed to be the factor that steers the Knicks away.

The Knicks, who shelled out $60 million each to Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford, $30 million to Jared Jeffries and Jerome James, and paid a 30-year-old Steve Francis over $20 million for a season and a half, are supposed to be scared out of a deal because of paying a luxury tax.

But there’s always the basketball argument. That is, that the Knicks truly think that Felton at $4.5million/year is of better value than Lin’s new deal. This argument would only lead you to believe that Isiah Thomas is still calling the shots behind the disguise of Glen Grunwald.

Raymond Felton has been a mediocre-at-best player since his arrival in the NBA in 2005, aside from a 54 game stretch under Mike D’Antoni two seasons ago. What’s not funny, but infuriating about the whole thing, is that the argument from a group of decided NBA fans is that it would be silly to hand Lin reigns to the team after 35 games, when the Knicks would essentially be paying Felton off his 54 games as a good point guard in New York.

Felton showed he could be a good point guard during his prime years during his stint in New York. He showed scoring and defending ability, however was incredibly inept at executing a simple pick-and roll.

Lin showed that he could be a good point guard at 23 years of age, in essentially his rookie year. His pick-and-rolls were up to par with the best in the game, considering he had the offensive wizards, Jared Jeffries and Tyson Chandler, as his partners. His shooting caught everyone by surprise; he was among the league leaders in pull-up jump shot percentage. His defense was active, but not stellar. Take into account that he was carrying all of New York City on his shoulders, and Felton’s Knick tenure is more or less irrelevant.

Take away Lin’s half-season in New York and you have nothing. Take away Felton’s half-season in New York and you have six-and-a-half years of mediocrity. Neither would be offered more than a minimum salary if it wasn’t for their New York body of work. So to those of you who detest paying Lin off his body of work, you must consider the same for Felton.

The addition of Felton does not necessarily mean the demise of Linsanity, as several news sources are guilty of assuming. The Knicks have a need at shooting guard while Iman Shumpert recovers from a torn ACL. Instead of taking a chance on the so-so guards left on the free agent market, Woodson could run out lineups with Lin and Felton sharing time at point guard, with Jason Kidd at the other guard– a position he found himself in often last season in Dallas. Lin’s scoring ability leaves him as an option to play at the wing as well, and let Felton, Kidd, or even Pablo Prigioni run the point. The addition of Felton actually compliments the Knicks guard needs pretty well, as long as Lin is still in blue and orange laundry.

There are so many questions that are up in the air right now, but if when it’s all said and done, James Dolan passes on a 23-year-old point guard who carried a team of scrubs on a season-changing winning streak (in Stoudemire and Anthony’s absence), in favor of pinching his wallet shut for the first time in his excruciating incumbency as owner, then it may finally be time to put this monster to rest.

NBA Free Agency 2012: New York Knicks

We’re about 25 hours deep into the frenzy that is NBA Free Agency, and it’s already spewed out more reports and rumors than any fan can handle, so let’s get right into it.

The Knicks’ first priority is clearly Steve Nash. A farfetched pipe dream, it seemed merely a day or so ago, has turned into a very real and interesting option for New York. For months, the national and local media had everyone believing that all the Knicks could offer Nash would be their $3 million Mid-Level Exception, and their July 1st conversation would go something like this:

GM Glen Grunwald: “So Steve, we’d really love for you to join our squad and be the missing piece so we can compete for a championship.”

Nash: “Me too.”

GG: “Our offer to you is $3 million per year for three years.”

Nash: “OK, bye.”

But early Sunday, reports emerged from all walks of the internet that Phoenix has interest in Knicks guard Landry Fields, which opened the door for a sign-and-trade.

In such a deal, the Knicks could swap Fields (who’d sign for his $2.7 million Qualifying Offer the Knicks extended to him on Wednesday), Toney Douglas, cash considerations, and the non-guaranteed contracts that belong to Jerome Jordan and Dan Gadzuric. The $3 million in cash sent by New York would basically cover the cost of Douglas’ contract, so consider Phoenix getting him for free. The Suns could then waive Jordan and Gadzuric at no cost to them, opening two roster spots. I haven’t heard any speculation of this, nor have any confirmation that this is allowed under the new CBA, but including the draft rights to recent draft pick Kostas Papanikolaou could help entice Phoenix as well.

The combined salary of the package Grunwald would send out to the desert would be $6.82 million. As per new CBA rules, teams are allowed to receive back the same value they send out, plus 150% + $100,000. So $6.82 x 1.5 + 100,000 = 10.3, meaning the Knicks would be able to receive back a $10.3 million player.

This ~$10.3/year contract that the Knicks can potentially offer to the Suns would compete with the reported 3 year/ $36 million offer that the Toronto Raptors sent Nash’s way on day one of Free Agency. Consider the basketball situations of both teams, the fact that Nash has made his summer home in NYC for the past decade or so, and (if you wanna get ticky-tack) the greater income tax in Toronto than in New York, even the most Canadian bone in Nash’s body would be halfway through the Garden entrance.

It’s simply a matter of whether or not Suns GM Lance Blanks would pull the trigger.

This is essentially the only method of losing Nash that hauls a return for Phoenix, rather than just losing him outright. A package structured around Landry Fields may not be the sexiest group of names to show off to your fans, but one would suspect that getting some sort of return would be better in Blanks’ eyes than letting Nash walk for free. Also, it would be in good faith for the Suns to do their best to place Nash in the most realistic option possible to get him his hardware.

Fields isn’t exactly coming off a historic season, but keep in mind the better of his two seasons was played under an up-tempo system, similar to the one the Suns run. Fields made All-Rookie first team that season.

For the Knicks, adding Nash would be pretty horrible news for the rest of the Atlantic division. Pairing Nash with Amar’e Stoudemire to rekindle some of that old fire they started out West could be just what Amar’e needs at this point in his career. Don’t forget about the newly motivated All-Star small forward who just witnessed his career-long rival win his first championship, either. Nash coming to New York would also provide him with a second job: a mentor to developing star Jeremy Lin– not a bad guy for Lin to mold his game after.. Also, Nash starting at point guard would push Lin to the second team– a team possibly consisting of Lin, JR Smith, Steve Novak, and Jared Jeffries. Mobb Deep II.

Update: There have been reports in the last hour that have pointed out that the Knicks may not necessarily match a back-loaded offer made to Lin by teams such as Toronto, Dallas, or the Nets. I fully expect Lin back on the Garden floor to begin next year and these reports are nothing more than speculation at this point. Especially after the “Bird Rights” hearing that clogged our Twitter feeds for the past month, the Knicks are confident they will be able to resign Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash or no Steve Nash.

The Steve Nash situation will be the first domino to fall this offseason. We can expect a decision in the coming days.

It’s also important to note that if the Knicks obtain Nash via sign-and-trade, they’d still have their $3 million MLE in their pocket to spend on important role players.

The Knicks also checked up on an old friend, Ray Felton, on Sunday. If Nash spurs New York for Toronto, Phoenix, Dallas, or Brooklyn, Felton would be another option to back up Jeremy Lin at the 1. Felton failed to impress in a non-D’Antoni offense last season in Portland, but his return could spark the pick-and-roll combo that helped throne Amar’e Stoudemire king of New York.

Jason Kidd is also expected to receive a call from Grunwald and his team some time this week.

Outside of the point guard position, the Knicks need a legitimate shooting guard. JR Smith is no lock to return, and even with a new contract in New York, Smith is best designed for a limited-minutes role (see Round 1, 2012 NBA Playoffs). Ray Allen is currently coveted by a few teams, receiving formal offers from Memphis (full $5 million MLE) and Miami (full $3 million MLE). Boston’s interest in re-signing Allen is unclear this early in the game.

The Nuggets declined to extend Rudy Fernandez his Qualifying Offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. Fernandez would be a great asset off the bench, or possibly even starting until Iman Shumpert returns from injury. Fernandez would help the Knicks on the offensive end, where they especially struggled last season.

An area in which they excelled in 2011-12, however, was defense. The Knicks are on a list of teams Marcus Camby is considering, which would only help bolster their strong front line.

Phew. Am I missing anything? Probably. New reports have probably emerged in the time I took to write this up. Oh well, any major developments will be provided either in an update below or in a new post entirely.

Happy Free Agency! And may the Collective Bargaining Agreement be ever in your favor.

Johan Santana Throws First Mets No-Hitter: What it means to an aching fanbase

AP

When the Mets acquired two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana on Feb. 3, 2008, it was much more than a trade. It was much more than a six-year, $138 million contract. The franchise was rebounding from the most embarrassing collapse in history to date, and whether it was something on the field or not, it was evident that there was a missing piece to the puzzle. When the Mets acquired two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana on February 3rd, 2008, it was more than anything you could see on a baseball diamond. It brought to fans something they’d been longing for since their last title season 22 years prior: the belief that the Mets would be World Series champions once again.

That belief is a virtue that has often eluded the Mets and their fans throughout the franchise’s 50-year history. With the exception of their two banner-raising seasons, 43 and 26 years ago, respectively, the ballclub from Queens has been hamstrung by stretches of lengthy rebuilds, injuries, eyebrow-raising front office decisions, and flat-out bad luck. Although these all seem like traits that would steer anyone in their right mind away from Flushing, Mets fans have grown to embrace and inexplicably love their club’s struggles. It’s what makes the Mets, well, the Mets, and what bonds all Mets fans into one great, heartbreak-loving baseball family.

Of course, all the Mets’ lows are what make experiencing success unlike anything else in baseball. You could look back as far as the Miracle Mets of ’69, who came out of the cellar of the National League to win 100 games and shock the world on their way to a championship in the franchise’s seventh season. Maybe Mookie Wilson’s dribbler that you might have heard about once or twice. Mike Piazza’s home run on Sep. 21, 2001 to hand the Mets a victory in their first game since the 9/11 terrorist attacks swayed every American to the blue and orange side of baseball fandom for a night. Or, you could just think back to game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, when Endy Chavez lept and reached over Shea’s blue eight-foot wall to make the greatest catch in the history of the team, robbing Scott Rolen of a home run that would’ve essentially ended the team’s season. Shea Stadium rocked. Literally, the old place used to sway, horrifically but triumphantly, from side to side as fans would go bonkers for the blue and orange. In moments like these, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an atmosphere more amazing than where the Mets call home.

Through all the historic moments brought to us by the Metsies, there’s always been one slight imperfection. It was simply one of the sports oddities that nobody could logically explain. It’s not that the Mets have been devoid of stellar pitching — studs such as Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jon Matlack, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Tom Glavine, and Pedro Martinez, just to name a few, have all called Queens home for at least a few seasons. They’d tried, and they’d came close, but all had ultimately failed. The Mets had never thrown a no-hitter.

Many men came close. Excruciatingly close. The franchise’s historic armory has hurled a whopping total of 35 one-hitters. Some notables in that batch of gems that history wouldn’t so much as blink an eye at are the three times that Tom Seaver carried a no-hitter into the 9th inning, only to allow base hits in the final frame of each. Seaver compiled five total one-hitters in his 12 seasons in New York. Long-time mediocre Met Steve Trachsel is second on the list with two one-hit complete game shutouts, tied with Cone, Matlack, and Gary Gentry. Most recently, it was John Maine who waited until the eighth inning with two retired to allow his first hit of the afternoon, in the penultimate game of Shea Stadium’s penultimate season.

The Mets won that second-to-last game of 2007. Unfortunately, it was their last victory of that season. Tom Glavine laid an egg in the season’s final game that would have clinched a postseason berth with a victory. Instead, the Mets fell behind Florida 7-0 in the first inning, and never made up that ground — resulting in the most epic collapse baseball had seen. (Glavine was admittedly “not devastated” about the performance — his last as a Met.)

This brings us back to Johan Santana.

Fast forward one calendar year to Sep. 27, 2008. It was Santana’s very own performance to conclude his inaugural Metropolitan campaign. Interim manager Jerry Manuel, who took over that June after Willie Randolph’s canning, called upon his ace on just three days rest to save the Mets’ season. A loss would eliminate the team from playoff contention with just one game remaining.

It wasn’t a no-hit bid (Santana allowed a single in the first inning), but he delivered in the biggest way possible. The Marlins failed to score a run in Santana’s complete game victory — one of the franchise’s most memorable pitching performances. Shea Stadium rocked. In a season that began with championship hopes, Santana put his team in a position to ride his momentum, and begin a playoff run in which he’d lead the charge. All they would need is one more victory the next day at Shea.

That victory never came.

Shea Stadium closed its doors for good that next day, lacking the third title many fans anticipated it would go out with that 2008 season. Hopes were again high for the 2009 season, but injuries got the best of the club that Sports Illustrated predicted would win it all. The 2009 Mets won 70 games, 23 behind the division-leading Phillies.

By the middle of 2010, Johan Santana was in the middle years of his contract, and had no playoff appearances to show for it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, on Sep. 11, 2010 it was announced that he would need surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder, the same surgery that many pitchers have failed to fully recover from.

His return date was initially set for May 2011. That later got pushed back to June, then August, and, as any Mets fan could’ve predicted, Santana never threw a pitch in the 2011 season. The man that once embodied optimism and promise was beginning to look more and more like that $138 million price tag.

At the start of his fifth season in New York, many expected Santana to fail. Mets fans have watched their team sink from World Series contenders in 2008, to salary-slashing bottom-dwellers in 2011. There was room for optimism to start off the year. Many even doubted Santana would return for the start of the season.

He did return, however, and through the first two months of the season, looked just as sharp as he did as a 29-year-old New York neophyte. Now 33, and that fastball three or four miles-per-hour slower due to a combination of medical procedure and age, Johan Santana is still a warrior. The kind of warrior that loves adversity. The kind of warrior that knows his team doesn’t stand a chance without him.

Santana took the mound Friday night on the heels of a complete game shutout vs. San Diego — a start most reminiscent of the Johan Santana of old. It was a night that was initially noteworthy as Carlos Beltran’s return to New York. Johan soon stole the show.

By the start of the sixth inning, all 27,069 fans in attendance new exactly what the circumstances were. But with Santana at around 90 pitches, a dream scenario seemed unlikely. Carlos Beltran led off the sixth and smoked a line drive that appeared to be fair down the left field line. Third base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled it foul, and Beltran was eventually retired.

Sure enough, Santana turned his outing into a serious bid. With one out in the seventh inning, the ball found the biggest Mets fan on the field. Mets left fielder and Whitestone native Mike Baxter grew up a descendant of that great, heartbreak-embracing Mets fan ancestry. He understood better than anybody on the field what a no-hitter would mean to the team and its fans. Baxter sprinted to the blue outfield fence, threw his glove in the air and snagged a Yadier Molina liner that was sure to be extra bases. Baxter’s momentum slammed him into that left field wall, and he lay still for several moments before players and training staff surrounded him. He walked off the field holding his arm, but to a standing ovation. Chants of “BAX-TER, BAX-TER.” Mike Baxter literally ran through a wall for the Mets, and the rest was up to Johan.

With the help of some soft line drives that stayed in the air just long enough, along with some devastating change-ups, Santana found himself on the mound in the ninth inning without having allowed a hit. The heart of St. Louis’ lineup was due up. Miraculously, he induced to lineouts to the shallow outfield to begin the inning. The previous World Series’ hero David Freese would be the batter. Santana fell behind him in the count 3-0 before working back to a full count on his 133rd pitch (a new career high). Here’s Howie Rose to bring you closer than any other description ever could:

Citi Field could have been mistaken for Shea Stadium. It remained stationary, however the decibel level reached new Citi Field heights. Mets fans finally had a reason to go Shea Stadium-nuts in their new home, and they didn’t disappoint. The home field, at long last, felt like home.

There was a blown call that the Mets benefited from, but the baseball gods wouldn’t have it any other way. Try naming a single game in the sport’s history where the umpiring was perfect. Baseball is a game that, for better or worse, is largely reliant on the human element. Tape of every no-hitter could be picked apart, and there’d surely be questionable ball and strike calls that would extend at-bats to possibly change history. That’s just the way baseball has always been, and forever will be.

Santana’s feat is one of the instances in sports that can be celebrated and appreciated by everybody, everywhere. Everyone in the Mets family wholly  understood the importance of Santana’s feat, and celebrated accordingly — whether it be a 90-year-old fan since ’62, a 10-year-old just getting to know the game of baseball, an 18-year-old blogger trying to make sense of the whole thing, or a 27-year-old left fielder living every Queens kid’s dream.

It’d be a safe assumption to declare the Mets had somebody on their side Friday night. Take a look at the box score. The Mets had eight runs on eight hits. Johan had eight Ks. He threw 134 pitches (1 + 3 + 4 = 8). All in the year dedicated to The Kid (2012. 20 – 12 = 8).

Mets fans now have their long-coveted no-hitter, and it’s delightfully clear there’s something amazin’ brewing at Citi Field this year. Following Friday’s win, New York is at their high-water mark, six games over .500, and one game off the division-leading Nationals’ pace. One last note: The Miracle Mets were also 29-23 through their first 52 games of the 1969 season, before going on to shock the world by finishing at 100-62, and bringing a World Series crown to Flushing, Queens.

Bring back the puns! Must-Lin in Miami!

For the last month or so, Jeremy Lin has been nothing more than a fond (but distant) memory to the Knicks and their fans. Perhaps the most publicized period of ‘Bocker history, Linsanity provided us all with moments we’ll be sure not to forget any time soon.

Remember this?

Then there was this one.

What about when he nearly dropped 40 against LA?

In a matter of weeks, Jeremy Lin went from NBA bench-warmer to international icon. But the Linsanity subsided just about as quickly as it had taken America by storm. On April 2nd, he underwent surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus, and was slated to be sidelined for six weeks. Well, it’s been five, and the man who saved the Knicks season once already, might just have to do it again.

Speculation of a Lin return had been clogging everyone’s Twitter feeds for much of the Knicks first round series against Miami. Despite participating in practices and 3-on-3 scrimmages in between games, Lin’s sore knee was just too painful to play through. This, of course, was before starter-by-default Baron Davis went down in Game 4 with a torn patella tendon and complete tears of the ACL and MCL (yes, it looked just as bad as it sounds).

The Knicks face a few alternatives. Mike Bibby, who decided to turn back the clock this postseason, has hit several big shots for the team while contributing smart decisions from the point guard spot. Coach Mike Woodson has said he’ll be the new starter for Game 5.

After that, who knows?

Photo credit: Getty Images
Lin has been practicing and participating in 3-on-3 scrimmages with the team ever since the playoffs began. Although ahead of schedule, Lin is still days or weeks from being at full strength. The Knicks now need him, despite his less-than-ideal health, to stand a chance against the Heat.

Woodson has mentioned a JR Smith/Carmelo Anthony combination to run the point for the second team. Former coach Mike D’Antoni experimented with Anthony running a point forward-type position early in the season, and watched it fail miserably. What we’ve learned this season, if nothing else, is that Carmelo Anthony is not your ideal playmaker. He’s not going to be your point guard, he’s not going to run pick-and-rolls. Carmelo will go against his defender and take him 1-on-1. And when he’s on, there’s close to nothing that will stop him.

And you can go ahead and add JR Smith to the list of “people I’d rather suffer from food poisoning than watch play point guard.”

Smith has a number of abilities on the basketball court, sure. Playing intelligent basketball, however, definitely is not his strong suit. What the Knicks need out of their point guard is someone who can logically distribute the ball between Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Perhaps Smith would settle that issue– by calling his own number twenty-something times. JR at PG is not the answer for the Knicks if they want to claw back into this series (I’m purposely failing to mention his consistent, mindless fouling along the perimeter/late in the shot clock, for the sake of my own sanity).

After Iman Shumpert’s tragic, season-ending knee injury, and with Toney Douglas being considered an afterthought by Mike Woodson these days, this leaves but one option for New York.

When this Knicks team looked lost with nothing to fight for in mid-February, Jeremy Lin was the team’s last resort before, well, thankfully we never found out. Right now the Knicks are out of options. They’re looking for one last winning streak. Lin succeeded at doing the impossible earlier this year, when he seized his opportunity and morphed from the NBA equivalent of an ant, into the most beloved sports figure in all of New York.

Now, the impossible will be asked of him once more: to beat the powerhouse Heat on their home floor, get the Garden faithful to rally behind them for a Game 6 victory, and lay it all on the line in a seventh game, back in South Beach. Is this a lot to ask out of the 23-year-old neophyte who, at best, would be playing with three-quarters in the tank? Seeing that this particular neophyte was plucked fresh out of the D-League, and was asked to single-handedly become New York City’s hero, and did it, I’ll take my chances with number 17.


Dr. Woodson Cures the Linsanity?

February 16th, just one month ago. One man was driving the world’s biggest city insane. 25 points here, 10 assists there. He hogged half of SportsCenter all to himself. He outshone Kobe in front of a national audience, then turned away the defending champs with career highs. T-shirts… t-shirts everywhere. Hell, Spike even rocked that crimson jersey. Jeremy Lin was John, Paul, George, and Ringo, all in one body.

Then, just as the entire basketball world was pleading Linsanity, star power arrived. Carmelo Anthony rejoined the mix, promising the world he wouldn’t dare interrupt the Jeremy Lin Show. Before long, however, New York’s favorite son was strapped into the backseat of a ride on a crash-course. The Melo-Mobile has since tossed one man from the wagon; as Anthony refused to comply with Mike D’Antoni’s offensive theories, we learned who’s really in the driver’s seat. What Carmelo wants, Carmelo will get. That leaves no man safe. Even the man that was once dubbed the savior.

What Carmelo Anthony refused to adhere to under the D’Antoni offense was spread-the-floor, pick-and-roll, shoot-if-you’re-open basketball. Every NBA player’s dream gameplan somehow was Melo’s nightmare– numbers agree, this is his worst statistical season since, well, ever.

The point guard-heavy offensive strategy is now out the window. New coach Mike Woodson’s prime offensive beliefs consist of iso’s and post-ups– a scorer’s delight (just take a look at Joe Johnson’s stats from 2005-2010). Woodson has declared that his offense will be ran through the likes of proven scorers such as Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire who, for what it’s worth, developed into a star under D’Antoni’s system. P&R point guards such as Jeremy Lin simply aren’t as necessary under this new ideology. So as Carmelo Anthony will likely flex his muscles while playing in the offense he’s wanted all along, where exactly does this leave Lin?

If you believe what you read, and if you use the logic Mike Woodson likely will in the coming days and weeks, the answer to that question is the second team.

Current second stringer Baron Davis will be the new man for the job, according to the NY Daily News. Davis has been around the block, and knows that his best bet for a ring is to feed the rock to Melo and Stoudemire. He’s ran the iso-style offense in the past, and after all, this is the job he signed up for back in December while rehabbing the back injury that delayed his season debut until after the Lin phenomenon had already kicked in.

The Knicks’ sensational second squad seems like a perfect fit for Lin, although it would mean decreased minutes. Aside from Tyson Chandler, players like Iman Shumpert, Jared Jeffries, and Steve Novak are the guys Lin was mainly distributing to when his starting gig was all new and shiny, with Stoudemire and Anthony both missing from the lineup.

However, due to D’Antoni “riding him like freakin’ Secretariat,” as he put it himself, and leaving the second-year wonder out there for 40+ minutes a game most nights, defenses perdictably adjusted relatively quickly.

Since teams have keyed on Lin as the primary option, his production has significantly decreased. While still putting up respectable points and assists totals, his turnovers and shooting percentage have become increasingly detrimental. His least productive start to date occurred Wednesday, Woodson’s first game as coach. Lin scored 6 points with 6 assists and turned it over 6 times. Baron Davis scored only 4 but with 10 assists in less minutes than Lin.

Although everybody loves a true Linder… err… Cinderella story, it appears as if this one is coming to a close. Though Jeremy Lin’s talent is not in question, he’s simply being overruled. Overruled by who, you ask? By the same teammate that spoke up and suggested that D’Antoni transplant him from the bench to the starting lineup: Carmelo Anthony.

“That Was Easy”

So with Mike D’Antoni gone, the Knicks wouldn’t be a three-point shooting, fast break team, right?

It’s the Knicks; did you really think this was going to make any sense?

The Knicks hosted Portland Wednesday evening in what was their first game of the Mike Woodson era, following the resignation of the Seven-Seconds-Or-Less offense originator. They treated the lowly Trail Blazers like practice dummies, torching them for 30 fast break points, draining 19 shots from beyond the arc, and, music to the ears of Knicks fans, forcing 27 turnovers and allowing only 79 points. The Knicks won 121-79.

After looking borderline dead the last six games, the Knicks came out energized playing for interim head coach Mike Woodson. Carmelo Anthony, who according to all reports got his wish in D’Antoni jumping ship, looked as quick as he’s seemed all season. He looked comfortable with the offense and was even getting others involved, namely Amar’e Stoudemire, who also looked rejuvenated. Melo and Stat combined to outscore the Blazers in the first half, 30-29.

That was all before JR Smith finally, and I mean finally, showed everyone why he’s wearing a Knick uniform. It started with a straight-away three-ball sank with three minutes remaining in the third (See what I did there?).

From then on, Portland just couldn’t stop the rain.

Smith tacked on 23 points, seven total threes. Add that to Steve Novak’s six treys, Melo’s three, Iman Shumpert’s two, and Josh Harrelson’s goofy looking thing in the closing minutes, and that’s 19 three pointers made. More importantly, the team shot 50% from downtown– un-heard of.

The defense looked was active and the rotations were crisp: everything that wasn’t happening the past two weeks. And of course, it wouldn’t be a win if Jared Jeffries didn’t draw a charge. Jeffries played for the first time since March 4th in Boston due to a knee issue, and drew a pleasant applause from the Garden crowd.

It’s difficult to take anything out of 42-point blowouts. However, the horrendous losing skid is finally over, although it took an overnight media uproar and subsequent coaching change to finally bring it to an end. The Knicks find themselves back in action Friday in the front end of a home-and-home with currently fifth seeded Indiana. This torturous March schedule has already doomed Mike D’Antoni, now unemployed. We’ll have to wait and see if tonight’s monster victory was simply an aberration, or a sparkplug. Mike Woodson certainly hopes for the latter.

Not What They Signed Up For

“Playing out there is not fun.”

I’d imagine Carmelo Anthony is completely right; getting completely outplayed, booed by your home crowd, and benched for the closing minutes against a division rival must not be all that enjoyable.

Now that the season’s at a crossroads, following a five-game skid after reaching the .500 mark last month vs. Cleveland, Melo and co-culprit Amar’e Stoudemire (who has looked nothing short of washed up for most of the season) have some serious issues to address if they look to lead the Knicks to the postseason for a second consecutive season, something they haven’t achieved since the Jeff Van Gundy era.

For starters, Anthony must either sit and rest his injuries that seem to be hampering his play, or simply put his shooting woes behind him. To his credit, he’s been playing with injuries basically all season long. What seems to be the case, however, is that the week he took off earlier in the season was not enough. His jumper has been flat, and looks lost on offense the majority of the time. His .39 shooting percentage since returning, which isn’t that far off from his full-season total, is hurting the Knicks playoff chances, not helping them.

The same can be said for Amar’e Stoudemire, who, following an MVP-type debut season in Gotham, has looked greatly disabled in all facets of the game. Potential excuses include the back injury he suffered in last season’s playoff series against Boston, the 15 pounds of muscle he added over the past offseason, or mere indifference. Amar’e has recently shed ten of those additional pounds, and looks to lose the remaining five in the coming days– so we will soon find out if this was a real issue.

Following Sunday’s loss to the division-leading 76ers, Amar’e said candidly, that the team was just “going through the motions.” And he’s right. Opposing teams run up and down the Garden floor at will, as if they’re playing a JV. A very expensive JV.

The duo, who take up over $36 million of the Knicks’ payroll this season, has simply brought inadequate energy and effort to Madison Square Garden. So much so, that coach Mike D’Antoni left the reserves in to close out Sunday’s matinee versus Philadephia, and rightfully so. It was evident that that squad provided the most energy and flat-out played better. Carmelo spoke on this after the 106-94 loss.

“I don’t really know what was Coach’s mindset. Maybe he was trying to save us for tomorrow. I’m not sure. You’re going to have to ask him.”

Clearly frustrated over the situation, it’s almost as if he doesn’t comprehend how much of a liability he has become on the floor.

“We’ve just got to figure it out,” he says.

Well, the time for “figuring out” has came and gone. Especially in this condensed 66-game season, there is little time for adjustments and rest. Anthony and Stoudemire must lead by example, if they do indeed wish to call it “their” team, and at the very least bring a positive energy to the court. The Knicks aren’t a team opponents fear playing. This is unacceptable for a team of the Knicks’ caliber, and must be changed.

Then there’s the coaching issue. Mike D’Antoni has quickly fallen out of favor with the Garden faithful. Players’ lack of energy or motivation can sometimes be attested to their coaching. Players quitting on their coach in crucial games at this important time in the season is simply inexplicable. That’s one issue. Another, however, is player misuse. Save Sunday at MSG, D’Antoni has repeatedly benched his second team in the final minutes of close games, only to watch the starters squander whatever chances the team had of winning.

D’Antoni also has a knack for benching players at the wrong moments. See Sunday for example, When Camelo Anthony opened the first quarter shooting 5 of 7, and 12 points– clearly the closest Melo has looked to being Melo. To open the second, D’Antoni, ignoring what he just saw on the court, stuck to his usual plan of resting Anthony. He then went on to miss every shot he took for the remainder of the game, flushing any resurgence down the drain.

D’Antoni’s stubbornness and failure to adjust is what will eventually do him in, whether it be sooner or later. Mike Woodson’s seat on the bench will then become all that more important, as he will presumably slide in to fill the vacancy that D’Antoni leaves, whenever that may be.

After all, Woodson was brought in as the “defensive coordinator” following last season when the Knicks allowed over 105 points per game. That number has shrunk to 96 this season, to the credit of Woodson, and enforcer Tyson Chandler who has been the team’s best all-around player this season.

Defense has actually been something of a strong suit at time this season for New York. The emergence of Jared Jeffries as a useful defensive piece off the bench, and rookie Iman Shumpert providing invaluable perimeter defense (currently 4th in the NBA with 1.94 steals per game), has surprisingly brought about a change of culture, with the whole team buying in at times. Imagine that.

More bright spots (yes, there are bright spots) this season include that second team that has provided so many key minutes this season. Led by Shumpert, sniper Steve Novak who’s shooting a lethal 48% from beyond the arc, and vet Baron Davis who has shown glimpses of Boom Dizzle circa 2004, this squad is responsible for Mike D’Antoni’s duties still being considered active.

But how much longer can this last? Not long if you ask me. Championship Winning teams are not marred by the issues the Knicks currently have. And they start from the top. It’s only a matter of time before the problems need to be cut at the sourceand the sooner the better. 

Look, it is possible to write a 1000-word Knicks piece without mentioning Jeremy Lin.