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Pass the Ball, Sign the Card.

“A new survey finds that 60% of incoming college football players support unions for college athletes. The horror! Were such unions allowed, our glorious cities would crumble to nothing more than shoddy tents stitched together from tattered remnants of Old Glory; our government officials would be loin-cloth-clad elders gathered in the rubble of an old McDonald’s passing a Talking Stick; our naked children would roam the urban wilderness like howling wolves, their minds as blank as their lost Internet connection. We would be without hope, dreams, or a future.”

Or would we? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar makes the case for an NCAA players’ union as a stepping stone to college athletes finally getting paid for their labor. This is a no-brainer to me – Why should everyone get rich off of college players but they themselves?“The athletes are left with the choice of either crossing their fingers and hoping their fairy godmothers will convince the NCAA to give up money that it doesn’t have to, or of forming a collective bargaining group to negotiate from a place of unified strength.”

The Prodigal King Returns.

“I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously…I want kids in Northeast Ohio…to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”

Hear ye, hear ye…What a difference four years makes. With a touch of class noticeably bereft from 2010’s televised The Decision, LeBron James announces his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”

The state of Ohio is rightfully rejoicing at the return of their prodigal son. Unfortunately, to make the math work on the deal, Cleveland also had to take on the Republican Convention in 2016. That one’s gonna hurt.

The Knicks Reset. | But Melo’s in the Mix.

“‘Watching them play, I saw guys that looked at each other like, you didn’t back me up, you weren’t here when I needed help,’ Jackson said. ‘There just wasn’t the right combination or feel [where] it felt like everybody was in sync all the time.'”

Just prior to this year’s draft — very classy move by Commissioner Silver with the Isaiah Austin pick last night — Phil Jackson pulls the trigger on a long-awaited Knicks overhaul, sending Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, and two second round draft picks, which later became Cleananthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

I always liked Chandler — Felton, er, didn’t really pan out — but it definitely seems like time to completely hit the reset button on the franchise.

Same goes for Carmelo Anthony. It’d be great if the Knicks could keep him, but, were I in his shoes, I’d sign with Chicago or Dallas too. The Knicks are now in full rebuilding mode with an untested coach. The Bulls and Mavs have more pieces to really make a run at a championship right now. So no harm, no foul, ‘Melo — Do what ya gotta do.

“I will always remember this chapter in my life. In the end, I am a New York Knick at heart. I am looking forward to continue my career in Orange & Blue and to work with Phil Jackson, a champion who builds championship teams. Madison Square Garden is the mecca of basketball and I am surrounded by the greatest fans in the world.”

(The bigger paycheck probably didn’t hurt either.) In any event, Carmelo will remain a Knickerbocker, and apparently even took a slight pay cut to allow for more cap space next year. We’re gonna need it – Unless the league has forgotten how to defend the triangle, the Knicks still look to have at least another year of waiting before we’re even a second-round contender in the playoffs. Still, good to have Melo aboard for the long haul.

Teach a Fisher, Man…

“The Knicks’ particular big-market pathology has historically been the acquisition of players whose names look great on the building marquee…The James Dolan era took this existing predilection, distilled it down to its essence, and smoked it in a crack pipe using lit $100 bills. While previous Knicks regimes chased name players, they also seemed to know some details about those players beyond just their names.”

Upon the signing of journeyman guard, former Laker, and Jackson disciple Derek Fisher as the new Knicks coach, Grantland‘s Netw3rk evaluates what it means for the troubled franchise and concludes it’s probably a good thing: Phil’s taking over. “If you’re a Zen Master trying to reform a soul-dead wasteland, you don’t need high priests; you need acolytes. And if Jackson’s freedom to make moves translates to on-court success, who knows, maybe it even lasts.”

Woodson Nixed.

‘I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mike Woodson and his entire staff,’ Jackson said. ‘The coaches and players on this team had an extremely difficult 2013-14 season, and blame should not be put on one individual. But the time has come for change throughout the franchise as we start the journey to assess and build this team for next season and beyond.”

In his first significant move as Team President, Phil Jackson fires Mike Woodson and the entire Knicks coaching staff after the team fails — again — to make the playoffs. (Woodson did lead them there last year, but it ended badly in the second round.) Yeah, unfortunately for Woodson, it did seem to be the time.

That reminds me: I’ve once again neglected to write up this year’s playoff bracket here. But, since the Knicks have been terribad all season, I haven’t been keeping up with the league much this year. Suffice to say, I hope we see an more interesting finals than Heat-Thunder or Heat-Spurs. And here’s to better luck in 2015, although I’m not terribly enthused with the idea of head coach Steve Kerr.

Zen Master Comes Full Circle.

“Basketball contains larger truths for Jackson, and the triangle is the key to unlocking those truths. Any team that hires him should be prepared to install it and commit to it. Anthony is a beautiful scorer, an underrated passer/cutter, and a viciously dangerous catch-and-shoot player. He has the all-around skill set for the triangle, with its cuts, dribble handoffs, and instant reads. He can fit into the Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant pinch post role, directing the offense and making reads from the spot at which those guys made their scoring careers. The rest of the roster is an awkward triangle fit.”

With Phil Jackson apparently on the verge of returning to NYC, Grantland‘s Zach Lowe breaks down how his hire as Team President could impact the Knickerbockers. “[T]he Knicks clear the Bargnani, Chandler, and Amar’e Stoudemire contracts off their books in the summer of 2015 and hungrily look to replenish. And this is where Jackson’s great value might lie — as a Pat Riley–style free-agency magnet.”

Even riding a five-game winning streak, this season looks lost, especially given that we don’t have a first-round pick. So I can’t really imagine Jackson having much of a short-term impact, especially since he’ll be spending most of his time in LA. Still, I guess it can’t hurt to have him on the payroll, and there’s something very Zen about finishing the journey where you started.

Celtic Red (or Green for Gene.)

“I had never met Debs…[but] ever since he came there he is considered a man that is actually a saint or a Jesus Christ because when the night comes and the work is over, he goes into the yard where all the men, the criminals, come around him, and for each one he has a word to tell them. For each he has word to awaken in them a human spirit, the feeling that has been lost for years and years… I am sure it is actually a crime to keep a man of that type behind iron bars.”

Also in recent NBA news and by way of a grad school friend: Larry Bird may be the “Basketball Jesus,” but he wasn’t the first Christ figure from the Hoosier State: Former Celts Bill Walton and Larry Bird visit the Eugene Debs Museum. “Walton and the Birds spent a full hour and a half visiting all three floors of this great museum. This was not a step in, step out visit for them.”

The Knicks’ll Take Her.

“I mean, do you want context? Do you need it? Can’t you just enjoying this incredible GIF of First Lady Michelle Obama dunking a tiny basketball on LeBron James?”

What DCist said. Sorry if this 3.3MB file just crashed your browser, but, c’mon now, this is the First Lady dunking on LeBron — kind of the thing GIFs were made for. Enjoy — preferably with a Subway $5 Footlong, since they could use some love now that the crazies have declared a jihad on them, for all the usual reasons.

Still the Blue and Orange.

“The idea was to mix two sports and redesign their logos. Being a fan of both football (or soccer) and basketball, I decided to redesign NBA logos and make them look like football logos. Every logo you see is color correct and matches the idea of the original logo.” Making the rounds of late: NBA logos, football-style.

Scholar, Journalist, Cop, Hoopster.

“‘I would say that my ideal of writing history is to give the reader vicarious experience,’ Professor Morgan told The William and Mary Quarterly. ‘You’re born in one particular century at a particular time, and the only experience you can have directly is of the place you live and the time you live in. History is a way of giving you experience that you would otherwise be cut off from.’ Edmund Morgan, 1916-2013.

“Well I never knew it was a man’s world! I never accepted that. I thought I had an education just as good as a man’s. I deserve to have the same opportunities and advantages. So I antagonized a lot of people, but I fought for women’s rights and blacks’ rights and civil rights. Discrimination against women was very bad. There was no reason to accept discrimination. No reason.” Helen Thomas, 1920-2013.

“‘My personality was formed by Chicago,’ he told Cigar Aficionado magazine in 1999. ‘It’s very American, very straightforward. If you can’t find it, or make it there, you won’t make it anywhere. It’s a very honest place.'” Dennis Farina. 1944-2013.

“I was the Knicks’ third-leading scorer [8.1 ppg], I also finished third in the league in assist average [2.0], and my salary was 60 dollars per game. Ha! These days, the players make about sixty dollars a minute. Don’t get me wrong, though. I have no jealousy or resentment over how much money these guys make today. I think they’re the best athletes in the world, and they’re worth every red cent. I’m just proud to have been one of the NBA’s pioneers.” Ossie Schectman, 1919-2013.

The Knicks Outpaced.

“‘It’s tough to go out this way,’ coach Mike Woodson said. ‘I didn’t make it happen for us and that’s what’s disappointing.'” Well, that’s that then. After the most promising season in a decade, the Knicks go down in six to the Pacers in the second round, not even getting a chance to trade blows with the reigning champion Miami Heat.

Well, we went out earlier than hoped, but I still feel pretty good about this season. For one, even though we had at least two key players — J.R. Smith and Jason Kidd — go ice-cold this series, the Knicks still contended against a big, physical team that may well give the Heat serious problems. (It likely didn’t help that both Melo and JR played hurt.)

For another, I like Mike Woodson as a coach, but his decision-making in this series was…not good. Chris Copeland should have gotten more run — a 3-shooting big man is exactly what was needed to offset the Hibbert factor — and Smith, Kidd, and Amare should all have been benched earlier on. Similarly, I know Steve Novak is a defensive liability, but he should’ve gotten a few of those minutes too. If he gets hot and makes a few threes, it spreads the floor, forces the Pacers to guard the perimeter, and allows Felton, Melo et al to penetrate. It was worth a try, given that JR was throwing up more bricks than the Stonecutters in the first few games.

In any case, Mike Vaccaro’s analogy of the Knicks being an 18 on a blackjack table is a pretty good one. The Knicks are a talented jump-shooting team, and, on the bright side, Iman Shumpert is clearly evolving into a high-impact player. But we need either a consistent second scorer or some sort of inside presence — preferably both — to really contend moving forward. Tyson Chandler is a defensive anchor, but his offense is all tip-ins and Felton alley-oops, and Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, and the recently departed Kurt Thomas are all aging in dog years at this point.

Which brings us back to the Amare question — Can he be the player he once was, while co-existing with Melo? — The spacing never looked right when they were both healthy on the floor the past two years. To be continued, next November.

Back in the Game!

It’s been forty long years and we’re starvin’: So I didn’t do the usual annual NBA playoff picks this year, partly because I don’t have much knowledgeable to say about matchups like Denver v. Golden State and Atlanta v. Indiana, and mainly because, more than even most years, my bracket would be clouded over in fandom and I don’t want to bring the jinx. Suffice to say that I’m greatly enjoying the Knicks’ first year of serious playoff contention in fourteen years — basically the entire life of GitM(!)

Even with 2012-2013’s scoring leader (Carmelo Anthony), the six man of the year (J.R. Smith) and a gaggle of seasoned, savvy veterans (Chandler, Kidd, K-Mart, Camby) on our squad, the 2013 NBA Championship clearly remains Miami’s to lose. Still, here’s hoping we at least get a chance to take on the reigning Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. So far, so good — The Knicks go into Boston, a team that swept us two years ago (albeit with Rondo), having defended our home floor for the first time since 2000. Say go New York go New York go…

The Otter Rim.

In the Moment of Zen department, a geriatric sea otter takes up basketball. Nice inside moves — and I don’t want to be a jerk about this — but given the way the game has evolved, Eddie probably needs to work a little harder on his midrange jumper if he wants to get some run. (Also, try not to get traded to Bright Water.)

Djettison Django?

“Basically, Django Unchained is a B movie. A damn fine B movie, but still a B movie…Despite its slavery setting, Django Unchained isn’t an exploration of the subject. It offers no critical insights into the circumstances, no nuances exploring the political realities (as Lincoln does). In the end, slavery is a prop to excite audience emotion and motivate the action.”

Continuing his recent renaissance as a cultural critic, Kareem explains why the otherwise entertaining Django shouldn’t be an Oscar contender. I agree with the take-films-seriously sentiment, but, at least as far as Oscar goes, that ship sailed decades ago (and he’s too charitable to the excellent-but-also-flawed Lincoln.)

Also making the round today, Christoph Waltz and the SNL gang’s Djesus Uncrossed. A funny idea almost redeemed by Waltz, but as with so much SNL fare the execution is less clever than it should be.

Keeping an Eye on the Ball.

It sure sounds like a fair place for two hostile opponents to meet. Half the basketball-related income goes to the owners, half the basketball-related income goes to the players and millions of pro basketball fans celebrate their first victory of the season in the form of, you know, a season. But in the end, there’s nothing fair about awarding 50 percent of BRI to the people who amount to 100 percent of the reason there’s any BRI in the first place.

This, this, a thousand times this. As talks continue and games disappear, Ian O’Connor summarizes the central issue of the NBA lockout: the owners bring no value to the table — they’re basically leeches on the system. “LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose — they don’t play in the NBA. They are the NBA. The entire league. The workforce and the product. The owners? They’re just along for the ride.

Now, the better owners, I think — Mark Cuban, say — understand this. They get that an NBA team is a luxury asset that makes most of its money when it it sold, not as a day-to-day enterprise. And they have a good time playing the owner game and getting to hang around with basketball players.

As an aggregate, however, the NBA owners here are the problem. They’ve been lying about their financial straits, and then trying to pin the “downturn” on their employees. Just because the employees are reasonably well-compensated in this instance doesn’t change the fact that this is classic bait-and-switch behavior by management.

If there’s a reason the NBA is doing poorly at the moment — which, again, is an open question due to all the accounting shenanigans — it’s because unemployment is at 9% and poverty is at 15%. We did not get here because Eddy Curry ate his way to the bottom of a ridiculous contract. Besides, it is not Curry’s fault that somebody wants to pay him $100 million a year for riding the bench anyway. It is the fault of whoever paid him – cough, James Dolan — that exorbitant price. So now, owners want to be bailed out by the powers-that-be for their own terrible business decisions? We’ve seen this movie before. Classic corporate-socialism at work.

I expect the players will probably fold in the end, since, like labor in most situations these days, they don’t have much leverage. But, however it all pans out, let’s remember: The players have the skill set. They create the product. There is no product without the players. In an perect world, the owners should give players a generous share of the revenues (since they’re 100% of the value of the operation), and then be happy they get to own a basketball team. Now, let’s play ball.

Update: “One is, historically, you’ve seen franchises appreciate in value and that appreciation has more than outstripped any cash-flow losses that you’ve had…Secondly, it’s a lot of fun to own an NBA franchise…[B]y and large, NBA franchise ownership has been a good investment. You can’t base long-run projections on how you did in the biggest financial downturn of the last 50 years. On that basis, there are no good investments out there.

Karl Malone’s gonna play the way Karl Malone can. And Kevin Murphy’s gonna sort out this lockout like Kevin Murphy do.

Lockout Time Again.

As we slink toward the brink of an NBA lockout — if you have a doomsday clock in the family room, five minutes ’til should do the trick — we ought to look at the latest proposals to get a sort of ‘state of the negotiations.’ And while I’d love to be the one who does that, I simply can’t get over how insane the league’s recent major proposal is. That proposal would cap player salary at $2 billion a year…What the $2 billion cap does is re-route all future growth of the league’s revenue straight to the owners’ pocketbooks.

With an NBA lockout looming tomorrow, SBNation‘s Tom Ziller explains what, exactly, the owners are trying to achieve. (Hint: It’s management’s usual approach to labor.) “There definitely need to be some tweaks, perhaps to contract length…Instead, the league wants to end the reasonable percentage-based split of revenues with players — who are actually the labor and the product in the industry — and ‘guarantee’ $2 billion a year in salary and benefits.

In very related news, as the NBA owners claim large losses (and yet don’t show their books), Deadspin‘s Tommy Cragg dissects how sport teams usually hide profits through a weird tax quirk that defines players as depreciable assets. “Every year, taxpayers hand the plutocrats who own sports franchises a fat pile of money for no other reason than that one of those plutocrats, many years ago, convinced the IRS that his franchise is basically a herd of cattle.

Gratz to the “Mavaliers.”

“‘This is a true team,’ Carlisle said. ‘This is an old bunch. We don’t run fast or jump high. These guys had each other’s backs. We played the right way. We trusted the pass. This is a phenomenal thing for the city of Dallas.’

Way to shield the hated Heat…Proving once again I know nothing about basketball, the Dallas Mavericks win the 2011 NBA title over the team America — and especially Cleveland(rightfully) loves to hate, the Wade-Bosh-James Miami Heat. Congrats!

As for my picking Dallas to lose in the first round to Portland, clearly I never factored for (1) Dirk being even more unbelievable than usual, (2) Tyson Chandler giving Dallas a legitimate defensive anchor, (3) J.J. Barea weirdly slicing through the Heat D at will, (4) Jason Terry actually hitting a lot of the ill-advised shots he puts up, and (5) LeBron disappearing once again in the clutch. In the end, it’s starting to seem like the Knicks dodged a bullet last summer, and no mistake.

Fan-Tastic 2011.

Since it’s that particular Saturday morning in April again, time for this year’s NBA playoff picks. (Note: accuracy of picks may well be impacted by the return of the Knickerbockers after seven years of ignominy.) Here we go…


The East

Chicago Bulls (1) v. Indiana Pacers (8): What a difference a year makes. This time in 2010, Cleveland was the Court of King James and the Eastern powerhouse everyone was watching, while Chicago was the lowly 8-seed that everyone expected would just be happy to be there. Now, Cleveland is fighting it out with Minnesota for lottery balls, and it’s Derrick Rose’s multifaceted Chicago Bulls with the targets on their back. As in the past several years, the Eastern Conference 8-seed is an iffy squad — Indiana went 37-45 and are coming in on a 2-game losing streak — so I don’t expect Chicago to be tested here. Chicago in 4.

Miami Heat (2) v. Philadelphia 76ers (7): This was looking like a return to the Knicks-Heat series of old before New York went on a late-season streak and the Celts faded down the stretch. Anyways, the Heatles (Wade, LeBron, and Bosh — does that make Mike Miller Ringo?) have been a combustible squad all season, and, after watching LeBron mentally check out of the Boston series last year, I have much less faith in his multi-ring playoff potential than I used to. Still, they were designed with the post-season in mind, and the Sixers are only slightly better than Indiana. Gonna have to go Miami in 5.

Boston Celtics (3) v. New York Knicks (6): Hey, look, it’s the Knickerbockers! Now, all the smart money has the Celtics in this match-up, and my head tells me that’s probably true. In fact, they’ll probably take the Knicks in five or six — New York is still a work in progress, and we’re really one more star and 2-3 more role players away from really contending. Still, after an ugly March, Amare and Melo seemed to be finding their groove in the last few weeks of the season, while Boston — a team I’d root for in most other situations — has looked haggard and ornery ever since they traded Kendrick Perkins away at the deadline. And, hey, it’s been seven years, so why not say New York in 7.

Orlando Magic (4) v. Atlanta Hawks (5): Like the Mavericks in the West, Orlando is a team built around a force of nature (Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard) that I’m starting to think is never going to put it together. That being said, they’re facing a team they swept last year, and one who has been struggling (10-17) since the All-Star break. Orlando in 5.

The West

San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Memphis Grizzlies (8): Much credit to the Spurs — Their transition has been extraordinary. Even as Tim Duncan’s era of dominance fades, the Spurs have been consistent all season and even managed to win the West. I don’t see them having much trouble with the Grizzlies. San Antonio in 5.

Los Angeles Lakers (2) v. New Orleans Hornets (7): Ironically, this is the first season in a long time where I might have rooted for the Lakers. Should they manage to make it to the Finals versus Cleveland, sure, I’d root for Phil Jackson to get his twelfth ring. But, like Boston, they have been showing their age down the stretch, and Bynum being hurt — again — doesn’t help matters. They’ll beat Chris Paul and the Hornets, but I’m thinking they won’t make it to June this year. Los Angeles in 6.

Dallas Mavericks (3) v. Portland Trailblazers (6): As I said in the Orlando section, I have my doubts that they’re serious contenders anymore. Unfortunately for Dirk, who’s a consistently impressive and gutty player, I’m starting to think he’s going to end up like Barkley or Ewing, a star without a ring. Especially when they’re facing a young, hungry, and dangerous Trailblazers squad, the team nobody wanted in the first round. Portland in 6.

Oklahoma City Thunder (4) v. Denver Nuggets (5): With a legitimate second option in Russell Westbrook and a playoff veteran manning the paint in Kendrick Perkins, it seems about time for Kevin Durant’s OKC to make the leap. Still, after watching Gallinari, Felton, et al play for the first half of the season, I have a soft spot for “Knicks West.” Denver in 7.

The Rest

Chicago Bulls (1) v. Orlando Magic (5): One would think Orlando might have a slight advantage here because they’re a playoff-tested team. Unfortunately, they’ve failed most of those tests. Meanwhile, the Bulls enjoy the benefit of a great and hungry coach in longtime-assistant Tom Thibodeau, a superstar floor general in Rose, a dangerous set of second and third options (Boozer, Deng, Noah), and guys who know their roles all the way down the bench. (For example, Brian Scalabrine will happily wave a towel, Kurt Thomas will pay 10 minutes, flagrantly foul Howard, and scowl, etc. etc.) Chicago in 6.

Miami Heat (2) v. New York Knicks (6): See, this is what being a Homer gets you. Now I have the Knicks outperforming the first round only to play the hated Heat in the second. And damned if I’m going to pick Miami — particularly this Miami team, the most easily dislikable since the Mourning-Hardaway outfits of the late-90’s — to beat New York, even if, you know, that probably makes a lot more sense. New York in 7.

San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Denver Nuggets (5): Like I said, I like this Denver team — but they’re gunners. If the shots aren’t falling, they are going to stink up the joint. And when you move deeper into the playoffs and the tension builds, those rims will start to clank more often than not. Plus, I have a feeling, even if the Spurs are built on speed attack these days, that Gregg Popovitch will figure out how to close Denver down with not much trouble. San Antonio in 5.

Los Angeles Lakers (2) v. Portland Trailblazers (6): WIth or without Bynum, I suspect Kobe has the killer instinct to put LA on his back and get them past the Blazers (or, at the very least, he’ll yell at Pau Gasol until he does it.) Still, LA may win this season, but Portland is going to tire them out, and that’s going to be a factor in the next round. Los Angeles in 6.

EAST FINALS: Chicago Bulls (1) v. New York Knicks (6): Ok, I think here’s where reality sets in. Even if New York makes it this far, they will have had to knock off two of the three main contenders from the East. Meanwhile, Chicago has had a pretty easy road of it — nobody’s really imagining Indiana or Orlando to go anywhere deep. Plus, let’s face it, the Knicks have a lot of exposed holes still…like Denver, they rely on offense and offense only. But wait ’til next year — Chris Paul will look great in the blue-and-orange. Chicago in 6.

WEST FINALS: San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Los Angeles Lakers (2): You again, I see — The two best teams of the last decade meet for yet another go-round in the Western Conference finals. And, this year, Tim Duncan has more fresh legs on his side than Kobe. San Antonio in 7.

FINALS: Chicago Bulls (1) v. San Antonio Spurs (1): Ok, they’re both one-seeds, but a lot of you have the Heat and/or Lakers here, right? Anyways, it’s hard to bet against Gregg Popovitch and Tim Duncan in the NBA Finals. But it’s also hard not to like this Bulls team, who are both well-rounded and deep. I’ll keep it real for the East and say Chicago in 7.

So, looking back on this, I actually find myself rooting for the Bulls and the Lakers at various points. Strange times we live in, strange times. Anyway, Game 1 is starting right about now, so let’s go to it! The NBA, it’s faaaan-tastic.

The Coming of Carmelo.

‘Wow, just had the craziest 12 hours of my career,’ Anthony said on his Twitter account last night.” That late-night booyah! sound you heard the other night? That was Knickerbocker Nation reacting to the happy news that, after a half-season of crossed fingers at the Garden, the impressively over-performing Amar’e Stoudamire will get some much-needed help in Carmelo Anthony (not to mention veteran Chauncey Billups, who will take over for Raymond Felton at the point…at least until Chris Paul can get free…)

To make this dynamic duo happen, we had to give up Felton, streaky scorers Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, 7-foot prospect Timofey Mozgov, X-factor-gone-bust Anthony Randolph, the ghost of Eddy Curry, some future draft picks and some cash…For the record, I am totally ok with all of this.

As ESPN’s Ian O’Connor writes, “This is a great deal for the Knicks, a greater moment for their fan base…[I]t’s one of the best trades this team has made since Eddie Donovan acquired Dave DeBusschere in 1968.” Let’s hope events bear out this sportswriterly exaggeration — The Carmelo Era at MSG begins tonight at 7:30.

Isiah in the Wilderness.

Isiah believes that, with or without James, he will someday help the Knicks win their first NBA title since 1973. ‘want to be on the float and I want to get my ring,” Thomas said.‘” Now here’s a comeback I definitely don’t support. Former GM and coach Isiah Thomas pleads to ESPN for a return to the New York Knickerbockers.

No offense to Isiah, and I know the GOP just retook the House and all, but, really, have we forgotten the Bad Old Days already? Fortunately, I’m thinking Knicks fans have longer memories than most midterm voters.

Welcome to the Amar’e Era.

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,’ Stoudemire said of opening night. ‘The time is finally here. I can’t wait.‘” Start spreading the news: The new-look Knickerbockers kick off the season today across the border against the Bosh-less Toronto Raptors. “‘The fans are ready just as well as we are,’ Stoudemire said.

True, that. Still, even after the Amar’e signing, the Knicks are looking like a seventh or eighth seed at best at the moment. And with potential X-factor Anthony Randolph starting the season hobbled, Gallinari and Felton playing inconsistently in the pre-season, and Stanford second-rounder Landry Fields starting at SG, I fear it’s not going to take too many games before we’re all just waiting for Melo all season.

(But, hey, at least right now we have a better record than the hated 0-1 Heat, who looked terrible last night against the Celtics. Booyah.)

Cleveland has no King. Cleveland needs no King.

In this fall — this is very tough — in this fall I am taking my talents to South Beach and play with the Miami Heat. I feel like this is going to give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years.” With that, Lebron James — a King of Cleveland no longer — publicly announced he’s signing with the Heat.

Oof, what a sorry spectacle. Over the years, I’ve been on the receiving end of break-ups that were probably worse-handled than what LeBron did to Clevelandon national TV! — last week…but only just barely. And, while I know I was rooting for a LeBron-to-NYK trade in the past, it’s hard not to feel at this point that the Knickerbockers may have dodged a basketball bullet here. Between the 2010 playoffs and the sorta-sad deference to D-Wade, it seems like James isn’t really wired to carry a team to a championship, and all talk of him as the next Michael Jordan now sounds ridiculous — That honor is now pretty clearly bestowed on, much as I hate to say it, Kobe Bryant.

The upshot, as a Knicks fan: If not necessarily game-changers on their own, Amar’e Stoudamire, Anthony Randolph, and Raymond Felton are promising additions to our squad, more promising than anything we’ve seen since the dog days of Isiah (Never again!) And count me in on the plan for an Amar’e-Melo-CP3 triumvirate in Gotham by next year or 2012. Hey, at least Melo has actually won something

For All the Marbles.

Well, I definitely wouldn’t have picked these two teams. But, even amid a sea of (admittedly low-scoring) World Cup riches, tonight is a big night in sports: One game for the NBA championship. ABC, 9pm EST. (And, fwiw, I’m definitely rooting for the Celts. They’re the Eastern Conference representatives, and more importantly, they’re not the Lakers.)

Update: Aaaaaannd…Lakers win, 83-79. Sigh. Bring on the draft already…oh wait, that was last night. Sorry about the lack of updates here since — busy week.

Concrete Jungle Where Rings are Made Of.

“Hey, Lebron, it’s us, New York. First of all, congratulations on winning your second straight MVP last week. Now, may it be the last one you ever win with the Cavaliers. You see, we heard somewhere that your contract with them ends at midnight on July 1 and that you’ll be free to play with any team. And you know what? We think you’d love it here in New York.”

Well, the King’s season isn’t over yet. (Although it may be soon, if there’s another game like tonight’s 120-88 Game 5 fiasco.) Nonetheless, New York Magazine offers LeBron James a multi-part hard sell of NYC on behalf of the Knickerbockers. To my mind, their logic is irrefutable.

Los Suns and La Machete.

‘I think it’s fantastic,’ Nash said…’I think the law is very misguided. I think it’s, unfortunately, to the detriment of our society and our civil liberties. I think it’s very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. As a team and as an organization, we have a lot of love and support for all of our fans. The league is very multicultural. We have players from all over the world, and our Latino community here is very strong and important to us.

In honor of Cinco de Mayo and in protest of Arizona’s straight-up ignorant new ethnic profiling law, the Phoenix Suns will don their “Los Suns” jerseys tonight. “Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is on board, and the team even tried to get their ‘Los Spurs’ jerseys, though it was too late to do so. When asked for approval to wear the jerseys, the NBA “was all for it,” said Suns general manager Steve Kerr.

This is Machete, with a special Cinco de Mayo message…TO ARIZONA.” If the Arizona GOP won’t heed the carrot of the Suns’ inclusive orange unis, perhaps they’ll fear the sharpened stick of a ticked-off Danny Trejo, in the new holiday trailer for Robert Rodriguez’s full-length version of Machete, also with Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert DeNiro, Lindsey Lohan, Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, and Steven Seagall. I know I was just badmouthing this project in my review of The Losers, but I have to concede, it still makes for a pretty fun trailer. (Extra points for DeNiro channeling his inner JD Hayworth therein.)

Fan-Tastic 2010.

Like last year, I’ve been something of a lousy NBA fan this season, partly because the Knicks stink and partly because I don’t get MSG anymore anyway. (I was going to plunk down for the NBA League Pass last fall, until I found out the games aren’t shown in HD ’round here. Not much point in that.) In any event, tradition is tradition, and since the first game’s already started, I should probably get up this year’s playoff picks…


The East

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Chicago Bulls (8): Even if the Bulls weren’t down 19 in Game 1 at the moment of this writing, I’d have the Cavs mostly sailing through the first round. King James is not only rested right now — He’s hungry after missing the Finals last year. And while Shaq is nowhere near the force he once was, and I don’t think Antawn Jamison is the consistent second scorer Cleveland needs, this is the best squad LeBron’s gone to war with over his young career. (If they had an automatic 3-point shooter to spread the floor and keep the triple-teams off James, oh my.) Meanwhile, this iteration of the Bulls looks worse than the team that threatened Boston in the first round last year, and are really only in the playoffs because Toronto got sloppy down the stretch. Cleveland in 5.

Orlando Magic (2) v. Charlotte Bobcats (7): On paper, this is a better Orlando team than the one that made the Finals last year. But playoff games aren’t played on paper. And in the real world, I would much rather have last year’s Hedo Turkoglu in my corner than any iteration of Vince Carter, who’s more likely to crumple up under the basket like he’s been gut-shot after a touch foul than gut any team to a much-needed playoff victory. All that being said, Michael Jordan and Larry Brown’s Bobcats are a work in progress, and I don’t see Dwight Howard’s team having much trouble with Captain Jack, Theo Ratliff, and the like. Orlando in 5.

Atlanta Hawks (3) v. Milwaukee Bucks (6): This is a wild-card matchup for me — I don’t think I’ve even seen either of these teams play. But word on the street is early rookie of the year contender Brandon Jennings has been slumping something fierce lately, and Atlanta’s Joe Johnson will be wanting to show off the free agency goods to all the many losers of the LeBron-Bosh-Wade sweepstakes. (See also: Knickerbockers). So I’ll go Atlanta in 5.

Boston Celtics (4) v. Miami Heat (5): I’m not a big fan of Wade, whose game depends a lot on the zebras getting him to the line, or of Miami (residual distaste from the Alonzo Mourning/Tim Hardaway wars — It’s a Knicks thing.) But, with Garnett and Rasheed aging in dog years now, this version of the Celts has looked bad for awhile. The Celts are like the team of Old Guys (Garnett, ‘Sheed) and knuckleheads (Rondo, Nate) you don’t want to play in pick-up — calling ticky-tack stuff while shivving you in the paint, etc. etc. And, with that in mind and since the refs love them some D-wade, I’ll go Miami in 7.

The West

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Oklahoma City Thunder (8): The Lakers beat the Supersonics? Well, sort of. Although they haven’t deteriorated as badly as Boston, the title-defending Lake Show has a few screws loose right now also, with Andrew Bynum, as always, touch-and-go. I’m really hoping this series is a coming-out party for Kevin Durant, and Phil Jackson’s most recent head games totally backfire. But, much as I loathe Kobe, I gotta go with the champs in the first round. Lakers in 6.

Dallas Mavericks (2) v. San Antonio Spurs (7): After a decade of dominance, Tim Duncan and the Spurs are finally fading. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks should still have a chip on their shoulder about getting robbed by the refs in the 2006 Finals. While I expect Tony Parker will be pretty much torching Jason Kidd this series, the Mavs have time on their side. And with Caron Butler and Shawn Marion added to Dallas’ arsenal, they can come at the aging Spurs in waves. Dallas in 7.

Phoenix Suns (3) v. Portland Trailblazers (6): Two fun teams to watch here, and this would’ve been a great series, with a slight edge to Phoenix. But if Brandon Roy can’t play on account of the bum knee, that swings things in the Suns’ direction considerably. I don’t think Steve Nash’s team are good enough to contend for the championship, but they’ll probably dispatch a severely weakened Portland squad pretty handily. Phoenix in 6.

Denver Nuggets (4) v. Utah Jazz (5): After giving away Camby for nothing and shutting down the Iverson experiment, the Nuggets are another team that have probably taken a step back personnel-wise in recent years. Still, if his head is in the right place, I wouldn’t bet against Carmelo in a first-round series, even with coach George Karl sidelined for health reasons. Meanwhile, Deron Williams is a legitimately great point guard and Jerry Sloan is a legitimately great coach. But, as usual, the Jazz have already over-performed to get this far. Denver in 6.

The Rest

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Miami Heat (5): It’s the Batman versus Robin series, as 2006 co-champs Shaq and D-Wade square off against each other. But, let’s be honest: This series is about Superman and, with all due respect to Dwight Howard, King James is gonna roll right over the Heat. Cleveland in 4.

Orlando Magic (2) v. Atlanta Hawks (3): Howard’s no slouch either, of course, and while I still think Vince is Orlando’s weak link, I don’t have enough of a sense of the Hawks to pick them here, and everyone wants to see the Cleveland-Orlando Eastern Finals. Orlando in 6.

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Denver Nuggets (4): Kobe returns to the scene of the crime. Part of me kinda wants to knock LA out in the next series, against the Mavs. Denver is a maddening team that never quite plays to their potential, and it’s hard to envision George Karl out-coaching Phil Jackson anytime soon. But, screw it, I’m picking an upset — Don’t let me down, ‘Melo. Denver in 7.

Dallas Mavericks (2) v. Phoenix Suns (3): Used to be my homey, used to be my ace. But there can be only one, and Dirk Nowitzki’s got considerably better back-up than Steve Nash. It should be interesting to see how Shawn Marion plays in this series. Dallas in 5.

EAST FINALS: Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Orlando Magic (2): LeBron versus his 2009 nemeses, except now Shaq’s around, and he should have enough left in his tank (not to mention 12 fouls with Big Z) to keep a body on Dwight Howard in the paint. King James will be looking to exact his revenge, and I suspect he’ll be playing out of his mind. And this is where I highly suspect that Vince Carter will pull his folding chair routine at some disastrous point in the clutch. Cleveland in 6.

WEST FINALS: Denver Nuggets (4) v. Dallas Mavericks (2): If Denver does pull off that upset over LA (you heard it here first), I still see them running into a wall against the Mavs. Dallas is hungry and they’re deep. I would even have them beating LA in this spot, although it might take seven games. As it is, Dallas in 5.

FINALS: Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Dallas Mavericks (2): Last year, I picked Cleveland over LA just because I couldn’t in good conscience pick the Lake Show. But this year, I’m picking Cleveland because they’re the best team. Speaking as a Knicks fan, I’m thinking it’s probably better for me if the Cavs get knocked out at some point, so that LeBron won’t feel the need to stay in Cleveland for a title defense. But, quite frankly, I don’t see that happening. The Mavs came close once again, but in the end, I’m going Cleveland in 6, for LeBron’s first — of many — rings.

And, hey look, they already won Game 1. Now let’s see how wrong I can be…The NBA, it’s faaaan-tastic!

Another Lost Year.

“‘We weren’t too good the last two years,’ D’Antoni said. ‘Obviously we’ll try to get better at it this summer. We’ll try to shore up some defensive stuff.'” Ladies and gentlemen, your 29-53 New York Knickerbockers. (When it’s mid-April, and the best news going is next year’s salary cap number, that’s not a good sign for your basketball club.)

So, yeah, for the ninth year in a row — going back to their original sin of trading Ewing for crap (Luc Longley, Glen Rice), which soon multiplied into more crap (Howard Eisley, Shandon Anderson) — the Knicks have stunk up the joint. The T-Mac Hail Mary failed (although nowhere near as badly as the sad, lingering saga of Eddy Curry), and our one decent player — David Lee — is resigned to improving his game elsewhere.

So, yeah, not much joy in Mudville. We’re going on almost a full decade of embarrassing basketball at this point. Still, there’s always next year, and the promise of a King

The King AND His Court?

[I]f James, Wade and Bosh truly want to make history, they could do the unthinkable and split the Knicks’ $33 million three ways. It would cost them salary money, but can you imagine how much they’d make on the back end if they started reeling in NBA titles? In New York?” No, I’m afraid I cannot imagine it. I’ll have to see it for myself… ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski makes the case for the top tier of NBA superstars all signing with New York this summer. Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

Digging Up the Garden.

In a flurry of moves at the deadline, the Knickerbockers acquire Tracy McGrady in a three-team trade (for Jared Jeffries, Jordan Hill, Larry Hughes, and two draft picks), dump Nate Robinson on Boston (for Eddie House, basically), and end the Darko experiment (trading him to Minnesota for Brian Cardinal, who will likely be waived.)

The upshot here? We get Tracy McGrady for 31 probably meaningless games, and should have lots of money to play with in this summer’s LeBron sweepstakes — enough to sign two marquee free agents next year. All in all, well-played, New York. Here’s hoping the post-Ewing decade of losing is at last coming to an end.

Go NY Go NY…Go?

“You know it. I know it. Worst of all, Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni know it. The slogan printed on the tickets this season should be ‘BIDING OUR TIME’ and not whichever metropolitan polemic that the MSG public relations department dreams up. We are a team of second-string transients and, like a young girl with a year to go until she gets her braces off, we will muddle through this next year with bigger dreams of what we can be, and will be, in 2010.

The 2009-2010 NBA Season starts tonight, and, um, the Knicks don’t look very good. (I’ve been playing them this past week in NBA 2K10, and, yeah, they’re terrible — the simulator never lies. But hope springs eternal. And, hey, maybe that new point guard Murphy can right the ship…)

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